Man From Lamantia

There are people who influence others without the influencee ever being aware of it. I was reminded of that watching a poker tournament recently and one of the featured players was Richard Brodie. Most would respond, “who?” but would sit up and take notice if they were to learn that he wrote Microsoft Word 1.0. And the squiggly red line under misspelled words was his particular invention. Millions of people are affected by that work every day.

So it is in the world of woodworking. There is hardly any wooddorker who hasn't heard the phrase Scary Sharp (TM), the title of an hilarious essay on the discovery of and methodology of using sandpaper for sharpening tools. But only a handful have any idea who wrote it. For the record, it was Steve Lamantia. “Who?” Steve Lamantia, only one of the most gifted writers ever to go unsung. His haunt was mostly usenet (internet news groups) and his domain was rec.woodworking, lovingly called The Wreck by its denizens. Among that group, and in the '90s Steve's literary offerings were the bedrock of daily usenet life.

I've long carried an implementation of Scary Sharp (TM) on this website (it's worth looking at, even if you're not a wooddorker), largely as a service to woodworkers everywhere, particularly those who have/had no knowledge of or access to usenet, but as much as an homage to the talent of its creator. Imagine my complete surprise, followed by immense pride, and if I've matured at all, concluding with abject humility when I received this note a few years ago. I kept it under wraps this long time to further enhance the appearance of the aforementioned humility. I hope Steve doesn't mind his soul being laid bare.


Funny how things happen sometimes. Let's see now. A year ago, I get divorced and six months ago, I quit my stifling job of 20 years at University, leave the Pacific Northwest, and nearly die stupidly driving a Ryder death truck across the US in wintertime to get to my new job working for a local band in Orlando, FL. (the head of the band is my cousin). Since one part of the act is a tribute to a major rock star, to be conversant I'm trying to learn about him and his fans and his organization (which is substantial).

Browsing the website of the subject rocker, I stumble upon a custom-painted Adirondack chair page. Having done a little woodworking myself, I get too interested in that page and find myself reading through the entire writeup, and I notice that the company making those chairs calls itself WoodButchers Furniture.

That name rings a bell. I recall that back when I was a regular in rec.woodworking and the Oldtools mailing list in the 90s, there was a gentleman who also called himself the Wood Butcher. Could it be the same guy? A quick Google search on “woodbutcher” turns your site up second in the list. I click and go there.

It's apparent right away that you're not the guy making the rocker's Adirondack chairs. And I'm still not sure if you're the “WoodButcher” guy I remember from the newsgroup or the mailing list but that curiosity turns out to be secondary, as the web site draws me in.

I spend the next two hours reading many pages on your site. Two whole hours! It's been years since I've spent more than a few minutes reading any one web site for that long (except for technical information purposes). The writing's excellent. The outlook's healthy and well-reasoned; I keep reading. Like my literary heroes E.B. White and John McPhee, I see a writing talent that can write about anything and make it interesting. I keep reading.

It gets more interesting as I continue to browse. Not only is this guy into woodworking, like I was, but there's other surprising confluences of interest, as well. He flew Cessnas; so did I. (Well, sort of: although lack of funds prevented me from ever getting a license, I had logged 40 flight hours in training before switching to motorcycles, a much more economical, if infinitely more dangerous, pursuit). He's into ham radio; so was I (WB2xxx, Technician, 1968). He's into electricity and electronics; so was I (Msgr. Farrell H.S. Electronics Club, where I fell in love with Heathkit and even moreso with cannibalizing old TV sets from the junkyard and building a 75W CW transmitter from the parts, among other projects). He's interested in the inner workings of our thought processes; so am I. (Well, I think I am, but I try not to think too hard about that because it makes my head hurt.)

He even writes thoughtfully about safety, of all things. So did I. (I'm the wag who wrote what later became “The Woodcarver's Mantra”: “If it slips, where's it gonna go?”)

Overall, this Woodbutcher guy's done many of the things I've aspired to do, only he's really done them, while in many cases I've aspired and fell short, or diverted. No envy, just admiration and interest in seeing someone with such similar interests. (Well, a tad bit of envy, too, okay? ;-)

Sheesh, he's even the guy with the Last Page on the Internet. Every time I see those TV commercials about the “end of the Internet”, I laugh so hard that…well, I laugh so hard. And he's the guy who's actually got that Last Page!

And then, almost as a coup de grace, the guy's got my old Scary Sharp missive posted on his site. Geez, that clinches it; he's gotta be a good guy, this Rod Peterson!

Okay, enough silly gushing, already. Here I am, at 1:30 am in the morning, writing email to a someone I've never met. Well, I've done weirder things, I guess. Anyway, Rod, I just wanted to say—in this horribly roundabout way—that for both reasons, I guess, the common interests and your excellent writing style, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your site, so I just wanted to say hi, and thanks for taking the trouble of putting all those fine writings up there. It was a very pleasant two hours.

Steve LaMantia Podunk, FL

Steve, a very public thank you for those sentiments. In the immortal words of Garth and Wayne, “I'm not worthy!”, but it’s nice to hear them nonetheless. Now maybe my wife and kids will leave me alone.

I am saddened to have to report that after an exchange of emails and then connecting on Facebook, Steve’s sister reported his untimely passing on 17 February 2017. I made the obligatory condolence post on his page, but it just doesn’t seem real, even as I write this, some ten months later.

Last updated: 10 December 2017

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