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Building A Cradle with the Late James Grisham

by Charles Brock
Columbus, GA

I received a call for help from a sweet lady named Linda Grisham. Her story was very interesting, the kind that tugs at your heart and keeps you from forming the word "No" as a response.

Linda explained that her husband James was a woodworker and had built several Maloof style pieces of sculptured furniture. He'd finished several rockers and was working on a cradle when a drunken driver hit and killed him during one of his early morning bike rides near Carrolton, Georgia.

Linda said she found me through Highland Woodworking in Atlanta, GA. She asked if I would finish the cradle because their first grand child was due in June. See what I mean?


Linda and her son Todd Grisham arrived at my studio one day with the cradle and its frame. The cradle as delivered to my studio is pictured with my workbench. It looked absolutely "Maloofian". A walnut frame with double stretchers and a cradle with coopered ends and a walnut strip basket between them made up a large cradle for the new Grisham baby. I would take the challenge, but not for pay. Thanks would be enough. How do you charge for a project like this one?

I have often imagined my unfinished projects at my passing. My family will not know what to do with them, my tools or my wood stash. When attending woodworkers' estate sales, I have often felt empathy for the departed woodworker and their families. This project brought these thoughts to the forefront.

Right after taking this assignment, a lot of good happened. I was blessed with the Martha Stewart Show appearance and had two full rocker classes. I scheduled the project for late May and here it is June 9th and I’m just finishing it up. Todd and his wife Alyson are awaiting the birth of a girl due on June 12th. I have been racing the stork. I finished it on the 12th and delivered it on June 13th in time for the "Baby Grisham Girl" to come home to on Monday.

I must say I have never finished another man’s project. In this situation I tried to look for clues as to what James Grisham was thinking, the lines he was seeing and the methods he was implementing in designing and building such a piece. I removed a lot of material making lines that will move the observer's eyes.

The walnut was very brittle. It was almost too dry as if his shop had been in a basement with a running dehumidifier. I asked Todd about the location of his dad's shop and a possible dehumidifier and it was a "Bingo" on both guesses.

Titebond III was new on the market (I believe) in 2008. Squeeze out was everywhere and it did not come off easily. It was just too gummy even after all this time. On the good side the glue line was not visible.

The coopered ends were joined perfectly and the project needed a lot of shaping and sanding. Yea! Sanding is great fun! Well, it’s the results that count. My Festool RAS 115 grinder and RO-90 sander were big assets along with a lot of good old hand sanding.


In the Maloof tradition, the hardware used for hanging the swinging cradle should be durable but not visible. I hung the cradle on steel pins epoxied into the frame arms. They mate with bronze bushings in the cradle's extended arms.

I could feel James’ presence with me all the way. When I pass, I hope I am not assigned to a sanding station in heaven. I'm pretty sure that if there is one I have been sent to a certain theological destination of unending punishment. I also hope someone will finish an important project like this for my family.

Thank you Linda, Todd, Alyson, and Mia (the new Baby Grisham) for allowing me to share this beautiful moment with you. I hope generations to come will enjoy James Grisham's great woodworking. You have been blessed in so many ways.

May God bless you James Grisham. I think I know you.





Take a look at Chuck's website here or send him an email at rocknchairman@gmail.com. You can also sign up for his monthly newsletter, "Sculpture That Rocks" here.


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