This long blog entry describes how I became interested in woodworking. I read cheller’s blog entry about this same topic and it inspired me. I think that it would be interesting to read other lumber jocks’ stories about how they became woodworkers. Kind of like if you’re a Christian and how we offer our testimonies to others. Maybe there could be a standard section about how members became hooked.
It was 1992, my second semester as a freshman, when I was able to set foot into the time honored high school wood shop class. The room was nestled over the metal shop and auto body shop in the back of the school. It was a hidden treasure. Hidden from the rest of the school, it was separated by an auditorium that could host 1,500 or more students, and the only reasonable way to get to the class, was by following the long path of a decadent hallway. It was located off the beaten path so to speak.
Two large, red, almost burgundy heavy steel doors, gated the entrance on the west side of the room. It greeted students to the treasures inside. The room was very large and the floor laden with wood flooring. The south side, right side of the room, had cabinets storing block planes, wooden mallets, hand saws, chisels, etc. The east side, or back of the room, had huge industrial looking aluminum windows that allowed the sun to glisten off of the varnished floors.
A few large lathes with metal guards rested near the N.E. corner of the class. The west wall had a door to the finishing room. The room contained the shop’s dust collector and air guns for finish spraying. The rest of the class was filled with two heavy duty table saws, a large gear driven planer, two jointers, router stations, and many wood working benches, etc. This place contained exciting potential.
Mr. W. was the teacher that semester. He had been an industrial educator for many moons but this year would provide to be his last; at our school anyway. Before he was fired, our exposure to woodworking equipment was limited to dull, kludgey block planes and old hand saws. Using these tools was a right-of-passage before being allowed to use the power tools. It was boring. The lackluster tools made it so. We couldn’t wait to cut square boards with the table saw. That was suppose to be the next step after we received our safety training. It’s interesting how things can quickly change.
The day that almost ruined my woodworking passion, was the day that Mr. W. kicked another student in the groin. That was the beginning of woodworking hopelessness. It happened earlier in the day—In the hallway. Apparently, a student grabbed him on the shoulder from behind, and Mr. W. turned around, and kicked the student in the jewels. That was the rumor anyway. I’ve never known the true story because it was never revealed to us by the educational staff.
If the story is true, my guess is that the student partly deserved it. That might sound un-politically correct these days, but I went to a school where many of the students’ traits weren’t much different than the block planes we were using. I find it hard to believe that a respected teacher with 20 years or so experience would frivolously jeopardize his career. I think it was self defense. He was gone nevertheless.
At this point, getting access to the power tools was about as hopeless as trying to smell a fart in a hurricane. Those dreams flew right out the window after that incident.
The rest of the semester that followed was tragically boring. There were very few substitute teachers in the district certified to teach industrial education. Therefore, we could not use the power tools. Everyday involved reading woodworking textbooks and submitting assignments. Sometimes we received a break by watching a video of someone else working with wood which was probably calculated torture derived by the mind of our substitute teacher. The tools just sat there begging for us to use them.
In protest, a paper airplane was thrown at the sub while his back was turned towards the class. That’s right, it was me! I admit it. I couldn’t take it anymore. Luckily for him, and especially for me, he dropped something while the paper protest was in flight. In the nick of time, he bent over to pick up the dropped item, and the paper airplane flew right over his back barely missing him; site unseen. The students giggled. He peered at us with a dumbfounded look. In all honesty, this behavior wasn’t like me; I was just overtaken by boredom.
That semester ended with summer break coming upon us. I signed up for wood shop again, for the following school year, in hopes that our school would’ve hired a new instructor. Not so. Another disappointing semester going through the same workbooks and videos ensued. I think I could’ve had more fun playing with led balloons. It wasn’t until 1993, my second semester as a sophomore, that the school hired a new instructor—Mr. H.
What a blessing he became after that Christmas Break. He already had plans for us. We were going to build a night stand with a raised panel drawer and door. As the project progressed, he would give us new safety lessons on the tool that we were about to use. Table saw first. Miter Saw Second. Router Third. Jointer somewhere in between. That semester turned my woodworking experience 180 degrees in the proper direction.
I remember vividly working on the raised panel face for my top drawer. I was meticulous. I made sure that any checks from the router blade were filled with wood putty. I sanded it smooth. I remembered every minute detail of the face. I inscribed my name very hard on the back of the panel, with number 2 pencil, prior to attaching it to the drawer. I even wrote my name on the drawer itself. It looked good. Professional even.
The next day I returned to class only to find that all of the night stands had been moved to make more room in the class. I was to begin working on the raised panel door but needed to find my nightstand before proceeding so that I could obtain measurements. I finally found my night stand but my heart skipped a beat. The drawer was gone leaving a dark empty hole in my work. I asked Mr. H. what might have happened to it. He didn’t know of course, but told me to look for it because it may have been misplaced during the move.
I scoured the room. All of the orphaned drawers did not have the characteristics of my hard work. I was utterly disappointed to say the least. I did not want to make another panel. It occurred to me that someone may have put my drawer in the wrong night stand or even worse, someone may have claimed it as their own.
I looked at almost every drawer attached to every nightstand worried that I wouldn’t find it, but I found one that looked like mine. It had all of the characteristics of the router checks that I had fixed with putty. It fit inside my night stand as well; although, it had someone else’s name on it. By this time I was furious that someone thieved my drawer and sanded my name off of it. But to be sure, I looked at all of the drawers two more times. Yep, that one was mine. I told Mr. H. about the situation. He asked me questions to verify my confidence. I told him that if we separate the panel from the drawer, I was confident that my name was written on back of the face panel. We did, and it was! Thank goodness!
I didn’t know the student who stole my drawer and it was probably best for both of us. He had wood shop in a different period and Mr. H. handled it anyway. I had hoped the school suspended him but I doubted it. It didn’t matter so much now as I was able to proceed.
I finished the door and then the top, stained the finish piece with Minwax Golden Oak and finished it with three coats of Deft semi-gloss polyurethane. The top of the night stand also has special significance because I made it using oak that came from old bleacher seats from the auditorium. I don’t know their actual dates or ages—I wish I did. They were tongue and grooved and still had the old finish on them. Since they were stained a different color than I wanted, I planed them down to the bare wood and attached it to the top after routing the edges.
Later in the semester I submitted the night stand into the high schools’ area technology fair. This is where all of the students of the school district are allowed to compete with one another in the industrial technology fields; including, metal shop, wood shop, and auto body. About eight schools get involved with several students from each school participating. I won a large trophy that read “Best of Show” and that is what stamped my love for woodworking.
From then on I’ve made many other items. Some better than others. I’ve debated whether or not I should submit them to this site because I made them to so long ago. We’ll see. The only thing that has kept me from making even more projects was college and lack of a woodworking space and lack of tools. Things have sure changed. No excuses now.
-- There are three types of people in the world, those who can count and those who can't!