Mark (TheCraftsmansPath.com) on November 9th, 2007

Recently, there was an ad placed in one of our local papers about a sale of tools and lumber from a woodworking shop. Given that the address listed in the ad was not too far from my home, I thought I’d make the short trip there to see what was available. So, early last Saturday morning that’s what I did.

My hopes in making this trip were that there might be some unusually good deals to be had on tools or hardwood lumber. I usually hear about these kinds of things after they have already passed or when I am not available to visit them. So, I was excited to be able to go and see what great deals there might be. Driving there, I was not sure of the circumstances of this sale – I thought that it could be a liquidation of a woodworking business that had closed it’s doors.

When I arrived at the address along a rural country road, I saw a house surrounded by thick woods with several outbuildings on the property. I thought to myself that maybe someone had a woodworking business that they ran out of their house, but were retiring or something. I walked down the driveway and followed the signs around the side of the house and down through a Bilco door into the basement. When I entered, I saw what looked like a typical home woodworkers basement shop.

In the first room that I entered, there were tools laid out on tables and several racks of various types of hardwood lumber neatly stacked all along one side. As I continued, I saw a shop made router table, some hand saws and also some hand-held power tools. I decided that I would pass through the entire shop first to get a feel for what was there and then go back to look closer at things of interest. Moving on into the second room of the shop, I saw an assortment of stationary power tools, shop made jigs, clamps, and hanging cabinets. Above a desk in the room there were clippings of furniture pictures from magazines that presumably were inspirations for future projects. Looking around, I could see the evidence of many years of woodworking in just about every corner of the shop.

As I continued to wander through the shop looking at the tools, wood and jigs, I overheard some conversations regarding the circumstances of the sale. It turns out that this was the home workshop of a lifelong woodworker that had recently passed away. His daughters were utilizing the services of a friend to help liquidate his shop. This woodworking gentleman had milled his own lumber and even had a dehumidification kiln in one of the outbuildings on the property where he had dried his own wood. I was told that he had a long history of making beautiful things out of wood for their home. Looking at the shop made jigs and cabinets, it was evident that this man had a passion for working with wood and took great pride in his work.

As I continued my tour of the shop, my thoughts drifted away from the specific things for sale and onto the legacy of this woodworker that I had never known. I couldn’t help but think of the countless hours that must have been spent enjoying the craft in that basement shop, the jigs that were precisely made and the wood that was skillfully dried for projects to come. At the same time, it was both sad to see the dismantling of this shop but uplifting to hear about the legacy that this man had left behind in the things he had made for his family and friends.

I would imagine that a love of the craft and the legacy of our creations is a common bond that connects all woodworkers, whether professional or amateur. What’s interesting is that I went on this trip expecting to see and obtain certain material things but, in the end I saw and acquired something else. Something on a completely different level.

I did end up buying a couple of things from this sale but, I went home with something both material and something intangible. I saw both the tools and the legacy of a woodworker who obviously loved what he did and did what he loved. Hopefully, I’ll be able to carry that legacy forward in projects of my own while using a few tools from this woodworker that I had never known.

6 Responses to “The legacy of one woodworker”

  1. I had a friend, Tommy Thomas, who was a retired art teacher from the Kansas City Art Institute. He was a great painter, a good woodworker, and it was the woodworking he truly loved. He came by one day with a gift of a complete set of Bracht mortising chisels. These were tools that had been given to him, and that he decided to hold out from the auction of the rest of his shop. He was dying of cancer. I went to his auction and bought a few things. Each reminds me of him, and as these things were old before he bought them, they remind me of an unbroken chain. That legacy you speak of is not something one man leaves, but something that passes through the lives of lose of us who love working with wood. It connects us each with the best part of what it is to be human. Each small decision we make connects us with and reflects higher purpose. At some point, my own shop will be distributed. If I am lucky, I’ll know some woodworker in the neighborhood who will receive a complete set of Bracht chisels.

    But frankly, we are a nation of idiots. We spend millions of dollars on laptops so our children can be distracted and entertained instead of creative and engaged. If they are quiet in their rooms, we think they are OK. But they need to be pounding and hammering things in our shops, sawing, cooking sewing, and learning the highest values of human life.

    Doug Stowe

  2. Hi Doug,

    Thanks for your comments. I think that you were able to express my sentiments more eloquently than I.

    The legacy that I spoke of legacy is something that lives on in each woodworker that uses a tool, or learns a skill that is passed on from someone else – not unlike yourself with your books, videos and your blog. Maybe I’m just getting older and melancholy, but this feeling definitely struck me when I visited this gentleman’s shop. I’ll do my best to put the tools to good use and continue that chain!

    Your point regarding our children being consumed so many things that do not involve creating or building is one that I share. I’m doing my best with my own children to expose them to these things – but, as you know with the many distractions out there today, it is increasingly difficult.

    Thanks again for visiting and commenting.

    –Mark

  3. Hi Mark:

    Sounds like you had a wonderful day along “The Craftsman’s Path”.

    Neil

  4. Neil,

    Yeah, it was a good day. One that caused me to reflect a little on the philosophical side of the craft.

    –Mark

  5. Mark,

    Sorry for the late comment… I found myself reading through some of your older blogs after your latest one you linked to on Lumberjocks…

    One of my woodworking mentors, a man everyone called ‘Pops’, passed away last year and his wife asked me to help her evaluate, value, and price most of the tools in his shop. It wasn’t an easy task, emotionally or otherwise.

    Afterwards, she asked me if there was anything from the list I might be interested in having. The first project he ever helped me make was an osage orange carving mallet, based on one he had (a lignum vitae mallet). I bought his old lignum mallet (one of the finer examples of a lignum carver’s mallet I’ve seen, I might add) for double the price we’d agreed upon because I knew she was having financial problems.

    I also ended up buying his bandsaw a few months later. It is a Rockwell/Delta – not the best Rockwell has ever put out, but after a bit of tuning and some replacement parts, it runs great for what I need.

    Both items will stay with me for as long as I do woodworking and I think of him often as I use these tools. I hope I can help carry on Pops’ legacy through my own woodworking and then, ultimately, pass the knowledge I learned from him on to others.

    Thanks for the gift of a great post.

    Ethan

  6. Ethan,

    Thanks for the comments and the nice story about “Pops”. You did an admirable thing in helping out his wife and I’m sure that you’ll carry on his legacy well. It’s kind of profound how much certain individuals can influence us – sometimes we don’t even realize their influence until they are no longer there to do so…I guess that’s what a legacy is all about.

    –Mark

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