Monday, March 10, 2014

Backyard Homestead Book of Building Projects book launch !!!!!!

I'll be launching my  fourth book—The Backyard Homestead Book of Building Projects—March 27th, 7:00 p.m. at the Stillwater Public Library. I'll build a project from the book, examine the resurgence of backyard homesteading and discuss the challenges of creating a multi-faceted non-fiction book.

It's fun, it's free. It may even be slightly educational. Books will be available through Valley Booksellers of Stillwater. The book includes a wide range of projects including:

* A potting bench
* Garden cart made from a single sheet of plywood
* A PVC Hoop greenhouse
* A quintet of raised bed gardens
* A flowerpot smoker
* About 75 other projects

Come on down (or over or up) and spread the word!

Monday, November 11, 2013


Kat and I  just returned from an indescribable trip to Tanzania. We worked at an orphanage for special needs kids and Boma 'longombe secondary school. This was my fourth trip and Kat's first. Here's a piece about the experience I wrote for my FaceBook page. More about the wood part of it later.

                            TRADE IN YOUR TIMEX FOR A BAG OF BALLOONS

When you go to Tanzania, trade in your Timex for a bag of balloons. The balloons are infinitely more useful and you'll never regret the decision.
         When you trade in your watch for balloons you can sit on the steps of a guesthouse in remote Bomalongombe, laughing while you make balloon animals with three dozen children. It means you can teach one another: Mbwa means dog, pua means nose, mbili means two, their presence means they trust a stranger traveling in their midst.

         Your watch will only make you anxious over the graduation slated for 10:00 a.m. that starts at 1:15 p.m. Your watch will make you forget it's more important to have tea and connect with old and new friends than to stick to a schedule that makes you hurry and scurry, so you can hurry and scurry some more.
         Balloons let you give something new and mysterious to a one year old—and to learn about parenting in return. My grimace says "I fear your child. biting this balloon, will get an unpleasant surprise." The mother's smile says, "Yes. And that way my child will learn it's not a good idea to bite a balloon." It makes me think we no longer let our children bite balloons; we hesitate when it comes to letting them, regardless of age, learn about the natural consequences in life. We take away balloons, fearing the "pop" will scare or scar them.

         Balloons grant you passage to the back of a village church where the choir is practicing hymns; songs where the words are different but the melody is the same. Balloons help you realize that music and faith link us together though we live half a world away. Balloons make a mother trust you enough to let her 2-year old sleep in your arms while you listen to her sing in the choir. Balloons make you realize if the tables were turned you might not feel the same trust.
         Balloons help you cheer on the blind youth choir singing to welcome you. Balloons help you celebrate the 103 students graduating from school, heading into a world where opportunities are slim compared to ours. Balloons help you contain the joy you feel in seeing a four year old walk for the first time under her own power. Balloons make the work of building bunk beds for 100 students a little lighter.

         Balloons help you realize the nine people you're traveling with for two weeks are all kids at heart. Balloons make me realize how incredibly lucky I am to have a fearless, loving wife by my side as we travel.
         Balloons allow you to give away something to kids that aren't given much; to add a splash of color to a life that can be dusty and dry. Balloons are hugs and hope. And when they sail away you realize hope is a fragile thing.  
         When you trade in your Timex for balloons you trade in your anxiety—Am I going to lose it? Scratch it? Gum up the mechanism? It allows you to exchange something made of steel for something truly enduring—memories that can only be had by living.
         A balloon allows you to leave a part of yourself—your very breath—in Tanzania. Fitting for a country that takes your breath away.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What makes a chair a chair??

Kat and I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC a few days ago and wound up in a trance-like state wandering through the "Decorative Arts" section of the museum. There we began encountering chairs of every race, color and creed.
Chairs made from carpet pad, plastic, metal and, of course wood. Chairs exhibited next to Dyson vacuum cleaners and beside royal desks.
Chairs you could never fall asleep in and chairs that make you never want to get up.
Chairs that are one-of-a-kind and chairs that are mass-produced by the millions. 

Statistics maintain the average person spends 423 minutes per day (slightly over 7 hours) sitting (this does NOT include sleeping). Comfort hasn't always been a priority; in fact in "Home: A Short History of an Idea" Witold Rybczynski points out that, not just the word "comfort" but,  the very concept of comfort didn't evolve until the 18th century.  

So the question might be posed not as "what's in your wallet" but rather, "what's under your wallet." What do you spend your 7 hours a day perched upon? 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

An Off-Beat, Off-Center Sort of Turner

Six times a year I write the "Great American Woodworker" profile for American Woodworker magazine  American Woodworker —which means six times a year I get to interview some outrageously gifted and unique woodworker.
Mark Sfirri's "Rejects from the Bat Factory"

 The Feb/March issue of AW features the work of Mark Sfirri; a woodturner who has perfected multi-axis turning. Here's the man and his work (and play).

Mark Sfirri

Here's an excerpt from the article.
While some of Mark's pieces are meticulously planned, others are simply inspired. After turning a baseball bat for his son, for example, Mark began thinking about its elegant form and perfect engineering; about how every part—from the knob on the end through the slender handle to the meat of the barrel—was built for pure function. "I began thinking about what a perfect blank canvas this would be for multi-axis turning," he says. Rejects From the Bat Factory has become one of Mark's signature works. His rejected bats are tied in knots, double handled, curved, cut in half and comically indented.
Mark's brightly painted, cartoon-like food cans and containers combine the best of Andy Warhol and Popeye. His inspiration for them came during a teaching jaunt to France, where he became intrigued with container shapes and how to animate them while trying to decipher the labels. You gotta love a guy who creates a can of Fromage Wiz.
 Humor is a serious part of Mark's work. "But, it's not like I'm laughing the whole time I'm making things," he says. "Creating the illusion is a very measured process."
A hall table of an unusual bent
From Sfirri's lathe (and wild imagination)
Madonna and Child (Sfirri)

Monday, January 21, 2013

FIREWOOD STACKING for creative people (or those with too much time on their hands)

A friend of mine sent me some photos that the 10-degree below zero temperatures inspired me to share. 

Sort of a HOOT!

Timbered timber

Why not?

Doing it inside makes so much more sense

Stay warm everyone!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Holiday gIfts for all ye procrastinators

Social media—man, that can suck up a guy's time FAST! The thing that's been occupying my time lately is creating a new FaceBook "book" site. Please visit it. And "LIKE" it as long as you're there. It has a couple of dozen simple projects, tons of tips, lots of amazing wood photos and a section labeled "Times of the Signs" that will let you print out things ranging from an inspirational quote to a WET PAINT sign. Click here to get there:   Spike's new FaceBook page

Below are  beauty shots of some of the projects you'll find there—just in time for the holiday season. Even if you've procrastinated. Let the sawdust fly!

Crescent Moon Wine Bottle Rack
from "Ridiculously Simple Furniture Projects."

(Photography by Bill Zuehlke)

Wine for Two
from "Ridiculously Simple Furniture Projects"

(Photography by Bill Zuehlke)

And for the woodworker in your life—a sandbox!!
From  "Woodworking FAQ: The Workshop Companion"

Friday, October 26, 2012


What do woodworking and Maya Angelou have in common? Not much. But after seeing her speak a few days ago in Minneapolis, I have to jot down an impression or two.

Maya at her 82nd birthday party

         The curtain opens and there sits 84-year-old Maya Angelou. Her 6-foot frame rests comfortably in the chair. She has no notes or prompts; just a head full of stories and a keenness of mind that makes one think old age must start at 85 or beyond. She begins by belting out a few lines from an old blues standard. The packed house is enthralled. People laugh, cry, clap, whistle and shout "amen." And it only gets better.

Maya receiving the Presidential Award of Freedom

         One of the lines from the song exclaims, "When it looked like the sun wasn't going to shine any more, God made a rainbow in the clouds." And that was her theme for the night: A look at these rainbows that helped make her—and all of us—who we are; people who love, support, teach and guide us in, sometimes, unexpected ways even in the darkest, cloudiest of times. 

         Maya's rainbows didn't come easy. She was shuttled between parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles while growing up. At the age of 8 she was raped. She told her brother about it and her abuser was found dead a few days later. Convinced her voice had killed him, she went mute for 5 years. It was during those five years Maya developed her keen sense of observation and a love of writing and literature.

         She had a child at 17 and made ends meet working as a streetcar conductor, cook and prostitute. But the rainbows in her life—and an indomitable spirit—drove her upward. She became a dancer, singer, actress, author, playwright, teacher, poet and speaker. She challenged those in the audience to think about the rainbows in their lives and how they could become rainbows in the lives of others.
         Her other theme was the need for courage—a trait Maya does not lack. Without courage, all other traits, strengths and aspirations lay dormant or, at best, underutilized.

         The takeaway from the evening was clear: Think about and thank those who have been rainbows in your clouds. And use your courage and strengths—whether it's woodworking, wisdom or time—to become a rainbow for others.