“Don’t be so particular” “We paid for the whole handle on that hammer.” “Is there something wrong with the teeth at the end of that saw?” Voices from my past; words of wisdom that helped me learn. I have countless fond memories of woodworking that go back fifty years and more. I can still see the lard can of used, rusty, mostly bent, nails that I was allowed to use. It was my choice to use them as is or straighten them on the anvil that sat in our garage. I almost always spent the time to straighten them.
Most of my first projects were airplanes. They started as two board planes and with the addition of a tail progressed to three. When I was six or seven I decided that I wanted to hunt. Not every parent is willing to give his shotgun to a six year old and mine was no exception. So I decided to do the next best thing, build my own. Mine was made from pine one-by-fours. As I remember, it was about two feet long with four one-bys forming a hollow box. A breech, made from a two-by-four, closed one end. Through the center of the breech was a piece of all-thread that connected a piston, another two-by-four, to a trigger. The trigger looked remarkably like a flat washer with a nut on each side. A spring fitted between the piston and the breech completed my gun. By pulling back on the trigger and releasing it I could shoot empty shotgun shells a good eight to ten feet.
Despite having a fine handcrafted hunting weapon I never was able to bag my rabbit. I suppose that endeavors like this demonstrated to my dad and grandfather that I was destined for greatness as a woodworker. They took me under their wings and allowed me to help with lots of projects. When a nail was dropped I picked it up. When a board needed carried I carried it. When a gate needed repair I held a sledge as we clinched the nails. Before long I was planing the edge of a tight door and renailing loose floorboards. My first experience with power tools was with an electric drill. They were larger than today’s and made of metal not plastic. I still have the one from home, “Old Sparky”. If the lights go out, I could probably find my way through the shop using this drill.
Lathes came into my life in seventh grade shop class. I remember making spindles and a candleholder. At least we called it a candleholder. My Mom thought it was good but then Moms are supposed to. About this time my grandfather purchased a lathe. It was in the mid sixties, most of his stationary power tools were Craftsman and the lathe was no exception. It was a single tube lathe that we powered with a 1/2 horsepower motor run through a variable speed reversible hydraulic transmission. And yes, I still have it. I had been spending a lot of time in my grandfather’s shop. So with my vast experience gained in shop class I got to try the lathe. A two by two pine does not cut well with dull tools. We soon learned that the factory edges needed improved. As our experience grew we not only learned to sharpen and use the purchased tools, we made tools for special applications using old screwdrivers and files.
One of my grandfather’s specialties was making clocks and often he created a unique tool for use making finials. Another common project in his shop was bowls made from bowling pins. My cousin’s boyfriend worked in a bowling alley so we had plenty of blanks. Soon I was working on projects of my own. I occasionally heard “don’t be so particular” or some similar phrase. At the time I did not understand it. His work looked so perfect and mine did not. How could I resist trying to achieve the same results? After all, he had to be particular to achieve such fine work, didn’t he?
Tragically this relationship with my grandfather ended when he suffered a stroke and soon after passed away. This left a terrible hole in my life. I was however, fortunate to obtain many of his tools. I remember him every time I flip the switch on the sander, use one of his favorite chisel or free a sticking door with his block plane.
I set up my first shop in the basement. Soon I had tools in the garage too. Today my shop is much bigger than the 10’ by 10’ shed he used. I eventually I outgrew my shop space in the basement and garage and combined them into one area using half of a forty by sixty foot outbuilding. I have more power tools and hand tools than any normal person would want. My lathes include the old Craftsman plus a spare that I got from Les, a Steel City midi lathe, an old Oliver 59A that I picked up from a pattern shop, and a new Delta that rides around in the back of my car. I also have parts purchased from Jim Mills that will make two lathes sometime in the future. I need something for long spindles and these parts might provide the answer. I have hopes of finding another Oliver, preferably a 30B. This will allow me to turn some really big stuff. I want a lathe that will handle out-of-balance stock without having a friend stand on one end while I flip the switch on and off because I cannot let it reach even the slowest speed without fear for my life. (Oliver turning a 12” diameter by 30” long walnut log).
If I have to buy a new lathe, it is narrowed down to a choice between Oneway, Serious, and Robust. I plan to look closely at these during the next Symposium. I wish I kept a record of my woodworking projects. I can tell you that every room in our house has something from my shop. The dining room table, bedroom suite, clocks, picture frames, and on and on are evidence of shop time. Similar woodwork examples grace the homes of our children, our friends and other relatives. If you factor the labor and cost of the tools you quickly see that these pieces are not cheap. In fact, if their cost is representative of their value, they are some of the most valuable pieces of furniture and decorations available. I certainly would not be able to purchase them.
My most recent projects have been spindle-work combined with other woodworking techniques. I am making child’s rocking chairs for the grandchildren. I have four grandchildren. Three rockers are complete and delivered. That leaves one to start plus another for myself. Future projects include more chairs; I want to make some full sized rockers. I also take a break occasionally and turn a bowl or platter. There are also many projects on my list that do not include lathe work. My shop project list is so long it would probably be too depressing for most people to read. For me I look forward to each and every one of them By the way, the rocking chairs are based on a style originally made over a hundred years ago by an ancestor, Christopher Columbus Stottlemyer. As I work on these chairs and as I study some of the originals I am starting to understand what “too particular” means. Each of my chairs shows improvement despite the fact I am making mistakes. They are not terribly obvious errors, in fact only I, and perhaps someone who does similar work, would notice them. It is interesting that I see the exact same things in the originals. These antiques that sell for thousands of dollars and are well known for their craftsmanship and durability have mistakes. Five years ago I thought they were perfect. I suppose that C.C. could have spent more time and effort to reduce the errors; but for what purpose? There comes a point when you have to say that something is good enough. That point will change as your skill improves but remember not to be “too particular”.
Cumberland Valley Woodturners
Serving Adams, Franklin, Cumberland and Fulton Counties in PA, Washington County, MD. and Morgan County, WV.
We are a local chapter of the American Assoc. of Woodturners