Created: March 2000
Updated: April 15, 2020
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 master fine woodworker. My father's fine cabinets got him hired into construction where he went on to earn union master certificates in framing, finish, and cabinetry plus his contractor's license. He and his best friend built a successful home construction firm. They helped rebuild Pearl Harbor after the start of WW II then both enlisted in the Army. My father served as an Army Air Corps fighter pilot flying in Europe and the Pacific. After the war they resumed their construction business. My father married my mother who worked as a clothing designer and illustrator. My parents used their dual incomes to buy land around Colorado Springs, CO and Anaheim, CA. After being recalled multiple times into the military, my father stayed in the Air Force long enough to retire. Each time the military moved us, my father and I built new furniture. More, he used his contractor's license and union contacts to put together a team that could quickly flip even the worst homes. My parents bought the worst homes in the best neighborhoods at the most distressed prices then restored them. I learned a bit of everything as most of their homes needed far more than minor cosmetic work. They used their profits to pay for rental homes that they eventually consolidated into apartment buildings. They used their considerable income to help a number of relatives and friends start businesses many of which involved construction. My parents loved to travel so my summers were often spent working with my uncles learning different aspects of home and building construction. When my father retired from the Air Force, he built a home construction firm. Frustrated at not being able to get good quality cabinets, he added a cabinet division. That cabinet shop soon became the supplier of preference for most local high-end builders. I worked in that firm learning to "flip" and build homes and cabinets. I worked my way up to manage the cabinet shop then to manage the entire business.
My father passed on much of what he learned about woodworking to me, plus I got considerable formal training. My father took me to the woodworking classes that he took wherever we lived while he was in the service. I received specialty woodworking training in Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, and Europe, plus lots of general training and power tool skills from our Air Force Base Woodworking Hobby Shops. I also got lots of hands on practice helping my parents build their own furniture and refurbish homes. I helped 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. As family, meaning mostly my father and I did the heavy work and my mother and I did the finishing to build a number of custom homes including my parent's dream retirement homes in Shreveport, LA and in Davis, CA.
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 working construction. 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. I helped build five new houses, four rental cabins and considerable custom cabinetry and got my own contractor's license.
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 the six-inch diameter and larger pieces 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 mill owner 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 girlfriend'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 girlfriend's father found me some partners and a building that I could renovate and quickly buy from him, 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 big walnut 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 while gone 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, after rebuilding 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 garage and tiny home.
With full access to the university machine shop, 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 tried for years to get me to sell my ShopSmith. I finally sold it to him and in typical academia fashion he 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 buy another ShopSmith. It also was a "fixer" that came with most of the 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 and a three-phase generator. I then inherited the family construction firm and cabinet shop that was far too busy. I overwhelmed juggling a full-time job plus teaching at the university, flying in the reserves, and running this business, so turned the business 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.