The craft of fine woodworking is relatively new to me but working with wood isn’t and might just be in my genes.
Growing up I remember that my dad was always working on projects around the house. He did a lot of routine maintenance but what I remember most were the projects where he used his creative and artistic skills to improve our home and make us more comfortable.
One time dad tore down an old barn and used the reclaimed wood to panel some of the walls in the living room and kitchen. I remember being impressed that he had the foresight to paint the original wall black behind the seams and knots of the wood so that these became less visible when he was done. Then when my sister moved out and I took over her bedroom, he built a faux dormer ceiling around the window. This served no purpose other than to make the room feel cozier and add some visual interest. While I didn’t understand that at the time, I remember being amazed that someone could do their own framing and drywall and, most importantly, that I could sleep safely under this new appendage without fear of it coming down on me in the night. In fact, it appeared that he was always ready and able to tackle any project that came along. I like to joke that wallpapering was his specialty but adding crown molding to the dining room, building a ladder style plant rack for mom, or putting new flooring in the bathroom never seemed to be beyond the scope of his abilities. Even though he had apparently never done these types of projects before, that didn’t stop him from tackling them. In the process he’d apply old skills to new tasks or learn new skills as required.
In my mind, the most amazing project dad ever built when I was a child was my model train layout. For Christmas one year I got an HO scale train layout and the only place we really had to set it up was in the basement. But playing with that on the cold, hard floor was not ideal so he came up with the idea to build a table. But not just ANY table. Lacking floor space, dad came up with the idea of building a 4x8 table that would fold into a cabinet, about 12” deep, that was built along the wall. The train track, once secured to the table base, could then be stowed away in its entirety. Because the cabinet was deep enough, we were able to build trestles and mountains and erect buildings that fit neatly away when not in use. It wasn’t a finely crafted piece of furniture but it was functional and suited the purpose and place for which it was intended. To me, it was genius!
I believe it was this sort of can-do attitude that most greatly influenced me as a child. That and the fact that he often included me in the process. I still remember the first time dad let me use a circular saw. He was working on some home improvement project and I clearly remember how good it felt for him to trust me with this life-threatening tool. And while the cut was slow and probably not very straight it was the first time I remember making my very own saw dust.
Flash ahead several years and after years of tackling my own home improvement projects I am now applying those skills to work on more “artistic” pieces. Yet like that train table, the projects that I get the most personal satisfaction from are those that are functional and suited for the purpose and place in which they are intended. Dad is very complimentary about my work and acts like its something of a mystery to him. But in all honesty, his work has likewise taken a turn to a more “artistic” level. He’s built several jewelry boxes that will surely be handed down through our family. Although he brushes these off as just pine boxes with painted over wood filler, we know they are lovingly created specifically crafted for the intended recipient and that great attention has been given to the details. Recently he built an awesome rocking horse for his newest great grandchild. Again, built from simple pine boards, he was able to sculpt these into a lifelike and whimsical toy that I hope will be cherished for generations. Finally, dad is renowned for his fine craftsmanship in model boat building. A long time passion for sailboats led him to start with scale models in profile intended to hang on the wall. His drafting background is put to use as he does his own scale drawings and then hand builds each and every part from stock wood. The finished results are truly awe inspiring in their detail (as evidenced in the attached pictures) and most impressively… he did this all without google refernce aids or expensive power tools.
So dad really did teach me everything that is important about woodworking. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Apply old skills to new ideas. Make your projects functional. Pay attention to the details.