Category Archives: materials

Spoon, Interrupted

If you’re like me you’ve been thinking, boy-howdy it’s been slow news these past few months, I sure could use a janky video of hairy dudes burning up spoons beneath a singing owl to stir things up.

We got you.

The backstory: A friend recently sent Paula Marcoux and Pret Woodburn a useful device (CharCone 24) to make small wood leftovers into charcoal. This act of generosity happened to align with Peter Follansbee’s need to rid his shop of spoons which, for whatever reason, didn’t make the grade.

Here’s the video evidence set to New Slang by The Shins.

(Video provided by Paula Marcoux–And sorry but that is not the late Christopher Lee making a cameo at :49)



While the masses stumble about in a pumpkin spiced haze, savvy Plymouth CRAFT people know there’s more to Autumn than imitation flavor-

Riving and Hurdlemaking Weekend is coming up-October 28-29th at the Pinewoods Dance Camp, the same camp where Greenwood Fest is held. Peter Follansbee, Pret Woodburn and me will help you build your own hurdle-gate and work with you to refine your green woodworking techniques and understanding of wood grain and edge tools. All levels of experience are welcome. There’s food created by the amazing Paula Marcoux and cozy lodging is available at the camp. Sign up soon-spots go fast.

Also, don’t miss the Autumn Celebration on September 29th at Plymouth’s own Mayflower Brewery. There’ll be a kimchi demo, accompanying Korean IPA, and music by local favorites The Dinghys. Sponsored by both Plymouth CRAFT and Edible South Shore and South Coast, you can sample the world while enjoying the locally grown and made.

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Just 10 riven parts


Come out of oak trees


And a few pins besides

Worked by hand


photo by Marie Pelletier

With wedges and froes


Hatchets and drawknives


photo by Marie Pelletier

While the wood is green and forgiving

And all joined together



photo by Marie Pelletier

To fold away your sheep

Or that cilantro

That you keep

Perhaps your look

Before it leaps-

Come learn from

The bearded man named Follansbee


Who wants you experience

The joy of making useful things

From the tree itself

It’s a lesson in wood grain


And efficient use of edge tools

Taught in the woods between 2 ponds

Where the fire will warm you

As you carve by the light of it

Nourished by real food


photo by Marie Pelletier

And friendly company

Hurdles to keep

Your interest in green-woodworking


photo by Marie Pelletier

Grazed and well-ordered


Still time to sign up for:

Riving & Hurdlemaking Weekend 

Splitting logs & practical applications, with Peter Follansbee and friends

Oct 29-30, 2016 9 am-4 pm 

Meals provided/lodging available

Pinewoods Dance Camp, 80 Cornish Field Road, Plymouth MA

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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:


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


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



Though he seemed willing to try different brands…



And he experimented with diverse methods of brewing as well-



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




This coffee staple contained not staples but galvies-


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


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


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


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

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


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



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


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.


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


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


Some labels kept it simple and needed no further elaboration-



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



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


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



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


SHOE COLORING, by Lady Esquire.


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



Obligatory baby food jars-


Looks like stewed peaches for Brad-


The magic happened…


on shelf #3-


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



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


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-


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.










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:

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:

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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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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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Swept Up Shavings

-24 random thoughts from the dusty corners of my mind…

1. My poor, wonderful framing chisel. Was the world awash with color given how many times some brute used it to open paint cans?


It’s allright, sweetheart. Let me flatten your back and compound your bevel.

2. Take a bougie screen door and make it better:


Woven wattle to thwart the gnats. Or at least the hummingbirds.

3. We were cranky, sore–maybe a little bitchy–after a long week when we raised up the last significant timber (a rafter) at The Hatch Mill the other evening:

This momentarily undermined the significance of the moment, considering all the good people who have been working to save this gem for several years.

More on this later…


4. Someone uttered Toenailing the Heel a couple days back. Isn’t that some sort of traditional Polish dance?

5. From the Pandora Algorithms Don’t Always Get Me Dept:

 Don’t leave me alone with this song

6. On a related note, if you don’t like Earth Wind and Fire, I will fight you-

7. Led Zeppelin has aged really well. But some of the Jimmy Page solos–not so much.

8. Lose the tension–stay upright in compression!

9. I like it when I have a 200 yr-old trenail garnishing my nail salad:


10. I may be obtuse but I’m dependably obtuse.

11. Best handsaw advice: Play it like a viola da gamba.

12. Wasps don’t like Dexter Gordon. This was proven the other day when Justin nearly swallowed one.

13. How can avant-garde ever be old hat?



Saw to that line in the new venture, O’Rourke.

14. How many times must I lose my star bit?!? Please place your thoughts for good places to keep it in the suggestion box at the end of this post.

15. Best leftovers for lunch? Spaghetti.

16. Lacking help on this day, Nathan was forced to go next level on his scaffold, shaving clapboard bevels with his draw knife and shaving mare high above Weymouth’s teeming masses. A tip o’ the scally cap to you, sir. The house is looking great.


17. Everything I know about scaffolding, I learned from 3 wise men:



18. From the Damned by Faint Praise Dept:

The Red Sox have been a horror show this season but at least my wife tells me I have warning track power.

19. I’d like to thank my neighbor for playing his pop-country all day/night on the weekends. It serves to confirm my disdain for most “country” since Hank Williams Sr.

20. So if a hammer is a snare drum and a plane a violin, does that make a handsaw brushes on a hi-hat?

21. Great to see SW Bolton out at Pine Fest a couple of weeks back.


He’s still got it, for a guy who wears a suit most days.

22. Plymouth CRAFT was well-represented on that day. Have you taken a look at the latest CRAFT workshops? They are surprisingly affordable and feature some of the most friendly and talented people around. More on that later.

23. We’re working a side job at the lovely Benjamin Nye Homestead on Cape Cod. Maybe it was getting late, but I couldn’t help but notice the connections between things found there:


Mannish invention


Nature’s handiwork.

Deep, I know right?

24. And finally, no more need to castoff your janky sawzall blades–

Just in time for Father’s Day–Preservationist Wind Chimes!

They crosscut–they rip–they fill the air with a dull and muted jingle!

I made this in like 5 minutes:


It’s prob my best work.




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Structural Dust

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


That’s today’s 175 yr-old dust on my cheaters.

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; it’s not taping up yet another 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.


Purlin trench-ok band name. a capella dubstep

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 reader, 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.




To contact Michael of MLB Restorations, text or call: 508 277-4468 

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