A Real Tool: the Coping Saw

My father was good with tools! Especially when working with wood. His father was born in Sweden in 1878, and Dad used to have some of his father’s tools until thieves broke into his and Mom’s Tucson, AZ house years ago and took them.

Dad taught me to love tools. Not so much by showing me how to use them; rather, by showing me his own respect for them.

One tool that caught my attention early on was the coping saw. Unlike the mighty and heavy hammer, the coping saw was more my size, and more delicate (even though it could have sharp teeth, depending on which blade was installed). I saw Dad do some amazing things with this saw.

In the hands of a master the coping saw could produce cuts impossible to make with a conventional saw. It’s ability to make turns in very small areas is a sight of beauty to behold. The coping saw seems to suggest to its admirers that

it will perform well in anyone’s hands.

But that is far from the truth.

I don’t know when the expression “a real tool” originated; you know, the pejorative expression that is a modern insult to males? But whoever came up with it demonstrated they didn’t have proper respect for good tools! Because a person with proper respect for tools would never suggest they are just objects to be USED. Am I wrong? No, I am not!

Among the “real” tools I have respected, the coping saw is in the top ten. Versatility, a sense of elegance, and subtle strength are among its virtues.

But why is it called a “coping” saw?

Whether its origin in only a couple hundred years old (as some suggest), or five centuries or more, it is clearly not of modern invention. Its name is likely meant to refer to the “coped” or angled cut sometimes used in construction, which aids water drainage from the top of a wall. Be that as it may . . . the primary purpose of the saw is seen in its ability to curve, to maneuver (if you will), i.e. to cope.

And it is here that I find its meaning most helpful. For somehow, through the passage of time (possibly originally from Old French “coup,” to strike, then Middle English trade or exchange, to wrestle, strive, persevere) we have arrived at a word that makes reference to how we deal with situations in life. Psychologists talk about our “coping mechanisms.”

Our skills with coping are as varied as my own experience using a coping saw. For though it appears easy, of course, it is not. If the blade is too loose, or if the blade is too tight, your maneuvering is destroyed. I have even broken blades because they were too taut. Instead of giving to strength to the cutting process, I ended it prematurely.

In any event . . . coping skills matter.

We all use coping skills, of course. The abused child learns coping skills. The overprotected child learns coping skills. The overindulged child learns coping skills. The neglected child learns coping skills. Even the well-adjusted child learns some coping skills. We all learn coping skills. It’s this world we live in, you know. It forces you to have to cope!

Now you may not be good with a saw. But it would benefit you to learn good coping skills in life. You can learn a great deal from a saw. I learned, for instance, two important lessons:

  1. You can’t force a cut without destroying the wood (or the saw).
  2. You can’t stop the cutting process abruptly without losing the ability to maneuver.

If you force a cut you will often find yourself plowing into the wood much further than you had intended, thereby ruining the design you had in mind. It’s like water building up behind a dam; a small crack evolves into a gushing gorge in seconds. Not a good coping skill in life either.

If you stop cutting in order to position yourself better for a curving maneuver you will often find yourself stuck in place. It’s kind of like turning a corner while riding a bike; it’s easier to stay upright and make your turn if you’re moving. If you stop to position yourself for the turn you will fall. Adjustments are best made while still in motion.

Coping is not only natural, it is mandatory.
No one gets by without having to cope.

Christmas was just last month. And I was reminded that even the mother and father of Jesus had to use coping skills due to the circumstances surrounding the birth of the Savior: Joseph had to deal with Mary’s shameful pregnancy; the couple had to wrestle with the inconvenience of traveling during the final days before giving birth to a child; they had to persevere when there was no place other than an animal stall available for the delivery; the new family of three had to flee the country when the threat of annihilation was apparent. Coping.

How did you maneuver this past holiday season? How well did you cope?

Pushed to our limits during times of stress (joyful or sad) we tend to cope in a variety of ways: financial overstretching may cause us to overeat; wrestling with family company from out-of-town may tempt us to overindulge in alcohol; balancing work with parties and shopping may cause us to function on much less sleep than usual, so we may compensate with too much coffee or other stimulants.

We must be careful to choose how we cope with these difficult situations, so that our coping doesn’t create even more problems with which we must cope.

The inauguration of a new (and shall I say “different”) President will happen tomorrow, so that along with the beginning of a New Year, with its attendant resolutions and stresses, there saunters in our worry of the unknown, uncertainty of the future, and insecurity fears.

Flexibility. Gentleness (with ourselves and others). Forgiveness. We must not try to force situations. And we must realize that we must maneuver and re-position on the fly, because that is how coping is done.

So, keep that blade moving as you form those curves. And let the wood tell you how much pressure it will endure.

With a bit of concentration . . . and care . . . you might even admire the cut you make. And the result – might just be . . . a thing of beauty.

About ivanbenson

I am a singer, guitar player, writer, story teller, voice over talent, and heart attack survivor in the Atlanta, Georgia area.
This entry was posted in Family History, Fathers, Stories, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Real Tool: the Coping Saw

  1. Suzanne Doublestein says:

    Very well written and I love the visuals of the saw and the bike – thanks for the reminders!

  2. Monica Benson says:

    your article is very interesting! Your illustration and lessons were very insightful and clever! Great job!

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