Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Lessons from Grandpa's Shop

I was blessed to have 2 great men as grandfathers when I was a boy. I later, was blessed again with another grandfather, my step-dad’s father. Each of them taught me some very important life lessons. There is something about grandfathers that kids seem to take to; they aren’t mom or dad so they
tend to listen to them more often.

My grandfather Sylvester McNabb was the first I got to know and from whom I get my love of woodworking. Long before I was born, he was injured in a mill explosion which damaged his hearing and as a result, was given the opportunity to go through training as a woodworker and upholsterer. I remember as a very young boy, tagging along with him to his shop in downtown Glenburn, N.D. It is a small town near Minot Air force Base which at the time was a big part of the Strategic Air Command. A lot of his customers came from that

He made a modest living repairing, refinishing and making a few of his own pieces. I remember he would make my grandmother so mad when he would bring a customer home and sell their dining room set, always promising to get her a better one, which he did. I think it was the fact that it was never really hers and always subject to sale.

I don’t think many of the family knew that we would spend countless hours talking about a wide range of topics. He was always very patient with me and I can’t remember a single time he ever told me to be quiet,
but I sure it happened as some point.

He taught me a lot about workshop ethics. A few of my favorite things are posted as quotes on the home page but are paraphrased a little.  He instilled in me that every piece I make should be made to last for generations. It should also stand as an example of your work, there is no better advertising than word of mouth and if you’re work isn’t worth talking about you’re in trouble.

I always knew him having this weathered face that would grin easily, most of the time having a cigarette dangling in the corner of his mouth. He had these huge rough hands that had an amazing ability to feel the wood. He could feel imperfections that I couldn’t and could tell me where a piece needed work.

As long as I knew him, he only owned one stationary power tool, a lathe. Everything else, he did either with hand tools or portable power tools like sanders, routers, and an old metal body skill saw. Even with those limitations, he would turn out the most amazing work.

I was in the Army when he had his stroke. He survived but it left him paralyzed on one side of his body. Unable to work, it didn’t take long before things had to be sold off. Unfortunately most of his tools and personal effects were auctioned off so he could be place on full medical assistance for his nursing home care. I’m not sure how much my family was able to keep, I have always been afraid of asking; it’s rather painful for me.

He eventually was brought down to Oklahoma after I left the Army. My wife actually took a job at the nursing home he was in so she could get to know him better. She loved him as much as I did. I recall the great times we had when my Dad would bring him to his house on the weekends. We would sit around
and crack jokes and he would tell stories of my dad growing up. He passed away soon after my wife and I told him we were pregnant with our son Ryan. I can only hope he heard and understood what we shared with him that day. He was one of my Heroes and I still miss him to this day. I look forward to having a grandson some day, and I can only pray that I will be as good a role model to him as mine
was to me.

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