HENNEPIN – For the handyman with time on his hands, building chairs and benches is not a difficult thing as long as you have some instructions or a guide to follow. But before you can build it, someone else has to do so and write down the instructions.
Right now, in Hennepin, that job is halfway finished.
Phil Hansen, 80, has always been a bit of a mechanical prodigy. If he could see it, he could build it. In fact, sometimes he didn’t need to see it; while in the service, he once took a machine apart and re-assembled it blindfolded for a commanding officer. This has served him well, especially recently.
“My son opened a convenience store in McNabb, and he said, ‘Dad, I wish I had a bench that I could set out front, so people come in for an oil change, they could get a can of beer and sit out there and wait for the oil change,’” Hansen said. “I looked in my books, and I couldn’t find anything I liked. One night, there it was. I saw a big picture of what I wanted. So I woke up the next morning and built my first bench.”
Hansen calls his benches and chairs a “Hennepin Bench,” as a contrast to Adirondack-style furniture. While he can build furniture from scratch, he doesn’t have the knowledge to translate that into instructions that someone else could follow. So Hansen is looking for someone to help him by writing down the plans for one of his chairs.
“The reason I want a pattern done is I wanted to give them to the library, so they could sell them for the proceeds,” Hansen said. “The state’s attorney said we can’t do that, but we can ask for donations for the plans.”
Hansen said he wanted the school to do it.
“When I was a kid, one of the things I did in shop was build a Klondike sled. When I built it, all I had was a picture from a Boy Scout magazine. The school saw it and put a picture of it in the local paper,” said Hansen. “Somebody came to me and asked if they could buy it.”
Hansen is constantly changing and refining the design of the Hennepin furniture, each piece of which usually takes him about a day’s work. While his first build was a bench, he’s also branched out into chairs and, just recently, rockers.
“Willie Holmes looked at a chair and said, ‘You ever built a rocker?’ I said ‘No,’ so I came home and built one,” Hansen said. “What the heck, the chair was already there. The rest just came to me.”
One notable thing about his furniture is there’s very little waste. Any cutout pieces are used elsewhere for support or decoration. Hansen sells his chairs and benches starting at about $70. If you’d like to purchase a chair, or would like to help Hansen write up the plans for the chairs, call him at 815-925-7270.