It would have been nice to have been a woodworking prodigy at the age of six or ten or even thirty-five. But no, as a kid, I had to play baseball. This was by choice of course. Whenever there was daylight and a couple more kids, that is all it took to get something going. Actually, all you had to do was show up at the skating rink field where there were two ball fields and an ice skating rink, thus the name. I do not recall calling it anything else. It was on Shaw Ave. by the railroad underpass. Anyway, we would just go to the fields and there was always enough guys there to get a game going.
So that is what went on in the summertime. Baseball and Euclid Beach. We played a little league game at Euclid Beach once. Somewhere between some buildings and near a roller coaster track. Never knew there was enough room within the park for a ball field, but there we were. Playing for the glory of Jim Connell Chevrolet on what was called "East Cleveland Day".
Mom and Dad packed a picnic, we got on the rides for some discount I think. Because we were from East Cleveland. And that was our day. And of course, the two baseball teams from East Cleveland thought we owned the park as we would strut around still wearing our Jim Connell Chevrolet itchy wool uniforms and them wearing whoever they were in their wool uniforms. I was 13. And that was the summer I started my first great project in woodworking.
The recession in the 50's caused my Dad to have to try and find work at the Collinwood railroad yards for New York Central. Lucky, he got the much needed work from which he would later retire. The hard part was, we did not live in the area at the time. He had to live in Collinwood by himself at the old YMCA on 152nd St for almost a year before deciding that this might work out and moved my Mum and me from a big three bedroom house with full basement in Altoona, PA. to an apartment in East Cleveland. I was nine at the time.
It had to be hard for them. I see that now. But we made it. And the day Dad said I could redo a built in dresser, with mirror, I had been pestering him about for some time, I saw my calling.
Ok. Maybe not a calling. But an opportunity nonetheless. I might have been looking for something to do, when I found his single speed, non reversible, steel bodied electric hand drill in storage in the basement and knew that with a sanding disc, I could put this to some use. Anything to just use it. I loved power tools, even if I had never used one. And that ugly white built in dresser was perfect. Plus it was right under a window. Dad told me about ventilation and dust and what to expect.
He already had a rubber wheel for the drill and he let me buy some sanding discs to get started. I am guessing they were not expensive, because I know we did not have money to burn on such things as sanding discs to do meaningless work in an apartment.
There was a Sears on St. Clair Ave. near Collinwood High School. He drove me there. We went in the back door and down the stairs to where the hardware was. T do not remember how they were sold, but I must have gotten enough to last for the whole job, because we did not go back there again, at least not for discs.
And so it started. My new hobby: woodworking, sort of. Sanding. Using an electric drill and disc sanding kit, like the auto body guys used. I did not care. I was about to do something special.
Still going to school, and not wanting to disturb the neighbors in the evening, I did most of the sanding on Saturdays and Sundays. And during the winter, everyone had their windows closed anyway, so noise was less of a problem. But then I froze because I needed my window open to exhaust the dust. But when I started the project, it was hot, real hot. And it got worse before it got better considering August was always hot. But wide open windows or not, I quickly learned that if you are going to sand in a small room, cover everything first. After the first few hours on day one, the cloud was thick and everything was covered. Though I only had a tall dresser and a single bed in this small room, it still got covered. Luckily, the dust cloud did not escape into the rest of the apartment. But it did not escape outside either. It was to go magically through the open window. I had placed a small oscillating fan on the other dresser shooting across the room towards the only window in the room, but the incoming breeze must have cancelled out the little fans outgoing influence. So I stood there waving a towel until the air was clearer. Not great, but at least, breathable for sleeping. It was time for a bigger fan.
I was working part time at the corner deli, Ward's Delicatessen. The owner had an old four blade black desk fan sitting in the corner and I never saw him use it. After I told him what I was doing he loaned it to me, making it clear it was just on loan until the job was done.
I took it home, plugged it in, and whooosh........I think the street light across the street swayed. This was going to be great. My own wind tunnel. Now I could sand for hours and you would never know it. Of course, you thought there was an airplane behind you, but still you knew the air was changing every 30 seconds.
I was 15 when the desk was done. Done meaning stripped of a quarter inch of white paint. I started in July, turned 14 in August, so it was only 13 months in the doing.
Next up was staining. My Dad was working in the apartment part time cleaning the halls and helping the manager with maintenance. So Dad was able to get me some stain to do the dresser in three shades. The drawer faces were one shade, the area around the drawers were another shade, and by mixing those two shades, I came up with the third for the top. Glad I had the wind tunnel fan, because that stuff really smelled going on. Fortunately, the odor did not last long.
But that was it, no shellac or varnish. No urethane. I do not know if they even made it then. But it did not matter because I ha not yet heard of "finishes" until I was older. So the dresser stayed dull, but colorful. I would use that dresser every day for five more years.
And it would be five years until my next real project. Actually making something from wood.