R. B. Himes: Woodworker and Renaissance Man

Both online and in magazines, you’ll find his articles popping up on such diverse topics as creating business logos or creating portfolios for your garden, or the not-so-delicate art of crushing peppercorns. But mostly you’ll find R.B. Himes’ advice and tips on woodworking. Woodworker’s Journal print magazine readers will recognize his name from his frequent contributions to the Tricks of the Trade department. (His plan for an Edge Sanding Template was featured in the December 2002 issue and won him a Delta 22-580 planer.)

R.B.’s day job is in advertising (accounting for his logo expertise), but he’s been pursuing woodworking, more or less, off and on, for about 25 years. His first exposure to woodworking was through his uncles. R.B.’s family had moved from Pennsylvania to the Youngstown area of Ohio when he was still young. His dad wasn’t big on DIY, and when the uncles came to visit they would do odd jobs around the house…building closets, shelves, vanity tops, and bookshelves with basic tools. R.B. loved to follow them around and see what they were doing, but his own experience got off to a slow start

“I got a taste for it,” R.B. recalled, “but I didn’t do much in high school…my college prep classes didn’t really allow for any shop or woodworking classes. Then I got married, and when we eventually got our first house in the late 70s, I found room in the basement for a little shop. It was pretty rustic; in fact it leaked so bad down there I had to cover the floor with pallets so I wouldn’t stand in water. But I was tickled to have a place I could do some work. Though I didn’t have the money to go out and buy every tool, I found other ways to get something done, and it affected how I think about projects.”

Using a $75, 10″ table saw, R.B.’s projects were modest…a little corner pine cupboard with plans from Family Handyman…but turned out surprisingly good. Over the next couple of years, even with few tools and little expertise, he tackled a few more projects…until his first son was born. Then, to spend more time with his growing family, he switched over to woodcarving for a time.

“It was something I could do upstairs and it didn’t take power tools. Most of what I did was just carving and whittling and things, but I could do it on the floor or put a bag on my lap and carve on my lap.”

That phase lasted until about 15 years ago, when the family (now with two sons) moved into a larger house. Most importantly for this story, the property included a 12′ x 16′ insulated shed that became R.B.’s place. He set up his shop, got back into woodworking, and has been going strong ever since. Recent big projects include a bed and nightstand and an advent wreath stand for his church. But one of his proudest accomplishments was a Mission-style chair built a couple of years ago.

“It was a project I saw Norm build on New Yankee Workshop,” R.B. recalled. “Most of the things I’ve ever built I’ve drawn up my own plans … or taken somebody else’s idea and melded it into what I want to do. But for this, I sent away for the plans, built it and was really happy with it.”

During recent summers, gardening and carpentry projects have supplanted some of his woodworking time. His father, who died when R.B. was only 14, loved gardening, and it’s one of R.B.’s regrets that he didn’t work with him on the family’s large garden. So today, he makes time to tend his own garden. Last summer he remodeled the kitchen, and the year before, he redid his living room. It’s hard to find time for other projects.

“Both of my sons play baseball,” R.B. explained. “Between working, keeping up with the yard, and going to games, about all I can handle is one large house project each summer.”

Whether it’s called woodworking or carpentry, R.B. enjoys the sense of accomplishment he gets. Looking back and knowing what he now knows about woodworking, would he make any changes in his life?

“If I could do it over again, I think I might have taken an apprentice program some place and gone into carpentry. I don’t like swinging a hammer enough to be a framer, and I don’t know if I could ever make a living being a cabinetmaker, but I think being a finish carpenter would have been satisfying for me.”

For anyone interested in getting started today, R.B. advises only buying the tools you need when you need them and finding a project that really turns you on and motivates you enough to stick with it and work your way through the problems.

“When I got into carving, after a lot of false starts and mistakes, I made a shore bird. Looking back, it was pretty horrendous, but it was the best thing I’d ever done and it gave me the sense of accomplishment I needed to move on and keep getting better and better. It also helps to find somebody who does good woodworking and just hang out with him for a while. Woodworkers will almost always share what they know.”

His own willingness to share what he knows is behind the contributions he makes to magazines and online forums. He got started after reading woodworking magazines over a period of time.

“I just kind of stumbled into it,” R.B. noted. “I would always gravitate to the Tips section because I like clever things. Then one day as I was reading, I thought, ‘I’ve done that and I know that,’ so why don’t I start sending things in? I did, and got some good responses and it built from there. I found that as I worked in the shop and came across a better way of doing something, I’d make a note and send it in, and I started getting money back from the magazines. I was able to fund some of my woodworking with the tips. Now, whenever I hear somebody with a new idea, I tell them that they should send it in. If it works for you, somebody else might find it of value.”

His current project is a mailbox, based on a design he saw in Workbench a year ago. And, with summer approaching, he’s got a couple of small landscaping projects in mind. As he looks forward to retirement, still a few years down the road, R.B. would like to expand his shop.

“I don’t have a heated shop, and I’ve been out there in November with two coats and gloves on…until it got too cold to put on a finish, and glue doesn’t want to work.” R.B. explained, “I’d definitely heat the shop and try to spend as much time as my wife would let me.”

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