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.