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The Shelter Institute, in Wiscasset, Maine

The Shelter Institute, in Wiscasset, Maine

There is a difference between woodworking needs, as in materials and quality tools, and woodworking wants, as in the next magic store-bought jig that will cut all your dovetails for you. Needs can be defined as steps, objects and ideas that move projects and skills forward in some productive fashion. Wants are known for their dreamy qualities and the way they tend to waste time and money. As woodworkers we experience this distinction all the time in the course of our project builds.

Wants could also be called hopes. And, as the rather grounded guy who delivered the big sheets of exotic veneer in Miami used to say, “If you’re hoping, you’re hosed.”

Still, there’s a place for hoping or wanting – insofar as the process can lead to a realistic, achievable vision. And in fact it is hard to get yourself into a visionary state without giving yourself the leeway to hope and wander a little bit. One of the things I like about woodworking is that it is an activity that keeps you treading sort of a middle path between “hosed” and satisfied. One completed woodworking project leads to another woodworking idea – either because the project worked out well or it didn’t.

I had the chance to visit the Shelter Institute last weekend, up in Wiscasset, Maine. I didn’t meet the founders, but I met their daughter, Blueberry, who said, “My parents were really crazy people.” She meant it in a good way. I responded, “You’d have to be crazy to start a traditional homebuilding school in the 20th century.” (The school was founded about 40 years ago.)

I was on the hunt for some woodworking tools (needs). I found a Japanese pull saw that I am already enjoying, as well as some sharpening film – which can be hard to find. I will have to go back in order to hear the full story of how the Shelter Institute business grew from a tiny school to a store, a real estate agency and a larger school. All I can say at the moment is clearly these are people who are crazy in a good way – they wanted something so much, and there was just enough need in the community, that they were able to make it happen.

We are currently headed toward the magical time of year when needs and wants are more merged than usual. We get the chance to spend more time with our families, trying out new ideas, new sweaters and – most importantly – helping satisfy family needs and wants with our time and gifts. Please join Popular Woodworking in greeting that special time of year. We wish you the best throughout the season!

Dan Farnbach

p.s. – Don’t know what to give the woodworker in your life? Check out our holiday gift guide.

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