The Long Road Home - Dad's Old Cabinet Bench

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A few weeks ago I traveled back east for Memorial Day and to bring home some of my Dad's things from his old shop.  His cabinet bench is a real treasure to me and its nice to have it here in my shop now.


What are your prized treasures that have been handed down from that special person who started you on the woodworking path?

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I am a nit-wit when it comes to this - my Dad had given me a tool chest and a bunch of tools from my great uncle, and 10 years ago I let a number of them go in a garage sale, because I was never going to be a woodworker.  There were several wooden handplanes, a drawknife, and some other tools.  I kept the chest.


I do have a hand saw that I got from my Dad that is a pretty good specimen. 

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The one tool I have from my Dad that I still use nearly every time I'm in the shop is a Stanley combo square.  The ruler is so rusty (read "patina") that it's almost impossible to read but it still fits and slides correctly, the level bubble is unbroken and still seated correctly and it still has it's scribe - one of the first things most people lose.  I don't know when my Dad got it but I remember him and I using it nearly 40 years ago and it didn't look much different from what it does now.

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I have a single small block plane my dad gave me, however I do have a couple of special tools that were purchased "in memory of" some friends or family members.


I originally got the idea from my Father, who used his inheritance to purchase a Skill saw after his Dad died. When I was there and he used it he would tell a story about

Grandpap and his memory lived on.  30 years later, he still has that old Skillsaw and the last time I was home I saw and mentioned it and sure enough, 5 minutes later

we were laughing about the time Grandpap's hammer head flew off three stories up and broke his boss's windshield on his car... (He kept pretending to hammer away

while folks were looking up, looking for the transgressor...)


When my Father-in-law passed away I took a little of the money he left us and bought a Clifton shoulder plane.  It's not a tool I use

every day, but when I do, I think of him (he was a heck of a guy)  When my boys are in my shop and I pick up that plane, a story

about their grandad comes to my lips, and his memory lives on.


I've since bought a couple of other tools to "remember" some friends by.  They are small and not-oft used (a plumb bob and a levell)

but when I do use them, I take a trip down memory lane as well.




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Great stories guys!  Pug, you're's you who will start the chain.  :)


I think I was so fortunate in that this was a hobby that Dad and I shared, so there was never really a doubt where the tools would go.  When he closed up shop the year before he passed we talked about all the big tools that I already have...table saw, band saw, jointer, etc...and we both agreed that my cousins Fred, Travis and Robbie would love to have them.  He also gave quite a few things to a couple guys who had done some work around the house.  He liked kick starting younger guys that he saw that spark in.


My shop is filled with over two decades worth of Christmas and birthday presents from him and my sisters were taken aback when I told them that all I was really passionate about was the cabinet and the chisel (and a mock panel from an F-111 Raven that was used for his USAF retirement ceremony) and that I wanted them to feel free to take anything that resonated with them, anything they felt any kind of connection to.  Neither of my sisters do any woodworking, but they both now have a nice assortment of tools and smaller clamps and I still came home with a truck load of things from the shop.


I'll have plenty to pass on to my boys and I had a wonderful time sorting through all the treasures with my nephew when we got back home.  We set him up with a nice box of Grandpa's gear as well.

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Probably my most prized great-grandfather's workbench.




If family history is accurate, this bench is now over 100 years old.  Built by my great-grandfather, and passed down to my grandfather, then my father, then me.  My grandfather and great-grandfather were both professional cabinetmakers, and I wish they were still alive so I could ask them why the bench isn't built in a traditional cabinetmaker's style.  My guess is that he worked in a shop somewhere and built his cabinets and furniture on "real" benches, and this one was just for his house to work on miscellaneous projects.  That's what my grandfather and father used it for, and what I use it for now...I call it my "utility bench," and you can see in the picture I have my Roubo to do all my woodworking on.  I know my great-grandfather was an exceptional woodworker because I've seen the few pieces of furniture that remain in the family...period stuff that is way beyond my abilities.  My aunt has a Queen Anne highboy that he built that is basically perfect, complete with a bonnet top and carvings all over.  So the rudimentary bench was a bit of a surprise when I first became interested in woodworking and looked closely at it.


The bench has gone through a few changes over the decades, minor in function and appearance but significant in nostalgia.  When my grandfather inherited it, he ripped off the back part of the top and replaced it with a tool tray all the way across.  When my dad owned it, he replaced the plywood doors on the cabinet (he wasn't a fine woodworker, but he was a carpenter and an all-around handy guy).  And when my dad passed away a few years ago, I brought it into my shop, reinforced all the joints and straightened things out a bit, and removed the tool tray and replaced it with a big hunk of poplar, giving me a much larger surface to spread junk out upon.  And I bolted on my machinist's vise since I wouldn't be using the bench for woodworking.


I also have to assume that my grandfather replaced the drawers at some point, because the dovetails sure look machine-cut to me.  I know my dad didn't build them, and while I don't really know when the first dovetail jigs were available, I'm fairly certain it wasn't the early twentieth century when the bench was originally built.  I suppose it shall forever remain a mystery.  Doesn't matter...I love this old beat up thing, and it pleases me greatly to think about my son having it in his shop one day, and eventually passing it on to his son, and so on, long as the planet is still inhabitable anyway.




Four generations of work...



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My dad and I shared two passions.....woodworking and deer hunting. He told us at diner one night that when he dies, he wants to go quick, so he wouldn't be a burden on anyone, and if he had his choice, he'd die deer hunting. We lost dad in 1998. We found him half way between his tree stand and the deer he had just shot. I was so devastated that I couldn't even go into my dad's shop after that. My stepmother sold all the tools with the house. Looking back, that was a mistake and something I regret.

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I too have a few stories about my dad and shop time.  He's a bit up in age now and his shop has been severely reduced in size because he just can't take care of it any more.  My favorite part still remains tho.  The sign over the door that reads "Redo Construction, we never get it right the first time".  One day, that sign will hang over my door and I will think of him every time I enter.

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Great stories guys! 


TR, sorry about your Dad's tools.  Sometimes you just never know how you'll feel until much later.  Between woodworking and hunting though, I bet you have a ton of great memories.

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