Robert Rutkowski has a background in
engineering, which means, he said, that "I like machinery. When
I started seeing things built out of wood that were machines, that
attracted me" to woodworking.
In particular, the project that started
him down the woodworking hobby road was building a toy crane for
terminally ill children at a local hospital. Due to their conditions,
the children need new, rather than pre-owned toys. "I'm a pretty
rough character, pretty tough," Robert said, "but I've got
a soft spot for the vulnerable. They don't need somebody there crying
because they're sick, but I can build 'em toys. It's a positive thing
to make somebody feel better."
Robert himself has what he terms
"either or a terminal or a chronic illness; I have good times
and bad times, and I'm tired a lot." Those were influencing
factors in some more of his projects: his bed, computer and TV stand
-- which are all connected.
A dislike for box springs led him to
build a platform for the bed, and the desire to get his shoes off the
floor in the "multipurpose" room he uses within a friend's
house led him to add a shoe rack. He posted a photo of the shoe rack
on an online forum, and received a comment: "Somebody was joking
one day, 'When are you putting the top on it?' I laid awake all night
thinking about it."
Robert ended up adding an I-beam
trolley on slides to the top of the bed. After building it, he moved
his "underbed" plastic storage boxes to the top of the
structure. Also attached are the computer and TV stand that allow him
to sit on the bed and eat while watching TV, or to push it the other
way, and to have the computer available whether he's lying down or
"I'm not really big on woods for
my home," Robert said. "I'm a minimalist; I like modern
stuff. That's probably why my bed looks industrial. I would never set
off to make a Shaker bed."
To get his materials, Robert goes to
places like a rebuilding center, which resells materials salvaged
from old homes and buildings. "It's a cool thing to do; you can
get straight-grained old growth lumber, even studs out of the wall of
Also, "I use a lot of manmade
materials." While, in his assessment, "Particleboard cuts
well because it's mostly air," and is readily available, "my
dad and grandpa wouldn't even call this stuff wood."
Robert's grandfather, who did intricate
woodworking in Midwestern bars -- including building speakeasies
during the era of Prohibition -- ran a sash and door company in
Kansas, and his father, after retiring from the military, worked as a
general contractor and running a hardwood mill in California. "I
don't have the talent he did," Robert said. "We never
called a skilled craftsman to our house. I just happen to know how
Until he built his crane, Robert said,
woodworking had not been a favorite hobby. "Then, I got to enjoy
it more. It's a challenge to make things that are machine-like out of
wood, and it's an opportunity on a low, fixed income to have things
that I wouldn't have, and to build to my taste.
"I make things that are whimsical,
off-the-wall, and approach it kind of like I would metalworking, with
a lot of jigs and fixtures." Robert has built a circle sander
and, most recently, is working on building a cabinet frame,
Biesemeyer-style fence -- and possibly more -- for his table saw.
"I've got a million projects I'm
working on in my head," he said. "It is fun to do, there's
no question about it. And it's fun to share what you get with