Monthly Archives: December 2008

Odds ‘n Ends VIII

            It has been a while since I posted anything.  It was not because I didn’t have any news. It was because I didn’t have any time. As soon as the school year ended I had two photo shoots for up coming articles in Popular Woodworking. Two horrible storms followed the photo shoot. You have probably seen news stories about the ice storm that knocked out power throughout northern New England.  We were without electricity for two days.  We huddled around the fireplace and burned a lot of the oak left over from our bending logs. I heated water for coffee on our steam box burners and we listened to the radio. We got off easy. I read this morning that a home here in New Hampshire just got power restored after 17 days.

            The ice storm was followed by 16 inches of snow.  My son and I spent two days shoveling out the house and The Institute.  The holidays followed close on the heels of the photo shoot. Then came a warm stretch.  We set a record temperature in the mid 60s.  Most of the snow has since melted. However, another 12 inches is falling as I write.

            The storms and the long Christmas weekend brought work on the house to a stand still. The siders and plumbers are there today. The rough wiring ended yesterday. I guess we won’t be done in time for Christmas (unless it’s 2009.)

            The other news on the personal front is that I have started the middle grade third novel in my series. I’m writing Chapter 4.  I’ve been outlining the fourth book.


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            We raised five new knights during the November 17 NYC bow back side chair class: Sirs Travis Butler, John Bocksnick, Stig Brandvik, Dan Janke, and Brent Blackwell. It was the largest group to enter the Royal Orders in some time.

            The event was even more noteworthy in that we inducted another First Knight.  Sir Stig Brandvik is now the First Knight of Norway.  The first chairmaker from another country inducted into the Orders becomes that country’s First Knight.   All and any other chairmakers from that nation serve under the leadership of the First Knight, unless someone ascends to a higher rank.  We also have First Knights from Canada and


            We had a bit of fun with Sir Stig.  I placed the plastic knight’s helmet on his head and then asked the assembled multitude if they thought it looked proper? Being in on the joke, everyone agreed it was not fitting. I reached into the box next to me and pulled out a Viking’s helmet.  I put that on Stig’s head instead.


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            Sir George Wright became Lord George during the December 1 Balloon back class. Lord George told us a fun story.  His lady friend raises quarter horses. A while ago, one of her mares went into labor.  The colt was turned the wrong way and could not make it out.  George’s friend called the vet, but he did not have the muscle to pull the colt out.  The job fell to Sir George.

            The colt was born live, but badly stressed.  The vet managed to bring him around. George’s friend named the colt after his rescuer; Sir George. We all had a good laugh when we learned that Sir George (the colt) was gelded. Sir George (the knight) did not mention his situation one way or the other.


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            The December 1 class was the last class of the year.  We held the traditional ceremony The Burning of the Backboards. After dark the class went out to the incinerator behind the main building.  We started a fire, and as we read the 2008 class rosters we tossed in the boards one-by-one.  The name of everyone who has studied with us this year was read and the person remembered.


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            I received an interesting email from Sir John Schmidt. The message will make all you pros envious.  He started by responding to my posting about the Berea conference. “Your posting makes this chairmaker’s stomach turn to know I missed it!  I had a good reason though. Thanks to everything I learned at The Institute; and thanks to the message of persistence that you preach to pros, I was feverishly completing an order for 11 chairs while this conference was going on. The order had to be delivered by the customer’s deadline: Thanksgiving Day dinner. He wanted to show off his new chairs to his guests. The chairs were to be delivered to his home one mile from Norm Abrams’ residence in a

Boston suburb.

            “When I took the order in June of this year I was going to contact you to tell you about this exciting prospect. I was also excited as the order was a remote hit to my website. I thought I better wait to make sure it wasn’t a prank. When I calmed down (and after I received my down payment in the mail and the check didn’t bounce) I realized I had landed my first big fish. Not only that, but it was from a customer who lived in the heart of Windsor country.

            “The order consisted of 8 NYC side chairs, 2- C arms and a three-person Boston settee. Your 20″ extension worked out perfectly. I completed all the chairs myself without any help, but I was exhausted when it was over. All of this was going on while you were drinking scotch in Berea.  My biggest problem was not starting the project early enough; I had been backed up with other furniture orders. But the good news is that by the time my 8th NYC side chair was completed, muscle memory was in full force and I completed it in a record time of 12 hours (leg turnings, seat blank and bows had been bent). My only problem with an order like this is now my wife Jennifer wants a new settee for our house.

            “Mike, you know that there are two so called chairmaking schools here Ohio, one right here in the Columbus metro area. They are a joke. Their techniques and styles are much different and hybridized. Needless to say I will be attending The Institute next year. The next class I need is the Writing Arm December 7. My 90 year old mother moved in with Jennifer and me early this year and the adjustment made it difficult to attend a class this year. Hopefully, my recent order contributed to The Institute’s stated purpose: ‘for  handmade Windsor Chairs to take over the World.’”


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            Sir Joel Jackson sent us this email as a follow up on the Iraq War vet turned woodworker.  “Hi, Mike. The box with the tools you donated for Nathaniel arrived today. I had to keep slapping my face to remind myself that these were for someone else. It felt kind of like Christmas. You were very generous, and I wanted to thank you for that. I know Nate will love them, use them, and let you know how much he appreciates them.

            “I also heard from Sir Mike Lynch. I will now email him and fill him in on the tools that remain on Nate’s list. I have also included his trimmed-down wish list. If you would care to put it up in the shop, and maybe students in the upcoming classes can find something they have that would fill a need. If so, and they would like to send the tool to me, I will then forward it to Nate with their name, etc.”


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            We stay in touch with Sir Ron Tatman, who is now in Iraq. Here is an update on him. I have strung together several consecutive emails. By the way, for those of you who have never eaten at Widow Fletchers, a Windsor Chair is the name of their martini. “I just landed in

Bangor Maine for a short lay over. We were greeted by at least 30 veterans as we entered the airport. Just finished reading your article on draw knives in Pop Wood. The opening lines would make Charleton Heston proud.

            “Fortunately I got to spend several days with the family before departing. In four short days I flew home; went to the Easton waterfowl festival; went to my 30th reunion;  helped Kaila finish carving a Swan that she had been working on; and prepared  a Franklin desk for finishing. There even was some time to mix and drink some Windsor Chairs before a long dry spell. When I email next time I will be in Kuwait.

            “I’m in Kuwait. It’s good to read your blog. If I was not deployed I would have been one of the lucky ones in attendance at

Berea. I can certainly understand your excitement. I would like to add that all of us should be equally excited, as we are living in the golden age of woodworking. We should be in Iraq in a few days.  I will send some pictures soon.”

            “The problem with emailing pictures is that the internet provider screens for porn, which slows and degrades legitimate transmission. This camp is on the grounds of Saddam’s kingdom. The palace and grounds are beautifully landscaped with manmade lakes. There many planted palm and locust trees. The lakes and drainage ditches are lined with marsh grass. Ducks, loons, and other shore birds are plentiful. There are fish in the lakes. The palace and other buildings are finished in marble imported from Italy along with fine woodwork in the many large doors. Much of the wood work is carved. The electrical and plumbing are the only short comings.

            “There is still some evidence of the bombing that took place during Shock and Awe. It does feel odd working in another man’s palace. We have never invaded and conquered in this way. We now have taken over and destroyed a city that was far more beautifulthan say Baltimore. I don’t think that

Iraq will ever recover, as the people responsible for the infrastructure have fled. Their pride is gone as well. It is still a war zone with rocket attacks, IEDs, and the small arms fire that I hear every night. Another reminder is the blimp that is tethered over our camp. The blimp is equipped with surveillance devices. Then there is the radar controlled Gatling gun which will hopefully disable a missile.

            “The challenge will be to contain or destroy tyrants like Saddam without the expensive process of nation building.  Jill will send a thumb drive with more pictures. The pictures may portray a different image than what was imagined. I know that seeing this is much different than looking at the images on CNN.

            “I hope to come home for 2 weeks R&R in March. If I find out that we are coming home in time I will sign up for the rocker class in September. Hope all is well and stays well in 2009.”

            Ron has sent me lots of pictures. I have gotten to see things they won’t show you on the news. Ron took pictures of the furniture Saddam’s palace. I liked the plush, upholstered settee Yassar Arafat gave him. It’s not really big enough for two people.  I just concluded the guy had a fat a**.  He certainly had a fat head.

            Ron’s wife Jill keeps us updated, as well.  Her emails are fun, as she gives us details Ron doesn’t include.  “Just an update on Ron. He is now in Kuwait on his way to Iraq.  He spent almost 24 hours in Bangor Maine. Something was wrong with the plane’s radar. Since it was chartered, they had to get a whole new plane. Had a two hour layover in Germany and then, on to

Kuwait. He was home for a four day leave. Of course the first place he went when we got home was his shop. That was even before he came in the house to greet the girls. He finished a couple projects he was working on while he was home.

            “He wants me to watch the blog for anything new. He doesn’t have access to his laptop right now and he can’t keep up with your site. His other favorite site is the Mt. Washington weather observatory.  He always likes to see what the temperature is and how fast the wind is blowing.”


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            I got some sad news.  Mike Sherman, who took two classes here died. Those of you who were in those classes probably remember him.  He was very friendly, and we enjoyed his company. His wife Gloria emailed us this notice:  “As you know, Mike was clear of cancer for 3 1/2 years; years that enabled him to develop new skills in Stephen

Ministry, continue the work that he loved, and form an even closer bond with our son Hans. Mike and I grew even closer and shared even more.  The cancer returned in June. He has had two types of chemo, fluid removed from the lining of a lung, and a great deal of pain from metastasis to bones. He decided on Tuesday, 18 November, to use hospice instead of any additional treatment. He slept most of the day Wednesday; on Thursday we started hospice here in our home, and on Friday at 9:15 am, he died.”

* * * *              Sir Lyndon Gallagher, First Knight of Canada sent us this note. By the way, the newspaper article he mentioned was published and he sent us a copy.  It was a nice write-up. “Hi Mike and Sue. Thanks for showing me how to make Windsor chairs and bringing a new hobby into my life….one I am very passionate about. Because of you, I decided to make a kids chair to be auctioned off at the annual Fireman’s Auction. My chair was auctioned off for $700 DOLLARS   …..WOW !!!!               “Because of you, many needy families will have a better Christmas this year. You touch people in other countries without realizing it. I told them that if my chair got enough money, I would make them another one for next year’s auction…I CAN HARDLY WAIT!! I think they are going to do a write up about me in one of the local papers…..I’ll let you know.

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      Sir Jim Droesch dropped me this note and observation of brad point bits. To answer his question, we use the standard length. Sir Jim and his friend Sir Peter Nisen are both returning for the settee class November 2. The have attended every class together and were knighted at the same time.  “Hi Mike et al; I’m getting ready to order some new drill bits. For the 3/8 & 7/16 inch bits do you use the extra long 9″ bits or the standard lengths? BTW, tell anyone who asks not to waste their money buying any drill bits other than the Colt brand from Woodcraft. The German bits are vastly superior from the get-go. 

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              Sir Mark Ferraro lives in California, but had an experience with our recent ice storm. Kristen is Sir Mark’s daughter.  While I did not attend Woodstock, my wife Susanna did. I was invited to go by a rather cute girl who worked with me on the college newspaper. I stayed home because my boss offered me overtime work. “Hope the recent ice storm and adverse weather hasn’t been too much of a hardship for you and your family.  With any luck, you were out of town, on a well deserved vacation to someplace warm.  Kristen’s university, Franklin Pierce in Rindge, got walloped.  Lost all power with no hope of regaining enough power to resume classes, so the administration cancelled the finals and sent everyone home.  As an employee, Kristen had to stay and wait out the blackout with no heat, no running water and no hot food for almost three days.  They got enough power back on by Tuesday that the staff could return to shut down the place for the winter break.  So instead of getting to get back to California by Wednesday, she has to wait until Saturday of this week to get a flight out of Boston. 

               “I really enjoyed your post about Berea.  It sounded like a lot of fun.  Wish I could have attended.  As I was just a pre-teen at the time of Woodstock, I guess another generational movement passed me by.  By the way, my favorite quote about Woodstock goes something like this:  ‘If you remember being at Woodstock, you really weren’t there.’  I saw some of the video on the web of Roy Underhill’s hilarious story about the Williamsburg axes and their use to dig the wells, rather than chopping down the trees.  You two should have an act and take it on the road.” 

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            If you didn’t make it to the Woodworking in America Conference in Berea, KY two weeks ago, too bad.  I did.  For the rest of my life, I’ll be able to say I went.  You won’t.  This conference is like Woodstock was for the 60’s generation; either you went, or you didn’t. If you didn’t, you missed out on a defining moment. The same with this conference. If you missed out then, you really missed out.


            I have been speaking at conferences since the State of the Art West conference in 1980. I have been at just about all of woodworking’s defining moments.  This was the best. The conference had a magic, an electricity that will never be duplicated.  It was such a success Popular Woodworking will likely hold more similar conferences. In doing so, they will iron out the wrinkles.  They will make the next conference even bigger and smoother.  However, they will never recreate the magic that happens when a lot of talented people are flying by the seats of their pants.  As good as future shows will be everyone at Berea this year will always talk about how it was at the first show. Because you weren’t there, you’ll feel left out. 

           The conference lasted two and a half days.  It was a series of seminars led by names you know; people whose articles and books you read. That happens at every conference. This time, it was not who was there.  It was what was not there. You could walk around this conference and never hear a router screaming or a table saw whining. You could hear every word the speakers said, because they were working exclusively with hand tools. You saw everything the speaker did, because it was projected on a huge over head screen.  I felt like a rock star.

            With this conference, hand tools finally stopped being woodworking’s ugly step child. Hand stool skills walked out onto the stage as Cinderella. Speakers showed the attendees how to make these tools sing; how to get the very best finished surface on their woodworking; how to cut joints by hand as fast as with a machine. Above all, hundreds of woodworkers who have never used hand tools because they lacked sharpening skills are now slicing wood effortlessly and cleanly.

            My stint began at 9:45 on Saturday morning with “Using the Drawknife and Spoke Shave.” Whenever I have spoken at other shows I would watch a parade of guys walk into an auditorium to see a router being used. Meanwhile, I would be stuck in a small room talking to a handful of guys clustered around me.  This time, I had the packed house.  Guys left there knowing how to rough wood to shape and get a finished surface with two of woodworking’s least understood tools.


            The next presentation was great fun. After lunch, Clarence Blanchard of Fine Tool Journal and I spoke together.  This session was hands on.  Everyone brought a used tool for us to look at.  Clarence evaluated the tool.  He told the owner what it was, who made it, when it was made, its relative worth, etc.  I took the tool and explained what I would do to put it back in service.  I had brought a lapping plate, so I was able to touch the tools up; show how to flatten a sole, etc.


            My last gig of the day was with Adam Cherubini and Deneb Puchalski of Lie-Neilsen Tools.  I have always wanted to meet Adam. I am a great fan of his. I think the guy’s column “Arts and Mysteries” in Pop Wood is a hoot.  When an issue arrives I turn right to Adam’s article.  I don’t even bother to look for my own.  

          Adam is very, very tall. I never realized that from looking at pictures of him. Saturday morning I walked around a corner in the dealer area and found myself at his booth. He recognized me and greeted me.  I found myself looking upward getting a crick in my neck.  When you meet someone, you maintain eye contact.  It is rude to size them up from head to foot.  From my lower peripheral vision, I could see Adam was standing on something and figured it had to be a platform. When I could politely look down I discovered that that something was no more than a rubber mat.  Adam really is that tall.


            Adam, Deneb, and I did a hands-on plane clinic at the end of the first day. Everyone had brought at least one plane.  We each did a brief presentation.  Then, we walked around from bench to bench coaching the guys as they planed a short board.  I think each person learned more in the 10 minutes we spent with him or her, than in a two hour presentation. The time flew by for me.  It was a great way to wrap up the day, helping and chatting with a group of fellow woodworkers.


            That evening, Pop Wood held a social hour for us with wine and snacks. I had a cold so; I went back the motel early.  I could have partied.  There was enough of that available later in the evening.


            My Saturday morning presentation was fun.  I showed a packed room how to sharpen using sandpaper. One guy had a new plane blade he had bought at Lowe’s (not best quality.) I sharpened it and crested its cutting edge. I popped it into my Stanley #5 and it cut beautiful shavings. Another guy had a $12 yard sale drawknife.  I tried to cut wood with it as found. It crushed and scratched the wood. I went at it with 80 grit. In the time available I couldn’t get rid of all the nicks and pits in the edge. Still, after working it through a series of finer grits I got it so it cut wood so cleanly the surface gleamed like wax.  The audience gave an audible gasp when the camera came in tight to show the surface.  

            The highlight of my weekend was cutting mortise and tenons with Frank Klaus and Roy Underhill. I have known these guys for years. They are a riot. Roy had brought a mini-cam and a small pane of Plexiglas.  He clamped it to piece of douglas fir so the audience could watch Frank chop a mortise with a mortise chisel.  Think of an ant farm and you get the idea.  It was a great show.  Next, I made a mortise with an auger.  Ever the jokester, Roy gave me a two inch block of maple with a large knot. He also gave me a 7/8 inch auger and a brace with only a four inch throw.  The audience howled as I struggled to turn the wide bit with the short brace into the very hard wood. The end of the mortise was open for the camera and  Roy got some great footage to show the audience on the large screen.

            Our presentation was more than two hours of nonstop jokes and quips. The audience loved it so much Roy, Frank, and I decided that we would form a woodworking comedy act.  Roy is the youngest, so we named our act Underhill & Over the Hill.

            My last presentation on Saturday was to make a Windsor chair seat. It was the easiest thing I did all weekend.


            The show provided the attendees with a barbeque dinner that started right after my last presentation.  Roy Underhill was the featured speaker.  I don’t know how to describe his speech.  It was a manic comedy routine.  It was rapid fire, with Roy changing characters and voices on a dime. The room was in stitches, but if you laughed too long you missed the next change in character and got lost. I can only hope someone has it on tape and makes it available to the public.


            Talking with other presenters and the attendees, I found unanimity.  The creative energy in woodworking has shifted to Pop Wood.  They are taking over. The competition is stuck with its old predictable formula. The result is a tired, worn out, elitist publication that is out of touch with its readership. Pop Wood is fresh, alive, and exciting.  It is the magazine to read. It is also the magazine to write for, and that is why you find all the best and biggest names there.


            I hung around on Sunday morning and visited with people. I didn’t have any more presentations and it was nice to relax. I rode back up to Lexington in the early afternoon with my editor and some other folks from the show. While I was waiting at the airport lounge, in walked Ellis Wallentine and Don Schroeder.  They had both been at the show with me.  Ellis is my old editor from the black and white American Woodworker days.  Don worked for AW and now is the advertising director for Pop Wood. We knocked back and few scotches and caught up on our lives since AW.   By the time the plane left I was feeling fine. It was a great way to end a great experience.  I will always be able to say was there. You weren’t. Eat your heart out.


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