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Orion Gazette - Orion, IL
  • Peter Costa: Restoration projects become rite of passage as you age

  • When men get old, they try to bring new life to old things. Whether it is restoring Model T cars or Chris-Craft speed boats, there comes a time when men seem driven by some Paleolithic instinct to recreate their youth and honor their past.

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  • When men get old, they try to bring new life to old things.
    Whether it is restoring Model T cars or Chris-Craft speed boats, there comes a time when men seem driven by some Paleolithic instinct to recreate their youth and honor their past.
    Women tell me that they enter their own golden years with similar drives. They find themselves doing intricate needlepoint or crewel, scrap booking, veneering or gardening on a scale that would impress Queen Elizabeth II.
    Often, however, though the spirit may be willing, the craftsmanship may not be forthcoming.
    Basically, I am at the birdhouse level of competence as a wood worker. I might be capable of hand sanding the boat Leroy Jethro Gibbs is building in his basement, but I would not be able to cut and bend the boat’s ribs with the requisite perfection. So, too, it is with old cars. I can change the wiring but would have to leave any bodywork to the more dexterous.
    Nevertheless, I have felt the pull to the past over the years and have tried to restore old desks, typewriters and a 1949 straight-8 Chrysler –– most of which would earn me a three on the 10-scale of craftsmanship. But those projects were fun to do and gave me a measure of satisfaction that I could work with real things as well as generate a clever concoction of ones and zeroes via a keyboard.
    What little skill I now have, I owe to shop classes in junior high school. It was there that I was taught how to hew to the line with a handsaw and drill a perpendicular hole using a drill press. I never could master the band saw. My efforts looked like a wooden model of the winding Mississippi, with unexpected curves and swerves.
    The table saw scared me. We had an industrial-sized saw in shop that could easily cut through 4-by-4 stock. Using it on my little coffee table was overkill. The other power tools I used sparingly. I never operated the router. Its blade spun at 40,000 rpm and made a louder and higher pitched sound than a jet engine on a test bed. I got one as a present when I was 30 and have used it carefully over the years –– usually bolted into a metal router table. It makes great dadoes (slots) for bookcases.
    It came as no surprise when I went to work for a summer at a furniture factory that after they watched me use the power tools, they immediately quarantined me in the spray finishing room. There, I sprayed wood stains and lacquers with abandon.
    There are certain undeniable rhythms to growing up and growing old. The “restoration” phase is proving to be an enjoyable one.
    Peter Costa is a columnist for GateHouse Media. His latest collection of humor columns, “Outrageous CostaLiving,” is available at amazon.com.
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