Monday, December 20, 2010

More "learning"

New England = Christmas
At the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship we decorated the workshop for a pot luck dinner and hilarious Yankee Swap Thursday night. There was one more day of class when everyone was frantic about their project and then, poof... the teachers disappeared for a well-deserved rest until after the holiday. Many of us have hung around to work the secret extra bonus week.
Here is the frame and panel back to my piece, being glued up. Tomorrow, on my way out of town I will stop by and unclamp it, plane it a bit to fit properly and sit back and sigh with relief if all goes as planned. Am proud that I cut the grooves on the table saw with a dado blade and made the tongues in the panels by rabbetting them on the router table. The stiles and rails were joined with dominoes (floating tenons) because I wanted to try using the fancy pants German Festool but it was kinda a "learning" situation for me (read:frustrating/infuriating/throw the thing across the room/hate self/hate the Germans/coulda done it by hand faster&better/spend a day [another day, the first was drilling the mortises] hand-filing the dominoes so everything would line up). It might have been fine if I hadn't tried to line up 5 mortises per side the first time I used it. But honestly, I'm over it, really! Last week when I was going on and on about learning by making mistakes...well, I have sure been learning a lot. Below is me on the lathe. Yep, I finally "got" it, so family, if you're out there, definitely expect a Christmas tree ornament.

I had to include this shot of Cappy's Chowder House in Camden
and me donned in my gaye apparel while planing the dovetails on my casepiece.
Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, everyone!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

s-l-o-w-l-y I turn...

Snow this week. Winter is officially arrived. I am slowly working through my project. It seems like such an easy concept, a simple cupboard with a door, shelves and a drawer, (maybe 2). I am a little discouraged because it really is the simplest one in the class and I feel like a dolt. I am trying to learn as much as I can from it, and I have so much to learn, but I worry that others seem to be learning more because their projects are more complicated, ...even though I am maxed out.

Here it is after I finished the joinery. The shelves each have 3 sadistic little vertical through-tenons called Alan Peters on each side holding them in the case. I could probably drop this tiny box off the Empire State Building and it wouldn't break apart. What I learned on this phase? Overkill. Everything I try has an
enormous learning curve. Tim demo-ed a sliding dovetail on the router and router-table so, never having made one before and not having any experience with the machines I decided to put a sliding dovetail in where i have a divider in the bottom of my case where my drawers will be. It took Tim 10 minutes to show us how to do it but it took me ALL day and then...I did something wrong.

Ellie and I signed up to take a ornament-making class this week-end where we are learning about the lathe. Pretty exciting, except I couldn't quite get it right. By the end of this 1st day I was really wondering what is the matter with me. The teacher was talking about a book he is reading called The Talent Code, and that we learn a lot more when we make mistakes. I came home and hugged my dog, did some laundry, went to the grocery store and made some chocolate petit-fours:
Yeah, I guess I just needed to know that I can do something sorta okay. But just now, I looked up the book and sure enough, it is about how much more we remember and learn when something doesn't go perfectly, and also, that if we keep practicing and go very slowly and actually make errors but keep at it, there is a possibility of getting really really good.
I am taking that idea to sleep with me tonight ...along with Betty.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


On Thursday we went as a class on a trip to 3 professional woodworker's shops. Here is a picture of us listening to Kevin Rodel in Brunswick. The men were all extremely generous with information and time.

I went to Liberty Tool on Saturday, a famous local source for wood workers looking to rummage through 8 tons/8 million possibilities. I scored a few simple treasures, then perused their museum across the street.
On my way home I passed through Lincolnville, a town right on the beach, just as they were lighting their tree. There was a small crowd and large bonfire and the sun was just setting, quite a sight.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

over the moon

It is week 5 and we are in the middle of our case piece project with Austin Matheson co-teaching/assisting Tim. Mine is a rather simple wall cabinet but I didn't want to be stung not finishing it or learning everything thoroughly. I have finished the joinery for the case construction (the 4 walls) and today made dados (grooves in the inner walls for the shelves to sit in) which took me all day. When it is laying on my bench it looks like a baby coffin or a cat coffin. That is what I, and now others, refer to it as.
Everyday we learn another way to make a dado or whatnot on a different machine: the router, the table saw with a dado set, a horrifying old German saw referred to as "the green monster" or other scary instrument of terror. Usually the demos panic me cause they all seem to be in Greek. But my teacher assures me that I will be making dados, rabbets, grooves, mortises and finger joints on all the machines and become proficient ...yeah, like I am in Greek. Others in the class are, of course, more experienced than moi and are making QueenAnn Secretaries and such for their casepiece projects. For our last project we will learn veneering and steaming and I have definitely decided that I want to make something with legs, like a demi-lune table or a simple, one drawer desk. I finished my 1st project bench right on time, but of course the sides were already done from my 2 week class last June. I don't care, it felt good to finish it and to be the first in the class. Some people are still working on their bench projects when they can squeeze in the time, and mine is finished, in the bag, yea me. Today I glued and clamped quarter sawn boards together to make my door. It was fun and I got to use my schmancy Lie Nielson plane for the edges. Tomorrow we have an all day field trip to famous furniture makers Kevin Rodel's, Alex Hamilton's and Howard Hatch's workshops.

Peter announced that there is arsenic in the water and there always has been but the rules and regs changed and now we can't drink it till they put a filtration system on. Also, we found out some good dirt about last winter's 9 month class: there was a fellow so cantankerous and irritable that he had to leave and Peter had to get a restraining order cause, I guess, they were afraid he might have gone postal! Another time there were 2 guys who just could not get along and the school brought in a mediator! I can't imagine jeopardizing the time one has at this amazing place! And I loved hearing the smut.

I came home early tonight and made dinner with Amy. We had a piece of halibut, which I finished before taking this picture, some salad with pomegranate seeds and fried oysters which we ate with these fab quail-claw grabbers from her silver set!

Here is a bunch of seagulls sitting on top of a house which looks out over the water. The bird at the far left is a fake owl which is probably suppose to scare gulls from landing on the roof.
It has become warm and foggy out tonight so the Rockport foghorn is eerily om-ing away. Before I left home I reminded people that I was only going away for 3 months and just to Maine, not the moon. Sometimes though... I feel like I am on the moon.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

holiday break

It was my birthday yesterday and my sweet hostess, Amy, made me dinner and enfolded me into her extended family and I got cheesecake cupcakes cake!

Thanksgiving was spent with Betsy and Paul (and daughter Mason) in Falmouth. We had GOOSE! Delicious and all dark meat, the only good meat on any bird in my opinion.

I made a thin lobster/orange broth to start (and not end) the meal.
There were carmelized white onions, too.


Here is my first project, when it was nearing completion. It is a maple step-stool with dovetail joinery between the top and sides, and mortise and tenon joinery for the stretcher.
We have moved on to our case piece project. Mine is a small wall-hanging cabinet with a 2 drawers, 3 shelves and a door, incorporating both slab and frame & panel construction. It is quite modest but I want to be able to learn everything thoroughly (and finish it!) Maybe I'll be a wall-hanging cabinet and step-stool maker. I'll get really good at making 2 things, ...kinda like my cookies and granola. I'll be a granola/cookie/wall-hanging cabinet/step-stool maker.
The rest of my class all seem to have taken on bigger and more complicated projects (but then everyone has more experience than me). Sometimes I dream that I have a more complicated piece, like one with legs. I do want to learn how to make legs. And yes, I even dream woodworking.


Here is a little tour of Maine architecture, specifically the natural brown shingle/shake style. Photo #1 is a sweet, small cottage in my neighborhood. Photo #2 is a gorgeous estate I passed while walking along a Rockport coastal road. Photo #3 is a barn, photo #4 is a treehouse and photo #5 shows that even the trailers in Maine can be part of the proud shingle/shake architectural tradition. I haven't found a doghouse yet, but will post as soon as I do.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

half way

This is a shot of my deconstructed bench on the sanding table. I have just planed, scraped and random-orbital sandered it. Tomorrow I hope to glue it together and put finish on it. I read in Peter Korn's book that at this stage right here it is only about half finished (!) Okay, maybe before I planed, scraped and sanded it was only at the half-way mark but it sure feels like it should be beyond that after cutting all those dovetails, mortises and tenons.

Here is the moon on this lovely night. It doesn't look like it in this IPhone picture, but it is exactly at the half-moon stage, itself.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Okay, for any of you who are wondering about this state of Maine... voila. I didn't take this picture, but Ellie, a gal in my class did, the other morning right out her kitchen window!! This young moose was contentedly munching on apples straight off the tree.

Here is another typical Maine winter sight that some might say looks like a cocoon. But I think it looks like a gigantic floating maggot.

This last picture shows fine examples of a prominent variety of a Maine human: the furniture-maker. They are my teachers, Tim Rousseau (l), Aaron Fedarko (c), and Mason McBrien.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


This morning Betty and I came here for a walk. If you squint, you'll see a lighthouse at the end of this seawall. It is 7/8ths of a mile long. When I read that on a sign I cracked up, it is just so furniture-making-school. Actually, if it had said 29/32nds it would really be furniture-making-schoolesque.
Anyway, at 10 AM it looked like this and we got about 11/36th of the way and waves were splooshing over the rocks. I was wondering if maybe the tide was still coming in and we'd get out to the lighthouse and be stuck for hours waiting for it to go back out. I asked some fishermen who said that they'd been out on it walking through 2 inches of water in the past. It is November. I was wearing sneakers. Amy told me that a woman had recently been swept into the brink. We turned around.
We came back at 5PM. The tide must have been all the way out cause there was at least 10 feet of wall and tons of beach. The sign in the parking area said open sunrise to sunset and the sun was definitely setting spectacularly over Rockland, when we were only about 9/32nds of the way out. Betty was a bit wary of the gaps between the rocks, but we booked on. It started to feel like something from a surreal dream sequence in a French or Spanish movie from the 30s. The thing just kept going and going. I reeeeally wanted to get to that lighthouse and not be thwarted yet again in the same day, but it just felt like we weren't getting anywhere. And it was getting darker. Then and there I made up my mind not to give up. A personal challenge to be brave. Hey, was I holding myself back in my ambitions in my class? I have been leaning toward the idea of concentrating on learning the "skills" very well - even willing to forego a lot of "construction". But I realize that is wimpy. Fearful. Like practicing hitting a tennis ball your entire life but never playing a game. No matter how sucky you may be, playing the game is when you improve/move forward. I decided I did want to make stuff and so what if the first few pieces were homely? They can only get better. How will I ever know how good my skills are if I don't give myself a chance. And besides, I love the idea of designing something beautiful. We got to the windmill, - I mean, lighthouse, walked around it and then picked our way back. It wasn't even that dark by the time we finished, Mom! We're fine. I took myself to a dinner in a nice place. I sat at the bar and ate Pemaquid oysters with an apple mignonette. It is good to be brave.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Here is the port in Rockport on this windy rainy day.

Today was the plane lecture and even though I have heard it before, it was overwhelming.The information is staring to snowball. I can't possibly absorb it all. I am trying not to panic. I know everyone is struggling with the "ocean" of material. "Ocean" is a word my teacher uses when he describes something numerous, vast or monumental. The usage is perfect, being
right the ocean.

This is my 2nd set of dovetails of the day. The first were actually better but there were fewer pins. The methodical practice quells the fears. I used to just get terribly frustrated but now I'll finish a set, cut them off and start over, hoping to remember everything I did wrong and everything I did right.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


This was my greeting this morning, frost on the windshield! It warmed up and became a beautiful day. I walk with Betty before school in my new neighborhood and things are beginning to feel familiar.
Class was all about mortise & tenons yesterday & dovetails today. I know more than I did before my first class but lost some ground in the time between then and now. I like hearing it all again and the differences and the new information imparted by someone else's telling. The steps are methodical and I wish I could spend a whole day on each one, going deep:
1) Decide which piece will be the mortise and which will be the tenon. (How? What makes a board good for one over the other? The grain of the wood? The color, flaws? What are considered flaws, good color? Is there more strength in the verticle piece or the horizontal?)
This is where I lack familiarity, and realize only experience will grant that.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Back Down East

I have returned to Maine for the 12-week Intensive class at the Center for Furniture Crafts manship in Rockport. I am staying with the host I stayed with in June in her Camden home with her old dog, Indie. They have both graciously welcomed Betty, too. It was early June when I was here before, daylight from 5a.m. til 9p.m., balmy early summer temps, lupine blooming everywhere a seed could wedge into dirt. Now it is cold, it snowed a bit yesterday, this morning there was barely daylight at 7 when I woke to let Betty out and headlights were on when I left the parking lot at 5 this evening. The tourists have disappeared, beautiful huge sailboats are weirdly, white shrink-wrapped in the harbor.
Returning to school today was a relief. I was anxious, but as soon as I arrived and greeted by Dorrie from the office, I felt just happy. My June teacher (and director of the school) addressed and welcomed the class.The teacher for this class, Tim Rousseau is a calm, instructive, funny, attentive, confident. The assistants are wonderful, too. All pros. The first 2 weeks will be a review of the class I took in June, which is just fine with me. On this very first day I feel like I learned a million more things.
This picture is Lake Pythonga in Quebec where I was a week and a half ago. Between then and now there were so many demands on me I am surprised I am not sick. I want to concentrate on only this now. After months of wondering (and worrying) I finally know that I have done the right thing. I can't wait til tomorrow.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Okay, I came home from my furniture making class but haven't been able to work on my project because I don't have a workshop set up or even a vise, or worktable to attach it to. It has been frustrating. I went to Lowes and stared at the tools; the table saw, drill press, the band saw. I saw a wood vise. I don't have a proper space for a worktable. It has all obsessed me a bit. So much so that as I was standing at my butcher block counter eating watermelon for breakfast early the other morning, still in my nightie and already thinking about my joinery, I looked at the pulpy fruit, and at the knife in my hand, something about the wooden counter...and then, well, here is a movie I made to show exactly what happened:

Friday, June 25, 2010


Here is my school on a Thursday night in June, after the potluck dinner and croquet tournament and everything is cleaned up and we're ready to work on our projects some more...until maybe 11 pm or even much later. It was what I had to do and couldn't not do. I came home from Maine, my little bench still in pieces, still at step one, but what a step it was.
I have always considered the process. I have wanted the process to produce something beautiful, but have rarely cared that it remain. Food is eaten, I hope enjoyed but still, it's gone after moments. Knitting scarves and hats in winter- they're always given away as gifts. Methodically washing the floor is enjoyable to me even as I walk across it after it is cleaned, leaving footprints. However, I learned something at this school about process that changed everything about process for me. I must start with my feelings about perfection: I have always thought that imperfection is so much more interesting. I've held strongly to the tenet that perfection is not only unattainable but undesirable. I never knew that that may have limited me in the exact way that I believed perfection must limit things. Wood is quite unforgiving and I wanted my joints to fit together and I couldn't get them to. I wanted them to be good, not perfect, but the pieces wouldn't accept each other. It was challenging me. Then, one night I heard my teacher give a talk and show slides about his work and himself and the eventual creation of the school after a lifetime of being a furniture maker. It was all interesting and inspiring. At the end he made one last comment, and I had my process-altering moment. What he said went directly to the brain of me. He said that it is not enough to consider the process while transforming material, one must consider the transformation in ones self during that process. ...Whoa. I change while I "do" something?? It isn't always all about the "doing" or the thing?? I then recognized that something was changing in me while trying to transform these two pieces of unforgiving wood. I had to forget about non-perfection and really go for something more perfect than I believed was in me...or that I even wanted in me. That was the transformation! I never really got the things perfect but they were quite beautiful in the end and they did accept each other and it didn't matter anyway because I changed too. My lesson about perfection AND my lesson about process. Does this make sense to anyone? Does everyone already know this?
Anyhoo, the day after the class ended I rode my bike around town, sat by the harbor and drank coffee with my new friend/host and then she drove me to the top of Mt. Battie. I saw the plaque with Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem that she wrote while standing in the same spot. Here is a bit of it:
ALL I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked the other way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around till I was come
Back to where I’d started from;
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood.
Over these things I could not see:
These were the things that bounded me;
And I could touch them with my hand,
Almost, I thought, from where I stand.
And all at once things seemed so small
My breath came short, and scarce at all.

Friday, June 11, 2010


I am at woodworking school in Maine for 2 weeks. My classmates ask me why I am here. I know it is because it is the process that attracts me to the endevour. Here is my first dovetail joinery. It took me forever to do, isn't much, crude, and I plan to do many more, but I am enjoying the process. The dovetail ends of these boards will be cut off and I'll start again. Everyone else in the class has at least taken a shop class sometime and as it happens everyone seems to have a home workshop and has made things... except me. What was I thinking coming here having never made anything before, my workbench neighbor asked. Then later I realized that I was starting pure, if not just ignorant. There is nothing for me to unlearn. I didn't know there was a difference in how things are constructed and never will. It was the second epiphany of the day. The first was touching the back of a cabinet in the school's gallery. It was like glass, but warm and instead of reflecting the wall and my hand, it spoke of tree. It was humbling. It is another universe. What was I thinking coming to this class?
I just like to do.

Monday, May 24, 2010

2 flowering bushes

Say what you will about the hot-cold-hot-cold weather, you can't beat the Spring fleurs this year. Even the dog willing posed next to a monster flowering bush in the front yard. Hmm...maybe she feels a kinship to it.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Here is my daughter covered in sugar for a photo shoot she was in while in Portland Oregon a coupla weeks ago. She lives in Chicago. Now. But today, with a tip from a friend (thanks Ron!) her mum-zy found an apartment for her to rent in NYC. And with the help of her dad, his quick action, decision and a run to the bank, it became her future home. I am so excited. She is really really coming east and to a great neighborhood, to a cute studio. I love Chicago but it is far away and at 25, with a book contract, agent and publisher in New York, she should spend some time here. And then if she wrangles a fellowship to London next year, her dream, she'll be ready. Sweet.

Friday, May 14, 2010


Voila, my beautiful new kitchen is almost fini.
What it was is below (and that was on a good day.) Amazing what only new cupboards, countertop and a minor rearrangement of things will do. (Okay, and I had it painted.)
But I am:
~proud of how little I spent
~kick myself for not doing this ages ago
~and ready to get back to cooking!
I am going to go butcher on that butcher block.

Monday, May 10, 2010

fern giant

These amazing ferns grow in a damp, shady spot next to the house. I don't remember planting anything so they are there of their own free will and each year there are more, and they're bigger. I used to try to eat the fiddleheads but had to admit that it was like eating grass. I am much happier marveling at their marvelousness.

Mothers Day

Organic, New Paltz farmer Pete Taliaferro gave me these beautiful columbines on the first day of the season for the Rhinebeck Farmers Market, yesterday. It being Mothers Day and all, I graciously accepted. It was just what I needed seeing that I was not with the one who makes me a mother and the day was chilly and my own mother had just hung up on me. Whimper. The rest of the day went well; a divine felafel from the new vendor, Aba, heavenly sheep cheese from the charming couple at Dancing Ewe, who travel hours to participate, a celebratory micro-mini kir from Clinton Vineyards, and happy, beloved Meri who sells my granola for me at her stand. After all that good goodness, we took ourselves to a late afternoon screening of Babies. Lots of awwwwwws. The day ended with the anxiously anticipated phone call from the busy, peddling daughter at the Toronto Comic Arts Fest (lerve) and even an apology call from mom (wha..?!)