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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Pandemic projects: Couple converts old garage into woodshop

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

Cass and Rick Johnson both love to build.

“I was a framer in my 20s and built four houses,” Cass Johnson said.

Their backyard burgeons with their creations. A big sandbox, a tree house, garden benches and tables.

When the pandemic hit they decided to convert the garage in their 1924-era South Hill home into a woodshop.

“The house was built when they had Model T’s,” said Rick. “It’s too small for our car.”

Too small for a car, but perfect to store the couple’s collection of woodworking tools and spare lumber.

In their new shop, they created two sets of blocks for their grandsons. Cass turned one set into characters and pieces from the popular video game “Minecraft.”

“Our grandsons love ‘Minecraft,’ ” she said. “It was fun to make them.”

But the bulk of their time and talent was spent building display stands and tables for Cass’s true passion: bonsai.

“I’ve been growing bonsai for 15 years,” she said. “It’s all-consuming.”

Her skill and knowledge deepened when she joined the Inland Empire Bonsai Society, and she’s looking forward to the resumption of in-person meetings. In the meantime, the Johnson’s backyard features miniature bonsai forests, and Cass sells bonsai online on Etsy.

Bonsai is an ancient art that has its roots over 2,000 years ago in the Chinese art of shaping trees. Any type of tree can be bonsai.

“It’s the pruning and care that makes it bonsai,” Cass said.

The term literally means “plant in a container.”

“It takes a lot of patience,” said Rick, who sticks to woodshop projects. But the woodshop has come in handy for his wife’s bonsai obsession.

“To show bonsai you have to have some kind of small platform,” explained Cass.

Part of a traditional display includes a suiseki or viewing stone. These pieces also need a wood base or plinth called a diaza.

The suisekis come from rocks the pair has collected over the years.

“We kayaked when we were younger, and we’d pile rocks in our kayaks,” Cass said.

Now, they stick to hiking, but still pick up plenty of stones.

“All the rocks in her displays come from the Spokane River,” said Rick. “The rocks aren’t carved – they’re still in their natural state.”

The woodshop isn’t quite complete.

“It’s an ongoing project,” said Rick. “The idea is to turn it into something we can work in and use.”

The cozy spot became a refuge for them during COVID-19.

“It’s been a lovely, wonderful diversion and obsession during the pandemic,” Cass said of time spent in the shop. “We work on something most every day.”

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