Sunday, August 17, 2008

One of my Carpenter Hero's (A Short Story)

(Disclosure) This is a story that I wrote about a man I knew when I was a younger carpenter. I changed the names and colored some details so in that sense you can call it fiction. I would like to say sorry if my writing, spelling, or grammar is not the greatest, I am not a writer I’m a husband, a father, a grandfather, a story teller and a carpenter. Not a writer. I am compelled to write lately with the hopes of preserving some my stories for future grandchildren that I might never get the chance to tell in person. Thank you for reading my story and I hope you enjoy it for what it is.


I met Stump, who was a carpenter and a woodworker years go at a flea market, although he didn’t like to be called “a woodworker”. He was at an outside booth by his self in the middle of the parking lot away from the rest of the outside vender's, where he sold his furniture without the distraction of the other booths. He was an older gentleman with long straw like brown hair, streak with gray tied back in a pony tail, he wore old blue denim overalls a sleeveless T shirt and he had a tattoo on his right arm that I saw right away, it was the Army’s jump wings with the words “De Oppresso Libra LRRP Vietnam 1967” around it. I recognized the Latin motto and knew it meant to free the oppressed.

I knew aright away I wanted to talk to this man. So I waited while he was engaged with another customer. I heard him telling the lady how he finds old barns and buys the wood for all his “stuff” as he referred to it, that he makes. Then I heard him say, “That, in away makes all my stuff already antiques”, I laughed, not because I disagree with him, but by the masterful way he was shoveling the bullshit. He was smooth and had the gift of gap, and the lady she was taking it all in like she had one those, big double wheeled wheelbarrow, the high volume kind, that nobody, but the young men on a crew wants to push around a job site. The lady bought two pieces from him while I watched.

After their transaction he turned to me and asked “what can I do you out of”, and smiled. I asked him “what group did you served with”. I saw the smile leave his face and I knew in that second where his mind went. He looked at me and said the 7th how about you, I told him, and then I flipped him my coin, he looked at it, smiled and knew I was telling him the truth. In that one moments exchange of two dozen words we became friend, more than friends we were brothers in arms. We both knew, we have seen and done things that where best not talked about, and there really wasn’t any need to talk about it, because it was in the pass and we each had the devil to pay for them deeds. He handed me back my coin and said I owe you a drink, I told I would take a coke if he had one, he said “Pepsi” and I said “cool”, he handed me a can out of his cooler. My wife just looked at me dumbfounded with no clue to what just happened.

The man held out his hand and said the names Neil, “but everyone calls me Stump”. I didn’t ask why, after all there were women and children around and I could just imagine all kinds of explanations for that name, none of them wholesome. I shuck his hand and told him my name. I then ask him if he was a woodworker, or a carpenter, he gave me a wicked little smile and then loudly said for everyone to hear “hell no I ain’t no woodworker; I’m an artist, and wood is my medium” then he laughed, he had one of those laughs that when you hear it you just have to laugh with him even if you don’t know what hell you were are laughing at. Then he quietly explained to me that if he called himself an artist people seem to buy his stuff at a higher price, but if they think he’s a woodwork they just seem to want to pick his brain and steal his ideas, then go home with the intentions of building it themselves, although many would never even try.

Stump’s furniture was tight, and he was right, he was an artist. I was impressed with the quality of his pieces. You could tell at a glance he loved what he did, and put his pride on the line with every piece he builds. Like the way his shelves were all secured in a dovetail dado, or the half lapped miters joints on his doors, all well made, simple and strong. I really like the way he smooth down the rough wood but still left all the flaws and character in it, and how he sand blasted scenes in the door panels with small cut out and colored glass let in from behind. He even made all the pulls for his cabinets and hand carved little oak leaves in them. If the age of the wood didn’t make his work antiques, the construction of each piece that I saw certainly had potential to last enough years to truly be called an antique.

Stump and I talked for a good half hour about family, wood, carpentry, and tools. In that time I saw that Stump had a patina like the wood he used to build his furniture, he was sun bleached and rough with smoothness that only time and life can give someone, this man had history just like the wood, he had stories and I wanted to hear them. He gave me his card and I gave him mine, and he told me he would like to visit my shop, and said “then we can have us a proper sit down pow-wow without distractions”. I told him I’m looking forward to it and said goodbye, and he told me to “watch my six” and said “always”.

It wasn’t a week, before I would look up from applying sand sealer on some cabinets I build to see Stump, standing in the door way of my shop grinning from ear to ear watching me.

I am always amazed at how our shared experiences can bond us to other people, how two people can come together because of them experiences, or the type of work they do and become friends in an instance. That’s what Stump and I did, ready to except each other as a friend even without knowing all the hidden faults, quirks, or other misaligned deviant traits we might each have, and we all know it’s good to have friends.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Back To Being A Carpenter

Well, I'm throwing in the hobbyist badge and going back to woodworking full time. I have tried other jobs like working in a factory and working with computers, but I just can't let go of my love for the craft to just do it part time. After 25 years of working and learning! it's really all I know and every thing else I try to do always seem to relates back to it. Being a carpenter is more than an occupation, it's a force in one's life. I learned much of what I know about being a man on a job site. Like respect, patience, fulfillment, honor, and rewards for one's hard work. Most of my hero's are old carpenters and, I hope I am at lease, for a couple of young men their hero's for the skills I have passed on to them. I know what I'm doing is not fine woodworking, but it makes me happy to have the chance to do it again. I have been a carpenter for many years now and with luck I will continue, even if I am not working as carpenter, I will also be a carpenter in my own mind, because I am a carpenter.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Help With The Table

Well, I made some progress on my table this week. My little shop helper spent some time with me this week and he just had to get into the action by doing a little sanding on the table top, he loves working with me on projects and I can’t wait until he a little older. This little guy even like to sit and watch The New Yankee Workshop with me and loves to point out the router when ever he see one on the show. Router was one of the first words he spoke, and it was one of those funny moments that can only be pulled off by a kid. His mother was trying to get him to say ball, she would say “ball, ball”, and he looked at me then smiled and proudly said “router” I cracked up laughing and again his mom would say “ball” and again he would say “router”. My daughter looked at me and said “see what you have done to my son”, I just said oh well.

I did get the top flat and fixed to the base. I don’t have a circle cutting jig for my router and have had an idea for one for a long time, so I made a prototype and if it works out I will make myself one out of ¼ aluminum plate, I like using aluminum for these type fixtures

I also got the artwork done for the medallion that will grace the center of the table I ended up drawing a Celtic design, I think it will go better that the wildlife montage that I designed I still want to do the wildlife scene, but maybe in stain glass, or intarsia, or a combination of the two, its something I been thinking about for a while a combination of wood and glass. Anyway back to the Celtic medallion I am thinking about chip carving it which will be something I don’t have a lot of experience doing, so this will be a fun challenge. When I get that done I will give it a nice oil finish with some painted details and a half round edge. A couple of people in the apartments have asked about the table since its setting outside on the porch where I do my messy works, and one even asked if I was planning on selling it. We’ll see

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Table Tales Part 3

This week I feel I made some real progress on my table. I got end boards glued over the sliding dovetail cleats so they are captured in the table now. This gives me away to fasten to top to the base and still let it move freely, a real problem with using a solid top with this kind of a base. Friday I roughly planed it flat and will finish that up after everything is fastened down. Today I got out my jig saw and cut the excess off of the circle so that later this week when I route it I don’t have all that waste to deal with, this also makes the top easier to deal with. I have been knocking around the idea of banding the top in a contrasting wood but I am not sure yet, I have to studying on a bit, because of the problems of the wood movement.

I am however going to add some art work to center of the table. I plan on doing an inlay of one of two designs I did a while ago I am not sure which one I’ll pick. I used one of them on a drum, no actually I used both on drums I made and painted. Both designs will be challenging and will take me a while, so I plan on putting a sealer coat on the top while I work on the inlays then I will do the finial finishing that way we can use the table.

The table sits well and is just the right size for our small apt and I most admit is better that them cheap ones we looked at, and at this point has only cost us about $4.69 so its certainly been a bargain. When I am done with inlay it will be a one of a kind and original sleepydog along with two dogs that will spend many hours under there hoping for some yummy treats from their well trained humans.