This story begins even before Bryan and I started the woodshop in the spring. Before the pandemic flipped 2020 on its head.
A colleague of mine had invited me to an in-person gathering - those were the days - at Dueling Barrels in Pikeville. It was the inaugural meeting of FUEL Eastern Kentucky. The purpose of the group is to Focus, Unite, Engage, and Lead Eastern Kentucky's young professionals and prepare them for a bright future. I attended and was inspired by the group's enthusiasm and desire to make our region a better place.
That was in January.
We were to meet again in March, but sadly, that was the beginning of a new existence. The meeting was postponed.
Around the same time, I had been thinking of things Bryan and I could do together. His recent retirement from the music industry left him with a great deal of spare time on the weekend. We had a building that was formerly a recording studio (many years ago) and had since turned into storage. It was in dire need of repairs. One day, I said, "You know, we could turn that building into a woodshop." Bryan seemed to like the idea, so we went to work on the building - fixed the floor, fixed the door, installed gutters.
We purchased some basic tools and needed some fixtures to house them. When we began building furniture for the shop, Bryan asked, "Do you think we could make YouTube videos?" I knew that was no problem. So, in addition to starting the woodshop, we started a YouTube channel at the same time. Woodsongs by Russell was born.
Fast forward to August 2020. I received a message that FUEL was going to try to have another meeting - virtually of course. We were very busy at work, and I wasn't sure that I could fit the meeting in my schedule but agreed to attend, anyhow. The day came, and I knew that I had to attend this meeting. Afterall, I had made a commitment.
We split out into several different groups to discuss different topics. As we discussed our ideas about what we could do to make and grow a better place, we also networked with each other. This is how I met Ruthie. When she heard that Bryan and I had opened a woodshop, it seemed like fate. She and Tim were searching for a local woodworker for their business!
Mr. Tibbs' Trading Company connects people with family heritage and cultures around the world by weaving food, history, and storytelling into a unique culinary adventure. They sell international food, drinks, and unique gifts. Part of what they offer is a heritage box you can have shipped directly to your door.
Ruthie said their vision was that the heritage boxes be created from pallet wood and be built here in Eastern Kentucky. Bryan and I decided to give it a try.
We collected dozens of pallets for this project. We discovered during the first couple of tries that pallet wood is always different in species, cut, and thickness.
Before we built the third prototype, Ruthie provided a sketch of what she wanted the box to look like, and we discussed the types of hardware they really desired for the crate. They also wanted to be able to brand the box with their logo. This meant planing the wood for a smoother surface. A hand planer did the trick.
When they received the final version, they liked it so much that we discussed pricing, and they decided to place an order for this year's Christmas heritage box.
It was a monumental task for us. How would we complete 30 boxes in four weekends?
The majority of our time was spent actually preparing the wood. We deconstructed 29 pallets. When this was completed, I knew that hand planing was no longer an option.
We had well over 400 boards. In addition to planing, we still had to cut and construct the crates. In order to finish this project on time, we invested in a bench planer.
It took several days just to plane the wood to like thickness. We had stacks all over the shop - 7/16", 3/8", 1/2", and some additional piles of even thicker wood that we used for the box floors. There was also a corner where we stacked wood that did not have enough usable width for the main structure of the crates. We salvaged what we could of those planks to make framing strips.
After all the wood was processed, we began cutting the planks to width. We needed 3" planks for the floors and the body of the crates, as well as a couple of planks for each lid. Based on the inventory of wood we had available, we decided to reserve the 7/16" and 3/8" boards for the body of each box.
We needed one wider plank for each lid, and the 1/2" stack provided enough boards (so we thought) to provide the types of boards we needed. We later discovered some excessive cracking in a couple of those boards, so we patched together a couple of lids using smaller planks. The defective boards were processed into more framing strips.
We began building the floors for each box on a Sunday. To see them finally coming together gave us a spark of energy we so desperately needed after weeks of processing wood. The floors were completed the next day, and we were able to begin cutting lengths for the sides of the crates.
The following weekend, we spent 12 hours building the bodies of each box and matching up the wood for each lid. We did have a goal of completing one box for a customer who wanted her box a little earlier. We made it a priority and got it done by Sunday evening. It was poplar with a pine floor and framing. What a beauty!
It was down to crunch time. We only had a few days left to complete and deliver all the crates! It was a blessing that we had enough wood for all the framing and lids. In addition, we didn't have any life-altering events that may have interfered with the project. I count that blessing twice!
By Monday evening, all the crate bodies were constructed, the boards for each lid cut to width, and piles of 1" framing strips adorned the workbench.
We were able to assemble 26 lids before bedtime.
Tuesday, we finished constructing the lids and began cutting the framing strips to length and fastening to each crate. We developed a rhythm, and this process went fairly quickly. It was starting to look more like a warehouse than a woodshop!
Wednesday came. We still had to fasten all the hardware and finish each box. Bryan attached three butterfly hinges to the back of each crate and two rope cleats to the front. As he completed the hardware, he passed the box to me so that I could apply paste wax.
I really wanted to get individual pictures of each of the crates, but as the night went on, he picked up steam! All of a sudden, he was completing boxes 2:1 against me!
Thursday. Graduation Day. We still had three boxes left to wax. I hurried home and finished the job. As I was waxing, Bryan began loading the truck.
It was time to go. Time to say goodbye. I had grown fond of the crates. They are each unique and full of purpose. They taught us about wood and taught us about character - pushing our limits to achieve something wonderful.
From what I hear, most of the crates have already been adopted and will be heading to their new homes this week. We know that these crates will carry special foods and activities from the British and German cultures. It is our hope that long after the food has been eaten and games have been played, the crate will serve as a reminder of the wonderful memories shared around the Christmas Heritage Box.
Here's to Ruthie and Tim with Mr. Tibbs' Trading Company and The Heritage Crate Class of 2020. You will always hold a special place in our hearts.