Synopsis: Michael Cullen’s appreciation for tools and the stories behind them is one of his mother’s enduring legacies.
My mother kept a hammer in the kitchen drawer.
It was small for a tack or brad with a square head on one end and a wedge on the other. It was neatly housed in a compartment that housed a spatula, stirring spoon, tongs, and more. It sat in that drawer for 50 years, and on rare occasions he only tapped once or he twice, carefully placing it in its original exact spot.
When it comes to being a perfectionist and minimalist, there is no doubt that my mother set the precedent. Everything she owned had a purpose and was kept in top condition. . When I once reprocessed a carbon steel paring knife for her, she simply set it aside because the balance and grip were different and unfamiliar. Ginger, she was an expert with knives and immediately felt the difference.As a young girl she completed a four-year apprenticeship in a German butcher shop and her sharpening and knife skills were legendary.
Most importantly, everything she owned had a story. She once turned to me and said, “Everything I own has a meaning.” Oddly enough, she didn’t say a word about the tackhammer. For me, it simply lived in that drawer and is an image that is still very much in my memory.
First during a rigorous apprenticeship at Leeds Design Workshop under the tutelage of British furniture maker David Powell in Massachusetts, then when I returned to California to set up my own furniture. , she noted the development of my skills as a furniture maker over the years. workshop. Her keen eye captured every detail of my work and never missed an opportunity to point out how well the hinges were set and how all the screws were placed.
One day shortly before she died, we were discussing her belongings and what to do with them. At one point in her discussion, she turned and opened a kitchen drawer, took out that little hammer, and started telling us how it came to be hers.
When she was 21, she came to America from Germany with my father and started a new life. She had left her family and the only home she knew. On the airport tarmac, as everyone was saying goodbye in tears, her father, a master of all machine trades, came forward with a small hammer to secure his safety and set off on his journey. came out.
Here are his words: Take this with you and keep it where you can see it. ” I now keep my hammer safe in a tool chest drawer as a reminder of these words of wisdom.
A while back, I was living in Petaluma, California, doing workshops in the countryside. One day, I was walking by a storefront on Kentucky Street in town when I saw a sign in the window that read, “Help Wanted – Woodworker.” I immediately thought of the hammer her mother kept in her drawer. I stood there for a while and then said to myself — I can do it. We can make things! i will survive.
—Michael Cullen finds the perfect spot for all his tools as he sets up his new shop in an old hilltop barn in Kent, Connecticut.
Photo: Michael Cullen.
from fine woodwork #303
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