This Way Sinners

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Memory is a damn funny thing. It can be as impossible to hold onto as a handful of water. And yet you can drown in a cup of it.

Today I went to pick up a load of sugar pine for an upcoming tool chest I’m building for a customer and got whacked upside the head by a pointed 19-year-old memory.

Since the closing of Midwest Woodworking a few years ago, I’ve run dangerously low on my stock of sugar pine and didn’t have enough to do the job. Enter Kevin McQueeney, an Indianapolis woodworker who offered to help me purchase a load through his local supplier.

After some back-and-forth, it became obvious that the sugar pine was going to come from Shiels Lumber here in Cincinnati. It’s an old place in the neglected industrial lowlands of the city, about a half mile from the foundry that makes our holdfasts.

Hearing the name Shiels was like waking up from a deep dream. How had I forgotten about this place?

When I started at Popular Woodworking magazine, the first significant project I was permitted to build was an interpretation of Benjamin Seaton’s tool chest. My boss made me change a lot of details so it would be accepted by the magazine’s readership – the corners were assembled with finger joints instead of dovetails, and the interior till had to be simplified.

But despite these compromises, it was a major piece and the first cover project of my career.

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The first hurdle with the project was finding white pine that was thick enough for the job. One of the associate editors took me to Shiels, a wholesale yard that is off-limits to retail customers. We loaded up a truck with the pine, and I remember looking up at a weird sign painted on a building that towers over the yard that reads: “This Way Sinners.”

I wondered about the sign 19 years ago. And I had the same sense of wonderment as I loaded my pine today and looked up at the same sign. Thanks to the Internet, I dug up a history of the sign behind the guy who had it painted in 1896. You can read it here. It involves a trip to the Holy Land, a misplaced photograph and hieroglyphics. And the story ends with: “Most salads require a little pinch of salt.”

And the pinch of salt in this story: After 19 years I’m back to building tool chests, buying pine at Shiels and wondering which way this sinner should go.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
This entry was posted in The Anarchist's Tool Chest, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to This Way Sinners

  1. Martin Shupe says:

    How can mere mortals buy sugar pine? I’ve always wanted some.

    • chucknickerson says:

      If you live in the Los Angeles area Bohnhoff lumber has moulding grade sugar pine for less than $4/bdft. Some of the 8/4 stuff is 18″+ wide.

  2. I’ve heard… they call him Sugar Pine.

  3. ralmcc7yahoo.com says:

    Chris, do you think that “This Way Sinners ” would make a great sticker ?
    I will be looking up some hieroglyphs and such for a frame . Ralph

  4. Richg says:

    Chris that looks like a great load of wood..

  5. Tor says:

    Beautiful story

  6. Slav says:

    Were you able to pic the lumber yourself or did they take it off the top?

  7. laterthanuthink says:

    All these years have I been doing it wrong? I would have my tail gate up, with the boards resting on padding and then tied. Even so I’m always nervous with a load hanging out the back of my truck and go to great lengths to avoid it or go really slow.

  8. David Shepard says:

    Is EWP a satisfactory substitute for sugar pine? I’ve milled thousands of feet of dead clear heartwood over the years.

  9. Larry says:

    Looks like a neat old building. Did you take any pictures of the inside?

  10. Bob Easton says:

    People interested in old style sign painting or signwriting (as they say in the UK) are usually also fanatics about “ghost signs.” Some are obvious. Others are puzzles. THANKS immensely for solving this 100 year old ghost sign puzzle!

    Were there any signs left on the building that actually say “American Carriage Company?”

    • colsdave says:

      This building does. In Google Maps, go to ‘1321 Budd Street, Cincinnati, OH’, drag and drop the orange Streetview zombie to the end of the blue Budd St line, then look south and up. The top two lines have the company, the bottom one gives us guidance.

  11. Brian G Miller says:

    Great story. Yours was pretty good too.

  12. mmcollins3 says:

    Hello Chris,

    I bought some Sugar Pine boards a few years ago at one of Midwest’s “Going Out of Business Sales”. Had a project in mind for the boards then but have since abandoned it. Still have the Sugar Pine and would like to sell it. Let me know if you are interested and I’ll forward a price (maybe $0.00?) and dims on what I have. I’m at work right now, otherwise I’d include the details in this reply. I do remember it being 8/4 and 6-8″ wide but don’t recall the lengths or quantity. I live outside Lebanon, OH so a delivery or pick-up shouldn’t be a big deal.

    Best regards,
    Matthew M. Collins

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