MacDonald, Robert (Bob)

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                                          BOB MACDONALD
                                  Wins National Woodworking Contest
                                          By Joanne Cadogan

Bob MacDonald of Bushville is one of the best in Canada at taking a piece of wood and turning it into art. He’s the winner of the woodturning category in the annual Canadian Workshop Show Woodworking Contest held Feb. 21-23 in Toronto.

Woodturning involves using a lathe to turn the wood quickly while the craftsman works on it. Bob Pennybcook is a spokesman for Canadian Workshop magazine. He said the contest usually draws about 300 entries from the magazine’s 130,000 subscribers nationwide, he said in a telephone interview from Toronto. “That may not sound like a lot,” Pennybcook said, “but it is when you realize how much work is involved in entering. Each design has to be an original, so the woodworkers have to first draw up their plans, do the project work and then ship it off to us. It’s a big job.”

The contest has five different categories, one for furniture making, one for woodturning and three for various types of woodcarving. The winning entries are displayed at the Canadian Workshop Show, which attracts about 30,000 people each year. “It’s a prestigious contest,” Pennybcook said.

“Mr. MacDonald came first in the woodturning category. He sent in two clocks and was awarded the first for his wall clock. His prize is a lathe from Record Tools.”

MacDonald is thrilled by the win. “This is the first national contest I’ve ever entered,” he said. “The only other competitions I’ve been in have been at the (MAEA) Exhibition – and they don’t get a lot of woodworking entries.”

While winning is a new tradition for MacDonald, woodworking is an old one. “It goes back to the turn of the century and my great-grandfathers on both sides of the family,” he said. “My great-grandfather John MacDonald ran a sash and door shop in Chatham, which he founded in 1890 or thereabouts. It was located near where Home Hardware is now. Then, on my mother’s side of the family, there’s my great-grandfather Henry Price. He was a carpenter on the railroad in about the same era. I still have some of his tools,” MacDonald said proudly, pointing to a wooden-handled saw on his workshop wall. The initials H.P. are distinctly scrawled amid a century-old collection of nicks and scratches.

While woodworking may sprout from the family tree, MacDonald traces his personal woodworking roots to his father, Jack. “Dad always had tools in the house, in the basement, and I was always into them. I remember him scolding me because I never put them back. I was great for that – that and taking the edge off his chisels.”

The young Bob MacDonald may have been a pest, but his father didn’t banish him from the workroom. Bob was allowed to watch as his father built furniture, lots of it, including a mahogany china cabinet for his mother. After that, Jack moved to the “bright work” on his 30 foot Chriscraft. “Dad did all the woodwork on the boat,” MacDonald said. “The cabinets, the tables, everything.”

Soon Bob was showing a talent for woodwork too, enhancing his train sets with landscaped tables dotted with handmade buildings and bridges. “I’ve always puttered with it, as long as I can remember,” he says. “Even when I was working in the family business (MacDonald Hardware and Fuels) I kept up with it. I did the plans for the MacDonald Building at 130 Duke Street in Chatham and I have some pieces on display there. I did some of the book shelves and wall shelves myself.”

                        Deal on lumber inspires several experiments

All his working life, Bob MacDonald made time for woodworking when he could. But between work in the family hardware store and all-hours fuel delivery, he rarely had much to spare. Perhaps that’s why he retired two years ago, he devoted much of his newfound freedom to his first passion – working with his hands.

“I built this shop myself in 1978,” MacDonald said of his secluded workshop in Bushville. “I intended to do a lot of woodworking here but I didn’t work out that way. I just couldn’t get into it serious while I was driving the oil truck. The shop became a storeroom for work and it was too much of a mess for me to do any woodworking.”

When MacDonald parked his fuel truck and retired, one of the first things he did was clean out his workshop and start setting it up as the haven for woodwork he originally intended it to be. As luck would have it, just as MacDonald was getting his workshop organized his friend Bob McCullum offered him an interesting deal on wood. “Bob was trying to reorganize the floor space at Lockharts Beaver Lumber and he had a display rack of wood that wasn’t selling. It was full of two foot lengths of various types of wood in different widths, but it wasn’t much good expect for small woodworking projects. We talked about it, worked out a deal and I bought the whole lot.”

Up to this point, MacDonald had focused his energies on furniture, everything from shelving and corner cabinets to magazine racks. But between his father’s efforts and his own, the family homestead was full. “Here I had this great pile of wood and I had to figure out what to do with it,” MacDonald said. “I started to look through my woodworking magazines for ideas.”

Up to this point, MacDonald hadn’t done a lot of work on a lathe – woodturning. They say anybody can do it with the right tools, but you have to know how to use them,” MacDonald said. After a few experiments, MacDonald mastered the techniques involved and launched a series of small woodturning projects. He built some centerpieces – wooden vases to hold fruit or dried flower arrangements – some salad bowls, even some wooden goblets. Soon MacDonald was looking for more challenging projects. That’s when he decided to start making clocks.

“There are two mediums involved with clock making – there’s the mechanical side and there’s the woodworking side. That’s what started my fascination with them.” Since MacDonald never works from plans or instructions, the move to building clocks was a real adventure. “What I do is picture the finished project in my head and work backwards from there,” he said. MacDonald studied clock faces and soon figured out a way to take almost triangular blocks of wood and piece them together to create round, color coded clock faces.

Since MacDonald entered the Canadian Workshop Show contest almost six months ago, he has gone on to tackle new clock challenges. He constructed a 36 inch miniature grandfather clock in solid maple. And now that he’s made the miniature, he wants to move on to the real thing. “Soon I’d like to try a full-size grandfather, grandmother or granddaughter clock. The height I chose will depend on where I decide to put it – or more likely where I can find room for it,” he said.

Source: Miramichi Leader – March 04, 1992 This text is available for use under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. For more information, select the following link:

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