Woodworking classes always include a surprise. You can be pretty sure going in that it will be a good experience, but you can never predict what you’ll take away from it, or what will be the best part. This is true whether you’re taking a class or teaching one. A week ago Saturday, 13 students and I got together at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking to build reproductions of a Gustav Stickley No. 74 Bookrack. It’s a challenging project, and a lot to tackle in a weekend. All the students gave their best efforts, but one in particular stood out from the crowd.
Drew Ricks and his dad Steven traveled from Wisconsin to take the class. Drew is 11, and going into sixth grade. He shows a lot of promise as a woodworker, and he has a great sense of humor. This project is all about through mortise-and-tenon joints, and every hour or two we gathered as a class to review our progress and go over the next step. Drew was usually the first one finished, and he usually had a comment on the order of, “it would have gone even faster if I hadn’t had to fix my dad’s mistakes.”
Steven deserves a lot of credit for raising a good kid. And he also deserves credit for being willing to step back and let his son do the work. One of the big challenges of fatherhood is knowing when to step back and let go. It’s tempting to jump in and do things for your kid, but in the long run it’s better just to be there. By Sunday afternoon, most of the class had their mortises cut and were working on fitting tenons. Late in the day I took a break and visited the famous Marc Adams ice cream machine. As I returned to the classroom, I looked around to see how close the students were to finishing.
At most benches, two or three of the eight joints had been fit. At the last bench one side was assembled, and I stopped to show the Ricks boys how to place the assembled side over a corner of the bench to place the second side.
I stepped back and watched as father and son worked together, the father holding parts in position as the son wielded the mallet. A few taps later, and all the joints were fit. No one else left the class with a complete project.
Drew had a spot in his room picked out for his bookrack. He did a nice job and he’ll have it for a long time. Some day he can pass it along to his own son. One other thing he will always have is a great memory of a weekend spent working with his dad.