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Hammer-happy woodworker nails down recycling

Dave Hamlin, 67, wants to be buried with his hammer when he dies.

He calls it "the million nail hammer." It's more than 35 years old. Hamlin likes to think his hammer's pounded at least a million nails during its years.

Since he's been old enough to hold a hammer, Hamlin's been drawn to working with wood.

"At 5 years old I could remember taking a bath... I would go out in the shop and grab a saw and a couple pieces of wood and build my own boat to float in the tub," he said.

Later, he built two full-size boats to take out in the ocean.

Today, Hamlin uses his woodworking skills to create outdoor furniture and planters for scores of local folks. Neighbors know him well from driving past his Federal Way home, where Hamlin working in the front yard is a frequent sight.

He builds benches, planters, arbors, love seats, end tables, chairs, picnic tables, ice coolers and just about any other piece of outdoor furniture a person could imagine.

And he does it all — or 90 percent at least — with recycled wood.

"You got tan wood, you got white wood, you got brown wood," he said pointing adoringly at his piles upon piles of scrap wood. "You want cedar, you want mahogany, you want oak, I got it."

Hamlin gets his wood from old fences, old wood floors, old signs, old furniture, old crates and a variety of other recycled woods.

"Of course the stuff they make crates out of is junk, but if you know how to work with it, you can make great furniture," he said.

As for the old, worn fence posts, Hamlin lovingly pulls out the nails, saws off the ends and sands down the tarnished gray exterior, revealing shiny quality wood.

"It currently looks like a no-good, ugly board," he said. "Underneath there is beautiful wood, but we're throwing it away."

Hamlin is hesitant to reveal all of his sources of scrap wood for fear of losing them to publicity. But much of the wood comes from neighbors and friends.

"There's somebody pulling up almost once a week, 'Hey Dave, I've got some cedar fence or I've got some two-by-fours, do you want them?'" he said. "I can always use more wood."

Hamlin sells about 600 items of furniture each year. He's been doing it for 12 years, when he retired early to make woodworking his full-time job. There are 35 different items he makes, although he makes specialty items upon request. Summer is the busiest season.

Most of his sales come from fundraisers. He's worked with fundraisers at local churches, schools, youth sports organizations and charities. The proceeds are split 50-50 between Hamlin and the organization.

The remaining furniture sales come from a Christmas bazaar, word-of-mouth and people driving by his house. He's out in his front yard working nearly every day.

"There's hardly a day goes by that somebody doesn't stop," he said.

Those who stop can see for themselves that Hamlin builds his furniture with love. He carefully oils the wood to make it shiny. And he rounds all the corners so if someone bumps their knee, the pain isn't so bad.

"I make every piece as if I were making it for myself," he said.

Hamlin said he could save time and purchase wood from a lumber yard. He would only have to raise the prices a few dollars. But he likes the idea that he's recycling and saving trees.

"I'm trading time for trees," he said. "I get kind of a kick out of it actually. I think we should teach it in schools because we Americans throw this stuff away."

Hamlin even recycles his own scraps. He puts bags with small chunks of scrap wood on the street, and neighbors pass by and pick it up for use in their fireplaces or wood stoves.

"I think we're pretty green here," he said. "I'm not just a 67-year-old retired duff. I'm still helping."

Contact Margo Horner: mhorner@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

For more information about fundraisers or to purchase outdoor furniture, call Dave Hamlin at (253) 952-5959 or stop by his house Monday through Saturday at 2922 SW 314th St.

The Federal Way Kiwanis Club and Dave Hamlin will host a fundraiser outdoor furniture sale from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 15 in the parking lot near the Wal-Mart and Top Foods at 31515 20th Ave. S. Funds raised will go toward various Kiwanis-sponsored activities.

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