writer, speaker, tinkerer, seeker

The smell of sawdust

As with my love of gardening, my passion for woodworking began young. My father was an engineer who spent his entire career at General Motors -- and many an evening tinkering at his workbench. He was not a woodworker, not by a long shot. But he knew how to build things strong, and I was his willing student, tagging along  to the hardware store and standing at his side as he worked to hand him tools. Along the way, I picked up a few pointers.  He passed along many well-worn tropes -- "Measure twice, cut once" -- but also some of his own homegrown wisdom. Once as we were building a hoist for the family dinghy, he paused and said, "One misplaced decimal point is the difference between success and a catastrophic collapse.


By the time I was in high school, I was refinishing old pieces of furniture I dragged out of the attic. As I headed off to college, I spent the summer building a desk to take with me. That old desk, as crude and rudimentary as it was, still is in use in our house. Some of Dad's engineering lessons must have sunk in because it remains solid as a rock.  In college, around my English and journalism coursework, I managed to sneak in a couple industrial arts classes.


Now I tinker. Like gardening, woodworking is a sort of therapy for me. Late at night after the house is quiet, I slip down into the shop.  I plane boards, cut joints, round edges, sand away roughness. Mostly I do little projects ...cheese boards, boxes,  knickknacks. Sometimes I get motivated to build a piece of furniture. Working with my hands is my organic Prozac. It brings peace and focus and an inner warmth, a sense of quiet satisfaction. Try it, it works!


The photographs on this page are mostly of recent projects.  But one goes back to 2003, an oak box I made for my father on his 88th birthday, a year before his death. In The Longest Trip Home, I write about making that box and my stoic father's reaction upon receiving it. A memory I will carry with me the rest of my days.


I built this tot-sized workbench for my nephew in 1991. And yes, that's Marley trying to scratch it.
I built this tot-sized workbench for my nephew in 1991. And yes, that's Marley trying to scratch it.