The First Cabinet
I have been building things since I was a child. My dad taught me that with determination, hard work and a few tools, I can figure out how to make anything. My neighbor, Larry taught me that making anything is most satisfying when I learn from how others have done it, work strategically, and work in a group. Every day I draw from my dad’s initiative and Larry’s prudence, and every day I feel fortunate to have had such great teachers.
As a child I helped my dad with projects around our house, and worked on our cars. My dad let me use tools as soon as I could hold them, and I took tools very seriously. Learning how to swing a hammer for precision and force remains to this day one of the most satisfying things I have ever done. Listening to my dad tell me to “let the hammer fall” and “look at the nail, not the hammer head” resonate today as the most engaged, present and actionable advice ever given to me. I reference my dad’s focused, sharp, accurate communication about using tools when approaching my staff, and now my own sons, as a teacher.
Larry Johnson built race car engines, machined and assembled 1:8 scale V8 engines from raw aluminum, dropped big block Chevy 454 engines in to tiny Ford Courier hot rods, gave a non-street legal 1970 Ford Mustang Mach 1 drag racer to his daughter for her 16th birthday, and generally kept his garage full of the coolest projects that my dad and I could imagine. Walking over to Larry’s shop was a special treat for my dad and I, and memories of Larry’s projects continue to inspire me today.
My dad and Larry supported me in a special, genuine way that I still marvel at. They would tell me to build something, and I would go build it. I could ask for help whenever I wanted, but it never occurred to me, or maybe to any of us, that I would not complete what I was building. It just was not discussed, and so I never considered whether or not I could finish.
The first real cabinet I ever built was a two-stack bank of drawers for Larry’s machine shop. I was 12 years old, and heard him mention that he needed a cabinet with drawers for his machine tools. I asked if I could build it for him, and he said yes. We measured the place where the cabinet would go, and he told me how many drawers he wanted. I was scared because I had never built drawers, and I did not know how to make them slide in and out. I went home and looked under our kitchen drawers, to provide myself something to copy. My dad took me to the hardware store, and we bought the little plastic wheels that the drawers would roll on. When we came home my dad gave me a pile of lumber core, ¾” thick plywood from a crate he had brought home from work. I built the cabinet from that plywood. The drawers worked fine. I took the cabinet to Larry’s shop. He paid me money.
The bottom four feet of Larry’s shop walls were painted the deep, rich “Ford Blue” that Ford Motor Company once painted engine blocks. Larry always painted any shop fixture shorter than four feet that same Ford Blue, to match the walls. One of my proudest moments was visiting Larry’s shop the weekend after I built his drawer cabinet, and seeing that he had painted my cabinet Ford Blue. He had integrated my work in to his shop, the shop that I adored and admired. I knew that blue paint meant that Larry truly accepted my drawer cabinet and my work, which meant everything to me.
I enjoy spending time with my staff, building things that we are proud of. I like it that our success affords us more time together, focused on our craft, figuring out our best way to build anything we want.
Thank you for reading about me.