Cutting corners . . . and loving it Adults delight in the drill of woodworking classes

January 30, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

The word they all use is "relaxing," though the wood-shop setting seems anything but -- huge machines everywhere designed to rip and cut and plane and trim, a complex web of air-cleaning tubes and ventilators, school bells ringing every now and then.

Yes, school bells, because the men and women at work in Rich "Mac" McGainey's class are students, learning their way around the tools and techniques of working with wood.

"We start from the very basics," Mr. McGainey says. "I show people how to go to the lumberyard and buy lumber. Some people don't know a 1-by-4 [board] isn't 4 inches wide."

Mr. McGainey teaches three woodworking courses offered at Parkville Senior High School as part of Baltimore County's adult-education program. He also teaches courses in woodworking and cabinetmaking at Eastern Vocational-Technical High School.

People take Mr. McGainey's evening courses for all sorts of reasons. Some build toys for their grandchildren, some make furniture for their homes, some make items to sell at craft fairs and flea markets. One woman spent all 10 class sessions at the shaper, making molding for a house she was rehabbing.

"I have two daughters who have a lot of wants," said Richard Kent, a retired structural engineer who's been taking classes for four or five years.

Mr. Kent is one of the students who, along with Mr. McGainey, will be manning a booth at the Baltimore Woodworking Show, currently under way at the Timonium Fairgrounds, to tell people about the classes and encourage them to sign up.

They'll be joined at the show by as many as 100 other exhibitors and several thousand woodworking enthusiasts. It's a chance to see and try out the latest hand and power tools for woodworkers, home builders and do-it-yourself enthusiasts. There will also be seminars and free workshops in dozens of woodworking categories. The show runs through tomorrow.

In recent classes, Mr. Kent has been working on a set of Chippendale mirrors. For him, that's a pretty small project; in the past he's made a corner closet, a highboy, an armoire and dining room tables.

"Usually I try to get patterns that resemble antique reproductions," Mr. Kent said.

Mr. McGainey says he tries to encourage people to come to the class with patterns or plans, or at least a clear idea of what they want to make. He brings books and plans that students can use to get ideas, or use for their projects.

Students range from rank beginners -- "Some people don't know what anything is, they don't even have a drill at home," Mr. McGainey said -- to experienced woodworkers who just want access to the tools and time to focus on a project.

"When you're here you have to concentrate on what you're doing," Mr. Kent said.

"For three hours, the phone doesn't ring, the wife doesn't want you to do something, and the kids don't get in the way," Mr. McGainey said.

The more experienced workers often help beginners, and sometimes the class turns into a seminar on a particular topic, Mr. McGainey said. "For instance, someone wants to buy a sander. They'll say, anybody who has a sander, tell me what you like or don't like about it.

"I try to keep up with everything," Mr. McGainey said. "I subscribe to all the magazines. When water-based polyurethane came out, I wanted to know all about it, so when somebody asks me, 'What's this all about?' I can tell them."

Mr. McGainey has always been interested in woodworking, though it wasn't always his profession. At one point he was a truck driver. Then he took the same adult-education class he now teaches, and then another, and eventually he was asked to take over.

"I try to get people to learn the right way" to do things, Mr. McGainey said. In that respect, beginners are easier than some experienced workers. "Some guys say they've been in this 20 years, but they don't have the safety skills."

Former students have included lawyers, doctors, nurses, a teacher in the Baltimore County school system and an FBI agent.

Mr. McGainey tries to make sure every student gets the most out of the class. Beginners are better off with smaller projects that take only a couple of classes to complete, he says. "That way they're taking something home every couple of weeks. They're developing the same skills, and they're enjoying it."

For most of the students, enjoying it doesn't seem to be a problem. "It's a recreation," says Mr. Kent, with a smile.

And for the students who keep coming back, it's also a sort of family. "When class isn't in, I miss these guys," Mr. McGainey says.

Next: Why the bathtub comes first.

Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housin Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is a writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N.

Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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