Love of craft leads man to woodworking

Bob Fain adds the final touches to a bench he built in his shop next to his home in Flagstaff, Ariz. “I love the commute – 40 feet. Especially when there’s 4 feet of snow,” he says. Enlarge photo

Talia Green/Arizona Daily Sun

Bob Fain adds the final touches to a bench he built in his shop next to his home in Flagstaff, Ariz. “I love the commute – 40 feet. Especially when there’s 4 feet of snow,” he says.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) – Warm sawdust, smelling organic, covers the floor in between splashes and drops of stain.

Danish oil and woodworking magazines occupy space next to stumps of raw wood, a form begging to be called forth. Chisels, mallets, clamps and carvers hang from hooks. Boards rest on shelves.

He points out cherry, oak, mahogany, teak. There’s some alder, some hickory, some maple. He prefers hardwoods.

Leaning against the south wall, behind lathes and a circular saw, stand quivers of long wood, like javelins, poised for use. Projects are scattered throughout the space, in various stages on the way to completion.

The shop is 720 square feet, and it’s all his.

“It’s not enough,” Bob Fain says, smiling.

Welcome to the life of a woodworker.

“I’d been wanting to have a shop for years and years,” Fain says.

He built his shop next to his north Flagstaff home after striking a deal with his wife, Andi. She gets an addition to the house; he gets the shop.

“So it worked out,” he says. “It’s a work in progress.”

His journey to being a woodworker began in San Diego in 1978. He began as a graphic designer and advertiser. Sitting at a desk all day long didn’t suit him. He had just gotten married to his first wife, and he needed furniture.

“Building furniture seemed more fun,” he says.

Summers were spent at Lake Powell with stopovers in Flagstaff.

“I thought, ‘This is a lot nicer than the craziness in San Diego,”’ Fain says. “I liked it.”

His first wife didn’t. In 1985, he was working for Babbitt’s Department Store downtown. He met Andi there. It was the year he moved into the north Flagstaff home. He tried for a cabinetmaking job on the side. Brad Clark and Tom Watkins gave him a chance.

“They hired me pretty green,” he says. “There’s a time when you have to make a change in life, and they made it easy.”

Jobs considered too small for his bosses were tossed his way. He did custom work – kitchens, entertainment centers, cabinets. He set up shop in the one-car garage.

“That got old pretty quick,” he says, laughing. “Eventually, I said, ‘I need a shop.’”

Thus his deal with Andi. The bank still was lending money back then.

He doesn’t work every day.

“That’s another reason I got into this,” he says, showing his projects. “I make my own hours. I work in here when I want to work.”

But doing the work is a must when one works for himself, he says. Just get in there and do it.

In the salad days, it was all contract work for cabinets and furniture. About 20 years ago, he decided to go solo and make woodworking his day job.

“I asked myself, ‘What’s more important – time or money?’ And I chose time.”

He adds, “I love the commute – 40 feet. Especially when there’s 4 feet of snow,” he said.

Does he make a living?

“Oh, sure,” he says, quickly adding that the recession has put a dent in his livelihood. He said he’s looking forward to the possibility of a successful bid on a project in the near future.

Fain is nearly complete with a bench, made out of recycled oak window frames. His tastes have moved from utilitarian – making commercial projects – to the “gallery” stuff, more surreal. There also is a foray into games, toys and a 4-foot outdoor chess board. He’s nearly done with a three-panel screen of mahogany and maple depicting Lake Powell – mesas above, clouds below.

“If it’s made out of wood – whatever – I’ll make it,” he says.

His work, right now, is primarily “bowls, benches and boxes.”

Now in his 60s, Fain says that working hardwoods has taken its toll. His fingers seize up sometimes, and the tendons in his forearms at the elbows are shot.

He has ideas all the time, about structure and design. He has sketch books full of material and projects.

“I’ve got five lifetimes of stuff I’ll never do,” he says.

He doesn’t like soft woods like poplar. They don’t cut very clean and end with a fuzzy feel on the grain. Soft wood is good for “prototype” work, he says.

“Otherwise, it makes really nice firewood,” he says.

The best way to clear a shop of people who drop by to lend a hand: Ask for help hand-sanding or cleaning out the dust collectors that all good shops should have.

“All of the sudden, it’s like an echo in the shop,” he says.