In End Grain

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Kite frames to cabinets: A 50-year journey back to woodworking.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine.

Before mom’s shop bustled with warmth, woodcraft and cheer, the location of her future endeavors hoarded what dad called, “Relics from the Golden Age of Aviation.”

Mom would rebut, smiling, “Maybe just a collection of airplane bones.”

But she couldn’t have been happier for dad. He was newly retired and set to restore his “relics” in his own golden age. But nearing retirement herself and wanting to stay sharp, mom pined for ventures of her own as well as a place to pursue them. So when dad got the “New Hanger” next door, the family excavated and transported his fossils, providing mom with the “Old Hanger” to fill with her ambitions.

She began asking herself and others, “Before the family and career, what did I want to do?” She had always spoken fondly of childhood summers in her uncle’s workshop making wooden cars, boats and kite frames.

“Back then and around here, women were discouraged from going after those skills,” she once told me. “But that was something I wanted.”

When she retired, before friends could ask what she was up to and inhibitions could take hold, she enrolled in woodworking classes, saying, “I’ll be a novice, but at least I’ll be a safe one.”

To get mom started, dad did his thing and salvaged a table saw, drill press, scroll saw and jointer/planer. The 40-year-old equipment worked well enough, even though it had been through a fire and subsequently covered in melted tar.

Euphoric with the “new” machinery, mom made a miscellany of knickknacks, from cookware to dustpans. When word of her exploits spread around town, a few ancient woodworkers, ready to hang up their tape measures and T-squares, thought peddling their tackle to a beginner would suit them “perdy good.”

Their generosity provided mom with a band saw, dust collector, oscillating sander, router and lathe. So mom began making furniture, including suspended swings, stools and hall-trees.

Around the same time, the local hardware store called it quits. The old owner hawked mom his shelves, pegboards and the check-out counter for a workbench.

Now fully outfitted, she geared-up her skills by putting a dropped ceiling in the cabin and fashioning the sink, cabinets and countertops for the shop’s bathroom.

Whenever I visit home, I always find mom in her sanctuary. She says she’s living a long-lost dream. For me, as well as for the surrounding community, she’s become more than a late-blooming woodworker. And though mom’s too humble to think of herself this way, she’s an inspiration.

At 64, she’s stirring things up in a small town that only 50 years ago would have derided her for becoming a woodworker. She’s showing family, friends and neighbors it’s just fine to be a beginner, to stay creative, gain new perspectives – that times change, and so can we.David Lawrence


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