Posts Tagged ‘Woodworking’

Religion, Politics, and Woodworking

23 January, 2009

Now that Obama has been inaugurated, I figure it’s safe to say that we might have a new president.  I’ve perceived that he’s rather controversial despite the fact that I’ve tried really hard to ignore current events these last few months.  I think I’m to where I care a lot more about a thin, wispy shaving coming off of a well-tuned vintage Stanley plane than what people are predicting about the future of our country.  My country, dagnabit, sweet land of liberty!  So far, I still have the liberty to behave that way, too, and to use my energy blogging, podcasting, writing, woodworking, EMT’ing and firefighting, all while being a father to my children.  So that’s the politics end of things.  And then there is the religious…

In a former, not-too-distant past I was, shall we say, a religious leader.  I stopped doing that as a vocation for a variety of reasons, but one thing still sticks: I never quite got over how many people’s behavior would change toward me when they found out what I was.  I’m a shy person, and when someone would suddenly start treating me like I was waiting and watching, hoping they would make a boo-boo so that I could pounce on them, rebuke them and correct them, I get even more shy.  So my relief valve always came in the form of thin, wispy shavings.  That was the religious part.

So, in the midst of a virtual rolling sea of pundits with opinions as firm as said rolling sea, there lies around my ankles batches of shavings, and life is good.  Knowing that the woodworking community is remarkably free of chest-pounding and sabre-rattling (with the notable exception of those of us that are Galoots enjoying the ironic humor in identifying ourselves as part of a subversive woodworking movement.)  Knowing that when it comes down to it, when I meet a fellow woodworker online or in person, the odds are that they are going to have certain characteristics in common with me: an appreciation for a quick wit, an insatiable curiosity about our common activity, probably an interest in history, the desire to exchange concepts, techniques, and lore with others of like mind, and usually the desire to remain focused on this beautiful medium we are blessed to work in, leaving politics and religion out of it.

So, I predict that 2009 is going to be the best woodworking year we have ever experienced together!


On This Medium

10 December, 2008

I’ve been knee-deep in a project building something I neither have the tools for the skills for.  The wood I’m using is mesquite, which is also an unfamiliar wood to a person used to eastern hardwoods – walnut, oak, maple, cherry.  The thing is, I am awed by the spectrum of colors and variety, even in one species of timber, let alone the variety of species and sub-species!  Ruminate on this with me a minute.

I recently had a long conversation with a Native American friend of mine.  Now, before you think Dan is a kook, let me say that I would definitely not characterize him as being militant, nor anti-American (he has served his country in Vietnam, for example,) nor anti-social (he is a fellow volunteer firefighter.)  He has received honors from his tribal council, and I believe is viewed among them as being a spiritual leader.  Dan spent time explaining to this Methodist how “his people” view the spiritual world – or perhaps, the world spiritually.  In other words, he believes that there is an overarching supreme being (God the Creator), who has created this world and all that live in it to have spirits of their own.  Therefore the trees that you and I work as wood are spiritual beings and are to be respected as such.

While there is a ring of plausibility to this view (I’m not sure that we are going to be able to resolve our boundary issues on things like this in our lifetime here on earth,) the danger, of course, is in personifying inanimate objects such as trees into having “feelings” and consciousness.

The value of this point of view comes when you apply your first coat of oil to the wood you are working on, and its grain, its unique color shouts back at you!  Although I don’t understand the system that apparently is entanglement of branches and roots, I have to believe now that the paper mulberry tree out my window is not simply chaos, but that there is organization to each individual bud and tip.

Even thought I’m not prepared to embrace the religion of the Native American, since my conversation with Dan I have found myself able to enter a deeper reverence for the medium that I’m permitted to work in!  At the very least, how fortunate I am to call myself a worker of wood!  The upside to this is it gives me a spiritual excuse for exercising my Scottish heritage in saving every little offcut… I might need it for another use some day!

Pre-game Jitters

11 November, 2008

Today my wife and I will be packing, double checking reservations, double checking what we’ve packed, getting folks lined up to feed the critters while we are gone, and making sure everything is lined out for our trip to Berea, Kentucky.  There I will be attending the Woodworking in America conference, a kind of a dream-come-true for Galoots and aspiring Galoots.logo

In case you haven’t already heard, this conference is an opportunity to learn woodworking tips and techniques from the likes of Adam Cherubini, Mike Dunbar, Frank Klausz, Christopher “The Schwartz,” Roy “St. Roy” Underhill, and to rub elbows with esteemed toolmakers such as Thomas Lie-Nielsen, John Economaki, Robin Lee, and Mike Wenzloff (I’ve left many other names off because you can click on the link faster than I can type.)  You can see why I would be excited… and anxious because I want to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything I need to take!

BUT THERE’S MORE!  Yes, as I’ve contended in previous blogs, woodworking is a hobby or a profession, but it is also a community.  Berea is an opportunity to get together with the extremely cool people that have become fast friends via the web, podcasts, and Twitter.  Since I seem to be in a name-dropping posture this morning, I’m looking forward to seeing Marc Spagnuolo (The Wood Whisperer), Matt Vanderlist (Matt’s Basement Workshop), Shannon Rogers (The Renaissance Woodworker/Rogers Fine Woodworking), Kari Hultman (The Village Carpenter Blog), and about 320 potential new Galoot-type friends.  This promises to be the coolest event of 2008, and I’m hopeing we can get signed up for 2009 while we are there.

AND EVEN MORE!  A decade ago, over the protests of the more insightfull professors, I was released from a an intensive study program with a Masters of Divinity degree taken at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky.  As in, roughly an hour’s drive north of Berea.  This is like going home!  So, here’s my perspective: going home to somewhere I haven’t been in 10 years, meeting old friends I’ve never seen before, making new friends I don’t know yet, and rubbing elbows with people I’ve seen on TV and in print.

I can’t wait for tomorrow!

A lesson in business from an 11 year old…

1 November, 2008

I’m trying to keep it all in the family, and it seems to make sense, at least to a degree.  You see, in an effort to take a part of my woodworking business to the internet, I decided to pick up a pen turning lathe, a bunch of kits, and some padauk and rosewood.  Good start, then I could get a feel for it, and perhaps hone my business skills.  I shared all this great thinking with my bride, who thought it was great thinking and was therefore intrigued by the whole idea.  Little did I know…

I turned about 8 pens, and then she came out to the shop and said, “Teach me.”  Okay, sounds very cool.  Pen turning is great fun, but I really enjoy case work which I could get back to if she were turning.  So, I gave her a crash course, and before long her pens looked as good as mine.  Or, at least as good as mine.  Okay, I can handle this, I must be a pretty good teacher.  Soon, my lathe was our lathe, and once in awhile I get to use it.  While she is at work, that is.

This afternoon she brought my 11 year old son out and taught him how to turn pens while I was working on another project.  He learns very quickly, and he got to finish his first pen and pencil set, made out of padauk with “rhodesium” hardware.  Since he’s left handed, I teased him about making the set upside-down.

As I’m merrily banging away on this casework, my son starts asking my bride why we are doing so many.  One of the reasons I love my wife so much is because she’s easily able to expound on the inner workings of capitalism and supply-side economics, which my son got a working lesson in as the chips flew.

After he was finished with his set, he brought them over to show me.  “If I sell some of these for you, can I get a commission?”  I like the way he thinks, at such a young and tender age.  “Sure, of course you would.”  “Well, Dad, how much?”  “Well, Son, it would have to be a percentage of the net.  Do you know what the net is?”  “Is that the total profit?”  I don’t know where he got his grasp of things.  Not from me — I still don’t have all this figured out.  “Exactly.  How does 30% of the profit sound?”  “How does 50% sound, since I am helping make the pens?”  “Okay.”  He dickered, I lost.  Go figure.

As Your Stomach Turns (over)

21 October, 2008

I’m supposed to be all busted up, worried, angry, frustrated, and all five stages of grief all at once.  About two weeks ago the stable owner of the stable company I was working for called a bunch of us together and told us that we could come in the next day and get our stuff, or we could take it with us as we left, along with our barely adequate severance packages.  No surprise, and in a large company (from my parochial perspective), knowing that I was one of at least half of the company that was finally succumbing to the sub-prime loan debacle was just news that I was expecting.  Still, I have all kinds of sympathy for the owner as he performed one of his hardest duties with decorum and integrity.  I even told him that.

The thing is, I’m not all busted up.

I’ve been wanting to launch out as a woodworker and luthier for a while, and my wife and I always received just one more medical bill in the mail, or… you know.  Well, a year of listening to Dan Miller ( has come home with me; I’m an entrepreneur.  I’m free to flame out, and just as free to make my first million.  Nobody can “downsize” me (why can’t we call it a “lay-off” anymore, or even just “termination?”)  By the same token, I cannot ride anyone else’s coat-tails into the sunset of mediocrate.  It’s all out there, for all the world to see.

How does it feel?  I’ll tell you.  It feels GREAT!

So What’s Wrong With Luddites, Anyway?

29 September, 2008

Once again the literary blog of Chris Schwartz has stimulated my own (somewhat cranked) chain of consciousness toward the philosophical side of woodworking.  “The Schwartz” recently offered a very positive review of Roy Underhill’s newest book (the link is here), which wasn’t fair because I can’t go out and buy it yet, and pre-ordering it only makes me feel like I’m 8 years old and it’s three weeks before Christmas.  Dang.  I’m pre-ordering it anyway, and I had a good Christmas when I was 8.


One of the commentators on the blog mentioned that some view St. Roy in particular, and from that I assume the Galooterati in general, as being Luddite.  I pondered that for a little bit, checked Wikipedia to make sure the commentator was talking about the Luddite movement of England in the throes of the Industrial Revolution, and then concluded that such a thrown stone packed all the wallop of being called a “Neanderthal Woodworker” or a “Galoot.”  Hit me again, please!


Now, to be a Luddite in the purest sense of the word, I would need to be militantly against the use of power tools.  Personally, I’m not that way; I really don’t have the time to spend felling a maple tree (the hardest part is FINDING a maple tree in central Texas), hewing it, pit sawing it, stickering the flitches, ripping them with a hand saw, scrub planning them to near thickness, well, you get the idea.  If I had to rely on those methods, it would be a very long time before anything would ever come out of my shop, with the possible exception of me in a pine box.


On the other hand, I fully concur with Chris that it is essential that we never, ever lose the techniques that correspond with the old tools that we celebrate.  We venerate St. Roy because he takes such joy in passing along that knowledge (in his own inimitable style.)  In an earlier blog, I expounded on how I feel that passing on the knowledge of those who have gone before us honors them and connects us to them.  If that’s Luddite, bring it!

The Master

18 September, 2008
     Recently there has been a video floating around of Frank Klaus cutting dovetails (using bow saws) in three minutes.  If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the link, but please note: all safety precautions need to be taken.  Please fasten your seatbelt, look around you and find the nearest exit, double check your parachute, and make sure your helmet and protective eyewear are in place.
      A very long time ago, before there was something called the “New Testament,” God used to show up to the Old Testament folk in strange and unexpected manners.  He might show up in a burning bush, or on a mountaintop, or as a soft, gentle breeze, or in a valley of dry, dusty bones.  In whatever manner God chose His current self-revelation, the ancient Hebrews knew they were in for something big, as in Charlton Heston and Cecile B. DeMille; something that they had no control over, something that would change their lives for the better and would last forever, and something that kind of set them apart from the other tribes of the Ancient Near East.  But they also knew it was something they could only watch, because the Being they were watching was actually DOING things (rather than just talking, like a lot of the other gods,) and because they knew what was happening was just so far beyond themselves.  Sometimes you have to watch stuff and spend the rest of your life processing it in order to understand it.  Sometimes you never understand it.
     I had a similar epiphany watching Mr. Klaus cut his dovetails.  Just every now and then you realize you are in the presence of someone who early on discerned what he or she had been born to do, and acted upon it.  I want to be that way when I grow up.




The Woodworking Afterburners

19 July, 2008

After reading Chris Schwarz’s blog entitled “Yesterday’s Shame (and Tomorrow’s,” I began to ponder some of the woodworking projects I had made in my younger days.  Some were so embarrassing I won’t even pass the details of them along to you.  Some were not that embarrassing, but they were almost.  Certainly I’ve come a long way.  Pondering these projects, I began to think about an Oldtools listserv post from a few years ago.

It’s a truism that woodworkers as a lot tend to be their own worst critics.  We will see every flaw, every boo-boo, every place in a piece that we wish we had done something differently.  We will seek out our long-suffering spouses’ opinion, the opinions of our family, friends, significant others, and even the in-laws, and they will openly admire your craftsmanship, and you will still stare at the “glaring imperfections” of your work and think, “Chris Schwarz would never have done anything this bad.”

Our forum settled on an ugly project criteria: if you can take the piece you have just built and toss it in the fire, then it needs to be there.  If you cannot burn your work, then you cannot threaten to.  Fencing sitting doesn’t work; you must accept your work silently and resolve to try harder next time.  I’ve decided to call this effect “Woodworking afterburners.”  If you can burn the piece after you’ve built it… well, you get it.

I’ve been able to recycle the wood from an old project, but I’ve never been able to toss one on the burn pile.  I guess that’s because the Scotsman in me sees the raw material and echoes my dad’s words, “I might use that for something some day.”  You know what?  Even those afterburners still have something to teach me.  I wonder what I’m going to learn from the pieces I turn out today.

The Shop Goldfish

27 June, 2008

By way of being employed in a position that moves it’s people around a lot, I’ve had occasion to re-think my shop several times. Each time feels like a start-up shop except with old friends; tools collected during the last set-up. Take, for instance, the squeaky, shiny Rabone folding rule I scored in a Georgetown, KY antique store more than a decade ago. It was a really nice location to visit during a really peaceful time in my life. The fact that it was worth 1000% of what I paid for it doesn’t hurt anything, either. Or the matched pair of Independence Tool saws, one a dovetail, the other a carcass. Tools that to the Galoot need no explanation.

Predictably each location has brought a series of new challenges with it; space utilization, power availability, weather tightness. My first formal shop, so designated because of the addition of a non-mobile tool (read this table saw,) was in the yard barn I had built for the purpose. And when I say purpose, I really mean main purpose, as every “shop” seems to collect the tent and extra coolers and fertilizer spreaders and… Layout was easy in that shop; the table saw got the center of the floor (pre-outfeed tables, stock rip fence.) The workbench (singular) went against the wall. An extension cord from the apartment hooked me up and got taken in at the end of a day. Simple. Soon that shop was a pleasant place to work, as long as you were willing to twist your hips around things as you walked through it.

With a move my shop grew into a single car garage, and with another move it grew into half of a two-car garage, complete with 8 plugs. Since the car could always be backed out of the garage, things like outfeed tables and toolboxes began to show up as my circle of “friends” grew. Full-sized bookcases that would have made an English librarian proud made their way out of that shop. Another move, and I had an entire building all to myself. Originally built for a previous owner’s wife who was into ceramics, it had a built in sink and discarded kitchen cupboards, a garage door at one end, 200v three-phase (for a kiln, I suppose) and windows all around. It also had a car-port off the back of it; just the place to store extra dimensional lumber (hardwood stayed inside.) Cherry and then walnut toy boxes, shaker tables sporting hand-cut dovetails were brought to life there. And again I was twisting and turning my way through that shop.

Another move, and it’s back to a two and a half car garage with no back window and the red sand of the Texas Brush Country defying all my attempts to keep it outside. The 110 degrees tended to keep shop time to a minimum. Another move, and here I am setting up shop in a barn.

Now, you might think that it doesn’t get any better than that, but let me briefly describe the barn; built at least 75 years ago, it’s been used to store hay, goats, feed, plumbing supplies, and various tenant’s trash since the original owner passed away. Amongst the aged hay, baling wire, broken glass, the Chevrolet exhaust, and smashed Coors cans is the one lone outlet, all housed by boards presumably milled on site that have long ago ceased to make physical contact with one another (which is good for lighting during the day.) I’ve learned where to put the horse bucket on my table saw (wrapped in a tarp) to catch the roof leaks.

Yet despite the balmy breezes of Texas blowing through my shop, it too has already given life to a 4′ x 6′ assembly table, a miter saw / radial arm saw station, and soon a permanent table for a portable planer. This is all justifiable; it begs the explanation I’ve offered my wife, which is that good shops have the same condition that goldfish do. They grow to the size of their environment.

The Woodworker

13 June, 2008

In one of Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation Trilogy” novels, Asimov describes the society as advanced to the point where a person being in the same room, risking physical contact with another person, has become an unacceptable societal standard.  A man could even get arrestedfor talking to another man in the communal rest room.  As Asimov’s visionary society and wit seem to come to fruition it amazes me, and piques me as we integrate into our Web 2.0 society.

I’m starting a woodworking business.  I’ve listened to Dan Miller, author of No More Mondays (, and Rabbi Daniel Lapin, author of Thou Shall Prosper ( and I’ve decided that I no longer want to have a person as a client that calls him- or herself my “boss” while they decide what my value is.  Instead, I need to honor my creator by employing myself in doing what I love.  There a lot of things I love to do, woodworking near the top of the heap and the logical stepping stone to the boat building I want to do, and it could potentially be lucrative enough to pay the cost of living in Central Texas (which I think may limit the potential market for boat building to some degree, especially in this drought year.)  So I’m launching my business.

Not being a saavy business man, but rather one of those idealistic individuals who would happily do anything for anyone, I’m having to learn about the business end of things.  There is a plethora of wonderful information about starting and running a business on the web, and I’m quickly absorbing the wisdom of people young enough to be my offspring, but if I make enough money I’ll get over that last part.  But here’s what I’ve learned: in order to be competitive in any sort of business, you need to be involved in a social web presence: hence the Web 2.0.  So I’ve joined forums, blog, am working on a web page (not as easy as I thought,) and am beginning to do some weird things with weird names: names like “Twitter” and “” and of course something else called “podcasting.”  Don’t ask me what that last word would have meant to me as a young boy!  The irony for me, of course, is that while I am launching a business in 2008, my favorite means of woodworking is as a Galoot, using the quite, gentle, unplugged hand tools of the 1800’s.

In this world of locked front doors, not talking to strangers, texting-while-IM’ing-while-talking-on-the-landline, The Wood Shepherd is birthed.  Let me raise my virtual hand (no one can see me do this anyway, so there is no embarrassment factor) in joining the social networking happening on the web.  How else can a Galoot from Central Texas make friends with folks in say, Brisbane, Australia, or Genoa, Italy, and stay out of jail?