Structural Dust

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


That’s today’s 175 yr-old dust on my cheaters. You should see my face.

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; this aint taping up a 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.


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 readers, 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.




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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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 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…


IMG_5731 (2)

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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