September 28, 2021

Talking Shop

No slowing down for these retired teachers

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Kevin La Due works at his woodshop.

Kevin La Due said his wood shop, that doubles as his acoustic guitar business — La Due Guitars — is an oasis.

“This is just what I do. This is what I am,” he said of his wood working. Though retired, he wouldn’t think of giving it up.

“When I come out here and get involved with what I do, it’s exhilarating and rewarding … I get joy. I forget about time, forget about dinner. A lot of it is challenging you to do something new. It’s problem solving,” said the Whitney Point man.

A retired shop teacher with 33 years under his belt, including two years at Cincinnatus Central School District, he’s had a guitar shop for 29 years. He taught an acoustic guitar building course for 12 years at the Vestal School District, and in that time, his students made 300 guitars.
La Due still insists on building them.

“Since 2009-10, I don’t think there’s been a period of time where I did not have a commission on the bench. In a busy year, I do six guitars. This year I will probably complete three. It’s not quantity. I don’t need money.”

He loves the instrument. He plays it every morning. He used to play in a coffeehouse band associated with a Methodist church in town. But he pretty much plays for his own enjoyment.

“To be honest, I am not a good joiner of groups,” he said, though he thrives on people and enjoyed his teaching career, working with children and fellow teachers.

He owns 30 guitars.

“When you make them, they just pile up.”

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

La Due specializes in acoustic guitars. One is seen here at his shop in Whitney Point.

Cortland High teacher

Tom Herting of Cortlandville taught shop and technology for 32 years at Cortland High, every day in the same room, before retiring two years ago. And he’s always had hobbies during his teaching career: maple syrup making, raising beef cows and owning a saw mill. He still does those jobs.

“I have owned a saw mill for years. I do custom sawing for people and myself and do wood working things on the side.”

He’s grateful for retiring at 55, being able to do what he loves at a young age.

“I wonder how I was able to do it all when I was an active teacher. I also help out my neighbor, a dairy farmer, I help them in the busy season.”

Herting likes being outdoors, even on a lousy weather day.

“I love to hunt and fish, to be outside making maple syrup, doing what I do.”

An instrument is a muse

La Due has been fascinated with guitars since he was a child.

“I don’t remember a day in my life where I did not respond to music. My mother bought me a ukulele for Christmas when I was 8.”

Then he wanted a guitar. But his parents would not buy him one until he was 12.

“My parents were Victorian. They had old school funny notions: ‘You can’t do two things at one time.’ I was a piano student. They didn’t think I could play both. I was like, ‘who gives a rat’s hat about piano.’”

When they saw they couldn’t get him to put his ukulele down, they bought him a guitar. He stopped playing piano.

“They wanted us active. Creative. Off the streets and out of trouble,” he said of his parents.

Whitney Point shop takes shape

La Due built his shop in 1986 on the north side of Whitney Point. When he and his wife, Colette, acquired their current property on Dings Hollow Road, he moved the shop there, taking it apart and essentially folding it up like a box and transporting it to his current locale. He’s put on two additions since then. His shop is a culmination of 50 years in the making.

“I started wood working in the basement of my parents’ house as a youngster. I had crummy little shops through the years,” he said, including one in an apartment. He’d carry his tools with him from place to place.

His shop is clean and meticulous. Tools hang up on walls in order. He opened a drawer with his father’s well-kept planers in it. His dad, Abram, was a union carpenter and was La Due’s first teacher.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Kevin La Due, retired shop teacher, works a planer in his Whitney Point shop.

 

“The cleanliness part is habit, nature and training. I was a shop teacher for 33 years. In that line of work, you have to have everything organized, hanging up — in sight. You don’t have time to count anything. You need to glance at the wall to see if anything is missing. If I would be one of the ‘Odd Couple,’ I would be Felix Unger,” he laughed.

In the shop, he builds furniture, architectural mill work, garden fixtures, planters and cabinets. He had a scrap book with projects: stair wells, window casings, book cases, coffee tables, beams, miniature high boys.

“The only thing I have not made is prosthetic devices. Right now I have three guitars in the process. Two in the beginning, one in near completion.”

He makes eight models of guitars, all acoustic, all various sizes. He makes guitar tops with Douglas Fir, Alaskan yellow cedar, western red cedar, Alaskan spruce, Alaskan mill cedar.

He said there’s no such thing as a favorite wood.

“It depends on what you are asked for, for the process. Sometimes a customer wants a special wood, because of the way it looks, which is fine.”

A woman wanted Alaskan yellow cedar not because how the guitar would sound, but because she lives in Alaska half the year, he said.

One of his favorite woods is black cherry. He has a lot of it in his home.

Herting’s favorite wood depends on what it’s being used for.

“For a lot of things, I am partial to hard maple,” said Herting. “It gives me maple syrup; it heats the house in the winter. I’m dependent on wood for heat.”

La Due has a range of machinery in his shop and he said it’s important to understand your machinery and its limits.

“If you are going to own it, you have to maintain it. There isn’t anyone to fix a table saw. If you don’t fix it yourself, it’s broken permanently.”

He learned woodworking, sheet metal work, welding, electricity, polymer technology all at SUNY Oswego.

“My favorite tool in the whole shop is the 1948 Logan metal lathe. And there were 95,000 made. I do my homework. It allows you to cut metal in round shapes … It’s a wonderful tool. I am so glad that I found it.”

“I love this spindle shaper,” La Due said.

“It’s one of the last machines I bought. I can’t live without this anymore,” he said.

It cuts molds and it’s a pattern tool. Those are a few of its uses, he said.

Herting loves his chain saw and saw mill, and a variety of wood working tools.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

La Due said his shop is a 50-year culmination of his tool collection.

“In school I loved the Computer Numerical Control Router,” Herting said, of a type of cutting machine.

La Due and Herting are not slowing down.

“You never know what the horizon has to offer and there would never be a day where if someone said, ‘are you too busy?’ said La Due. “ I am very busy. I want to be busy.”

Herting agrees. He’s not interested in watching T.V. on the couch or playing in golf leagues. He’s got his eye on the next project.

“One of my favorite things I have ever made, I made in college: a cedar strip canoe,” Herting said.
He proposed to his wife, Sarah, in this canoe.

“That’s one of my goals. I want to make a wooden boat,” Herting said. “For me, it’s all about wood.”

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