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The art director in the woodshop? Yes, it’s my shortcut route to the color printer.

But I have stopped a couple of times to actually try some woodworking with some trepidation and lots of assistance – the “tornado table” in 2005 and the “eggcrate shelves” in 2006. That’s it. I’ve been immersed in woodworking publishing for many years. I know the words of the craft and greatly admire the projects that come out of our shop, but my fear of power tools keeps me in my cubicle.

Last weekend, I stepped out of my layout and design world and found my way to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill near Lexington, Ky., where I put my hands to work making authentic Shaker oval boxes under the instruction of the master, John Wilson. The day-and-a-half workshop included both lecture and hands-on woodworking, resulting in a set of five Shaker oval boxes for each participant to take home. Happily, no prior woodworking experience was required!

My awareness of being surrounded by Shaker-constructed buildings on land tended by men and women who were consciously applying their spirituality in their daily lives brought a thoughtful approach to this woodworking novice. Although the noise produced by power sanders and drills was considerable at times, there was a meditative quality as I performed the repetitive steps for making each box. I could imagine the Shaker woodworkers in their quiet sunlit shop making the same repetitions, and I could feel the satisfaction they must have felt as I finished a box and set it aside.

I have to confess that I had a little trouble with some splitting veneer as I bent one of the box sides around the form. In my haste to move on to finish the other boxes, I forgot about the replacement veneer soaking in the hot bath, and discovered too late that I only had four completed boxes. So now I have some work to do here in the Popular Woodworking shop to complete my set. My finished cherry boxes are sitting in a row in the sunny windowsill of my cubicle. I see areas I can improve, but as I hold a box in my hands and touch the smooth surface of the wood, I feel a part of the fellowship of woodworkers – that sense of pride in the completed project and satisfaction taken in the process of making it.

Many thanks to John Wilson, Pete Baxter, Ray Pait Jr. and Steve Coultas for your guidance in my woodworking baptism, and to Dennis Acevedo whose photographs of the workshop are shared here.

– Linda Watts

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