My father and I are two different kinds of craftsmen. My dad grew up on a farm where you did what you had to do with whatever you had. The tools weren’t the best and often not the right ones but he figured out how to get by with them. As a kid I watched him fix and build stuff for around the house with the wonder through the eyes of a little boy. Everything was hand work and done with such care. We had an old house and he redid every room at least twice. He would also build all sorts of little items for the house and church fairs like folding slat tables and such.
Me, I started doing woodworking in middle school. We learned some of the basics but there were machines to do most of the work. The precision and speed of it all just appealed to my youthful sense of urgency to build things. I took woodshop throughout middle and high school and even a year of metal shop. Learned a lot of modern methods and began what would be a long time gear affliction.
As you can see, Dad and I had vastly different approaches to the work. As a teenager, I began to look at the work he did as outdated. I would often complain while working with him around the house about how long something took to do by hand. “Dad, why are you using that chisel, I bought a router that can do that kind of work.” Where Dad had skills, I clung to precision and machinery like a hobbled man hanging on to a crutch.
As an adult, I began to come around, somewhat. At one point, I decided to try to master traditional methods. Talk about humbling. Even with finely sharpened and honed tools, I was no match for my father. What he could do with an old crappy chisel and even a utility knife was far in advance to my abilities. I made an attempt at Shoji screens with all the joinery done by hand using traditional methods and some really fine cedar. My results are still in a box somewhere in the shop. A trophy and reminder of my youthful hubris. I have continued to improve but I still cling to my machines.
When I started building guitars, not many around me had much interest except Dad. I would bring something I built and his eyes would just light up. In those moment s, we shared some unspoken deep understanding and appreciation of just the craft. I continued to try to do more and more by hand and I slowly got better. In these moments, there was just some special understanding that we shared that I’ve experienced with no one else. Sure friends and family think stuff is cool but none of them have any understanding of the path taken.
Sadly a year ago on Feb 19, 2012, my father passed after a prolonged battle with cancer. For almost two years now, I have had little desire to even pick up a tool in the shop. So I continued my break from it all till recently. I make little attempts to work in the shop these days but often fail to get much of anything done. Slowly it is getting better. With the encouragement of old friends and new ones here, I am moving forward. Picking up from some of the ideas I had two years ago and designing some new stuff.
So to all the guys out there that build a stick and a box, you have my deepest admiration and respect. Build your instruments with pride because you carry on a great tradition. I am always reminded of my father’s greatness when I see pictures of your craft. Thank you all for that.
Very good. Darned good.
Very nicely written Don, i still use some of my Dad's tools he left behind like pincers, bradawl, brass and rosewood set square, fret saw and large files, but the hand drill and spirit blowlamp remain restored but unused, many jobs in guitar building require a lot of effort and accuracy which is sometimes a little beyond my skill and i've brought in electric drills, Dremels and an electric band saw but tools like a spokeshave add a human touch to the job - a foot in both camps is the way to go for me! (-;
I would hang around my Dad when he was working on DIY jobs from an early age and became his helper when he trusted i wouldn't injure myself, i learned loads over the years and can often hear him saying things like "always cut away from yourself" and "measure twice cut once" from somewhere else, he would have been proud of my efforts today i'm sure!
nice indeed ;-)
Wow. With every word I was seeing my dad and the great year we had between his heart attacks where we were restoring a wooden boat together.
I wish I could have shown him some of my builds recently but he has been gone since 1989. I still cherish all the time we spent that year as before that we had had a distant relationship.
Miss him but remember with fondness the hard work we did and how it brought us together.
Thanks for the post
Over 20 years ago I built a house. It was an R2000 home in Northern Ontario. It took about a year and a half of tough slogging. We finally moved in in Christmas of 1990. Then I put down my tools - for a long time. All of the fun had been burnt out of it.
A couple of years ago, I tried to pick them back up. I hit the same thing you did in that I would go into the shop and do pretty much nothing. I had always enjoyed my tools, but the house building had been overkill and made it work instead of pleasure. What finally made the difference was was having a project that was (a) small and (b) fun. It was my first cigar box guitar. It gave back that wonder of small accomplishments and brought back good times in the shop to top of mind.
The fact that you are watching and enjoying strikes me as a really good thing. Maybe in a little more time it will be followed by the itch to get your hands dirty again. Black fades to gray and the memories of the good overpower the bad. Healing takes time, but it seems to me you are on the mend. And people here are nothing if not supportive.
All the best.
Like others here I also have my dads and grandfathers tools, the wife doesn't understand the sentiment due to her being raised differently. Every time I hold the hammer, look at the wood handle Philips screwdriver or the good old pipe wrench, good emotions flow... Alone time in the man shop is good therapy for me. Best Post of the Year..
Don, I never had the interest in building things out of wood when I was young, it was all cars and wrenches stuff and learning to be a machinist. In 1985 I got my pilots license and the following year we purchased a 1946 Aeronca Champ that would lead me to my career that I truly loved up until retirement in 2008 after open heart surgery. I learned wood working skills and the true craftsmanship needed to restore old tube, wood and fabric aircraft and the feeling that faster isn't always better. In my retirement I still have fun working on hotrods and older cars, but I needed some simple craft that let me use my hands for more than wrench holders and a life long appreciation of live music and blues led me to wanting to learn to play guitar. Being frugal, (read living on social security) I decided to build my instrument instead of buying one and the internet led me here. Built my first last March and recently finished my 11th. Every one has a story behind the build and they all have their own sound. Take your time, build what you want, how you want and enjoy the process without rushing it. The builds are almost a zen therapy to me. It's not about the destination, it's the journey. My dad has been gone over 30 years now and I still feel his guidance in things that I do. Cherish the memories and enjoy your builds.
I posted this in the"How Have CBG's Changed Your Life?" Forum a while back:
Comment by Habanera Hal on June 24, 2011 at 4:11pm
My father was an avid woodworker and taught me most of what I know today - both in woodworking and in life. He was truly a craftsman and even had articles published in Fine Woodworking magazine. We built many projects together through the years, from simple things like shelving to very intricate inlay-laden boxes, clocks, etc. It was his mentoring that led me to do most if not all the carpentry work in my own homes and to do volunteer work for my neighbors and charitible organizations like Habitat for Humanity. As with many things though, I drifted away from those interests as age, new hobbies, and other responsibilities overtook my life.
When he passed away a few years ago, I lost all interest in woodworking. Even though I had inherited the collection of tools that he had accumulated over more than 80 years, I could not bring myself to use them. Then one day a couple of months ago, my wife asked me to find her a box she could use to hold business cards. I found an old cigar box full of screws and bolts in the garage and stuck a quick divider in it for her. I then realized that it had been one of Dad's old stoogie boxes. I was thinking about it for a few days and started searching "cigar boxes" online, and found this site. I had no idea that people used them to make musical instruments!
I started looking at all the creative ways people were making guitars out of them, and thought, "I really need a project - this looks like fun." I picked up a suitable box, a 1x2 piece of maple, some tuners at a local guitar store and started designing.
Then I picked up my tools to start building. Or rather, I picked up Dad's tools, and a wave of emotions I can't describe just overwhelmed me. I sat in my garage and cried for over an hour.
He is with me now, every time I pick up a chisel, a hammer, turn on the drill press or the belt sander. He's looking over my shoulder, guiding my hands, giving my the advice he gave me so many times before, but when I was young and too foolish to listen.
This site has givem me the opportunity to remember what the important things in life are.
It seems that quite a few of us here share similar backgrounds. Thank you for reminding us where we come from.
A great opus to all our fathers, who did it their own special way. Cheers Don, and thanks for sharing that with all of us.
Excellent post, well written - Thanks