city of san diego

Working Wood Into Works of Art for City of San Diego

Many of the people who make up the San Diego Fine Woodworkers Association, which is hundreds of members strong, are retired city of San Diego employees.

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The room is littered with lumber. Cross-sections of trees are stacked in a pile. Every tool imaginable decorates the walls.

“It smells good,” said a smiling Mike McElhiney.

The retired English teacher, who is now a leading member of the San Diego Fine Woodworkers Association, takes pride in the creations he makes out of a piece of wood. He takes greater joy from giving those creations to someone else.

“It’s just beyond price," McElhiney said. "It’s just gorgeous stuff."

McElhiney is one of hundreds of San Diegans who take pride in working wood into a work of art.

“Yeah, I think there’s something personal about it that way,” McElhiney said.

McElhiney is currently mentoring Sgt. Carlos Vargas, who will be retiring from the San Diego Unified School District Police Department.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Vargas said, “setting your mind into one thing and forgetting about the world for a little bit.”

The 21-year law enforcement veteran was looking for something to keep his hands and mind busy.

“You got to wake up every morning and have a purpose," Vargas said. "You have to have something to do. You can’t just wake up and do nothing. The mind grows old."

McElhiney is teaching Vargas skills that the other SDFWA members used to build and donate a new table to San Diego Fire Station #9.

“That was so cool because the Torrey Pine that we used for their table came from a tree that fell down on their lot,” McElhiney said with a grin.

Many of the SDFWA members are retired city of San Diego employees, some are firefighters and police officers like Vargas.

“They give," Vargas said. "They donate. They do those type of things."

Members also built and donated the displays and shelving for the store inside the San Diego Central Library downtown.

“All that work you did, suddenly it’s a gorgeous thing in front of you,” McElhiney said.

SDFWA members are currently working on a table for San Diego Fire Station #8 and wooden cribbage boards for several other stations.

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