As a kid, I read woodworking magazines like others read The Bible. I’d page through my dad’s collected copies of Wood, Fine Woodworking, and others every chance I got. I was fascinated by the different projects and fantasized about having a redwood four-poster bed, or a maple bookcase with a mahogany inlay.
My father has been in some form of woodworking or another since before I was born, whether it be framing houses or high-end finish carpentry; even now, he is curently building a house using lumber milled from trees he cut down himself from his property.
On Sunday mornings, my dad and I would watch “This Old House”, “The New Yankee Workshop”, and “Hometime” – the only time we’d spend together over the course of a week, sometimes. Even though I didn’t share all of his interests, woodworking and carpentry were the ones we had most in common.
Dad didn’t buy furniture. He made furniture. You need a bed? Let me whip one up. A desk? No problem. Dresser? Chair? Just give me a 12-pack and an afternoon. Nothing fancy, just what was needed and necessary. Even the finished pieces he made were unfinished; that is to say that while the project was complete, he left the bare wood without a finish.
When I was a baby, my father made me a chair. Perfectly kid-sized, I took it everywhere with me, and even used it as a footstool in the bathroom to see the mirror. Over the passing years, I outgrew the chair, as children do, and it became a chair for my favorite teddy bear. An interesting bookshelf next to my desk as a teenager. A funky little plant stand in my first apartment. Then, one day, it became an item collecting dust in the barn, grey and weathered, and a full-length crack down the middle of the back. Maybe it was the natural progression of things.
In the midst of moving a few years ago, I unearthed the chair my father had built for me, and saw what the ravages of time had done to my chair. Not really knowing what to do with it, I brought it to the new house and thought for a long time before coming to the decision to fix and finish the chair for my two neices. I’ll never have children of my own, so it was only natural to think of Jayda and Aubrey – being in the same age range I was when I first had the chair.
I spent a week or so fixing, sanding, and refinishing the chair, and added a plaque on the bottom with the history of the chair – built in 1977 by their grandfather for their uncle, but not finished until 2009. I have a hard time expressing how it felt to present that chair to my two neices that Christmas. Over more than thirty years, it had become almost an heirloom, passed on to a third generation.
In Cub Scouts one year, we had an event called the Pinewood Derby. All the Scouts are challenged to build the fastest car from a kit containing a block of wood, some wheels and a couple of odds and ends. I told Dad I wanted to build it myself and rely on everything I had learned by watching him in the workshop. He didn’t seem disappointed; rather he seemed proud of me. We worked side by side for over a month – me and my car, and he and whatever project he was working on at the time. I asked for advice once or twice, but I never asked for any help. When I was finished with my silver car, I built a case for it. At the Derby, I placed second to the son of an engineer who I don’t believe even laid eyes on his car before that morning. I didn’t care about not winning. It may sound hokey, but the fact that I had accomplished my goal of just finishing the car was reward enough.
My father made me a matching set of short dressers when I was about seven. Again, these were left bare wood. This was a trend in the early to mid 80s, but I’m positive this was not done because it was fashionable – these were strictly utilitarian pieces. But as I’ve stated before, time takes a toll, as does a child growing into an adolescent, and an adult. I’ve been talking about this for a long time, but now I have actually started the project. I am going to finally finish the dressers.
I’m never going to become an expert furniture restorer, nor do I want to, but somehow I feel closer to my dad when I’m sanding, staining, varnishing. It’s cathartic – kind of therapy. Very soon I will have new antique furnitre that I can be proud of; because they will look great with the new dark stain and shiny top coat with some new pewter hardware, and also pride from finishing a project myself, albeit not one I originally started.