Cape Cod’s Most Interesting Man

He once led the California Highway Patrol on a 3-county chase at the end of which the officer bought him an Arbys Roast beef.

He told US Senator Edward Kennedy to get a real job while they stood side by side on the half-deck of The Mayflower.

He schooled famed archaeologist/anthropologist James Deetz on the sociological ramifications of The Brady Bunch

He is Cape Cod’s Most Interesting Man.


Hey how are you. You got your pants on?

With a name harkening back to colonial times and a wit as droll as any yankee who has ever scratched the earth, Dave Wheelock is an authentic throwback. Shipwright, timber-framer, archaeologist, author, museum curator, historian and part-time farmer and fisherman, stories flow from beneath his Newman’s Own mustache in a soft spoken, southeastern Massachusetts lilt. Women have written him fan mail about his dreamy blue eyes. Dudes want to have lived out even a small percentage of his stories.

I don’t always restore house frames, but when I do, it’s for a good cause.


Needless to say, it’s been nice to be able to work with him.

We’ve been moonlighting at The Benjamin Nye Homestead, replacing sills, post bottoms, joists and a few studs. It’s quiet on this little jog off of touristy route 6-A. You should visit the place. They’re open for the season.


It’s a charming little house–quintessential Cape Cod, really.



The ghosts of Benjamin and his family watch our comings and goings-

Digging out old sills gives Dave a chance to sift through the debris for artifacts on this rich site:



He’s found coins, the obligatory pottery sherds, and pre-colonial evidence of a Wampanoag settlement–a storage pit in the front hall of the house, dug well-before the Nyes’ built their home.

A woman’s hand-

 The other day, while fetching out the rotted end of an old joist, Dave also found this:


To the untrained eye, this would appear to be nothing more than the random remnants of a rat’s nest.

But Cape Cod’s Most Interesting Man knew better–

This is the coolest thing I’ve found in the last 20 years, he said.

If you knew Dave, you’d realize how significant this statement was.

It was flax–expertly, patiently arranged by “a woman’s hand”, as Dave said. The detail of such a delicate and fragile artifact somehow surviving for centuries beneath the floor was astonishing, once Dave put the rarity of such a find in context.


Each strand arranged and the whole work tied up loosely in a knot.

Think of all the steps which led to this, Dave reminded us: The growing of the flax, its meticulous combing and dressing, and the rat which unbelievably did so little damage to it. Perhaps the Nye’s sprinkled a little more arsenic around the rat-hole when the original thievery was discovered sometime around the Revolutionary War.

All this drama played out on a little stage here on Cape Cod, fleshed out centuries later by an expert eye and a sublime storyteller.


John (left) a Nye descendant, great guy and keeper of the house, takes in the find with Dave.

Another day another find:

Our man Dave picked up a sash-sawn floorboard the other day–it came up from near the hearth of Nye House’s parlor.


The shallow burn marks are just above Dave’s hand.

Those divots, he was sure, represented the shallow burning of the legs of hot kettles being put down on the pine. They looked a little like cigarette burns to me, but we always influence our perceptions of “history” with our own experience, don’t we? It would be interesting to see if any of the house’s kitchen tools fit the profile of the burn marks.

Oh, he carves gravestones too-

Thanks to Tonia Deetz Rock for the reminder about this little gem of a video which The Heritage Museum in Sandwich produced a few-less gray hairs ago:

Jethro’s got a goat playing a fiddle inside his head–and you know what they say about goats–they’re hard to catch.

-Dave Wheelock


Poor Kevin (right). He just met Dave and is not sure what to believe. Been there, Kev.

The stories flowed while we cut new oak to replace the old: Tales of eccentrics who hurled angry epithets at rocks in the woods, tales of ground penetrating radar and whether to exhume or not to exhume, and a characteristic chuckle from Dave when he realized he didn’t know his own cell phone number–

I’d call myself but I wouldn’t pick up for that asshole.


Vintage Wheelock.


The Benjamin Nye Homestead & Museum is off route 6A at 85 Old County Rd in Sandwich, Mass.

They’re open Tues – Sat, noon-4:30. (508) 888-4213


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Swept Up Shavings

-24 random thoughts from the dusty corners of my mind…

1. My poor, wonderful framing chisel. Was the world awash with color given how many times some brute used it to open paint cans?


It’s allright, sweetheart. Let me flatten your back and compound your bevel.

2. Take a bougie screen door and make it better:


Woven wattle to thwart the gnats. Or at least the hummingbirds.

3. We were cranky, sore–maybe a little bitchy–after a long week when we raised up the last significant timber (a rafter) at The Hatch Mill the other evening:

This momentarily undermined the significance of the moment, considering all the good people who have been working to save this gem for several years.

More on this later…


4. Someone uttered Toenailing the Heel a couple days back. Isn’t that some sort of traditional Polish dance?

5. From the Pandora Algorithms Don’t Always Get Me Dept:

 Don’t leave me alone with this song

6. On a related note, if you don’t like Earth Wind and Fire, I will fight you-

7. Led Zeppelin has aged really well. But some of the Jimmy Page solos–not so much.

8. Lose the tension–stay upright in compression!

9. I like it when I have a 200 yr-old trenail garnishing my nail salad:


10. I may be obtuse but I’m dependably obtuse.

11. Best handsaw advice: Play it like a viola da gamba.

12. Wasps don’t like Dexter Gordon. This was proven the other day when Justin nearly swallowed one.

13. How can avant-garde ever be old hat?



Saw to that line in the new venture, O’Rourke.

14. How many times must I lose my star bit?!? Please place your thoughts for good places to keep it in the suggestion box at the end of this post.

15. Best leftovers for lunch? Spaghetti.

16. Lacking help on this day, Nathan was forced to go next level on his scaffold, shaving clapboard bevels with his draw knife and shaving mare high above Weymouth’s teeming masses. A tip o’ the scally cap to you, sir. The house is looking great.


17. Everything I know about scaffolding, I learned from 3 wise men:



18. From the Damned by Faint Praise Dept:

The Red Sox have been a horror show this season but at least my wife tells me I have warning track power.

19. I’d like to thank my neighbor for playing his pop-country all day/night on the weekends. It serves to confirm my disdain for most “country” since Hank Williams Sr.

20. So if a hammer is a snare drum and a plane a violin, does that make a handsaw brushes on a hi-hat?

21. Great to see SW Bolton out at Pine Fest a couple of weeks back.


He’s still got it, for a guy who wears a suit most days.

22. Plymouth CRAFT was well-represented on that day. Have you taken a look at the latest CRAFT workshops? They are surprisingly affordable and feature some of the most friendly and talented people around. More on that later.

23. We’re working a side job at the lovely Benjamin Nye Homestead on Cape Cod. Maybe it was getting late, but I couldn’t help but notice the connections between things found there:


Mannish invention


Nature’s handiwork.

Deep, I know right?

24. And finally, no more need to castoff your janky sawzall blades–

Just in time for Father’s Day–Preservationist Wind Chimes!

They crosscut–they rip–they fill the air with a dull and muted jingle!

I made this in like 5 minutes:


It’s prob my best work.




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Structural Dust

One man’s dust is another man’s treasure…


That’s today’s 175 yr-old dust on my cheaters.

We preserve structures–that’s what we do.

The work can be challenging and sometimes it sucks–but the concept is really friggin simple:

We save as much of the original building as we can.

This aint dropping a 7-11 on the corner; it’s not taping up yet another plywood mcmansion.


Keegs gluing back the broken short grain of a king post-

Enter Michael Burrey, a man who is as passionate about saving every part of an historic structure as anyone now drawing breath on this mortal coil.

Really. As in, this is his calling and he can’t refuse the call.

Where most people see a derelict and lost eyesore–and developers see dollar signs–Michael’s eyes light up with the possibility of preserving not only a structure, but the rich and untold history of one little part of the world.

One building at a time.

If there were 36 hrs in the day, he’d be at your historic doorstep, knocking on it with a mallet and leaving you pamphlets asking if your house is saved.

He is as compelled to save an historic building as Noah was to build the ark. Pine and oak, two by two.

The wanton destruction of historic structures is Michael’s white whale. It galls him. He takes it personally when he hears of the thoughtless or greed-fueled razing of a building which could have been saved.

“Is he mad? Anyway there’s something on his mind, as sure as there must be something on a deck when it cracks.”


So all this arrives with Michael when we meet up at the job site each morning.

He packs up his passion for preservation like you and I would throw a turkey sandwich into a plastic grocery bag.

Some days, there’ll be layout marks on the skeletonized dust of ancient, bug-happy sapwood.

You want me to cut this line, I ask, knowing full-well the answer.


Purlin trench-ok band name. a capella dubstep

Yep, he’ll say, with that familiar smile all of us who’ve worked with Michael know very well.

And if you know MLB, you know there’s a LOT behind every yep:

Like, there’s the craftsman side of things–he does some stupidly good work, from the finished details of a newel post to knowing just where to hit the sledgehammer to knock apart a joint to being one of the best hewers in the western hemisphere. There’s the historian/archaeologist, who could give you the full historic narrative of a structure being preserved and the skinny on many of the artifacts in and around the grounds. There’s the, Hello this is Michael of MLB restorations, answering a call from a church on Nantucket, or a timber framed bridge in the pine hills of Plymouth, or the don’t forget about tonight’s cub scout meeting from home

The dude doesn’t even drink coffee.

So while all this is rolling around inside his head like some frenetic game of jai-alai, some well-meaning but uninformed soul might wander (wonder) by and ask,

Why don’t you just replace the whole thing? That’s what I would do. I could put up a new rafter in 20 minutes. 

He’ll pause before replying, gathering himself in a way that I simply could not.









Dear reader, let us pause to take in the full meaning of that response…

If we can save a timber, a trenail, a sheathing board, we will.


Nailed it.

It’s messy. Yep. It’s frustrating. Yep. It’s slower than replacing the whole thing with something new.



-and it’s the right thing to do.

Because once that original sash-sawn rafter is gone, it’s never coming back.

If you can save half of it, you do it. 


And when you can’t save a piece of the original, the replacement tells a pretty good story–about another time and place, and about the community who cared enough to preserve something special.


I brought my own trenail, said the collar to the rafter.

Who will carefully and skillfully wrest out the good from the gone?

Look for the men and women with structural dust on their pate and in their pockets.

That’s the dust of centuries.

That’s the dust of preservation.




To contact Michael of MLB Restorations, text or call: 508 277-4468 

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We just arrived-time to split

There are a lot of good people out there looking for meaning in their work…


And we met a bunch of them at Plymouth CRAFT ‘s most recent workshop on riving wood.

Peter Follansbee led the group and wrote about it in Joiner’s Notes.


We set up at the venerable 1677 Harlow House. Many thanks to wonderful host Donna Curtin and the Plymouth Antiquarian Society.

Under fair skies and the come-hither of a thousand birds…


…we talked about trees and processed green wood into usable stock.




While we cleaved oak and pounded ash, Charlotte Russell led a Plymouth CRAFT class for those who were more inclined toward the textile arts:


And Paula Marcoux, of Cooking with Fire fame, made a workshop-lunch for us that was, in itself, worth the price of admission.

No sooner had we filled our teeth with poppy seeds then Mr Follansbee gave us a lesson in converting ash into splints–one growth ring at a time.



It’s an almost magical process and a lot of fun to make a trial of.

It’s pretty much therapeutic. All of this “work” is, actually.


All around, it was a great day for splitting for those who arrived.


See you next time?

Here’s the video:




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Rafter You’ve Gone



































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Sashes to sashes-

-dust to saw dust.

We’re continuing to hit the refresh button with mallets toward none up at Hatch Mill-

hatchphotosOld1b (1)-horz

Over the last couple of months, our restoration has led us from the sawmill–where once again we’ll hear the sweep of a water-powered sash-saw, to the larger adjoining box mill, an allied operation where boards from the saw mill were re-sawn and made into…boxes. (Did I just meet my hyphen-quota for the month?)

Water and insects had taken their toll on the front wall of the 2-story box mill frame-


They’ll take your toll even if you haven’t exact change-

But neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night-


-stays these preservationists from the swift completion of their appointed rounds-


Much as we try to salvage the salvageable in an old frame,


-there are always plenty of new pieces to let in-


Plate scarf. Photo courtesy of Bill Powell

One compromised segment of wood grain leads to another, so it’s out with the old and in with the new.


Squeezing the 20′ corner post in place between the sawmill and the remaining elements of the box mill proved a particular challenge.

It didn’t help that your author neglected to taper the tenon on the bottom of the long post sufficiently.


Paring precipitous post tenons in place–dude, my bad.

Gratefully, we’ve had plenty of help.


I’m flanked by intrepid volunteers John and Kevin. Bill Powell photo

Somehow, posts, girts, scarfed ends and braces (in a mill, there are always plenty of braces–they keep the building from shaking apart) all came together in a patient dance of paring, scribing, kerfing, and occasional brute forcing.

We made the most of lengthening days and warming temps-


The heavy lifting done-


-we were able to catch our breath and begin to finish some of the lower parts of the frame-


And as much I love the pleasant whine of a plugged-in saw, it was a treat to be able to rive and plane a little on a mild afternoon-


Locust for trenails.



Planing slow growth, re-used 175 yr-old pine for use in a scarf.

Methodically, we’ve been working upward toward the roof frame.


That sweeping grain of a curved strut coming out of the king post is alone worth the price of admission.

As expected, this required even more scarfing of material. We take out the bad grain until there’s good grain and cut a piece to fill the void:


Evan hit his stride cutting a scarf the other day.

Wanting goggles, he resourcefully found second use for a discarded pastry box-




The kid is fearless, tough and talented–like cider, a good blend.

We wish Evan well on his trip to the Finger Lakes, where he’s found work as an apple-whisperer.

Water is the energy behind and underneath Hatch Mill.


Part of this water mill’s restoration means building a new dam.


Charlie runs the show whenever he shows up with his human

We’ve temporarily held the water back in order to pour a concrete footing at the base of the new dam. While digging out for the pour, we found several things of interest–

Proof that the current marsh used to be a pond:


You know coach says I keep my stick on the ice good things will happen, eh?

Also, Two Mile residents had taste-


There was an old sill at the bottom of the former weir. We dug it out of the muck for posterity.


In the sill’s mortise, within the mud, we found the remnant of a shaving from a hand auger used to shorten the grain in a pocket.


Well over a hundred years old but preserved beneath the dam as if it had been cut yesterday.

New and old, hand in hand, sashes to sashes, dust to saw dust.





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fish and wood chips

April is all about the running here–

Running noses, running 26.2 miles, and amorous fish running upriver.

Hark the humble herring heroically heralding spring-


Plimoth Grist Mill’s second annual Herring Run Festival kicks off this Friday evening, April 24th. Witness the drama of about 100,000 water-ascending Lotharios looking to get lucky in the private nooks of Billington Sea. There’ll be food, music, and you can even help to collect important scientific data on this mass migration.

Then, even as the exhausted fish lie contented blowing smoke rings from some dimly-lit riverbed, May follows with more Plymouth CRAFT offerings:

From building an earthen oven to drop-spinning to a class on the art of splitting logs into workable project material with Peter Follansbee and me–


This little non-profit is busting out quality workshops like so many herring pushing upstream.

See you there?


Get your hands on some thermal mass-

It’s exfoliating and tasty–

You can almost smell the warm bread just peeled out of this earthen, hand-made wood-fired oven…


You’ve often thought, how cool would that be to have one of those ovens in my own backyard!  Could I build one myself? And also, why am I thinking in italics?

Well, here’s your chance.

Plymouth Craft is offering a 2-day workshop on May 2nd and 3rd on building an earthen oven. This is not some esoteric, beard-pulling musing privy only to a select few who happened to read about it on the back pages of Hipster Digest. Nor is it simply a brief introduction to the topic. This will be a comprehensive, sleeves up, hands-on weekend of utter wonderful taught by real people for real people using real materials to make real food.

You can do this.


And to boot, it’s being taught by the very special and talented Paula Marcoux. You know Paula–she wrote the book on Cooking with Fire. But a special love of hers are earthen ovens and their many forms. Around her home, I have personally seen at least 4 ovens she and Pret have built themselves. Legend has it that Paula once even dug out an oven into the side of a dirt road nearby. Hi neighbor–care for some bread? 

Get ready for some next-level instruction.


This is a very cool opportunity. For real. The workshop is reasonably priced, the materials are readily available, and you will find no better teacher and guide than Paula.

You can do this.

Build an Earthen Oven

A two-day oven-building workshop with Paula Marcoux

offered by Plymouth CRAFT




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Sometimes a little bit of drunk is better than a little bit of murder…

…said once a wise friend.

Some picked up pieces, dear reader-

Nobody told me it was National Bury the Screw Head Week:


My bit isn’t long enough…

Photographer/mason/outfielder Bill Powell is making some of our work at The Hatch Mill look like objet d’art:


photo by Bill Powell

Good friend Andy Hyde remains in contact with us after our trip to the UK this summer.

…given the look of the weather in the blog-photos, I thought an extra scarf might come in handy! said Andy


From a barn west of Essex. Andy’s wit remains as dry as the oak pictured-

Speaking of oak:

Lamb’s Tongue–tell me that’s not a great 16th-century metal band name…


The Stop Chamfers are the opening act!

Plymouth Colony Archaeology continues to impress with their scholarship and intriguing write-ups:


Possible slave quarters in downtown Plymouth. We hope to work on saving this important piece of  local history.

In the valley between the saw mill and the box mill…


Shingles: The original post-it notes-


Don’t judge this man…


How many of you have a hatchet amid your vehicle detritus?

The other day, I spied 20-something Evan working what I assumed were his texting fingers during job-time-


I was wrong-


Hope for the future. I am on my cell way more than he is because…fantasy baseball.

At MLB Restorations, we believe in saving as much as the original build as possible.

This includes even trenails-


If the wood is good, pound it!

Some re-use of fasteners, however, just end up making you feel meh-


Wonderful human and renowned sculptor George Greenamyer is being honored locally this weekend for his Courage of Conscience


Well-deserved, George.

And finally-

A Love Supreme-

While fastening down a tarp at the mill the other day, Justin discovered his inner-Jimmy Garrison:



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round here we say FRAP, not shake


We took a side job this past Saturday, returning to ye old stomping grounds for a day–



The earth-fast (without foundation) house was suffering from the onset of chimney lean.

This is to be expected as the oak posts and studs decay at differing rates in the ground.


 We’d done a similar fix before. 


 This time, the chimney was out of plumb about 2 feet.


 Some 400 year old friends came to wish us well-


You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Jacobean religious dissenter say “aluminum”.


We punched holes in clapboards and daub (a clay mortar) and ran a strap from the outside of the chimney down to the opposing tie beam.


Then we opened up the thatch and poles between the house’s two rooms to allow half of the roof system to move.


By design, there isn’t a lot of lateral support in the roof frame. These cottages were meant to represent the quick and dirty build of the colony’s first settlers who needed shelter, not manor houses.

Rafters leaned in concert with the chimney–


We used a pipe shore beneath the chimney lintel to carry the load while digging out beneath the posts.


Matteo and Dan did yeoman’s work with us all day. It was a pleasure to work alongside them.

 To bring the chimney back to plumb, we needed to cut 7.5 inches off of their bottoms.


Once the posts were footed with flat stones, we eased off the strain above and below and slowly cranked the roof system towards plumb.


There is a pleasant FRAP sound as all the elements of the frame move together.


After a morning’s prep, it only took a few minutes to bring the chimney and roof frame back to plumb.



As a bonus, nary a chink of clay mortar fell out during the process.



And the loft floor above, which had been been affected by the chimney lean, also came back to level.


As the day wound down, Justin and Michael gathered up spars and sways (wooden fastenings) to put back the thatch.






Mister Burrey truly enjoys going back to his roots. The work–like the houses–is elemental and, dare I say, good for the soul.


And the view–not to mention the indefatigable spirits of the good people on the front lines of this institution–is one thing which refuses to be dampened by listing chimneys or otherwise.



For a pilgrim’s take on the process, check out this blog post:

Rock on with your bad selves–



photo (and thatch repair) by Michael Burrey





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