In Pursuit of Heirloom Tools

If you’re a woodworker, in Kansas City, there are two things you can count on in January, Lie- Nielson will bring their Hand Tool Event to town and they’ll bring terrible weather with them. You may think I’m joking but one year they arrived to a huge snowstorm and today temperatures were in single digits after being in the fifties yesterday. Coincidence, who knows. One thing is for sure, woodworkers will come from miles around in pursuit of the elusive “Heirloom Tool”.

What is an heirloom tool? Well, simply put, a tool of such quality, that it last for more than a generation and is handed down to the next generation. I have a couple of heirloom tools that were handed down to me. The first is my Grandfather’s Stanley-Bailey No. 5 jack plane. The other is a Stanley #9 ½ block plane that belonged to my Dad. Are they great, perfect tools? No. They are user grade that were used by the two big role models of my youth. For that, they hold a place of honor in my shop.

I made my own trek to visit my friends from Maine.  Yes, I do consider them friends even though they take my money every year.  I’m just now getting to know the newer crew that came this year and last, but for many years we were visited by Curtis, Ted, and Tim. Tim and I would always compare aches and pains. Mine from my RA and his from his other job working on a lobster boat. That’s what makes the whole Hand Tool Event a great time. Oh yeah, there’s the tools, too.

I envy the guys that can go in to one of the events and go hog wild. My treasurer (Wife) severely limits my participation in the fun. Usually one tool a year, if I’m lucky. This year was one of the Brian Boggs designed spokeshaves. Last year I bought the concave one and this year the curved one. So next year will be the flat one. See I got this all figured out.  It’s just by the time I’ve upgraded all my hand tools to Lie-Nielson, I’ll be 92 and ready to hand them down to one of my grandsons. Heirloom tools, indeed.



The Guild- Part 2


I’m sorry that it’s taken me so long to get to Part two of this story. I had a bit of a problem come up, Prostate Cancer. But everything is going okay now, after forty-four radiation treatments. I’ve been drained of energy but I’m on my way back to health. I felt I needed to explain the lack of posts before I got right back into the story. And away we go.

After the original build for Andre’s Confiserie Suisse, the Guild was flush with funds to begin the outfitting of our own shop. Our first problem was finding a space for our shop that could serve as a meeting place and a shop. That problem was answered when our sister organization, The Kansas City Woodturners’ Club, approached us with an offer to sublet a portion of their space. We would finally have our space to put our shop. And so it began.

Our Board of Officers and Directors got down to business. With the proceeds from our Andre’s project, a purchase was made of the first of our machinery for the shop. Thru our sponsor, Woodcraft, we purchased the following items from Steel City: a Cabinet Table Saw, an 18 inch Band Saw, an 8 inch jointer, and a Floor standing Drill Press. Steel City was brand new in the market and offered us some good deals. Those machines lasted us a good long while. Sadly, Steel city Tool Works went out of business March 31st, 2015. My Steel City cabinet saw is still going strong. But I digress.

After that purchase we picked up other tools here and there. Some were new, some weren’t. But the big thing was that other members started to put in their time to make the shop a success. Tool cabinets, outfeed tables, and the like were built. The whole shop began to come together. At this point we realized that we had to come up with rules for the shop and someone to watch over things during “Open Shop” times. So, a Safety Committee was formed to draft a safety policy that, despite some updates, still works today. And Shop Foremen were recruited to oversee those in the shop. This is a position I still hold today. The safety process became a standard and we were contacted by other guilds around the country for advice. Safety comes first, so we have always shared and will continue to.

Once we had the shop up and running it was time to start bringing in the celebrity woodworkers to teach to our masses. The first was Kelly Mehler from the Kelly Mehler School of Woodworking in Berea, Kentucky. Kelly taught us how to build a Shaker side table and gave us a nice slideshow presentation about his work. Next came Mark Adams, who covered 8 different topics over a weekend. Ralph Quick, of Hannibal, Missouri, came in and gave us a lesson in Windsor Chairs. Then came Christopher Schwarz, then of Popular Woodworking, to share with us his knowledge of working with hand tools. The learning never seemed to stop.

It wasn’t all fun and games though. During our first year, in that location, we had a full-blown flood brought on by a burst pipe. Unfortunately, this resulted in the loss of mementoes from the early years of the Guild. A few were saved, but most were lost. The other big problem came when the Woodturners club lost their lease, which meant we lost ours, as well. This lead to a mad scramble to find a new home. With the tireless work of our Vice-President and Treasurer at the time, Cliff Bell and Jack Gregg, a new location was found. It is our current location at 3189 Mercier St Kansas City, Missouri. That is when the members of the Guild really shined the brightest. Ron Lomax and Bud Schenke, retired Electrical engineers, handled our wiring needs. Jim Bany, a construction project manager, handled the drywall and other assorted items. There were so many people helping out that I don’t think I could name them all if I tried. And believe me, I was right there with them all as this all took place in the middle of my two-year term as the Guild president. It was a time I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

But before we moved into the new shop we had one last event in the old shop, a memorial service for Vice- President Cliff Bell. Cliff had been the Energizer Bunny for the Guild all while fighting a cancer in his chest. Cliff was quite a negotiator and programmer. He could sell sun-tan lotion and Bermuda shorts to an Eskimo. Cliff was definitely an unique individual, but I can say with all certainty, he was my friend. He did so much for the Guild that we named our top annual award, The Clifford Bell Contributor of the Year. Sometime, in the future, I may take the time to dedicate a post just to him.

Anyway, that was all 7 years ago. The Guild has continued to grow as new people find us and become a part of our group of woodworkers. We’ve gone from the 85 members, when I joined, to over 700 now. The education continues as well as some outstanding furniture and other items being made. If you’re in Kansas City and need to hang with some great guys and gals and talk about woodworking, stop by. We meet the third Wednesday of every month. You’ll be glad you did. That’s all for now. I’ve got sawdust to make.


The Guild (Part 1)


One of the most important parts, of my woodworking education, has been my membership in the Kansas City Woodworkers’ Guild. I became a member back in 2005 when I was searching for help with my new habit. I even wrote about it in a short article I wrote for Popular Woodworking Magazine. You can read it here:

Anyway, The Guild became a source of great knowledge and education for me on my journey. A vast array of talent resides within the Guild. There are woodturners, furniture makers, cabinetmakers, antique restorers, etc. as members of this organization. And the greatest things of all is their willingness to share their accumulated knowledge. You see woodworkers of all skill levels are welcome at the Guild. It’s even part of the Guild’s mission statement: “to promote the skill and craft of woodworking, and to provide education, information, fellowship and organization to those interested in working with wood.  The Guild will sponsor community outreach programs … and other such activities.”

When I joined, back in 2005, there was, a group of about 80 to 100 woodworkers, that met in the basement of the Jacob’s Well Church every month. There was always a desire, amongst the membership for something more. The problem was finding a way to finance that something more. Enter Andre’s Confiserie Suisse.

The owner of Andre’s was in the market for new tables, chairs, and benches for his restaurant, in the Country Club Plaza area of Kansas City. He was looking at ordering the Swiss Chalet type furniture from a company in Switzerland, at a huge cost for manufacture and shipping. Chris Kunzle was a member of the Guild and a member of the Swiss Society of Kansas City. He convinced Marcel Bollier, the owner of Andre’s, to give the Guild a shot at building what he needed. The rest, as they say, is history.

A design team was formed of members Chris, Jim Bany, David Kraatz, and Wayne Wainwright. They came up with a design and all of the jigs necessary to make the first phase of the project, 60 chairs. Once the design was approved by Marcel, construction began at several home shops amongst the Guild’s membership. Each member involved was responsible for a certain part of the chairs, seat, back legs, and bolsters. Then all the parts were brought together, in the backroom of our sponsor, the local Woodcraft store, for assembly. At this point, members, like myself, who hadn’t been involved in the parts manufacture process could help with the assembly. The amazing thing was that all those pieces, built in all those shops, came together and fit with no problems, at all. It was definitely a camaraderie building experience.

After assembly, the chairs were taken to yet another member’s shop, for finishing. From there it was on to delivery to Andre’s. This was the beginning of a great partnership between the Guild and Andre’s. The Guild went on to build tables and benches for the restaurant that provided the seed money for the Guild’s future. That partnership continues today, as the Guild recently built more tables and benches for an expansion at Andre’s.

In my next post, I’ll cover what that seed money built and some of the great characters that make up the Kansas City Woodworkers’ Guild.




When I started this particular blog entry, I was going to write about all the different woodworkers that have influence me and how I approach the craft. Especially since I’m still learning. I’ll cover my woodworking influences in a later entry. But this one now, belongs to my Dad, Leonard Franklin Thomas.

Mom and Dad had a great deal of influence of who I have become. I just didn’t realize it for several years. From my Dad, I got my work ethic. You’re paid to do a job, make damn sure you get it done and done right. I guess that’s why I will stay later, at the office, to make sure everything on my desk is to a stopping point before leaving for the day.

Coming home exhausted was a common thing for my Dad. You see he was a truck driver. And not just any kind of truck driver. He hauled gasoline to the stations where you buy your gas. Dangerous work. My Mom used to worry herself sick about him. Especially if she heard on the news about a tanker truck in an accident. Many a night he would come home drenched in gasoline, because someone ordered more than they needed, and it would over fill before he could get it shut off. Now days the smell of gas makes me think of my Dad.

Most of the time, he worked nights and sometimes two jobs. So, time with us kids, my sister and me, was limited. But when the time was there, we were given a good sense of right and wrong. And, since he was always working, Mom was the disciplinarian. So, you knew you were in trouble if he got involved.

In later years, I got to spend some time with my Dad in a more adult setting. We would drive together to my Grandparent’s farm, near the Lake of the Ozarks. Even though no one lived there, we kept the place up in livable shape. We would usually mow the acre and a half yard and then relax a bit. Occasionally, when time permitted, we would go fishing. There was nothing better than quiet time spent fishing with Dad. Nothing had to be said to enjoy his company. Just me, him, and the croaking frogs in the pond.

My three kids remember him more as a grumpy old man. Several mini-strokes had taken away the job he loved of driving a truck. He loved driving a truck. He had driven since the early 1950’s. At one time, as an over-the-road driver, he had been in every state in the lower 48, 6 Provinces in Canada, and as far south as Mexico City. He never went without his camera. Some of the pictures he brought back were stunning. My sister, Joyce, now has possession of all the slides that depict his travels, and our family.

Was my Dad a perfect man? No, who is? But he was my Dad and that’s that. From a young age, we were taught of family. My Dad was an only child, so family was important. Regular trips to my grandparents’ home, in the country, on a Friday night, after he got home from work. Then two days of time spent with family, sometimes Church, on Sunday morning, then a big Sunday supper prepared by my Grandmother. I didn’t realize how important that time was until I got much older. If only I’d known then what I know now.

Those trips to my grandparents’ farm also involved some hard work from time to time. Anywhere from stacking bales of hay in the barn, to carrying in buckets of water, from the well, because they didn’t always have indoor plumbing. Let me tell you, that was a hard lesson to learn for a young boy. The outhouse was a cold place to be in December and I never understood why the Sears-Roebucks catalog was in there. Oh, the things you learn in unexpected places.

The last lesson my Dad ever taught me was how to face Death. My Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer in April of 1994 when a spot showed up on his lung, in his annual physical. You see besides all those years coming home drenched in gasoline, my Dad was a smoker. He had tried several times to quit, but they didn’t have the aids that they have now, so he was unsuccessful.

Anyway, the doctors did what doctors do. They biopsied, they removed part of his lung, they gave him radiation and chemotherapy. The chemotherapy was horrible for him. They gave it to him as an inpatient, in the hospital. I remember seeing the bottle hanging on the IV stand and the word “Platinum” in big letters on it. About that time, he would get nauseous and start throwing up. The man that had always been a pillar for me, was in agony. That same day, the oncologist came in and told us that he had maybe 6 months to live. From that day, Dad told them no more chemo, he wanted to go home. While he was in the hospital, Dad was befriended by one of the chaplains that served that hospital. They would talk for long stretches any I think that he made his peace during those long talks. Of this, I am grateful.

So, Dad went home and he finished on his terms. He ate what he wanted, he smoked what he wanted, and he spent time with my mother. They had been married almost 46 years. While it hadn’t always been easy, it was a good marriage. Then on September 9th, 1994, 5 months after his diagnosis, my Dad passed on to meet his maker. And I cried.

I felt I had to give my Dad his due before I went on, in other entries, about woodworking this or woodworking that. After all, he very subtly taught me, family is important and it always will be.



Building Square with Crooked Hands

Where do you begin an ongoing story? Most times you would start at the beginning and I guess that’s as good as anyplace to start my story. My story starts as child of a blue collar family, in the heartland of America. A baby boomer, born to parents that had survived the Great Depression and World War II.  Our greatest generation. My dad was a truck driver and my mother was a stay at home mom for the early years of my childhood. She was a seamstress and used to sew clothes for other people to bring in some extra money. That is where the story really begins.

Somewhere around the time she turned forty, my mother was diagnosed with RA, Rheumatoid Arthritis. It started with swollen, sore joints and it got worse from there. In those days treatment options were limited. She tried gold shots and found she was allergic when she broke out in a rash. The most effective treatment, at that time, was Methotrexate tablets. This was her best treatment until the biologic drug Remicade came along. The difference was night and day for her.

The one thing I remember was that, thru it all, she kept sewing. Even though her hands were painful and her fingers crooked. She continued to make beautiful things for me, my sister, her grandchildren, and herself. Not only did she sew but she also did needlepoint, cross-stitch, crochet, and knitting. And she did them all like a master.

Now fast forward a few years to the year I turned the big four-O. I had spent a warm, February weekend taking down Christmas lights outside. The next morning, I woke up with a terrible pain in the pinky finger on my left hand. It was so bad I couldn’t even straighten out the finger. That went on for a couple of days and then the same thing happened to the pinky on my right hand. Soon it was both wrists, then both elbows, and finally both shoulders. I decided I had to go see my primary doctor, who in turn referred me to a rheumatologist. After several tests, she then informed me that I had Rheumatoid Arthritis, the same disease that had afflicted my mother.

I have to admit that at the time, even though my mother had had it for years, I didn’t know much about RA. The doctor told me it was more prevalent in women than men. And when men had it, it appeared to be more aggressive. At any point, my life would never be the same.

I began treatment right away. A parade of different drugs, none having any real effect on my continuing pain and suffering, ensued. Then one day the doctor decided to try a new biologic drug, Enbrel. Within 24 hours I felt the best I had in a long time. It worked pretty well for about 10 years, but the immunosuppressive qualities of the drug were a pain to deal with. Any little scratch could blow up into a raging infection.  Not fun by any stretch of the imagination.

I now go for a monthly IV infusion of a biologic drug named Orencia. Along with that I have a weekly injection of Methotrexate and three different types of pills I take daily. All of this as I’m in search of the ever-elusive clinical remission. I’m not there yet, but I always try to keep my fingers crossed. That is when they’re not swollen and inflamed.

About the same time, I was diagnosed with RA, I rediscovered a hobby that would become a passion in my life. Woodworking. How will my RA affect this passion? That’s where the story lies ahead. That’s why I dedicate this ongoing blog to my mother, Evelyn. She showed me that there is no reason to give up on your passion. You just might have to take it a little slower. So, join me as I go on this journey into my passion of trying to build square with crooked hands.