This interview, with Patron, is from the June-July 2011 issue of the LumberJock eMag
1. How did you first get started working with wood?
as a kid , head high to a dinner tablei would walk under them and wonder why the stain and finish
would stop at the edge , and not continue underneath .
the bottoms and inside edges had glue and stain fingerprints
and score marks from tooling left un-sanded and rough.
screw heads not set or the slots all rounded out
looked real shoddy and rushed .
this started me checking things out more thoroughly for quality work .
like a little inspector grading furniture and house construction details .
growing up both in mexico and the US alternately ,and seeing furniture shops where hand made was the norm .
and some well made and some very tacky built pieces ,
i began to appreciate the difference in quality .
in mexico the standard stain was coffee and wax ,
and is still used for ‘rustic’ pieces exported to this day .
traveling around the states in those years ,houses were still built by a crew of two or more ,
all the work still done by hand too ,
with crosscut and rip saws hammers and hand planes .
then the cabinets were built right on siteby trim carpenters with whatever was left over
the skill saw made it’s entrance ,and the ‘contractor’ had one to speed the work up
one man cutting and the rest nailing
till then all bracing was inset diagonals at the corners .
then evolved to flat bracing dadoed to the faces of the studs
and chiseled out with chisels and hammers .
then plywood came into useand walls were reinforced at the corners
with full sheets without the need for bracing
a big speed advancement in construction .
crews could move from house to house
in sub-developments doing just their ‘specialty ’ work
form work , framers , siding , roofers , stairs
‘wallboard’ a new idea came into being , flooring , trim .
cabinet shops began supplying the homes
with finished kitchens and bathes .
an ‘industry’ was born .
2. What was it about woodworking that initially caught your interest, enticing you to get into it at the level you are now?
my father was a vet from the ‘great war’ studying art in mexico
he and my mother divorced early ,
his dream then was to sail around the world in his own sailboat .
i didn’t know him too long , but his name and his dream all that passed to me .
i began to dream of faraway places and people (national geographic stuff) ,
and started reading boat building books , knowing i would never have the moneys to buy a boat .
so figured i better learn how to make one .
and sent out to fend for myself . dish washing in greasy spoons all i was qualified for .
and worked for $5 a graveyard shift , and 1 hamburger a night . $30 a week my pay , my room $22.50 a week . hitchhiking around the country in those years seeking sanctuary ,
(and staying one step clear of the law) i got to move up to ditch digging ,
as the contractors wouldn’t hire me as i had no ‘experience’ .
and in a borrowed suit (what a sight) was interviewed for a job as a ‘runner’
on wall street , which i got on the condition i come back in a better suit .
the two CEO’s i talked to (think ‘trading places” with don ameche and dan acroyd)
told me i was the ‘the most important man in america’ as wall street was ‘the backbone of america) .
i took important papers around to all the major banks and insurance companies
to be signed by presidents and CEO’s and returned to 63 wall street Johnson and Higgins insurance brokers .
sometimes with a hand cuff to an attaché case to my wrist , the only time i was paid to wear them .
well when they wanted to send me to classes to become an accountant and send me to south america
as i spoke spanish that did it for me , i quit and moved to a cold water flat in the bowery in the village (grenwich)
and got a job washing dishes at the ‘bitter end’ bar , and made grilled cheese sandwiches for mary ,
of ‘peter , paul , and mary’ who sang there off and on , bob dylan and i were both ‘poets’ then
and because of our mutual interest in arlene were rivals for her attention .
she chose bob mitchell who owned ‘the fat black pussycat’ coffee house instead ,
and went to spain with him , and gave him the clap , saving both bob and i for later fame .
i wound up in NYC at 17 and answered an add for work
3. Tell us a bit of history of your journey from that beginning to where you are today
well having started in mexico amidst artists and musicians and poets (think ‘on the road’ by jack karouac)
and learning to smoke pot from my mother , i tried my hand at dealing , but was a terrible dealer ,
as i let the customers ‘test’ the goods first , resulting in no sales , but many ‘friends’ .
wound up getting busted at the border in arizona with an ounce of smuggled pot ,
and got probation and was sent to nevada to do my three years probation
which i broke going to mexico to help a friend start a ‘youth hostel’
and had a vision of hiding for the rest of my life , which i didn’t like .
so i bought a suit and came back and walked into the sherifs office in reno and turned myself in .
wound up in a federal penitentiary for 1 1/2 years as a plumber
and fought to be let into the carpentry class as that had always been my dream .
with the help of the instructor Mr Morinaga that was made possible my last 6 months there .
i became the ‘shop foreman’ after the first month .
we learned hand tools and speed jigs for them ,
then power hand tools and their jigs .
then machinery and their jigs for ‘production’ work .
and built ‘mock’ houses and roofs .
from cement to turn key , every thing to build a complete building .
long story short .
i became the ‘vocational trainee’ of the year and got a pen and pencil set
and got to have turkey dinner with the warden
and watch ‘orka the whale’ as our special reward .
and could listen to music after 10 when lights out happened everywhere
except for us .
buy now i was in the ‘honor’ wing and had my own key to my cell
as i was getting ready to leave Mr Morinaga told me to turn my back
at work in the street work i had been trained to do ,
as others would see what i could do and take my work in the future .
and went to say goodbye to my teacher and mentor ,
and told him that yes , that was the way of the world .
but it had taken me all those years and prison to finally get to learn my trade ,
and that i would go and shout it from the rooftops ,
if i could help even one person to not have to struggle as i had done .
if i can’t stay in front of my own students , then i have no business being in that position .
reading , looking at old movies and checking out doors , floors ;and furniture .
and boats of course , having spent 10 years in florida working with cuban boatbuilders
who worked all by hand , they taught me hand work , and i taught them modern tools .
i am still friends with many to this day .
old ‘pros’ are the hardest to teach , as they insist on doing what got them by so far.
the works of masters in all the venues made me open to the idea
that if these men could do some of these great works ,
that i could give it my best to do so too .
my art parents ad study gave me the ability to do and try new and innovative things
4. What inspires you regarding wood creations?
the grace of a sailing shipthe changing visions of Escher’s work
the simple japanese art forms
green and green
a cathedral with lofty arched ceilings
knowing all the stones were cut to wooden patterns
all the manufactured things we use in everyday life
from gears for machinery
to engine blocks to cast stoves
all started as wooden ‘plugs’
and molds made from them
by pattern makers with skills akin to machinists
just the beauty of wood as it gives it’s enduring gift
5. What are the greatest challenges that you have met along the way? (and how did you overcome them)
learning to be and believe i could be worthy of the work i was asked to doand finding my own abilities to step out of the mold of others ideas about woodworking
and letting the wood and buildings dictate their own needs and beauty
changing preset ideas to allow the path to lead in the final work
6. What is the greatest reward that you have received from woodworking? (personal or tangible)
the gift that the good Lord has given meothers get the finished work
but in my heart and in my hands
i have the gift that is mine and it gets added to and grows with each new work
7. What is your favorite tool that you use for woodworking?
on job sites just about any tool i may needif one breaks then find another
or change the work to suit the tools still working
or buy another even a cheap one
to finish the work as ordered and on time
in my shop i have 4 table saws from a uni-saw to cheap table topsall can be used for different cuts with or without jigs
5 band saws all with different blade widths
no adjusting guides just buy blades by the 1/2 dozen
and change as needed takes minuets and i’m back to work
3 jointers from 8” to 4” each for different size of wood
3 planers from 10” to 20” again different size wood needs
air vacuum and routers and sanding and spraying
all my tools for work flow so i don’t have to stopand mess with changing them over
and lose momentum and interest
and tons of hand toolsfor that hands on time or some forgotten step
8. What is your favorite creation in/for your woodworking?
as a ‘carpenter’ walking around in a full size buildingand being part of it’s ‘birth’
as a woodworker not asking anyone what style cost or time i havemaking boxes has always been my ‘relax’
as it is just as demanding and teaches so much
on a personal level
9. What tips would you give to someone just starting out or currently struggling with woodworking?
don’t limit yourself to ‘conventional or established’ thinkingstop look and listen ask study observe
but follow your heartif you make a mistake
fix it and learn
if you take the wrong turn
back up and take the other road
some of my best ideascome from the way the scraps fall around the tools
don’t be shy
all the wood has a place in some project
you just need to be open to it when it is time
10. How did you find LumberJocks and what is it that keeps you coming back?
my younger brother suggested that i needed to use my new computerto do more than write e-mails and said google ‘woodworking blog sites’
what’s a blog says ijust try it says he
well lumberjocks was the first site listed
so i clicked it
and well the rest is history as they say
i have never looked at another
unless someone posts a link to them
none of which i found as friendly or as awesome as LJ’s
and i will admit LJ’s is my ‘provenance’ store room for all my work
(which i do tutorials about to prove i did them
and not just took credit for them)
and i get the chance to share and teach in a fashion
for all the 47 years in this business
and all the work i have done
my name appeared only once
as i was off to the next work
as others stayed and somehow got the credit
(i still have yet to see any of their work elsewhere)
(and bang heads) with woodworkers of all ages and talents
here i have the chance to rub elbows
the thing i like most i guess
is that all our work is shared
and we aren’t competing with each other
Thank you, Patron, for this interview, for all you do for this site, for the world of woodworking, and for life in general!
-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)