The Ham n Egger Philosophy

DSC00022In my father’s view, there was no clear separation between woodworking and religion.  He would speak of wood as others may speak of the Holy Writ.  He understood wood.  He knew how to hold it, how to cut it and how to shape it to his advantage.  He knew how a piece would split or break.  He understood how thick a piece needed to be in order to hold and about how much weight it would bear.  He had a good eye and could see anything that was out of true or misaligned.Image His high standards were based upon morality rather than speed.  There was a right way to do something, no rough corners, no nails on the ground, no loose piles of lumber laying around.  Things had to be neat and orderly.  It had to make sense to him.  He could never work for the other guy and he could never work for an hourly wage.   DSC00009I have multiple memories of my father working in his wood shop.  His stiff original 501 Levi’s had glue wiped all over them, nearly causing them to stand up on their own.  His shop had a certain smell to it…one of fresh cut sawdust usually from pine or oak.  There was the Elmer’s glue bottle, with globs of glue all around the top, hanging on a bent wire in front of the heater to keep it warm.  He could often be heard singing Frank Sinatra.  He has a good voice and still sings today.

He is a true engineer (without formal training) who can build anything.  When I was a young boy, my father built a train that actually ran on a rail track around our house.  The only thing he didn’t build was an airplane (mom wouldn’t let him).

During all these building experiences, he was often heard to speak about ham n egger’s.  My brother and I could never understand what he actually meant.  Though never formally verbalized, as adults, we believe we have deduced it’s proper meaning.

A ham n egger is anyone untrained, following his own dreams, not really giving a damn about what other experts think or how they say it should be done, building something that makes total sense to them, yet zero sense to anyone else.  Furthermore, the true ham n egger accomplishes all this with very few tools and often with materials that can be found on hand or in his own wood pile.  Additionally the phrase grants one an extra level of grace or forgiveness in ones woodworking projects that the expert or professional may not be willing to grant.  Though the standard may sound low, it is set by the individual and only the individual.  If you are happy with it, you’ve reached the standard.  This is the true spirit of the ham n egger.  It’s quite liberating once you understand it.  

DSC00899Original ham n egger in the background with second generation ham n egger in the foreground (me).

Though I originally discredited woodworking and found little merit in the skill, as an adult I often find myself reverting back to my fathers inclinations to accomplish something with my hands, often by working wood.

“Well boys”, my father would say, “I think it passes the ham n egger standard.”  I would often say, “I think this exceeds the ham n egger standard,” but dad, very humbly would suggest that we were still firmly entrenched within the parameters of the standard.

I love you dad!

6 thoughts on “The Ham n Egger Philosophy

  1. Hi Brent,
    I happened on to your site from the Small Craft Advisor message board.
    It’s been 20 years since I heard the “ham ‘n egger ” expression and your explanation was so accurate and subtle as to be moving.
    Many thanks , and beautiful work you have done on the little vessel.
    Fair Winds, Dirk

  2. Dirk,
    Thank you for the comment. I feel so deeply entrenched in the “ham ‘n egger philosophy” that I just couldn’t help talking about it on my blog. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post.


  3. I would hate to be called a ham n Egger. It’s true meaning is of a unsophisticated, talentless hack. The original ham n Egger wss usually boxers who talents were worth the price of a ham n egg breakfast. In other words, boxers that did not do well. Your father seems like he is (was?) a very talented man

    • Darrell, Thanks for the comment. Your definition for the phrase is correct. We’re not sophisticated or talented. The word hack also seems appropriate. That’s the whole point. When unsophisticated, talentless hacks set their minds to design or achievement, amazing things can happen. Sorry you don’t get it. We think the term is perfect.

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