As a boy, I was introduced to woodworking by my uncle, who was an electrician, but knew his way around carpentry, as well. Better yet, I had two great uncles, from the “old country,” who had been expert carpenters, and one a stair builder. One of them was the father of the founder of a major Massachusetts furniture company, and they both mentored me a little. These were craftsmen who made their own planes and molding cutters, a few of which were handed down to me. By the time I was taking a sixth grade shop course, they had already taught me an immense amount about woodworking, and I couldn’t get enough of it! I shined shoes at my cousin’s barber shop, and used that money plus my little allowance to buy tools and materials. My father’s flower shop was in Milton, also the home of Barney & Carey Lumber, where he would take me to buy some pine for my projects. The yard guys took a liking to me, and would save scraps for me to use. They would give me short rides on the forklifts, while I marveled at the inventory. I loved the place, and couldn’t wait to go there. Little did I know that I would wind up buying it one day!
In my workshop, which occupied a former coal bin in the basement of our Dorchester triple-decker, I worked endlessly on all types of projects. I couldn’t afford a lathe, so I made my own rudimentary, one speed model. As rustic as that lathe was, I turned all sorts of things on it, from baseball bats to lamps, and even got good enough to turn champagne glasses with thin stems, breaking three for every one I was able to finish. As a young teenager, I actually got a job turning wooden dough rollers for a large bakery in Dorchester. This enabled them to experiment with different patterns at low cost, as opposed to having the much greater expense of turning them in stainless steel, then rejecting most of them. Throughout high school, I continued doing odd jobs in carpentry, eventually working summers for a home builder in Milton. From framing, I morphed into being a finish carpenter, eventually learning how to build stairs.
While a student at BU, I worked as a stair builder for a North Shore builder, who let me set my own hours, as long as I met the schedule. After graduation, I took a full time job with a high-end contractor who worked mainly on restorations in the Back Bay and Beacon Hill. This led to me buying and restoring my own properties, during which I became Barney & Carey’s biggest customer. I did over 30 projects in Boston, ultimately buying Barney & Carey from Harry Carey’s widow in 1978.
It was a great story, but it came with a price. The “commercialization,” if you will, of my woodworking talents, really tainted my love of the craft. I gave up all of the hobby aspects of woodworking, and the rest became a job, a chore. I was still a perfectionist, and took pride in my work, but it wasn’t the same. I’m sure that those of you who are professional woodworkers of one sort or another have experienced this. When one returns from a day of framing, or laying floors or hanging doors, they are not so apt to run and work on the neglected rowboat project in their garage.
I’m now looking forward to personally doing a lot of the work on a house we will be building for us in Maine. No, it will not replicate the wonder and enthusiasm I felt as a wide eyed kid in Dorchester, but it will be good, and I will again take pride in doing it!
Want to talk about your project, or your experiences? Stop in my office anytime! I may be able to offer some advice, and I’ll certainly be delighted to hook you up with some superb hardwoods, pine, or live edge slabs we have in stock! Wishing all of you and your families a Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah, and a terrific New Year!