Shape, Solder, and Shave

A large machine called a planer screams in the background as it turns a rough piece of wood into a smooth-sided plank, and the smell of fresh-cut wood shavings fills the air. But the noise doesn't seem to bother Roy Lapidus, who's busy fitting new wooden handles onto some antique forks and knives.

In fact, the sounds and smells of the wood shop make Lapidus feel right at home. If he were at his house up in Truro, Massachusetts, not far from Cape Cod, he'd be in his own shop, which he built on his property to house his table saw, drill press, and other large tools. But during the six months he spends every year in his Boca Raton condo, the retiree does plenty of carving, sawing, gluing, and sanding at Woodcraft.

To become a member of the woodworking supply store's Woodworkers Club, he paid a $100 initiation fee, and he pays $39 per month to spend as much time as he wants in the 4000-square-foot shop adjoining the store.

"We're open 77 hours per week, so you can have a lot of fun in here," says the appropriately named club coordinator, Craig Wood. Lapidus, age 69, certainly does. Six days a week, he arrives late in the morning and stays through the afternoon. "It depends on if I have a project going," he says.

He usually does. His antique utensil set originally had bone handles, which were cracked beyond repair. To replace them Lapidus cut dark zircot wood from South America into oblong blocks, tapering them slightly. He then rounded the handles with an oscillating spindle sander, which is designed to handle curved surfaces.

As far as the utensils go, the specialty sander was definitely a luxury; Lapidus could have done the job with smaller hand tools. But walking over to a sheet-draped object, he unveils a much bigger job: a dark cherry-wood cabinet he's making for his son in Colorado. The piece is part of a larger wall unit, which demands that Lapidus make use of the shop's table saw, radial arm saw, planer, and some of the other $60,000 worth of machines.

"Space is a big consideration in South Florida," notes Wood. "We're condo city. And even if you have the space [for a home shop], your neighbors don't want to hear your table saw."

Condo-dwelling retirees like Lapidus account for much of the daytime crowd at Woodcraft. Young professionals wander in evenings and weekends. And, says Wood, "We've got quite a few ladies who are members, and a couple of couples." In addition to the age and gender mix, various skill levels are represented. Beginners boast about tables with uneven legs, while veterans bemoan the smallest flaw and vow to do better next time.

The Deerfield Beach store is the 38th opened by the West Virginia-based Woodcraft, and the club, the seventh in the chain, has nearly 70 members. Wood attributes woodworking's popularity to TV shows like The New Yankee Workshop and Hometime, which he says have turned people on to remodeling their own homes and making things to put in them.

Like those shows the club offers instruction. Weekend classes on basic woodworking skills are offered to club members and the public. And the store stocks a selection of instructional books and videos, which can be bought, rented, or used on site for free.

Lapidus, who has no formal training in carpentry, uses the library often. And after more than 30 years of working wood as a hobby, the last 10 of them seriously, he gives advice to less experienced crafters. "I'll stop what I'm doing and help," he says.

"The more people you have, the more ideas you get," notes Wood. "And that's the difference from doing it yourself at home."

-- John Ferri

Woodcraft, located at 722 SW Tenth St., Deerfield Beach, offers weekend woodworking classes for $45 to $90. Membership in the Woodworkers Club costs $39 per month in addition to the $100 initiation fee. Call 954-421-1914.

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John Ferri