Greater Action

I don’t want this blog to be a soap box from which I preach, I am no preacher. But from time to time I cannot hold it in. So here…

Two people that have impacted me lately.


First: I have recently been reading Bill Coperthwaite’s book “A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity”. it is a great book, there is just so much in it.

Second: The other day I went to the chapel at Eastern Nazarene College where author, and activist Shane Claiborne reminded us to take action in our communities showing the love of God. They are literally taking guns and smithing them into garden tools! How awesome is that?!

from AK-47 to shovel and pitch fork

Both, Bill and Shane, are speaking volumes to where I am right now, especially in this political era.

I want to give you an excerpt from Mr. Coperthwaite’s book that has been very timely this week.

“For many, the knowledge of a Jesus, a Lao-tzu, a Buddha, or a Gandhi is complete and unassailable. But we do them and their vision a disservice when we follow them rather than using what they have taught to build upon as we strive toward our goal of a better society.

When we merely follow another, we take a potentially creative mind out of service – our own. We tie up A natural resource, just as much as when we put away money in the mattress.

We don’t need more disciples, we need more apprentices, the difference being that an apprentice serves as a follower only temporarily and is expected to go on and work independently. Wise apprentices recognize that the masters are always a part of them, that within them is a partnership of apprentice and master artisan, including all the other masters that came before.

Good apprentices know that they are in the process of becoming masters and that as responsible artisans they must seek to improve upon the knowledge entrusted to them and go further.

As apprentices we are not better than those who went before. We are a part, an extension of our predecessors, the newest buds on an ancient, living tree. If we do not reach up to the sun and down into the soil for nourishment to help the tree grow, we have not been  faithful to the trust invested in us.

It is always easier to take the words of a Jesus, a Gandhi, a Marx, or a Confucius as constituting Holy Writ.  This involves less reading, less study, less thought, less conflict, and less independent searching, but it also means less growth toward maturity.”


Just something to think about, I pray that you will take action for the greater good.


Tinkerin Day

Here on the South Shore, we had a snow day on Tuesday. I love snow days, though shoveling is getting old, especially now that I feel it more. Snow days are family days for us. Whenever I can, I like to get the kids exposed to woodworking. I was recently talking with a friend of mine saying that I am always looking for something quick to carve for the kids to play with. He asked if I had seen the gnomes. Nope, I haven’t.

We went outside and found a stick about 3/4″ diameter, it happened from an apple tree. “Much too big.” He said. Typically one would look for something about the size of your pinky finger. He brought it into his shop and cut a couple of 6″ to 8″ lengths (enough to hold on to while carving). And showed me how to do it.

Suniya and I went out the night before the storm to gather a few sticks. We found one from a maple, one from a mulberry bush and a pruning off our pear tree.


Start out about 1/2″ down by cutting around the circumference at 90°. I do this by pinching the work between my thumb and knife and rotating the top away from me. Just go through the bark a bit.


Then cut a notch out about an eighth to 7/64″ (please note the sarcasm implied). This will define the brim of the gnome’s hat.

Now shape the hat. It can be a straight up point or you can at a notch to make the hat have a bend. It’s up to you on the character of the gnome, be as crazy as you want it’s only a few minutes out of your day if it doesn’t work out. Besides it’s a tinkering day (rainy or snowy).

Cut in the gnome’s beard simply by making a swooping cut about half an inch down from the brim of the hat. Utmost control of the knife is required as a slip would take the brim of the hat clean off.

Lastly cut the gnome from the stick. Take care when doing this making sure you are cutting him square off. You don’t want a drunk gnome, they are a bit ornery.

The most fun part is allowing the kiddos to be creative in coloring these little things. They love it!


The only problem is, they add up quick.


We’ve used oil paint, sharpies, watercolors, colored pencils and crayons to color these things with.

Happy tinkering.


Identification Please

I have been working in a nice little town called Whitman these last couple of weeks. On my way to the job site the fist day a sign jumped out at me that read “Irresistible Treasures: antiques and collectibles”. I knew I needed to check this place out, something was calling me.

Two weeks later, I walked in and  introduced myself to who seemed to be in charge of the joint. I promptly mentioned my reason for stopping was to find an old tool that was in usable condition. He said “they be out back in da shed.” He disappeared as I started walking through the beautifully arranged and not so cluttered as the average antique shop. I went through the back door of the barn to see the front door of the shed. As I was walking down to the shed an older gentleman met me outside. Again I introduced myself and he himself, “Ed’s mu name.” We talked for a while as I rummaged through the not so neatly organized boxes and shelves. I saw only a few things that I thought I should need at some point or another.  I did find a decent Stanley no. 48 (pictured above) and a nice buck bros’ gouge for bit more than was in my wallet at the time. I declined his price tags and said I needed to get going. “I’d like you to see something” he said and walked back into the barn with me.

Right inside the back door of the barn was this large dovetailed and paneled box. I believe it is made of walnut. The six panels have beautiful burl veneer on the raised fields. img_0707

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The construction is quite stout, 1″ thick top, sides and bottom, and the stiles and rails are also 1″ thick. “What’s this for?” He asked. I couldn’t judge by the cover, I needed to open it up.img_0695

The case opens in half to reveal a side with a bottom row of five drawers two rows of brass tool holding racks and four strange hooks on the side walls. The interior paneled partition has another brass tool rack and several brass hooks of two different sizes.

Brass racks and hooks

swinging out the middle partition showed three wooden tool racks with tons of small square holes for the tools to be placed along with five more hooks.

It’s a spectacular tool cabinet, I just don’t know what sort of tools filled its racks and hooks. My assumption is that with all the small holes in the wooden racks they held files or rasps. That leads me to believe this was a patternmakers cabinet. I’m not really positive.

I would love to know if anyone out there could identify this. It’s a solid work of craftsmanship for whatever it was employed for.

The back


Sloyd Knife Joy


First task of the day: scribe the flooring to fit around the chimney. I don’t particularly like scribing anything to brick. It’s a long process and typically takes a couple of practice runs with a template. We don’t have time on this job, for anything. (Long story, perhaps a future blog post.)image

With compass in hand, being careful to keep perpendicular to the bricks, I traced out every nook and cranny of the chimney’s surface onto my board. Then cutting away the bulk of the waste with a saw I came to my line with my knife. Test fit- carve, test fit- carve test fit— carve, test fit—- carve; test fit- DONE. Install.

It’s a Nic Westermann blade with a walnut handle.



And this is where the joy of the task comes in, with a cut like this.


Go get yourself a perfect knife. It’s Christmas time.

Give Me Sass

There are a few other clever titles for this post, but I’ll let you come up with them. (Leave your thoughts in the comments below)

“The odoriferous sassafras, with its delicate green stem, its three-lobed leaf, tempting the travelers to bruise it, it sheds so rare a perfume on him, equal to all the spices of the East. Then its rare-tasting root bark, like nothing else, which I used to dig. The first navigators freighted their ships with it and deemed it worth its weight in gold.” Henry David Thoreau – journal entry, August 31, 1850.

Four weeks ago I was working on a kitchen remodel in Abington MA, we were just finishing up the cabinet install.

On Tuesday I heard a neighbor, a couple homes down, struggling tremendously all day with a chain saw. I decided to head over after work to see if I could be of any help since I know a thing or two about felling.

Knowing that there is Sassafras albidum in that neighborhood. I wanted to see if there was some being taken down. I saw a guy carving a sassafras spoon on an old Woodwright’s Shop and thought I might try carving a spoon, bowl, coat hook or some useful thing-ma-bob.


Imagine my surprise to find five 12″ to 18″ diameter 40’to 50′ tall trees! Along with white oak, red oak, black birch, red maple and a fir. I haven’t seen any sassafras more than 6″ in diameter in these parts as of yet, though I know it can grow upwards of 65′ tall and 2′ to 3′ diameter.

After talking with my new best friend Mo and teaching him a bit on lumbering he said I could take anything I wanted. Wait… What?

OH BOY! AAAWWWW!(angels singing)

What do I do with this newfound richness? I certainly don’t have time to gather all that I want let alone time to put it all to use. And I have far to many  wood piles  strewn about the yard. I’ll have to give some away of course. Share the wealth, right?


I emailed a handful of my friends that work wood the olden ways to ask if they’d want any of it. Sure enough.

Sassafras is a ring porous wood that cleaves quite well (when straight), it resists rot and insects as well.  “The durable and beautiful wood of sassafras plants has been used in shipbuilding and furniture-making in North America, in Asia, and in Europe (once Europeans were introduced to the plant).[29] Sassafras wood was also used by Native Americans in the southeastern United States as a fire-starter because of the flammability of its natural oils found within the wood and the leaves.” Wikipedia  It’s light weights, 31lbs/ft3 dry compared with red oak at 44lbs/ft3 dry, makes it easy to handle. It’s like “red-oak lite” to quote Rick McKee.

Rick said they (Plymouth CRAFT) could use it for the then upcoming hurdle making class he and Peter Follansbee  were teaching. So I said “Rad! If someone will come help me gather it into my truck I’ll drive it on down.”

So a week later Peter met me in Abington and we loaded up my GMC as high as would stay without tying. Then on Wednesday  I met Rick down at pinewoods camp and off loaded.

A fraction of the sassafras plus a piece of white oak.

I wasn’t able to attend the class but was able to make it down for a couple hours on Sunday. The sassafras was splitting up beautifully! And quite a bit of it turned out to be very tightly curled, like fiddle back quality. Amazing stuff to work. If you haven’t worked fresh sassafras you need to just for the smell of it! The aroma is sweet and spicy, I had a strange craving for root beer and birch beer at the same time!image

So anyway the class was a great success and there was plenty of material to work, more than enough. I was able to get some back to add to the pile of sassafras logs I had brought home.

My plan, aside from the few spoons I’ve carved up this far, is to rive it all up into boards for some lawn furniture. We’ll see how long it will take for me to get around to that!