As a kid growing up in Massachusetts, Doug Borden, 83, worked on wooden boats with his grandfather — a U.S. Navy veteran of the Spanish-American War.
That experience steered his life toward two things: a 25-year career in the U.S. Navy, and a passion for woodworking.
“Those wooden boats constantly needed work, and I guess working on them with my grandfather at an early age did in fact have an impact on the rest of my life,” he said.
In 1969 Borden moved to Franconia, where he built a shed and a workbench to go in it. When he recently realized it was time to move to a retirement community, he chose Westminster at Lake Ridge in Occoquan, which offered a community woodshop — and some kindred woodworking spirits.
As a child in the 1930s, Edward Pearthree, 86, of Chantilly played in his grandfather’s cabinet-making shop.
During his 25-year stint in the Army, Pearthree spent his off-duty hours on a variety of woodworking projects, including renovating a home in Alaska. “I took off the roof and added a second floor,” he said.
Everywhere the Army transferred Pearthree, his extensive collection of woodworking hand tools would also go.
When he moved to Westminster from Chantilly four years ago, his tools moved in with him, and he joined the community woodshop. Today, he is the shop’s foreman.
Last year, Joe Fleig, 78, of Reston moved to Westminster from Reston, adding his own set of woodworking power tools to the shop. “My grandfather lived in the Black Forest in Germany making cuckoo clocks,” he said. “My father was a great carpenter and built our house in upstate New York. Back then men knew how to do things like that.”
Fleig said his father taught him many woodworking skills, and Fleig later made wooden Christmas gifts for his friends and family. “Every year I’d make 50 of something, like trivets or ornaments or other decorative items, and give them out,” he said.
Today, Borden, Fleig and Pearthree are known in their retirement community as the “Westminster Woodworkers.”
Using the community woodshop and each other’s contributed tools, the trio pools their time and skills to repair chairs, cabinets, end tables and many other family treasures and heirlooms; preserving important memories for their nearly 300 neighbors.
They stay busy with a waiting list of projects. When they get a call, they visit a resident’s apartment to assess whether or not the furniture is repairable. On one such visit, they found a large antique chest of drawers missing three legs and sitting precariously on a stack of books.
“Often furniture gets damaged in a move. We got the legs put back on, and got the broken dresser back to usefulness again,” said Pearthree. “In many cases these are pieces of furniture that residents have had for decades and they have deep sentimental attachments to them.”
The volunteer woodworkers work independently as their individual schedules permit, and gather together on Tuesday afternoons to work on their assigned projects, joking and enjoying each other’s company.
“Doug’s specialty is fixing chairs, so we call him the ‘chairman’,” jokes Fleig.
In addition to fixing broken furniture, the trio also builds some new items.
“The woodworkers built the original benches embedded in the community landscape, machined plaques for our craft fair projects and designed attractive individual wooden mailboxes for our residents’ doors. Over the years, they have given so much to the community,” said Susan Lasher, director of life enrichment for Westminster.
“We stay busy,” said Borden. “We only charge $5 per repair, and that is only to keep us in wood glue, sandpaper and other things that we use a lot and that need to be frequently replaced.”
While all community residents are permitted to use the shop, most residents send things to the team of woodworking volunteers. “Our neighbors are very grateful for our services,” said Fleig.
The trio says it is also grateful for the opportunity to be productive and appreciated.
“This shop was one of the reasons I chose to live here,” said Pearthree. “I have a job and friends and a shop with better equipment than I ever had before. What could be better than that?”