Catching Up

As I’m sitting here, sipping a cup of hot chocolate, I realized I hadn’t written in about 7 months. For this I apologize to whatever readers I have out there and to myself. You see writing this blog is something I enjoy. It gives me an outlet to share a bit of my world with yours. A lot has happened in the last seven months. So, I guess, I’ll try to get you all caught up.

The last weekend in June and the first weekend in July, I taught another class on building a Holtzapffel workbench. I only had two students this time, but all seem to have a good time and were happy with the results. To be truthful, only one of the benches has been finished. The other is waiting to be finished after a family emergency took that student away from the class before completion. But I’m still helping him out, when time allows.

Also, in July, was a week of vacation for the wife and me. I used the excuse of a traditional lobster bake, in Maine, to make it to Lie-Nielson Toolworks’ Annual Open House. Of course, we also spent the better part of a week in Boston, as her part of the trip. This Missouri boy learned all about how to make it around a large Metropolis on a subway. It was definitely a new experience for us. We took Amtrak’s Downeaster, on Saturday morning to Portland, Maine. There we rented a car and made the drive to Warren, Maine, home of Lie-Nielson Toolworks.

Unfortunately, we were a little late making it to Warren and we missed out on the demonstrations offered during the Open House. But I was able to catch up and renew some acquaintances, as well as make some new. I was recruited by Kansas City Woodworkers’ Guild Director of Training, Norm Carpenter, to hand out some brochures to prospective teachers. A virtual who’s who of woodworking talent, Phil Lowe, Matt Bickford, Peter Follansbee, and Megan Fitzpatrick. There were more, but that’s all I was able to speak to before the dinner started. After a wonderful lobster dinner, we were treated to a great presentation by Peter Follansbee. The keynote speaker was supposed to be Thomas Moser but he took ill the night before, so Peter stepped up and did an outstanding job, with no preparation. All in all, it was a great trip.

Once we got back to good ole Kansas City, it was back to the salt mine. My niece, Stephanie, was getting married in October and she asked me for help making centerpieces, for her reception. You see, she was the Flower Girl for my wife and my wedding, 23 years ago, at the age of not quite, 5 years old. So of course, I was going to help her.

All she needed was 30-something log cookies, 12 inches in diameter and finished with polyurethane. I figured, “No Problem, Right”. Guess what? Problem! It all started innocent enough. My brother-in-law dropped off the logs that they wanted to use. They were picked out by Stephanie and her mother, from a tree that was taken down on church property where my brother-in-law worked. Perfect, I thought, “Holy logs. What could go wrong?” Of course, that was the start of, let’s call it an adventure.

It all started with both of my chainsaws shooting craps. I ended up renting one from that big orange box store to get the logs cut into manageable sections for the bandsaw. Then came the realization that my bandsaw was about an inch and a half too small to cut perfectly round log cookies. So, I consulted with the Bride and her father. It was determined that she would be okay with one flat spot on each cookie. This gave me enough room to slice them from the log on my bandsaw. One crisis averted. Next, I coated each cookie with Pentacryl wood stabilizer. That worked good at keeping the bark attached to each cookie, a required preference. Then after a couple of days of drying time, the cracks started.

Thank God only about a third of them cracked, but I was left with figuring how to repair the cracked cookies. My first solution was to do an epoxy pour, just like on the internet. After the mess associated with about 5 pours, I decided to find another way. That other way was a good, old fashioned butterfly inlay. As stated on a T-shirt I purchased over the summer, “Stops Cracks in their Tracks.” Next came the usual sanding and sanding some more. That was followed by the numerous coats of polyurethane. Then it was wrap them up, box them up, and deliver to the Bride a couple of weeks before the wedding. I snuck a special cookie, with a heart shaped inlay in with the rest of them. I figured it would be for the Bridal parties table. Let me state emphatically, this was a learning experience and I love my niece dearly. But, if I’m ever asked by anyone else, ever, to do this again, I will politely decline.

With the wedding behind us, life moved on in its usual organized chaotic way. I took a couple of classes. I learned making Shaker Oval Boxes from John Wilson and made a knife in a class with Mike Jones, of the KCWG. I also taught a class, for the first time, on making a traditional six board chest. All students seemed to be happy with their chest when all were done. So I’ll call it a success. One other thing, in the middle of all the chaos, I turned 60 years old. A milestone birthday at which, I used to think my life would be over by then. Guess what? I’m not about to stop, now. I may move a bit slower and creak when I move, but I’m still moving.

Tonight, was the annual Christmas dinner at the Guild. Awards were handed out, warm wishes exchanged, and a great meal was had by all. So, I take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year. And with that, I think we’re all caught up. See you next year.



Finding the Time

Working a full-time job can really cut into my woodworking shop time. Not only the job, but the fatigue that comes with my RA. While I might have a couple of free hours in the evening, I don’t always have the energy to put them to good use. Sometimes I have the energy but my joints tell me “NO! We’re not moving”. And sometimes it’s something totally different, like this weekend.

While I know that I should be in the shop, I have several projects in various stages of completion. Today, is movie time with my youngest son, Justin. Since my wife doesn’t care for Sci-fi or Comic book movies, Justin is my companion for these movies. We have followed the MCU from it’s beginning 10 years ago and in about an hour we’ll be checking out Avengers: Infinity Wars. Since my children are all grown, I have to find the time to spend with each of the 3 of them. While the older two, Andrew and Amy, have families of their own, Justin hasn’t taken the plunge yet. He can find a couple of hours to spend with the old man, to see a movie and catch up.

A couple of years ago, I arranged a big gathering of the family for a special movie. My son, Andrew, has been a Star Wars fan since he was very young. Now his son, Damien, has gotten the Star Wars bug. When Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out, I arranged to watch it with the whole family, those that wanted to anyway. It was a joy to see the wonder, in the eyes of my grandson, as he watched it all on the IMAX screen.

Movie time with the children and grandchildren is great. But, I also have to work to find time to spend with the one closest to me, my wife. On this front, I admit, I could improve. Where will I ever find the time, I need. Well, it comes from time in the shop, here at home. I know that it’s family that is the most important place to spend my time. This may not have been a woodworking related post, but it was an important one for me. Don’t worry about finding the time for woodworking. It will come around. Worry about finding the time for family…it’s most important.



As I sat through another brutally, cold Kansas City winter, I came to the root of my problem. That problem being, it’s too cold to be in my shop working at my favorite hobby, woodworking. And with my RA, being warm while working in the shop is a necessity.  Let me start somewhere closer to the beginning so you can see my problem.

Back when I first got bitten by the woodworking bug, from watching Norm Abrams, I started collecting the tools I would need to pursue this craft. I started out by working in our attached garage and spilling out to the driveway, when necessary. In 2007, I built a 24×30 shop built in the back yard. It is basically a garage because the city says so. It has a concrete driveway that connects it with the front of our house. It’s a good thing to have when bringing in materials but an added expense to figure in. After the electricity was added, I couldn’t wait any longer, I had to make sawdust.

I was so consumed by my desire to make sawdust, that I failed to prepare for a Midwest winter. This failure to prepare for a winter spilled over into other issues, like storage. With no insulation up, there were no walls up. And with no walls up, there was nowhere to hang a cabinet for storage. This problem continues to show itself every time I bring home a new tool or wood for the next project. What really stands out are the used cabinets that I picked up at an estate sale, shortly after building my shop. They continue to sit on the floor and have become shelves to pile stuff on. Disorganization thy name is Kevin.

So recently, while looking for a tool in the various piles of stuff, around my shop, I had an epiphany. My own procrastination was the cause of my terribly disorganized shop. I decided that this was the year that I was going to make a dent in my shop organization problems. While I still have a couple of projects to finish up, I’ve begun making plans. I’ve sat down and drawn out a finished layout for the shop for tools and cabinets. Of course, before that can be put into action, I have to insulate and cover the walls. But, I have to start somewhere.

So, as I wait for winter to finally breathe it’s last for this year, I wait. And in true procrastinator form I say.” I’ll get to that tomorrow”.



I was watching The Wood Whisperer’s Friday Live this morning on YouTube, never mind that it was Saturday morning. Anyway, Marc Spagnuolo was speaking about a “Meet n Greet” he attended while on the road in Washington. He spoke about how just a few years ago it was thought that woodworking was getting old and dying out. But now there has been a resurgence and a youth movement, so to speak. This got me to thinking as to what my recent experiences showed about where the craft is going.

The bulk of my experience with the Woodworking Community, as a whole, is thru my membership in the Kansas City Woodworkers’ Guild. I’ve written before about when I joined the Guild 13 years ago, it mostly, consisted of about 80 middle-aged and older men. That has changed dramatically in the last few years. The Guild now is closing in on close to 800 members and they are not just a bunch of middle-aged and older men, though many of those original 80, from when I joined, are still around. Now they have a new job, teaching the next generations of woodworkers.

When I was in school, Junior High and High School, my favorite class were the Industrial Arts classes. We had metal shop, wood shop, drafting, and electrical class. These were great classes with great teachers. Now days, our public schools have dropped these, for the most part, from their curriculum. I guess they are worried about being sued in our too litigious society. I believe the absence of “Shop Class” is being felt and a new generation is looking for an outlet for their creative side.

For me, this is most evident in the Guild’s “Basic Woodworking” class’ popularity. I’ve been involved with this class for a couple of years, minus time off for cancer treatment. This class is a 10-week class, for 12 students, that is offered 4 times a year. It is usually filled up within hours of being offered. I believe we are already filled for the rest of this year. In the class, the students make three projects that are designed to teach them skills that they will need in making almost any project. The first project is a cutting board with a handle where they learn about milling and gluing up panels. The second project is a Presentation Box that teaches miters, using a router table, etc. The third project is an Arts & Crafts inspired plant stand that teaches layout techniques along with different joinery techniques. Along the way there are lectures on various tools and some “sidebar” projects, like making a bench hook or a glue scraper. And the final week is a lesson on finishing with the Guild’s resident finishing expert, Craig Arnold.  All in all, a very well-rounded class.

My favorite part is the students. There are a very good mix of our society, today. Young and middle-aged adults, men and women, all races, it’s just a great way to bring them all together, woodworking. It’s really fun to be involved with this class. It’s also helped rejuvenate me and my love for the craft by sharing what I’ve learned thru the years. One of the great things is past students are recruited to be instructors in future classes. So, it keeps the knowledge going.  And what could be better.


Teaching? Me?

After a little bit of nudging, by the Kansas City Woodworkers’ Guild Assistant Training Director Norm Carpenter, I agreed to teach a class for the Guild. Norm just kind of guided me to the decision. No pressure except what I put on myself. Starting this Saturday, March 10th, I’ll be taking a couple of weekends to share the knowledge imparted on to me by Christopher Schwarz, in September of 2008. I will be teaching 4 members of the Guild how to build a Holtzapffel Workbench. The first lesson will be how to spell Holtzapffel.

I took the class at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking in Berea, Kentucky. The class was a gift from my wife, Vickie, for my 50th birthday. It is still the best birthday present I’ve ever received. This was also, by his own words, the first workbench class taught by Chris. Of course, he has gone on to be the go-to guy for all things workbench. At that time, I was fairly green in my woodworking abilities. I’ve made some improvements since then. The biggest thing, at that time, was that I needed a workbench for my new shop.

My wife accompanied me on the trip. While I was in class, each day, she was exploring Berea for antiques and the like. She even got to explore the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. I couldn’t go since I was in class. One of the things I missed out on. But the class was so great. Learning from Chris and Kelly for 6 days was remarkable. I met some interesting people from all over the country. The student that drove the farthest came from Ketchikan, Alaska. Larry and I exchanged gifts later that year. I sent him three types of Kansas City BBQ sauce and he sent me some smoked salmon.

The one thing I remember most about the class was the aches at the end of the day. I was only a few years out from my diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis and the doctor was dialing in my treatment. So when I went back to the hotel, each evening, the first thing I did was take a long, hot shower. The saving grace was on Wednesday of the week. During a wine and cheese gathering, hosted by Kelly and his wife, he brought in a local masseuse to massage away the aches for those who wanted it. Let me just say, that saved my week. Friday evening, we all went up the road a piece, to a little Italian restaurant in Richmond, Kentucky. We had to go there because Berea in in a “Dry” county and most of the party wanted beer. It was a lovely restaurant and a good time was had by all.

The next morning was class only till about noon. Everyone was finishing up and loading up their benches to go home. All except Larry from Alaska. He was staying for another two classes before heading home. It had been an eight-day drive for him over ferry and highway, so he wanted to get his money’s worth. We all said our goodbyes and went our different ways. The wife and I stopped for the night in Fort Wayne, Indiana on our way home. The next day offered one of my most challenging drives of my life. We drove across most of Illinois thru the remnants of Hurricane Ike. I think having the weight of my workbench in the back of my truck saved us a couple times when the wind would gust. We were finally thru it just west of St. Louis. It was clear sailing on home from there.

This will always be a defining time in my woodworking life. For the first time I met and worked along side woodworkers from all over the country. And it was fun no matter how tired I was. I only hope my students will have as much fun.


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.