It's Wednesday morning and the smells of coffee and sawdust drift through the basement of John Maitland's Columbia home. About 20 men have gathered there for their weekly meeting to discuss, among other things, woodworking.
While some observe a piece of lumber being sawed in a workshop, others sit around a large table in another room, where they talk about things like studs that are too short and a reliable method for attaching paneling with glue.
Mr. Maitland, a 65-year-old educator who retired from the state Department of Education in 1980, formed the group a year ago as an offshoot of the Howard County Woodworkers Guild, which he co-founded in May 1990. The morning crowd -- official name: "Wednesday A.M. Coffee" -- started a year ago when Mr. Maitland decided that weekly get-togethers would enable woodworkers to network more frequently than they could at the monthly guild meetings.
But Mr. Maitland also started the group because he wanted to see more "male involvement." As a former volunteer at the Florence Bain Senior Center, Mr. Maitland said he used to wonder "where all the men were" at various activities. He stresses that women also are welcome at the Wednesday morning coffees. His wife, Marilyn, who shares her husband's enthusiasm for woodworking and is a member of the guild, is a business development manager for the Digital Equipment Corp. and is not able to attend the weekly meetings.
"Originally, we started meeting from 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Later we went to 11:00. Now it's 12:30. It keeps getting later and later," Mr. Maitland laughed. "In the beginning, I was using two 10-cup percolators. Soon after, I had to buy a 100-cup percolator."
Although both groups share a common interest, Mr. Maitland says they are quite different. The guild, comprised of more than 100 members of all ages, meets one Saturday a month at the Florence Bain Center and has a constitution and bylaws. Meetings have an agenda.
The Wednesday coffees have no structure and draw retired people and individuals with flexible work schedules. Even the neighborhood mailman, who shares an interest in woodworking, once joined the morning group for a quick cup of coffee. Occasionally, Mr. Maitland will invite a speaker to discuss a topic other than woodworking. For instance, an employee from the Howard County Fire Department once talked about professional vs. volunteer firefighters.
Ask regulars what they get out of these weekly meetings and their answers siggest that it's more than talk about routers and radial arm saws.
"It's a great way to dissipate anxiety and tension; it's a diversion from normal responsibilities," said one gentleman.
"It's mental therapy to work with my hands," said another. "I'm going through the process of a divorce. . . . It's been great to come here and take my mind off of things."
Lloyd Lindwall put it more succinctly.
"We're a coffee klatch -- we sling the bull."
The 68-year-old Columbia resident has belonged to the group from the start. Sitting in front of Mr. Lindwall is a decoy, a Hooded Merganser, that he spent 70 hours carving.
"When you retire, it's totally essential that you do what you like . . . as a retired federal game warden, decoys and birds were my life. I've extended that into my retirement," he said.
Bob Nuessle, a 63-year-old Ellicott City resident, who enjoys cabinet making, retired from his computer technician job with the UNISYS Corp. two years ago.
"I schedule things around Wednesday mornings. I enjoy the camaraderie; we have a good time," said Mr. Nuessle.
Two retired physicians -- Dick Wei, a 73-year-old Columbia resident and George Selby, 83, a resident of Ellicott City -- rarely miss a Wednesday. Dr. Wei, who retired a year ago, said he is still learning about woodworking and is in the process of purchasing a machine "to play with." The relaxed environment provides the right atmosphere for learning about woodworking, he said.
"I have never gone to a meeting in which I didn't learn something," said Dr. Selby. "We talk about computers, TV repairs, plumbing. . . . This group has more brains [collectively] than most other groups I have been involved with."
Wade Headley, a 59-year-old Ellicott City resident, retired a year ago as an engineering manager from C&P Telephone.
"I was basically looking for information and resources, but I found something more important -- I found friendships."
Want to join?
Anyone interested in joining the Wednesday A.M. Coffee may call John Maitland at (410) 995-0086.