Tales from the Workshop – Part 2

Monday 9 July 2018

Almost two whole years had passed since Dad first let me into his shed. He always hated me or Mum calling it his 'shed' and much preferred that we called it his workshop. I'd like to say I'd become a competent turner in my own right since the day he showed me inside, but I'd be lying. In Dad's defence he no longer barred me completely as before and he would still lock it when he wasn't around; he had even tried to show me how to turn a few small and simple bowls, but I was such a clumsy little boy I think he thought I might poke my eye out. The good man that he was he tried his best, but was a complete nervous wreck when I had a chisel in my hand. I can just imagine the ghastly thoughts that entered his head seeing me hacking away at his pride and joy and totally ruining a perfectly good piece of timber. He must have had nightmares of how he was going to explain things to my Mum had I hurt myself and for a while I was only allowed to help him finish and polish, which was no problem to me as I grew to love the way he made an ordinary and colourless item shine like a mirror. Another thing I found myself doing was running my hand gently over the finished objects; I liked the cool and smooth feel of the wood against my hands. But in my innocence, resolved to stop doing it in case my mates found out and took the mickey out of me.

Moving away from turning

About this time I lost interest in Dad's turning altogether as I found I could have much more fun with my mates in the forest that backed onto our garden. We discovered the new rubber wheeled skates that took skating to a completely silent and higher level. I was 12 and it was late spring; I was allowed out later than normal. The weather had been dry and sunny for weeks and everyone I knew or met seemed to be in a happy frame of mind.

Most evenings and as I passed by Dad's shed on my way back from the forest, Dad would pop his head around the open door and say: “Had a nice play, David? I hope you kept out of trouble, and then he would beckon me into the shed. “Have a look at this lovely little bowl I've just made for your Mum; see what you think.” “Not now, Dad, I'm tired and hungry,” I would say, and I'd walk away completely unaware of the hurt I was causing him.

Granddad Jack

My Granddad Jack was a staunch Tottenham Hotspurs supporter, he took me along to the home matches whenever he could. I loved my Granddad Jack as he always made me laugh, and like Dad who lived for his turning, Granddad lived for his beloved Spurs. To be fair to Dad, he did join us a couple of times, but he just wasn't a football man. I don't really think he even understood the offside rule. Now my Mum was a wise lady, much wiser than me and Dad put together; she knew it was important that Dad and I had some sort of father and son relationship and on this particular night and having heard me just casually rebuff my Dad, Mum made her move.

Having been made to wash my hands I sat alone at the table, Dad would be along in about 15 minutes. Mum brought in my tea, stroked my hair fondly and kissed my forehead. Her kiss was warm and comforting and she smelt nice. Dad was a lucky man; not many wives around here kept themselves as smart as Mum on the little money we had. “You and your mates have a good time up the woods, David?,” she asked. “Yes thanks, Mum. We chased that Holy Hill mob off our patch.” Mum wasn't really listening, “Oh that's nice, love; Dad's been missing you, you know.” “What'd you mean, Mum; I haven't been anywhere,” I replied. “I mean in his bloody shed, you fool; he misses having you around, showing you his latest creation; I thought you liked being in there with him?” “I do, Mum; I do like what Dad makes, but it can get so boring just watching all the time.” “Well perhaps he'll let you have another go someday, but he worries you'll hurt yourself,” she replied.

By the time Dad came in I had finished my tea and was sitting on the sofa reading my comic, I could hear Mum and Dad speaking to each other across the table, but couldn't make out what they were saying. I do know he was showing her some kind of hammer he had made; it was a very rich brown with black streaks running through the grain and had an extremely high shine to it; he was also showing her a small round block with a raised centre; the block was made from the same sort of timber and it was obvious they were meant to go together.

Gavel & block

Dad ate his tea with his usual leisure, left the table and sat down beside me carrying his latest creation and casually dropping it between us. Of course,

I couldn't help picking up the hammer, it was beautiful and so smooth; it felt so fine and delicate to the touch. “That's nice, Dad, what is it?” “It's a gavel, David. Do you know what a gavel is?” “Not really,” I replied. “It's something a auctioneer uses; you know like the one up the High Street.” “Is it for them, Dad?” I asked. “It is son and six more like it,” he told me.

At that point Mum walked in with a cup of tea for Dad and gave him a weird look raising her eyebrows and cocking her head towards me; Dad stirred uneasily, coughed a little and asked: “How would you like to help me make the other six, David?” Mum was looking right at me as he said, “That's nice of Daddy to ask you, isn't it, David?” She gave me another look that said don't you dare say no to your Dad. “Yeah, I'd like that, Dad.” “Right then, my boy we'll get started right after school tomorrow.”

Turning with Dad

Dad made the next few evenings really nice and enjoyable, explaining just what had to be done, what kind of wood he was using; I think it was rosewood (Dalgergia latifolia), but it was so long ago I can't be sure. Poor old Dad; he didn't have the benefits of any of today's power tools and had to cut and drill everything by hand – not that he cared – as he had always done things this way. Once he had enough gavel heads cut to size he marked them up for drilling before turning them: “This hole is to take the handle,” he said. “Can't you drill them when they are finished, Dad,” I asked, thinking the hole would make things harder. “I've tried drilling them after I've turned them, son, but it's easier to do it this way,” he said.

The brace he used, which I still have, is a lovely piece of English workmanship made of oak (Quercus robur) and bright chrome; I never use it these days, who does, but it's nice to look at now and again along with a few other tools I have of his. I really enjoyed helping Dad with the gavels as he let me have a go at

the handles and the blocks. Of course, I messed up at first but with his help, I started to pick it up.

“Don't go in heavy handed, son,” he would say, “nice and slow. Softly, softly does it, just like Mum when she used to powder your bum,” and then he laughed out loud. On hearing Dad laugh, Mum popped her head round the door. “What's so funny?” she asked, “nothing,” Dad said, “just man talk.”Mum shrugged her shoulders and walked off smiling to herself.

Some days later and when we had finished all six of the gavels, I say we, but it was Dad who really made them, although I did do a lot on the finishing and for once I really enjoyed it. This turning lark was beginning to get me. Seeing them all lined up with their rich and deep shine on Dad's worktop, I was proud that I had something to do with these beautiful handmade objects, I was proud of what Dad had made. What really amazed me, however, was that looking at each one they were all exactly the same in shape and size, right down to every little bead and that included the handles, which was strange as my finished handle was quite good; it didn't have half as much detail as Dad's, and then I twigged; Dad had discarded all the handles he had made himself and made five more the same as mine. I knew then I might not have a Dad who plays cricket, goes fishing or even supports Spurs, but I had the best Dad in the world; I had a Dad who was a woodturner.