I fancy being a woodworker, but I am not one, not by any stretch of the imagination. I have some hand tools in the basement, but it’s a little too crowded down there for me to use them — at least until my wife moves into the sunshine all of her ferns that have spent the winter there.
I have a handsaw with a miter box down there. I have a variety of clamps. I have a pocket-hole jig that I have used only twice. I have a box with an assortment of screws. It ain’t much, but it’s a beginning. I have learned some lessons, taught myself some things, but I can only get so far with them.
And I think that maybe the most important lesson I’ve learned is that if you want to learn woodworking, the best tool you can have is a friend who’s a woodworker.
I don’t really remember how it was that Berkeley Boone, a good friend of mine from church, got to talking about woodworking. In the pre-COVID days, we both served as ushers at Holy Trinity Episcopal, and ushers need to be in place for several minutes before the congregation starts arriving en masse. In other words, there’s a little time for casual chatter. I remember telling Berkeley about how I’d gotten a bit inspired to do some woodwork, and about the tools I had bought. Berkeley in turn told me that he had an entire woodworking shop in his basement. He had a table saw and an assortment of hand tools and power tools. He even had a planer/jointer combination down there.
He was completely set up to make things down there, and he offered me the chance to come by and work on something with him.
I felt a bit like a kid at Christmas.
Down in the Woodshop
But it wasn’t until the pandemic had settled in that I finally decided to take Berkeley up on his offer. My wife Stacy, as you will know if you are a regular reader of our stories here at Down South House & Home, is a world-class shopper of Goodwill stores and a master at making beautiful things from pieces that others discard. As some point, she had found several long pieces of red-oak, tongue-and-groove siding on the side of the road. It was gorgeous wood with beautiful color and grain.
She found the wood at about the same time I’d begun buying my tools, and the wood inspired me to take on my first project. Another thing you’ll know if you know Stacy is that she never stops planting things. Flowers, vegetables, shrubs, any kind of flora that grows. So I decided I would take that wood and make her a flower box. I envisioned it about 14 inches long, maybe six inches wide, and perhaps 10 inches deep — plenty of room for roots.
This vision is what led me to buy the pocket-hole jig. With one of these little tools, you can drill holes in one piece of wood at precise 15-degree angles, then use self-tapping screws to join that piece of wood to another. The vision was to cut two 14-inch lengths of that red oak, then join their tongues and grooves with pocket-hole screws and wood glue, thus making one side of the flower box.
I actually made it work, but then I discovered something I had not anticipated. The wood had been out in the weather for so long that when I joined the two pieces together, they were hopelessly bowed. I could have laid the assembly on a table and rolled a half-inch marble cleanly underneath the center.
I saw that if I was going to make use of that red oak, it would need to be planed to make its surfaces perfectly flat.
And that’s when I gave up and called Berkeley. He said he figured if we both kept our masks on, we could safely work together and get the flower box built. So I loaded two long pieces of the red oak into the back of the car and drove them over to Berkeley’s place.
First, we used his table saw to cut the wood into the right lengths. Second, we planed it down flat. Along the way, we jointed the edges so they would fit together properly.
Within about three hours, we had a completed flower box. It had holes for drainage and pretty carrying handles on its sides. And neither one of us had cut off a finger.
We were both proud of the work, and though we didn’t say this to each other, I think we both believed that the brotherhood between us had grown deeper.
All my life, I’ve enjoyed doing stuff with my buddies — everything from work projects to creative collaborations to just going out to see some live music or sharing a meal together. All those encounters have deepened my sense of brotherhood with friends, but I had always — until this past year — taken them for granted. I had always assumed that there would be another encounter just around the corner.
Before the pandemic, I saw Berkeley every Sunday morning at church. Stacy and I always sat one pew behind him and his wife, Nancy. We also saw each other every week in our men’s Sunday school class. (We still do, but only through Zoom.) We had our weekly time for brotherhood, until the pandemic took that away.
But for one day, in Berkeley’s basement, we were able to resurrect our brotherhood in person. Out of that came a simple box in which my wife plants pretty flowers. Berkeley helped me create a gift that blesses our family still. That, friends, is brotherhood, the kind I’ll never again take for granted.