Among the many great people I’ve met while on staff at Popular Woodworking Magazine (PWM), one of my favorites is Carl Bilderback. Carl is a retired carpenter who has extraordinary skills with both hand and power tools (and he has vast collections of both), and a deep and abiding passion for the craft. He’s an active member of the Mid-West Tool Collectors Assn., and spends a lot of time driving all over this country to attend meets and tool shows. Plus he does a mean impression of Tiny Tim. He’s a smart, funny, glass-half-full kind of guy – and just a whole lot of fun to be around.
He’s also one of the best copy editors I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Carl says it’s because he reads really slowly – thus, he catches everything. And he lets me know when I’ve messed up, which is much appreciated. (When he find mistakes in the magazine, I die just a little inside because there’s no chance to correct them – but by having them brought them to my attention, I can keep an eye out for the same mistake in the future; when he finds mistakes in books, I fix them for the next printing.)
But one of the things I admire most about Carl is his enduring generosity – not only about freely sharing his knowledge and copy editing services, but for sharing from among his impressive collection. Every time we’ve hired a “newbie” woodworker at PWM (myself included…almost a decade ago…yikes!), Carl has sent a handful of tools he thinks every new woodworker needs. And as a person’s skills grow, he keeps pace with their education, and continues to help with tool knowledge, and pointing folks to the right place to acquire what they need. For example, the Sheldon vise that’s on my bench at home? Carl knew I was looking for one, and when he saw one at auction at a good price, he sent me the link. I bought it. I love it.
Carl has spent more than eight well-lived decades on this earth (though I don’t think he looks a day over 60). It pains me to realize that he likely won’t always be calling me to point out a missed comma, a superfluous word or a phrase he thinks sounds too “highfalutin’.” (But Carl, know that I stand by “an” before “historical.”)
Now I don’t expect Carl is going to shuffle off this mortal coil any time in the immediate future (when that – as it does to all of us – happens, I am confident there will be flights of angels singing him to his rest). But too often, we leave our thanks for after people are gone. So Carl, I thank you for everything you’ve done for the magazine over the years, everything you’ve done for the craft of woodworking, everything you’ve done for me. Most of all, thank you for being my friend. I hope in 10 years to still be arguing with you about “suite” vs. “set.”
p.s. So that you can learn a little bit from Carl, too, I’ve posted an article he wrote for us in 2006: “Almost-forgotten Handsaw Tricks.” Click here to read it.