Upper St. Clair resident, 92, utilizing woodworking skills

Matthew Santoni
| Thursday, June 13, 2013, 1:51 p.m.

Almost every piece of wooden furniture in Ed Houck's two-bedroom apartment was built by hand, from the tea-cart he made not long after marrying his wife, Ann, to the giant clock rising behind her chair.

Using a book of classic American furniture designs from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and, for the past four years the wood shop at Friendship Village, his Upper St. Clair retirement community, Houck, 92, has turned out numerous pieces of furniture and four standing clocks.

“In the wintertime, when I can't play golf, I spend about an hour down here each day,” said Houck, a former engineer and World War II bomber pilot, as he stood among tools and work benches.

Much of the furniture he makes goes to his three grandchildren: two grandsons living in the North Side, and a granddaughter in the South Hills.

He's made four clocks, including the “grandmother clock” in his living room (a term used to describe standing clocks that are shorter and thinner than grandfather clocks) and the granddaughter clock (even shorter) in his bedroom. The ornate scrolling and finials on the cherry wood casings were made with the wood shop's tools; the clock faces and mechanisms were ordered online. Each clock takes about four months to make.

Houck said he'd been interested in woodworking from an early age growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, and had a good example in his father, who made the drop-leaf table sitting in Houck's second bedroom. The book of plans he uses, “Early American Furniture,” was originally his father's.

“Back in my time, most boys took woodworking classes in grade school and high school,” Houck said. “Dad, as a machinist, could do wonderful woodwork.”

In addition to building furniture, Houck paints and makes pottery in the art studio next to the wood shop. Several of his paintings will be displayed in a temporary gallery of resident-made art opening Thursday in the community's main dining area, said Kelly Michel, arts and communications coordinator for Friendship Village. When the current round of renovations is complete in the next year or so, there will be a permanent gallery space for residents.

The studio and shop are part of the community's goal of “Fit Six” — fitness in the vocational, spiritual, intellectual, emotional, social and physical realms, Michel said.

“It's an outlet for (the residents), a way to be creative and a way to be together,” she said. “Mr. Houck is just a terrific guy to have around here. If anybody asks for anything, he's the first guy they go to.”

Houck, who turns 93 soon, said he's been fortunate to remain active — building furniture, painting, working with ceramics, golfing, tying fly-fishing lures.

“I've just been lucky. Just sheer luck,” he said.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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