Shop Time with Dad
For me, there are few things I enjoy more than spending time in the shop with my Dad
As a child, the vast majority of the furniture in our house was made by my father. I’m honestly not sure if he took the task upon himself because he wanted to, or because we just couldn’t afford the furniture he and my mother wanted. I’m sure it was a healthy dose of both.
According to my mother, when the need for a new piece of furniture arrived, they would get in the car and head over to Ethan Allen. When they found something to Mom’s liking, Dad would take some measurements and head to his shop, which had little more than a radial arm saw and a drill press/lathe combo.
Back then, his material of choice was white pine. It was cheap, easy to work, and most importantly it held up to the beating given by his two young sons. Dad’s finish of choice was without a doubt Minwax Jacobean stain. To this day, the smell of Minwax stain makes me feel like I’m an 8-year-old boy sitting in the massive captain’s bed Dad made for me.
As the youngest, I of course had the smallest room—a dresser to hold my clothes was not an option. So Dad decided that a twin bed with six huge drawers under it was the best bet. I vaguely remember him building it, but what I do remember was that it seemed like he was building an ark. When he assembled that bed in my room, I looked up—all the way up—and immediately thought I was going to die if I ever rolled off that bed. He didn’t seem worried. My 4-year-old son sleeps in that very bed now. I’m not worried about his demise due to an errant roll*.
About 10 years ago, my wife expressed a need for a sewing table, and thanks to the can-do mentality my father instilled in me (and perhaps because my wife and I were broke), I built it. Thus began the slippery slope: Watch out kids, it starts with a sheet of MDF and some black pipe legs, then suddenly you find yourself working for Fine Woodworking magazine. Since then, I too have built almost all of our family’s furniture. After the birth of our son, while we were still living in Nashville, my parents would come down every few months to visit. Mom would watch the baby, and Dad and I would head down to my basement shop, where he’d help me with whatever project I was trying to finish. It was a godsend; I was a stay-at-home dad and projects took me months to finish, working in 20-minute, nap-sized intervals. In the four our five times my parents visited I can remember bringing at least four large projects to completion thanks to my father’s help.
Dad particularly enjoyed helping with the finishing. Perhaps in another life my father was a furniture finisher. I don’t say this because he has the patience with a brush that I hope to one day have—he does. More so, it’s because any time Dad comes into the shop, the first thing he does is touch the wood to inspect the surface preparation. The smile on his face gets bigger and bigger, the better and better I get with a handplane. That smile is one of a proud father, proud of the woodworker I’ve become and perhaps the woodworker he wishes he was. I don’t have the heart to tell him my pieces feel better to the touch because I’m using hardwood and have access to better equipment. There is only so far pine and a sanding pad with 120-grit sandpaper will take you, Pops.
Now that we live just 10 miles from my parents I get to see my father a lot more often, and for that I am grateful. But there is less reason for him to help me finish off a project these days. I have plenty of time in the shop, and a helping hand is just a work buddy away. I know one thing though: It’s high-time the old man and I made some shavings together, even if only for old times’ sake. What do you say, Pops?
*I swear, last night, just hours after I wrote this blog, my son rolled of the bed while he slept. He was totally fine, but do I ever feel guilty!