Wilford Brimfield

Brimfield Flea Market, 2016


Elvis will leave the building for $75-

Haunted Raggedy Ann dolls and enormous phallus carvings notwithstanding, the most enduring image from that day at the biggest outdoor flea market this side of Worcester was that of the tall and ripped gentleman reverently holding up a 4′ bucking saw. I thought, this jacked dude was born to use that saw–he probably comes from a line of French/Canadian lumberjacks who crosscut the Northwest Passage!  It was only when he turned the saw over and I saw it richly detailed with painted flora and fluffy sheep and whatnot that I realized what a gross generalization I’d made. This man had no intention of using his prized objet d’art beyond hanging it above his mantle at home. And that’s ok.

Brimfield caters to every taste.

I happened upon a re-purposed tool myself:


Some playful human had turned this lovely beetle into, well, a beetle. The seller, god bless him, wasn’t aware of the visual pun he was selling but he assured me that it came from the classic RING THE BELL carnival game of testing one’s strength. For my part, I was drawn to the rings and the overall reasonable condition of the head and handle. The head was close-grained and hard, possibly elm but I’m not sure. I told him that I planned on using it as a splitting tool and for knocking framing timbers together though I’m not sure he understood or particularly cared. He parted with it for $8.

Gems and junk did jump together up and down that long strip of tents and vendors.


Like many of you, I was drawn not so much to the colorful and bold, but the muted rusting things on the fringes and under the tables, scanning more for overall hue than for detail. That’s often where the real finds are.

Several of the proprietors were already beginning to pack up for their next gig.

Under a large tent beneath a table, I found this box before the man from Maine stowed it away. I had no idea what was inside, if anything, but the box alone was worth a better look.


Mr St. Charles kept very good care of his saws–a mix of crosscut and ripping. While I’m not usually in the market for old handsaws, Maine made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He really didn’t want to lug it all back down east.

Thank you, Edward. I hope to give these saws as good a home as you once did.


There was a notable lack of chisels at this season’s Brimfield. Overall, there seemed to be fewer tools than I remember.

But for my boon companions, there were treasures around every corner:


My wife is a miller. Gears, man. Gears are her thing.

And has there been a good pencil sharpener made in lo these last 40 years?


No one knew what this was-


No doubt Kevin had the find of the day with his bell-bottomed leather sexy-time pants:


And I was compelled to spend time with this compelling fellow below.

I call him Andy.

Andy and I spoke for hours on existential despair, proper use of sunscreen, and the best places to find Pokémon:


shhh, my friend, shhh–just let the zinc oxide do its work…

Amy carried my new beetle as well as a 4-foot crow bar for most of the hot afternoon because she is stronger than me and she apparently misses the fleshly mortifications of the Appalachian Trail.


It was hot, it was late, we were running out of gas and we were running out of kettle corn.


Kevin, impulsively, donned his new leather bell bottoms, rode a rainbow across the road and hitched a ride with the groovy kids on the bus.


He was last seen in Vermont with Andy and Elvis.


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Playing many parts-

Find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.

(Act II, Scene I, As You Like It)

That’s some dank verse, Will.


Amy with the season’s first performance on The New Napkin Stage.

A few years ago, we cut a frame for the non-profit Worcester Shakespeare Company and their Artistic Director Mel Cobb, who helped with the building of the replica Globe Theatre in London.

Each summer WSC performs Shakespeare along the scenic Blackstone River in Whitinsville, Mass. It’s a talented and energized group from all over the world who put on the best Shakespeare locally. This year’s play is As You Like It.

For us, it’s a July tradition to truck the stage’s many parts 60-odd miles from Plymouth where they are stored for the off-season.

 Once we remember which part goeth where, that puppy is raised.


As is tradition, Mel, Chris, and all the players help us raise the timbers.



The “pillars of Hercules” were made out of a single piece of pine. The impossibly talented Pen Austin painted the faux marble.


Detail of Pen’s “heavens” panels.

A little more has been added to the stage each year, bringing the experience that much closer to the ol’ scribe’s original vibe.

After we raised the main stage, we scooted back to the framing yard to cut this year’s addition: A 2-story wing off stage left consisting of chambers for Lords and Ladies, who, historically, wouldn’t be caught dead with the hurly burly down below in the cheap seats.

Michael laid the frame out via proportional geometry, which is a whole other story.


With the help of several chisel and saw jockeys, we got busy cutting. Scene 1, Act 1 was breathing down our necks.


Amy and Kevin cutting joints in iambic pentameter.



Brock paring a tenon for The Bard



MLB test-fitting braces to avoid a Shakespearean tragedy.


As You Like It, A Space Odyssey.


nonplussed pussy

Sweet are the uses of adversity…

(Act II, Scene I)


Rain made an unexpected cameo in the second Act.


You and you are sure together,

As the winter to foul weather. 

(Act V Scene IV)

A week’s work done and the stage, of many parts, to be continued…


Believe then, if you please, that I can do strange things.

(Act V Scene II)



First performances are just underway and continue through August 21st.

Click below for information on the Worcester Shakespeare Company’s 2016 Season:


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The tuba plays E then F, ominously

It’s the height of summer in these parts-


Your kitty is high on cat-nip RIGHT NOW.

Great whites continue to snack on grey seals in local waters, fireworks have been going off non-stop for 47 months, the sweet, sweet smell of lighter fluid permeates your neighbor’s backyard (that sure seems like a LOT of lighter fluid, Wayne) and the gypsy moth caterpillars have been doing their part to defoliate every tree in North America.

Dive right in folks-it’s fleeting.

So it’s only natural we should be working a project on Summer Street in the heart of America’s Hometown.

The house in question is situate between the iconic Town Brooke on one side-


Ye brooke where pilgrims once drank, bathed, and body-surfed.

and ye John Carver Inn on ye other:

And his wifi, being a weak signal, died within five or six weeks minutes check-in-

I may have died the first winter but that doesn’t mean you won’t get a clean room and cable- J.C.

It’s a busy little strip with a downtown vibe. The traffic is, shall we say, a presence. Lots of big trucks. I’m quite certain I’ve seen a few carrying pods. There’s a parade of tuned cars with subsonic bass only Australians can hear. And happy folks wearing colorful shirts and fanny packs on their way to or fro the happenin’ and must-see Plimoth Grist Mill.

The logistics of a project in this setting present us a bit of a challenge.


It’s a wee fishbowly, as it were. We’ve taken to wearing matching socks to work.

Kevin’s been holding down the fort while I’ve been away. His spirit is indefatigable. He lives in a House of Seven Indefatigables.

He’s been replacing sill sections, laying out and cutting new post bottoms, and doing the CSI necessary to come up with a plan of action. All this while a very nice family continues to make this their home.

But as great as Kevin’s work is, this is not a one-man job. Progress has been understandably slow.

Even the most hesitant of projects often have a turning point, though, a moment when the something clicks and fires the imagination and everything begins to gather momentum. When more things go right than go wrong. When you find something so cool you need to say HEY LOOK AT THIS to the startled tourist from Albany strolling by.

So today we opened up the east end of the house. The post, decayed, needed out. It will come out in sections.


As we cut the bottom of the old post free from its horizontal girt-


The exposed tenon proved to be in reasonable shape and fair quality for re-use in the new post’s mortise.

Every time we uncover history like this, when we open up something that’s been housed away for years, it gets me. I have no idea who the carpenter was. Even if I knew his name, chances are it would tell me less than the remainder of his work.

And despite the centuries, that connection is strong.


Granted it’s got a few miles on it, but you’ve gotta look past the surface. Beauty.

Check out the hewn away taper on the inside face (left as shown) of the girt down to the tenon. Efficiency trumps (did I just use that word?) beauty.


This sort of standing-house archaeology is appealing not only to the analytical brain, but also to the part which likes a good story.

We take measurements as we go, salvaging the pieces of the old to make a template for the new. Little pieces and bits are reconstructed.

And all carpenter’s marks, from whatever century, tell a story. “Finish that girt ‘ere dinner, goodman, or I shall box thee thine ears.”

It’s both familiar and comforting. It’s as if the old pieces reinforce your own technique, your own frustrations with gnarly grain, your own workmanlike approach to getting a job done well and in a timely manner.

Here’s to rolling on this project, like the brook rolls down in the hollow, like the traffic rolls through a downtown summer.


Also, these guys for no reason other than they are really good and we need some of that today:



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Hangham Style

Just a little side project, they told him.

Install an 11′ mantel between two posts in a new timber frame.

Shouldn’t take more than a week.

And we’ve even got the stock for you!

A barely audible alarm went off in the back of Justin’s busy head…

Over the next 2 weeks it grew louder and more insistent–like a Canadian who’s just about run out of Molson on a camping trip–until it was drowned out only by the dissonant whine of a plugged-in planer and the need for a smoke.

Oh hey, devil hemlock–dry, twisted and left-for-dead–which no human in the history of the world would ever want to touch or even burn, let alone square and build-out.

It was so awesome that the install happened to fall on the heels of all that cheerful and sublime carving at Greenwood Fest. 

I remember when we used to work happy and well-adjusted wood with idiosyncratic Swedes and dreadlocked Englishwomen.


Juxtaposition? More like Suckstaposition.

Other than being a day-long avoidance of trashing a fine house which may or may not have been hosting a party with Marky Mark within a fortnight, things ended up fair and square. The client was pleased, there were no holes in the plaster, and all the joints fit like Tupperware lids.

You had this all along, ked.




















painting by Jones River artist Marshall Joyce

Don’t you DARE put your drink on the mantel without a coaster.

We’re looking at you, Wahlberg.


Speaking of green wood…

If you can scrape together the ducats, the upcoming Plymouth CRAFT workshop with Dave Fisher is a great way to say goodbye to July this summer.


Dave is as amazing a craftsman as he is a nice guy.  Check out his blog for inspiration: https://davidffisherblog.wordpress.com/

We were lucky to have Dave at Greenwood Fest 2016 and to see him teach and create extraordinary bowls.  Breathtaking work, really.


Course fee includes materials as well as incredible fare by Paula Marcoux. It’ll take place along a beautiful estuary south of Boston. Well worth it.

For info: http://www.plymouthcraft.org/?tribe_events=bowl-carving-with-dave-fisher

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growth rings

It wasn’t so much an escape from news of the latest tragedy…


But there was an insistent pulling from a quieter place-


So we went into the woods for a few days


And put our minds to wood grain and the angle of cutting green wood with our edge tools-

To create forms from nature in a world seemingly bent on destruction.

To think about what counts now, in our present.


To look again at the grain of a birch, listening to what it tells us, as Jögge would say.

No cellphones and no chargers,

But steel and iron-


And we used them to pare away supple shavings of cherry, oak, ash and birch-


making both new and traditional forms-


Expert hands (and feet) inspired us-


Plans were laid out on long grain-


and with rolled up sleeves-


we went to work.


Effort and practice


and patient guidance


kept us on the path.

The trees did indeed talk to us.


They gave us gifts


and watched us as we made friends


old and new-


All pushed themselves to discover what they could be-


-maybe to search for what they were meant to be.


And the stories–so many stories-

Of place-


Of materials-


Of the past informing our present-

These stories were told with a generosity of spirit and a true love of craft.


They moved us in ways we did not wholly expect.

It was a purposeful revolution in the green wood-


-the rhythm of hatchets and adzes working away toward the heart.

Some of the tales poked us-


lest we take ourselves


too seriously-


One of us carried into the woods a beautiful idea in lieu of a Sloyd knife-


Her vision, coupled with the work of tireless and dedicated organizers, built a framework for us-

That we may gather to unplug and reconnect in the summer wood among friends from all over the world.

Not an escape.

But an insistent pull-


(or push, depending on grain direction)

To pare away the green wood

until that which matters remains.




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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…

dope 3

…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:



KIMG0357 (2)

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…

photo 1 (5)

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


photo-3 (1)

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–

photo 3 (3)

Instinctively, you thrust the chisel away from your head-

and straight into your thigh.

photo 4 (3)

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- http://www.coppicecoop.co.uk

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: www.plymouth.org



RIP Phil Woods

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