During the Christmas season of 1967, about two months after the late October school event where I met and began dating my girlfriend (later my wife), she told me that her mother wanted a list of what I might like to receive for Christmas. Pleased with this affirmation of my growing membership to this new family, I thought this a splendid idea (the nineteen-year-old). I also realized I should handle this with diplomatic sensitivity to avoid creating an undesirable impression (the college freshman in me).
Having been well trained by my grandmother to pay special attention to proper etiquette, I created a list of tools that I wanted to feed my growing interest in woodworking. I was ready to grow beyond my father’s basic, utilitarian bench of pliers, clamps, quarter-inch drill and a gray electric Skill saw to build a better quality tool collection of my own. I designed my wish list across a broad spectrum of prices (remember, it was 1967) beginning with the most practical and reaching into the “out-there” level of wanting to learn something about the wood lathe. (Note: at that point, I had never actually seen a wood lathe being used and I am quite sure my future mother-in-law had no idea what one was, but apparently we shared a vision.)
Temple’s Wish List for Christmas 1967 (approximate prices of the time):
- Combination screw driver set — $3.99
- Deluxe try square — $9.29
- High-quality dovetail saw – $16.66
- Set of five bench chisels — $24.95
- Toastmaster power multi-tool: lathe, sander, saber-saw — $35.95
The total was $94.84. (Connecticut State sales tax was somewhere in the 0.06% range at that time did not apply to purchases from out-of-state that were delivered by the US Postal System, as addressed by a US Supreme Court ruling. The Toastmaster multi-tool came from the John Plain Mail order catalog company in Chicago.)
In my own family experience, my siblings and I often laughed about the reality that whenever any of us gave our mother a wish list of presents we might want for Christmas, we were pretty well guaranteed to never receive those items. True fact.
The tradition in my new girlfriend’s family turned out to be quite different. When a person in her family put an item on the Christmas wish list, that person was guaranteed to receive it. If the list had five items, that lucky, and in my case totally humbled, person received everything on the list! Imagine my surprise, embarrassment, and delight (quite a complex set of feelings) when I visited my girlfriend and her mother that Christmas morning and discovered all of my carefully planned Christmas wishes in beautifully wrapped packages that I unwrapped one after the other.
That Christmas was a turning point for me. In a lasting way, because of my MIL and late wife, I discovered the lathe and rewards of woodturning, a passionate pursuit for me that continues. I ultimately learned through trial and error to enjoy the crisp benefit of a well-sharpened saw and chisels cutting clean well-measured dovetails. In a larger perspective I grew to enjoy having the right tool to accomplish the job efficiently and effectively.
As I think about the many years and projects since that Christmas, I grow in my appreciation of my mother-in-law’s confidence and support for my passion for shaping and cutting wood. Reflecting on her life and on my late wife’s gentle but firm guidance that urged me to seek excellence, I look again to see how that original whimsical and uninformed list of new tools would stack up this year for my wish list.
New version of that same list for Temple’s Christmas 2015:
- Isomax 100 Piece Security & Standard Screwdriver Tips — $34.99. Of course there are many more screw types 48 years later, and a set of driver tips to fit a screw of nearly every type fulfills that shop urge to meet every possible need with just the right tool, not to mention the ubiquitous dependence on the cordless driver (which outstanding engineering I would also like to include). This extensive set seems to cover every possibility for any occasion, which is an admirable goal for every on-call fixit person.
- Rosewood Try Square – 9 inch — $24.99. Another lesson I learned from my grandmother and later my wife is that only the best quality of tool or material makes the effort of a craftsman worthwhile. There is no point in wasting valuable time on a perfectly good project with inferior materials or tools. I have grown to appreciate the depth of this concept, and the contemplation of measuring carefully with a beautifully crafted square reinforces the goal of making each measured mark and cut precise. “Things won are done, but the joy lies in the doing.” (Troilus and Cressida)
- Bad Axe Stiletto Dovetail Saw – 12 inch — $245.00. For those of us who value the sensual and spiritual pleasure of cutting and fitting dovetails by hand, this is the kind of tool that challenges the craftsman to work always at a challenge level of excellence. Magically the higher level of the artistic beauty of the tool itself energizes and inspires the craftsperson to new levels of achievement.
- Narex Premium 6-Piece Bench Chisel Set with Leather Tool Roll – $119.99. What a beautiful presentation these fine chisels properly make in a properly protected roll, and complimentary they are for use on fine furniture. I believe this set might make the best kind of gift for my oldest son who builds wooden boats at Brooklin Boatyard in Maine, a fitting connection between the encouragement from his grandmother long before he was born and now when he does such beautiful work on the impressive new boats such as Foggy being designed and built at the yard.
- Rikon 70-220VSR 12 ½” Midi Lathe – (on sale!) $599.99 This represents a tremendous advance over that tiny little Toastmaster multi-tool combination lathe, saber saw, and sander with which I first ground out a little goblet from a pine blank with one scraping tool in January of 1968. What a terrific starter machine with versatility and stability that will launch novice woodturners into that wonderful world of expression in craft and art.
Total $1,024.96 Plus CT Sales tax of 6.35% of $65.08 = $1,090.04
I think asking for the lathe I really want, the Oneway 2436 3HP Lathe at $6,481.00 plus freight might have been a little ambitious after only two months of dating, but then again, if I did not ask, she might not have known what I really want. Those Oneway’s are truly beautiful tools in all sizes with precision, safety, well-balanced fixtures that inspire a woodturner to seek excellence, and a powerful launch into a new adventure of exploration, skill-development, passion, and personal development that may never be equaled.
The end of the story is that the wife of one of my woodturning students (both extremely good friends) called me to ask if she really needed to take the plunge and if so which lathe did I recommend she buy for her husband’s 25th wedding anniversary, birthday, and Christmas. She said she was sitting down and ready to take the plunge. I gave her the link.