Wednesday, July 25, 2012


I’m wrapping up work on book #4, The Backyard Homestead Guide to Building Projects, which will be published by Storey Publishing next year. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have work I love, a wife that offers unconditional support and an editor that gives me lots of free rein.

         The book involves designing and prototyping lots of new things. I’m pretty comfortable with projects that are wood-based, like yard sheds, garden carts and raised bed gardens. I’ve worked with wood for 30 years and have a workshop full of tools and a head full of successes and failures. But some projects involve, what for me is, uncharted territory—like the flowerpot smoker. The only woods involved are the hickory chips that invoke their sweet smoky aroma. And it was here I encountered the sweet smell of success, and a small “eureka” moment.

The flowerpot smoker prototype
A flowerpot smoker is crafted from a couple of flowerpots, an electric hot plate, a small grill and a few other odds-and-ends. I cobbled my prototype together from information on the Internet, bought a 5-pound brisket, brined it overnight and began experimenting.

The meat of the matter

My cooking skills are pretty much limited to things containing the words eggs, pasta and stir fry. In other words, I’m a raging culinary rookie. I’m not at all like my daughter Maggie who can whip up a gourmet meal with one hand tied behind her back and the other holding sweet little Anna. (Read her award-winning Kitchie Coo BLOG for her thoughts on food, love and life.) I don’t have a storehouse of information or a backlog of successes to guide me through new projects. Four hours after switching the smoker on, I shredded the brisket, added a little barbecue sauce and took a bite. Wow—it wasn’t just good, it was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted? Why? Because it was flavored with the sweet smell of success.

The sweet smell of success!!

It made me realize that the success I felt as a rookie cook is akin to the success others feel as rookie woodworkers who have just crafted their first birdhouse or outdoor bench. That brisket put me back in touch with the thrill of crafting something beyond ones comfort zone for the first time. And that feels pretty darn good.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Learning to See Through Blind Woodworkers

Yesterday I received an email and a link to a U-Tube video from an old acquaintance, Larry Martin, who was instrumental in starting an organization called Woodworking for the Blind. The video is pretty amazing; check it out HERE.
His email jogged my memory about a chapter I wrote in my book, A Splintered History of Wood, a few years back. Part of the writing focused on Larry’s work. There were a number of sight-impaired woodworkers who were having difficulty gleaning the needed information on woodworking projects from books and magazines. He began reading and recording CDs containing information on the projects. He also made himself available via phone to answer questions that sight-impaired woodworkers might have. He did all of this because, well, he’s just a nice guy. Click HERE for more information on the Woodworking for the Blind.
Larry directed me to three sight impaired woodworkers who I interviewed over the course of one long, amazing afternoon. I talked with David Albrektson who loves making furniture.

David Albrektson with his hollow mortise machine

 And Ron Faulkner who gravitates toward cabinets and dovetailed boxes
Ron Fualkner with a few of his decorative boxes

And Gordon Mitchell who not only enjoys building furniture, but built his woodworking shop and a house to go along with it. 
Gordon Mitchell at work in his shop (that he built!)

When I hung up the phone, I realized I hadn’t heard one utterance of “poor me,” only words of thankfulness and positivity. Wow. Turns out, these woodworkers are no different than any of the rest of us. We all savor the touch and warmth of wood. We all experience highs and lows. We all make mistakes. We all love to innovate out way through problems. We all enjoy the fellowship of other woodworkers and savor the solace that comes when working alone. And that’s what makes woodworking the best pastime of all.