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I posted on my Instagram yesterday (and above here) a duck my grandfather, Emmett, carved shortly before he died. He trained as a cabinetmaker in high school (at Manual in Louisville), and worked briefly as a woodworker for the L&N Railroad (I have his railroad hatchet) before World War II intervened. He joined the Army Air Corps and served in Europe. After the war, he became a jewelry salesman (I’m sure he sold other stuff, but I remember in particular the many Speidel flexible watch bands in my grandparents’ home…and I still have a few tucked away). Anyway, he never went back to woodworking as a vocation, but enjoyed making furniture and other wooden stuff for the house, and for his children and grandchildren.

Though I think most of his training was with hand tools, he wholly embraced the advent of affordable woodworking machines for the home shop, as did so many others in the 1950s and 1960s. But his shop was really small, which limited the number of machines he could have – but he loved his Shopmith, and turned out a lot of work using it.

But as my grandfather neared the end of his life, he was unable to be on his feet for any length of time, and a little too prone to lightheadedness to safely work on a machine. So he took up wood carving. In the house. That my grandmother kept spotless.

To help stave off marital strife, my aunt Denise made him a massive, full-skirted apron that reached well beyond the floor, rather like a backward ball-gown train. My grandfather would tie it around his waist, then spread it out in front of him to catch the shavings as he carved.

I didn’t know we had a picture of it, but my aunt found a Polaroid in an envelope yesterday, snapped a phone shot of it and sent it to me (so please forgive the quality).

Anyway, I’m delighted to have this picture – and to share with you this marriage-saving idea. I’ve dubbed it the Emmett Apron. Fetching, no? (OK – No. But it worked.)

— Megan Fitzpatrick

p.s. Our Instagram page is @popularwoodworking, and I’m @1snugthejoiner.

p.p.s In case you’re wondering why I’ve written about my grandfather two days in a row, yesterday would have been my grandmother’s 99th birthday – so I’ve been thinking about the two of them. The closest thing woodworking related (and it’s not) from her I could share is her recipe for “coffin nails” – cookies so bad for you (but so good!) that if you eat too many you’ll soon end up in a coffin. Or maybe it’s the long narrow shape into which they’re cut that gives them that name (or both).

Also, I just tuned up (partially) one of my grandfathers complex moulding planes; I think it was last used circa 1930. (I’ll write about that sometime soon, but I need to get a finer slipstone first.)

p.p.p.s Here’s the Coffin Nails recipe (they’re delicious)
2 C brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten separately
1 C broken pecans
1 C melted butter
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 C flour
Powdered sugar
Preheat over to 350°. Cream together butter and sugar. Add nuts, flour and eggs and mix until ingredients are incorporated (do not overmix). Add/ mix extract. Put in greased 9×13 pan and cook 25 minutes (give or take). Remove from oven and let them cool a bit, but cut when still warm into strips approximately 3/4″ wide x 3″ long, and dip each in powdered sugar. Let them cool. Now eat.

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Showing 2 comments
  • John Cashman

    My grandparents had that same wallpaper!

  • Mystic Carver

    Great story. Love carving! That recipe almost threw me into a diabetic coma just reading it!

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