Grandpa Leonard

Back from vacation and I had time to work for a little while on the table.  It’s difficult to make a lot of progress when there’s a long time between work sessions.  Surprisingly I didn’t think a lot about it while we were on vacation.  Must have been all the roller coasters.

I spent a lot of time thinking of my grandfather today as I worked on my table.  He is a major influence on me having this hobby, though not necessarily on the type of work I do today.

Funny thing about my family.  On my mother’s side my grandparents were known by their first names.  On my father’s side it was by their last name.  I really don’t know why but that’s what we did and it stuck.  Maybe it was because my mom’s grandparents were still around so they were also known by first name.  We didn’t call them papaw or mamaw or anything like that if I recall.

Grandpa Leonard was a carpenter or really a general contractor- mostly residential – in West Virginia.  He built a lot of houses and I remember that he worked pretty hard, right up until just before he died.  Over the years he started to build pieces of furniture.  Functional stuff mostly.  As he neared the end of his carpentry career, if I have this right, he built a grandfather (tall case) clock from a kit for a friend.  Using what he learned on that first piece, he built another, then another.  Eventually he built 26 from scratch.  My mom has one in her house, as do her siblings and a few of the grandchildren, friends, etc…

When he died in 2007 my grandmother sent me out to his shop to take any tools I wanted. I had spent time in the shop with him but never a long time.  I did visit in 2001 and we worked on a project together.  I took a few tools that I thought I would use or would like to have, but mostly I was amazed at what he worked with and the condition of his shop.  There on the lathe was the last piece he worked on, unfinished.  A few months before he passed he came in from the shop and said he just couldn’t do it anymore.  It was eerie to be there without him.  On a later visit the following spring I was sent out one more time and that’s when I found a chest full of old tools that I hadn’t seen the first time.

In that chest were a few wooden body planes and some parts for a workbench (a chop and wooden screw mechanism – I wish I had those when I built my bench).  I took two of the planes-  one was a jointer plane made by Ogontz Tool Co.  I thought I might restore it and see what it would do.  I never saw him use a handplane actually though.  When I did see him flatten a board he used a  belt sander…[[[shiver]]].  He didn’t do finesse.  I think it’s fair to call him a country cabinetmaker.  He made some really nice stuff though and it’s prized within the family.

I asked about the things I found and my grandmother was a little fuzzy on the story.  I was surprised to hear the planes probably came from my dad’s parent’s (Grandma and Grandpa Sanow) house in Pittsburgh.  Evidently the planes were found in the attic when they bought the house and they sent them down to Leonard via my parents.  I don’t know that he ever used them.

Today I needed that jointer plane.  The wide mahogany wasn’t going to go through any machine I owned.  I was going to have to do it old school.  Jack Plane, jointer plane, then smoother.  Maybe follow up with a scraper.  You don’t see Norm do this on TV.  The iron on the plane was worse than I recalled and I had found one almost the right width on ebay.  The irons for these wooden planes are tapered – not like what is made today.  After grinding the new(ish) iron square and roughing in a new bevel I spent a long time getting an edge on it.  I had to work a bit on the chipbreaker too.  I jointed the plane bottom and cleaned it up the whole body and wedge with some paste wax.  I inserted the iron, tapped in the wedge and gave it a try.  A few adjustments and it made beautiful shavings.

It was fun to get this 19th Century plane back to work.  I wonder who owned it before and what it was used for.  While I think Grandpa Leonard put it in that old chest and forgot about it, I will still think of him when I use it. And I’m glad some decorator didn’t screw it to the wall of a TGI Friday’s.

It was a lot of elbow grease but I flattened and thicknessed the table tops and then shaped them to match the table shape.  It’s starting to look like something.

On to bandings next.

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