Remembering your first. This statement might conjure up different thoughts to different people. Some might recall their first love, or maybe their first car, or first job. But I’m talking about your first woodworking project. The one that you saw and felt you had to make it. Then when it was done, was there pure joy or disappointment? I still have my first project. It brought me great pride when I first made it, but then major disappointment that has lasted with me the rest of my life. Here is my story.
It was back in the 7th grade. I was in junior high and this was the first time a “shop class” was offered to students of my age. I had no idea what was to come in that class, but I knew I couldn’t wait for it to begin. The shop class seemed huge, but in retrospect, being 12 years old I imagine everything was bigger. As I walked around the shop and saw all the tools, I thought it was amazing.
One of the first projects was making a bottle cap opener/catcher. Now let me note that the school system was not encouraging kids to drink beer. Back in the day, soda pop came in glass bottles which required an opener. And what kid didn’t love pop?
Most kids had a simple design when drawing out the bottle opener, but I had to add curves and shapes. This meant more time at the bandsaw and sanding. I still remember using the big belt sander to get my edges flat. I was amazed at how well it worked. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I sanded too much making the project a little thin.
In the end, my project didn’t quite match the drawing and was inconsistent with the proportions. I don’t remember my grade, but I’m sure it wasn’t an “A”. But that didn’t matter to me. I was not only happy with the project but I had a new excitement and interest in my life. I was bitten by the woodworking bug! But little did I know, that coming summer was about to teach me a lesson for the rest of my life.
That summer break from school was always fun at first but within a few weeks boredom sets in. I thought about how much fun that shop class was and decided I was going to make my own woodshop. I had allowance money that I had been saving for years and made a huge investment. Well, huge for a 12-year-old. I bought a used plastic Black and Decker 12” tabletop bandsaw and a Skil belt sander. I even bought a couple of new rasps at the local Ace Hardware store. The only experience I had was making that bottle opener, so that was the plan. I was going to make bottle openers and sell them.
I don’t recall where I got the wood material from, but I do remember working on the floor of the garage in the sweltering summer heat. I made about 10 openers and did my best with them. They weren’t quite as nice as my first one. Oh sure, I could say that the school had better tools and work environment to produce better results, but today I know otherwise. The real reason my bottle openers didn’t look as nice was that the passion wasn’t truly there. The excitement of making it for the first time and the experience of using those tools was such a thrill. Trying to replicate that feeling again was not possible. And without that passion, the work suffered.
Besides the openers not looking as nice, there was another problem. Selling them. I never gave any thought to how I was going to sell them and make money. Somehow I just thought magically someone would come along and buy them. Fortunately, my mother helped in this area. She cleaned houses for a living. She took them and managed to sell them to her clients that took pity on my pathetic quest to be a woodworking entrepreneur. I was disappointed and never made another bottle opener after that. I’m also positive I never made a profit. I didn’t lose my love for woodworking but I did learn the lesson that I won’t become rich as a woodworker.
As an adult, I find myself in a similar place. I still have that thrill for building furniture. I remember that childhood lesson and to this day I try to only build one and I put all my passion into the piece for my clients.
As a full-time furniture maker, I do what I love every day. I get excited to go to work. And I can’t imagine doing anything else in life. Some might say that I was right in the fact that I won’t become rich in woodworking. But it depends on how you look at it. It’s true, I won’t be rich with money, but I am rich with satisfaction and contentment. And that’s something money can’t buy.
Chad Stanton – Owner of Stanton Fine Furniture 4-28-2021