I spent New Year’s Day with my family eating*, retelling stories, and laughing. Not far from the table we crowded around, hung the shelf that I made for my mother as a Christmas gift when I was twelve years old. In the past I had looked at this same shelf with criticism, nit-picking the things I didn’t like about it. This time was different. When I looked at it I remembered the pride I felt when I completed it.
I had laid out the curved shapes with a coffee can and some small cans of stain. Of course, I didn’t know about proportions, so I just eyeballed everything. I cut those out with a coping saw that held a rusty blade and cleaned everything up with a rasp.
I rounded everything over with a router that belonged to my uncle. I can still remember how badly my hands were sweating; I was both terrified and amazed by the router.
The shelf and support are screwed together with some drywall screws and plugged with a dowel (Nothing better than end-grain plugs you know?). The pegs I bought at the hardware store with lunch money I had saved.
This was before I knew there was a “right” way to do things. I didn’t know what a dovetail was or what a good finish was supposed to look like. I didn’t care if it was made of the “right” wood—it was all the same. I certainly didn’t consider wood movement or grain orientation. The finish is a stain/top coat combination.
I don’t regret learning more about the craft and moving on to more advanced projects, but I don’t think I have ever been as proud of another project as I was when I made this one. Mom gave a lot and often received little. This was my way of giving back. The gesture of the object became greater than the object itself. And it is still hanging around to remind me that the reasons we create can be greater than the things we create.
Do you remember your first woodworking project?
* We have an annual tradition of getting together to eat cabbage and black-eyed peas. I’ve been told they’re supposed to bring you good luck and money. After thirty-seven years I’m not convinced but the food is good anyway.