Bits and pieces of my story are scattered throughout this book. For instance, telling about the shop stool as a badge of the journeyman carpenter as a 19-year-old in Cazenovia, New York. Seeing for the first time a wood block plane made by Adolph Peschke in St. Louis, which sparked interest in both making and teaching tools. Relating how the classroom at the Home Shop has been a proving ground in which to test the prototypes of wood tools and workbenches. All these are steps along the way to authoring this book on making wood tools.
My great grandfather, William Dexter Wilson, was an academic of some renown on the founding faculty of Cornell University (1867-1885) who authored some 16 books on Church history, philosophy, economics and jurisprudence. The lineage of teaching and writing goes back that far at least. Manual arts were not a part of his life, and presumably, he felt it a lack to rectify in his son. So he sent my grandfather as a Saturday learner to a cabinetmaker. My grandfather was rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Syracuse, New York, and his carvings grace the altar and reredos to this day. His carving tools reside under my bench, though I have carved only two motifs: one in the headboard and one in the footboard of my bed in the little house next to the shop. I lived there for 12 years, and made oval boxes before the completion of the Home Shop. Still a guest house for visitors, it is testimony to making shop space wherever you are. Teaching and writing, tools and wood, are all elements with a goodly heritage.
I was free to work in my father’s basement work shop as it was a hand tool only environment, although I remember the purchase of his first electric drill. In this shop I was free to work as a child, presumably because my parents felt that pain would intervene before damage was done using hand tools. I learned from my father how to sharpen tools on an oil stone followed by a whetstone, and how to hand scrape a porch needing refinishing. I was provided with a good education concluding in a liberal arts degree from Carleton College (1962) and a graduate degree in social anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (1964). For a decade I taught anthropology at various colleges and universities, until the inability to complete the doctoral dissertation brought my college teaching career to an end. One door closed, another opened: residential construction, pretty much as a one-man business; teaching part-time as a woodworking instructor at Lansing Community College for 23 years; and the formation of the Home Shop in 1988. The mission of the Home Shop is to supply the Shaker oval box trade with all the materials and instruction needed to engage in this traditional craft.
Parallel to oval boxes are an array of projects and activities that spark my interest. Boatbuilding, furniture, and wood tools have all been on the agenda of workshops. Lacking dedicated teaching facility, all of these classes have been by necessity short in duration and focused in subject. Friday is a busy day finishing the backlog of orders for shipment, and this goes on until sweeping and rearranging the shop at the end of the day for the upcoming workshop. Constraints of time and space have served to dis-till class projects into focused entities. Many of these projects are the subject of Making Wood Tools.
The Home Shop
My commute across the drive gives me space to work. The Home Shop is represented at www. ShakerOvalBox.com. The shop was completed May 8, 1988, in time for a celebration: the reception following Sally’s and my wedding. The building was not yet a working wood shop with all the equipment that entails, so there was space to have a pot luck followed by a dance with piano and hammer dulcimer accompaniment. It was a celebration appropriate to the many good times people have joined together since, both as production facility and a classroom.