Nails, Screws, and Commitment

As we approach another season of Middle School Shop Camps, I’m reminded of a now slightly funny, but overall teachable moment.

One of our campers had finished constructing their wood stool. Wishing to show off to everyone how much weight it could hold he challenged the stockiest parent to step onto it. Before even placing their full weight on the project it pulled a part at the nailed in joints. As our diligent camper studied it he went back and put in pocket screws with extra supports. Nobody was able to break it then.

When building an important project it is crucial we have the right tools for the job. Tool selection is especially crucial for building anything that we hope will have lasting value.

There is a lot of debate in the woodworking world about the merits of nails or screws. Each serves their own purpose dependent on the task, but it was clear that the screw beat out the nail in this specific application. There are a few qualities of a screw that make it a favorite fastener and can also shed light on a critical habit for our own lives:

  • Screws have threads:

These threads make up the body of the screw, protruding out as a spiral fin. The threads when in contact with the wood lock into place. Nails rather have smooth sides and can wiggle out of place over time. Our level of commitment could also be viewed the same way on a team. Whether that team is our school staff, our family, or community commitment is crucial for joint success.

When we are a part of a team are we a nail or a screw? Can we be relied on to lock into place and work through both the good times and bad? Or when we face unpleasant feedback or have a brief bout of failure do we just seek for a way out?

  • Screws bridge gaps:

A student was recently constructing a raised garden bed for their end of year shop project. Before final assembly she came to me frustrated that the boards did not sit flush in the joints she had meticulously cut out. After a few pilot holes and screws her project was built and the joints flush. She and I both left impressed at the power of screws.

Nails on the other hand don’t share the same “bridging” prowess. Due to their functional use they tend to enlarge an already present gap. Again we can apply the analogy to assess our level of personal commitment to growth. Potential is the gap between who we are now and becoming the person we are meant to be.

When faced with the gap of potential are we a screw or a nail? Do we dig in and find ways to bridge the gap of potential? Do we set realistic goals and find peer support who will hold us accountable towards our commitment to growth?

  • Screws circle back:

What makes screws an outstanding fastener is that during each circle of rotation they driver deeper into the material and lock stronger into place. This circling motion, round and round, is where the magic all happens with a screw. Lasting commitment must work in a similar fashion. We need constant renewal in our commitments and we desperately need to circle back and ensure our commitments are well grounded.

How can we renew and strengthen our commitment to our teams and personal missions? Who in our lives can serve as an energizer and encourager to us when our commitment begins to weaken? When can we find time to reflect about our commitments and honestly assess whether our daily actions are aligned?


In his book Why The Best Are The Best, Kevin Eastman describes commitment in this fashion:

Commitment is consistently doing the unrequired work.

Commitment has no expiration date. 

Commitment is a strong belief in what you are doing and why you are doing it. 

We have a daily choice with our commitment…we can be a nail or a screw. Which will we be?

Or maybe the better question is, how important do we view the value of our lives and personal mission? When we know the answer to that question — again I ask, which will we be…a nail or a screw?  

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