Alone Again... Naturally
When I first started my woodworking career in earnest, many
years ago, I was a young man with a dream. I planned to
go sailing about the world on a 28 foot Bristol Channel
Cutter, earning my way by doing carpentry work in the ports I
visited. I refined my tool kit to a selection of the
essential hand tools that would fit into a pocketed oilskin
tool roll about the size of a big duffel bag. With
that, a knock-down work bench, and a fair bit of ingenuity I
felt confident I could accomplish my dream. Alone.
I practiced by building furniture for friends and neighbors
using just this kit in my back yard. I got to be pretty
good at it.
Then I bought a sailboat. Not the Cutter I wanted, I
lived inland and needed a boat that could be used on the
local lakes yet would handle like a bigger boat. I did
some research and chose the Victoria 18. With a full
keel, 550 pounds of lead ballast and a sloop rig, she would
respond and handle on the lakes like a large boat would on
the ocean. I had already taught myself the basics of
sailing using a Sunfish. I traded the sunfish in on a
Victoria, christened her Pegasus and set about learning to
handle a real boat.
Pegasus came with a small outboard engine, but I loathed
using it. I didn't even take it with me most of the
time. Instead, I learned to SAIL the boat. I
learned to tack my way up the narrow channel to the marina,
learned to watch the water for wave patterns that indicated
wind shifts, and to maximize whatever winds were
available. I went out sailing in all weather from near
calm to 35 mile per hour winds that whipped the lake to huge,
foam crested waves, spray stinging my face and the wind
howling through the rigging. Pegasus seemed to enjoy
the rough weather sailing as much as I did. And I
learned a great deal about sailing single handed.
I did have a little
Welsh Corgie named Brandy, who enjoyed sailing with me in
fair weather. I trained him to stand on the foredeck as
I worked into the dock, foreline in his mouth. On my
command, Brandy would jump over to the dock, run around a
cleat and jump back into the boats' cockpit where I sat
and give me the rope. I'd then snug it up, stopping
our forward motion and drawing the boat up to the dock gentle
as a falling leaf. This little maneuver tended to leave
the spectators on the dock staring gape-jawed. It was
great… once we got it down pat. There were a few
scary and embarrassing moments along the way.
I thought I was well on my way to accomplishing my
dream. But then I fell in love with a young lady, and
this young lady had no intention of bobbing around the world
in a boat.
Rather than trading the Victoria in on a Bristol Channel
Cutter and going off to see the world, I kept the Victoria
and spent the big boat money on building a woodworking shop.
In retrospect, I should have held onto the dream, and let go
of the girl. But that's another story.
Because The Young Lady wanted a fine house filled with
expensive toys, the woodworking got relegated to a part time
hobby and I took on a full time occupation with its more
predictable pay rates. I divided my spare time between
tinkering with furniture and sailing. But The Young
Lady discovered that not only could I build lovely furniture,
but that I could do so much more affordably than buying
commercial furniture of the quality she demanded. Thus
furniture production became a priority over sailing and
Pegasus sat on her trailer; neglected, decaying, and
lonely. I hated to see that happen to her, but just
didn't have the time even to keep her maintained let
alone taking her out sailing. So I sold her to someone
who had long admired the boat and promised to take good care
In retrospect, I should have held on to the boat, and sold
the girl. But…
Over the course of my years my life has endured many
changes. I've attempted a number of different
career choices, some with more success than others, and lived
in many different locations. But through it all, was my
woodworking. I kept at that no matter where I lived or
what I did to earn a living. Eventually, I decided to
earn my living entirely from the woodworking.
Divorce cost me my first workshop and everything in it.
Time to start over. And I did, but not alone this time.
When I met Marie I was living in an apartment, with no space
for a shop and being bled white by the divorce, I had no
funds to rent suitable space and buy tools. But I was
teaching woodworking at a local Rockler store.
After we were married and on a vacation, we stopped at a
visitor's center on the Blue Ridge Parkway that houses a
store for local artists. Marie was marveling at some
lovely turned wood bottle stoppers and saying that they would
probably sell well to the wineries back home in
Missouri. Yes, Missouri actually has quite a few
wineries. I commented that I could make those if I had
So she bought me a lathe and a basic set of turning tools and
I began making bottle stoppers. We did indeed sell them
to local wineries. With the proceeds we bought more
tools and built more things. It mushroomed from there.
Back in business.
When we moved from St Louis to the mountains of East
Tennessee, we brought the tools with us and bought a mountain
side property with a small workshop already in place.
Over the next three years we built it up and earned a
reputation for making quality furniture. Along the way
several people have come to help out.
Marie and I worked together here full time right from our
move. But we encountered some extra difficulties one
year and it was decided that Marie would seek employment to
be sure the bills got paid while I continued to keep the
woodworking going. The difficulties were temporary and
orders began flowing in again, but Marie chose to stick with
her new job, just in case.
We moved my
Mother and Step-Dad out here, setting up a double-wide for
them on our property. We have plenty of space here an I
wanted to keep them close so I could help them as they get on
in years. Mom helps out as shopkeeper in our gallery in
Cosby and Pat tried helping out in the workshop, but it
wasn't something he enjoyed.
We met Brian and Linda Hinschberger while buying Mom &
Pat's house. Linda was our salesperson, and
mentioned that her husband also does woodworking. We
got together and he has been very helpful, but after a bit he
set up a shop of his own in a huge old barn on his
property. I'm a little envious of all that space,
but wish him well as he heads off to create his own company.
Mike Wegner is a buddy of mine. No, he is more than
that actually, he's "my twin brother by another
mother" and we have been best friends for many, many
years. He is an expert scroll sawyer and I occasionally
call upon his expertise in producing frilly parts for custom
pieces. But he is by trade a network
engineer/administrator for a large hospital in Alabama, so
his sawyering is limited to a hobby status and done as he has
time. He always makes the time to do special things for
me, but I try not to impose too much. At one time Mike
and his wife were looking to move to East Tennessee and I
offered to give him space on our property to build a house,
but they were looking for something relatively flat, and we
just don't have any of that!
My nearest neighbor,
Tim, has been a big help too. He's retired and has
no furniture making skills but has done carpentry work, he
built us a wonderful little storage barn. He has a good
eye for detail and is willing and eager to learn.
He's been very helpful, but then we found that he had
stomach cancer and was expected to join The Lord. The
doctors were wrong, he recovered, is still with us and does
occasionally come and help me but is limited in what he can
do, for he tires easily.
That leaves just me; once again a one-man shop. Back
where I started, but content with that... for now.
In January of 2009 we celebrated having been in business for
ten years. I now have a workshop that is four times the
size of what I started with and we are collecting commercial
grade power tools. I'm not as young as I once was
and few people are willing to pay the price needed for truly
"hand made" furniture, so spurning power tools
makes no sense in my current life style as it did aboard a
sailboat. The new shop is a work in progress as I
convert what was our home to workspace after we built a new
house. I finally have a dedicated finishing room,
office space and restroom in the workshop, and climate
control. Would you care to take a tour?
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