The Cat’s Out of the Bag

Did you ever hear the expression never buy a pig in a poke?

That  was a very strange one for me – a kid growing up in New Jersey where a poke is what the Three Stooges did to each others’ eyes.  I had heard people use the expression, but, in an age before Google, I never understood what the heck it meant.

It turns out that the expression was first used in the middle ages by less-than-reputable merchants. Basically, the scam artist would be holding a poke – a colloquial term for a sack – and tell his potential victim that it contained a suckling pig that would make a very tasty dinner. If the customer was an idiot, he would say ‘sure’, fork over his hard-earned money and get the sack with the ‘wriggling piggy’ inside.

After the merchant beat a hasty retreat, the dupe would open the sack and, to his surprise, see that it contained a cat. Not exactly the best eating. This also led to the creation of two other well known idioms, to let the cat out of the bag (something the scam artist never wanted to happen) and to be left holding the bag (to get nothing for your hard work).

Now that I have impressed the heck out of you with my Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Language, what does this have to do with woodworking?

Glad you asked. Woodworkers are very sensory-driven people. We need to see the wood we are going to use in our projects in order to match the grain and colors. We need to feel the wood to see if it is soaking wet or ready to work. We need to smell the boards because hey, that’s what we do.

And, I’d be willing to bet that’s what’s holding some folks back from buying their wood online.

“It’s something we do see in woodworkers,” said Eric Poirier of Bell Forest Products. “For first time buyers, we notice a lot of anxiety when they believe they aren’t going to have control over the board selection process.”

To help put wood shoppers at ease, reputable online wood dealers take great care when selecting boards they sell to customers. “No, we’re not going to select the worst of the lot and ship them off to our customers. That would be about the worst business practice ever. We have built our reputation on providing quality wood for woodworkers to build their treasures, and any shenanigans would ruin us.”

For those who may want additional control over the process or who may want to find a board with particular characteristics for a project, Bell Forest Products also offers a program where customers can hand pick their boards. “OK, I’ll admit that customers will handle their mouse to select their board, but what a selection they will have to pick from.”

Yes, customers can actually look board by board from some choice pieces for their projects. “We feature burls, boards with unique figure and boards with live-edges. Exotics and domestics. If you are looking for something special to feature in a project, it’s not a bad place to start.” Selecting the hand-picked board link provides photos and descriptions of nearly 500 different spectacular boards to choose from.

And, if you can’t find something that tickles your fancy? “Just give us an idea of what you are looking for. We’ll keep an eye out for you. Who knows? That dream piece of wood may be coming out of the kiln right now.”

4 thoughts on “The Cat’s Out of the Bag”

  1. I believe that your Idiom; “Let the cat out of the bag” to be more precise, “The Cat’s out of the bag” Is more of a Nautical term.. Borne during the age of tall ships.
    The “Cat” is in referring to the Cat of Nine Tails. When the Cat is out of the bag, Punishment must be administered.
    Amazing how a phrase mutates.

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