Around the Work Bench

By Linda Stone Callery

The old, nicked, and gouged work bench sits idle now. The clamp on the front no longer holds the wood waiting to be changed from a stark rectangular block of walnut, sassafras, or cherry to something beautiful to behold— a deer, maybe, or a squirrel, a beautiful woman, or a child holding a bunny.

Only the sculptor knows what’s hiding amongst the shavings that he chisels away. Only he can unveil it to the world.

Drawing pad and pencil in hand, Daddy sits on the end of the couch contemplating the block of wood, and he begins sketching. The ever present cup of coffee is sitting beside him on the end table; Mom is sitting in her chair in the corner hand piecing a quilt top; and my brothers, sisters and I are all sprawled around the living room in our favorite places.  The TV is playing Gunsmoke, The Wonderful World of Disney, or maybe The Red Skelton Show. This is the atmosphere where creative ideas come to life on his sketch pad.

The hands on the clock move; time passes. The sketch goes from the drawing pad to a larger piece of paper that will be the pattern which will be traced onto the selected piece of wood. Sketch and pattern finished, he lays the pencil down.

The clock chimes 2:00 am. The remains of his cup of coffee have long grown cold, and weariness sets in as he realizes he has to get up at 5:00 am to catch his ride to Tulsa for his daytime job at McDonald Douglas.

The car stops in front of the house and Daddy climbs out. His work day away from home is over, and now he is on to the daily evening chores that must be finished before he can sit down, take a breath, and enjoy family dinner. Dinner over, it’s time to head to the workshop.

Heading out the back door of the house, he takes the design pattern to his workshop. Once inside the shop, he picks up the selected piece of wood, lays it on his work bench, grabs a piece of carbon paper, his #2 lead pencil, and the pattern. Carefully the carbon paper and the pattern are positioned and taped to the wood. With his pocket knife, he sharpens his pencil and then traces the design onto the wood.  Once the design is on the wood, he takes it over to his bandsaw and gently blocks out the design. It is now ready for the pocket knife and chisel.

He takes the piece over to the workbench that he handmade years ago. On the front of the bench is a vice that holds the piece steady as the unnecessary wood is chiseled away. I watch as he holds the tool in his damaged right hand. The hand only has stubs where his thumb and first two fingers used to be. As he holds the chisel with his right hand, he positions his left hand beside it guiding the tool where he wants it to go. As I sit and watch him carve, his actions seem effortless. This God given gift that he has been blessed with cannot be stopped by a damaged hand.

The chisel moved in rhythm to “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” the Marty Robbin’s song playing on the record player. When he was working in the shop, the record player took the place of the TV. Records by Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, Johnny Horton, and others played as wood shavings floated to the floor. Soon the floor around the bench was covered with shavings. He put down the chisel and picked up his pocket knife to refine and smooth the wood.

How many hours passed, how many shavings were swept up and thrown away, and how many blocks of wood became works of art after spending time on this old work bench?

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