To celebrate Father’s Day, we asked a few local woodworkers whether they inherited any tools from their dads that were vital to the success of their businesses.
The answer was yes, but the tools weren’t the only things that helped.
Brett Porter, 33, owner of Porter Furniture of Kansas City (His father is John Porter, 64, manager of MHC Kenworth in Olathe):
Earliest memory of the workshop: “I was probably 10 or 11, and I remember going into the tiny little shop in our basement to clean it up with him. And I’d help him make whatever he was making, but I also remember making a little jewelry box with him. It’s still in my house. I keep my keepsakes in it.”
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Inheriting the tools: Brett started his business making semi-custom furniture in his father’s basement. Six months ago, Brett moved the business into a new building, and his dad let him take a lot of his tools with him.
“There’s no way I could have started this business without him. I learned everything about woodworking from him,” he says. “I have several hand planes that were his. They’re in the shop and don’t get used very often, but they’re there, and they’re not something I’d ever get rid of. They’re right next to the tools that get used, so I see them every day.”
Lee Ross, 39, owner of RLS Woodwork in Odessa, Mo. (His father is Brian Ross, owner of RossCraft Complete Home Craftsmanship in St. Paul, Minn.):
Earliest workshop memory: Walking into the workshop, being at eye level with something — a drum sander? a bench planer? — and trying to figure out what it was and what his father, a licensed journeyman cabinetmaker, was doing. When he was 5, Lee remembers helping Brian build bunk beds.
“By age 15, I was actually in customers’ homes doing finish work on their cabinets,” Lee says.
Reconnecting: When he was 15, Lee’s parents split, and he didn’t see his father again for 22 years. Two years ago he tracked him down in St. Paul, Minn., where Brian owns a construction and remodeling business.
“I didn’t know where he was or if he was alive,” Lee says. “When I reached out to him, I didn’t know what would happen, and I didn’t want anything but a relationship.”
His dad was happy to hear from him and thrilled his son had followed in his footsteps. The two now talk at least once a week.
Inheriting the tools: Not long after reconnecting, Brian offered his son a workshop full of furniture production equipment, including a shaper, a line-boring machine to drill holes for shelves, and a hinge-drilling machine for concealed hinges.
“There’s thousands of dollars of equipment right there. He termed it as a no-interest loan,” Lee says.
Brian also gave his son a tool chest that belonged to Lee’s great-grandfather, Gale Edward Ross, a master carpenter with a degree from Boston University. It contained antique hand-crank drills, hand saws, chisels, hammers and hand planes. Lee uses his great-grandfather’s drawknife to distress furniture by making a table edge look chipped.
About a year ago, his paternal grandfather, Charles Leonard Ross, died, and Lee inherited more tools.
Even though he didn’t seek his dad out for financial gain, Lee thinks he owes the viability of RLS Woodworking to him. And it wasn’t just the equipment.
“He went out of his way to help me succeed,” Lee says. “One of the most important things I received from him when I contacted him was his bidding and contract templates. He’s done time studies on every aspect of cabinetmaking, so he gave me costing sheets and all sorts of information. I was struggling at that point, and it was critical to the growth of my business.”
Sam Unruh, owner of Unruh Furniture in Grandview (His father is Kip Unruh, a Realtor and former home builder, and his grandfather is Duane Unruh, a retired high school football coach and sculptor at Hallmark):
Earliest memories in the workshop: “We would do stuff together when I was a kid, build a tree house, and I’d help him with projects. We had a barn full of tools and scrap lumber, and Dad would show us what we were allowed to use and what we weren’t and then how to use it.
“My dad would allow me to use more stuff as I got older. I have five brothers and sisters, and I took the most interest in woodworking.”
Inheriting the tools: Sam was about 13 when his dad gave him a jigsaw.
“It was a yellow DeWalt, and I would use it to cut all kinds of stuff from the scraps.”
His father now has the jigsaw. Sam left it in the barn when he went off to college, and by the time he returned it wasn’t in the best of shape.
Before leaving for college he also inherited his grandfather’s carving knives.
“I started getting into wood carving on camping trips and while sitting in my dorm room,” Sam says. “That was long before I knew I wanted to make furniture for a living. But it was part of the inspirational process.”
Today: Sam estimates that he and his dad have swapped hundreds of tools over the years and that he now has more than his dad. And he still uses his grandfather’s carving knives.
“Like on a camping trip, I’ll take them along to whittle on something,” he says. “They’re fun because they’re my grandpa’s. I keep them at my home. They’re very personal to me.”