Fathers, Sons, & Woodworking: “Burying the Hatchet” in the Workshop

Woodworking is not just a vocation, a mere career to earn your livelihood. For the generations of woodworkers, woodworking is a passion, an art form over which lifelong bonds are forged. The relationship between a father and son can be a fragile one. Many father-son relations are tinged with bitterness, disappointment, dislike, and even downright hostility.

Creative endeavors like woodworking projects can help overcome discord between fathers and sons. In our research for some inspiring instances of father-son relations enriched by woodworking, we came across some endearing, thought-provoking, and sometimes bittersweet life stories. These are stories of real people, and how woodworking had a positive impact on their lives.

1. Ruminations about the impact of woodworking across generations.

Perhaps very few are more qualified to talk about woodworking than Paul Sellers. The British woodworker is one of the world’s foremost teachers of the craft. A self-proclaimed “amateur woodworker,” his creations are a part of the permanent furniture collections in the White House.

In his blog on his website, Paul Sellers recollects how woodworking has impacted his life as both a son and a father. Some of his most treasured memories of spending time with his father involve woodworking. He recalls fondly how they both bonded, as the son taught his aging father woodworking skills, and the latter shared life experiences.

In the same vein, he also recollects how much he enjoyed teaching his sons the skills he himself learned in life. But he candidly concedes that what was once possible in the past may be less so in the present, when kids and even their parents are immersed in a digital world.

2. A hobby becomes a career choice to bring a father closer to his ailing son.

This is a story of how woodworking helped a father devote more time for his son suffering from congenital neurological disorders. Dan Gaube was an itinerant wildlife biologist when his son Julian was born. Unfortunately, the infant suffered brain injuries during delivery and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

As he grew, the condition of young Julian worsened, with constant seizures requiring round the clock attention. Gaube’s lifestyle as a traveling scientist was no longer an option. So, he took up fine woodworking as an alternative career.

Gaube had always dabbled in the art as a hobby during his years as a biologist. He often found inspiration in nature, during his work in research. After converting his house into a workshop, he started making jewelry and artworks using wood and other natural materials. The new career choice enables him to spend more time with his son. Woodworking also helps him cope with the stress of having to care for his child with special needs, by establishing a creative outlet.

3. How a joke coffin project brought a father and son duo closer, and helped them cope with mortality.

Author David Giffels shows us how something as morbid as building a coffin for yourself can be a source of humor. The project started when Thomas Giffels overheard his son joke about buying a cardboard coffin to reduce funeral costs for his eventual death. Father offered to help his son make a coffin instead as a DIY project in his workshop.

The semi-serious project became something more profound as both men experienced the brush of mortality firsthand, with the demise of Donna Mae, Thomas’ wife. Soon after his mother’s death, David Giffels also lost his best friend.

With both men growing older, David, 50, and his father, over 80 at the time, the coffin became less of a joke, and more a labor of love. In all, the whole thing took five years to complete. And it also served as the source material for David Giffels’ third book, Furnishing Eternity.

Despite a dark and morbid theme, their experience building the coffin brought the father and son duo closer together. And they also got to joke about death and the afterlife, or rather, the fate of David Giffels’ dead body in a non-waterproof coffin. You can read more about it in the book, which has received critical acclaim and positive reviews since its January 2018 release.

By James Niehaus of

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