It was mid-autumn of 1987 and at that time my shop was housed in the basement of our house in Culpeper, Virginia. If I had a picture of it now I'd send it to Webster's so if anyone ever looked up the definition of Dark, Dank and Dingy they could see what my shop looked like. But, for the hole it was, there was almost enough headroom and if you stood in just the right spot you could almost swing a cat without its head bonking on something.
Our neighborhood always had a plethora of cats to select from so I never gave a Tinker's dam if one bonked its head or not.
Thomas Edison would have marveled at the electrical power situation in there - in
fact, I wouldn't have been a damned bit surprised to find out he installed it. The panel for the basement had six
screw-in fuses; two were for the water heater, two others were for the outlets at the other end of the basement and
the last two were for the shop area. These were the ones which caused the most grief because they blew with such
regularity a groove had been worn in the concrete between the shop and the service panel. I had a 55-gallon drum
underneath the panel with a piece of plywood to divide it in two sections - one side was filled with good fuses and
the other contained the spent ones. ACE Hardware got so tired of ordering and handling them that they just arranged
it for their warehouse to send me a weekly shipment. I thought that was rather accommodating of them because it
actually ended up saving me about a hundred dollars a month in gas. After much experimenting I figured out that if I
dimmed the lights and unplugged the clock then I had better than even chance of being able to start a router
without blowing another fuse.
Don't get me started on the plumbing.
I found myself looking for another project and after spending the best part of a week thumbing through piles of American Woodworker and Fine Woodworking magazines I wandered into the town's library hoping for inspiration. Sure enough I found a book with detailed plans on some rather unique looking Colonial furniture. One grabbed my eye because it had a tilting table and a storage area underneath that you could access by lifting a lid with a hidden, dowel pin hinge. It didn't take long to determine this was going to be my next project, and, because of the table's origin, I immediately selected Long Leaf Heart Pine for the species of wood I was going to use.
After the table was made I turned my attention on the type of finish to apply and I thought of the Colonial era, "What did they have then that I could use now?" The answer flew to the top of my list - beeswax! I was going to make a beeswax finish!
I went to gather up my hot plate and on the way back I dimmed the lights and unplugged the clock. The second I donned my mad scientist gown I began concocting a mixture of true, refined beeswax, mineral spirits and a mouthful of walnut stain. I laughed hysterically when I saw it emulsify just like I thought it would and watched with glee as it became a rich paste when it cooled.
I brought it over to the table and began applying it with a rag. Now, before I go any further I want you to know I'm far from lazy but hardly a New York second had passed before I realized the wood was going to rot unless I came up with a faster method to apply it.
Having said that, I also want you to know I'm not stupid either but you know how every once in a while a person who isn't stupid will pull down such a bone-headed stunt you just know their IQ can be represented by the number of fingers on one hand?
That was me on that day as I stood there looking down with despair when I suddenly spawned the brilliant plan of using my Mother's iron to help spread the wax. The idea hit with enough force that it quite literally propelled me up the steps to go fetch it. On the way back I just dimmed the lights - it was important to keep the clock plugged in because it'd help me monitor the time for when my Mother was coming home.
I couldn't help but stand in awe at the extent of my genius - the wax was just flying on that table and it smelled so good! I had cause for a wide smile each time the iron's pointed end allowed me to get the finish into each crook and nanny. "Man!" I thought, "It's a crying shame other people aren't as smart as me." I'm serious; you'd swear Tage Frid sauntered in and done it his own damn self - that's how good it looked.
I dutifully wiped off the bottom of the iron and wrapped the cord exactly the way I had found it. I don't know why but it was only then that I looked at it and silently wondered what all the holes in the bottom of the iron were for. Any further inquisitiveness I might have had stopped there because my mind changed to another channel the instant I put it back and I never paid it another second's thought .
That is to say until about a week later.
I was down in the basement tinkering with another project when all of a sudden the most disturbing, blood curdling scream I'd ever heard cracked then rumpled the concrete I was standing on. I grabbed a hammer and bolted up the steps three at a time fully expecting to encounter an ax murderer running through the joint.
Instead, I found my Mother standing at the ironing board.
I've told you before about how I'm an excellent noticer. Well, when I got to the top of the steps I instantly noticed a few things. Her right hand was frozen in mid-air and clenched within it was the iron I had used the previous week. Then, judging from the horrified look on her face, I surmised a great sculptor had arrived and chisled it on there for her. Next, her head was sitting akimbo on her shoulders as she stared down at some article of clothing on the ironing board. Since that seemed to be the focal point of her attention I followed her gaze and noticed it had a splotch on it about the size of a dinner plate. Oh...yeah, I almost forgot...the splotch was much shinier and darker than the fabric surrounding it.
You know how you never forget a smell? Well, I couldn't help but recognize the familiar smell of beeswax and my first conscious thought was how the hell did it get all the way up here on my Mother's - I looked down - church shirt?
The next conscious thought I had was getting out of the kitchen by the swiftest means possible because the air in there was being vigorously fanned by the knife-like stabbing motions of the iron and were strangely being aimed in the general region of my upper torso. I turned so fast and departed so quickly that I exerted enough force to rattle the basement door in the jamb. Arriving at the bottom of the steps I had time for a quick glance and was horrified to see she was in hot pursuit.
I stopped at the end of driveway for a breather and during the pause I figured out the purpose of those little holes; I always thought they were there to lighten the iron! I mean, come on, it made sense...if you're pushing the damned thing why wouldn't the steam blow out the front?
Aww, Hell, I gotta go, sound's like somebody's running up the driveway. Hey! Whydoncha meet me in them woods over there and I'll tell you about the time...