My laptop rests on a desk my father made. It might be made of oak. It’s very sturdy in any case.

He made the desk next to it as well. Cindy’s computer sits atop that one. It might be oak, too. I wish I knew. It’s the larger of the two. Plenty of space on which to pile papers, books and the odd scrap.

It took me a while to recognize the quality of craftsmanship and the patient labor that went into them. I think I told my father: Nice job. Now I’d tell him: I don’t know how you did it. It’s a really nice desk. Sorry about the coffee stain.

I can’t tell him now. He died in 2004.

He got into woodwork when he retired. His garage had a showroom’s worth of power tools.

The centerpiece was the table saw. A jagged-edged disk you could run big pieces of lumber through. He also made use of the wood shop across the golf course. It was popular among the retirees who lived in the area.

Sometime after he died, I did a freelance piece on the wood shop for another newspaper. Everybody I spoke to remembered Harvey. Fondly. I could see that. He was definitely a Golden Rule guy when it came to other people. He treated everybody with — what’s the word — respect? And he was cordial. A gentleman.

He was always ready to offer advice. I wasn’t always ready to hear it.

Maybe I should have spent more time with him in the garage. I could have become a craftsman, like my father. OK, probably not. Not at his level.

I learned a little about woodworking in eighth grade shop, a requirement for the boys. The girls took home economics, which was a fancy term for learning how to cook.

It was old school, in the truest sense.

I made a chess table. I was very proud of it. Not everybody felt the same. My mom put it outside, on the back patio. It eventually succumbed to the weather. The little squares fell out. Then the whole thing fell apart and ended up in the landfill, around the time The Beatles broke up.

It was a painful reminder. Nothing lasts forever, especially if it’s poorly glued. Or when the hinges start falling off. My chess table didn’t have hinges, but my kitchen cabinets do.

We’ve been in the same house, using the same kitchen, for 26 years. The cabinets were showing their age even back then.

Hinges broke. The doors sagged. And the finish had that abandoned-farm look.

Something had to be done. And, by gosh, I would do it. I would put the past behind me and fix the cabinets. All on my own. I’d channel my inner Harvey. No more thinking I’m not up to the job, all because of a lousy chess table. And all because my wife once made me toss the bookshelf I’d sweated over in college. It was a tasteful arrangement of yellow concrete blocks and planks of wood, painted blue.

Cindy pointed to the curb. I carted the bookshelf there, piece-by-piece. The garbage man cometh. The bookshelf is now in the landfill, probably some 100 feet above the chess table.

So here I was, facing my fears. I would engage wood, once again. A kitchen redo. OK, not the whole kitchen. I would refinish the cabinet doors. If some were too far gone, I’d replace them.

And I wouldn’t even have to roll up my sleeves. I’d wear T-shirts.

I went to the hardware store. And I went online. I bought sandpaper, a power sander, a jigsaw, stains, brushes, new hinges, door pulls, magnetic catches and paint thinner.

I started with the cabinet doors under the sink. There are two of them. The edges met when they closed. The doors couldn’t be salvaged. A number of places sell custom-fitted doors online. I measured the openings, as instructed, and submitted my order.

The new doors arrived. I stained them, attached the hinges and fitted the doors to the cabinet. A job well done, almost. The doors overlapped by an eighth of an inch. I went to YouTube, which has more handyman videos than the ocean has fish. I came across one just for my predicament.

The guy demonstrated. You take a towel, put it between the two doors and push hard as you can. I’m sure my father would have said: “Don’t do it.” But he wasn’t around, so I did it. What a waste of a good towel. It didn’t work, except perhaps to screw up the hinges slightly. So I just started sanding, by hand. Two days later, it was a tight fit, but the doors closed.

The doors on nearby cabinets were still usable. I sanded and stained them outside on a patio table. I put on new hinges. And new pull handles. I attached the magnetic catches to the openings.

So far I’ve done six cabinet doors. They’re OK. Not great. Far short of my father’s craftsmanship. But Cindy approves. So, safe from the landfill, for now.


Reach contributing writer Bill Coates at


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