As a very small child – I think I was around 3 or 4 years old – I would wander next door to our neighbor’s, Herb and Thelma, house to bang together little scrap pieces of cutoff 2x4s that were left over from the construction of their house. I don’t think I was ever invited, but they didn’t really mind. I don’t think any of those “projects” still survive today. In fact, I’m pretty sure that when I had left, Herb would pull the nails out and toss the scraps back into the bin. I have a distinct memory of using his hammer and the concrete garage floor to “straighten” many of the nails that I used back then.
Growing up, I would spend time with my grandfather in his woodworking shop. I remember his shop being huge, filled with every tool you could imagine. That was always my favorite part of going to visit my grandparents. While I’m sure he probably enjoyed it, I was either too young for him to teach me any serious woodworking or, as I got older, not interested.
My grandfather is not doing very well these days – physically he’s in good shape for a nonagenarian – but his mind his going. Although no one in the family is willing to admit it, he’s got Alzhemier’s. He’s frequently confused about where he’s at, who he’s with, and what time of day it is. He still knows who we are most of the time, but there are no more World War II stories, or anecdotes about the family farm.
While visiting them this past Christmas, my grandmother asked my wife and me to tour his workshop. It was smaller than I recall, and more cluttered. I fondly remembered using many of his tools – the bandsaw that, as it turns out, is the same model as mine, the old pipe lathe with the duplicator attachment, and the scarred workbench. The lack of recent use on any of the equipment was saddening. It was fun walking my wife through and explaining how many of the old hand tools work. I found an old eggbeater drill that had been broken and welded back together several times. When asked, my grandfather said that it had belonged to his father but he did not know its origin beyond that.
Later I would take shop classes and watch shows like The New Yankee Workshop, which fed my interest. Most of the techniques I’ve learned recently have been through videos like those that Marc Spagnuolo and other bloggers produce or through trial and error. Shop classes appear to be disappearing from public schools today, and trades are becoming unappreciated. There does not seem to be much available when it comes to hands-on education in skills necessary to produce the work that I’m interested in.
All of those things brought me to where I am today – an aspiring artisan who has much to learn. One day I hope to be able to pass on some of my knowledge, to have eager minds come to my workshop to try out new tools and techniques, to explain how my great-grandfather’s old eggbeater drill was once the latest and greatest in cordless drilling technology. For now, I need to practice, create, and refine my craft.