The Taming of the Screw

Couplets have been rhymed and codpieces have been salted away.

The Worcester Shakespeare Company bids farewell to another great summer of outdoor theater at The New Napkin Stage in Whitinsville, Mass.

For the last several years we’ve raised up an ongoing reproduction of a Shakespearean stage (based on London’s Globe Theatre) and taken it down when the play has concluded its run.

This makes us not a little melancholic-

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But the show mustn’t go on…

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Then the hammer says to the mallet, you catch my drift?

So

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Many

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Screws

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Mel and Chris are always there to help-

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Mr. Starbuck wilt thou not chase the pumpkin spice latte?

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Chiaroscuro or gtfo

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Some of the players themselves came to lend a hand in the deconstruction-

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Bucket o’ Pins, a seasonal delicacy-

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Brace yourself-

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So much drama and yet the post is still good as newel-

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One of our crew (whose name begins with CHRIS) was once a roadie for a certain band…

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If you think that is real marble then you are in the throes of a phallicy-

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Phallicy, because, you know, phallic.

Arise, I bid thee!

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Soon to be roaming numerals-

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Inventory-

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When Broseph needs a smoke now, and then-

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So they loaded up the truck and moved to Chiltonville…

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exeunt…

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Picked up Pieces

The grain always changes direction around a knot, and other deep thoughts…

Inspiration greets this man everyday in his workshop:

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Bansky was here.

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Anyone who’s ever peeled a potato is a carver. But some just take it to another level:

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If you can say, that was my father’s saw, generally you can consider yourself lucky.

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The Christmas Tree Shop, at the gateway to Cape Cod, boasts the largest thatched roof in the USA. I think about that when I’m inside buying cheap sponges and cookies in metal tins from Denmark-

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This English oak was already 100 years old when the Normans came to dinner:

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Job-site planing is basically hatcheting. Get that shit done, son.

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Hey Follansbee, we found this perfect half-ball at the job-site in Norwell:

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You bring the broomstick I’ll bring the Fanta Grape-

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See that house? The new one with the plastic shingles, vinyl windows, and a witches brew of whatnot imposing itself on that little pond?

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Roughly 225 carving knifes, 148 bowls in various shapes, a few stock knives and a football stadium full of hand-wrought spoons, all drove past it on the way to Greenwood Fest 2016.

It’s all about the juxtaposition.

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I’ve made a promise to myself that I won’t say WICKED PISSAH again until they re-animate Teddy Ballgame’s frozen head-

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Ted Williams aka The Splendid Splinter

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Just came back from our tax dude…he made a snide comment about students majoring in Underwater Basket Weaving and I was like, what’s so wrong with that?

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Scott Landis of The Workbench Book fame, is a driving force behind GreenWood, a visionary enterprise making the world a better place by saving forests, aiding local economies, and producing beautiful work: http://www.greenwoodglobal.org/

Take a minute to check them out–

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GreenWood chairs made by locals in Central America.

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When the applewood ladle I clumsily made in the late 80’s finally fails, I want it to go in the line of duty, stirring a big pot of Nana’s favorite spaghetti sauce.

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Before Prozac, men with large mustaches and hand tools would chamfer all the sharp corners in the world.

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Have you seen this? JoJo is on the cutting edge of making traditional craft relevant again:

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This guy Justin writes a really nice blog

Here’s his fresh take on Follansbee’s 17th-century furnishings in their natural habitat:

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The Great Pyramid of Giza is out of square and we’re all looking at you, ancient aliens.

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Capable is the new sexy.

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We had an amazing visit with Plymouth wonders David B. and Elizabeth C. last month and there’ll be more about that later.

Meanwhile the sophomore in me couldn’t resist taking a picture from one of David’s many esoteric books:

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The wet/dry shop vac is the most ambiguous of the tools.

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Melancholic carpenters are drawn towards the coping saw.

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Sincere question from a novice carver: How do you know when your carving is done?

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Gonna go out on a limb here and say that Jögge Sundqvist’s work is among the most colorful, naturally-inspired craft going on in the world right now–

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He is a born teacher as well as a ROCK GOD

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That’s not music–it’s a rhythmic working pattern.

-MLB

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Why wait?

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~

Well that about covers it.
-tarp salesman

 

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instant coffee and 8 pennys

This is a story about grandpas–those tinkering, puttering, handy fellows who did unheralded and often excellent work down in their basement shop while managing to keep things impossibly organized.

It’s a story from a bygone era full of snappy jingles, instant coffee and brands and vendors which permeated a time when people smoked inside. stowed their ashes in avocado green ashtrays and framed picture windows with orange curtains.

I helped a friend clean out his late grandfather’s shop recently.

There was a dumpster in the driveway. It stood beckoning, its open end like a mouth waiting for us to just chuck everything inside and walk away.

But we all agreed it would be wrong to junk so many things which were not only still useful, but were a physical memory of a life spent creating and organizing with such a careful attention to detail.

The milk crates we carried up from his workshop were brimming with cans and jars, themselves full of hardware and organized down to the last finish nail. This was an autobiography written from storm window fasteners and curtain rod hardware.

Metal cans with marked lids are a must in every organized basement shop:

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The decorative finish is a bonus and would brighten any workspace-

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Clearly coffee was an important component of grandfather’s life, as it should be:

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Though he seemed willing to try different brands…

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And he experimented with diverse methods of brewing as well-

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Perhaps the good folks at Mansion Inn were on to something with their new and fancy keyless can

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Same-

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This coffee staple contained not staples but galvies-

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There were jars–relics, really–which evoked fond memories of stores long-since closed.

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Still, even at 39 cents, I’m not buying-

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The brands grew less familiar as we dug towards the bottom of the milk crates-

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I once got margarine on my dungarees while riding my stingray.

And this is what happens to your margarine when it freezes, kids:

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Peanut butter was very well-represented in grandpa’s basement shop-

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Choosy mothers may have chosen Jif, but not our man:

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That label on the Skippy jar says Angelo’s and some of us still call the little supermarket in Manomet, MA by that name, though it’s gone now 30 years.

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Churned for easier spreading also makes for a great conversation starter about the ‘birds and bees’-

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You had us at churnt. The contents within are inconsequential.

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Some labels kept it simple and needed no further elaboration-

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I can only imagine the glory of those long-forgotten condiment wars, between the Mastermixt, the chilling and the beating til fluffy:

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Has anyone written French’s for recipes lately? Can we download a PDF?

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This particular jar reminds us that it is delicious as we throw up in our mouth a little-

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As the jars became smaller, so their contents turned more esoteric:

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SHOE COLORING, by Lady Esquire.

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All that glitters retains its full flavor when the cap is replaced-

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Obligatory baby food jars-

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Looks like stewed peaches for Brad-

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The magic happened…

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on shelf #3-

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Paper goods, in such excellent condition, reveal a knack for careful curating as well as a dry basement-

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And this–a faux-grained paper to class-up your pedestrian containers:

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When was the last time you made a “small” wastebasket from a potato chip can?

And you just don’t hear the word trinket enough anymore-

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Doesn’t it always seem to be the smallest things which remind you most of someone you miss?

I never knew this man but it feels like I did.

We raise our hot-dog-relish-jar to a life spent in quiet craft and exemplary organization in a basement workshop from another era-

One which we can still learn from.

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Wilford Brimfield

Brimfield Flea Market, 2016

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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?

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No one knew what this was-

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

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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:

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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.

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

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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.

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He was last seen in Vermont with Andy and Elvis.

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You know you can receive an email notification when I post this drivel, right?

Just pick a single post and scroll ALL the way down to the bottom for the FOLLOW button. 

 

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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Amy and Kevin cutting joints in iambic pentameter.

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Brock paring a tenon for The Bard

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MLB test-fitting braces to avoid a Shakespearean tragedy.

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As You Like It, A Space Odyssey.

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nonplussed pussy

Sweet are the uses of adversity…

(Act II, Scene I)

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Rain made an unexpected cameo in the second Act.

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You and you are sure together,
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As the winter to foul weather. 

(Act V Scene IV)

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

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

(Act V Scene II)

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

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

http://www.worcestershakespearecompany.org/2016-season/

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The tuba plays E then F, ominously

It’s the height of summer in these parts-

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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-

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Wood with WATER STILL IN IT.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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But there was an insistent pulling from a quieter place-

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So we went into the woods for a few days

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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.

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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-

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

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making both new and traditional forms-

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Expert hands (and feet) inspired us-

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Plans were laid out on long grain-

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and with rolled up sleeves-

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we went to work.

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Effort and practice

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and patient guidance

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kept us on the path.

The trees did indeed talk to us.

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They gave us gifts

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and watched us as we made friends

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old and new-

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All pushed themselves to discover what they could be-

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

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And the stories–so many stories-

Of place-

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Of materials-

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Of the past informing our present-

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

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They moved us in ways we did not wholly expect.

It was a purposeful revolution in the green wood-

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

Some of the tales poked us-

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lest we take ourselves

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too seriously-

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

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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-

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(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.

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“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.

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

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Knotty.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Justin worked his OCD magic on the deck and railings.

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

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Our ladder was utilitarian-

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

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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.

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circa 1940-ish

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circa April-ish

And Jimmy?

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He is still loved, last we saw.

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PARTY ANIMAL

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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-

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

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

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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…

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And as the sun set west of the river-

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

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

https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/tag/timber-framing/

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

https://vimeo.com/159696991

Lots of great things happening over at Plymouth CRAFT.

Check out the latest classes:

http://www.plymouthcraft.org/?post_type=tribe_events

 

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