the highlight of my Turkey-Day

oak panels

Thanksgiving in the US is a big deal. But not for me in the usual way. I hate football, drinking & eating turkey & the “fixings” – always have. But Thanksgiving, Pilgrims, Plymouth – that’s the scene, whether it really started there or not. I can’t care, as my friend Pat would say. Working at Plimoth means huge crowds on Thanksgiving, maybe 4,000 people Thursday and the same or more on Friday. 20 years of working those days can also make you a bit dazed…

I split, hewed & planed lots of red oak – big movements are easily seen by big crowds…

Folks were nice, but kinda quiet. At least they weren’t breaking out in fist-fights like many shoppers were. So while I was working away, my mind was often on Bill Coperthwaite. I took his book with me to the beach, where I had lunch. Read snippets here & there. His tag line is often quoted, “I want to live in a world where people are intoxicated with the joy of making things.”

Back at the bench, I was speaking to a family/couple – I forget who was who. But one woman watched for a while, turned to her husband & said – “It makes me want to go home & make something!”

I thanked her. She made my day. Bill’s too I bet.

some color injected into the blog, courtesy of Maureen’s knitting
snow bunting
one of many snow buntings, after the peregrine falcon went through

rt hawk
Red tail hawk outside the shop

for more on Bill, see the following:

from Doug Stowe’s blog Wisdom of the Hands

Another, I don’t know these folks, found them on the web


I’m sure there’s more. Now, go make something…


Thanks, Bill

This isn’t the blog post I wanted to write tonight. A few readers emailed me with the news that Bill Coperthwaite died in a car accident in Maine on Tuesday. Icy road conditions, lost control of the van. Died at the scene.

So what am I thankful for this Thanksgiving? Simple –  having met Bill. About 10 years ago, the museum acted as training ground and consultants for a PBS program called Colonial House. I had little to do with it, other than making 4 housefuls of furniture. But my wife Maureen & I, along with several of our great friends and co-workers back then, were part of the clean-up crew. That meant we travelled to Machias,  ME and stayed out in this glorious seaside house, while we worked at the site dis-mantling the innards of several 17th-century style houses…in absolutely perfect New England early October weather as I recall. We liked it so much that several of us, in one configuration or another, rented the same house for a vacation for several years after that.

Here’s the view out the front door of that house:


When we were there the first time, I remembered one of the young members of our building crew telling us about a guy who lived around the cove in a few yurts. I thought, “that’s Coperthwaite.” I had never met Bill, but we had several mutual friends, foremost Drew & Louise Langsner. Look in Drew’s early book Country Woodcraft, and Bill wrote the introduction.

We had no time to chase down Bill’s place that first season, but the next year we had no work to do, so my friend Tom & I decided to try to find him. Catch was we had no boat, so had to figure out how to get there by land. It’s Maine – the place that invented “you can’t get there from here.” When we finally did get to Bill’s trail, and started walking in, out came Bill, en route to a workshop. He invited us to come help, but that was the day we were headed home (an 8 or 9 hour drive.)

Life got in my way & it took me several years before I was out that way again. After working with the folks at Lie-Nielsen a bunch, I decided to tack on a trip to Machiasport after one of my stints at LN. I got to spend a couple of afternoons with Bill, no where near enough time, but glad I made it happen. What an interesting person! It was fun to watch & listen as Bill never answered a question directly, everything became a teaching opportunity.

A Handmade Life

When people ask me, I always say that A Handmade Life is my favorite book…some can’t stand it, but I take what I need from it & leave the rest.

Best poem in it?

Dead Time

Bill Coperthwaite

“Why not get some horses?”

Comes over the water,

From a 30-foot lobster boat

With 300 horses,

To my 20-foot canoe with

A one-man cedar engine

It’s a two-mile paddle to haul supplies

By rock-bound shore and gnarled spruce.

Osprey “float” above with sharp cries.

A startled heron croaks displeasure

Waiting for the tide to drop.

If lucky – there may be otter kits

Playing in the shallows

At the tide rips.

An eagle perches on a snag,

Loon laughter lilts over the bay,

A seal looks me over.

A motor would take half the time –

But, what with mounting it,

Feeding it, and keeping it in tune,

Would there really be a gain in time?

True – I could go when the wind is

Too strong to paddle

But that is a non-problem.

The racket, the stench, the poisons –

There is the problem.

Oh – I could still see (most of) the birds

But not hear them

And the otters – they’d be gone.

The paddle – lovely yellow cedar –

Carved on a beach in the San Juans,

Has served me well these thirty years.

While paddling the brain does delightful things,

Each moment a surprise – a treasure.

Motoring puts all that on hold,

Thieving those precious minutes –

My brain turned off:

Dead time.

Wille’s spoon carving book available again

I saw from Drew Langsner’s newsletter today that Country Workshops has the reprint version of Wille Sunqvist’s book now available for sale. Here’s what Drew wrote about it:

“Carving spoons and bowls continues to be an area where more and more woodworkers find their special niche. The English version of Wille Sundqvist’s book “Swedish Carving Techniques” was published by Fine Woodworking in 1990. Perhaps 10 years later it was discontinued. Used copies became expensive, if you could find one.

We are pleased to announce that this classic book is available once again. Nothing has been changed, except for the inevitable price increase. Now available from the CW Store. You can purchase a copy by phone (828- 656- 2280) or e-mail.”

It’s a great book – I refer to mine continually. Here’s their website,  you can contact them through there. The book is not yet on their website, but the newsletter says it’s available. I think it said $25 plus shipping…you can buy it elsewhere, but why not get it from the folks who brought Wille’s work to the forefront here in the US?

PS: a quick clarification: Here, I had mentioned there’s a companion video available as well. I should have been more clear – there’s a video Taunton Press shot at Country Workshops in 1988 of Jogge Sundqvist making a spoon and a bowl. It’s a great how-to video, well worth having. The new video about Wille Sundqvist’s carving is not yet available. It will be before too long. I will shout it from the rafters when it’s out. Sorry if I got things mixed up…

Thought you’d like to know.

Spoons & more for sale, late November


nov spoon 020 overall

I posted a new batch of spoons today. Might be the last one for the season. I have more spoons underway; but I am not sure how much time I’ll have coming up. For those new to this; if there’s a spoon you’d like to order, leave a comment…then I can send a paypal invoice or you can send a check. Either way is fine w me.

shallow dof

I have also added the next frame & panel, this one in walnut. (I used this artsy-picture before, but no one noticed it’s not oak!) Again, maybe the last of the season. Two boxes and a joined stool round out the offerings. As always, I really appreciate everyone’s response to this sort of thing. It helps keep things going, and gives me a great boost to have so much support.

Here’s the link, and it’s at the top banner of the blog.

What shall we say, shall we call it by a name?

Art. Craft. Potato, Potahto.

I read Jarrod’s post,

and then Robin’s.

It’s weird stuff. I have no idea where I fall in the discussion. I usually stay out of it. When asked what I am, (that is, what is my job…) I describe myself as a joiner – and here in America most folks don’t know what that means. At the museum where I work, I and others who make things with our hands are called “artisans”. Because of all the carving on my furniture, people often say, “You’re an artist:” – and my response is usually that I consider myself a craftsman.


chair carvings

I had a visitor from Germany one day this year. She was looking at some carved panels I had on the bench. In her hesitant English, which was very good although she had little confidence in it, she said “It is very artificial.”

I thanked her greatly, and stressed that she had just used the term right out of the 17th century; and there weren’t many places where she would be understood using that old meaning of the word. I pictured people being upset or hurt that someone thought their stuff artificial.

But its roots are in artifice – someone who makes such things is an artificer. I dug out the OED & got these snippets:

artificer 1. A person who makes things by art or skill; an artisan, a craftsman.

▸a1393   Gower Confessio Amantis (Fairf.) vii. l. 1691   Artificers, Whiche usen craftes and mestiers, Whos Art is cleped Mechanique.

1445   Petition in Rolls of Parl. (2005) Parl. Feb. 1445 §44. m. 6   Þe wages of..a maister tyler or sclatter, rough mason and meen carpenter, and other the day .iij. d. with mete and drynk.

a1475   J. Russell Bk. Nurture (Harl. 4011) in Babees Bk. (2002) i. 187   Worshipfulle merchaundes and riche artyficeris.

c1517   King Henry VIII Let. 3 May in Camden Misc. (1992) XXXI. 32   A great number of..malicious jorneymen of theire..rancorous disposition against aliens and strangers, artificers and others..soddenly assembled themselves withein our..citty.

1592   T. Nashe Pierce Penilesse (Brit. Libr. copy) sig. C4v,   A base Artificer, that hath no reuenues to bost on.

1659   Milton Considerations touching Hirelings 147   From the magistrate himself to the meanest artificer.

1671   Milton Paradise Regain’d iv. 59   Carv’d work, the hand of fam’d Artificers In Cedar, Marble, Ivory or Gold.

artifice †1. The action of an artificer; the making of something by art or skill; craftsmanship, workmanship. Also: the work of an artificer; manual or mechanical work. Obs.

1526   Grete Herball sig. Qiii/1,   Hony is made by artyfyce, and craft of bees.

1646   Sir T. Browne Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1686) v. v. 195   Adam immediately issued from the Artifice of God.

1667   Milton Paradise Lost ix. 39   The skill of Artifice or Office mean, Not that which justly gives Heroic name To Person or to Poem.

a1682   Sir T. Browne Certain Misc. Tracts (1683) i. 4   The early artifice in Brass and Iron under Tubal-Cain.

2. Human skill or workmanship as opposed to nature or a natural phenomenon.

1526   Grete Herball sig. sig. Pvv/2,   There be yt are naturall without artyfyce or craft & they be ye best & whan ye fynde perles in receptes it is them ytbe naturall perles.

a1533   Ld. Berners tr. A. de Guevara Golden Bk. M. Aurelius (1537) f. 79,   As ye se a thynge made by artyfice peryshe, and a naturall thynge laste.

1593   J. Eliot Ortho-epia Gallica 153   No artifice of man can tell how to counterfait her note.

1774   G. Marriott Estimate of Human Life 355   Nature..infinitely excelled human Artifice.



a. Of a thing: made or constructed by human skill, esp. in imitation of, or as a substitute for, something which is made or occurs naturally; man-made.

c1425   Lydgate Troyyes Bk. (Augustus A.iv) iii. l. 5678 (MED),   Bawme natural, Þat ran þoruȝ pipes artificial.

c1475   tr. H. de Mondeville Surgery (Wellcome) f. 157,   Close þe lippis of þe wounde &..binde hem & hele hem wiþ wiyn and stupis & pressuris & plagellis & artificial byndynge.

1547   C. Langton Very Brefe Treat. Phisick ii. vi. sig. Gviv,   Artificiall bathes, be made by mannes witte.

1588   T. Hariot Breife Rep. Virginia sig. E2,   Their houses most townes couered with barkes, and in some with artificiall mattes made of long rushes.

1611   S. Rowlands Four Knaves 22   An artificiall flie of silk.

1663   Marquis of Worcester Cent. Names & Scantlings Inventions xlvi,   How to make an artificial Bird to fly.

In sixteenth-century England rules concerning the trades’ management were created. These were called  the Statute of Artificers.  

I remember Jogge Sundqvist using the term “handycraftsman” – but like the German visitor, this is a case of having  Jogge’s idea being translated into English…

Jogge Sundqvist at Country Workshops, 2010
Jogge Sundqvist at Country Workshops, 2010

But “handycraftsman” is an old term, think of Moxon’s book’s title, Mechanick Exercises or the Doctrine of Handy-works. I ran into this phrase when Trent & I studied Boston joiners too.  Here is an excerpt from the Bulletin of the Boston Public Library, vol. 4, #4, Jan. 1894, pp. 305-6:

 Fac-Simile of a Petition of the Handycraftsmen of Boston in 1677, Against the Intrusion of Strangers

On page 426 of his “History and Antiquities of Boston” the late Samuel G. Drake gives an account of the accompanying Petition. The original document, of which a fac-simile is now presented, was once owned by Drake, who thus describes it:

 “May 29, 1677. At the may session of the General Court, the Handycraftsmen, a very considerable part of the Town of Boston,’ to the number of one hundred and twenty-nine, put in a petition, praying for protection in their several callings, `whose outward subsistence,’ they say, `doth depend upon God’s blessing, and many of us not having estates any other way to advantage ourselves; that by the frequent intruding of strangers from all parts, especially of such as are not desirably qualified, find ourselves under great disadvantages, and prejudicial to the Towne; and many times the stranger drawes away much of the custome from his neighbor, which hath been long settled, and in reality is much more the deserving man; whereby it has already come to pass with many, that severall inhabitants that have lived comfortably upon their trades, and been able to bear publick charges in a considerable degree, now cannot subsist, which is very pernicious and prejudiciall to the Towne; and some that never served any time, or not considerably for the learning of a Trade, yet finding wayes to force themselves into the Towne, and then sometimes by hireing or buying a servant, they doe set up a Trade, and thus draw away the custom of the Petitioners belonging to the Town, as above has been set forth. They, therefore, `conceiving that the foresaid disadvantages do arise, either for the want of power to make orders, or due execution of orders, ask that power might be granted to the Selectmen,’ or others, `for a regular and effectual execution of all such orders as are, or may be made, referring to the admission of inhabitants; that Tradesmen shall fulfill a sufficient apprenticeship, and be (proficients?) before they set up Trades, etc.

For “artist” I think of Heather –


pick ’em off one by one

the good thing about starting too many projects at once is that when you finally get around to dealing with them, it looks like you build stuff in record time, knocking off projects on a two-a-week basis.

Here’s what’s coming down the pike:

This chest – it falls in the House of the Rising Sun category – I started it in April or May, left it alone until July or August, then picked it back up in Oct. Only to leave it til now. So it’s all over the map. But it will work out. I have to panel the other end, then fit the till. That’s tomorrow.


I have a bunch of book stands underway. And this is the last joint stool to come out of this shop in its present configuration.

stand & stool

Here’s one that will fall by the wayside – it’s aiming to be a box; but it will have to wait. there’s priorities you know.

box on hold

This one should be do-able. Just some funny paint left to finish up.

box wants paint

Those are all I could get near with a camera today. there’s more in there, I think. Two more chests, the chest of drawers will wait – it’s a long-term project. And lots of stuff rattling around in my head.

a few posts in one


I’m reading some big books lately. One is the deluxe edition of the Roubo book from Lost Art Press. I sold a lot of spoons to buy a book like that; but I knew I wanted volume 2, so it made sense to get in at the beginning too. The book is intoxicating; it makes me want to fiddle with inlays and other foreign (to me) ideas. Great great accomplishment from a host of people to produce this book. It will take time to really digest the scope of it; some of the images remind me of Serlio’s books on architecture. .  See Jameel’s take on it, he wrote a nice piece about it.

I’m also reminded of a giant reproduction book I viewed some years ago, one of two manuscripts by Thomas Trevelyon – a bunch of early English images; including patterns and designs. Now there’s been a third manuscript of his discovered

Another biggie is Adam Bowett, Woods in British Furniture Making 1400-1900: An Illustrated Historical Dictionary. 

Bowett's book

I had seen this book back in the spring while at Winterthur’s Furniture Forum. I also had the opportunity to hear Adam speak on the last day of that seminar. His presentation was great- it generally was the subject of the book, what woods are found in British furniture. Could be pretty dry, but Adam made it quite interesting. So I saved up, & got the book. His introductory essay is the best discussion about Britain’s timber situation; use of domestics, importation, etc. There’s several pages on “wainscot” so that in itself made it worth my time. Great book.

Then comes the last big book I’m currently reading – vol 2 of the Autobiography of Mark Twain. (Not about woodworking of course, but hickory bark is mentioned in vol 1.) He rambles through whatever crosses his mind, knowing he can speak freely. His instructions were for the book to by published 100 years after his death. So no one would be offended by him telling the truth. The books are not linear in any way, he’s all over the map. So I didn’t read it with any concern about keeping pace, or trying to follow the narrative. I picked away at vol 1 whenever I thought of it. By the time I was done fiddling with it, vol 2 came out. Perfect timing.


I stink at sawing. I can use a hatchet pretty well. Can do some oak-ish carving in a particular style easily. But saws I struggle with. Just not enough practice. I’m working on it. Matt Cianci has helped a lot. When he visited my shop one day, I showed him a new saw I had from the folks at Lie-Nielsen. I told him that I held it funny to get it working the way I wanted…I grabbed it low down on the handle. Matt suggested re-fitting a newer handle with different “hang”. So I handed him the saw & that’s what he did.

I’m sure lots of people use this saw just as is, with fine results. But I didn’t want to treat it like a relic, and I felt that I wasn’t getting what I could from the saw. I was interested in learning how it would behave with the lower fitting handle.

PF sawing

I like it, and use it regularly these days on the chest of drawers I am building. Matt brought the original handle back so it can be reversed if ever I wanted to…

Here’s Matt’s take on what he did…


It’s not that I have frequented the House of the Rising Sun, but that I have left half-finished furniture around for months & months. It makes it very difficult to pick up the thread & see where it’s going. Here’s a couple more shots of the chest of drawers’ upper case. I have not really begun the lower case yet. Here it is with some ornament applied, but the case not yet fully assembled. This one is not a copy, but truly an “inspired-by” situation. That means I am making it up as I go along, and that I didn’t measure and examine the originals in detail enough to copy them. Red oak frame, cedrela panels on the side. Drawer fronts are pine, with figured maple inserts. Surrounded by cedrela moldings. Rosewood turnings.

upper case side front view

Rear view just before I inserted a single pine panel. The drawer back is a re-used sheathing board; this side-hung drawer is about 10″ deep, so gets 2 sets of runners. I have yet to install the lower drawer runner.

upper case rear view

Here’s a clear shot of the smaller upper drawer back; this time oak. Riven, sawn-off drawer bottoms scarred the drawer back. Just like some old ones I see. The rear joints are rabbets, nailed. Fronts are half-blind dovetails. Glued. Sometimes nailed.

small drawer rear view

When the upper case is tipped on its back, you see the mortise in the bottom edge of the side rails. This is for a registration loose tenon that will align the lower case & upper case. The front lower rail is only 1″ high, maybe 1 1/2″ I forget. It has a rabbet in its inner lower edge, for dust boards that will seal the bottom of this case. The tenon runs the whole height of the rail, so when I cut off the excess end of the stile, the tenon is exposed.

upper case bottom of stiles

Now I have to put it down again, & finish some stuff for the museum. It’s a hard life wherever you go…

Speaking of which, wherever I go to set up shop, I intend to have a sign. So I started carving one like I did for Lie-Nielsen a couple of years ago.

Lie-Nielsen Weekend Workshops

Here’s the beginnings of mine, the piece of red oak courtesy of Bob Van Dyke:

PF sign

this one’s for Marie

Hey Marie – your screech shot was the highlight of my autumn-armchair birding season…

but today I got my own luck. After spending a couple hours trimming & digging by the riverside; we were putting stuff away & coming up to the house. I saw what I thought was a creeper in the pear tree, but it turned out to be a golden-crowned kinglet. He stuck around long enough to get his picture took, here with his crest puffed up:

GC kinglet 2


For a split-second, he sat still out in the open:

GC kinglet 3


Most of the views were like this, of course…

GC kingletMade my day…


Stuff that’s not mine

I haven’t taken many photographs lately, so I have little to post about. So two things, no, three from others.

A few weeks ago, our friend Marie photographed this screech owl in a tree – a good shot, Marie

Marie's screech

She also, while suffering from MLB (Major League Baseball)  withdrawal, sent this link to the highlights of the Red Sox/Cardinals World Series. If you missed the Series, here it is in just a few minutes. I could have saved several hours’ worth of time.

And, just around the bend from here

September Jones River, 2012
September Jones River, 2012

are the other MLB guys, (Michael L Burrey &  crew) as recorded in Rick’s Blue Oak blog –

Me, I’ve been sorting stuff, thinking about moving the tools, and talking to school kids in droves. I’m wiped. Off to pack some spoons for shipping.



Spoons & more for sale

nov spoons blog post photo

There’s a new page of spoons for sale tonight, the usual arrangement – leave a comment if you see a spoon you’d like and we’ll take it from there. Here’s the link, and it’s also found on the header of the blog’s front page.

I also added a carved framed panel for sale. This is something I have often thought of offering, after getting enough requests for them, I decided to give it a try.

frame & panel sunflower

Finally, I have two more carved bookstands ready to send out, but if anyone would like to order one of these, send me an email. They are $225 shipped in US. Here’s what they generally look like, although the carving is usually not the same twice…

carved bookstand
carved bookstand