Best of Buds

Posted Dec. 01, 2008, at 8:12 p.m.

This is not a story of a fine bromance. Few middle-aged Maine men would tolerate the text message term (bromance: a close, nonsexual male friendship) being applied to them. No, this is a story of old-fashioned male friendship, buddies. As one of the guys told his wife awhile ago, “I think we are officially on buddy status now.”

Despite the growing medical evidence pointing to the health benefits and increased longevity for those with close social ties, there has been a decline of clubs, bowling leagues and even little neighborhood bars. Married men with families, careers, and lawns to mow don’t hang much. Or so says conventional wisdom.

Forrest Procter of Newburgh and Mark Henderson of Hampden were apparently unaware of this trend. Car-pooling to a choice salmon pool in Nova Scotia, on a trip organized by a mutual acquaintance, they were only looking forward to first-rate fly-fishing. The pair had little in common. Nine hours and many miles later, the facts that Forrest liked duck hunting, Mark liked theology texts, Forrest was a grounds manager who wanted to learn woodworking, Mark was an endocrinologist who liked gourmet cooking, did not seem to matter. Even a conventional roadblock to friendship for most married men — the fact that their wives didn’t know each other — couldn’t stop them.

There is no stopping them, it would seem. In addition to yearly salmon fishing trips now to the Miramichi River in New Brunswick, they train for competitive bike racing along with Forrest’s wife, Carol Trask. This summer Mark and Forrest rode together in the American Lung Association fundraiser Trek Across Maine. Both men also belong with their wives to a couples book group and are planning a regular boys night of pool and cranked hard rock with other husbands in the book group.

But these are the things that men do. Making beautiful furniture together is not. It was only by chance that Mark and Forrest discovered something each cared deeply about: finely crafted handmade wood furniture.

“We all went out to look at his new woodworking shop after book group,” explains Mark. “I didn’t realize what he could do, but once I saw, I thought, ‘Why not?’”

Mark and his wife, Christine, love fine furniture so much that the first big purchase of their marriage was a cherry table and chairs created by cabinet and furniture maker Thom. Moser.

“This was more than 20 years ago, when Moser wasn’t such a name, but it was still a big expenditure for us,” says Mark.

The evening the book group filed into Forrest’s shop, with its operating-room lighting and gleaming power equipment, Mark had in the back of his mind a cherry bookcase. He wanted one with solid doors to protect some of his more valuable books from sunlight flooding his home “office,” which is actually the dining room. He wanted something as fine as the Moser dining table serving as his desk.

He had had no idea Forrest was the one to do it.

Forrest had been quietly training at the Center of Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport and building the kind of furniture people adopt as members of the family. His tables, desks, cabinets, bookcases and chests glow as if they have a soul of their own in only the way hardwood sanded with 800-grit and hand rubbed with oil for hours can.

He describes his simple-lined style as modified Shaker, but what makes his pieces unmistakably his are the signature handles, slender, gracefully curved hardwood pulls, as striking as the neck of a Stradivarius. (Visit www.forrestsfinefurniture.com for more.)

The bookcase project was such a success, Mark decided to ask for something really original. After looking at styles of cabinets, measuring and remeasuring the space for the piece and the Hendersons living with a balsa wood mock-up Forrest built for the difficult spot, a design was born.

In October, Mark and Forrest carried the heavy, finished creation through the Hendersons’ front door, up a staircase and head for the dining room. It was clear they were pleased.

“Collaboration is the key,” says Forrest, who can follow his own muse, but prefers to create something others will appreciate.

The glass-doored, six-sided, one-of-a-kind cherry corner cabinet is set between the kitchen and dining room, fitting like a hand in glove.

There was some laughter about the piece’s top, which is of particular beauty, but never to be seen. Like an artist staring at his canvas, Forrest carefully selected each cherry board for grain and color to pleasingly match or complement the one beside it.

“I want to make something people can enjoy as an heirloom. Grandpa Mark can pass this on,” said Forrest.

Part of the story of the new family heirloom sure to be passed on is that some of the uniquely marked cherry boards were harvested from another book club member’s woodlot surrounding Hampden Pond.

And another might be the surprise within. As Forrest opens the glass door by its delicate handle, a back of contrasting light-colored bird’s-eye maple is revealed. Mark and Christine step closer to admire the curly patterned wood, a pattern like a hundred salmon swimming upstream.

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