Created: March 2000
Updated: September 10, 2015
My love for woodworking started with and was heavily supported by my father who was a master woodworker. At age 14 my father apprenticed to an old German fine woodworker and learned fine woodworking. His cabinet work got him hired into construction where he earned master certificates in framing, finish, and cabinetry. He and his best friend build a successful home building firm. They volunteered to help rebuild Pearl Harbor after it was attacked in WW II. They both enlisted in the military. My father served as a fighter pilot in WW II. After the war he and his friend resumed their construction business. Soon after he was recalled back into the Air Force. After being recalled my father stayed in the Air Force but still retained an ownership position with his contracting firm. That firm evolved into becoming a development company that did many large projects including helping to build the Air Force Academy. My father became pretty successful and helped a number of our relatives start construction firms. Additionally, throughout his military service he refurbished very distressed properties that he either sold or kept at rentals. In preparation for retirement he and my uncle built another successful construction firm in Sacramento, CA that built very high end custom homes and was the local supplier of choice for fine custom cabinets.
My father passed on much of what he learned to me, plus I worked with my uncles all doing different aspects of home and building construction. Additionally, my father also took me to the woodworking classes that he continued to take wherever we lived while he was in the service. I received considerable formal woodworking training in Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, and Europe, plus lots of formal training at our Air Force Base Woodworking Hobby Shops. I also got lots of hands on practice helping my father. I helped him refurbish homes, build new homes, make almost all of our own furniture, build home additions, family rooms, play rooms, covered enclosed porches, garages, workshops, a barn, bomb shelters, a swimming pool, gazebos, and even restored an old Beechcraft Staggerwing biplane. We built a number of custom homes including my parent's dream retirement home in Davis, CA. In high school I found myself helping many others with construction work to make extra money and helped build five new houses, four rental cabins that I built mostly myself, and considerable custom cabinetry.
During the summer after my junior year in high school I started college at the University of California at Davis (UCD), moved out on my own and supported myself by doing woodworking. After re-roofing his home and building some cabinets, the local hardware store owner gave me a line of credit and more referrals than I had time to do. A large farm owner had me build a wall sized entertainment center. He emigrated from Japan and appreciated the few oriental touches I added from skills I picked up in Japan. He asked me to live on his farm as his personal woodworker and all around handyman while attending college. Although I declined far too busy with college and other activities, he constantly wanted me for more big projects and referred me to his friends. It amazed me that there were many thrifty but affluent people willing to pay fairly for top quality work who insisted I put in whatever hours it took to do the job right.
Overloaded I hired a friend to help. Instead he came back from a weekend trip telling me he volunteered us to refurbish an abandoned old winery at Napa, California. That job paid well and the new owner gave us the huge old redwood tanks, hundreds of oak barrels, used brick, and much of the old hardware. I got little to no sleep staying insanely busy for months building a very elegant winery. We made the barrels into planters, heavy wood picnic tables, many benches, Adirondack rocking chairs, plus sold off the used brick and hardware. My buddy made enough to buy a dump truck and make a down payment on a ranch in Arbuckle, California and I started a pillow business.
For sanity breaks I vanished on motorcycle rides and often scrounged pieces of interesting wood on each trip. On a ride I stumbled upon a crew taking out a long drive of old black walnut trees. They intended to chop all up into 18" lengths to go to the owner for firewood. I convinced the owner to let me have the bigger stuff in trade for $1,000 cash with his crew cutting all into eight foot six inch lengths. My oriental farmer friend rented me his tractor trailer, crane, fork lift and crew in trade for some wood and my promise to finally build a couple of projects I put off. We harvested about twenty trees, roughly eight full semi tractor trailer loads, plus a half dozen root balls. To get it milled I traded with the lumber supplier I met through my hardware store owner friend. That fellow wanted it all but I instead gave him half in trade for covering all the transportation costs, milling, drying, and his giving me his existing small wood inventory. After paying all off I got about 4000 board feet of black walnut, a dozen burl slabs to make into tables, about 1000 board feet of red oak, plus about 1000 board feet of mostly hard rock maple with quite a few pieces of figured koa, purple heart, bubinga, zebrawood, tulipwood, redwood table slabs, and cocobolo. All told it cost me about ten weeks work and a couple of thousand dollars out of pocket.
Although I used that wood to make lots of fine woodworking projects, I made little cash because most got claimed as gifts before sale, plus I sold much of that lifetime wood supply to local craftspeople who repaid me mostly with empty promises. That incredible wood find ended up costing me money from being too trusting. I get to at least live with the good feeling that instead of all that fine wood going up in smoke, it became all kinds of nice desks, tables, chairs, wooden boxes, hand mirrors, kitchen cutting boards, rolling pins, chess tables, wooden lamps, bread boards, etc., hopefully treasures all still in use.
Quickly word spread about my nice walnut and oak. A few hired me to renovate their offices, but I worked most on renovations for my girl friend's father who owned quite a bit of property around the Sacramento area. One renovation built the first Old Spaghetti Factory which became a national chain. The same happened to the Leatherby's ice cream shop I rebuilt. Although I designed and built the look and feel of these businesses, I made nothing from the expansions and franchises, so I tried a few projects of my own. My girl friend's father found me some partners and a building in trade for part ownership, so I built what became one of the more popular bar restaurants in Old Sacramento. That earned enough to let me build a radio station and refurbish a home where I lived.
My college roommate used my slabs to make big massively thick walnut tables. When we ran out of slabs he found an old redwood railroad bridge that we took down in trade for the wood. He turned those huge old redwood beams into beautiful massive carved tables and chairs. We made a huge redwood dust cloud that slammed home the importance of good fine dust collection and put me into my first 3M dual cartridge mask. That dust problem convinced me to install a big commercial dust collection system. When my roommate moved on I hired other local woodworkers to help. Although I enjoyed the woodworking and it paid well, I hated managing people with a poor work ethic, little skill, and little incentive to learn. Just like my pillow business that hired many non-English speaking student wives, managing sloppy woodworkers proved as much fun as herding cats. I sold off both my wood shop and pillow business and stayed busy in school where I had been hired to both work and teach. I was drafted out of college into the Vietnam War and my unwatched firms failed, my home was gone, and liberal UCD refused to let any vet return to college.
After recovering from Vietnam, another farmer friend helped me buy a large tomato ranch where I leased my land to a professional grower. That purchase was a huge gamble as five good seasons and I owned all free and clear, otherwise I went bust. The home is what convinced me to take that risk. An elderly man owned that home, lost is wife and spent twenty years upgrading all with the finest woodworking I had ever seen. Moreover, the home came with his fully stocked professional wood shop including wood and all Delta commercial equipment with big motor generator to supply the required three-phase power. The weather cooperated and created good crops, but living way out in the country alone while I worked thirty miles away and frequently took long reserve flights often left my home unwatched. Three times thieves cleaned all out including my claw footed bathtub. My insurance covered the cash losses, but not my time or upset. I sold out for a modest profit that I invested in a small home in Sacramento.
Wanting to build my own furniture I missed my nice commercial Delta tools I used on the ranch, but with serious space and cash problems I bought another basket case ShopSmith Model 500. With patience and lots of careful organization, the ShopSmith worked well enough for home use especially with some upgrades. Also I got a small 1.5 hp Cincinnati Fan dust collector that sat on a 55-gallon drum with a big felt bag that inflated off to the side. It made all the difference in the world, but I still coughed up a storm when I made redwood furniture. I added a downdraft table and portable dust collection hood, but still fine dust filled my tiny home.
With full access to the university machine shop, soon I kept improving that ShopSmith. I added bigger and better quill bearings, bigger table, larger motor, and a lower tool chest with drawers that fit in the base. Also, I built a router side table with extension in feed and out feed tables. A professor friend who watched me make those upgrades finally talked me into selling him my ShopSmith. In typical academia fashion immediately he claimed credit for my upgrades and sent off a long list of proposed changes to ShopSmith. I hope they never paid him, but not long after they came out with the Model 510 that used many of my innovations. It came with nicely cast aluminum parts instead of all the surplus and wooden parts I used. It surprised me that they omitted my integral tool cabinet and instead stayed with their accessory board. Still, that sale to him earned enough profit to let me replace buy another ShopSmith. It also was a "fixer" that came with most ShopSmith power tool accessories. I did an even better job enhancing that unit then sold it and two more earning enough to buy an almost new then latest vintage ShopSmith 510 with all the accessories. After I built up my shop with more professional tools and sold my ShopSmith, I missed it so much I replaced it immediately.
Carpentry work added to my small technician salary as I renovated a number of offices putting in lots of oak cabinets, flooring and trim. With help from my Makita and Porter Cable hand held power tools that ShopSmith became my main power tool. I used these tools to complete some office renovations, rebuild a few homes, two apartment buildings, and to build most of my furniture. My woodworking earned enough extra to permit a home upgrade this time to one with a big shop. Soon I filled that shop with a full set of Powermatic and Delta commercial tools. I ended inheriting the family construction firm and cabinet shop that was far too busy. I overwhelmed juggling a full time job plus teaching at the university, and running this business, so turned it over to my cousins and became a hobbyist woodworker.
My home shop stayed limited to the ShopSmith and lots of nice hand held power tools because of space and time limitations. I built lots of furniture, projects around the home, cabinets for us and others, and continued doing a little construction work, but not too much. I eventually spoiled myself with a full shop and outfitted it mostly with nice tools that I bought broken then repaired and refurbished.