My father made much of the solid-wood furniture we routinely use in our home. It was fascinating to watch him work patiently restoring an antique or constructing a new piece. Over the years I progressed from a small child playing underfoot in the carpenter shop, pretending to be a princess with the long thin curls of wood from his block plane in my hair, to actually helping him work. When he died I lost one of my great mentors.
In the early 1950s young girls in GMSA were tearing sheets into long strips 2, 3, or 4” wide, stitching the ends together, and rolling them into bandages to be sent to leprosy missions around the world. Dad made a set of wooden bandage rollers to facilitate this process. One of the national leaders of WMSC came to visit our sewing circle and saw these. She wrote a short story, including a sketch, for one of the church papers and the orders poured in by the hundred. My sisters and I with several of our cousins were kept busy hand sanding the edges of the pieces of wood before finish was applied. Three hundred plus sets, more than nine hundred individual rollers, 1800 individual sides we sanded by hand. Thus, the beginning of actually helping and learning to work with my hands beside my dad in the carpenter shop.
I still become nostalgic when I smell wood of all kinds. A part of my inheritance from my father was walnut, cherry and oak wood. Some years ago I came home from work (I was an instructor in nursing at a community college) and told my husband I was going to make him a display case for his guns used for hunting. It was rather therapeutic for me…having lost my father not too many years before. With the equipment available in a night class at the local high school I made a very nice walnut gun cabinet to hold 8 rifles and shotguns. I had measured the longest gun to determine the width. Of course, we wanted storage in the lower part, so it was about 6’ high.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Our children helped with work on the farm as needed. One day while working with livestock our middle-school age daughter saw two old fence boards lying across each other. She said, “That looks like the cross on which Jesus died.” My husband put them on the pickup for her. She and I worked together to clean them with wire brushes and apply a stain and finish. My husband and the children fastened them securely into a cross. We gathered short locust tree branches from the creek timber to fashion a crown of thorns. I became acutely aware of the wounds and pain a crown of thorns could have made for our Lord. My hands became very sore from the scratches and punctures. It was eventually hung at the front of church for the Easter service.
Working with wood over the last fifteen years has involved refinishing old furniture. When we married years ago we couldn’t afford new furniture. Household auctions were our shopping centers. At that time no one wanted the “old stuff”…so we had little competition in bidding. However, most all the pieces needed work. I have also worked with a group of volunteers at Camp Ithiel, Gotha FL, making wood bunk beds to replace the old metal frames. This group project has been most challenging and rewarding.
One’s hands become very important in woodworking. I usually disassemble a piece to be refinished to make it easier to effectively strip it. Of course I wear protective gloves during the stripping process. However, after washing the piece(s) with lacquer thinner to remove the stripping agent, I need to feel the texture of the wood. While sanding, whether power sanding or by hand, I frequently check the feel the surface to determine if it is smooth. When done sanding and wiping the surface with tack cloths to remove all dust, I just enjoyed rubbing my hands over the entire piece of furniture.
Sometimes I used a brush-on finish. Most times I used a hand-rubbed finish of at least three coats. I have used the same technique to refinish a couple antique pieces for my daughter and my daughter-in-law. When we visit them I always touch the surface of these pieces just because it feels good and makes me feel good to remember the “before” water rings and marred finish and compare it with the smooth finish with the wood grain nicely showing.
Working with wood can be hard on your hands. Splinters, skin irritation from the refinishing agents, and just plain friction and hard work leave one with blemished fingernails and sore muscles. Is it worth it? Of course it is. I have the satisfaction of seeing the transformation from boards to a piece finished, or from marred, chipped, dripped paint and loosened and buckled veneer to a beautiful piece of solid furniture with lovely grain and finish. I also feel much closer to my parents who are no longer with us as I work lovingly with a piece of wood. I just wish I could sometimes ask them for advice on how to complete a project.
Soap and water, hand cleaner, lotion and loving care of one’s own hands facilitates healing of the skin in time. The warm feeling of seeing the transforming power of one’s own hands lasts the rest of one’s life…and is renewed each time I rub my hands over the surface of a piece I have constructed or restored.
Jesus’ father was a carpenter in an era when much of the work was hand-work. Jesus may have worked with wood or played with wood chips and scraps as a child. While one’s hands are busy working with wood, one’s mind can wander over many topics and ponder many aspects of life and faith.