My woodworking is more than just a hobby

This is just some of the wood and lumber I've gathered this year. I'll use it for firewood and to build about a dozen small chairs.

This is just some of the wood and lumber I’ve gathered this year. I’ll use it for firewood and to build about a dozen small chairs.

Woodworking. It’s a big part of who I am. I lost this part of me — well, I put it aside — for more than a dozen years as I bounced from Des Moines to New York to Chicago and now to Columbia. But finally I’m back at it. And now that I am, I’m remembering why it’s so important to me.

LeRoy Mitchell when he was about 30 or 35 years old.

My dad, LeRoy Mitchell when he was about 30 or 35 years old.

My current project is some very simple chairs that I’m donating to one of the city’s two fenced-in dog parks. I’m using discarded lumber from construction sites for the materials. The project combines my interest in woodworking with something I’m genetically disposed to do: scavenging for the materials.

My father, LeRoy Mitchell, was an art teacher and he found second and third purposes for everything from carpet samples to the paper that wrapped x-ray film. (Anyone out there have one of his yellow paper books?)

These are the more substantial chairs I'm making. The boards for the seat and back are boards from an old privacy fence. The support pieces are old 2x4 and 4x6 pieces. All of this is found lumber.

These are the more substantial chairs I’m making. The boards for the seat and back are boards from an old privacy fence. The support pieces are old 2×4 and 4×6 pieces. All of this is found lumber.

He died more than 30 years ago, before I was able to do woodworking with him.

As a child I watched my dad work on any number of projects and art work and I was usually too small to work with him. But I watched. I watched everything he did. The wood he used, the nails, the screws, the glue. He worked with wire, tin cans, fine hard woods, scrap wood, paper, copper tubing, plastics, glass. I learned a lot from him, but never got to work with him, father and daughter. I could even teach him a thing or two: he’d love to work with a Japanese saw, one that cuts on the pull instead of the push stroke.

When I scavenge I often think of what he’d think of the stuff I’ve found. (Today I found an antique sewing machine but it was so rusty and decayed even I didn’t want it.) When I’m building, I often wish he was here to see what I’ve accomplished from all the years of watching him and what I’ve learned on my own. Also, he was a big, tall, strong man — he’d have been a lot of help around the shop.

So when you come visit me and think my house is full of junk remember: it’s in my genes.

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5 responses to “My woodworking is more than just a hobby

  1. I have a couple of those books. It’s almost the only art of his that I have.

  2. Do you have one of his old school lamps? I have a couple of those, I can send you one. It’s amazing how little of his work we have. Does mom have the wooden monk, I think it was painted white?

  3. This does my heart good. It’s a comment about my first two chairs that are at the dog park, which aren’t as sturdy as the chairs pictured in this post: Brent Pearson @b_pearson
    @uberscholar Your chairs at the dog park were in use every time I ran past today. Great addition to the park.

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