Sunday, January 3, 2016


Cherry, 9"h X 10"w
I nearly killed myself making this bowl, hence the name. A careless moment that lucky for me is now just another story. I left a nick in the rim as a reminder. Don't take anything for granted.

I started this bowl so long ago I don't remember exactly when. I roughed out the shape and then something else came up or I just lost steam in the effort. So it sat unfinished in a corner of the shop until late August of this year when I needed a project and decided to tackle it once again.

It is a play on the Chippendale ball and claw foot, enlarged and inverted, a design element featured on fine furniture built in the mid to late 18th century.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Wood Shop Accident

I was working in my shop, alone at home, carving out the inside of a large cherry bowl I'm making. I was using an angle grinder with a 4" Lancelot cutter, basically a steel wheel with chainsaw teeth. It is known to be a little dangerous but it is also quite effective at removing material rapidly. I had been using it with good results. But I tipped it the wrong way, it grabbed the wood and threw the tool out of my hands into my chin and throat. Instantly there was a lot of blood. I managed to turn off the machine and head for the house. I'm thinking jugular vein, might not have much time. I grabbed a kitchen towel, clamped it over the wound and called 911. I bet I was calling within 60 seconds.  I never looked at the wound. Worried I might faint I sat on the front stoop so they'd find me and waited for the ambulance. A policeman showed within 10 minutes. By that time I started to think I'm going to be OK. The cloth had not soaked through, I wasn't feeling faint, I didn't think I had lost too much blood, help had arrived. I was loaded into an ambulance and from that time on I felt pretty relaxed, joked and enjoyed conversations with the professionals, and felt grateful for their competence.

At the Mt. Nittany ER the physician there inspected the wound which started bleeding again and decided it was out of his realm. I believe he called their vascular surgeon who didn't want to come in and told him to send me to Hershey Medical Center. So I was packed up again and loaded into a helicopter. It was a beautiful evening for a flight and it was fun. The techs warned me that when you come in on the helicopter you are considered a trauma victim and treated as such; you will be swarmed.  And so it was. They give you a nickname because they don't take any time for registration. I was Trauma Raleigh.  There were probably 15 people in the room, everyone with a task. Rapid fire questions, four people on a side moving me from one table to another, flipping me side to side carefully inspecting ALL of me and calling out info, filling charts, taking x-rays, bright lights, cables and tubes. What a trip!

This is a teaching college so quite of few were students I'm sure. The head doc inspects the wound and explains the plan - a CT scan to determine any unseen damage and then OR to clean up the ragged wound and stitch it up. They knock me out and next thing I wake up in a dark room with a male nurse from Kenya looking after me. I don't think I slept much as is typical in hospitals. The entire experience has been surprisingly pain free. Everyone who attended to my needs was kind and seemed competent.  I am in awe at the level of training, expertise, and technologies that were brought to bear in response to my accident. From drivers to pilots, EMTs, medics, technicians, nurses, and docs, all did their jobs well.

The doctor's final report to me was that I was very lucky indeed. The cut missed an artery by a millimeter or two. If that had happened I wouldn't have made it to the phone. This thought makes my heart beat faster.

My whole family showed up at the hospital to pick me up the next day. The outpouring of love and concern for my well being, for which I am so grateful, has been humbling. It makes me think that being the recipient of this love comes with the responsibility to take care of yourself. Had the worst case scenario played out it would not have mattered to me at all but I am stricken by the pain it would have caused the ones I love the most. Your life is not just yours to do with as you please; you are entwined in the lives of others.

As you can imagine I have relived the accident many times trying to make sense of my extremely poor judgement and my incredibly good fortune. My confidence is shaken. What will prevent something like this from happening again? Is it age? Am I weaker? Am I more distracted, less attentive? What must I learn, what can I do better with this second chance?

I started with some practical things. I discarded the chainsaw like blade. I purchased some new tools and safety equipment. And I am trying to make a new commitment to safe practices. I list them below with commentary. They are not new and most I have always tried to follow to varying degrees.

1. Give your complete attention to the task at hand.
    I think this is easily the most important. Any potentially dangerous task requires focus. Pausing to evaluate the situation is important and too easily ignored. What is dangerous about this? If it kicks back am I in the path? If the tool slips where is the follow through?

2. Be patient.
    Take your time. Don’t hurry. Don’t force anything.

3. If it feels dangerous it probably is. Find another way to do it.
    This has been a credo in my shop for a long time and served me well at times I’m sure. There is always more than one way to do something. Some are safer than others. This fails however when something feels safe just from repetition. Driving a car for instance. Hurtling along at 70mph in a little metal box feels safe enough that we do it with one hand while fiddling with the radio, drinking a cup of coffee, or texting.

4. Wear safety apparel.
    It is often uncomfortable and cumbersome. Wear it anyway. I purchased a full face shield that flips up and down. It would have prevented my injury. Spend whatever it takes to find safety equipment you will use.

5. Keep your tools sharp and well adjusted.
    Dull and improperly adjusted tools are more likely to bind and kickback.

6. Clean your environment.
    Have good lighting so you can see what you are doing and a clean floor for good footing. An organized tidy space promotes more thoughtful, careful work.

In two weeks time my wound is completely healed. I've started work on the bowl again.

A note on the macabre selfie taken in the ambulance. My daughter is studying to be a physician's assistant. I thought she would like to see a picture.  I said to the EMT, "I better smile so she won't worry about me."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cheese Soufflé

When I was a lad, oh so many years ago, cheese soufflé was not an uncommon meal in our house. I’m not sure where my mother got the idea but probably thought it would just be a nice change from the usual meat, potatoes, and vegetable dinner. And a low budget item too which was surely appealing.

It was only when I left home did I discover that a well made soufflé was considered the mark of an accomplished chef. At least it was for a while back then. But since I didn’t think it was anything special I took it with me as part of my very limited cooking repertoire. I have been making them now and then ever since.

The base recipe I use is from our 1967 copy of Joy of Cooking. I’m not certain it was my Mom’s recipe but most likely it was since she only had one or two cookbooks. However, I always think of recipes as a good place to start so it has evolved. I can’t help myself. Sometimes it’s a gift, sometimes it’s a problem. Either way it’s more fun.

I almost always include spinach. Precook 1 frozen box or use fresh if you have it. Mix in before the egg whites. Tonight’s version also included a small amount of diced onion, sun-dried tomatoes, and a big splash of habanero sauce. Cook these a little while in the melting butter before adding flour.

I make 3/4 the recipe, 6 eggs, as a full recipe overflowed my dish once. Butter your dish well and then coat with grated parmesan.

The recipe says:
1/2 cup sifted flour. Really? Who does the sifting? I didn’t.
8 egg yolks, beat until light. I went at ‘em with a fork for a while but I bet they weighed the same.

I followed directions and served with salad that included a perfect avocado.

A comfort food meal on a winter’s night. Had me thinking about Mom.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

With alacrity and perspicacity

Might this commentary be written with cheerful readiness and a clarity of vision that provides deep understanding? In my father’s latter years alacrity and perspicacity were his two favorite words that he used at every opportunity. I think of my father today, just my second Father’s Day without one.

I will be forever grateful for the role model provided by my father. I do not take this lightly as I know many spend a lifetime in conflict over emotional damage and expectations laid down by a parent. He was not a cheerleader who thought his children could do no wrong but he was supportive of paths we chose that were quite different from his own.

 He was a conscientious objector to WWII. He never struck me. He worked quietly for social justice in personnel at the American Friends Service Committee.

By most measures he was not overly successful or particularly accomplished. He was a good tennis player and a good singer. He did not seek or make a large circle of friends. Having outlived most of his peers he will soon be forgotten.

But when he died a tearful nurse’s aide said to a member of the family, “He was the nicest man I ever met.” What an epitaph. To me this is something to aspire to. To have someone, anyone, say this about you when you are gone. That would be a life well lived.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Liquor Cabinet

I don't mind the long winter months as much as many do in my area because it means time for more concentrated efforts in my wood shop. The lawn does not need mowing, the garden lays fallow, the many outside chores of the warm months come off the to-do list. This winter's project was to make a wedding gift for my son and his new wife. Dylan is a part time bartender with a penchant for fine whiskey and Amy enjoys creating her own mixed drinks. A liquor cabinet seemed an appropriate gift.
I have been sitting on the idea of a pierced design for a panel for a long time, one like you see for the sound hole of lutes. The pattern I chose was a modified Celtic double knot which I thought fitting for a cabinet likely to hold Irish and Scotch whiskeys. I borrowed a scroll saw and spent several days cutting the patterns. I used small needle files to clean it up, and  then carved it to give a woven effect.
The panels are quarter sawn sycamore which displays fabulous figure. It's interesting that this wood is quite dull when plain sawn. I have had a large 36" X 30" half round standing in the corner of my shop for 14 years. I spotted the large downed tree at a frat house many years ago and a few inquires had some nice strong young men helping me load it into my truck. What fun to finally use it. I debated whether the busy figure of the wood would compete too much with the carving but in the end I like the look.

The curving lines of the door stiles is carried over from the side panels. It is common practice to edge glue boards together to get needed width. You can get 10" wide walnut but it is expensive and I didn't have any in my stash. In some woods such as oak this glue line can be almost undetectable but in figured woods it is more noticeable and I think less than pleasing. So this time I decided to accentuate the line with a narrow gap between the boards. I temporarily glued together the matched curved edges to facilitate cutting the dovetails and inside dadoes. Just prior to glue up they were sawn apart again and sanded.

I think these curving lines loosen up this piece, making it less formal. I like some organic feel to my work, some recollection of the source of the material. The hand carved door pulls have a surface treatment of gouge marks. Interesting to the touch and, once again,  more organic than something highly polished.
The interior includes a small drawer and a full extension pull out shelf of black glass, a place to pour your drink. Both of these elements needed a pull that was recessed or flush. A solution was found in two boards with knot holes carefully placed.

The back is ship-lapped slats that include the light colored sap wood. This wood is often discarded but I like using it in this way.

I have made many things of wood. Have I put in my 10,000 hours yet? If not, I must be getting close. It does not mean I don't make mistakes or that I am not clumsy in some efforts. But it does mean that I am able to give more thought to the look and feel of a piece than to the mechanics of its assembly.

This kind of project might be my favorite way of woodworking - following the muse with a loved one in mind.

I have posted a few more pictures that can be seen full screen at:

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Young friends asked if I would make a frame for their wedding certificate that they had done in artful calligraphy.  A nice project.  It is made as one would frame a window, a frame for a view of a life together. The sill, a small shelf, is a place for keepsakes, talismans, peace offerings, a few small things you find along the way that bring back a memory of when the two of you .....

Wishing you peace and happiness together.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Project du Jour

In 2008, on a very lucky day, high winds took out the top of an aging pine tree near the house and dropped it in the only place where it wouldn't do any damage. It left a 35 foot sentinel standing just outside my shop door that has asked repeatedly over the years, in its silent way, whether I was going to trust lady luck again to guide its final fall or whether I was going to be a little more proactive and attempt to drop the big sucker myself.

Well, I knew it should be the latter but I procrastinated the task a long time because this shit scares me. I have taken down a fair number of trees in my day but been wrong in my judgement of their lean and fall just enough times to doubt myself. And I didn't have a proper length of chain. Last weekend I purchased a 30' length for another project so let's do this.

Here's the plan. Fasten a chain a good ways up the trunk using an extension ladder, then to a come-a-long fastened at the base of another tree in the direction of the desired fall. Cut the wedge in the trunk, begin the back cut, and add some tension with the come-a-long. Someone more experienced probably could have done this with just wedges to guide the fall but I was glad to have this set up. I cut the back cut within an inch of the wedge and still the tree stood. Back to the come-a-long and pull the tree down right where I wanted it.

Oh happy day. It worked.