American Graffiti

It was love, Jimmy.


“Jimmy has kissed me 8 times here on this vacation Feb 20, 1955”

You, your friends and half the youth of Norwell, Mass all snuck in and climbed the ladder up to the top floor of the old water tower on Pleasant Street.


It was a right of passage, making out and leaving your mark on the walls, no doubt.



But the bloom of love fades, and so did the frame and fixings of the tower, built over a hand-dug well and one of only a handful in the area.


Pret, always one to encourage romance, stabilized the frame from the sills on up, and replaced the upper floor where the water tank used to be.



The beefy joists are a mix of doug fir and yellow pine.

The sheathing was put back in place and newly sawn pine made the floors.



Peter cut in a hatch to the well. As of the last measure the water was 14′ deep.

Russ took on the challenge of shingling the works, once the frame was repaired.


The long corners have alternating seams. They are “woven”.

And restored windows, as they are want to do, changed the entire complexion of the structure.



Justin worked his OCD magic on the deck and railings.



The details of construction were based on old photographs of the building.


Our ladder was utilitarian-


-but the original “stairs” were in remarkable condition and happily re-used.




David (the home-owner), Peter and Pret taking it in. They left no graffiti.

With its new roof and a cheerful, if phallic, finial on top, there’s no reason this unique feature shouldn’t last for at least another 150 years.


circa 1940-ish


circa April-ish

And Jimmy?


He is still loved, last we saw.



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Well that joiner down by the river finally realized his dream the other day…


With the help of several friends and neighbors, he raised a frame for his workshop.


Farmers. office workers, artists, writers, and millers from down the street and from Canada, Australia, Maine–even Newton!–were all there to help.


Mr Follansbee and Mr Woodburn take full responsibility for this darlin’ frame, nestled seamlessly into the hillside and made of salvaged materials laid out and cut on fair winter days this year.


While it would have been special to see FREE BRADY carved on the beam, Peter opted instead for a date–4 digits which always ring familiar here in Plymouth County.


And no frame ever is raised without a hitch or two.

This is how a joiner owns a mistake when he’s helping to build his own workshop:


After a yeoman’s lunch, cooked on a fire partly fueled by discarded carved panels…

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…the frame seemed almost to finish itself-


And Mr Follansbee applied a traditional flourish for the newly raised timbers.


Then, when the last trenail was pounded, a sight rarely seen ambled its way down the hill…




Look at that party animal.

And though PF doesn’t partake, he rewarded the generosity of those who came to help out in friendship.

It didn’t take long before the newly raised frame saw some of its first use…


And as the sun set west of the river-


-we all knew this would be a place where many wonderful things are created.


Here is a link to Peter’s account of the frame and the process:

Also, here’s a video by Harry Kavouksorian of the raising:

Lots of great things happening over at Plymouth CRAFT.

Check out the latest classes:


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The Defenestration of Assonet

I had about a hundred working titles for this post:

Greek Reviled

All Roofers Must Be Meth Addicts

30 Steps and a Ladder

The Day I Discovered Skin De-fatting

2 Weeks in the Same Pants


But our week in Assonet, Mass began with the shedding of a church tower’s fenestration so The Defenestrations of Assonet seemed most appropriate. (Apologies in advance to any descendants of Praguian burgomasters who took the express elevator to the street in the early 15th-century).

It’s a beautiful New England church of its time, nestled in the tart bosom of cranberry country:




Inside, I half-expected Orson Welles to be delivering a sermon–



I mean, it’s a special place–


With original skyved clapboards on the north wall:


Pretty as it all was, the tower leaked badly.

It once held a bell tower which seemed to fall down like a barometer with each hurricane or nor’easter:


Several years ago, Michael and the crew took the tower off with a little less violence.

The church owns a splendid Revere Bell-


Which may yet one day peel above Assonet again-


Our task was to carefully remove the rails, posts and balusters on top of the flat roof. These had been added to the church in the hey-day of Greek Revival-ing, sometime in the 19th-century.


Here’s a post detail opened up, showing century-old plane shavings from its fitting:


Once the deck was clear, we’d build a new (temporary) deck on top of the existing rubber roof and pitch it towards the back of the church.

Away with ye, cursed water!

MLB finally had an excuse to rent a lift–


–while Keegan and I watched the trucks laden with cranberries roll by from our perch:


Supporting local business, we got our framing and decking material from Gurney’s Sawmill, of course. Though our deck is a temporary fix, it seemed right that materials should have come from just down the road.



Keegan used to lay rubber roof 20 years ago. He’s good at it–better than he thinks–but it’s not his vocation.


He searched his database late into the night (when he wasn’t changing diapers) to remember the particulars:

Let the rubber relax…where to caulk…how to manage drip edge… 

Been there, ked.

I mean, worrying about rubber roofing, yes.

Roofers have always struck me as a breed apart.

It takes a special kind of person to do it for very long, I would think.


The fashion is inseamly–


And the sweet witches brew of chemicals:



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De-fatting of the skin. DE-FATTING?!?

But it’s a good cause and it will stay any further attrition of an historic building in a charming town.

And the view from on high in October is sublime…


-excepting Prague in 1419, of course.

So we lost our access key on the final day.

Where there’s a sill there’s a way.


What’s that old Irish saying about always leaving church the same way you came in?

Until next time, United Church of Assonet.


Here’s to blessed pets and dry bell towers.






Swept up Shavings

14 hand-planed thoughts from the dustpan of my mind–

1. We never wear white after Labor Day-


2. A sawmill operator moonlighting as a rapper is called Lil Wane.

3. Prophecy found behind a wall shingle up at Hatch Mill, circa 1975:


4. True story:

You’re hustling to finish up some joinery, just going along cleaning out a mortise…

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In your haste you drive the damn chisel too deeply into gnarly grain…


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So you pull and twist and pull again–maybe you shoulda had decaf this morning…

Like Arthur & Excalibur that blade is finally released from its bonds!

…and the butt promptly hits you square in your forehead–

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Instinctively, you thrust the chisel away from your head-

and straight into your thigh.

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You didn’t hear this from me, but the guy’s initials were Ted Curtin Jr.

Injury added to insult.

At least you needn’t hone the chisel afterwards.

(Props to the uber-talented artist Megan Stanley for the illustrations!)

5. Your irony game is strong, WD:


6. This is what happens whenever you drink cider in Somerset, UK:


Friar Keegan at work at Muchelney Abbey

7. Is this meant to be distracting?


8. This could be us but you planing:


9. From this morning:


10. Puritans–can’t live with ’em, can’t get ’em to believe in transubstantiation-




12. At a pie-shop in Reading:


13. Sampe Fest is happening this weekend at the Plimoth Grist Mill.

If you’re local, go see Kim and the crew to learn all about this essential dietary staple–You’ll never have so much fun with ground corn!


New Bread Basket author Amy Halloran will be there–

14. This is your last chance to see Peter Follansbee shave–


–riven stock, that is.

Plymouth CRAFT has a couple openings left in the  Riving and Hurdlemaking–a Primer on Green Woodworking workshop this weekend.

While BLUE OAK doesn’t condone impulsive actions made while holding a draw-knife, act impulsively right now to save a spot!





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“Corruption of Youth”

A recent howl from Michigan by friend John Wolf. It speaks for itself: 

Hi Rick,

    I realized 3 weeks ago that my nephew’s 7th birthday is the end of this month.  I also drew a complete blank on what to send him.  Luckily, my brother left me a message a couple of days later saying that he had finished refurbishing the ground floor apartment in their house (hurricane Katrina was not kind to it) and Louie had been his helper.  I thought, “That boy needs a saw! and probably a drill!  And something to keep them in!”.  So I rummaged through my surplus tool supplies, and found a small crosscut saw that had been sharpened away considerably, and cut it down to about 14″ (shaped to the London pattern, which I like for no particular reason).  I made a small handle of cherry for it, and it turned out to be a pretty nice saw that could be of use to him even as an adult.  Then I cleaned up and repaired what turns out to be a pretty good egg beater drill, and a brace from a long ago boys toolbox, small but useable.  I provided a good selection of bits for both.  Found I had a block plane that was useable, but really made for a “toy” toolbox, and blunted the iron – he’s only 7, after all.  There are some other odds and ends too.

    I had some 1x8s that had knot free sections long enough to make a 10 x 22 x 8 chest, roughly 1/8 the size of my carpenter’s chest, then made a sliding till with drawers, on the theory that kids like to poke around in drawers.  I had hoped to mount the saw under the lid, but the till is just a hair too wide for that, so it mounts to the inside front and a square that belonged to Grandpa Wolf is on the lid.  I left appropriate notes with explanations and instructions inside, and packed it tight inside with Big Little Books that had belonged to my brother, which will leave the two of them to argue over their ownership.  Then I sent it off to New Orleans.

    A lot of the motivation was the pleasure of making it.  In a few years, that kind of gift will fall pretty flat, and I’ll fall back on gift cards.  But more important to me is the wish that he grow up with the feel of tools in his hands, and if it’s not the rich, powerful experience that I feel, it will at least feel normal and a matter of course.  I’d also like him to grow up with the thought in his head that people do and make things.  If he goes beyond that to try to add some grace and beauty to the world, so much the better.  It will be interesting to see what catches his fancy and who he becomes.

   Wish I could go to your riving and hurdle making class, that would be very interesting.


We’d love to see a picture of Louie and the tool box, John.

And thanks for the segue…


(just don’t tell Gurney’s and Copeland’s)

How about some green woodworking with Peter Follansbee this Columbus Day weekend?

Plymouth CRAFT has several openings left in a 2-day workshop all about riving green wood and learning the steps along the way to turn trees into hurdles-


Image from Coppice Co-op-

Wood theory will lead to riving which will lead to hatchet and drawknife work and assembly of mortises and tenons. Registration includes 2 days of the best lunches you’ll ever eat made by the renowned Paula Marcoux as well as an expert tour of the Harlow Old Fort House (which happens to full of interesting original artifacts made using the techniques under study in this workshop).

Get thee to Plymouth CRAFT posthaste to secure your spot:



RIP Phil Woods

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Kind of Coal

It’s really not about the product, however useful and historically accurate.


And it’s even greater than the process–though that is itself wicked cool.


For 22 years–give or take–Mark’s been making charcoal on that little hill in Chiltonville.


He’s created a little world which many of us still think about every September, even if we’re a thousand miles away.


It’s a perfect storm of research, experimentation, and calling on the help of curious souls who recognize the legitimacy of what he has created and who want to help out-

-or at least have a look-


And in the end, what matters most is the continuity–a sooty perseverance through it all.


While the wood coals, friendships have been made among many good people who have helped over the years.


The annual rituals which support this event are vital, if a little humble.




Some of us are grizzled enough to have memories of menacing hurricanes creeping up the coast…

Do we have enough hay and leaves for the wind-break?

…and sudden fires which we had to be put out in the wee hours.

We’ll never forget that one day in 2001 when the skies above us were so blue-

and so quiet.

Each year, every year, he has built his pile just so-




-with perfectly-sized wood discovered by chance on a visit to a local farmstand where he saw bundles of firewood for sale.

No one will buy these sticks, the brothers told him–it doesn’t look like firewood to most people.


And when the pile is made, with the help of several friends he covers it over.


It’s not a bonfire, after all.


There’s a draw to the mystery of what Mark creates–


He has always been accommodating to one and all-


Even as his helpers make their own accommodations for the next few nights-


A sweet rest. But that’s not chocolate on the pillow-

The collier casts live coals into the chamber in the middle of the charcoal pit.


Now begins the slow alchemy of transforming wood into coal.


Brows catch soot as the unmistakable scent of wood turning into coal wafts down River Street, looking for quarter among older September burns.


This is a prayer that we may put all of it into context and, through the haze, sift out the purest parts:

22 years and counting.

Twenty and two.

That’s a lot of baskets full of coal.

That’s a lot of hard-boiled eggs.

So many people come and gone–

And not to trivialize or patronize, but today’s drama is nothing new. It is as transient as the greasy blue smoke rising up to the heavens.

The collier’s pit has been there all along–year upon year–

–burning away all the crap and other things which are not needed.

It remains a celebration of  a shared and special thing–

Which has survived through it all.


This counts more than anything.


That is a beautiful thing.







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fittin up



Stacks of wood.

He would stack.


She would stack.


They would stack, those nuns making something.


I stacked last spring.


Alas, no nuns to help.










Stacks seasoning.


They worked every minute of every day for the rest of spring, all summer and into fall–

Those stacks.





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Or, Pounding Shingles In.


There’s been an inflated amount of talk round these parts concerning The Ideal Gas Law, a despotic and over-compensating commissioner, and the handling of balls.

And though we vacillate between disgust and delirium, we’ve kept our game-face on as we huddle up at The ol’ Hatch Mill.

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Our work has taken us to the 2-minute warning and we are under a legal amount of pressure to finish up our part of the job within the next month. All the framing is done. Now we’re on to Cincinnati as well as shingling, putting in new window frames and sashes, and trimming the box-mill out.

As is our want, we strap the roof before shingling. This allows for air flow beneath the red cedar and makes for a longer life.


It also sends us on a trippy 70’s flashback!


Don’t bogart that air, man–

Meanwhile, round the gable, MLB and Justin (wearing his 4-game suspenders) gauge rakes, soffits, and returns.


This led to some sweet, sweet mitering by Dorito Dink:


Once boxed in, the trim will discourage pigeons, not to mention Ravens and Colts.


We love discouraging Ravens and Colts here in NE.

Kevin installed some hand-planed window frames. MLB custom-made them–he is a very good Kraftsman.

Unlike erroneous Twitter reports, they were on the level.


And Greg put finishing touches on the copper sheathing for the cricket–a small framed structure between the gable wall of the box-mill and the roof of the saw-mill.

We are happy to report that Greg does fantastic work.

This report was brought to you at no cost and using only a few words.


I would read the Wells Report if HG Wells wrote it.

John Tinker, a seasoned veteran, took a well-deserved break at halftime-


Later, Jim rolled by at the end of the 3rd quarter. He’s been doing the heavy lifting over at the new dam.


Jim destroyed his phone after this picture was taken.

The kids were in attendance by the cheap seats on the dam the other day-


They made a fishing pole out of a piece of strapping and a bent nail.

We even got a little primer and paint on the trim before the weather turned-


And using cut nails-


-pounded shingles in on the rear wall of the box-mill.


Unsubscribe if you must, Indianapolites and Baltimoreans. I’d offer that to Jets fans as well, but they’re just looking at the pictures.

All at once, the sky turned a Patriot blue:

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We’ll all be happy when this overblown hullabaloo blows over.

In the meantime, if you’re feeling too much pressure–


Stick a needle in it.




*this post contains a number of references to American football and a controversy over an iconic player–Tom Brady–and balls which were supposedly deflated below a legal limit . It’s known as Deflategate. Most of us understand how absurd this is, but it hasn’t stopped us from making sophomoric jokes about balls.  

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The Head of the Nail

Some dry nail humor to get our bellows pumpin’:


(A little trick is sometimes used among some (that would be thought cunning Carpenters) privately to touch the Head of the Nail with a little Ear-wax, and then lay a Wager with a Stranger to the Trick, that he shall not drive that Nail up to the Head with so many blows. The stranger thinks he shall assuredly win, but does assuredly lose; for the Hammer no sooner touches the Head of the Nail but instead of entring the Wood it flies away, notwithstanding his utmost care in striking it down-right.)

From Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises, or The Doctrine of Handyworks 1683. Free download available via Lost Art Press link: Thanks, Chris Schwarz

I mean, who HASN’T pulled this trick at a kegger or an office X-mas party a few times? And ee by gum, what a novel use for ear-wax!

Nails. We love em, common though they may be. We hot dip and galvanize them, we pound them, shoot them from guns, bend them over on themselves to clench them, and adding insult to injury we give them funny and archaic names like Stainless Ringshanks and 8-Penny. They’re relatively cheap, they come in convenient packages, and they are ubiquitous.

They’re wicked easy to take for granted.

But have you ever REALLY thought about the humble nail? Have you gone on a Wayne’s World flashback to when they were actually forged one at a time by a smith on an anvil? Have you considered how wonderful it would be to be able to make your perfect little (or not so little) pieces of hardware to compliment and personalize your project?

Have you ever wanted to forge your own nails?

Here’s your chance–

Text and photos from Plymouth CRAFT’S link:

Nailmaking with George Pare


Nails are some of the easiest things to forge yet they can take a lifetime to perfect. In this one-day workshop, blacksmith George Paré will teach participants to forge a wide variety of nails for aesthetic and practical applications, or for use in restoration projects.


The forging of nails is an ideal form of training for building hammer control and muscle memory as a blacksmith.  One can easily see his or her progress as a smith by comparing nails made over months and years forging.  The satisfaction of making one nail is soon replaced by that of watching a pile of them grow beside the anvil.


This workshop is open to individuals of all skill levels and forging ability. It will be conducted in the Sellars/Demoranville Blacksmith Shop located at the Freetown Historical Society, itself an exceptional cultural resource. We will take advantage of the unique setting to learn a little bit about local craft history, which happens to be quite rich in iron.


Discover for yourself the satisfaction of driving nails that you forged by hammer and hand.

Lunch is included in the participant fee.

In keeping with the theme of the day, it will be cooked onsite using cast and wrought iron utensils, over a charcoal fire.

Me again. There you have it. What the fine print doesn’t tell you is that George is super friendly, incredibly talented, and a wonderful teacher. (He also teaches kite-boarding, but we’ll let him tell you about that). Also, you remember Paula Marcoux, of Cooking with Fire fame. She will be working the fire to make something amazing, guaranteed. This aint a pizza & soda kinda workshop, folks. In meeting both George and Paula, you will have made two lifelong friends. Last but not least, you will be soaking in the history of an unspoiled and culturally rich part of southeastern Massachusetts through The Freetown Historical Society’s forge. Did I mention that it’s only a stones throw to the best sawmill/lumberyard on the eastern seaboard? If you work wood and you haven’t been to Gurney’s Sawmill, you need to change that.

BLUE OAK apologizes for the hard sell…but not really. These folks are talented and dedicated craftspeople and teachers–the best at what they do, really. They aren’t in it for the money and they aren’t in it for the Twitter follows. They are sincerely devoted to traditional arts, restoration, and handcraft and to sharing that knowledge and skill with you. It’s a lot of money to many of us. Understood. But if you can afford it, it’s a fair price for a learned skill, great contacts, and new friends.

It’s up to you now.

But ladies and gentlemen please, leave the ear-wax at home.

The Details:

Date: July 26

Time: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm

Cost: $175

The Place:

Freetown Historical Society

1 Slab Bridge Road

Assonet, MA 02702 USA


To register and for more information, pound the link below like a hammer pounds a nail:

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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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