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The Woodcarver's Mantra

by WOM Editor Matt Kelley

Over the last five years or so, the pharse "If it slips, where's it gonna go" has come into common usage among wood carvers, especially those who teach. Although written about carpentry tools in general, the pharse has become known as The Woodcarver's Mantra.

Today many carvers are unaware of the story behing the Mantra. I stumbled across a copy of the original posting while reviewing some old files, and after a bit of detective work, was able to contact the author, Steve LaMantia of Seattle, WA.

As sometimes happens, Steve had almost forgotten posting the safety note, which at the same time was a tribute to his grandfather. With Steve's kind permission, WOM is delighted to reprint the original posting, along with photos of Steve and his Grandpa, John Johansen.


By Steve LaMantia


My grandpa was a carpenter. (Why does that sound like a song title?) Although I was too much of a typical scatterbrained kid to learn a *real* lot from him -- just some basic skills was all I had the patience for -- one of the most valuable lessons he taught me was this:

"If it slips, where's it gonna go?"

As I write this, I can still hear his voice saying it. He must have said it to me a thousand times, which was about five times more than really necessary. His point, of course, was that when working with any tools, it's always good to visualize the accident that's going to jump out and gitcha when something slips (chisel, handplane, knife, hammer, et al).

Estimate where the tool's going to go when it goes too far or veers off course, and then make sure there are no parts of your body ( or power cords, or children) present in that location. Don't assume nothing will slip, because the cosmos are watching and the cosmos have a sick sense of humor and as soon as you make that assumption, guess what's gonna happen to you?

If it slips, where's it gonna go?

Very simple concept, actually, and after early on forgetting it two or so times to my extreme physical detriment, discomfort and inconvenience, I've learned to make it my mantra whenever beginning a cut or any other process. It sounds simple, even silly, I realize; still, it's saved me grief many times so far.

So, repeat after me:

If it slips, where's it gonna go?

If it slips, where's it gonna go?

If it slips, where's it gonna go?

Thanks, Grandpa.

Your ten-fingered, two-eyed, not-too-badly-scarred, still walking/talking and fully sentient grandson, Steve.

In the 1970's - Steve LaMantia and his Grandpa, John Johansen

The Carver's Companion, 2001