Standard Time

EB box, photo Gavin Ashworth for American Furniture, 2005

Many years ago I saw this carved box for the first time. Right away I knew it related to works from Devon England – the initials were something new, but the leaves and flowers were quite familiar. It’s supposed to be from Windsor, Connecticut. Who might have made it is immaterial (it’s attributed to John Drake of Windsor or one of his sons, but that’s not correct.) I knew I wanted to make boxes with that kind of initialing. 

DF box, 2022

My kids don’t read the blog. So they won’t see these boxes-in-progress. I’ve owed them these boxes for 2 years I think. I caved most of these parts a while back, and put one box together yesterday. This is maybe really the last of the butternut boards I’ve had the past few years. What a nice wood for boxes, not hard, not soft. Not light, not dark. 

RF box, next up

A recent writing assignment the kids had was about what they think the world will be like in 50 years. Turns out they’ll be pretty much the age I am now in 50 years. And for the past few years I have been studying extensive writings of my father’s and two people who taught me woodworking. Maybe 50 years from now the kids will read my writings. 

one way of looking at our place

Some people think, based on carefully selected photos here, that I live in some idyllic pastoral setting. While I do have a wonderful river view out back, our place is right in town, near some very busy roads. Out of sight, but within hearing is the highway to Cape Cod. Lots of traffic. So lots of accidents. One of my favorite comments on the blog was someone who watched one of the videos – and said words to the effect of: “It looks like you live in a beautiful rural setting, but sounds like you live in Detroit.” Sirens mess up my videos constantly. 

re-used carving for till lid
white pine till side & bottom

One of the tasks I had yesterday was to cut the parts for the till. I use 3/8” stock for till parts – and squirrel it away when I make extra. If I don’t have any on hand, then I hew and plane the oak parts. But the bottoms and sides I make from whatever is around  – hard or soft wood is fine. In this case, I ripped a piece of quartersawn white pine. It was 7/8” thick which was enough to give me perfect 3/8” parts. A few moments with a marking gauge and a ripsaw. 

It’s autumn here in New England. Great light, just a wonderful time of year. Yesterday was unseasonably warm, so all the windows open. And then – the leaf blowers. I hate them with a passion. (I know, I’m in a minority re: leaf blowers, smart phones, etc – I can like you & hate your machines…) So the contrast between my ripsawing and my neighbor’s leaf blower reminded me of Bill Coperthwaite’s poem Dead Time. (It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned Bill on the blog. Some of the new readers might not know the story – his book is – there’s lots more to it, but one place you can learn more is this website

His poem Dead Time captures for me a big part of why I use hand tools. It’s not to be old-timey, nor pure – it’s a personal preference about how I want to spend my time. A tablesaw would have ripped that pine board in seconds. But those seconds – dead time. Like the leaf blower. Here’s Bill’s poem –

Dead Time

“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.

Bill Coperthwaite

14 thoughts on “Standard Time

  1. Your kids should love those boxes, beautiful carving with their initials. I liked the poem and agree with it, even though I use too many power tools in my woodworking and yard work! Happy to see that you seem to be feeling better.

  2. The boxes are very attractive and classic. The poem really makes you think.

    . as for power tool woodworking, your ears, ear plugs or muffs , and a respirator. Just to saw a board?

    Otters are increadable cool.

  3. If you want some more butternut, I have some. It was milled in may of 2020 and has been air drying since. I have some 15’ boards that are 24” at the narrow end and some 12’ ones that are narrower. I figure you’d want 1” for carving, but I also have some 1 1/2” and 2” planks too.

    • Oh – I should have warned people. 20th century paint. The carefully phrased caption in 2005 read: The paint may be a modern recreation of the original scheme.” You could just as accurately say “it may be the work of outer-space aliens.” Which is to say – we don’t know. You wouldn’t find blue before the early 18th century. There’s Prussian blue used in some Connecticut River Valley work then…sparingly.

  4. Thanks, lovely post. Bill has been an inspiration as well for me too. I have always fancied his desk with the tool drawer below. One day I hope to build one but just do not have a good full picture or some kind of idea how it comes together. We will keep it in my own personal time capsule.

  5. Beautiful boxes and a great poem. And a reminder to look at the afternoon slanting light across the wall outside our kitchen window. Thanks for being out there.

  6. Hello there Peter I’m a boat captain and pt woodworker and I’ve been following your blog since 09 or 10. I really appreciate the sharing and what I’ve mom was an Alden and dad’s family were Winthrop fleet arrivals and I grew up in a house that I could run my hands on pieces the like of what you make( the age of which was beyond comprehension of this young lad )so I was amazed anybody was making it when someone turned me on to your work. That said here’s my “comment” I removed to rural NH seven years ago unable to take the stuff in Mass anymore. (Although we do make the annual pilgrimage to the plantation) I kept the door at East Sandwich Friends mtg and lived in that part of old Quaker Sandwich which was becoming quite gentrified in the 90s by folks w no idea how this area, it’s houses etc were organically created, much like MV and Nantucket, but they could throw money at it and were usually quite pleased w themselves. Well on one fine first day with windows open as we settled into mtg, quietly of course, down the road at some newly arrived wash ashore’s home a leaf blower fired up and continued for the hour. This happened again the next week, and then on the a third I quietly slipped out, walked down the lane and spoke w the gentleman and returned. At the end of mtg the clerk, Paul Noonan came over to me and said “Pittman I’ve known thee and your Luddite propensities a long time, and while I’m sure Friends were pleased with the sudden silence, I quite enjoy that I’m confident it was handled inappropriately”. My own shop is in a wood heated Greek revival bldg w great tall windows and a local flock of turkeys coming by each morning at some point. Natural light, just the birds and non motorized q-u-e-i-t have an intangible effect on this kind of work for me. Thanks for the inspiration in turning my work in a more traditional direction. Cheers Jim P

    Sent from my iPad


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