the Woodwright Experience

the Woodwright's Shop

look where I was last week.

I have had very good fortune in my woodworking career – great teachers, friends, projects. All I could ask for…

One of the top highlights has been the chance for the past 10+ years to work on occasion with Roy Underhill. Roy saw my shop at Plimoth one day on a scouting trip he made through New England, looking for ideas for his show. I remember getting a phone message at work – “Roy Underhill called you” …”yea, sure” says me.

It’s hard to express the impact Roy’s books and shows have had on my work. I remember being in my early 20s, having just met Alexander & Langsner – and the green woodworking world was pretty small. Having found a television show about it was astounding…I remember watching the first couple of seasons on my lunch breaks at my part-time picture-framing job. I used to go to the local pizza joint & change the channel to see the show.

Years later, I ended up working in the living history museum field – and lo & behold, one of the books that addresses some of the challenges in that work is also by Roy – Krushchev’s Shoe: and Other Ways to Captivate an Audience of 1 to 1,000  (

So whenever I’m at a symposium, lecture, woodworking shows, etc where Roy is also on the bill, I try to make sure I get to see what he’s up to. It’s always worth seeing. Great teacher, presenter, lecturer, also can do woodwork – except he hasn’t finished a project in 32 years! Still worth it.

Last week, we had great students from many parts of the country, they had come a long ways, set aside time from their busy lives, all to let folks like Roy & I get to do what we love to do – share our ideas about furniture & woodworking.

students carving


learning to hew


many shavings

Ed Lebetkin’s store upstairs continues to swell w tools… if he doesn’t have what you’re looking for, he’ll probably end up with it soon.

tip of the iceberg


partial view of the whole iceberg up there. If you’re looking for something in particular, write to Ed  at


partial view of the whole iceberg

 Here’s a drawing my son Daniel did after watching an episode where Roy & I made spoons. To the right behind me are the finished spoons that were propped up for viewing in that episode. As well as a bunch of blocks that Roy brought in to make spoons from, behind him:

The episode is here, # 3108 

So if you have not yet made it to Pittsboro, NC for a class at the Woodwright’s School, put it on your list. It’s getting better all the time.

I feel that being a part of his Woodwright’s School is truly an honor, a real highlight in my career. Thanks for having me Roy, it means a lot to me.

BUT – here is the real kicker from the week down south: 

barred owl


To paraphrase Groucho Marx, the other morning I shot this great blue heron in my pajamas….

I first visited this house about 13 years ago; and looked out the window & saw this view:


It was summer, not the early spring of that photo – but on the riverbank is a pole standing upright – and on it at that time was a kingfisher. Found one there the other day too

Kingfisher, female

Today my wife called down from upstairs, “there’s an egret in the river!” – so I bopped my head out the window, and all I could see was a yellowlegs – I can never tell if they’re greater or lesser yellowlegs…


So I kept yelling upstairs, “it’s not an egret – it’s a shorebird” …then the egret strode into view.

It was here all day; even stayed for lunch

Another view (I took all these pictures, got to do something with them)

Every year I re-tape the stick to the pole that’s driven into the bank.


I’ll get back to posting some woodsy stuff. I have lots of ideas lately just not much time. Off to Roy’s soon, & there’s always something going on there.





box class coming up

nailing box bottom

OK – I have a week to get ready. I’m off to Roy Underhill’s place; the Woodwright’s School in a week or so. I have some white pine boards for box bottoms & lids; and a load of tools to sharpen, sort & pack.

And a lesson plan to cook up – so I will re-read this article.  PF_box_articl  (the top banner of the blog now has a few pages from my now-deceased website, including the one that says “online publications” or something like that. That’s where this box article was recently buried…)

It might help me, I haven’t made any boxes from start to finish  this winter; so I am a little rusty.

The bar in the back of the school is no threat to me, but Ed’s shop upstairs is – I need more tools like a hole in the head, but I’m sure I’ll  go up just to see what’s there…

Then we have to come up with a television scheme or two.

And I have to get some birding in, Roy tells me the Louisiana waterthrushes are back at his place.

revisiting a well-known collection

Over the years I have been very fortunate to have access to lots of original examples of 17th-century furniture to study & learn from. Museums & collectors have been very gracious with their time & collections so I could get an education.

Last week I revisited for the umpteenth time the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT. Among other things, this museum is home to the furniture collection assembled in the early 20th century by Wallace Nutting. Nutting worked a lot of his furniture over; and had a mentality and approach that is easy to criticize from 90 years’ perspective. Regardless of where one stands on the Wallace Nutting situation, the collection has some great stuff in it.

One piece is this long joined table – it’s the piece I went to see. Here is a lousy overall of it.

Salisbury table, Wadsworth Atheneum

The top is by some thought to be new; Nutting’s book says it’s the old top, removed, replaned and now screwed onto the frame…I couldn’t decide one way or the other – but didn’t spend too much time worrying about it either.  All the framing is riven; and the top  is two flatsawn oak boards joined together. It might be that we expect the top boards to also be riven, quartered stock; but at 7 feet long, it’s just beyond the limits of practical working lengths for riving boards.  Some square tables from the period have riven boards making up the tops, but these are less than 4′ long usually. One’s at Wadsworth. 

Here is the carving that runs along one long apron.

carved guilloche Salisbury table, Wadsworth Atheneum

and some of the details of the turned work –

turning Salisbury table, Wadsworth Atheneum

I noted the scribed line struck across the squared section – at first I thought it marked the location for the mortise the brackets fit into – 

scribed line, Salisbury table, Wadsworth Atheneum

but then I found similar marks on the lower end of the stiles. I think this scribe line marks the spot where the craftsman started turning the square-to-round transition. So this becomes one of those tiny details that always help with my work in the shop. I won’t scribe every turning this way now, but sometimes I will, knowing that it’s “period-correct” in at least one case.

I have a mental & somewhat photographic collection of these small technique/habit tidbits from period joiners. This is the kind of detail that’s hard to get without access to the original artifacts. That’s why I always try to include these sort of shots on the blog – because I know it’s not really feasible for the curators to let all of the woodworkers traipse around these collections, wreaking havoc wherever we go…

Most of the American furniture collection is in storage these days, as the museum works on a huge expansion project. I got to stroll the aisles and saw some old favorites while I was there.

This Thomas Dennis chest is Nutting’s books, but it was not part of the Nutting collection. It belonged to one of the Hartford collectors – Goodwin, I think. The lid is new, early 20th-c.

Dennis chest, Wadsworth Atheneum

First thing I noticed this time with this chest is the very slight set-back for the panel grooves – the panels are only recessed a minimal amount; it seems the stock is riven quite thin, so Dennis adjusted how much he set the groove back from the face of the framing.

carved panel, Dennis chest, Wadsworth Atheneum


We opened the chest up & the inside face of the chest’s rear section has moldings decorating it, a nice touch. Doesn’t take much time to add this sort of stuff, and it makes things look snappy…

interior moldings, Wadsworth Atheneum


The rear outside is barely worked at all with a plane. Many riven surfaces; virtually nothing flat back there at all.

And then the Thurston/Houghton stuff from Dedham & Medfield, Massachusetts. To me, these chests are always charming in their simplicity.

Dedham chest detail, Wadsworth Atheneum

A little bit of carving, basic framing & some scratch moldings. This one has been painted in the last few decades to mimic an old painted surface – a related one in a private collection had backgrounds painted w lampblack pigment, and the surfaces worked with either logwood or brazil wood dyes. bright red with black behind. Another thing to try at some point.

As in most of the Dedham chests, this one has scribed lines to mark out the joinery right across the framing…

A great many thanks to Alyce Englund for her time & attention.

some bowl turning

I have been splitting & planing some red oak – but not at any joinery stage with it yet. In the meantime, I have been turning some bowls from the sycamore tree that I gathered some material from recently…

turning sycamore bowl


Here is a detail of the hook working the inside of the bowl. For someone used to turning furniture parts, it was quite a revelation that the action happens BELOW the centers!  Here’s a link to a photo of the hooks

cutting the inside


I always tell folks I am not a bowl-turner; but a joiner who sometimes turns a few bowls. It’s great fun, I have been using it as a warm-up exercise in the morning, then doing bench work afterwards… A few of the bowls. These will dry in the shavings until they stabilize. By then they will be distorted; just the way I like them.

For a real bowlturner, so see Robin Wood’s stuff.