Thanksgiving 2015


Thanksgiving here in the US, a national holiday. It’s a long & complicated story, and I don’t get to wrapped up in it. I hate football, turkey and I don’t drink. So it doesn’t really effect me much. I worked for 20 years at Plimoth Plantation, where they get a lot of attention this time of year, it being where the roots of the American holiday are. I left that full-time job a year & 1/2 ago, ditching a regular paycheck, benefits, vacations & some holidays, etc. to strike out on my own. Some of the many things for which I am thankful include students in my classes, customers of my spoons & other woodwork and the readers of this blog – you all make it possible for me to eek out a living doing things I love to do. There’s no telling how long it will last, but I appreciate everyone’s support in my work.


Our friend Peter Lamb has an Instagram site, and today he posted about his friend Bill Coperthwaite, who died two years ago today. Peter’s post included this quote from Bill’s book A Handmade Life:

“When we have more than we need while others are in want, we certainly thieve. But in addition, we enslave ourselves. As we learn to live with fewer and simpler things, and are able to live with fewer expenses, we become less vulnerable to social upheaval. We have greater freedom – visual, mental and spatial – and far greater freedom of movement. And we spend less time maintaining and stumbling over things – physically, mentally, and visually – and worrying about loss.”

Food for thought.

Red tail hawk from a walk in Marshfield today.

last view

flight 2

what does “tradition” mean in Traditional Woodworking?

outdoor classAfter the class at Lie-Nielsen with Jogge Sundqvist, I got an email from my friend Bryan MacIntyre. It was something I knew I wanted to tackle, but it took some time to sift through. Here’s the bulk of it:

“I’d like to start a larger dialogue about tradition…. Essentially Jogge recited his TED Talk, as requested, towards the ends of the Q&A… He talked about the four walls he’s aware of while he’s working: the materials, the tools/tool skills, tradition, and other people. (I’ve tried looking for the YouTube version now and can’t find it again… (PF – yup, it seems to be gone for now. Jogge was trying to see what’s the story)

I have been able to identify with all but one; the wall of tradition. Since we, as modern woodworking Americans, may not have knowledge to create objects such as the wooden spoon, knife, bowl, or distaff handed down from generation… How do we define our tradition? What object do we connect with if we haven’t been around it our entire lives?

So I’m asking how do you define your tradition wall? What do you look at as tradition, while you’re creating your furniture, wooden ware, houses…etc? What object of your creation do you most identify with and why?”

To which I say “well, look – a can of worms! Let’s open it.”

I’d say it’s generally true that modern American (& probably others too) woodworkers are part of what I call a “broken” tradition, in that the continuous link from one craft generation to the next died out. For various reasons, some through a general drift away from agricultural basis to a more urban setting; mechanization of woodworking – which led to a dumbing-down of processes (and a poorer product, when you think furniture), a cultural shift away from a small economy to a larger one, advertising – other reasons too.

But I am not sure that this is restricted to America. In fact, I’m of the opinion that it isn’t by any means restricted there. Starting with Sweden, because this question stemmed from the workshop we just had with Jogge Sundqvist, I look at his father’s work, and think that Wille set out to teach his knife & axe work because in his lifetime (the past 90 years) he saw those agriculturally-based hand-woodworking skills disappearing in Sweden. This trajectory is well-covered in the DVD about Wille’s career called The Spoon, the Bowl & the Knife. 

Wille Sundqvist
Wille Sundqvist

In England,I think about Robin Wood wanting to learn bowl-turning on a pole lathe – and he had to learn it by studying George Lailey’s tools and lathe, and then piecing together parts of the story from various sources and lots of trial & error. George was already dead.

Robin Wood turning a bowl
Robin Wood turning a bowl

In America, my “green woodworking” started with ladderback chairmaking, taught by John (Jennie) Alexander, an urban hobbyist woodworker who set out to find out how “old” chairs were made…JA found few surviving chairmakers to learn from, but pieced together bits of the story here & there. So I think in some cases, the tradition was either broken, or nearly broken, and then revived. The  skills part of the tradition, that is.

Alexander's post-and-rung chair
Alexander’s post-and-rung chair

The tradition of having & using these “folk” forms – hmm. that’s another whole angle, too. When Bryan asks “What object of your creation do you most identify with and why?” for me it’s the 17th century style joinery that’s my specialty. I started studying this oak furniture back in the late 1980s/early 1990s, and have continually worked at it. It really spoke to me for several reasons – the simplicity of the mortise & tenon work, the frame & panel – these techniques and forms are timeless really. But also, in a personal way, all the pieces I studied were made within 60 miles of where I have lived all my life.

joined and carved chest, 2010
joined and carved chest, 2010

All of this rumination gets wrapped up in other views, angles and outlooks too. It touches on why I work the way I do, hand-tools, and mostly using wood riven from the log rather than sawn. (I do use sawn wood regularly, but almost always as a supplemental, or secondary wood in furniture). The “why” there is simple. I like it. It’s how I want to spend my day. Working with machinery doesn’t have any appeal to me whatsoever. I watched a TED talk the other day, some guy using terms like “craftsmanship”, “hand-made”, “technology” and all kinds of other buzzwords that left me shaking my head. He & I were from different planets altogether. HIs idea of handmade & mine are quite far apart. Likewise, technology. I understand that languages are fluid things, and words’ meanings change, but when I hear people talk about “technology” today, I think electronics. To me, technology is using tools. Like hammers. I get that this computer I’m writing with is a tool, but calling all these related gadgets technology leaves out the axe, the knife, the plane – hmm.

This weekend Rick McKee & I will help a new group of students learn the age-old technology of riving wood, and shaving it with a drawknife.



shaving horse work

It’s one of our offerings with the group Plymouth CRAFT, a small cadre of folks dedicated to teaching various skills at making things in many crafts. Our woodsy bits are part of what Jarrod Stone-Dahl calls the Wood Culture Renaissance. I like Jarrod’s philosophy.  It reminds me of a short essay written back in 1960, by one of my inspirations in hand-tool woodworking, Daniel O’Hagan. I met Daniel in the mid-1980s and he is directly responsible for me getting rid of my “power” (i.e. electric) tools.  

Back in 1960, Daniel wrote: “Slowly, imperceptibly, the handcraft revolution is coming. More and more people will find the inexpressible joy in making things from start to finish with simple tools, simple materials, and being content to live simply while doing it.”


Joined chest class, final session

overviewLast weekend we finished up the chest-class at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. Five months, one weekend per month. It’s a great format for tackling a complex project, but requires a serious commitment of time & money from the students. I am very thankful for the 9 folks who signed on for this ride. Thanks, Leo, Larry, Chris, Phil, Dwight, Matt, Bill, Dylan, Russ and sometimes Michael. And of course Bob Van Dyke for being willing to take the project on in the first place. We’re talking about doing it again next year. Set aside some time…

here’s photos. It was fun to see so many chests coming together. Students worked at their own pace, I showed the steps, and then went around to see where each person did or didn’t need my help. Here’s one chest, next up for it is the panels:

panels next

Phil’s watching his closely, making sure it doesn’t make any sudden moves.

phil takes a breath


Matt was able to put in the time for the homework, so his chest moved ahead of some others. He’s pinning it together here:




His bottom boards are inserted, and next he trimmed them from behind.


bottoms up


trimming bottom


There was a lot of carving for this chest, every piece in the chest front: rails, stiles, muntins, panels, drawer front.



some sub-assemblies. Lots of parts to keep track of, from back when they were coming out of the log to now.

sub assemblies

For me, a fun sideshow was watching Bob Van Dyke driving nails into a trestle table he’s built. Out of his element for sure…

bob w nails



Here’s his finished table:bob's trestle table

The reason he was uncomfortable nailing table tops – this is his usual sort of work, in this case all done with mirrors (he’s using 2 mirrors to compose the inlay decoration for the table top.) the top will not be nailed on from above.

it's all done w mirrors


here’s some posts from earlier in the series on this class.







my teaching schedule for the rest of 2015



I’ve been working this week on prepping the carved chest with drawers so I can teach the final session of that class this weekend at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. Thanks to the group who made that class possible – it’s a huge commitment of time & resources (polite-speak for money) to come there for a weekend-per-month for 5 months. I appreciate it, guys, Now get back to work!

mortising from on high

My teaching schedule is still going, and there’s spaces left in these classes. If you’re inclined, follow the links:

I have a carved box class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking in October. This one is from the log to the finished box, a full week of oak fun.

here come old flat top
I missed going to Maine this July (pesky England got in the way!) so I am glad to be headed back that way in a couple of weeks. We have a 2-day class in carving hewn bowls. Dave Fisher is going to have to go back to school soon, so come learn my way of making these bowls.  I’m looking forward to trying a Nic Westermann adze. We did these bowls (& spoons) at Roy Underhill’s earlier this summer, and the bowls were a huge hit. People carved excellent bowls in that class.

hewn bowl

Beyond that, September is my turn to be a student, I’ll be part of Jogge Sundqvist’s class at Lie-Nielsen. So I’m not teaching that month. Then other than the Marc Adams gig, my classes are closer to home for the remainder of the year. I have a few at Plymouth CRAFT –

We did an introductory riving class a while back, now we’ve expanded it to 2 days. We’ll rive open some oak logs and learn how to coerce them into garden hurdles – (think moveable fencing). It’ll be Rick McKee & I, and I bet Pret Woodburn will be around to join us as well…splitting, riving, hewing, drawknive work & more. Great food, perfect fall weather. Come to Plymouth. October 10 & 11:

overall splitting PAS CRAFT

Then in November I’ll teach my first basket class in 30 years! We’ll use white ash, I can never find black ash. Works well, just a little more effort. I’ll have some pounded splints, but we’ll also pound some so you’ll know how to do it.

baskets raw

And the capper for the year is more spoon carving, in early December:

spoons in basket
Maureen says there’s some summer-y stuff still in her Etsy site; with autumnal offerings on the way.

Knit summer shawl, capelet, summer wrap,evening wrap, teal, sea blue green cotton and merino lace

England 2015

england 1

I’m back from teaching two classes with the New English Workshop. It was my first trip to England to do woodworking, my previous visits had been for furniture study. It’s an amazing place, a rural little island filled with hobbits and badgers and twitchers and train spotters.

The classes were held at two colleges, my first at Warwick College in Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. Jamie Ward of the College was very helpful and the students there were quite flexible as we worked out the kinks. The first of which was some oak logs that looked like bad firewood. Poor Paul Mayon – he picked me up the first morning, brought me to the school, and we’d known each other for all of 20 minutes when I was telling him that the oak bolts they had were next to useless. Undaunted, Paul trucked off in his typically British tiny car and bought a new section of giant oak (2 really, the 2nd arrived the next day.) installed into Paul’s car with a forklift, I wasn’t sure it would ever come out. Paul’s car was riding low, for a 2-plus hour drive. Meanwhile the students dove in & split what we had so we could get started at least. They were great.

hewing week 1

Our class was at one end of the room, while Tom Fidgen’s was at the other end. It was diffuse porous vs ring porous (cherry v oak) all week. You could hear our shavings hit the floor, while theirs floated down to the bottom.

caught among the ring porous
Tom Fidgen scurrying back to diffuse porous land

Lots of camaraderie in the evenings, we even had a token American who had been traded to the RAF…

Boxes got made, carving patterns all over the place. Tricia was adamant that she would finish her box, I think her first woodworking project.

Tricia got a photo, so that means it must have happened

The English oak,which by habit I kept calling white oak, was different than our white oak. I know it’s sacrilege to say it, but it felt lighter weight, a bit softer, and certainly easier to split. Even the better logs had knots in them and we were able to split right through them like I never can in American white oak (Quercia alba)

On the weekend, I met up w Mr & Mrs Underhill of Graham, NC, who were there for Roy to teach week 2 in Leamington. We had dinner one night, then the old switcheroo was scheduled for that Saturday – Paul was bringing Chris Schwarz who had been teaching down in Somerset up to Leamington, then turning around to take me down to Zummerzet so I could do week 2 there at Bridgwater College. A too-short round-table lunch was had by all before we headed south…the only other times Roy, Chris & I had all been together had been WIA events, in which case we never saw each other. Hand tool freaks unite!


Bridgwater also boasted a great & helpful staff…and a group of students who were serious about carved oak. Ringers Jon Bayes and Richard Francis represented England well… I barely had to teach this crew any English terms at all. Like rabbet/”re-bate” or clamp/cramp. The first group insisted that some are clamps, and I insisted that you’re British dammit, call it a cramp.

One thing I was missing was old oak carvings, and the students took care of that. Joel, hewer extroidinaire, scouted out several churches and even arranged for us to get in them after 5 pm…130-odd steps up a circular staircase afforded us a heck of a view of somerset. One pulpit wasn’t oak, I said I wanted my money back. we saw three churches, carved pulpits, bench ends, a chest, and who knows what else. This pulpit is oak:

pulpit 1

Tim came down from County Durham, and lent me binocs and a good bird book…I had a simple little bird guide book with me…I saw some nice birds, some well, some fleeting. This’ll be the only time you’ll hear the word tit on this blog. As in blue tit, long tailed tit, willow tit, etc. I didn’t see a great tit. Then of course the day we drove over/down to Heathrow we saw several kites, much larger than I thought…musta seen 6 of them. No pictures, highway driving…

blue tit 2
juvy blue tit
blue tit
even better, juvy blue tit in oak

I was invited by Robin Wood to be part of Spoonfest, but that would have meant another week & 1/2 away from home. So, another time. Thanks to all who made my trip a success, especially the ones who waited at home. Why did it take me so long to get hip to Skype?

here’s what it looked like each night

More photos here:


fitting the cupboard door

As promised – fitting a wooden hinge on a cupboard door. Again, I think I’ve never covered this on the blog. Here’s the cupboard, sans door: note the rabbet in the muntin beside the door opening.

assembly begun

To hinge this door with wooden pins is easy. Bore holes in the upper and lower rails’ inside edges. Here’s the top rail – I haven’t finished pinning the joints in the frame, but ignore that. See the hole bored in the upper rail’s lower edge:

top rail hole for pin

Corresponding hole in the upper edge of the door, note bevels on outer corners of door stile:

top of door



The wooden pin on the top of the door bottoms out in the stile, and protrudes up into the upper rail. Here it is in the stile:

top pin


here’s the bottom edge of the door – note the pin here fits (loosely) all the way up into the stile:


bottom of door


With my finger covering the hole in the bottom of the door, I tilt the upper pin in place, and then lean the door into its opening.


tilt in the top


Then knock it about some with a hammer, to jar the pin loose so it drops down into the bottom rail.

knock the bottom edge

The hole in the bottom rail is shallow, so the pin bottoms out in the rail and sticks up into the door’s hole –



I planed a rabbet in the door’s other stile, to overlap the rabbet in the frame. This stops the door from going all the way into the cupboard. You can (& I have sometimes) make rabbets on the hinge stile too – so the door is a little more snug = this one just butts up against the muntin.

door knob, couple of pins, linseed oil & this one’s crossed off.

Saw this guy this AM on my walk –






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.