I hate change. I love change.


My First Mistake

My first mistake was thinking that I was smart.

Now I don’t suggest that I should have adopted the method that my father used on me. When I was a young lad and did something dumb, he would yell at me that I would lose my head if wasn’t attached. He was a confidence builder that man.

I simply thought that on this fateful day that I had it all figured out. That I could hear any train coming at me and I was ready.

I had borrowed two scaffolds from my sheet rocker, Garrett. Now Garrett was a generous guy. He was also what I would call a big drink of water, 6′ 4″ or 6′ 5″. Yet he was not imposing. He just took up a lot of the available air with his ready smile and attitude. Oh sure, he could squash me like a cherry tomato but I thought he was a good guy who had standards for his work and that meant something to me. And for a sheet rocker he was positively a thoughtful man. We would have these conversations about the old days because of what song was playing on the radio which reminded him of when he used to raise hell up in the San Juans. He had given up that drinking life.

One day Garrett talked to me about his wife who was the brains of his outfit now. Turns out she had been a code cracker in the Navy. Since he was Navy too, once upon a time down in San Diego, and since he needed to clean up his act, she was the perfect woman for him. They married and had been up in the Northwest countryside for 20 some odd years together.

Damn thing was, she was a few years older than him and starting to show signs of forgetfulness. Garrett started telling me about how she had scared him one night talking strange and nonsensical stuff and it made him worried and nervous. Like he could hear the freight train coming but there wasn’t anything he could do to stop it. Now there is nothing that can take a man’s knees out faster than watching someone that he loves get done in by illness with not a cure or a prayer in sight to help. And listening to that train in the distance is no useful activity for a man. Better to keep your head down or up in his case in your work and just stay busy.

Conversations like this between guys are shared and forgotten mostly. They don’t mean a damn thing the next day to a guy and they mean everything in the moment. Guys don’t share their feelings unless they feel comfortable and trust another guy. Usually the most trust you get out of another guy is the understanding that the next time you see this fella he’s going to insult you the best way he knows how.

He might, for instance, comment on how poorly you have always played poker or backed the wrong Philadelphia football team. Or he might walk up to you and say: Gee you walking funny these days? Or did your bladder diapers ride up on you just now? That kind of insult means he cares.

Anyways, I held this information about his wife’s diminishing capacity with honor and hope that it was just an isolated event. That train is still off there in the distance for us all, but maybe he would have some more good years with her. I hoped with my heart for that. Best I could do for a prayer right then as I am reformed catholic. Excuse the hell out of me.

Now to get back to the point of this story I want to remind you that even when you think you’re smart and you think have it all figured out, you may have to re-calibrate this stance of yours in light of the evidence that will be presented to you. This evidence may indicate that you may have just done something remarkably stupid. So back to my scaffolding story and you’ll see what I mean.

I knew I could load these two scaffolds up all by myself. But they didn’t both quite fit into the back of the bed of my pick-up truck standing up. Plus it was a curvy road to drive and they were a bit top-heavy. I disassembled the parts and laid them all out on the ground. Now all I had to do was load them up and haul them off. Easy enough. These were not imposing objects once taken apart.

I got one big panel in and then another sliding them in over the tailgate. Both stuck out over the back of it. That was fine. The smaller scaffold almost fit in lengthwise but not quite.right in that in-between kind of spot.

It was just a little cock-eyed so I gave it a final shove and it still wouldn’t go down into the bed. So I walked around the side of the truck and I had my right hand behind this panel near the front of the truck bed and my left was pulling it closer to straight as the panel rested on the back of the tailgate. All of a sudden it found its entry point and the whole panel slipped down a few inches pinning the finger next to my right pinky tight to the truck bed wall.

It hurt. That’s the first thing I noticed. The panel had slipped down just a bit but it had me locked down like a 73″ long steel wedge and I could not move my hand. It hurt. That’s the second thing I noticed. My finger was lodged in place right near where the digit met the palm of my hand and when I pulled at it, I thought I might tear or break it off. And the panel would not move and I could not lift it because it was wedged in by its fall and I could not crawl into the truck bed without moving or ripping off my finger and holy hell, I realized that I was alone and pinned against my truck and might suffer some serious finger damage because I had thought I was smart and doing everything right when something slipped on me. I never saw this train coming.

My finger took up most of my concentration now. It hurt. This was what I noticed. This situation was a reminder no doubt sent by the scaffolding gods that I had made a tactical error. I had put my hand in the wrong spot and I had gotten it pinned. How did this even happen?

Didn’t matter. Now what could I do? I mean there was no one to call. My phone rarely worked out where I was plus I would have a hell of a time reaching it with my left arm trying to reach into my right hand vest pocket and oh yeah my right finger was really starting to pain me.

Remember that movie scene in Sometimes a Great Notion where the brother has his leg trapped by the log that rolled onto him and the tidewater is rising around them and the brothers realize that there is nothing to be done because that log won’t move? I did not want to think about that scene in the movie Sometimes a Great Notion.

I tried to focus instead on my options because the pain in my finger kept reminding me about the importance of my immediate situation. I tugged at my finger again. No luck. I pulled it, I pushed it. No luck. I tried going up with it and then down with it. I tried moving the panel again. No luck. That panel was stuck in there and too heavy to lift up with my left arm alone from where I was at the front of the bed. I had no leverage on it. My leg couldn’t kick it because I couldn’t get it over the truck side wall. The dang panel wasn’t heavy. I was just stuck with it and with my hand in the wrong spot.

I think it’s maybe the glue-ups I’ve done that saved my finger. All those times when the clock was ticking, like it certainly was ticking on me now, and I had to come up with a solution or lose my piece in the simple assembly of it. No time for recriminations. No time for blame. No time for self-pity.

The only thing I could figure out to try was to make myself smaller and see if that worked. I mean my finger was also part of this whole wedge package so if I could make it smaller somehow, don’t ask me how, maybe it would move. I was willing to try anything even trying to go Zen on myself in the middle of a pick-up bed crisis. I pulled on the panel back a little with my left hand and then I told myself to relax my right hand and that finger. Relax. That’s what I said to myself: Relax, so the muscle or pad or whatever the hell it is that’s inside your finger there wasn’t so large and bulging out so much so it would shrink enough so I could move the panel just a smidgen and remove my finger.

And by golly it worked. The panel slid to the side just a bit and out popped my very red and pained finger and I went to put some ice on it. Then I thought about how such a simple job like this could have turned into such a disaster for me. Man, here I thought I was being smart, taking everything apart, and look how it turned out. How does this happen, I asked myself out loud. Now the self-pity part kicked in. Don’t you attach your head in the morning? Recrimination time. And et cetera.

Until I thought about the fact that I had just saved my finger and learned another valuable lesson. Just cuz I’ve dodged a bullet every now and then does not mean that life or the great wedge or simple physics might not bite again if I’m not thinking.

Accidents are a silent freight train but they still can hit you hard. Circumstances can change on us in a hurry. Good spots can become bad ones and seemingly right decisions can turn into very bad ones. You cannot complain about this series of events. There is no time to moan about how hard you got it. You have to figure a way out before you lose something precious. Don’t presume that you’re smart. You are probably not entirely right. You are certainly not entirely wrong. But think before you act. My daddy was certainly right about this one thing: use your head.



How many times have I walked to the other side of the shop with a goal in mind and I get there and I see something else and I get distracted and I turn around and I walk back to my bench and I try to remember what I was doing there at the bench and I recall then that I had completely forgot about my mission and my goal of my walk across the shop. Sigh.

I can’t say it was that I heard the meadowlark singing and I got distracted by its sweet song. Nope, it was my brain. Something about focus that is lacking in it these days.

And perhaps you are not facing this. I envy you. But it is an issue for me. Focus and distraction in this age of Covid and catastrophe and political upheaval. How do we deal with this lack, this dearth of focus?

Let me tell you a story about someone who did not fail in his resolve.

It was some time back when my shop was located in that old furniture factory near the railroad tracks. I held classes there for the Studio when I first opened it up. We were in class that day with a full group of folks building Craftsman style tables. It was a nice project for which we had to make mortising templates for cutting joints with a plunge router. My method was to make up a mortising template attached to a fence. You ran that fence against the fence of the router table and made a slot in your template of the right size and length. Your router’s round template guide ran in that slot, et voila! Mortise. It really took more time to make the template than to make the cuts later on.

Anyway, I had gotten hold of some extra dense 1/4″ Masonite hardboard, and we were using that to make our templates. I had told the students to go slowly when making the mortise cut for the slot. Don’t rush, do a good job, take your time feeding right to left on the router table. Work into the rotation of the bit and it would push you in tight to the router table fence. Focus on the job at hand. All was good.

One of the last students to make his template was doing everything that I had asked of him. I had turned my back to him to help out someone else. The student at the router table took his time with the cut and moved the work slowly into the bit. But the Masonite was so hard and the bit now so dull after so many cuts in this hardboard that it didn’t cut so much as it burned its way through the Masonite. And the resulting dust from the cut was sitting on top of the router table smoldering and glowing red and trying to catch itself on fire.

This one motivated student did not stop his cut however. No siree. He still carefully routed his template slot, aware as he was of the glowing Masonite dust. He could see it there smoldering in front of him, but he did not stop. No. He knew about the fire but he was not a quitter. He stayed focused. He routed the slot and instead of stopping he blew on the sawdust trying to extinguish the fire with his intrepid breath. Two jobs at once he was trying to perform. His tenacity, his focus, his single-minded determination to get the job done was masterful in its own way. I have to give him credit for this.

But when I looked to see how he was doing and noticed the situation, I marched right over to this student, who again was doing everything that I had asked of him, and I gave him the throat slash sign anyway to kill the router motor and stop his cutting. He was still routing and blowing on the red embers, but he saw me and did stop the cut. I patted out the combustibles on top of the router table and I said to him and then to everyone else in class, “You know . . . in the wood shop . . . when there’s a fire on top of the router table,” and I paused, “you know the first thing you should do is to put out the fire. Stop your work and put out the fire. Then you can continue your cut.”

It was a small piece of advice. One that I hadn’t mentioned because I didn’t think it needed mentioning. Yet it had turned out to be words of wisdom that was worth passing on now to all my students. We carefully cleaned the bit. No harm had been done. We continued on with our cutting. And we all learned a valuable lesson that day.

That was true focus. And I try in my own way these days to remind myself on my next trip across the shop to set down the tool I had in hand so I don’t set it down across the shop where I don’t need it and I remind myself to get the task done that I have set out to do. Whatever it may have been. Get that job done. But if a fire starts because of this focus, put the fire out first and then complete my task.

You are welcome for this valuable advice.


Cheese and Chairs

There is something about building a chair that challenges us on many different levels. Why, you may ask, is a chair any different than any other piece of furniture? Well it’s how we use it I think that matters. We sit in it, on it, around it, we pick it up and move it about from one side of the table to the other, we fidget in it trying to get comfortable, we tip back on its two rear legs, and then we slam the chair back to earth and get comfortable for ten more minutes and then have to move around again. It needs to do its job of holding us up without fail, be well-made so it can survive the abuse we give it, and a pleasure to sit in if it is to be a great chair. Commodity, firmness, and delight as Vitruvius, Roman author, would have it said about architecture. So too, of a chair.

A chair is not like a cabinet where the only physical interaction with it is to touch a knob or bang into it with a knee or elbow. With a table, your commerce with it is mostly how high it is. The only thing you ask of it is: do I feel comfortable when I’m working/ eating/ reading at it. It’s why most people are not impressed with a table sitting in a gallery space or at home. It just sits there. You throw your keys on it, bam, it lands, you’re done. Unless it’s unusually large, a table rarely symbolizes anything. They are unilateral, multi-purpose, egalitarian.

But a chair is an interaction both visually and aesthetically that requires good solid engineering while in the end, so to speak, also being ergonomic/ comfortable. It makes the chair a very intriguing build. No other piece of furniture has so many requirements unless you think of a boat as a piece of furniture, which I suppose some folks do. Because of the chair’s role in history first as a symbol of royalty and power, then opulence and privilege, and finally comfort and lastly community, the chair remains a powerful image for us. Put two chairs alone in a room facing each other and upon seeing them a deep impression is made. Performance artists have made a living off two chairs in a room.

Now think about the chunk of raw space that a chair inhabits. This cubic rectangle of air is filled with potential chair and your task is to remove all that is unnecessary from it to create this object. This analogy not only implies, it insists on a reductive process. Take away everything from this space that is unnecessary. Everything that is not chair, I remove.

Hence my brilliant analogy to a block of cheese! You have forgotten? Take a chunk of cheese, [one could I suppose substitute clay or cold mashed potatoes, but what about the eating?], and start to remove the unnecessary sections. By removing the negative space from the brick of cheese, one creates the positive image/ shape of the final chair. It is a marvelous way of drawing/ sketching out a chair because you concentrate then on amorphous, non-symbolic chunks of trapezoidal, rectangular, or triangular shapes. It’s easier then to see this shape because it doesn’t resemble a chair. It resembles the trapezoid or whatever. Easy to see, easy to draw. Pull away the negative space. What is left?

The chair. And, if we use my cheese model, a great pile of cheese that needs must be eaten!

I simple take away the chunks of unnecessary cheese until all that’s left is the shape of the chair. But as with cheese, so too with wood. When my chair/ cheese model is complete, it will have no stability to hold us up. Even a model of a cheese body could not sit on this cheese chair. Why? Because cheese, as any school child knows, has no structural integrity. It can’t hold up its own weight. Neither does wood if you start with a tree trunk and take away all the negative spaces you want in order to create your throne. Short grain sections will not hold up even as you carve away on the log. They aren’t just liable to break. They will break.

So if we made this cheese chair, well I don’t have to tell you what would happen. Cheese-tastrophe. Same thing with carving a block of wood and creating something that is light enough to move. Once this is done, the wood has too many short grain parts to have any integrity. Sit once in it and it will collapse. Our reductive process may be good for modeling but maybe not so good for reality.

The concept however is apt. Think about the chair aesthetically as a block of form and then remove everything that gets in the way of your idea. Then move to the reality and engineering and ergonomic side of things to create a prototype adding sections together. Now we have an additive instead of reductive process. Now we can create something that you can actually sit in which is when we start to face some issues like what is comfort? Read Witold Rybczynski for some sense of when that idea came into play. Blame the Dutch ascendancy, their golden era in the 1600’s, and their middle class is his take.

Then consider what is comfort for you or for another. Is the chair height important? The angle of the seat relative to the floor? The width of the seat? The angle of the backrest to the seat? The backrest supports? Chair arm height? Yes, the answer to all of the above.

And you thought it was just a chair. Just a chair. Try to build a chair sometime, from scratch. No plans, no numbers for you to copy and you’ll feel like you’re trying to reinvent, uh, a chair. A wheel is easy. Figure out how to get motion. But a chair, goodness, you have to entice the viewer who spies it to want to sit in it. Then once she does, it has to hold her up. And finally it has to feel good to sit there and by extension she looks good sitting in it. Bring in the serfs!

So much to consider. Which is why when people call up and say: I have a simple project that I would do myself if I had the tools, they display their deep ignorance of a field that is deep and far-ranging. It may be simple to build this project for someone with skill. It may be simple for someone with experience with this particular and singular shape. But try your hand at it and see how simple it turns out to be. Make it out of cheese first I say. Just to see if the idea has any merit. If not, eat the evidence.


The Trail Ride

This is a story from long ago but somehow it seems pertinent to today’s world. Settle in and let me know if you agree.

Now for two testosterone fueled high school boys like me and Lynch what activity would sum up our consummate courage, our wild west fortitude and our lack of dating prospects better than a horse back ride for the two of us one late summer afternoon. Dating was the Kilimanjaro of our existence. A mountain off in the distance, forbidding, looming like a mirage, a taunt, a triumph for someone not named us. Who knew what it was like actually? We had so little experience. Hemingway knew and he had to go to war to figure it out. Not for us. Horses were our pastime that fine afternoon instead. We lived in a part of the world where trail rides could be rented. These stables were located somewhere out in the farmland and it kept somebody occupied enough to rent out these poor nags to young inexperienced riders like ourselves. We lied of course and said that we had ridden plenty of times. Oh sure, steer with your legs, yep I knew that. I had watched Broderick Crawford ride a horse. The horses knew the routine of course and once we mounted and cinched ourselves in for the ride of a lifetime they hurried out of the stable at a breakneck pace. It’s called walking. Clip clop and then again clip clop. These horses knew that they had two yo-yos on their backs and they also knew that if they brought us back in one piece maybe they could get some extra brushing or an apple. We entered the wilderness on their backs.

This desperate territory we rode consisted mainly of plowed flat Illinois fields. These fertile tracts produced no gila monsters, no rock outcroppings, nor any dead end canyons where we might get ambushed. Nope they were flat as a ruler for miles in every direction. We continued our perilous journey astride our steeds, our eyes peeled for signs of trouble. Where was my cowboy hat? The trail followed the tree line or hedge row between fields of soybeans and young corn. The staples of a Midwestern diet. Many is the day now that I long for a good bowl of soybeans to remind me of my youth. Along the fields stood leafy trees, a patch of water or two left over from yesterday’s or today’s 5 minute rain storm and plenty of horse manure to keep our noses clear. We walked around and past a small pond of brown water that lay in our path. We didn’t get lost, no sirree, as Lynch knew the way. He was a horseman of great repute. He had ridden here once more than I had so he was trail boss. We followed the hedge row for another couple of acres.

We meandered down this one line of trees, saddle sore for sure, but we kept on and turned, slowly to head down another fence line. We had been told to go only so far down from the barn until we got to a lake. At that lake then the horses would know when it was time to turn around so we were just to let them do their job. I spit into the dust when I saw the lake. It held a lot of water and was large enough that it would be well past our hour’s time if we decided to ride around it. Still the explorer in me wanted to urge us on.

The horses checked their watches and turned around. They must have given each other the eye as they headed in unison back to the barn. They started back along the trail of empty fields. My thoughts turned to Kilimanjaro of course there just barely visible in the distance. As we made that sharp left turn to pick up the hedge row trail again, Lynch turned to me and in one of his moments of inventive brilliance bestowed this surprising idea on me.

He said, “Let’s gallop ‘em home.”

To me this thought had all the merit of spitting tobacco juice into the wind. I was no tinhorn. Besides my bottom hurt. So he took off without me. That boy was a racer and a bonafide idiot. That was for certain. For when he picked up speed by kicking his Keds into the horse’s flanks, the thoroughbred took off for the homestead like she was made of lightning and grease. They charged along with that small pond just a short ways off in the distance. They raced towards it, Lynch urging his pony on. What could stop those two? My horse and I looked on in admiration.

Lynch aimed straight for that puddle. He wanted to charge right through that mud pond in a hurrah of splish and mud splash and the horse had other ideas. She veered right while Lynch’s body hurtled straight ahead. They separated like only a rider and pony can. The horse threw him off with the help of centrifugal force just like shaking off a flea. Who knew why she did it? The horse was in charge and so probably had said to herself, I’m not running through this mud puddle. There could be dragons in it or giant eels or it could be 2″ deep and I could get my legs wet. I don’t want my legs wet. Who knew what she was thinking at the time she turned right. She zigged because there was always a puddle there on the trail. Any fool could see that. There’s a mud hole there, a depression in the ground filled with water and slime. And if it was supposed to be avoided on the way out, why not avoid it on the way back when you and your no count mount on your back were sort of galloping home to the feed bag. Just as easy to go around it as go through it and get wet. This is to the horse’s way of thinking.

Threw Lynch right off into the mud puddle and the horse made it around it just fine and slowed up at the other side of the small pond to stop and take in the sights of the day. Oh look there’s my rider and he’s all wet. However did that happen?

Lynch got up without trouble and no wear on his body. The horse politely waited for him on the other side of the waters. He clambered aboard his mount muttering a bit to himself. It just goes to show you that sometimes you’re expecting to go one way and the horse will go the other. Now here’s where I tie everything together for us. Lynch fell off that horse because he assumed that he and she were going straight through that puddle. Now why had he made that assumption? Well cuz it was what he expected. It was to him the logical thing to do to go straight on home to the barn. Why not go straight? It made the most sense. But the horse had it figured out different. Lynch couldn’t tell the future any better than you and I could last February. Just like you and me back then we thought we knew what would happen in March. It would unfold just like we expected it to. We raced forward and then the world went a different way.

Boy oh boy did we get thrown. I’m mostly done drying off from the mud bath but it’s time to get back on that pony.


Bird Brain

It was during the first hailstorm of the Covid virus pandemic, when conflicting information hit us every day about what to watch for, what to avoid, what would certainly kill you, and what would keep you safe. Sometimes it all came from the same source. Which in the end, for me at least, didn’t make me feel safer or more informed as some of my mates averred. The more information I received, the less secure I felt. So I ditched most of the information and lit out for a refuge out in the country. The hail stones were smaller out there it felt.

Anyways, I was up in my converted garage living life large. Mostly because my day consisted of getting up early, watching the sunrise over some canyon land and observing the birds out my window feeding on the seed I had thrown out there. Bird watching is much better than netflix. My latest count has thirty or more different bird family groups coming by to say hi. From the skittish two foot tall wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, to the tiny teacup sized bold and aggressive rufous hummingbird, toughius mothafugros.

There are recurring characters too. In late March and April it was twenty or thirty Juncos assaulting the ground for food. What a chatter this group of conventioneers put up! It was like they got drunk seeing the buffet of seeds on the ground and couldn’t get there fast enough to fill up their plates at the table. You would see juncos carrying off huge chunks of dinner and still stop to put a piece of that cake on their plate and then go over and pour on some of that flowing chocolate sauce from the buffet fountain. Oh no wait, that was a different convention I had been at. But you get the idea. It was chow time for these boys and girls. Yet I would still see bullies fly up and chase somebody else off a plot of ground like they had nothing better to do. Territory fighting just because they liked to do that. Mostly male bullies. Figure that.

There were also poignant love stories. It’s the beginning of May now and I watched the wrens screwing today. Much better than Netflix like I said. They had come back and moved into the birdhouse up in the pine tree just in view of my window. Tough little house wrens with a tail stuck almost straight up. Tiny little brown things until I saw them next to the bulk of a hummingbird and realized that while they’re no sumo wrestlers in the bird world but they ain’t small either. And fearless. I would find them, once they returned, flying everywhere around me. Flying under the shop crawl space, under my truck, under the unfinished porch twistling at me while I walked to and from the shop. Not at all shy about talking straight at me.

Now a quick glance at their beaks which are short stabby ones, alerts you at once to the notion that these are meat eaters. Or in the bird/ insect world grub or larvae eaters. Anyways, they have a sword on their mouth to attack and eat things. Not vegetarians these little tough guys, let’s just put it that way. I am remiss. Let me describe why I had these birds. I had advertised for them. It’s fairly simple. You need an area that is easy to see and get to, where predators like cats can’t hide and, you need a secret ingredient. Put out water. Birds love themselves some water. This is actually where a lot of the action goes on, is at the baths. The Romans got nothing on power grabs at the baths compared to the birds. Who knew that the robin, ooh look a robin, yeah that kind of gushing silly anthropomorphic response to this bully of the baths, is just that, a bully first class. I saw a little warbler or something, grey and yellow but it moved too fast for my eyes to figure out what kind of tweeter it was. This warbler couldn’t take the big baths, too much water and too many robins and starlings and jays hogging it. So he was taking a bath in a tiny little cup of water held in one of the rock steps down from the cabin to the ground.

A little tiny bit of water but enough for him to wash off the dust of travel and maybe a few mites or something. He would dip his head in and shake it all about like he was doing the hokey pokey and just generally cleaning up. Good job of it he was doing. When what happens? A dang robin comes over to claim this pond as his own and scares off the grey and yellow bird. Gone. Never saw him again. Now what’s the oooh-la-la-look-it’s-a-robin bastard land grabber gonna do with a teacup lake? Nothing. In fact he looked at it, scoffed once and took off back for the big bowl of water I had splashed into the rock baths. Just claiming territory. Reminds you of Republicans. Or Democrats. Or sport show guys. Always claiming, Well I thought of this before anybody else did. Yeah sure.

My point is that the birds love the water which come late spring gets a little harder to find in these parts. So there they were splashing and crapping in the water. A grand time was had by all. But back to those lovebirds, the wrens. Not much to it I must say. All that build up for me to issue that statement but it’s the truth of it. The two them flew out of the ranch style birdhouse which perched fifteen feet up a pine tree near the bath house, and she sat on a rock above him and they were whistling and calling at each other from two feet away when she wiggled all her behind feathers in an obvious, to him, come hither message. It wasn’t a bird bath wiggle. It was a jump up and fluff all my feathers, ain’t I a pretty one, kind of wink wink to the Billy Bird.

He, Billy below on the bush, could not contain himself any longer and flew up in a jiff above and behind her and in two seconds was done. I exaggerate. It didn’t take two seconds. That extra second makes it sound languorous like there was lots of moaning and rolling around on the satin sheets. Nah. It was a mutual connection, slam bam thank you sam, get off me I got eggs to lay or something like that. They were a couple no doubt but the time for flowers and candy was long over when it came down to the business of procreating. Got us a job to do here.

After it was done, the female wren moved about a bit, fluffed up some more of her fine feathers and then headed to the nest that they had been making for the past week to get back to work on it. Mr. Billy flew away cross eyed, I only imagine this, and sat there for a time on a rock near the baths. His work done. His usefulness over. He flew off to find some meal or grab a smoke and look out at his kingly duties and kingdom before him. Insert Tom Petty song, Good to be King, in the background of your mind. Yep, his job of providing meals was just starting.

Lots of activity to be seen but male display to attract the eye of the female is the subject of another note some day down the road. Let’s just say that men know how to strut their stuff so the women can just turn up their noses and walk away.

Put up a birdbath and throw out some seed. Better ‘n television if very much the same except for the swearing. Actually I thought I heard a blue jay say something the other day that might make a trucker blush. Something about some other jay trying to steal his Betty. Get that *%7# out of here. Another time, another bird story.


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Infill Planes

L-R: four shop-made planes, dated from 1984 to 2018, and two Scottish infill planes, c. 1870-1880

As a student of James Krenov I make wooden planes and teach others how to make them. I also like old things, so I have a modest collection of metal Stanley/Bailey bench, block, and specialty planes, most about 100 years old now. I recondition these for use, and I do use the specialty planes and a few of the block planes. I rarely, though, use any of the bench planes, which I find not as friendly or versatile as my wooden planes. 

At the Handworks event in Iowa in 2017 I had the opportunity to meet Konrad Sauer and to try the infill hand planes that he has been making for a dozen years or so. If you’re not familiar, see Sauer and Steiner to see some of his work. Based on tools made by Scottish/English makers Spiers, Mathieson, and Norris, in the 1800’s, Konrad’s planes are exquisite objects, made entirely by hand, with dovetailed bodies of steel and bronze with infills of rare and exotic woods. Besides being exceedingly handsome and well made, they are very fine and satisfying to use. At that meeting in Iowa, I was taking microns-thick shavings from highly figured maple and leaving a perfect surface. 

While I would dearly love to own a piece of Konrad’s work, unfortunately it’s not a practical option for me (read: I can’t afford it). But my interest in infill planes, as a type, was whetted, and so I started looking at antique tools.

[See image gallery at]

The plane pictured above is a “handled smoothing plane” made by Stewart Spiers of Ayr, Scotland, in about 1870-1880 (it’s very difficult to date these with any precision). The iron is by Robert Sorby, of Sheffield, and the chip breaker by Thomas Mathieson of Glasgow. These may or not be original to the plane, but are of the period regardless. The iron is clearly laminated (i.e., a piece of hardened steel forge welded to the softer body). The steel sole and sides of the plane are dovetailed together, and the Brazillian rosewood infill blocks are through-pinned in place. After flattening the plane sole and back of the iron, and grinding and honing the cutting edge, the plane performs well. With more fine tuning we’ll see if it can come anywhere close to Konrad’s tools.

I also picked up a similar Mathieson plane of about the same vintage and construction as the Spiers (some tool historians believe that Spiers actually made many of the Mathieson-branded plane bodies until late in the 19th century).

More to come …


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