As we think about our woodworking influences during National Mentoring Month, I’ve been pondering my roundabout journey so far. I suspect that my story isn’t terribly uncommon in that the most formative teachers I have had are folks I’ve never met.
My grandpa was a strong influence on me in regards to fixing things, pounding nails, getting cars running, and the like. He helped me to see that the materials that you have on hand or can scrounge up from the basement are often enough to get the job done effectively. Because of what I learned from watching him, I have never been afraid to tear into a project, to disassemble a complicated doohickey just to see what’s going on inside.
Tinkering, of course, isn’t necessarily a skill unto itself but it can be a jumping-off point for learning many useful things. There’s been much written and said about “crossover skills” in regards to woodworking, about how precision learned in working leather, or mechanical understanding from repairing a lawnmower, or even how whittling a stick with a pocketknife can be applied practically in hand-tool woodworking. This is entirely true – but we need a framework on which to hang these skills. Where to begin?
Norm Abram and The New Yankee Workshop drew me right in. Yes, I was a 12-year-old “Normite”. From a pile of hardwood plywood, planed cherry lumber, and a bit of MDF, there arose majestic creations: corner cabinets, secretary desks, trestle tables. All that was needed was a pneumatic brad gun, various powered saws, a bazillion routers with accompanying bits, and safety glasses (the most important safety rule). I was in awe, but also quite intimidated. Norm made it look easy, but the sheer quantity of power tools and jigs (and noise!) seemed unapproachable.
However, the next show on the weekend morning lineup starred this hilarious guy named Roy Underhill. Roy invited us into The Woodwright’s Shop to rive our lumber straight from some log he’d just cut behind his house. Between telling old fables about “hoop snakes” and nicking his hand with a sharp hatchet, Roy made beautiful and useful things – often similar to Norm’s work on the surface, but without the din of dust collectors and shapers and jointers. All in a single take, with that old hat on his head and a grin on his face. This looked like fun!
I tip my hat in gratitude to these men, who kindled in me a great desire to learn more and to simply create. Even though the machine mentality has faded from my way of viewing woodworking, I still have a special place in my heart for The New Yankee Workshop. And St. Roy has taught me many things, but most importantly, to be careful with sharp tools!
Continue the conversation – use the tag #woodworkingmentors and share your stories.