'This Old Crack House' #45: Are you sure your in the right class?

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Blog entry by Dusty posted 07-07-2007 02:00 PM 2805 reads 0 times favorited 24 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 44: Build it and they will come...Show it the show room house Part 45 of 'This Old Crack House' series Part 46: The Addition part one ... »

The only things that were keeping me from moving into “This Old Crack House” was $80,000, the estimated cost of the new addition, the sale of my existing house, approval to build on the vacant lot, and a design and plans that I could build from.

Oh, and did I mention that I was headed for a strike and all indications were it would be a long one?

No Problem, I thought to myself. However, it was a problem, but no more than anything else I had faced and tackled with the purchase and remodeling of “This Old Crack House”.

Once again I was wrong. This wasn’t the first time nor would it be the last time either.

In my head, I had a pretty good idea what I wanted for the addition to the house.

As I stated previously, the bare minimum I needed to build to convince my business partner to sell his half of the existing house and move into this house, would be a new kitchen, main floor bedroom, bathroom, and a new shop (attached garage).

I began to sketch plans on scrap paper and show him the designs. He always ended with, “nice but this house has to be sold before we could start building” and reminding me that it had to be affordable. One of the stipulations or stumbling blocks was that he insisted we not only recover all of our costs from the other house, but we couldn’t take on any more debt. In other words, we had to sell our house and use the profits to fund the expansion of the house across the street.

I was counting on the fact that the market had remained very hot in our price range and houses were appreciating an average of eight percent annually. We had spent a substantial amount of money and invested a great deal of sweat-equity remodeling the house over the five years that we lived in it. We expected to realize in the two hundred ten thousand dollar range. This is considered very affordable in the Minneapolis St Paul area.

By this time we had really outgrown our existing space in our shop and had a showroom full of both finished and unfinished furniture. We also had converted the existing two stall garage at “This Old Crack House” to a stain shop only. This not only freed up room for our existing shop it simply wasn’t practical to hold up production on furniture while going through the lengthy staining process.

I also was beginning to feel the effects of working seven days a week in less than desirable and very cramped quarters.

In short I was exhausted.

I also was acutely aware that we were at a crossroads at this point with our custom furniture building business. Several factors were beginning to emerge as to whether we were going to continue our side business. It had always been our intention to do this on the side and not as a full-time business as our soul means of income. In addition to providing a job for our long time friend and helper Sid, and our own furniture building to furnish the house, we started it to learn how to do fine furniture wood working. We initially started it because not only were we unable to find specific pieces of furniture we liked, they simply didn’t fit or weren’t practical for the narrow halls and low clearance of the stairway headers.

Of course, price was another factor in choosing to build our own furniture. We simply couldn’t afford to buy the period furniture that was relevant to the style of our rehabilitated house.

From the beginning, the idea was to run the sideline furniture-building business at break-even, allowing us to cover all cost including tools and raw materials thus enabling us to furnish our house without any out-of-pocket expense. We were able to achieve this goal, and gain wonderful and invaluable furniture-building experience without as much as a single class or course in woodworking.

We considered this to be a success in our woodworking adventures.

From the beginning, I was concerned that if I built fine furniture for a living or did woodworking as my daily job I would lose my passion for woodworking. I didn’t want woodworking to simply become another “job”.

I also knew that I had the type of personality that takes on a challenge, works through the issues, achieves the goals and moves on. I’m exhilarated by new challenges; discovering and exploring new adventures. I am not so arrogant as to think that I had mastered woodworking and was beyond improving or expanding my knowledge of the craft. I am simply saying I am the type of person who needs new and fresh challenges all the time. I suppose this story is ample evidence of this.

I thought one way for me to continue expanding my woodworking skills and satisfy my desire for new adventure was to learn the art of stained glass. I always admired the work those in that craft were able to do and thought it would be a natural extension of woodworking. I had briefly looked into some community education classes but found them to be more oriented to simple projects and hobbyists.

That wasn’t sufficient for me. I personally wanted to learn the intricacies of the craft and become one of the craftsmen in this specialized field.

Little did I know or realize what kind of commitment this would take.

One again I was humbled and so wrong about something about which I had very little knowledge. I simply had no idea about the complexities of stained glass and all the avenues and skills needed to become proficient in the craft.

I had applied for an internship at an established nationally known stained glass school and business that was affiliated with several local colleges and art and design professionals. This was a hands-on program that consisted of both class and studio experience.

The training was a little over two years. It was five days a week, four to six hours a day in the master’s stained glass studio or classroom. In addition to this, I was expected to spend a minimum of two hours and often six plus hours in my own shop or studio working on assigned projects. For all practical purposes for seven days a week, for about two and one half years, I worked on stained glass and furniture. I was very lucky to have my own shop and be able to incorporate it into my furniture building. I had converted one section of my shop just to do stained glass work. This was quite challenging because of the dusty nature of woodworking and the fragile state of handling glass.

I could write a whole story about my training experiences learning to become a stained glass artist. Some day I may.

However for now, all I want to say is that for those who have an interest in the craft of stained glass, it was one of the biggest challenges I have ever taken on and, at the same time, the most rewarding.

I was the only student who never had as much as a single art class or degree in art or design. In fact I was the only student who didn’t have a master’s degree or better in art.

For the record I also didn’t have any tattoo’s, green hair, hoops, rings, or other metal pieces inserted in my body. I never had a laptop, drank bottled water, or a specialty cup of coffee that cost over three dollars.

I attended my classes with a tape measure in it’s holster, jeans, work boots and band aides in my pocket. I packed my lunch in my lunch box ever day of class and often sat alone , in the lunch room reading about stained glass while my fellow students went out to eat their lunch at a deli.

I never was invited to join them, I guess I wasn’t one of them.

Although it stung in the end it never mattered.

Many of them have since made amends to me and have told me how they misjudged me because I was so quiet as a student.

Several have not taken time get to know me or see my work as a woodworker.

When I started I never knew what ‘genre’ was, let alone be able pronounce it correctly.

The first night of class, there were twelve students present. We all had to introduce ourselves and give a summary of our experience and accomplishments and why we wanted to become stained glass artisans. Considering the acceptance process was grueling and had taken nearly a year before one of the internships was offered to me, I had for some reason, perhaps ignorance, been lead to believe that experience in art or stained glass was not a prerequisite. I sat in horror listening to student after student listing one after another, major accomplishments or honors and various art shows and awards they had attained in there careers.

Never had I felt so embarrassed and inadequate in my life as I did at that moment.

I was positive they had made a mistake, in accepting me into this program. I almost excused myself to use the restroom planning to exit and never come back.

When it was my turn to give a short autobiography of myself in horror and a shaking voice I said “I’m Dusty. I am a self taught woodworker and have no experience in stained glass or art.” The reason I am here is I want to learn and think I can incorporate stained glass into my woodworking and home that I am refurbishing.”

There was dead silence.

After what seemed like a week, and a flushed face and near internal panic one of the students said, “That’s hot!” which broke the silence.

I was never so grateful in my life.

At that moment I committed myself to proving to them through my work that just being a “woodworker” wasn’t some handicap that needed to be overcome, but rather an asset.

I decided right there this would be my calling.

For the record, and not to toot my own horn, I am the only student to completely finish the course, and have been nationally recognized for my stained glass work, and have been offered many jobs in the stained glass field.

I am currently a special adjunct professor at that very school, and several others where I teach special classes in stained glass and woodworking.

The editors of “Popular Mechanics” choose my business partner and myself our of hundreds of thousands of submitted entry’s for The DIY RALLY, wildest readers projects 2007. We were the only woodworkers to make the cut and magazine.

I may of been in the wrong class, to begin with, however I at least stuck with it and went to all the classes and finished.

Enough said.

This experience would become one of the most influential experiences of my life. It transformed my personal life and lead to the final chapter in “This Old Crack House”.

This final chapter includes such things as one hundred and twenty-five handmade stained glass windows,125 plus pieces of furniture and individual cartoons that are incorporated into the house and new addition.

Oh and did I mention a one of a kind stained glass ceiling?

It has been filmed and written about as being the only one in the world.

Not bad for a one handed carpenter and woodworker, I thought to myself, as I reflect back to the first night of stained glass school when during the first break, one of the students ask me if I had accidentally come to the wrong class.

That night I thought so; today, I think not.

I am a proud woodworker who also does stained glass.

I offer no apologies or explanations for this any longer. I hope that you will agree, as I begin to write and show you the end results through pictures of the last few chapters of “This Old Crack House”.

Then again you may ask me “Are you sure you belong being a member of the web site, LumberJocks?
I know that some of the most talented woodworkers from all over the world show their works here.

That is how I learn, being surrounded by the best, not being intimidated or afraid of them.

Certainly I don’t belong to this elite group.

That’s ok.

There is nothing that says I can’t strive to someday be amongst them.

I have been in this position before.

I don’t mind being on the outside looking in.

That’s home to me.

Copyright… all rights reserved D.Jerzak 06/10/07

-- Dusty

24 comments so far

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4204 days

#1 posted 07-07-2007 02:02 PM

The story sure comes alive with all these pictures, Dusty!

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View Karson's profile


35125 posts in 4427 days

#2 posted 07-07-2007 04:26 PM

Great Job Dusty.

We are glad and proud to call you a friend.

You have offered us a ride on your bus trip through life, and we couldn’t be more proud of you and the journey that you took us on. We thought it was just going to be a little trip, instead it bacame a trip of a lifetime. We see the sides of things, but never get to see the inner working. You have shown it all.

We couldn’t be more proud of you and all that you have acomplished.

Stand tall, we are applauding you with our hands and hearts.

Thanks for the trip.

My prayers are with you and all that you can accomplish, may you be blessed.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View gizmodyne's profile


1780 posts in 4117 days

#3 posted 07-07-2007 04:56 PM

Very inspirational tale. I think these old houses do something to us Dusty. I am just getting going.

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4183 days

#4 posted 07-07-2007 05:46 PM


Thank you.

I am great full to be able to have this web site and readers to tell my story.

I have two or three chapters left and perhaps a surprise or too before I am done.

I hope you will stay with me until the end, as you have so far.

I hope that you will feel it was worth the wait.

-- Dusty

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4120 days

#5 posted 07-07-2007 05:50 PM

Thank you, Dusty. Thank you very much for this vivid, thought provoking and inspiring series. As I mentioned in a comment when you asked the community if you should continue the tale, This series was one of the main reasons I decided to get involved here an not just ‘follow along’. I respect very much what you have done and appreciate that you can, and do, share it with the group as a humble citizen.

If your schedule and desire to share continues, I personally would love to read more about the two-year study of stained glass. Perhaps I should take a glass.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4183 days

#6 posted 07-07-2007 05:53 PM


I agree with you.

I wouldn’t presume or want to even attempt to give you any advise because it probley would be worthless anyways.

I will leave that up to the hundreds of friends, relatives, and sidewalk superintendents who you will find will dispense there advice often and with some assumed authority.

If I was to suggestion something it would be to enjoy every moment of the journey.

That is where all the joy lies.

The end I found is just that, the end.

A letdown.

A place to start new beginning’s.

In other words.


May I suggest you keep a daily journal

I cherish that I did this.

I wish you all the success and am envoys of your new adventure.

-- Dusty

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4187 days

#7 posted 07-07-2007 05:56 PM

I have goosebumps on my arms and legs, tears in my eyes, and a lump in my throat.

This indeed has been quite a journey and I am honoured to be amongst those that have had the privilege of reading it.
I bow to you personal strengths, dedication, integrity, and honour.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4183 days

#8 posted 07-07-2007 06:00 PM


Thank you.

I am kicking around a couple ideas and writing about the stained glass experiences and how I incorporate it into my woodworking is one of the blog series I am considering.

If fellow lumberjacks will indulge me I am so inclined to attempt to write about my experiences this fall when time permits.
I would invite you to sample a class or two in stained glass. Even if its a simple intro class, I think you will find it very useful and rewarding. I am sure that you would agree it will make you a better woodworker. Stained glass will teach you patience along with a lot about design and color.

One other option would to come hang out in my shop this fall some time and I would be glad to give you some intro lessons to a fellow woodworker. After all you live only a short distance and across the river from me.

I would extend this offer to tour “This Old Crack House” and my shop to any other fellow lumberjack who might be in Minneapolis.

I don’t charge for any of the lessons I give in my shop to other woodworkers.

I have found the greatest reward I can give myself is to give away any talents I have with my crafts.

Thank you for giving me encouragement and support in sharing my story.

-- Dusty

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4183 days

#9 posted 07-07-2007 06:29 PM


I am the one who is honored to have had all the encouragement you keep giving me to write “This Old Crack

Thank you is not enough, I know this.

However it is all I have to offer and it comes from my heart.

-- Dusty

View BillinDetroit's profile


26 posts in 4004 days

#10 posted 07-08-2007 02:08 AM

Rats! I was in MPLS (Egan, actually) in April and it will probably be April of next year before I get back there. Perhaps the offer will still be open then and I can prevail upon your good graces for an hour or so? Glass and I have never gotten along very well but I can think of loads of places where it would spice things up.

-- (pens & bowls, mostly)

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4183 days

#11 posted 07-08-2007 01:24 PM


No problem the offer is always open to fellow lumberjocks. Just email me and let me know when you will be here and we will make it work.

I would be happy to teach you how to get alone with glass. I’m sure when you started with wood you said the same thing.

Does the word slivers ring a bell?

-- Dusty

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4341 days

#12 posted 07-08-2007 11:22 PM

Hi Dusty! I was going into withdrawls. Our power was cut off for a couple of days (windstorm) and I want you to know this is the first place i came after power was restored. I just had to get my fix of “this old crack house”. I’m looking forward to your blog on stained glass. It is a favorite of mine.

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4120 days

#13 posted 07-09-2007 06:19 AM


Thanks for the invitation. I very much want to stop by and visit. I’ve been super busy with getting our place ready for sale. It goes on the market Tuesday and I should have much more time in the evenings now. I’ll drop you a PM soon to set something up. I’m pretty excited to take the tour!

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View Dusty's profile


785 posts in 4183 days

#14 posted 07-10-2007 01:31 AM


Thank you I am honored. I know how you feel about not being able to log into lumberjocks web site.

I am working about 70 hours a week now and still taking care of Ms D, and my elderly parents. I don’t get a lot of time to come on line anymore.

I hope you didn’t have any damage from the wind storm.

Its good to see you back on line, I was wondering what was going on your always so supportive of my blog writing.

-- Dusty

View Diane's profile


546 posts in 4150 days

#15 posted 07-10-2007 11:25 PM

Thanks so much. I ditto what Debbie said. I’m sure glad I have met you and gotten to read your story.


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