All of my life I’ve wanted to learn woodworking. It seems so amazing that you can just take a bunch of wood and make it into beautiful custom furniture. But woodworking requires a lot of space, a lot of tools and a willing teacher, none of which I’ve ever had access to.
Maybe it was turning 50 that did it. Maybe it was the $1,800 bid for the window seat we wanted to build in our kitchen. Maybe it was the deaths of two friends my age last September. Maybe it was seeing all of the tools sitting around during our home renovation. For whatever reason I told Bill that as soon as the house was finished I would be starting woodworking classes. “I knew it was coming,” he responded.
Our contractor suggested that I look for classes at the local community college. Yep, there it was. Basic Woodworking – $106 for 10 classes, 5 miles away, 7-9:45 Wednesday nights. Done! Bill and I discussed projects and although it seemed ambitious I started wondering if indeed I could build the window seat.
I started breaking it down in my mind. It’s basically a pair of boxes. We had some extra legs from our kitchen renovation. We’d need some drawers in the boxes but a thick foam cushion (which you can custom order online) would cover up most of my mistakes. Really all I need to look really good is the side of it because the other sides will be covered up by the cushion or walls.
I talked to Jerry, the instructor, about my plan. He gave me this look that said, “Are you kidding me? You’ve never used a table saw and you plan to make a custom window seat with drawers?” “But I have 10 weeks, right?” I interjected. “I’ll just take it a cut at a time but I have good hand skills and I’m extremely motivated.” “OK” he sighed unconvinced. I thought, “Oh Jerry. You’re on such a long, long list of people who underestimate me. Don’t let the 5′ frame fool ya. You wait. I’ll have a window seat at the end of this and you too will realize that I do NOT mess around.”
So next class comes and I have taken all of my measurements, gone to buy my first sheets of plywood, drawn up how to most efficiently cut the pieces from the plywood and researched the general strategy for assembling a window seat. It’s so much like making quilts. I show Jerry all of my notes. He’s unimpressed. Seriously, this guy has been doing woodworking for 40 years. He’s the guy you’d cast if you were doing a Ferris Bueller sequel that involves a high school wood shop. At this point I have this image of Jerry going home to his wife each Wednesday night saying, “How many weeks left do I have with that woman? She’s like an overly eager puppy! Oh my goodness. She’s gonna be the death of me.”
There is an eensy part of Jerry that doesn’t want to admit it but I think is really cheering me on. He sternly shows me how to cut my gigantic plywood sheets precisely. He chastises me for the way I’m measuring the distance from the blade to the fence (the thing you push the wood up against as you cut). “Why ya doin’ it that way?” he barks at me occasionally. “Because I haven’t done this before and I need you to show me the correct way to do it,” I respond casually.
Week by week I work away building the boxes that will be the base of my window seat. Each Wednesday night, covered in sawdust, I drive home through the dark exhilarated that I’m finally doing it. I’m learning woodworking. There’s progress each week. It’s starting to look like something. I think about my next 100 projects. I mentally rearrange the garage to figure out where I might be able to fit in a small wood shop this summer. I think about the day I bring the window seat home and how proud I’ll be to show it to guests. Our family will sit on it, looking out at the rose garden we’ve planted outside its window. And I’ll think, “Yeah. I made this.”