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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.


Brandy - click me to enlargeI 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 of her.


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 a lathe.


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.


O'Hare House - click to enlargeWe 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!


Barn - click me to enlargeMy 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.


Update


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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