Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bob Baker: 1954-2010

I'm very sad to learn of the unexpected death of Bob Baker.

Some of you may not have heard of him, but if you are a serious handtool collector or are deeply smitten with antique tools, I bet you have.

I met Bob for the first time last November and most recently saw him at the Brown Tool Auction in March. The first things you would notice about him were his rosy cheeks and his piercing, twinkly eyes—which were fixed in a perpetual smile.

Bob had a love for unusual, high-end planes. Two of his reproductions—the Thomas Falconer Plough Plane (of which he made a full and half size) and the Moisset Plane—are two of my favorites. He made the Moisset plane in 1983, his first attempt at carving.

His level of precision and attention to detail in repairing high-end antique tools earned him a well-respected reputation. I found out later that many collectors would entrust only him to repair their tools.

Bob also made some of the period antiques I love—17th century carved New England pieces. He split the logs by hand and worked with handtools to make authentic reproductions of pieces he studied in museums, taking great care to match each joint, nail, and detail of the originals.

Bob made some of the things that I've always planned to make someday (or at least try). He was someone I held in high esteem and with whom I felt a kindred spirit. Not only did we share the same taste in planes, furniture, and architecture, we both shared a love of all things quirky. Like Bruce Campbell movies. And hiding secret, goofy messages in our pieces. And being mischievous big kids.

In one of his reproductions (last photo), he changed the initials on the front of the case to "BP." The patterned carving from the original reminded him of baby penguins, so he hoped that "someday, some little kid will look at that box and say, 'Hey, those look like a row of baby penguin faces' and hopefully put what he sees with the initials and smile at the discovery."

In his last email to me, he said "I have two big carving projects coming up in the next year or so. In the meantime—plane making, some restoration on two Holtz lathes, and building six copies of the clockmaker's lathe in Plumier/Diderot. (Bow lathe that clamps to the edge of a table or bench. A sweet little diddy.)"

Bob was high-energy, bright, proficient, precise, and someone I admired and hoped to emulate.

Unfortunately, for me and for the rest of the woodworking world, we have lost another great. However, I feel so fortunate to have gotten to know him even a little bit.


Dyami Plotke said...

I didn't know Bob before your post, but after reading it I feel that I've lost him too. I wish his family peace and thank you for sharing him with all of us.

Adrian Baird Ba Than said...

Wow,what a spectacular polymath,the world has definitely gotten dimmer.
Never knew you Bob but I wish I had,enjoy the afterlife,which just got a lot brighter!

Gye Greene said...


That's a great post. I love the "baby penguins" bit.

I hope you and Bob had the chance to enjoy the t.v. series "Burn Notice": Bruce Campbell is one of the three main characters.


Gye Greene said...

Also: I'd like to think that every time you or he prepared to do some hatchet-hewing, you'd declare, "It's a trick. Get an axe."

He sounds like a great guy.


joel said...

I am very saddened and shocked to hear this news. Bob Baker was one of the finest craftsman I have ever had the honor of knowing and he depth of knowledge and experience was second to none.

Kari Hultman said...

I first heard about Bob at a Brown Auction a few years ago when his Falconer plane was on display. He wasn't there at the time, but I told myself "I HAVE to meet this guy someday."

Gye, before using my axe, I usually raise it above my head and say "Shop Smart! Shop S-Mart."

Unknown said...

I knew Bob for many years and just visited him a few weeks ago. I took some friends over to meet him that lived up the road a bit who shared a similar interest in reproducing early furniture, they had both done a similar Hadley Chest. I knew they would get along great and I had told Bob about them for years. This finially happened and they had made plans to get together.

Bob was simply one, if not the most amazing craftsman I have ever seen..... there are so many stories I have been thinking about all day. One I remember is I would often sit on a stool in his shop while he worked and we would just shoot the breeze..... and I would ask him why he does something this way or that... he would ask me the same. Anyway when he got about 6 tools one his bench he would start to get a little figity and have to stop work and put them away.....

I am not only so lucky to have known him but I also own one of his peices of furniture, a Tiger Maple Highboy circa 1740. Hwe wrote a note inside it which I have not read in years... I will as soon as I get home.

He will be so missed!!!!

Bill Robertson

Jonathan said...

Just beautiful work. The world lost a craftsman.

Jan said...

I was honored to have worked with Bob in the shop for the last three years...Had it not been for his vast catalogue of CD's, techno... we would have been subject to many hours of folk music...and I would not have been able to catch him secretly grooving in the next room when he thought no one was looking! I shall never forget our last conversation on Sunday, he had just planted a garden of tomatoes and cucumbers...He thought the deers ate his cucs, so he put up a fence... When I inquired as to him seeing them, he said, "Well no...but there were marks in the grass!" I asked him then if they had woodchucks and he got that look, that anyone who knows Bob would know! I asked by he had left a gap below the fence and he said, "So the fence could be high enough so the deers couldn't step over!" Moments later, he came back in shouting, "Those God damn woodchucks!" We laughed like Hell!! Fred tells me he lowered the fence..It was just like Bob to think big...He will be happy to know that the cucumbers seem to be making a comeback... I will make sure to tend to your garden! I will miss you horribly my friend..May God greet you with open arms....xo

Kari Hultman said...

Thank you for posting "Bob" stories! I was hoping that friends would comment with memories of him. :o)

Green Foundry Chickens said...

Thank you for the blog Kari. I have never met you, but get the sense that all of us that loved bob, would get along great! Myself and my husband josh have been building a great relationship with Bob here in Maine for the past few years. He was introduced to us as someone that we NEEDED to know! (We cast iron and bronze sculpture for artists and reproduction parts for special people). As soon as we saw his shop and felt his welcoming presence, we knew that he was a going to be a great friend. Over the years he has worked with us on our projects and us on his. It has been mutually beneficial and so much fun. This summer specifically he rode his BMW motorcycle over to our shop alot and just looked so happy and extra cool on that bike. I love having that last memory of him riding off. We truly truly loved bob, just a few weeks ago he machined our wedding bands for us and we are so grateful to have such a strong great memento of him. We will always remember bob as the most sharing, interesting, kind and loving man that we've had the pleasure of knowing. we will miss him and his invaluable skills terribly.
-Lauren and Josh

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this notice and all the great comments and rememberences. Bob was an incredible craftsman whom I was proud to call a friend. He was always welcoming and willing to share his knowledge, and always had a smile on his face. His work in wood and metal was second to none. His hallmark was being able to match any surface or texture and would make the repairs invisible in his restoration work. He was known as the godfather to modern infill planemakers. On top of all this he was a gentleman and an all around great guy. He will be greatly missed by those who appreciate tools – old and new- around the word. If you would like to post a comment in a Guest Book for his family, please follow this link

John Walkowiak

Kari Hultman said...

Thank you, Lauren, Josh, and John for sharing your stories about Bob. It makes me wish all the more that I'd gotten to know him better.