What Do People Do All Day?: March 28, 2018


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. Today is Wednesday, March 28th. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

KENT COVINGTON, HOST: And I’m Kent Covington … Next up: the latest in our continuing series about work and vocation… called “What Do People Do All Day?”

WORLD Radio’s Susan Olasky takes us to a furniture maker in a suburb, north of Austin.

AUDIO: So this is where I live during the day.

SUSAN OLASKY, REPORTER: That’s Derry Cannon, a 47-year-old woodworker in Cedar Park, Texas. By academic training he’s a singer.

AUDIO: When Irish Eyes…

And until five years ago he was a software engineer, pulling in a six-figure salary–but ready for a change. Now he works out of a standard 2-car garage, with one door completely blocked by plywood sheets.

AUDIO: I suffer desperately from what I jokingly call TMS syndrome –too much stuff.

One wall features what he calls “Tetris” with tools.

AUDIO: It’s a pegboard that’s roughly 12 foot by nine foot and it’s completely covered. Clamps, jigs, chisels, hammers, saws, squares, little bit everything. That’s my main storage wall and I’ve got a couple of magnetic strips that hold the tools that I use most often. 

Cannon sports a grizzled ponytail he’s been growing since high school. It anchors the lanyard connecting his ear plugs. He’s barrel chested…

AUDIO: So if I’m moving, I’m sweating. It’s just my physiology. Which means I’m always wearing a skullcap to control the drips.

And physically fit,

AUDIO: lifting sound 

Able to lift a full-size sheet of three quarter inch maple plywood to the work bench where he has his table saw. Derry doesn’t have room for an extension around his table saw, so he has to improvise. Today he’s testing out a new rip guide.

AUDIO: So that you can take big bites out of a sheet of plywood and bring it down to a manageable size. It’s what the tool’s for. But again it’s a new toy. So I’m still learning how this works.

With the help of Sketchup, a 3-D design program on his phone, Derry creates diagrams for cutting the plywood into smaller sections.

AUDIO:  (sound of adjusting, measuring, putting down the tape.

He looks often at the diagram before measuring…and measuring again–before cutting

AUDIO: (Saw sound) (Saw winds down) (Wood dropping sound) 

AUDIO: Going to be a little paranoid about measurements….Much safer that way. All right. (Vaccuum sound)

Cannon comes from a line of master carpenters–a great-grandfather, grandfather, and father. He got his own start as an 8-year-old helping his dad.

AUDIO: I just learned by tagging along

But his dad was practical. Derry says he wouldn’t have approved this career move.

AUDIO: He would have railed against. It just it made no sense.

Financially it probably doesn’t make sense–especially the way Cannon runs his business. Start with the name: It’s 55 Grit Woodworks. That refers to a particular coarse sandpaper–and to Romans 5:5. That’s Cannon’s marriage verse. His wife came up with the idea–and it opens up conversation.

AUDIO: So then I get to introduce my faith in a way that non church folks don’t find threatening. And that leads to different conversations and that’s been a lot of fun.

The name puts pressure on him to keep high standards even when it hurts.  Once he bought a bad batch of plywood and had to redo several doors.

AUDIO: And we lovingly refer to it around here as a project that wouldn’t die. But I wasn’t going to walk away until this poor lady was happy because she had spent good money on someone who said he was going to do it right.

He ate the cost. Perhaps he could have gotten money back from the store, but that would have hurt a fruitful relationship.

AUDIO: We live in a broken world. Things go wrong… And it certainly wasn’t worth the relationship capital of stomping in like a toddler and demanding money back for something that wasn’t their fault either.

Sometimes Cannon takes a job for sentimental reasons. He’s just finished repairing a white oak rocker, circa 1950.

AUDIO: One of my soft spots one of the ways I get myself in trouble from time to time is antiques like this. I adore them… I love seeing people that want to keep them around and restore them. The downside is there’s really no money in it.

And sometimes he works on expensive wood. Like the time a local chef wanted a 10-inch pepper mill made from a block of olive wood that cost $90 dollars.

AUDIO: And if I messed up said peppermill, I had to replace 90 dollars.

That story had a happy ending, but if he had messed up, he would have finished the project out of a sense of honor. His integrity has earned him repeat customers.

AUDIO: I am deeply committed to making my clients happy. And the fact that I can consider so many of my clients friends was something I didn’t see coming when I got into this.

But taking the extra time to make things right takes a bite out of profitability, so Cannon is still working out of his garage after 5 years.

Still, carpentry gives Derry Cannon a creative outlet and a chance to learn new things.   

AUDIO: I thought I knew a decent amount about woodworking when I started five years ago … and wow I’ve still got so much to learn.

When the time comes that he can’t lift heavy sheets of plywood or tackle big pieces, he’ll move onto smaller things… or even teach.

AUDIO: That’s something that I hope God leads me to as I get older. I’ve always enjoyed mentoring music or software… But hopefully no time soon.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Susan Olasky, reporting from Cedar Park, Texas.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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