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Mentor’s influence can’t be underestimated

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As a woodworker, you’re probably familiar with the role of a mentor, defined in Webster’s New World College Dictionary as a wise, loyal advisor and teacher or coach. Your mentor may have been your father, shop teacher or first employer; the person who taught you the fundamentals, offered encouragement, or imparted some invaluable lesson as you struggled with a particular technique or business philosophy.

The concept and importance of having a mentor has been on my mind lately because one of mine just died. He was my boss for nearly 10 years, back when I was a sports writer covering high schools for a chain of Connecticut weeklies. It was my second real job after graduating college and I was still a novice practicing journalism. The truth is, he wasn’t a very enjoyable person to work for. He was demanding and, while his bark was worse than his bite, he was an above-average barker. He was more likely to tell you what you’d done wrong than offer praise for a job well done.

But he led by example, winning awards and earning the respect of his colleagues for the stories, columns and sports sections produced during a 32-year career. His legacy is getting kids’ names in the paper — whether they played football or fenced — to celebrate their accomplishments, while also performing the behind-the-scenes work for community and professional groups that fostered the growth of youth sports.

Shortly before his death, more than 300 friends, coaches and colleagues gathered to honor the man. On this night, I grasped that I was one of the many he mentored and took the opportunity to tell him I appreciated what he had done for me. The experience has left me wondering: will I ever be known as a mentor? I hope so.

When you think about it, you wouldn’t be where you are today without the help of a mentor or trusted advisor. If that person is still around, consider this a suggestion to say thanks, and make the effort to be a mentor for someone else.

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This issue features an article by Ian Kirby that explains why wood warps (page 18), which is a response to Bob Flexner’s finishing column published in the July 2008 issue. Flexner has drawn criticism from readers for attempting to dispel “a widespread myth” concerning the need to finish the undersides of tabletops or the inside of cabinets, for example. We hope Kirby’s article will clarify the reasons why wood warps.

In 1990, when CNC machinery was a rarity in woodworking shops, Loren Swanberg made the investment to automate, hoping to mirror the success of European cabinet manufacturers. It was a shrewd move as you’ll learn in our cover story of Hayes Cabinets Inc. in Woodland, Wash., which begins on page 34.

We also profile the Guenther Wood Group, a high-end restoration shop in Savannah, Ga., on page 45, and Brian Caldwell provides an analysis of the U.S. wood components industry on page 39.

Woodshop News is basking in the glow of Caldwell’s third straight Apex Award for Excellence, earned in the Interviews & Personal Profiles category for his October 2007 cover story on Silas Kopf. The Kopf profile carried the headline, “Master of marquetry,” so I guess we’re going to have to start calling Caldwell the “Master of profiles.” Works for me. Congratulations, Brian.

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It’s not too late to register for the technical session, “CNC Software from A to Z,” presented by Woodshop News and IWF 2008 in Atlanta. The 90-minute panel discussion, scheduled for Friday, Aug. 22, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., is for shop owners who are considering the move to CNC or have recently taken the plunge. Attendees can expect to learn from my distinguished panelists how to establish criteria for software needs, what to expect during the learning-curve process and what pitfalls to avoid.

As the moderator, my panelists will include Mark Smith, national director of WoodLINKS USA; Patrick Molzahn, director of the cabinetmaking and millwork program at Madison Area Technical College in Madison, Wis.; Joe Knobbe, senior project manager for Exclusive Woodworking Inc.; and Bernard Davis, owner of B.H. Davis Co. and a maker of solid wood curved moldings in Grosvenordale, Conn.

To register, visit

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