As I cut the letters into this small panel earlier this month, I was thinking back to Mr. Howard Sokoloff, my 8th grade woodshop teacher. Here was a man near retirement tasked with teaching every single thirteen-year-old in the school some hand skills. A lettered sign was one way to do it. I stumbled upon the one I made then while cleaning up recently. The memory of making this thing 35 years ago was strong, probably due to the thrill I felt at the time.
Mr. Sokoloff was a kind man. I remember his white hair Brylcreemed straight back above his horn-rimmed glasses as he guided us in the use of our main tools: coping saw, rasp, and sandpaper. After many class periods of shaping and smoothing our boards, we penciled on some lettering. There were a lot of names, house numbers, and pop bands. I liked fishing.
One by one, we’d take our boards to Mr. Sokoloff who fired up the router and did his best to follow our drawn lines as we surrounded him in amazement. It was a router, not a knife, but there were no computer programs or 3-D printers involved. Even though I didn’t cut the letters , I still had the satisfaction of designing them just by hand and eye with a pencil. Now I get the joy of drawing and cutting them.
Mr. Sokoloff never mentioned the word sloyd, but his instruction was indeed a remnant of a movement that had begun long before. This video provides a concise history from slöjd to sloyd:
P.S. — Here’s another recent lettering project that’s a bit different: a pottery stamp for a clay-working couple that sometimes collaborates on pieces. Something like 3/8″ high and 5/8″ wide. End-grain boxwood can hold some detail.
Some spoon handles next…