Writer and Photographer
Curling One More Fine Wood Shaving at a Time: A Tribute to Doyle Fox
People, like me, who work with wood have a love affair with tools and live with the motto that we are just one tool away from perfection. Lately, I have cultivated a deeper affection with hand tools, those stately tools that, as they age, seem only to increase in function and beauty – like some people I know.
I was recently bequeathed some hand tools from the family of Doyle Fox of El Dorado. I’ve known him – and his children – for years, but never knew he was a craftsman of fine woodworking until his daughter said he was moving and had some walnut for sale.
The first thing I spotted in Doyle’s garage was the Cities Service green paint job on an old workbench. My father had worked for Cities Service for decades and my childhood toybox was painted that unique green color. It turns out, Doyle and worked with my dad years ago.
I also noticed a workbench which fine woodworkers use. There are a variety of skill levels of woodworkers, but the crème de la crème of the craft the use of hand planes, saws, chisels, and mallets to create exquisite pieces of woodworking art. Once I learned Doyle was fine woodworker, my esteem for him elevated far above the previously high level at which I held him in regard. To a fine woodworker, there is a song a hand plane sings as it glides over a piece of wood, curling a fine shaving of wood with each pass. It’s a sound like no other.
He was moving from his home that he and his wife, Bonnie, had shared for 64 years. She passed in 2017 and now, in 2023, it was time for him to downsize and find new homes for his tools. But not all of them. There are just some things you can’t let go of.
We chatted for a while, he showed me the lumber and, by the time I left, I also bought a couple of workbenches. Yes, even the one with Cities Service green paint chipping away on it; I had to have that one.
He moved to a smaller home but took some of his more prized tools with him. I don’t blame him, for a craftsman like Doyle, tools become a part of your personality, your identity, even your reason for existence. As I gaze lovingly on the tools in my own shop – more than four decades worth of collecting – they are more than pieces of equipment, they are a part of my life’s journey and identity.
Doyle recently passed and the family asked me to come over and browse his tools to see if there was anything I wanted. I smiled as I saw his tools in the spare bedroom where he kept them because he no longer had a shop. They were his favorite tools, the ones which held such sentimental and artistic value to him that he just could not bear to part with them while he was alive.
His children and grandchildren are the proud new owners of many of those tools and I’ve offered to teach any of them how to use them should they want to learn the craft of their grandfather.
I confess, I had a hard time taking any of his tools. Not so much because they held monetary value, but because I know how much a craftsman values their tools. I recently lost a 40-year-old log turner and grieved over it like I lost a pet. I even put out a reward for anyone who found it and, low and behold, someone found it! I got so excited I danced a little jig.
I tried to put myself in Doyle’s place and ask, “Who would I want to have my tools?” Certainly, my family, but for practicality’s sake, I would want someone like me who understands their value and will use them to perpetuate the craft, curling one fine shaving of wood at a time.
For anyone, be it man or woman, who find artistic expression in working with their hands to craft works of art from the materials that Mother Nature provides, there is a bond that is formed with each tool.
Even my power tools hold a sentimental value to me. I have a new wood turning lathe that it is a signature piece of my shop. However, it’s not just the beauty of the beast that I adore, it’s what we can do together that excites me. Currently, I’ve been asked to restore railings, balusters and Newell posts on The Victorian Rose, a gorgeous home built in 1885 in El Dorado, Kansas. Those Newell posts are 48” long, something my new lathe can handle. I confess, as I stood in front of my lathe the other day deciding how to go about turning these big posts, I giggled out loud with excitement at the challenge and the opportunity. That tool is a part of my identity already.
I have built a lot of things in my long-term love relationship with wood and have typically used power tools. However, I’m moving more into the handheld tools and am discovering new ways to love old tools.
I created a space along my tool wall specifically to display Doyle’s tools. A sign will soon hang there so all who enter my shop will take notice and ask the story behind the display. But I know Doyle would not want me to set them there as only a display to collect dust. Rather, he would want me to use them to carry on the tradition of the delicate dance of a craftsman and his tools.
I’ve started working on a piece of furniture with Doyle’s walnut lumber and his tools. I admire the tools on display each time I walk by, but something magical happens when I pick them up and begin using them. Suddenly, I can see his aged hands grasping the plane and humming along with the song it sings as it curls fresh shavings. I hear the rhythmic thump of the wooden mallet striking a chisel, as he peers intently at an invisible line while creating works of beauty for family and friends. I see him run his hands over a piece of his furniture, caressing it as a father would a child or a mate, his lover.
Doyle is now a part of my shop, a part of my story and now, a part of my craft. I will endeavor to bring him honor as I become a part of his woodworking legacy, humming in harmony with the song of the plane as I curl one more fine shaving of wood at a time.
6 Unforgettable Quotes from my Brother Bob
Cheerleaders Up and Down the Street
Who are your cheerleaders? For whom are you a cheerleader?
Don Landoll, owner of Landoll Manufacturing in Marysville, Kansas, started out in a small garage in a small town in rural Kansas and grew his business to employ nearly 900 people now. He attributes his success to those early days of having “cheerleaders up and down the street.”
I think about his statement frequently as I identify my cheerleaders and what it means for me to be a cheerleader for someone else. (I promise, I won’t bring pom poms and the Lord knows I’d hurt myself if I tried a cartwheel.)
For me, here’s what a cheerleader looks like:
* They believe in you
* They encourage you with words and pats on the back
* They challenge you to pick yourself up when you’ve fallen, dust yourself off and get back on the horse
* They challenge you to step out of the boat and walk on the water
* They catch you, or at least lift you up, if you sink
* They know your weaknesses, but challenge you to play to your strengths
* Your name is safe in their mouth
* They see things in you that you don’t see yourself
Who are your cheerleaders? Let them know how much they are appreciated. Today. Don’t wait; do it soon!For whom are you a cheerleader? Reach out to them with a special encouragement. Today. Don’t wait; do it soon!
And if you can do pom poms and cartwheels, power to you! I promise I won’t though; there are just some things you can’t unsee.
Grandpa Harry and Ethan: The Story of the Twins
The golden glow of the early morning sun slowly filled the cabin as Harry creaked back and forth in his rocker on the wooden floor. Chauncey, his golden lab, snored on his bed by the crackling fire, curled up on an old sweatshirt Ethan left on his last visit. He reached in his pocket and pulled out the note he had read daily since he received it a month earlier.
“Thank you, Lord,” Harry prayed softly. “Having that boy in my life has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. I didn’t realize how lonely I was with Gladys gone and Ethan’s mom remarrying and moving so far away. I don’t know that stirred in his young heart to write me that first time three years ago but having him back in my life sure makes the sunrise brighter and these old bones hurt less.”
Harry adjusted the horn-rimmed glasses on his nose and leaned in to the light of lamp:
“Dear Grandpa Harry,
I am looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with you. We get the whole week off, so I’ll have lots of time to spend with you and Chauncey.
All my friends in my class want to come with me to see you sometime. I told them the story of milking the cow with you the last time I was here and now they all want to milk a cow. Some of them actually thought chocolate milk came from brown cows. They also didn’t know what it meant to do chores like gathering the eggs, haying the horses and cows, cleaning the barn, or getting fresh water to all the animals. In town, we just have pets and no one I know has any daily chores.
Our teacher assigned us 30 Days of Gratitude before Thanksgiving and we were all supposed to share one story each day. I told the class what you said about the more you give thanks the more you find to be thankful for so we’re now going to do it every day for the rest of the year. She said I might as well call mine, “The Grandpa Harry Story Hour,” because most of them are about times I spend with you.
Tell Chauncey I’ll see him soon and I have a new squeaky toy for him.
As Harry folded the note, Chauncey’s tail began to wag, then his ears perked as he heard the floor creaking in the bedroom where Ethan slept. Slowly raising and stretching, the old dog picked up his new moose squeaky toy and made his way to greet Ethan.
“Good morning, Chauncey,” Ethan yawned as he scratched the dog’s ears. “I heard you snoring out all the way out here. I think we are both tired after yesterday. Grandpa Harry sure worked us hard getting up firewood, didn’t he.”
“Firewood heats up you three times,” Harry chuckled. “Once when you cut, once when you split it, then when you burn it.”
“Happy Thanksgiving, Grandpa,” Ethan wiped the sleep from his eyes. “What are we going to do today after chores?”
“We’re heading into Yellow Pine for the community feast,” Harry smiled. “Saves me from having to cook plus everyone brings their favorite home cooked dish so it’s the best meal you could possibly eat. Plus, it’s just good to get together will old friends and make new ones.”
“I’m glad I’m here. Mom and Frank usually go over to Frank’s side of the family, but they’re all fighting and not getting together so they were going to the homeless shelter and help serve meals there.”
“That’s a good thing to do but I’m sorry to hear the family isn’t getting along.”
“It doesn’t seem like anyone is getting along anymore, Grandpa. Everybody’s mad at everyone else over something. Was it like that when you were a kid?”
“Oh, folks have been fighting since Cain and Abel, I suppose,” Harry said. “Lot of times, it carries on so long people forgot what started it, but just keep fighting anyway. It appears to me that, if you want to get offended and mad at someone over something, it’s not hard to do. Folks will give you lots of reasons to get angry if you let them. Some don’t mean too, but some do. Offended folks are unhappy folks, and some unhappy people aren’t happy unless they make others unhappy, too, so you gotta keep an eye out for those wanting to rile others. Offended people are like fishermen, they go fishing for others to make offended and angry and you just have to be careful not to take their bait.”
“Well, there sure seems to be a lot of people taking the bait,” Ethan replied sadly. “But you’re a pretty happy person. Surely someone’s offended you.”
“Oh, sure, I’ve been offended and angry lots of times,” Harry chuckled. “But I knew keeping anger in me was like letting a rattlesnake sleep under the covers with me. At some point, it would kill me.”
“So how do you get rid of your anger?”
“When I was a young man, there were two older twin brothers in our community that were as different as night and day. Waldo was a guy that everyone loved to be around and Smitty was so unpleasant that even the local preacher didn’t like him. They looked exactly alike but behaved exactly the opposite of each other and I asked my dad why that was, and he said that being how they were twins, each one had adopted their own set of twin things to guide them by. One chose the twins of gratitude and forgiveness and the other chose the twins of offense and anger.
Harry went on. “It’s almost impossible to be grateful and angry at the same time. Gratitude means you look at the positive, while anger means you look at the negative. And it’s hard to be angry at someone for a long time if you forgive them, whether they ask for it or not. I reckon if Jesus could ask his Father to forgive them that nailed him to the cross, he kind of set a standard I should follow. If my faith doesn’t lead me to be a forgiving person, then I’m missing out on who God wants me to be. And if I’m easily offended, then it won’t take much to turn me into an angry person. I just don’t want to get bit by that rattlesnake.”
“Well, it’s like what you said when we planted the garden last spring,” Ethan understood. “We harvest what we plant. I know one thing; I want to be like you when I grow up. My teacher told me to make sure I brought back more Grandpa Harry stories so she will like the one about Waldo and Smitty a lot.”
“Good,” Harry replied. “Maybe one of these days I can figure out how to get to that big city you live in and meet your classmates. Reckon that would be okay?”
“Oh, yes,” Ethan exclaimed. “And I have the perfect title for a lesson you can teach them for Grandpa Harry Story Hour!”
“Oh, what is that?”
“Don’t be a Smitty!”