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A real Swinger

You could ask Tom McGrady about the time he spent working as an apprentice to an instrument maker. Or about how he learned to make furniture from a Quaker artisan. Or even about the 25 years he spent managing fine art galleries in Las Vegas, Reno, Hawaii and San Francisco. He just might answer any of the questions, but, more than likely, McGrady will steer the conversation to swings.

Right now, life for the Summerlin resident is all about swings. How he hand-selects each piece of wood he uses to make them. How he painstakingly assembles the pieces so the swings will last for generations. How he spends hours rubbing in five coats of tung oil to create a smooth, silky finish. And, most importantly, how relaxing it is to spend some time in one.

"There’s just something beautiful about swinging," he said. "I think it goes back to our infancy."

Through his company, Las Vegas Swings, McGrady offers handmade porch swings, garden arbors, Adirondack chairs, settees and rockers.

From creating the patterns to cutting down large boards to make lattice for an arbor, McGrady approaches his work as an artist. In fact, he signs each piece when it is completed.

"I love the creation of woodworking. I take a lot of satisfaction and pride in it. I hope those who buy my swings feel the same pride."

He said it takes about a month to complete a swing. He strives to make sure each piece he makes is perfect, starting by devoting an average of five to seven hours just to select the right wood. Then, before he is finished, McGrady goes over the swing with a magnifying glass to make sure there are no scratches on the surface.

"So much time is devoted to every swing that I literally become intimately involved with each one. We become friends. And, I like to find my friends good homes with nice families who will cherish their time relaxing in my swings," he writes on his Web site.

McGrady said he prefers to work in walnut, cherry or white oak. His arbors are made of California redwood. He said he appreciates the woods’ beauty as well as their resistance to rot.

Additionally, McGrady offers versions of his swings, chairs and settees in poplar, which have no lathe-turned pieces, are painted in porch and floor enamel and are less expensive.

His pieces are priced from $795 for a painted chair to slightly less than $9,000 for an arbor. A tung oil-finished porch swing is priced around $4,500 while a painted swing is priced at $1,595.

McGrady said he has wanted to be a woodworker since he was a young boy, but was discouraged from pursuing his dream by his parents. Until he was an adult, the closest he came was creating a cutting board for his mother during woodshop while he was in junior high school, he said.

Still, he was determined.

Growing up in Chester County, Pa., McGrady said he knew there had to be someone who was willing to teach him.

"I checked the phone book and knocked on doors," he said.

Eventually, he met a Quaker man who made authentic reproductions of Colonial-era furniture from the area.

"He worked in an old mushroom spawning barn and he had never hired anyone before," McGrady said. "He was afraid that if he didn’t have enough work he wouldn’t be able to meet payroll."

McGrady said he offered to work for the man, if he would teach him how to make wooden furniture, for $1 an hour.

"It was only $40 a week, but I was learning something."

His life took him away from his childhood neighborhood and into the world of fine arts, where he spent 25 years managing galleries. All the while, the dream of making furniture simmered on a back burner. Then, one day while swinging on a porch swing with a friend, the idea of making his own swings suddenly came to him.

McGrady said he spent hours in the library researching styles and angles so that he could create the most comfortable seat as possible. He made a few prototypes and then in January left his position at Centaur Art Galleries to start his own company.

"The charm about swings is they’re almost like a comfort food. I see them bringing joy into people’s lives," he said.

For more information, visit McGrady’s Web site at www.lasvegasswings.com.

 

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