The following is a story I wrote some time ago. I just pulled it out of a folder. I looked at it with “new eyes” and rebuilt it.

It is better than it was.

See what you think of it…

I had the opportunity to work on an old house this weekend and use some of the craft I learned here at our old house.

These days I like small jobs I can get in and out of without extensive dismantling. This job was a sand and refinish in a kitchen. A counter had a century of finishes and looked dirty. I began sanding with my random orbit sander with a hose attached to a shop vac. (It catches some of the dust.)

I began sanding back in time through ages of varnish until I came across my old nemesis: Milk Paint. Zip Strip will not touch it. You must sand through it. Back to the store for 40-grit sandpaper. After a time the patina was more or less consistent and I had revealed the ancient grain. I was careful to leave as many marks and dings as possible. It still looks old.

Because I can, I added a new piece of trim to cover a gap using new trim I made look old. Then I added three coats of satin poly to bring out the grain.

It made me think of all the rebuilds I have watched over the years. I think rebuilds are better than brand new, though new is nice and has its place. Over the years I have visited boatyards and watched old wooden schooners get old, rotted wood replaced with giant new framing cut on hulking, one-of-a-kind band saws. New wood next to old. Not as good as new – it is better; stronger; with a bespoke piece made especially for that space.

I have seen my cousin Theron Tweedie skillfully repair a fiberglass boat with a hole big enough to walk through. The foreman proclaimed, “That is the strongest part of the whole boat.”

The work a body shop can do with a wrecked vehicle is a marvel. The body man rebuilds from the inside out. A good body man will often tell you his work is better than the factory that built the vehicle. Time alone would make that case.

Vehicles are fastened together in minutes to get to the next one coming down the line. The final mark of a quality fix are the gaps between the panels, the doors and fenders and the hood and fenders. Body shops really focus on getting them tighter and more consistent than off the factory floor.

Rebuilding is more than just a great outcome. It is a great example of intrinsic value. Something that has its own reward and is satisfying. I have never fixed things for a living; I admire those who do.

I recently took my twenty-year-old bike to the repair shop. It had not had any real work done for more than 10 years. I told them to do whatever it needed. The repair was not inexpensive but was a quarter of what a new one would cost.

I got all new brakes and a whole new drive train. It rides better than new. I would not be surprised if they souped it up. (These are the same guys that made a secret modification to my 68 Schwinn 5-speed Stingray bike.)

The old-timers have a gift of understatement. When something has been done right, the repairman might ask for a second opinion. The highest accolade he can receive comes back…

Looks good from my house!

Glenn Billington is a lifelong resident of Rockland and has worked for The Courier-Gazette and The Free Press since 1989.

Don Karl’s 1949 Seth Thomas clock, rebuilt by Bo Lea of Rockport. Photo by Glenn Billington