Last night as I lay in bed I started to think about why I enjoy woodworking. Somewhere I read that one day spent in the shop is better than a week of fishing. When I do this I always seem to go back to the days that my father spent teaching me what he knew of the craft. As we worked, he would tell stories of his youth and working with his father so many years past. Eighty years ago the country was gripped by a depression much worse than we know today. Even as a ten year old boy my father was aware of the dire straits of his family. They would move from town to town in west Texas and southern New Mexico, following the hints of work. Dad told me that from the time he entered elementary school to the day he graduated from Hobbs High School, he attended eighteen different schools.
When my Grandfather found work it was usually as a carpenter, building oil rigs or a house. Usually these jobs were hours away from home, and so to save the gas money they would drive to the jobsite early Monday morning and return home late Saturday afternoon. Their little model T ford was well suited for cross-country travel and the ruts and gullies of the southwest desert, but they traveled slowly and carefully. A broken axel would have been a disaster.
Upon arrival at the site of the new home, three or four carpenters would start to build the house. Often, concrete piers would serve as the foundation for the home. There was rarely electricity in those remote locations so all of the work was done by hand. As a ten year-old boy, dad would first select the straightest of the pine boards and would set up his own saw shop. For several years his job was to build the frames for the doors and windows in the home. He would spend the first few days ripping the pine to the correct widths and lengths. Later, during his high school and army days, dad did a lot of boxing I now realize that the long days of ripping lumber hour after hour must have given him an incredible right-jab. With the ripping done, he would joint the material and then cut the rabbits. Again with no power this was a totally hand-powered endeavor. By the time the roof was on he would have the windows ready to install, and then he would begin the door frames.
As I would listen to these stories I was often doing the same things he had done as a youth. The difference was that I was ripping the pine with a table saw and cutting the dados and rabbits with a radial arm saw equipped with a dado blade. He made sure that I learned to use and maintain the hand tools but I still shudder at the thought of his building casework in the hot New Mexico desert. As I look at my shop today, I am certainly thankful for hours I put-in as a young man. Now, fifty years later I still use the same Powermatic table saw and jointer that my father bought so many years ago. I remember how proud he was when he brought these tools home and replaced the older less accurate tools he had collected. Every time I flip the switch, and hear the whine of the saw’s motor I remember my dad, and how he taught me the most important lessons in life as we worked wood together.
For me, woodworking has been many things, but most important it has been a lesson in life.