Woodworker's Central
Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 6/16/01

Inheritance by Walt Akers

We are all woodworkers, some of us are of the powered variety, others demand that their equipment be meat driven. But, in the final analysis we all need tools... we must have them, they complete us. The only question that remains is, how do you go about getting them? While some of us spend hours perusing the local hardware emporium, looking for "just the right thing", there are others who burn endless Saturdays going to every swap meet, garage sale and dog fight in their state to find a piece of equipment at "just the right price".

This not withstanding, it goes without saying that no tool in our shop is as treasured (as beloved even) as one that we have inherited from a respected Craftsman; knowing that each time we use it, we are carrying on a heritage that started before us.

I have no doubt that your family has its own traditions and techniques for passing on these cherished heirlooms... and I'm sure they're good ones. But, in my family, after some hundreds of years of evolution, we have devised an approach that can only be described as --- unique.

We call it, "The Best Man Principal".

Now, I know what you're thinking. The title alone emotes visions of our elder craftsmen sitting in a darkened star chamber adjudicating who among the surviving family members is the most worthy, the most noble. However, this is not entirely accurate.

I'm sure that things started out that way - back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and hardware was composed entirely of chipped flint and sharp sticks. But in recent memory, 'The Best Man' has more often been the one who can outwit, outsmart or overpower (usually the latter) the other contenders and haul-off as much of the 'Loved Ones' stuff as he can carry before the remaining relatives can get their shotguns loaded... It is a time honored tradition.

Now, for the past thirty years, my Uncle Bill had been the undisputed King of the Best Men - standing head and shoulders above all others. No, he wasn't the biggest or the meanest (although he was both big and mean), his power lay in his uncanny ability to sense when the hour glass was running out on another, better-equipped family member. In addition to magnificent timing, he also had the benefit of being a Federal Employee. As such, he could take off work at a moment's notice if anyone in the family was suffering a life threatening illness (or a severe hangnail, for that matter). In the event that the unthinkable did happen, he was always the first on the scene to console the widow and help her avoid the unpleasant uproar (and wrestling matches) associated with settling the recently departed's woodworking estate.

He was truly a master of his unique craft...

Well, as you might imagine, there comes a time in every man's life when he has to lay down his cards for the last time. And a few years back, Old Bill was faced with an offer he couldn't refuse. As a side note, I have no doubt that the Old Man and half a dozen of his brothers came out to greet him withy pointy sticks as he 'greased himself up' to slip through the Pearly Gates.

At any rate, all of us knew that Bill had untold booty tucked away in his underground workshop. At last count, there were three jointers, half a dozen stationary drill presses and enough edged handtools to shave Colorado flat without stopping to resharpen. Of course, this was all the stuff of legends since Bill wouldn't let so much as a cricket into the basement to see his stash...

Out of common decency, we knew that we had to wait until after the wake to descend on the treasure trove of OUR forefather's tools. My Aunt Juanita, a powerful woman in her own right, contacted all of our wives personally to eschew any early birds.

So we all waited and grew edgier as the three longs days before the funeral expired and the evening of the wake was upon us. In a stroke of strategic genius, Juanita had pad-locked the interior door to the basement and dropped a dead bolt over the exterior door that would require a twelve-foot battering ram to overcome.

We arrived early at the wake in somber nervousness and then we waited some more...

As you might expect, some of the great grandchildren gave-up early. One by one, the youngsters dropped their heads, swore, and then headed home... But not the old guard - we were stalwart (and shameless). It was our heritage that was on the line, and most of us would never have another crack at it...

It was around 10:00 pm when she unlocked the door... I know because I was looking at my watch when I felt my wife's hand wrap around my wrist.

"You should go over and talk to Aunt Juanita..."


Helga's grip tightened. Although she was seven months pregnant with our second child, she was still very agile. I knew that if I didn't comply, her next step would be to slam me on the floor and put me in a 'half-nelson.'

I tightened my necktie and did the right thing... under duress.

Now, it would be fair to say that my Aunt Juanita liked to talk... a lot. As we joined her in the living room, me and my bride who was clamped to my arm like a prison ball, we sat quietly as she spoke... at length... about everything. It was a moving moment. In honesty I must admit that I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes --- particularly as the sound of three pickup trucks, a mini-van and (if I'm not mistaken) a forklift pulled down the driveway and into the workshop only to lurch away moments later under a heavy burden. The tragedy had finally hit home...

And yet she continued... weaving tales of Bill's youth that stretched endlessly towards a seeming conclusion, only to evolve into yet another beginning... It was like listening to Charlton Heston read the Bible. It wasn't until around midnight that Juanita had cleansed her system. By then, of course, the rest of my family (the better men) had returned from downstairs. I moved tentatively toward the basement door, only to meet the discouraging glance of my cousin Mike, as he shook his head solemnly.

It was over...

Well, it goes without saying that the ride home with Helga was a long, quiet one. Oh sure, she was right. But, damn it, we're talking about a family tradition here. Traditions are sacrosanct - no matter how stupid they are. I fumed in silence... periodically pausing to quiver uncontrollably and groan...

Some twenty minutes later, she finally broke the quivering, groaning silence to say, "Juanita said to give these to you." And with that she shoved a folded grocery bag in my lap.

For a brief moment I felt dirty... knowing this was a clear violation of a long standing principal. Fortunately, this feeling was short lived and I had recovered completed by the time the paper bag was unfolded.

Two Estwing hammers --- a framer and a tack --- my own Old Man's.

I don't want to go into too much detail here... Suffice it to say, that I had to pull off the road and let my wife drive. Some surface rust would later have to be removed from the hammers.

Oh, I know two hammers ain't much... but, it is SOMETHING and they ARE special. Besides, I'm staying in good shape... I'll have another crack at the big stuff.

Walt - Tomorrow is another day

Editor's Note: Sterling Publishing has graciously donated several books for review which are passed on to our members free of charge in exchange for thoughtful, honest reviews. Thank You! And you can usually find their titles at a discount from Barnes And Noble

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