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.


Jogge Sundqvist at Lie-Nielsen Sept 19 & 20

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

This September, Jogge Sundqvist will be teaching a 2-day class at Lie-Nielsen in Warren, ME.. This will fill quickly; I am just posting it so you’ll know. I’ll be there, it’s going to be great. read the details here:


And now for all-too-rare posts with birds – cooper’s hawk in the sycamore tree next door. I saw him chasing a feeder bird on the wing, not usually his M.O. Everyone’s hard up these days.


A great blue heron on the ice on town brook in Plymouth – we have only seen a heron once this winter at home, not sure why. Usually they’re here all the time.

gbh gbh ice

Everybody has to be careful on the ice. He eventually got a medium size rodent and choked it down, but it’s before breakfast here so I will spare us the visuals.

careful on ice

There’s a male wood duck who is fixated on a female mallard at Jenny Pond in Plymouth.

wood duck w mallards

These ducks get fed, so are hideously tame. You can’t usually get near a wood duck in the wild, I can’t anyway. He stuck next to her on every move.



It’s easy to extrapolate all kinds of shallow human traits here = she must be very proud of herself, snagging such a showy male. He’s forever primping to keep up his flashy appearance. But they’re just ducks.

On the way home from Plymouth, I stopped to check on the screech owl. It was a sunny day, I’d be sticking my nose out of the box too if I was him.



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. 




Lie Nielsen event at Goosebay Sawmill & Lumber

I’ve spent a chunk of today unpacking from the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event I did at Goosebay Lumber & Sawmill, in Chichester, NH this weekend. It was a small show by some standards, but very nice venue. here’s some photos I got.

goosebay sign

Both days were bright & sunny. Didn’t snow. Goosebay is a very nice place. Lots of sawn lumber, both local and otherwise.

I saw many logs there, red oak, ash, maple, pine and more.  Both Carl and young Carl assured my that if you are looking to buy a green log for riving, they can help you. You just need to give them some advance warning.



Sawn stuff too.



Here’s the Lie-Nielsen crates – these things have a lot of miles on them…


crates going in


When you go to the upper level to look for wood, you can view down where the action was/is. I was carving spoons off to the right in the 2nd photo. But not while I was shooting these…


aeriel view

aeriel view 2


spoons & stuff


Thanks to Carl, Carl, Ted, Kirsten & Danielle – and to the folks who came out to see us. Next time, the rest of you can come too! We had a great time.

I almost forgot – this one’s for Chris, made by “Down to Earth” = I forget the whole story… I’ve made several, but never a paneled one. Ahh, another project. picture it carved.

down to earth

Tomorrow some spoons, baskets and hewn bowls for sale. About 10AM my time, east coast US.

swing handle


no eagles…

Back in the good ‘ol days, I was on the payroll, but no one knew what my job was. So I could spend 4 or 5 hours at a time, watching for bald eagles in the winter… Now that I’m on my own, time’s a bit tighter. I gambled a couple hours today, came up empty for eagles, but got some shots of a red tail hawk shrugging off some crows.

crow & hawk

rt hawk

hawk & crow

hawk & crow behind

When the hawk is  over-exposed, the crow comes out with some detail.

good crow shot

This one’s got a nice diagonal symmetry to it.

neutral corners

While waiting for the eagles that didn’t show up, this great blue heron flew in front of the sun…bg heron

what is “green woodworking”?

Some time ago, I wrote a column for Popular Woodworking and asked the question “what is green woodworking?” (December 2014, #215) I’m not going to repeat the article here, but want to look at the subject. The column stemmed from a talk I gave at Lie-Nielsen’s Open House last summer.

I used to know pretty clearly what “green woodworking” meant. But the older I get, the more I realize the less I know.

spoon 14-109 new photo side viewMaking a carved spoon is a great example of green woodworking – you can make them from dry wood, (I wouldn’t) but the best ones come from trees, and are worked while the wood still has a high moisture content. More direct, easier to cut, exploiting the fibers of the riven/split form – all of these are hallmarks of green woodworking. Hewn bowls, and many turned ones fall into a similar category. But bowls and spoons are single pieces of wood. what about furniture, when you put stuff together?

Robin Wood's bowl
Robin Wood’s bowl

When I first learned of this method of woodworking, it was Drew Langsner’s Country Woodcraft, Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s Shop – and the book that coined the term for the modern day – Make a Chair from a Tree: An Introduction to Green Woodworking by John (now Jennie) Alexander. What puts the green in green woodworking? Is it moisture content? Is it riving the wood? Is it “country crafts” like the British books that inspired all of the authors listed above – Jenkins’ Traditional Country Craftsmen” and Edlin “Woodland Crafts in Britain”. Alexander felt left out of the “country” aspect of this traditional woodworking, living in the heart of the city. Hence her book’s subtitle has “green woodworking” – not country anything.

JA chair

The ladderback style chair Alexander learned even got a great deal of its strength from the moisture content manipulation – dry tenons in wetter mortises. the mortise shrinks, the tenon swells. Presto! You’re a chairmaker and have never been to a lumberyard. The way I remember it, in the 1980s  green woodworking was ladderback  chairs, some bowl-turning (I remember folks used to turn them green, let them dry, the re-turn them round again!) and a few other disciplines. Timber framing comes to mind.


I think about coopering – is that green woodworking? Usually riven stock, worked with a hatchet, drawkinives, shaving horses – but the critical parts are either executed or at least assembled when the stock is bone-dry. Or else.

c a chair

Windsor chairs? In America, these usually had, and have, softwood seats. Often white pine. That ain’t worked green. But the hardwood components are often riven from green stock. They’re selectively dried, like parts of Alexander’s ladderback chair, before assembly. Even the hardwood seats of British Windsors can’t be dead-green…

Some approach the “green” like the modern use of the term, renewable energy; careful use of resources, that sort of thing. Coppice crafts, are perfectly aligned with this idea. This work has long been very popular in the Old World, yet to my knowledge, never caught on here in the New World.


joined & carved chest, 2010
joined & carved chest, 2010

Starting in 1989, Alexander and I explored another furniture craft, seemingly more complex, until we got through with it & stripped it down – joiner’s work of the 17th century. It had riven stock, high moisture content – but some of it was not “country” in its format – some were very elaborate forms; with lots of decoration. This work has been my main focus since then. It does not fit the eco-groovy definition at all. I call it “Imperialist Swine” woodworking – you need a whole new forest to sustain it. The oak trees I want take 200 years to grow to size. And I will only use a small percentage of the tree. The rest goes in the fire.

In the end, I decided I don’t think of myself as a “green woodworker” although probably three-quarters of my stock is riven from green logs, and primarily worked up while it has a high moisture content. Trees are wood, I’m a woodworker. Sometimes I use stock fresh from the log, other times I need stuff that’s air-dried. I work the wood at various stages between wet & dry. Most of my furniture is a combination of the two. I think that’s a traditional approach….

Oh, no! What’s “traditional” woodworking????