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The Wonders of Wood: Cognitive Impairment Not a Barrier

I returned from a medical conference overseas. As I entered the living room, I could see the small walnut side table my wife emailed me about while I was away. It was placed in front of the gas fireplace, next to my favourite "relax" chair and was the perfect colour and size to fit there, waiting for a cup of coffee, a portable phone and the controller for the small stereo next to it. I marvelled at the shape and fine workmanship reflecting that even after less than one term in a College course in industrial woodworking my son Eytan, whose primary love is playing the electric guitar with his heavy metal music band, was able to do such lovely work. His taking a college course in woodworking was part of his desire to have some other skills beyond music for the future and working with wood has always been attractive to him. Three months later at the end of his second term as a gift he made two small tables for our sun room out of extraordinary Walnut with Olive Ash Burl (Figure 1).



Figure 1. Walnut with Olive Ash Burl Tables

The quality was very impressive but most important when I asked him how he did it he was able to go through all the steps with hand drawings to illustrate. Clearly for him the wood, the design and the hands-on experience were very meaningful.
Of the many reasons I was so delighted with his handiwork was the associations I had with woodworking. I attended New York's unique Brooklyn Technical High School because during my early teenage years I wanted to be an engineer like my late father. I loved building and fixing things and had ability in math and physics, therefore, it seemed a natural career path. "Tech" as the school was called by the students was a fantastic educational experience. Beyond a vigorous general curriculum we averaged an extra two hours a day of technical skills and processes which ranged from working with the various metals and wood. I recall vividly my woodworking teacher who was demonstrating how to use a chisel properly. It was from him I learned that a sharp tool is much safer than a dull one as you do not have to apply as much pressure which can lead to poor tool control. I recall how after he chiselled a piece of wood and before it was actually sanded he let us all feel the surface and said something which then would have been considered a bit risqué, "see, smooth as a baby's aaaarm", at which we all sniggered, knowing what "a" word he really meant.

I changed career plans at the end of high school and decided on medicine which was the perfect choice for me. I have however always maintained my love and respect for working with wood. When I did my military service in Israel I had access to a large "hobby shop" which had all the woodworking machines and tools I learned to use at "Tech". With ample supplies of rough wood from the crates in which new General Electric airplane engines were shipped to replace original French engines in reconfigured old French fighter planes I was able to build kitchen shelving and cabinets and furniture for our future Jerusalem apartment.

I once saw a house for