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.