Opa’s Workshop brings old-world charm to downtown

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

*If you see “Opa” walking around the downtown area in his coat and hat, snap a photo of him, then email/message or show it to him by the end of the year to be entered into a raffle.

Like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting – “The Toy Maker” or “Santa’s Workshop” – Opa’s Workshop adds a touch of traditional European woodworking scenery to Lebanon’s downtown culture.

Craftsman Alvie Farley sets up a workbench near his storefront window, offering an entertaining sight for passersby as he teaches wood crafting skills to his clients. He offers two services: skills classes to learn fundamental skills, and object classes to build something and take it home. Opa’s Workshop is Farley’s place to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere where he can invite people in to “give it a try.”

“I think there’s a desire of people to see how things work,” he said. “To see things done excites people.”

Dressed as a famous Christmas icon, Farley sits in a rocking chair and wittles some wood.

It’s an even more nostalgic sight this Christmas holiday, with a decorated tree showcased in the window, and Farley inside wearing a hat and coat reminiscent of old-world Santa Claus. During down time he might even be glimpsed sitting on a wood and leather rocking chair, whittling some sort of doo-dad.

Farley opened his shop this past October with an additional shop, Our Gallery, two doors down, which sells art and gifts. Opa’s skills classes include tasks such as tool sharpening, carving, making dovetails or tuning a hand plane, while object classes include projects such as boxes, serving trays, ornaments or shelves.

Born and raised in Sweet Home, Farley started working with wood as soon as he was old enough to stand on an upside-down bucket to see his dad’s workbench. As he grew up, he read articles and sought mentors who would teach him anything to do with wood crafting. His junior high wood teacher, Ted Jaross, also taught him “so much” and continued to share his wisdom with Farley even after he retired.

Alvie Farley explains how a traditional plum works.

“I fell in love with the old way of doing things,” Farley said, a statement that is evidenced by a variety of old saws, planers and other hand tools on his walls. “I want (my shop) to have an old sort of feel about it because I like that, I like old things. Power tools are nice, but they’re loud and they’re fast. There’s something simple and kind of relaxing about things going slower.”

He knows old tricks, such as how to use a plumb bob on water to check if something is level or how to use a saw blade to determine 90 degrees.

“I’ve sought out as many of those old tricks and those old ways of doing things that I could,” he said.

Farley remembers nailing things together as a kid, but what he would consider perhaps his first real project was a two-foot, scaled-down version of a skin-on-frame kayak. He was in the fourth or fifth grade at the time.

“It was crude, but it was a turning point in my life,” he said.

Farley digs through a handmade toolbox to find one of many favorite tools.

Gleaning instructions from a DIY encyclopedia set at home to build the thing, Farley gathered scraps of wood from around the house, anything he could lay his hands on, including broken wood fruit boxes and old fabric. Though his parents supported his eager efforts, he admitted his mother was not so happy when she caught him cutting branches off her poplar trees.

The biggest thing he ever built was a floor-to-ceiling set of bookshelves for a personal law library that wrapped around the room. Now Farley wants to pass his knowledge on to others.

While doing that, he also wants to enhance downtown’s charm by encouraging visual displays of action and craftsmanship that would help make Lebanon a destination. Picture taffy-pulling machines or glass blowers, crafters and woodworkers, all creating their wares in storefront windows.

“In today’s world there’s a lot of craftsmen who are doing it at home and people don’t see it,” Farley said.

Opa’s Workshop isn’t just for adults. Children, too, can benefit from some wood and nails.

“It doesn’t take very long in a child’s development to be able to saw a couple boards and nail them together,” Farley said.

Farley hangs up a Santa-style coat.

He cited “The Teacher’s Handbook of Slöjd” by Otto Salomon, a book from the late 1800s out of Sweden promoting a teaching style that harkens back to a time when families sat around a fireplace at night creating things and teaching their children.

A child’s self-reliance is built by making and doing things, Farley explained. They learn to embrace challenges instead of being afraid of them, but they also get that immediate sense of accomplishment.

“It will build in them something more than just the object,” Farley said. “You go home with a shelf, but you also go home with the pride of making it.”