In between times

It’s coming up on a year since I left my job as the joiner at Plimoth Plantation. While I was there, I often taught workshops during my vacations and other time off. Lie-Nielsen, Roy Underhill’s place, CVSWW, Country Workshops – but in that format, I only had a few weeks (or weekends) each year available to travel & teach.

Matt riving w Plymouth CRAFT last weekend


When I announced I was leaving the museum, I got offers to come teach in various places, in addition to the usual outfits. When I arranged my schedule last winter, I had no idea how it would work – on paper it seemed fine, once or twice a month, travel to teach. One long, maybe one short class each month. Now I’m in the midst of it, and while it’s great fun (Alaska! Are you kidding?) what I didn’t compute is the time between to unpack, decompress and then turn around & get ready for the next one.

matanuska trip

I’m not complaining, just saying “here’s why there’s little on the blog these days…”

I was thinking, I’m home now for 3 1/2 weeks, before I head down for to Roy’s. Except this coming weekend I’m at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, then next weekend I have a one-day presentation with the Plymouth CRAFT group, then the weekend after that, I’m back at my 2nd home this summer – Lie-Nielsen for making a carved box. THEN, I have to hit the road & go to North Carolina!

mortising from on high
Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking

The plan is to do some woodworking tomorrow & shoot some pictures. I’ll let you know what happens.

How am I supposed to get some birding in? I haven’t even had time to ID this warbler from Maine…


Alaska post

 matanuska trip

I’ve written before about how I consider myself pretty lucky. Mostly healthy, wonderful family, nice home – that sort of thing. On top of that, I get to make my living doing interesting and challenging work that I love. And, I have fallen into what I often call the Hand-Tool Circus (sometimes I call it the Lie-Nielsen circus, or the Roy Underhill Circus, the Lost Art Press circus, etc) – it’s a loosely defined band of traveling woodworkers who get to go places and teach classes. Traveling is hard, leaving the kids at home – there’s lots to it that’s like work; the planning, packing, unpacking…organizing the next trip – but it sure beats working for a living…

 This circus has taken me to some interesting places, and has introduced me to a cadre of new friends far and wide. So now you can tell this post is about Alaska. The Alaska Creative Woodworkers is a group of woodworkers, centered around Anchorage – and they bring woodworkers from down south here to teach various classes. This past week was my turn, following in the steps of Roy Underhill, Chris Schwarz, Mary May, Chris Becksvoort, and more…

 Chris and Roy had told me that these folks treat you very well. That was an understatement to say the least. Great hosts, great facility in the shop of club member Don Fall, and they leave out no detail. I had time off between the two classes, and had volunteers wanting to show me Alaska. Jonathan Snyder (blog here: ) made sure I got to every birding spot in the area, and other club members Tony Strupulis and Mike Weidmar each took a whole day to show me around, one on a whale watch out of Seward, in Resurrection Bay, the other for a ride up the Matanuska-Susitna region, looking at the Matanuska glacier and the formation of some of those mountains and valleys. This particular ride was in style, a 1941 Cadillac being the means of conveyance. An earlier trip was in a 1949 Ford Convertible. Alaskans think 50 degrees Farenheit is warm.

mike W 1941 caddy
In the Cadillac…a great car to drive after a war

 Everywhere you look there is an eye popping view, to my sea-level eyes anyway….and the woodworking! Yellow cedar for the carved boxes, and nice slow growing birch – more dense than the birch I know down in New England…for spoons. plus I was able to harvest some bark to practice learning how to work with that. (Thanks though to Jarrod for my first batch of bark and the inspiration and instruction in the first place.)

fresh bark from Alaska birch (Betaluna neoalaskana)


Eagles, ducks, geese, songbirds, owls (heard-only) grouse, cranes, shorebirds – I was really there just before peak migration, but got to see some birds I only know in winter plumage. And some I had either never seen, or had never seen well (also couldn’t get photos of them – the varied thrush, boreal chickadee, white winged crossbill.)


Moose (Jonathan found my first moose about 7 minutes into my visit, in the parking lot of a defunct club where ladies used to “dance” if you know what I mean. This is a family blog, so I’ll leave it at that) – Dall sheep, mountain goats, Stellar’s sea lions, sea otters -grey whales, Dall’s porpoises, musta been more.

strip moose
strip club moose, aka City Moose

 I read some travel guide about Alaska that should have been called “There’s Lots of Ways to Die in Alaska” – let’s see, you can walk out in the mud, get stuck, then drown as the quickly rising tide comes in to bury you. Fall in a glacial crevasse. Et by a bear. (The bear warnings are really something – don’t surprise the bear by walking around a blind corner – but the woods I walked were nothing but blind corners. I got spooked by a squirrel. You’re supposed to clap, sing, or ring bells as you walk. Makes birding tricky) You can get Stomped by a moose. Avalanche. Oh, yes, Anchorage is on a huge fault, and in 1964 was the site of North America’s largest-ever earthquake. Nobody said anything about just plain ol’ getting lost in the wilderness. Falling off some mountain road, tumbling thousands of feet.

lotsa ways to die



Ah, yes – falling in a crevasse – at least there’s little decay. Good for archaeology.



PF by Jonathan

See? It says “move cautiously along creeks, on blind corners and in heavily vegetated areas” which is all of the Alaska I saw…yup, there’s lots of ways to die in Alaska. But I’ll go push my luck again someday. It was great. Thanks to all my new Alaska friends. I’ll always remember this trip


Next stop – home of the circus, Lie-Nielsen.


some leftover photos & more

I took today off, which means I only did woodworking for half the day so far. A few things rambling around during the last week. We made it out to the beach the other day for the first time since the winter hit hard.

first beach trip

The usual beach-combing, sand-building, and scenery-viewing. Then on the walk back, Daniel noticed this skull. I put the keys in the shot for scale.

skull scale

My what lovely teeth you had…really small, but fierce teeth. I woulda brought it home for the skull & bones collection, but it was still fleshy in places…

what teeth you had


Saw this in the yard today, it was cause for excitement.

first one


The view up the river, no ice.




I finished this bowl yesterday & today. Mostly finished, I’ll carved some stuff along its rim. Butternut, (Juglans cinerea)


Here’s one way I hold it for final shaping of the rims’ edge. Just some scrap blocks inside the bowl, to keep the vise from pressing against the upper edge.

trimming sides of bowl

Like the spoons, I lean towards odd-ball shapes. This one’s a bent limb, which results in the pith being off-center. So I made the centerline of the bowl ever further out-of-whack. That results in some unusual shapes. Which can be good, or can be fatal. Worked this time, I think.

top view bowl

If you are at all interested in hewing bowls, two things. I’m teaching it this August at Lie-Nielsen,

and otherwise, you might if you haven’t already look at Dave Fisher’s new blog about his carvings. Dave’s stuff is really inspiring.

One other Lie-Nielsen thing – we have decided to try something new(ish) for my carving class this June. Usually we rive and plane some oak, and carve patterns based on the 17th-century stuff. This time, we’re attempting to carve and assemble a small box.

So instead of riving the stuff, it will be riven & prepped ahead of time. Then we’ll concentrate on carving and cutting & assembling. 2 days – whew.

I’ll be doing the whole-soup-to-nuts version of the carved box at Marc Adams’ school as well as the New English Workshops in England. I’ll write in detail about those workshops later this week.




I don’t know how to juggle for real

but I do it with oak all the time. I have three active oak projects going right now. Active means I’m working on them all at once. A couple more are semi-active. Like the desk box, that got back-burner-ed for a video shoot this spring. I’ll save the final assembly for the cameras.


This chest has been around a long time, but it’s going forward now at a regular clip.

chest test fit

Its purpose is to illustrate in the joinery book how to make & fit drawers. Hence, “chest with drawers.” The front is mostly pinned, the sides are test-fitted, I have to finish cutting and fitting the till, and a little more work on the rear frame. Mortises are cut, need to cut the tenons; plow grooves, etc. I’d say this chest is about 8 or 10 hours’ work from final assembly, including the floor. Then comes the drawers. And lid.

rear rails & stiles

A related chest with drawers is the model for the joined chest class at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. I’ve cut the front frame, and started the carving the other day. It too will have 2 drawers, there are drawer rails not yet fitted in this photo…



I used to like to start the day with large movements, like planing. Then I’d save the carving for late in the day, when I wanted to take it easy. But here in the (walk-out) basement, the light is best early in the morning – so I carved yesterday AM. But it’s a lousy way to begin your day. Too tight a posture. So this carving got left for later. and today I planed and mortised the front rails for the NEXT joinery project!  


A cupboard for Plimoth Plantation. This one will have a joined front fitted to a board carcass. No decoration to speak of, other than chamfers, etc. So the opening in the middle is for a door. Below are off-cuts from the panels in this cupboard; 10″ long, they have a limited use. Usually they would just get tossed, but these will get planed to 1/4″ thickness for drawer parts for the desk box. Good use for such wide, flat stuff that is otherwise firewood. 


Next week I hope to move all of these over to the shop I’m doing my photography in, and get some good pictures going. Goal is to have the first chest with drawers and the cupboard all assembled this time next week. we’ll see. 


I didn’t mean to do this…


I didn’t set out to make this at all. I only saw the original once, back in the early 1990s when I was researching the furniture made in 17th century Braintree, Massachusetts, by William Savell and his sons John & William.  But then recently I was given (thanks Michael) some really wide red oak bolts…so  I rived & planed up stuff & decided to tackle this form. (10″ high, 22″ wide, and about 16″ deep) I had built one once but I think it had no insides, I forget.

In the photo above, I have test-fitted the fixed top board, it will be trimmed after attaching it with wooden pins. It won’t get installed until the hinges are attached to it. First things first.

Many English boxes are just plain inside, but New England ones often (usually) have a till inside. The Savell shop had tills and drawers inside theirs, even their flat-top boxes like this one, I forget right now if there were drawers under the till nearest the camera:

Braintree box interior
Braintree box interior

It’s a particularly stupid arrangement – if you stuff things in the box, then you can’t pull the drawers out. But it has an obsessive compulsive appeal.

A desk/slant-lid box almost always is divided up inside. This one features two tills, a long open tray in the rear, and four drawers up above. One of the tills, closed – English oak for the till lid:

till closed


Same till, open:

till open

The original is missing its drawers, maybe they were cubbies w/o drawers –


but mine will have small oak drawers. I just ordered the dovetail hinges for it, and some curtain rings for the drawer pulls. When I get this far on a new project, I always wish I could make the 2nd one first – just made some trial & error sort of mistakes. Nothing major, but next time….

Now while I wait for the hardware from the blacksmith, I’ll plane up the board for the hinged lid, then I can go back to the joined chests I was making.

Spoons & more for sale here:

March – time to get going

March. Hmm… it means two things to me right now. One is turn the page on the Yurt Foundation calendar, the other is to march, get going, quit fooling around. This is the month that my schedule picks up. So rather than just picking up whatever project happens to catch my fancy at any given moment, it’s time to knuckle down and get some stuff done.


oak lunette





partly done 2


ignore these spoons

I keep shifting back & forth. I have to ignore these spoons in the daylight right now, and get to work on my desk box, and the 2 chests with drawers I have underway. At least by having these spoons roughed out, I can carve them at night.

Spoons and baskets for sale today – here:

Daylight is for heavier bench work…so the goal for this week is to get the desk box all cut and ready to assemble, then work on cutting joinery and laying out carving for the chest with drawer that’s the focus of my class beginning later this month.

desk box parts

Enough. Here’s details on the 2 classes coming up this month. The first is a 2-day class in spoon carving at Plymouth CRAFT – 2 spaces left they tell me. The class is March 14 & 15 – details here.  There’s knitting, cooking & egg decorating classes at the same time –

The other class is the first entry in the 5-month “build a chest with drawer” class at Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. We can squeeze another joiner or two in…If all goes well, I’ll be showing you some of oak for that class tomorrow.

and the rest of the schedule is here: including two weeks teaching in Olde England – I’ll write about that next week. 




They weren’t kidding when they made February a short month

carving detail

I can’t believe how fast this month is going by. I guess all that playing in the snow is catching up with me. Tweaked my back a little, (I think it was a sledding incident) so for the past 2 days have had light duty… so some blog updating was due. I wrangled with the sidebar to this blog. I doubt any one actually uses it; but there is a search button down there somewhere, as well as links to order the wainscot chair DVD; Maureen’s knitting/felting site, and Plymouth CRAFT. You will also see I have, much to my own shock, joined the 21st century and added an Instagram link. There is also a Facebook something-or-other out there with my name on it – all of this is down to Robin Wood and Jarrod Stone Dahl, those cursed bowl turners. I’m astounded by these things. Robin showed me his Instagram site – and while I was creating one, people were finding it…I don’t want to know how that works!

Here’s the facebook link –

and the Instagram

I’m trying both of these things. Who knows how long it will last? I still like the blog – that I know I’ll keep.

desk box side

I’ve been carving some parts for a desk box lately. I’ve only made this type of box once before. The original is from the Braintree, Massachusetts group, William Savell and his sons John and William. These are the first patterns I ever learned how to carve. Working on them now is really so much fun; makes me look back on the whole joinery trip. I shoveled out some oak the other day; so more work coming.

Next Friday/Saturday, I’ll be at the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event in Chichester New Hampshire. I will be carving spoons and hopefully talking to hordes of visitors. 

Maureen has added some stuff, and now in the depths of winter, her knitting looks spring-ish. that’ll come…