By Neal Wooten
My dad was a skilled carpenter who could sink a nail with one swing of a hammer. He could read blueprints and could do everything from foundations to roofs. He was an expert at every kind of saw there is: hand saws, rotary saws, jig saws, reciprocating saws, you name it. But the thing he liked to cut most was… corners.
Just because he knew how to do things correctly didn’t mean he wanted to. My dad knew this magic word, and if you know this word, you’ll never need a level, square, or tape measure again – ever. Many times when Dad needed to cut a board to a specific length, I’d try to hand him the tape measure. He’d just smile and wave it off. “I’ll just eyeball it.”
That was definitely his preferred method of measurement – eyeballing. He’d just look at the board and saw off a piece, hold it up and examine it, nod to me and utter the magic word: “Close-ter-nuff.” I’m pretty sure he invoked that word to build the entire house I grew up in. Was it square? Was it level? Was it even finished? No, but it was close-ter-nuff.
We had an Ashley wood-burning heater with a pipe going out the wall of the living room. Finally Dad decided to add a chimney. We began with regular blocks until we got to the pipe and switched to chimney blocks. I played my usual roll of gopher and hauled everything up the ladder to Dad.
Amazingly, he used a level on every block as he cemented them in place. It was the only time I saw him use a level at all. But it didn’t last. After we had the chimney about two-thirds of the way completed, he realized what a waste of time it was and fell back on his old reliable eyeball/close-ter-nuff routine.
We finished in a much quicker time and stood at the base and admired our creation. It looked perfect. Then we walked way out in front of the house and took a look from a different angle. We both burst out laughing. It was perfectly straight right up until we quit using the level. From that point it curved away from the house, and not even slightly.
After we stopped laughing, Dad looked at me and asked, “What do you think?” I think it was the first time he had ever asked my opinion on anything. I felt important. I took the question very seriously and decided the right thing to do, the proper thing, the adult thing, was to be absolutely honest with him. I just looked him in the eye, shook my head and said, “Close-ter-nuff.”