This interview with CPLUSWoodworker is for the November 2013 issue of our LumberJocks eMag.
1. How did you first get started working with wood?
My Dad had 6 tools:
2. Flat Head screwdriver
3. Philips Head screwdriver
4. Cross-Cut hand saw
5. Ripping hand saw
6. Duct Tape.
Seriously, I do not remember my Dad doing any maintenance or constructing anything in the 18 years I lived with him, nor do I remember Dad using tools all the rest of his life…………..when we would go over to visit.
This is absolutely not a knock on my Dad. He accomplished many many great things in his life. Tennis Champ. Active with the young men at Church. Pianist and Organist at Church. Avid and expert skier. Honest to a fault. A much decorated Veteran of both WWII and Korea. Great neighbor and friend. A good husband………..and a great Dad.
He would just rather pay to have something done, when and what ever was needed to be done.
He just did not want anything to do with fixing anything or building anything. Why? To this day, I have no idea.
I mention my Dad as my first comment because so many of us learned about tools and constructing things or fixing things from our Dads.
I would go over to friend’s houses and see their Dads adding on a patio or building a bedroom in their basement, and I would truly be amazed.
I was so different from that my dad in two major ways:
I was…. and still am:
Horse Crazy, and love to build.
I won’t go into the horse-stuff, except to say that I have bred and trained horses for almost all my life.
However, I always liked or loved or had the need to build something or work on something.
Initially it was car stuff with my buddies and our cars while teenagers. Boring out engines, adding quad carburetors, etc. etc.
My Mother always had a parakeet or some type of small bird(s) hanging in her kitchen. She loved birds.
When I was 14 or 15, my Mother (whose even smallest wish became an instant commandment to me) mentioned that she a visited a lady who had an aviary in her backyard and how much she had liked it.
I asked Mom to describe it to me. And, when she had finished I said to myself, “well, I can build my Mom one of those”.
So, I did.
It was put in the middle of the patio so she could see it all the time.
Even today I wonder how in the world I built that thing with nothing but the few tools my Dad had.
I built it in the shape of an octagon. About 6” feet at the eaves and another 3 foot in the roof, where the birds could go to get out of the weather………and where they slept.
I built it out of 2×3 redwood, with each side of the octagon about 3ft. wide. One side was the door. Up until then, it was easy.
I had to build this thing using only the tools my Dad had, but mainly I used the handsaw and the hammer and nails because that was all I had access to.
The eight-sided roof was an entirely different matter.
But, somehow I was able to make those eight sections of roof and get them installed. I recollect making and re-making that roof many times before I got all the angles right. That part was hard.
We put a couple of thick tree branches (with their own branches) in the aviary and then Mom filled it with the birds that she wanted.
I remember my Mom hugging me and crying because I had built that for her.
That was the very first wood project that I ever made. And it was way over my head in complexity and having proper tools.
But, I was too dumb at the time to know I could not build that aviary.
So I built it.
2. What was it about woodworking that initially caught your interest, enticing you to get into it at the level you are now?
I need to break that down into two parts. What interested me about woodworking that caught my interest?
As a young husband and Dad, I had to build stuff.
Shelves in the garages and basements,
My maternal grandfather (who I revered) told me once “never borrow a tool. If you need a tool now, you will need it again, so go buy it. Don’t go borrow it.
And, I took that advice as literally as my meager disposable income (at that time) would allow.
I already had all my wrenches and sockets from my car-guy days.
I think my first power tool was a circular saw. And that was my main cutting tool for all the shelves and dog houses, fences, etc. I still have it. It works today as well as it did the day I bought it. It has two repair jobs on the cord where I cut the cord in half, and it didn’t work real well for a while after I replaced the original blade with a new blade, mainly because I put the new blade on backwards.
You guys would laugh your heads off if you knew how may times and on how many projects I used that saw with the blade on backwards, totally PO-ed that the new blade cut worse than the old, worn-out one. A neighbor, hanging out in my garage while I was taking 60 minutes to cut through a 2×4 finally told me what was wrong. It is funny now. It was not funny then.
I graduated to building sheds, and then later on, got into building out-building for our horses. Hay barns. Horse stalls. Loafing sheds. Breeding stalls. Tack room. And to do those projects, I also graduated to pneumatic tools, nailers, skill saws, electric drills and drivers, etc.
Finally, I realized that I needed better cutting tools so I bought a Craftsman table saw and a Craftsman Radial arm saw. You old-times will remember when the Tool of the Century was the radial arm saw. I needed the table saw because we had started to use sheet goods and the radial arm saw was so quick and easy for cross cuts, especially on the thick, long lumber we used on the out-buildings….bought right from sawmill.
So, I had developed some carpentry skills……………and had some carpentry tools.
I stayed a weekend carpenter for the next 30 years…….. until 5 years ago.
I developed heart problems at age 45.
To shorten a very long and eventful story, let me just summarize that my heart disease didn’t slow me down too much for the first 10 years, then a little worse for the next 5 years, and then severely limited my activity level for the next five years………………which are the last 5 years until today.
Gone now are all the horses and barns and tractors and trucks and pastures.
I miss them so much.
One horse in particular.
And all of the people and activities with whom we associated or participated in while in the horse business.
I was pretty sick for a year…….about 5 years ago.
3. Tell us a bit of history of your journey from that beginning to where you are today
And then the Doc’s got me feeling better with the right surgeries and right meds.
So, I was feeling pretty good….......and got STIR CRAZY.
I had to work on something. I had to build something. I had to make something.
So, I really pondered this issue………..what I liked to do, what Could I do (physically) that would satisfy my need to not only stay busy, but to actually produce something of tangible value.
I like tools. I am a tool junkie. I took my grandfathers advice and bought so many tools. Never saw a tool I didn’t have to have.
I began to tinker in the garage. Just little stuff. Closet remodeling. More and better shelving for THE BOSS’s stuff.
Had to pay someone to build a 12×20 shed for me. Just killed me to have to pay someone to do that……….that would have been 4 weekends for me and a buddy.
More shelving out there.
And, I had been buying/splurging on any tool that I thought I might possibly want or need.
I began to make a few little “nice” things for in-the-house.
And made some things for the grandkids.
One day while my wife shopped in a big box store, I did my usual thing and grabbed a couple of magazines and went over and made myself comfortable in the furniture department.
One of the magazines I grabbed was (and still is) a mainstay magazine on woodworking.
“Hey, I like this. I want to build this. We could use this”
“I can build this”
A life changing event……….truly.
And one I was actually pretty well equipped for.
So, I gave the old table saw and radial arm saw to a son
And got Unisaw,
Went all-out on a router table.
Got a good drill press.
You can never have enough clamps became a motto
Bought a very good sliding miter saw.
And bought every possible goodie for all these tools.
4. What inspires you regarding wood creations?
I need to stop here for a second and mention something.
I study the hell out of something before I buy it.
Drives my wife nuts sometimes.
Not study for hours………….I study for days!
And that is how I found LumberJocks.
I can Very honestly and candidly say that every tool I have bought (of any significance) has been from the research I did on LumberJocks.
Also, I have several hundred “Favorites” on LumberJocks.
Projects that I want to build or contain a skill that I either already have or want to learn, or specific tools are mentioned or products (like sanding and finishing) that I want to keep available for when I need it
All of you folks on LumberJocks have made a HUGE contribution to my life by simply sharing photos of your incredible projects, your review of tools and your comments regarding the projects themselves coupled with your comments on the tools and skills and techniques used.
99% of what I build and how I build it and the skills and tools needed to do the build………….have all come from you folks.
5. What are the greatest challenges that you have met along the way? (and how did you overcome them)
Well, for me it was physical health that was the greatest challenge.
Candidly I never should have done some of the projects I have done.
Projects like the MAJOR shelving projects out in the shed………..it is actually two segments, the shed is 12×20 and the addition is 10×20 open on two ends for the ATV and the tillers, mowers, stuff like that.
I put up a huge amount of shelving out there. Way more than I should have.
I am blessed with such a wonderful wife. She is a couple of decades younger than am I (true) and she helps so very much. Cutting up sheet goods, carrying stuff I cannot handle, getting under the table saw when the exhaust gets plugged. She is the third hand when I need one while building something, and she actually does the work when I just cannot do it anymore and have to rest.
And, (also true) she insists……no…she DEMANDS….that I buy any and all tools that I even think I might like or need.
Like Joe Cocker………in that great voice and song of his……….”You are so wonderful……to me”.
So,…….. now I have left that “I can do that” phase….
And now I am only building small projects. But they are “special” projects to me ……that I am either building …..or going to build. They have to be “special” to me. This one might be the last one.
I want to build:
A secretary table (that has a very delicate appearance) for next to our front door. 5 ft tall, with a writing surface and cubby holes and/or drawers. Delicate long tapered legs.
I am presently building a 12×48 x 6 combination jewelry box wall mirror on the outside. Two equally sized doors that open into the area where she can hang her jewelry. White Oak. It is going very well, so far.
Also, working on several cutting boards and cheese boards for Christmas.
(A “trick” I thought of and have been using: I make the cutting boards a foot longer that usual, then cut off that “extra foot” and make a cheese slicer out of it. No extra glue ups, very little extra wood…. way cool process to get a few extra “very nice” presents extremely easy).
6. What is the greatest reward that you have received from woodworking? (personal or tangible)
Learning. I love learning.
Building the projects themselves.
Living life as best I can.
Creating something that is ME.
7. What is your favorite tool that you use for woodworking?
Table saw sled…………..I love how I almost always take it for granted that it will cut “true” every time.
8. What is your favorite creation in/for your woodworking?
Being at this phase of my life, it is truly just being blessed with enough days to plan and build and finish a project.
Job well done……and done with such genuine joy.
And “Thanks for this extra day”.
How can I ever express that enough ???
9. What tips would you give to someone just starting out or currently struggling with woodworking?
Do not just blindly throw your self into a project until you have (seriously) determined what tools you will need, what wood you want to use, what skills you will need (or need to acquire) the order in which you will do the build and how you are going to “sand and finish” the project.
My biggest challenge, when I first started to make nicer pieces was doing things in the correct order. Example, now I dye or stain AFTER I dry fit everything. I plug the holes or mortises with sponge so the stain stays out and the glue will hold. Then assemble. (just one very poor example…………there are so many others).
Don’t think plans are canonized epistles. Many have wrong measurements or do things in the wrong order.
Learn proper gluing. I made so many mistakes with glue. And almost always because I used too much glue and too much clamping pressure.
Your tools absolutely must be reliably square.
Buy used, but good quality tools……..particularly your power tools.
My experience has been that if you take a little time, you can find a tool that someone bought and hardly ever used. Or a wife (widow) who is selling her husbands tools……….and who was a guy that took as good of care with his tools as you will if they were yours.
Good as new. And at half the price. But, be picky. Walk away if it doesn’t fulfill your EVERY want and need.
10. How did you find LumberJocks and what is it that keeps you coming back?
Miss Deb……………..I think I covered that already, however, another bonus…. I found a buddy from the same Unit that was in-country at the same time I was. We did not know each other….............until we hooked up through comments on a project. And I have made very good friends with a LJ and his wife via LJ. We now correspond almost daily. We visited them at their home/shop a while back and they are coming down here next week.
Thanks for asking me to do this. Very humbled and honored.
And a Post Script:
I am not a craftsman. Really, I am not.
I have come to realize that I am not really a woodworker. There are so many artisans on LumberJocks. True woodworker CRAFTSMAN.
I invented a term for what I am:
I am a wood machinist.
I get the proper tools
I get the tools setup very very accurately
And then I machine the wood
And follow the “tricks of the trade” that I have learned.
I feel my time on LumberJocks has been an apprenticeship.
One that I have certainly not finalized, but I am more skilled at machining wood for assembly and finish than I was 1 or 2 or 3 years ago.
FOLLOW-UP – Part II
As mentioned, Bruce hasn’t been well and as a reminder that, well, as he says, “It reminds me that it is of no use to me today……and I give God thanks for waking ume p this morning and giving me another day.”
And thanks to you for doing the interview!!
-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)