“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke
During the years I’ve spent in manufacturing, I’ve learned that skilled laborers are either energetic, sane or capable (pick one). On rare occasions you might meet someone who is two of those things. And on even rarer occasions you might have the privilege of meeting someone like Dan Falck.
Dan and I worked in different departments, but we played music together Tuesday and Friday mornings from 4:30 until our shifts began at 5:30.
Then, in the summer of 2014, Dan was tasked with building several hundred chairs, from scratch. I was assigned to work as Dan’s assistant. Of course, I lept at the opportunity.
The work was both grueling and miserable and one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had the complicated privilege to take part in. For a solid week, I got a crash-course in industrialized furniture fabrication. The ridiculous project lasted only a week, but even at a glance, Dan and I accomplished something incredible. We got to make something lovely. On one end, there was a train of pallets, stacked with raw plywood. On the other end, a small army of chairs.
What a thing.
Years later, when Dan quit his job, I set out to write him a LinkedIn recommendation (not that he needed it). What started as a simple endorsement turned into a longer story about one of the best/worst jobs I’ve ever had, and the lovely, highly capable man I had the opportunity to share it with.
These are excerpts from that story:
In repetition, a meditation
To remove the uneven edges of the board, Dan built a sled for the table saw. We’d mount one of the heavy, ungainly boards to the sled and pin it in place, concave side down. The slide ran over the saw, chopping off one edge which I’d catch and drop in a bucket nearby. We returned with the sled, turning the contraption to sever the other edge. Once there were two parallel sides, we could lop off the ends to make a square. From the square, we could trim the individual slats...
…Each slat was fabricated to precise and consistent measurements. Even the process of drilling pilot holes for the bolts was a lengthy series of maneuvers, worn rhythmic, meditative even, by the choreography of repetition: twist right, grab, plum, pin, push, drill left, drill right, open, remove, twist left and stack. En pointe pirouette to demi-plié, and repeat.
Many of our coworkers were curious, about this gigantic undertaking unfolding behind the door to our makeshift shop. Occasionally, someone would stick their head in the door to investigate the racket. There was no ventilation in this room, no central vacuum so anyone who opened our door for even a peek was antiqued with a facefull of sawdust. It's a miracle we were able to see our work at all—it was like working in a snowglobe. Granted, we had safety glasses (which did no good), respirators, earplugs and even slips for our head to keep out the sawdust. Add to this, the unrelenting heat of the day. Pouring sweat, we quickly gathered layers of sawdust until we resembled two fuzzy teddy bears.
Close-in, what Dan built was deceptively simple.
Close-in, he fabricated a few jigs, upon which a series of highly calibrated processes were developed. But to pull back, and observe the project as a whole, was baffling. To consider it all at once was overwhelming. There was something inexplicable about this project, maybe even, magical.
All it took was nothing more than a modest and steady tinker, nurturing a series of unromantic practicalities. That is all it took to uncover a peek-hole to another dimension. A dimension where magical things are workaday. Hum-drum.
This is what I imagine it looks like: I imagine Dan, busy about his work, reaching for a screwdriver or his trusty calipers. He reaches for where he’d last set them and, unknowingly reaches into an ethereal plane, finds the tool there. His hand returns with something that looks like his screwdriver or calipers, but really, it is actually something indescribable. Something that, employed with patience, over time, builds something even further indescribable—something beyond our understanding of the universe and its logical laws.
Dan and I have since gone on to different jobs. I’ve seen him a couple times since our days at the shop—he plays at Slims regularly with his Family Band PDX. They play a good set of covers. You should see them, if only to get a sample of Dan’s guitar-work. When you do, make sure to ask Dan to tell you all about making chairs.