There are two well-worn shopcoats hanging on coat hooks behind my office door. The names, picked out in red thread, read “Walt” and “Red.” My grandpas. Just looking at their coats easily brings to mind a clear picture of smiling faces topped by shiny bald heads, and round wire-rimmed glasses. They were both woodworkers who loved to be in the shop making sawdust and projects. I can’t point to a specific skill that I learned from them, their lessons were more basic. “You can make anything you want.” "Imagine it and draw it." "Work with precision and care." Laugh. "Bring out the beauty of the wood."
They both encouraged my shopwork. Many of my Christmas presents for Grandpas were things I made in the shop—bookends, desk caddies—that have come back to me in the end. Grandpa gave me my first ratcheting brace after I expressed amazement that people still used such antiques. Grandpa gave me my first router.
So why keep their old shop coats around? I have found that a deep, meaningful part of woodworking is doing something that is bigger than me. My hands are holding the same tools that my grandfathers and great-grandfather held. I am cutting joints for a piece of furniture just like they did. I am experiencing the same sights and sounds and smells of sawdust and turpentine. And in the end I am creating something that someone will be able to sit on, hold, use, enjoy for generations beyond me just like they did. When I work in the shop I am not alone, my grandpas are with me, my father is with me, looking over my shoulder, giving advice and encouragement. Grandpa’s shopcoat on the hook says he has just stepped away from the bench for awhile.