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 As a teenager, I began to look at the work he did as outdated.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.
my dad died when i was very young so i never got to experience the joy of learning things from a father. however now i have my own son (hes 9 months old) and i cant wait to teach him everything i think i know
I had been giving this a great deal of thought of late. I began looking through pictures here and also while answering different questions. It really struck home with me as I began to see so much that reminded me of some of the primitive sort stuff my dad cobbled together when things had to be frugal but functional. This was as much about all of you as it was a tribute to my dad. He would have enjoyed this place even if he wasn't into building instruments. So much of this has him all over it.
A couple of difficult days this week but I continue to make headway in the shop. Think I've finally figured out my next steps and what incomplete projects to finish. Before you know it, I'll be on to new things.
Thanks for all the great comments and stories. I was glad to hear the stories of your experiences. Made me feel much better.
Well spoken Don, thank you for sharing.
Like most everyone else, I learned my woodworking skills from my father. He is 95 and still going strong.
We had a shop in the basement when I was a kid, and when he would be down there working on something, I would be looking over his shoulder, seeing what he was doing. One this he like to do is make tools or jigs. He would always say, if you don't have the right tool, make it! We made any number of "special" screwdrivers.
He taught me the basics for stuff like allowing for the size of the kerf of the saw blade when you cut a piece, making sure it is the right size.
The biggest thing was the appreciation of something that was made by hand, with love, and that running your hands over a sanded piece of wood, feeling the silky smoothness of the grain, was something special.
Excellent post. I use my grandfather's hand tools, and I try not to use power tools other than drills. I recently thought about how the smell of the wood reminded me of his basement.
Nice words for many years I reached for my electric screwdriver each time .and I am only now finally going back to hand tools
there is a warmth and pleasure you feel as you bond with the wood as it takes shape..
I have seen some great craftmen take tiny bits off at a time by hand... whilst one slip of an electic thingy and it's wrecked.
Perhaps we all know the answers here...I am the worst for not taking my time... but you can feel the learning on this one.
I hope you can soon get back to that great skill you share, after all the wood is just part of a tree and needs your shaping.
you made your pop proud.
Touching and heartfelt story, thank you for sharing it with us.
My dad was also pretty handy. He was no craftsman, but he was that kind of practical chap who could engineer a solution to almost any problem. He probably picked this skill up when he was mechanic on tank-landing crafts during he war, and from the necessity of the 1950s British austerity. I knew he was handy, but it was only at his funeral that I would find out how handy.
In the early 60s my sister as a kid began to become interested in canoeing, but was only going to be able to join the club if she had her own canoe. She knew there was no way the family could afford this, so resigned herself to a life without canoes. she was amazed when dad calmly said he would make her one. He did just that, and apparently it was miles better than any bought canoe.
As I said, this was a story I heard for the first time at his funeral. It's funny how some family history and stories get lost over the years, only to resurface years later. Now, dad died well before I started to knock out these CBGs, and I'd like to think he'd have appreciated my rough and ready approach to guitar building. Maybe I am a chip off the old block after all.