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.



Rock on with your bad selves–



photo (and thatch repair) by Michael Burrey





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 7:15 am and I think I hear howling.



I wasn’t going to complain. I really wasn’t. Another 5 inches overnight. NBD. Brush, shovel, scrape-repeat. It’s what you do this winter.

But this morning, the truck’s tires are frozen-literally frozen to the driveway. What new devilry is this? How does this even happen?

I mince back to the house to look for kitty litter-you know, for traction. We all mince here because, as everyone in this region knows, unless you’re being chased by tundra wolves, it is against the law in the Commonwealth to run in the outdoors during the month of February. You are only allowed dedicated and little mincing steps. Shuffles are also acceptable. I mouth Bruno Mars lyrics as I mince over crusty snow and ice back to my house-

This hit-that ice cold Michelle Pfeiffer that white gold…

The handle on my screen door, finicky on even the best of June days, plays its part in this little drama and refuses to turn even though it had only mere seconds ago. Somehow, my cursing actually works this time–God I love science! And with a little effort I am able to briefly wrest the door handle from winter’s grip without breaking it. Let that be a lesson to you, kids walking to the bus stop–swearing is good!

Inside there is, predictably, no virgin litter to be found. But hey, like the Viagra commercial, I’ve reached the age where giving up isn’t who I am. The clock ticking, and February being a short month anyway, I make a bold and powerful executive decision to draw litter from our cat’s (her name is Cat) own gently used box. I scoop out the less-traveled regions with empty yogurt and putty containers. Cat looks on, concerned, as if to say, Human- are you sure that is going to be enough for you? 

No time to explain. Go play with catnip.


In Plymouth we have two restaurants-one named Berts and the other Ernies. I can tell you how to get there, but I don’t think Berts is open for business..

Back outside at the “go” wheel of my truck, it feels as though the temperature has climbed a little, above 0 degrees anyway (that’s minus 228 Celsius, for you metric types). I sprinkle the precious contents of Cat’s box around the tire. This is repeated 3 more times until I’m certain all of the wheels will get traction.

They don’t.

You know when you drive a stick and you’re wearing your big-ass winter boots and between those and the slippery melting ice on the clutch pedal it’s almost as if you have forgotten how to drive? I only stalled it a couple of times. Then I notice Donna, our elderly but very independent neighbor across the street, waiting patiently for me to pull out. Her driveway is clear down to the asphalt. It’s spotless, really. It always is. If you type in her address on Google Earth, hers is the beautiful oasis of black rectangle in an otherwise white wasteland. I have witnessed her shoveling during the very teeth of a howling nor’easter, while I am inside curled up fetally. Driveway care is one of Donna’s passions.

On the few occasions in the past when I have begun to shovel her out, she inevitably waves me off saying, I’ve got this, Rick, but thanks anyway. We both know that her driveway clearing would kick my ass.

As she waits in her Buick, I waive her on, motioning towards my house as if I’ve forgotten something back inside. Like more cat shit, I’m thinking. I glance back at Donna as I stand before my again-frozen screen door and watch as her own benevolent driveway tenderly guides her out onto the road and into great wide open.  Say a prayer for me at St. Bonnies, my capable neighbor.

Church…Lent…ASHES! That’s the ticket. Nice organic free-range ashes from the wood stove. That will surely free the wheels. I’ve reached the age where giving up is mostly not an option…

We’ve made a lot of ashes this winter, from all the scrapwood I finally got around to burning. Long ago, before THE TIME OF THE SNOW, there was opportunity to cut and split firewood on bare ground! One such scrap is pictured below: These are ye olde stockes from Plimoth Plantation. For years they sat at the crossroads of  that re-created living historie colonie from ye tyme of ye pilgrims, right in front of ye Governor’s house, a stern reminder to all who would transgress ye civil authority. Since their retirement, the stocks have been a garden ornament at my place, more a refuge for clematis than a punishment for oath-swearers. But as all worldly things are want to do, the oak posts began to decay. This seemed as good a year as any to finally free myself from its bondage and convert ye New England stocks into British Thermal Units-


Countless thousands of tourists had their pictures taken while “stocked” in this arrangement.

Back out in the tundra,  I happily sprinkle ashes around all 4 tires, and much of the driveway to boot. I probably should have stopped the first time I heard something clink on the ice. But I didn’t.

Nails. Wood screws. And some random pieces of what appeared to be 19th-century hardware begin to reveal themselves when the ash dust has settled. Is that a Roman coin? They are all of them sprinkled around my tires now. They are all of them sprinkled up and down the driveway, because the only thing more fun than a frozen tire is a frozen flat tire.

It’s 8:05. Donna’s dipping her fingers in holy water by now and I’m using mine to sort through kitty litter and impure ashes to pick out nails and screws. Ash Wednesday why must you mock me? Still, I refuse to be bound to your antiquated concept of on-time.

Oh look, bonus GRK fastening units in the mix!

Once the hardware was reclaimed, the truck found its footing and I lurched forward a few feet into the road. I would have continued directly to the job site but I needed to yield to the herd of musk-oxen migrating further south. Good day to you.


The Atlantic’s spawn-

Plow-glaciers: Is that a thing? Because it should be. Living on a dead-end road has it perks–street hockey, pissing with reckless abandon in the woods, etc. But all of the precipitation which has fallen on lovely route 3-A–from Neponset to Manomet–is now sitting at the end of my road, partially blocking my driveway ni skating rink. Have you ever shoveled plow-glaciers?


Even our dog Bogey, who usually loves and frolics in the snow, pauses at the door lately. He looks at me–looks outside–and looks back up at me–WTF, man?


Think of it this way: 100 inches of snow (our running total this winter) is like a dozen under-inflated footballs placed one on top of the other; it’s 14.28 Dunkin’s large coffee cups stacked top to bottom; it’s about 133 seed catalogs full of heirloom tomatoes and sexy lettuces laid flat one on top of the other.

So it’s not all snotty beards and white death.

Look what a friend did with all of his snow:


This snowhouse even has a VESTIBULE!

And miscreants can carve a phallus into the snows of Cole’s Hill, under the very nose of Mr. Bradford and his puritanical aspect-


It was those Billington boys, I just know it-

Two words: Snow Beard.


Power mincing, as Pret calls it.

Sometimes the weather and circumstances lead to things which ya just don’t see everyday:


Hello operator, do you have the number for 911?

And some things that just maybe you shouldn’t have seen-


Justice may be blind, but Justin isn’t.

My brother-in-law plays hard on the snowy slopes of Colorado:


He’s way up there on a snowmobile. Own it, Bean.

The other day while clearing snow,  we saw two hawks getting their 50 Shades on at the very top of a power pole-


He said power pole…

And today a fox light-footed it through a hollow near the mill-


Other reasons to enjoy this winter:

Cardinals are singing. Their song makes a musical counterpoint to all the skid-steers beeping during snow removal.

You can hone your mogul skills on all the frost heaved roads.

A fun game is to guess how long it will take for that 10 inches of snow to fly off the roof of the car in front of you.

Clearing low-pitched roofs has become a cottage industry and puts food on the table for many.

Relive your childhood by using plastic Nissen Bread bags for boot liners!


Remember, they go on the INSIDE.

After coffee break, dudes can practice cursive on the snow banks!

Late February teases us–the rake of light, the birdsong, and pitchers and catchers playing somewhere far away on real grass-

-it’s all so damned close…


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Justin sent this pic from work on Nantucket the other day. Is there a photo-contest for bleakest subject?

-we mince and plod on, freeing stuck cars, moving piles of snow, and going about our work.

I wasn’t gonna be one of those people who rant about snow piles and meteorologists. There are exceptional people who embrace this weather. I can suck it up and keep it to myself. But who am I kidding–I’m just as fed up as most of the rest of us.

I’ve reached the age where giving up is a just a frozen door handle away…

 I hit my personal winter breaking point today–around 8:20 am.


Soon we won’t have to mince anymore if we don’t want to. We will cast off our stocks and our bread bags and we will run willy-nilly through open fields and gentle breezes…



I’d write more but I need to shovel again.

And there’s the smallest hint of ice in Donna’s driveway.


Plymouth CRAFT

Here are some other things for you to consider and act upon while shedding your bread bags:

Have you seen the latest workshop offerings from Plymouth CRAFT?


An amazing variety of workshops await you at the tip of your index finger. Some of this region’s most talented and nice people are teaching their skills to folks just like you. You can be an absolute beginner-all ranges of skill and interest are welcome. Carve wooden spoons with Peter Follansbee. Go half-hog with author Paula Marcoux. There is a craft brewing workshop and Ukrainian Egg decorating, just in time for Easter. Want to learn to knit? Plymouth CRAFT has you covered.

And blacksmith Mark Atchison will lead a day-long workshop on the fundamentals of blacksmithing. Here’s a link to Mark’s process of researching and re-creating an historic axe:

Plymouth CRAFT has quietly begun to do some really special things. Spots are going fast though. Get in on it!


RIP Dr. Karin Goldstein-scholar, mentor, and great human.


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Tarpe Diem

Snowgate was imminent.

Which means this morning

it was time

to batten-




The Hatch!



BLUE OAK would like to thank J.Keegan & ML Burrey for the “joke”. 

Don’t quit your day jobs, gentlemen. 


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What are you gonna do?

Old buildings make way for new ones everyday.

Or in this case, a building which is still highly functional and aesthetically beautiful is utterly gutted to make way for luxury condos.


Is it just me? Things that shout LUXURY do not appeal to me.

Hey, it’s a free country–a public building falling into private ownership can basically be turned into a husk of its former self.

Who needs quarter-sawn panels, expert plaster work, or marble floors and casings?


Codes, architects, the tastes and whims of a new owner–not to mention the perceived desires of well-heeled buyers–may all lead to an erosion of history.


And of place-


To be fair, it had been a while since a testator’s assets had been disposed the old Registy of Probate building (c. 1904) in downtown Plymouth.


A few of the sashes were sketchy, though contemporary artists were happy to brighten up the place-


You ARE something, eggplant. Remain firm in your resolve!

The new owners, generously, offered to donate some of the building’s historic features back to the town for preservation and possible re-use.

So, as is our want, we went to work salvaging a few things to save for America’s Hometown.

We started with the stained glass windows which jewled the front-


Carefully and one by one…


They came free.


The detail was exceptional:


Then we tackled some doors and a few jambs and lugged them down the stairs.


The inimitable Marie Pelletier taking shots at Administration.

Along the way, we took in features which we hoped would be saved by the new owners.




And Michael, who has an incredible eye for such things, found a hint of the main hall’s former glory beneath some more recent paint. 30 years ago someone probably thought the room was too dark so they just painted over it, he said, carefully scraping off a section of paint to reveal the old color and fleur de lis of the original wall.


A keen eye and a sure hand often lead to discovery.

Perception is a funny thing. What we think would draw potential clients to this once-charming relic of Plymouth’s history may have nothing to do with someone else’s reality.

It comes down to the little things people do which can add to–or subtract from–a community.


So, one ogee moulding at a time, some people go to battle against the forces of newer is always better-


Because that aint always the case.





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World’s smallest turkey

Amid the hurly burly,

In spite of the economy,

In the face of abject whatnot and who-do…

Good things can be accomplished-



Jones River Boathouse

Merry Everything and Happy New Year from BLUE OAK!


And for those of you wanting 11th-hour gift inspiration-


check out Plymouth CRAFT’s listing of upcoming workshops:


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Cranberry sauce comes from a can-

And is served as 3/4 inch segments.

Happy Thanksgiving

Score one for Bandit


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Thatch Pilgrims 2010062


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Mortise and Tenon make a porno

A rehab in pictures…

The old sawmill had seen better days…


A larger box mill was added to original sawmill. Both had been stabilized until work resumed.

Its restoration would include as much of the original timber and sheathing as possible-


There’s a lot of assessing when determining which of the old timbers can be reused.

Joinery notes or a martini recipe? You decide-


Wanted: Oak and pine timber with an early 19th-century aspect:


Plans worked out and timbers hewn, it was time to cut.


We are not adverse to machines-


Though certain joints are cut in the old style:


A pin will crash this party between mortise and tenon-


Cutting is relatively easy, relative to layout that is…


The beefy top of a jowled post.

The slow dance of trial fitting…


Here, Pret replaces the forlorn end of an old tie beam.

New life for old ties-


The beam in context with its new post:


A sweet little brace with perfectly swept grain is still perfectly functional-


Now that the majority of the sawmill’s frame was cut, the North Bennet Street School Preservation Carpentry Program helped us to raise it.

First the long walls–


Then the tie beams-


Hatch Mill volunteer and photographer Bill Powell captures the action-



And good men who had been steadfast in their vision and support of this old up-and-down sawmill took a moment to enjoy the progress at day’s end-


Dean and Roy, two of several people who refuse to let Hatch Mill die.

 Time to cover the new (old) frame-


 The roof sheathing was also a mix of old and new:


September’s fair weather allowed us to make hay-


 The NBSS students returned to get their shingling technique on-


There was good progress after a couple of days-


Preservation student Emily made a great video of the NBSS contributions:

MLB Restorations returned after a week of dreary October weather to finish roofing and start on sidewalls-


 And with the help of many, what once was…


Continued a return to its former–if humble–glory.




For more information on the restoration of The Hatch Mill, please visit: 

or The Hatchmill Facebook page:


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the creep

To be sure, she looks pretty good for 200 years…


In the heart of a town’s center, deep in the very bowels of an abandoned gem, Plymouth’s 1820 Courthouse has secrets to share…



We met with Bill Keohan, of The Community Preservation Committee, to tour the Federalist-era building and its additions.


Plymouth is building a new Town Hall.

To make space, the original courthouse will remain, but two of the later additions behind it are slated for razing.

Our goal was to save some of the historic elements of the additions before work began. While some of our salvage may end up in the new town hall, they will at the very least spared the dumpster.

As we entered the abandoned buildings, there was a vague sense of oppression.


Maybe it was the empty halls and offices, the apocalyptic ambiance of a building vacated for a decade, combined with recent news and pandemic fears.

Maybe it was the layered angst of centuries of the accused and the guilty who once roamed these hallways–or were held in their cells.



Regardless, we jumped to work while the light was good.

Several quarter-sawn oak doors graced the 1884 addition to The Courthouse-



We carefully removed these well-made and gorgeous doors-


and queued them up for storage.



The addition also boasted marble floors. We wrested these up with flatbars, gently coaxing each stone out of its mortar bed. We only broke a couple.

The marble tiles were laid with such precision in the lime mortar, you couldn’t squeeze a credit card between them.

And though the tiles originally came off the gangsaw with varying thicknesses, the floor itself was dead level.

Each tile was custom fit.


Michael was struck by the amount of work–quarrying, cutting, squaring, hauling, etc–that went into this floor.

Several pieces bore marks on their underside; some were clearly location marks, though others were more cryptic:


Perhaps they will find a home in the new Town Hall.

We took a couple of detours amid our labors to better understand the history and stories held captive in these old walls…



The 1884 addition was home to a jail.


And fashion was chronicled on the women’s room doors in the 1960’s courthouse addition–a boxy, institutional Eisenhower-esque building, as Bill called it.


Downstairs, an iron door was painted to look like wood. The detail was exceptional.


Our walkabout also led us to the adjacent former County Treasurer’s Office, now used for storage. The basement of this building was Plymouth’s closest cousin to a catacomb. It was dark, dank, foreboding, and not without interest. Some people are drawn to the cobwebs and dark places. There’s history there.

At one end, we saw a “white oven”, with its separate coal-fueled combustion chamber. Paula Marcoux, food historian and author of Cooking with Fire, found this of particular interest.


Prison rations were likely baked here, as there were no shortage of jail cells in these abandoned buildings-


Wrought iron/wrought in jail.

Back upstairs, we took a peek at some old evidence which, perhaps, had once been the focus of attention among 12 jurors-



From a distance, the pictures were almost amusing; at the very least they brought about a sense of nostalgia.


I hope no one was hurt, up to and including the 8-track player.

On top of the pile on their way to storage were some even older documents-

Someone bought a sickly goat which died and they wanted to be reimbursed with a cow…or something, said Bill.


But some evidence was utterly infused with creep, and filled our imagination with the horror of a crime which may have been:


I didn’t want to know any more.

Our day’s work done, and before the afternoon’s light faded,  we crept upstairs to the attic and cupola of the original courthouse.



The building’s ventilation system was as simple as it was aesthetically pleasing.

This grate allowed fresh air into the main courtroom-


The faces of the carrying beams bore evidence of the not-quite perpendicular marks of a sash-saw.

Due to their length, however, there was no way they could have been sawn in The Hatch Mill we are currently restoring. Old Decker’s mill can only take 12-footers.



Sap was still bleeding from the timbers:



There was plenty of reading material, if your tastes run to 1000-page legislative documents and 19th-century directories.



And if you’ve ever wondered what the less-public rear of blind justice in an alcove (see picture at top of post) looks like, here ’tis:


We were momentarily blinded by the light as we ascended into the courthouse cupola-



…where we had a breathtakingly unique view of downtown Plymouth and the harbor beyond-



For several moments, we stood in the light, high above the ghosts of the judged and the condemned.

This is what Justice would see if she was shed of her blindfold.

But she must remain blind, even as she shares two centuries of stories with those who see.





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Years of academy training wasted…

and other picked up pieces…


…and other craft is ultimately an exercise in patience.



Working on some old window sash recently with my wife-who has INFINITELY more patience than I do–it occured to me just how much I had to recalibrate after a summer of swinging axes, running saws, and pounding chisels. I learn a lot watching Kim work. It’s not so much a gearing down–the work is just as intense. It’s more like taking a breath, observing smaller detail and using a smaller grouping of muscles. I tend not to yell as much when I’m repairing windows. So much can be accomplished with patience. I wish I had more of it.


…is a ball and stick game played with a tennis ball cut in half and a broomstick. Follansbee used to play this urban game on the mean streets of Weymouth, MA.

In ye olden tymes, we’d dust off the dregs of a long day, find a wall to pitch against, and play this game with an old shop broom.

This traditional street game needs to be taught to our youth, even those from the verdant cul-de-sacs.

Here’s the windup and the proof that even joiners can throw a pretty good curve:



…of Follansbee…

Got an old, Elizabethan reproduction spring-pole lathe turned green oak bowling pin made by a renowned joiner/lecturer/author lying around but no time to bowl?

Try this at home!



…of beards–

After a while you start shaving just so people stop dropping change in your coffee cup.




…should market his innovative, recycled edge-tool covers.

Here’s an orange juice container covering the end of a little adze-


And here’s a tasty IPA package securing a saw blade:



You’re a bum!


Wedge Bramhall

…was a great Plymouthian who left us this spring.

While his name suggests otherwise, he was anything but a divider.

If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by Bramhalls Country Store before they close for the season this Sunday, October 12.



…kept us busy canning tomatoes on the home front.


The grapes have been particularly sweet this year and there are lots and lots of acorns on the way.

The squirrels are going nuts.

And at a local living history attraction, autumn leaves are falling on old friends.

If you’re happen upon this image of Pret à Pilgrim, take a selfie and send it to BLUE OAK.

We’ll award something appropriate to the most creative submission!


Old friend Alex caught up with 2-D Pret.

On-sitely humor:

That’s like a Finnish carpenter putting a Dutchman in a French door.

-Joe Chetwyn



My kid

…demonstrated his understanding of irony the other day:





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Just another day’s work for Bob

BLUE OAK made a video of Bob Reimel’s work custom sawing pine boards to make them look as though they were sash-sawn.

With some adjusting of the band saw’s teeth and a small angle between saw and stock, Bob can work magic with that Wood-Mizer.

Here’s a side by side comparison to a new band sawn board (left) with an original up-and-down sawn board:



And here’s the video:


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