stay sharp and keep your tools sharper

Stay Sharp: Lessons from Processing Firewood and Cut Thumbs

An accident while processing firewood has given me a good reminder. It’s important to keep your tools sharp. It’s more important to keep your mind sharp.

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A sharp tool always cuts better than a dull one. That means for a tool to work at its best, you've got to take the time to keep it sharp. What's true for the tool is also true for us. If we want to work as well as we can, we have to take the time and put forth the effort to stay sharp. That means honing our minds and out bodies. The house that Clarissa and I moved into last year has a fireplace in the main room, but we haven’t made use of it at all until this past weekend. And while we enjoyed having the extra warmth in our home, I did not enjoy taking a chunk of flesh out of my thumb as I prepped the wood. Not a serious cut, just an annoying minor injury.

It’s never a good thing to injure yourself, obviously. And it’s a pain in the ass to spend ten minutes keeping a hand elevated while applying pressure to the thumb. It could have been much worse — in the interest of preventing future accidents, I figure now is a good time to stop and reflect on this accident.

So how did I end up cutting myself?

My hand axe wasn’t sharp. Worse yet, I knew that it wasn’t sharp… But I told myself, “it’s just a quick little task, it’ll be fine.

That was foolish. I’ve written before about how the sharp tool cuts best, but I disregarded my own knowledge.

So what can I learn from this?

There are two takeaways that I’d like to share with you.

The first?

Accidents happen, but we can reduce their likelihood

If I had taken ten minutes to sharpen my hand axe, I wouldn’t have cut my thumb and the wood processing would have gone faster anyway. The best way to prevent accidents? Slow down. We tend to rush through things, but I’ve found that I actually complete tasks more quickly when I slow down. I’m more effective and I have fewer accidents to deal with.

Stay sharp — tools work better when sharp
All bladed tools work better when sharp.

The second takeaway?

It’s better to stay sharp

It wasn’t just my hand axe that was dull — I wasn’t very sharp either. Bandaging my thumb helped me realize that I haven’t done a very good job of honing my mind, body, and skills as of late. I have been lax when it comes to learning, training, and improving. It’s easy to say, “I’ve been busy, I’ve been trying to solve problems, I’ve had shit to do!”

But no matter how true that might be, it’s also a reasonable excuse that will keep me from achieving my own goals. So I’ve got to recommit. I’m not a big believer in the new year, new you philosophy, but as the year — and decade — comes to a close, now is a good time to get back to sharpening my mind, improving my physical fitness, learning new skills, and honing the ones I already have.

So, I made a mistake. But I’m taking something positive away and learning from it. If you’re in the same boat as me, I encourage you to take this opportunity to review your goals and think about the steps you’re taking to achieve them.

And for the record, we thoroughly enjoyed the fire that evening.

A fire in our fireplace
A fire enjoyed by all.

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