It never ceases to amaze me the lengths we will go, to make things so hard on ourselves. To start with, I am referring of course, to all the trouble I had with that six foot armoire that wouldn’t fit in my shop; then all the trouble we went through trying to get it upstairs at my buddies’ house. I realize that it would have been a lot easier, had I just taken the time to measure and plan the project before I built it.
Live and learn.
The trouble is, I’m not sure that I will live long enough to make all the mistakes necessary to become a perfect woodworker.
The solution was very obvious. I must have been blind. All I had to do was build this Armoire to fit through the doorways, narrow halls, and up the spiral steps.
Although simple and obvious, I still question why it take me so long to figure out?
That time the wood was smarter than me. I admit it.
I just needed to figure out how to build this solution.
I did just that. I admit that it was a challenge but it surely was a lot easier than what I had experienced with that heavy and clumsy, oversized armoire.
All the time I was building the replacement piece, I had no idea how valuable that lesson would become. It wasn’t too long before I had to build various pieces of furniture to fit the stairway of an old house that had no headroom and was narrow and unforgiving.
That’s the beauty of woodworking. If we allow them, solutions find us.
My buddy felt really sorry for me and all the work I had gone through to deliver the armoire. He new I had just started furniture making and acquiring new tools for my shop. At the time, I was more than willing to take on projects for the experience, and to trade out my labor for new tools. I badly needed a new table-saw. Due to all the money I had spent remodeling my own house, I was short of cash to buy one. Plus, I had already spent a lot of money on tools for my new shop.
He really liked the head and foot board I had built out of oak for my own bedroom. He offered to buy me a new table saw if I built him one just like mine. I had a lot of oak that I had traded for another project I did, so I figured this would be a good trade. Besides, having previously built one, I knew how not to build this one. It was agreed. I would build a new head and foot-board and a new armoire. I would charge him the same price as I had asked for the armoire that wouldn’t fit. In exchange, he would buy me that new Ridgid table-saw from Home Depot that I had been looking at.
I went to work on the projects. This time I had a helper. Sid had finished teaching and was on summer vacation. He had just started coming to the shop.
I asked him whether he knew anything about furniture design. “Nope!” was his one word answer as he continued working on repairing an old stool someone from the neighborhood had brought around.
This was my first indication that Sid was a man of few words. He just keeps quiet and to himself, working at his own pace. He wasn’t in any hurry.
I started drawing on a tablet, what I thought was a good design for the armoire. From time to time, I would stop and ask Sid’s opinion. He would just say, “Looks good,” and go back to work. I was hoping he would jump in and offer some ideas because I had no clue what I was doing.
But none were forthcoming.
After I completed the design and drawing, I showed it to Sid and asked what he thought. Again, his only response was, “Looks good.”
I could see that even asking was a waste of time but at least I was trying to include him.
There is no better way to find out if something is going to work than to build it and find out. That’s exactly what we did. We had to make some minor adjustments because we lacked the tool or equipment to build in a certain way. Plus we were limited in our woodworking skills. Although we were learning fast, we had much more to learn.
We did work well as a team. I did all the talking he did all the nodding. What could be better than that?
I had to stop and eat a lunch. I had reminded Sid to bring his lunch but when I ask him if he brought his lunch, he said, “No,” and went back to work. I figured I would be kind and share my sandwich and fresh garden salad with him. Ms. D and I had our garden and had a lot of nice early veggies to choose from for our salads. Mine was a roast beef sandwich. I gave him half. He nodded and thanked me. We sat in the shop eating. It was dead silent. I noticed he wasn’t eating his sandwich. I asked him if it was ok. He nodded, but never looked up. I walked outside for a minute to take in some of the sunshine and stretch a bit. I turned around to ask him if he was coming outside and I saw him throwing the roast beef sandwich to my two basset hounds that double as garbage disposals.
They seemed to enjoy the sandwiches. I asked Sid if something was wrong with the sandwich. He said, “Nope,’ and apologized for not telling me he only ate fish and vegetables.
We went back to work. Not a word was spoken. It’s hard to explain, but even though not a word was spoken it seemed Sid and I had worked together for years. In an eerie sort of way, it was very comforting. He seemed to know my next move and be ready for whatever I needed or was thinking.
My efforts to engage him in conservation were met with short answers or no response at all. I soon just gave up and concentrated on what I was doing. Most of the day was spent in silence. Although this made for very productive days, I wasn’t used to this and at first found it hard to adjust.
This continued for most of the summer.
It’s funny how many projects your neighbors can come up with when they find out you have a workshop. We always had the garage door open. As they walked by they could see we were working on various pieces and would often come up the driveway to see what we were doing. They would frequently ask us to fix this, or build that, for them. Of course, they would usually ask how much I would charge. I would answer that we didn’t charge for our labor because we were just gaining experience and would rather trade labor for tools. Then I would invite them to bring whatever it was to the shop they wanted fixed, or if they had a picture of something that they wanted built.
It wasn’t long and we had a shop full of broken stools, chairs, tables, and various other things that needed gluing, or some other repair. I started a tip jar and seeded it with a twenty and at the end of the day I would give all the tips to Sid.
He was so grateful.
Every day I would stop for lunch and ask him if he brought lunch. Same answer. No. I would then ask him if he would like a salad and a can of tuna. He would say, “Yes thank you.” We would stop and he would mix his tuna in with his salad and eat it but never say a word. After eating he would get back up and go right back to work.
He showed up every day that summer.
I’ve lost count, but we did many repairs and projects for the neighbors and their friends and relatives. We sure learned a lot about furniture repair, design and building. Every penny we took in the tip jar I gave to Sid. It was a good summer.
I did discover one thing rather quickly. We were putting together the shell, or carcass of the armoire which was made out of ¾ oak veneer. We needed to lift the shell up and stand it so we could fit the shelves and I asked him to lift one side. He said it looks pretty heavy and hesitated. I made a smart remark and called him something less than manly and started to lift the armoire. He grabbed the other side. We slid it off the work bench and he promptly dropped his side and it fell to the floor. I asked in a very stern tone what the heck he was doing. He explained that he had no strength in my right hand. He had a reaction to some medication he was taking for hay fever and ended up in a coma for several weeks and never regained the strength of that hand.
I never asked him again about the hand. We just worked around that problem.
We completed the head and foot-board and the armoire. I fixed the pieces of spindle and handrail from the oak stairway that I took apart to get the first armoire up the steps.
It was time to deliver the project. I called my buddy and we agreed on Saturday afternoon. This time, not only was it going to be easier because we had build this in two pieces, but I had taken the time to measure everything ahead of time. I knew it would fit in the hallways and through the doorways. It would also fit in my pickup and only need two guys to lift the pieces. I left the back off which gave us a place to grab making it easier to lift. We planned to install the back and the shelves in the field. This also made it considerable lighter.
It’s sure funny what a sore back can do to make you a smarter woodworker.
I promptly arrived at my buddies at the agreed time. We went right to work unloading the furniture that I had wrapped up so well in blankets. We were under the watchful eye of his fiancée. He had the bedroom empty so we just stockpiled all the pieces until we had all of them unloaded. I then brought up my tools and was preparing to begin putting together the bed and armoire.
The bedroom was very large and had a beautiful floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace in the center of the south wall facing the neighbors. My buddy’s fiancée ask me where I thought the oak head and foot board would look best. This was a rather large piece. There was a large triple window facing the street that would be perfect and add to the natural flow of the room while still allowing for a full view of the fireplace from the bed. I started to walk towards the window pulling out my tape measure to make sure that it would fit between the windows. In a very stern voice she said, “No! I will not have my head that close to a window next to the street in this neighborhood.”
I was taken aback and responded, “You’re kidding, right?” She answered, “Hell no! I’m serious. This is the Hood, not some rich suburb.” Then she said, “How about in front of the fireplace.”
With a question I replied, “And block that beautiful fireplace?”
“Yep,” she said. “It’s all stone and I don’t think bullets can get thru that.”
I was so taken aback and puzzled by this that I started walking to the window again to see what was across the street. I had come in from the backyard and there was a high fence around the property so that I couldn’t see anything.
I stood near the window looking out and pulling my tape measure out again to take a measurement, in a convincing tone she declared, “No!” It’s simply not a option there.
Just then I noticed a car pull up in the middle of the street. A guy got out and kneeled behind the door. I took a double-take because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The pops started. It sounded like firecrackers but much louder.
My buddy hollered, “HIT THE FLOOR WHITE BOY, THE HOODS GONE NUTS AND THEY BE SHOOTING IT UP AGAIN!” I stood there in disbelief watching this guy unload his gun at this other guy running across the street and down the side of the house. He stopped and turned and began firing back at the guy in the street.
By this time my buddy had dialed 911 and was telling the operator about the shots being fired. He and his fiancée were on the floor. I could tell that they had been through this before. I had wondered why he always had a phone in his hand while upstairs. It almost appeared well rehearsed. They were already on the floor crawling towards the hallway before I even knew what was going on.
By now I was on my knees but still peeking out the window. Stupid curiosity I guess.
My buddy asked me if I could see anything as he was relaying the information to the 911 operator. I was trying to describe to him what I was watching. He slid the phone across the hardwood floor to me. I picked it up and started giving the operator descriptions of the car and shooters. As I was describing the scene, a black 1980’s Chevy Blazer, complete with a luggage rack and side boards, pulled up in the rear alley behind the house where the guy was running. A rather large man got out wearing a long trench-coat and pulled out what looked like a machinegun and started shooting.
All hell broke loose!
I was now lying flat on the floor.
It sounded like the fourth of July.
I tried pulling myself up by the sill of the window to peek out. All I could see was the top of the fence next door being shot off from the machine gun, which turned out later to be an AK 47. Just then, the shooter in the street screamed, turned and headed around the back of his car and took cover. It looked like he was loading a new clip when he turned and looked up towards me looking back out at him through the window. He pointed his gun toward me; I hit the floor.
This time I stayed there.
My heart was pounding so hard. I covered my head with my hands. Like that was going to do any good. My buddy hollered for me to crawl to the hallway where he and his fiancée were. They say you have to crawl before you run.
That’s a lie. I made it in record time and my knees never left the floor.
We all lay in the hallway. I was waiting for the sirens any minute now. I thought I had given a pretty good description of the black Blazer. I hadn’t heard anymore shots.
Three minutes passed nothing.
Five minutes passed still nothing.
Nine minutes passed and still no sirens.
Twelve minutes passed and still no sign of anyone or any sirens.
I shouted to my buddy as I was lying on the floor, “Call the cops back. This is crazy!”
He dialed 911 and asked why no cops showed up. The 911 operator said that she would dispatch a sergeant and to watch for him. Until you see him arrive stay in the house.
Within a few minutes two squad cars showed up out front.
We quickly hurried downstairs and met the police officers on the street. In a very serious and excited voice I demanded to know why it had taken so long to respond. I was both concerned with and angry about the slow response. The sergeant in a measured, calm voice asked who I was and if I was the one who placed the call. I told him who I was and that I was the one who gave the description of the Chevy blazer.
He then said, “We had several simultaneous calls regarding shots fired. One of the calls was from a young boy who had a language barrier and stated he was in the house that the one shooter was running along side of. He was giving a description of a black pickup truck that was in the alley with a shooter aiming at a man next to a fence.” He went on to say, “As we were responding, a black pickup truck appeared at the intersection on the highway two blocks from here, that fit the initial description given by the boy. We called for backup and stopped the truck. We ordered the driver out onto the ground. Several squads showed up. The police had their weapons drawn and some had their shotguns pointed at the suspect. After ordering him to the ground, securing the suspect, and after overcoming another language barrier, it became clear that this was not the vehicle that we were looking for. The other 911 calls were giving a description of a Chevy Blazer, not a pickup. We were trying to place this man in safe custody while we sorted this out. We pat searched him and realized that he had soiled himself during this stop. We were unable at that time to place him in the back of the squad car. We had to wait for a supervisor’s instructions. That is what took us so long to respond. I’m sorry.”
I nodded and told him I totally understood.
At this point I wasn’t sure I hadn’t soiled myself too.
We went back upstairs and installed the bed in front of the fireplace.
I never said another word.
I thanked them and left; I don’t even remember the drive home.