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Baltimore attorney builds wood furniture and crafts in his family’s basement

Peter Byrnes

Peter Byrnes’ wife knew more about the band saw in his basement woodworking shop than he did when he bought it.

Colleen Byrnes had a leg up on her lawyer-husband with an interest in turning wood planks into sturdy and handsome furniture — she had taken a shop class in high school.

Despite missing that adolescent rite of passage, Peter Byrnes, an attorney who handles lead paint litigation at the Baltimore firm Bennett & Albright P.A., managed to learn the ins and outs of woodworking by watching a neighbor do projects and watching Saturday morning TV shows.

Now, he’s an old pro.

“If you’ve done it once, you’ve done it a thousand times,” he says of piecing wood parts together.

People became interested in his woodworking prowess after Byrnes placed two Adirondack chairs outside his home. Friends wondered if he had used a kit and pieced the chairs together. When they found out that he had cut the wood himself, orders and requests started coming in.

He’s currently at work on mahogany outdoor benches for his wife’s parents. The octagon-shaped table that matches the seats has already been sent to their home.

Right now he’s trying to figure out how to add a seat back to each bench, as requested by his mother-in-law. The plans he’s following don’t call for a seat back, so he’s winging it.

“If there’s no plan, no one can accuse you of not following it,” he said.

Byrnes said he hopes to find a solution during a week off from work. After several hours in the shop, he said, he expects to have that “eureka moment” and whip up the seat backs with no trouble.

Byrnes said he offers to do work for friends at the cost of the wood. He said he does it for the fun of the project, although his in-laws have offered to cook the family a seafood dinner once the chairs are completed.

“The chairs better be in good condition to hold the weight that I’m going to put on from eating” the food, he said.

Next up is a dining room table he’s making for friends from two large planks of cherry wood, which cost $127 — likely a steep discount for a custom-made cherry table.

Of his son and three daughters, only the girls have shown interest in his projects, mostly because they’re looking for him to make them jewelry boxes out of a beautiful and exotic purple heart wood.

The workshop is tucked in the back corner in the portion of basement that remains unfinished in Byrnes’ Millersville home. Wood remnants and massive machines sit side by side with Christmas decorations stored in clear boxes.

His dog, the aptly-named Maple, noses around the space, happily swinging her enormous tail back and forth, until she is dispatched to go chase the cat.

Byrnes’ work space is jammed with machines — a table saw, jointer, plate joiner, belt sander, thickness planer — but he’s still got a wish list of other tools. He’d especially like to add a lathe to his collection, so he could easily smooth out cylindrical pieces of wood.

Probably the most helpful piece of machinery in Byrnes’ woodshop is the dust collector. The big, white machine gets switched on to pick up the flying particles that once irritated Byrnes’ throat.

“The table saw unleashes an ungodly amount of dust,” he said. “You don’t want to cut dust, you want to cut wood.”

To combat the loud noises the machines emit, Byrnes has music piped into large noise-cancelling headphones.

“I listen to the worst of the ’80s,” he said. “My wife hates it.”