For the most part, I’m a “mama’s” girl. My mom and I spend quality time together on a weekly basis. With similar interest in movies, books, shopping, and cable TV shows, we can talk and hang out easily for hours. In some ways, I’m also a “daddy’s” girl. But Dad’s favorite TV station is the Weather Channel. His interest in reading extends mainly to the newspaper. And “shopping” generally refers to picking up bananas at Walmart. So, quality time with my dad has been more purposeful through the years. Sailing is definitely on the list of things we do together. Also on that list is carpentry.
My dad worked for a cabinet-maker before I was born. As far back as I can remember, he’s had a workshop set up in the garage. There are photos of me as a kid wearing overalls, safety goggles, baseball cap, a tool belt, and wielding a hand saw. I’ve always loved the smells of fresh sawdust, stain, and lacquer. He’d patiently show me safety with everything from hammer to drill press to table saw…while I’d impatiently watch, waiting for my turn to try it on my own. While we don’t often build things together any more, he is the first person I call when things break down around my house. He’ll diagnose the issue and tell me how to fix it, or help me fix it…or warn me it’s one for the pros to tackle. He has often bravely lent me his tools (not brave because I’ll misuse them, but brave because he has 5 kids and keeping track of his tools can require phone calls to several people). He loves it when we put tools on our Christmas or birthday lists, partly because it means we won’t borrow his, and partly because it gives him an excuse to shop at the hardware store (his favorite shopping apart from Walmart bananas). This Christmas I was honored to receive his 1970s True Temper claw hammer with fiberglass handle. I’ve borrowed this hammer many times and love the feel of the swing, the weight and power of its head. He’s seen me hunting for its replica (unsuccessfully) on Ebay. So, he says he’ll use his dad’s old hammer, and the one I’ve borrowed is now permanently mine. YAY!Today’s featured work is a product of quality time with both of my parents. Mom and I are HGTV junkies, constantly watching shows like Flea Market Flip. When I was at the flea market this past November with friends, I came across an old painter’s extension ladder. Then I found a vendor selling live-edge wood boards. Falling in love with a long board of dark walnut wood, I decided to build a bookshelf. My many hours of practice with hand saws as a kid paid off. I measured and cut the ladder in half (a very straight cut with a steady hand, if I say so myself). Old stakes from Dad’s scrap wood collection worked well as braces. These I cut to length on a jig saw, forming rounded notches to rest one brace over the ladder rungs. The vendor had already sawn the walnut board into 3 sections for me. Rounded brackets designed to attach metal pipes to ceiling joists worked well for holding shelves in place. I decided to keep the old paint spatters as well as cool extension clamps on the ladder. After a bit of sanding, I put 2 colors of stain on the ladder sections and support braces. The first coat was a dark mahogany stain, followed by a thin coat of ebony, and finished off with beeswax to seal it. The shelves had their own innate beauty. All they needed was a natural stain and 2 coats of clear lacquer to bring out rich colors and wood grain patterns.
At the moment, this gorgeous piece of furniture is housing my niece’s Lego village, including a tree-house, dinosaurs, Lego fruits growing in a Lego garden, and Lego people drinking orange juice. She has agreed to share the space with some of my books…eventually. More importantly, she spent quality time “helping” me yesterday. She placed her toddler hand on the shelf, “holding” it for me, as I screwed in a bracket. Earlier, while pre-drilling holes, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to my left hand and nicked a knuckle with the drill bit. She consoled me over the “hurt dinger (finger)” and inspected my Band-Aid. Maybe a few years from now she’ll look back on fun memories of doing carpentry with me. And, perhaps she’ll build similar memories with her daddy down the road.
I paused my Portraits of Scotland series the past few weeks while I’ve been working on projects around my house. Having an October that feels like September inspired me to open my garage door and set up shop where I could see sunshine and breathe fresh air! This resulted in two woodworking projects – one still in process, and another the completion of a mammoth task I began years ago.
When my great-grandmother passed away in 2008, I inherited her hope chest. The piece was practically a white elephant. As HGTV would say, it had “good bones.” However, those bones were hidden beneath layers of cream and brown paint, plywood veneer, and contact paper. Yes, contact paper! Apparently, my great-grandfather went through a phase in the 1960s or 70s where he covered everything in brown wood grain contact paper. Whether this was to “protect it” or to make a fashion statement by “updating” the look, I will never know…maybe we’ll have that conversation when I see him in Heaven some day. He also glued a plywood veneer to the top, seemingly to protect the nicer wood beneath. Looking back, I wish I’d taken photos of what it looked like then. I’ve asked family members whether they have any old photos, but no luck so far. The contact paper peeled off easily, leaving several layers of paint to strip. With an orange gel stripper, paint gave way to something that looked more hopeful. Wood grain peeked out from the shell that had encased it for decades. As I sanded down the veneer top, the glue beneath loosened. Thankfully, that veneer came off without damaging what was below. The top left photo you see above is what was below! After weeks of work, now came an even tougher task – the nooks and crannies. I was on my stomach with a toothbrush, toothpicks, and a tiny flat-head screw driver, working cream paint out of old scratches, dents, and joints in the wood’s surface. By now restoring the white elephant had become a labor of love. I knew every inch of that hope chest by the time I’d finished stripping it.
Two more years passed while the chest sat in my garage, looking thirsty and neglected, awaiting the final stages of restoration. Its potential had been revealed. Now came time for an artist to bring it back to life. Mineral spirits cleaned every surface, showing the depth of the natural grain. I chose a gunstock stain for the first coat, bringing a reddish-brown tone to the wood. Then I accented the legs and edges with an ebony stain, deepening almost to black. Finally, I sealed it all with beeswax, rubbing in two coats and buffing to make it shine. The finished piece has a home at the end of my bed, where I can see it and enjoy using it each day.
Restoring this hope chest reminded me of our own need for restoration. Each of us have layers of paint and grime that build up over the years. We become thick-skinned to protect ourselves from harsh realities we’ve experienced. We put on a veneer facade, like a face mask, showing the world only what we’d care for them to see. The potential for true beauty is there, lying just below the surface. But we’re hesitant to expose that potential to the elements. Perhaps we even robe ourselves in wood grain contact paper, trying to keep up with the cultural fashion of the times. If nothing else comes of this, at least our scratches and dings have been covered, hiding hurts and weaknesses. By the end of it all, we’re a mess. So, we sit, wondering whether anything can undo all that’s been done to us, or undo all the choices we’ve made. We cry out silently for an artist, a craftsman to come. We long for One who sees beyond our surface to the beautiful beneath. We hope for One who loves us enough to tackle the hours/weeks/years of restorative labor. Part of us hopes he’ll be able to relate to our wounds and scars…because, (perhaps) if he can relate to them, he’ll understand rather than despise them.
As we head into Thanksgiving and the advent season, I’d like to encourage you that there is One who came into the world just for that purpose. He came as an infant, in vulnerable beauty (Luke 2:1-20). He grew up in the same world we live in, with its harsh realities and ever-changing cultural times (Luke 2:41-52). He stayed true to his purpose, unafraid of harsh words or biting accusations. He never hid behind facades, though he often stripped away (sometimes gently, sometimes forcefully) the facades of those around him (John 4; Matthew 23:27). Finally, he carried scars (our scars) to the grave. All the dings and dents, failures and festering wounds went with him to Sheol. But the grave could not hold him down. He rose in beauty, fully restored (John 20:1-18). Like my hope chest, he is known by his scars (Revelation 5:6). But his aren’t scars of sin. They’re scars of a love so deep it would sacrifice itself for the sake of restoring a broken world.