Sunday, November 20, 2011


Diary of a Small Contractor

Monday, November 3, 1986

All day
shaping lumber with a
clear heart.
I've built a cabinet and a laminated-wood countertop: cutting, gluing, clamping, sanding.  A pleasure.  Now, just before bed, I want to apply a first coat of finish.

To many woodworkers, the use of polyurethane is a mortal sin.  I'm sympathetic.  In fact, my favorite wood finish is good old tried-and-true linseed oil, a 100% natural product.  But tonight I'm finishing a bathroom countertop which will be under constant assault.  I'm going with poly. 

A long time ago I used poly-euw (as we call it) for some other project.  I ended up with half a quart unused, so I poured it into a jelly jar and screwed the lid down tight.  Air tight.  Exposure to air, of course, makes poly harden.

Now the lid is frozen to the jar.

As a child I learned a trick from my mother: she used to open the stuck lids of food jars by tapping the handle of a butter knife along the outside of the lid, glancing blows in the direction she wanted it to turn.

Mother knows best.  In the basement where I'm working, I don't have a butter knife handy but I do happen to have a 22 ounce framing hammer in my tool belt. 

Tap.  Tap.  A few glancing blows on the lid. 

It still won’t come off.  I rotate the jelly jar in my hands, tapping.  I make dents in the lid, but it just doesn't —


Broken glass in my hand.  Poly-euw all over my clothes, the worktable, the radial arm saw, the basement floor.  Poly-euw mixed with blood.  Sticky.  Smelly.  Gooey.  Unwashable.



“I can’t do the poly tonight,” 


“I just broke the jar.”


“I was just trying to open it.”

“With what?”

“A framing hammer.”

Bless her, she keeps a straight face.

Stripping off my shirt and pants, I throw them in the trash.  Rose wipes and then binds my hand with gauze and tape.  Then I go directly to bed. 

Maybe it's a message from the wood sprites.


  1. Can't imagine having poly-euw all over with blood pouring out. My sympathies.

  2. It kinda stings. But if you try to open a glass jar with a 22 ounce framing hammer, you deserve a little stinging.

  3. Hi Joe,
    you should have used a 16oz rip claw hammer.