Canadian Woodworking

A Woodworkers Christmas

Author: Don Wilkinson
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: December January 2009
A Woodworkers Christmas
A Woodworkers Christmas

The Christmas season is often the busiest time of year for any company and a woodworking shop is no exception.


After establishing my shop in Whitehorse, I quickly learned to set aside most of December to do those little jobs that simply had to be completed for Christmas. There was always at least one, and often several people who would frantically rush into the shop on Christmas Eve and anxiously beg me to build them something – anything for their wife, girlfriend or significant other. And in one particular case, all three. It was no wonder he didn’t have time to shop or do any woodworking himself.

Inevitably, because of everyone else’s incredibly poor planning and procrastinations, my own Christmas projects would fall by the wayside while I assembled some poor schmuck’s buffet or dining room suite. I often spent Christmas Eve, a good portion of the night and well into Christmas morning in the shop applying the finishing touches to a soon-to-be-treasured toy or jewellery box for one of my kids or my wife.

One year a particularly evil sister-in-law burst into my shop two days before Christmas to enquire about my progress on her queen-sized, Mission style, fumed, quarter-sawn, white oak bed that I was supposed to have completed for her husband. Try as I might I could not recall ever having promised to make her one. She eventually let me off the hook for another year by informing me that the bed had been promised, not to her, but to my wife several years earlier. I couldn’t recall that either. My wife eventually got her bed – 28 years after it was first promised. (Let no one say that Don Wilkinson ever forgets a promise.)

Another year, a valued customer commissioned me to carve a Mako shark to give to his brother. I thought it was a rather strange Christmas gift no matter how much he may have disliked his sibling, but I was just relieved that he hadn’t required it to be carved life-sized.

After several years of missing Christmas Eve with my family, and as I wearily sat in my shop yet again, I came to the realization that there were two things that I should never have done. First, I should never have promised to build my Emergency-Backup-Daughter a manger scene for the front yard, and second, I should never have had children in the first place. To be fair, I’m not sure the kid had actually asked for it to be life-size but with her it’s better to be safe than to apologize later.

Once the wee beasties were sound asleep, I dressed as warmly as I could yet still move around – this being the Yukon, after all – and went out into the -40ºC night. Several hours were spent dismantling the horse stable and reassembling it on the front lawn. My Number One daughter’s horses were reluctantly transformed into cows with some basswood horns I had carved. Strangest looking cows you ever saw.

I cut up my wife’s treasured wool bathmat and tied and hot-glued the pieces to the dogs. Voila! Instant sheep. My wife suggested I stay outside to represent the donkey that Mary rode in on. Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus had proved to be a little more difficult and weeks earlier I decided not to carve the entire figures, but only their heads. The bodies would be made from old clothes stuffed with hay. A large stash of spruce burls harvested the previous fall supplied me with the raw materials I needed, and many a night was spent copying the head of Mary from Michelangelo’s famous Pieta. Mike would have been proud. Joseph didn’t turn out quite as well and had a distinct gnomish quality to his face. The baby was simpler, although I spent a lot more time perfecting him. I figured there was no sense tempting fate by carving an ugly deity.

I finished assembling the entire manger scene before the kids awoke Christmas morning – about 10 minutes before. Dyana excitedly rushed outside to see her manger scene. I knew the piercing scream that shortly followed was not one of delight. The rest of us hurriedly donned our coats and went out to see what the fuss was all about. The horse/cows had eaten the hay from the Holy family bodies and the dog/sheep were happily and cozily curled up on the empty clothing. All that remained were the three severed heads lying in the manger.

Admittedly, that was not my finest hour, but the half-sized trebuchet I had built for my son was a big hit and the kids spent many a happy hour hurling boulders over the hilltop and into the forest below. Now that’s what Christmas is all about, at least for this woodworker.

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