Sloop of War

Small vessels of the Napoleonic War era below the rate of the frigate were frequently termed Sloops of War. It didn’t matter if the ship was rigged as a sloop, a brig, snow, or an actual ship rig. A frigate was generally ship rigged ( square-rigged on all three masts) and had at least 28 guns on a single flush deck. 

So the handy little flush deck Sloop of War I’ve carved here is almost a pocket frigate. With twelve guns, she will not stand against a larger ship, say a Frigate, but is armed well enough to do some severe damage as a Privateer, dispatch, or reconnaissance ship. Fast and able ships like this served the British, American, and French navies throughout the era.

About the carving:

This was lots of fun to carve. I modeled the Sloop of War on several illustrations but modified things until I had the sail plan and view I wanted. The carving was executed in eastern white pine. After most of the carving was complete, I decided on a mixture of painted color and bare wood for the sort of contrasts I wanted. The sea combines crushed stone, blue ink, and acrylic paints. The quote is a favorite Horatio Nelson quote that is both era-appropriate and matches the scene.

Sailing before the wind is a challenging position to carve. It needs a bit of hollowing in the sails for drama, but it can be tricky to express. Remember you are trying to get this sense of depth and movement in 1/8 of an inch or less of carved depth.

I’ve been developing this carving style as an homage to nineteenth-century sailors’ dioramas and ships’ portraits. It’s not modeling, nor is it flat portraiture. It’s a sort of hybrid.

Paper and Scissors

I found the wood sitting in the shorts at my favorite hardwood dealer. It was very dark, heavy, and dense. It was mahogany but so dark and heavy that I felt it was a wayward piece of Dominican, not Honduran. It was just what I wanted.
I wanted to create a banner with a distinctive font, Barnhard Modern. I also wanted to give the banner a center and ends that undulate. The result was pleasing. At shows, people run their hands over the banner as a sensual experience, precisely what I wanted.

How do you do this? You must carve banner ends to appear delicate when viewed from a distance. But up close, there needs to be enough heft that they’ll stand up to the abuse they’ll get on a boat’s transom. For a show display, you have to compromise. People are way closer to the carving than they would be in another boat.

Many banners have curvature, but in most, the area which is lettered is flat. On MANDALAY, the field of the lettering undulates. So, the lettering does not stay in the same plane while laying it out or carving it. To experiment with this, I advise using wood no less than 8/4 in thickness. Any less will be too thin for the effect to work.

First, I carved the banner with all its curves and undulations. It’s essential to control your pleasure in removing wood. Easy. Remember that the effect comes from the smoothness of the curves and contours. Abrupt changes will ruin the look. Periodically take a break to place it in natural light. Turn it upside down and see if the movement of the wood flows.
For lettering, you have several options: Old School layout by hand; or New School computer layout in vinyl or paper. I chose a compromise between hand layout and computer layout on paper. The key to the paper template here is that the paper is flat, and the surface is not – hence the title: Paper & Scissors because cutting the paper will allow you to follow the undulating surface.
To follow the undulations, you slice the areas between the letters to get them to lay in the correct planes. As you layout, you also need to adjust the kerning ( distance between the letters). When completed, take the design into natural light, turn it upside down, and check to see if it still looks proportionate and balanced. I left this for a day and returned to it fresh the next morning; rested eyes see mistakes. I also find that taking photos on my phone reveals things my eyes sometimes miss.

After the layout was complete, the letter carving was like any other letter carving project. The finish is about eleven coats of Captain’s Z-Spar rubbed out after the first three priming coats and each succeeding one. The lettering I painted with One-Shot yellow sign paint. Two thin coats are better than a single thick covering.

Although gold leafing is an entirely separate topic, I advise that you do yourself an enormous favor and allow the varnish to cure before gold leafing. Remember that’s cure, not dry. Varnish manufacturers will tell you that varnish dries in twenty-four hours. But that is not the same as curing.

Gold leaf has a nasty tendency to stick to anything. But especially uncured varnish. I frequently allow a week or more for the varnish to cure; move on to another project, and come back later to apply gold leaf.

Acorns to Oaks*

We all want to be instant experts. One of my sensei describes this in terms of the training montages that are standard fare in martial arts movies; the neophyte progresses from clumsy beginner to skilled pro in thirty seconds of cinematic snapshots. The rest of us suffer from dissatisfaction and disappointment from being less than optimal for much longer.
Not every time, but more frequently than I’d like, I get confronted with the unique. And, all of a sudden I am a neophyte once more. Incorporating new materials, using new types of paints, complex constructions, and most especially very small parts that need fabrication all create confrontations with the problematic.

When I was doing banners, quarter boards, transoms, and the odd eagle, the problems were mostly mechanical – design layout, curvature to fit, and calculating shadows in carved lettering.

Boat and ship portraits offer many more issues. I am presenting a practice piece of the very first boat portrait I ever did. Remember, practice pieces are exactly like the rough sketches you do of a subject before you paint – the practice is to work out the approach, shapes, and rendering before you start the actual work. Being that carving is subtractive, this saves you from ruining expensive wood and wasting time.

Over the years, I’ve done many portraits. I’ve borrowed techniques from model makers, painters, and illustrators. I’ve also had to develop some tricks of my own. The single most important thing will seem trite: challenge is what differentiates those who are growing from those who are standing still intellectually and as artists.

Principal carving is complete, finishing the coaming and adding some details are all that's left before fitting into the hoop
Principal carving is complete, finishing the coaming and adding some details are all that’s left before fitting into the hoop.

There are about two years between my first practice piece and my rendering of a cat boat for a mast hoop portrait. Principal carving is complete, finishing the coaming and adding some details are all that’s left before fitting into the hoop.

Easy Pieces

I admit that the sort of non complex carving that happens when I carve a small bowl is pretty alluring. No antsy detail. No pattern that needs to be followed. Just follow the will of the wood.

today I put up a new page on the site for hand carved bowls, but thought that I’d spend a bit of time taking about my favorites . I am kind of hoping that these do not sell at next weeks show. I’ve made the mistake of getting attached to them.

Only a few inches around, the banding on the sides and interior, and the rough lip make this one a favorite just to hold and look at. Made from a piece of cherry firewood.

This second one was also from firewood. I love the subtle grain pattern and the rough lip.

This third bowl was from a slightly larger piece of cherry firewood. I had enough wood to form a bit of a handle. I went experimental and charred the interior with a torch. Before finishing you scrape off most to the char, leaving just blackened wood. There are slight defects in the wood that in my mind make the piece even more interesting.

I’ve done a number of others, and like them, but these are my favorites.

New and Old

We can easily get lost in the weeds talking about tradition in crafts. It’s just hard to avoid observing that technology casts long shadows when you make something and call it traditional. The majority of shops that work with wood use bandsaws, table saws, and jointers. These tools have been around long enough not to ignite a vendetta among purists looking for “traditionally crafted goods.” But the technological landscape is always changing for the craftsperson.
Recently I have been nosing about on the borders. A few years ago, a series of eye surgeries compromised my ability to do certain types of woodcarving, mostly lettering. After surgery, I began to explore what I could and couldn’t conveniently do. The vision changes prompted the carving shop’s move from the old basement workshop into the greenhouse – I needed lots of light. Last year I also began to play around incorporating laser engraving and cutting as an adjunct to my carving.
Some things worked well, and others fell flat. Frankly, it’s all a work in progress. The small sign shown above is one of the projects that worked. Some of the others wound up feeding the woodstove.
Is it traditional? Well, was it traditional when craftspeople and artists began using acrylic paints or using computers to assist them in design?

Years ago, when I worked as an anthropologist, I knew a woman who crafted the most incredible Ukrainian Easter eggs. One afternoon over coffee Elizabeth introduced me to the history of technological innovation in the world of decorated Easter eggs. Over the centuries, dies and methods of preparation changed. But the community accepted the eggs because of the continuity of design and meaning in the community.
Back in the ’80’s colleagues were musing about Cambodian kite makers shifting from traditional fabrics used in Cambodia to the ripstop nylon available to them here in the United States. The maker of traditional Cambodian dance costumes received mention also. One of them had adopted the hot glue gun and factory-made jewelry findings to construct elaborate headdresses and other costume bits. They looked like the old style, but the components and techniques had evolved.

On one project I worked on years ago with boatbuilders, I asked builders what they thought was the central concept that defined the traditional boat. I had expected them to talk about materials, construction techniques, and design. I wasn’t disappointed because they all mentioned those things to one degree or another, but as a group, they said the value placed on the boat by the community that used them was central. One well-known figure I interviewed ( Lance Lee) suggested the term “cherish” as the central concept – the boats were cherished and valued by the community. It was the community of users that made something traditional.

The laser engraver that sits in the basement, and my visual handicap, got me thinking about these things. The concept of craft, especially when labeled traditional, has some minefields laid in it for the artisan. Look beyond technology to intent, the community’s acceptance of the product, and the continuation of design tradition. Sometimes we might be daunted by what we see, but the first carver who moved from a stone or bone tipped tool to one of metal started us on the moving process of technology in arts and craft.

New York Pilot Boat 5

This chest was not in stock long enough for me to do a proper set of photos. It sold at it’s first appearance at the Maine Boatbuilder’s Show to a pair of Boston Harbor pilots who were going to give it as a retirement gift to a colleague. The chest itself was of fairly common pine with teak keys for strength and decorative effect.
The top though, that’s some pine of a different pedigree. The pine tree was felled by the great hurricane of 1938. At the time it came down, it had been the tallest tree in the town of Shirley, Massachusetts. Very probably old growth, the entire top was just a segment of the plank I purchased from the retired dairy farmer, who, in true Yankee fashion, refused to let such a good tree go to waste and made it into planks.


The pilot boat itself was pilot number 5 from New York Harbor. Pilot boats had to be extremely fast and able, and this design shows a flexible sail plan and sweet lines. Somewhere I have a slew of pilot boat designs but have not had an opportunity to carve another. Beautiful boats like this are hard to resist.

for a more recent look into New York Harbor pilotage take a look at Tugsters post of a pilot boat mothership: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/72558/posts/2868136611

Wood

Wood occupies a central part of our lives. We love our cherry spoons, Mahogany cabinets, and teak deck chairs. As consumers, there is much that you don’t know about your favorite woods.

Smell:

Ash has a sweetish odor, that is uniquely distinctive when you saw it or burn it. Fresh red birch has a scent that takes you back to the best root beers you’ve ever had. Cherry bark smells like tasty cough syrup. And oak has an earthy odor to it. If you work with fresh-cut timber, these are some of the sensations that the tree shares with you, and which the uninitiated remain unaware.

Color:

Love the look of mahogany, the beautiful color of cherry, or walnut? The tree didn’t add them for you. Trees live in a highly competitive environment where organisms are always attacking the tree, looking for a meal. To deter the attacks, trees deposit chemicals into their wood that inhibit insects, bacteria, and fungi. After we cut the timber, those chemicals give us the coloration and some of the wood’s durability.

Toxicity:

Some woods are toxic to us. A wood called Pink Ivory is lovely to look at but is dangerous because of the chemicals in the wood. In use, it needs sealing before it’s safe for us to use. 

Woodworkers need to be especially aware that the dust caused by sanding some species is irritating. Mahogany and teak fall into that category. Not everyone is sensitive, but wearing protective gear is an excellent way of avoiding dermatitis or respiratory issues.

Food Safety:

Normally most of what I’ve mentioned is not too important to the average consumer. There is one area to aware of, and that is treen. Treen ( derived from the word tree) are objects like spoons, spatulas, bowls, and the like. Being that we handle food with them, the potential toxicity should be considered. In North America, woods normally considered food safe are woods like maple, fruitwoods (cherry, plum, pear, and apple) birch, and poplar. I’ve used ash for cutting boards, but not for spoons because it has alternating summer and winter woods ( ring porosity) and might absorb odors and flavors when immersed. Oak, while not toxic, is ring-porous, and can impart it’s earthy taste to foods, so I do not use it.

You might notice that I have not included walnut on my list. I am rather certain that it is food safe, but I rarely use it because there are a good number of people with walnut allergies.

Spalted wood is wood with the patterns of decay caused by fungus visible on the wood. It’s beautiful to look at, but there is a significant debate as to whether or not it is food safe. I do not work with it, in part, because there is a respiratory risk to the woodworker from the spores of the fungus. Yes, many woodworkers claim that the spores can be killed by microwaving or heating the wood. It’s just not a risk I take.

Exotic woods. I stay away from them. For many, there are question marks regarding their food safety, and being that I used to sell commercially, I had product liability to worry about.

If you have questions about any of this, write me, and I’ll try to formulate an intelligent response.

Favorites

My father’s favorite ship was the S.S. President Tyler. He sailed aboard it whenever possible from his first voyage around 1932 till he came ashore in 1946, the year I was born. Several World and Asian cruises made him a genuine China Sailor.
Sailors, merchant or naval, can have deep relationships with their ships. Call it loyalty, affection, longing, or call it what it really can be – romance. I know, I have an ache for a certain ketch I’ll never see again. Women are known to jealous of ships and boats. My first mother in law was jealous of the Cap’ns Psyche. For the sake of peace, she hid it well. My mother was not so diplomatic about my father’s love of the sea, and “that ship.” She had been a sea widow throughout their marriage and two pregnancies. Like many sea widow’s, there came a time when the husband was expected to “swallow the anchor.” More than a few arguments ended with my father threatening to go to the hiring hall and “look for a ship.”
So growing up, the Tyler was a sensitive issue. We’d regularly drive along the Hudson River to where the reserve fleet was anchored. He was looking for the Tyler. My mother was never on any of these excursions.

I had seen my father’s pictures onboard the Tyler, But I had never seen a photo of the ship itself. My mother was famous for editing her life, so it’s more than likely that she disposed of those photos when she threw out dad’s cruise scrapbooks. For her, those were not good times.

Many years later, I was teaching marine carving at the WoodenBoat School in Maine. Teaching at WoodenBoat is not just an opportunity to learn. It’s an opportunity to grow as a person through the freindhips formed with the individuals you meet there. One year one of my students was a former Master Mariner who worked for the American Bureau of Shipping. We talked about ships one night, and I told him all that I knew of the Tyler and my father’s affection for the ship. I mentioned that I’d love to carve a portrait of the Tyler but could not find enough data to start the project. I thought no more about the conversation, and at the end of the course, said goodbye to my students and returned to Massachusetts.

About three weeks later, a large envelope arrived from the ABS (American Bureau of Shipping). In it was were copies of plans and articles relating to the class of vessel to which the Tyler had belonged; enough to start the portrait. My student had searched the ABS library for the documentation that I needed.

The Tyler was my first large portrait. I can now look at it and see a dozen things that I would and could do differently with twenty years of experience carving portraits. But when you finish a project it’s best to move on, or you’ll never finish.

It sails on my wall with a cherry ocean and sky heading east from Japan or China towards Los Angelos. I think my father is pleased that his ship is restored to an essential place in our lives, through the unexpected kindness of a fellow seaman.

Eagle Eyes

While teaching, I always like to decorate the workshop with carving examples for students to use as a reference. Week-long excursions to teach away from home mean emptying the house of many of my carvings. But samples in three dimensions often are better than pictures or demonstration, and the extra work was worth it.
During one summer course, A student was working on an eagle and suddenly stopped, got up, and went over to an eagle billet head. He picked it up and turned the head away from him. Noticing me watching, he shrugged his shoulders and said: “it was watching me.”
Smiling, I pointed out that he was perfecting the eagle’s body plan and feathers without working on the head, most notably the eye. He asked me why it mattered, and I told him that it was essential to fair the contours of the head and neck into the body, so the eagle looked all of one piece when finished. The head is temporarily attached to the body with a screw while you carve the neck fair to the body.
” But why was it watching me?”
Well, I explained, years ago, while I was first carving eagles, a talented carver from Boothbay Harbor advised me to always start the head before detailing and finish the eye first. There was a practical reason for this. The eye was a delicate piece of work, and if not done right could ruin the whole birdie. He then added that he had been taught to do the eye first so the eagle could oversee the carving’s remainder. ” As I was taught, so am I teaching you.” I then turned the eagle about so it’s beady eyes were on the student. ” Being that you haven’t done the eye first, this birdie’s cousin in watching you.” I can be a first-class pain sometimes.

I carved the eyes on that particular eagle with a “tunnel” eye effect. With that manner of carving, you could get the impression that the eye watches you and moves with you. To someone easily spooked, like my student, it could be an unpleasant sensation.
There are several ways to carve eagle eyes for traditional marine eagles. Please note that if you carve more realistic styles, these will not appeal to you. I’m a nineteenth-century carver stuck in the twenty-first century. Be all modern if you like. Another ships carver reminded me that most people do not get close eough to smell the eagle; all these things in full size are meant to be viewed from a distance. Here are some examples of eyes:

Twentyone

“The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The problem with imagination is that it’s boundless. On the wall is a poster telling you that you can do it if you can imagine it. Don’t take it too literally.

Aspirations aside, there are some things only possible with loads of tricks, like telling fortunes. My friend Bill had picked up some tricks of the psychic trade from working with a con artist we knew as John. Bill had a natural talent for reading people, and with the card and vocal tricks he had picked up from John, he was soon a favorite among the weekend influx of suburban kids that regularly hit the Folkie Palace. 

From fortune-telling with the kids to doing it at the Harvard Gardens for beer was a natural progression. “Imagine.” he told me- “I’m doing well while doing good.” At first, he restricted himself to doing readings for friends, but as he grew more confident, he branched out. Lovelorn young ladies came to be a specialty. One attractive woman decided that she wanted Bill’s services exclusively. He demurred politely. She grew insistent. He explained that he was married. She slapped him and walked out.

Not too much later in walked police Sargent Cappucci with the young woman behind him. We all stood up to give Bill the needed cover to run out past the men’s room and the back door into the alleyway. Knowing that Bill and I were best friends, I got collared. “Tell your little buddy that I ‘m looking for him. Playing with the affections of my niece is something I won’t tolerate.” He shoved me into the booth, and away they walked. Him fuming her crying softly. “His niece.” Said the Teahead of the August Moon. ” Sweet. Bill can always find some way to get us into trouble.”

For the next couple of weeks, we were not in good favor with the residents of Grove Street. It seemed that the entire street attracted more casual police attention than usual. Squad cars were cruising by. Officers were poking around. It curtailed summer parties and other activities. It became common knowledge that we were the cause of this attention. As a group, and as individuals, we got uninvited from everything happening in the neighborhood. People avoided sitting near us in the Harvard Gardens. 

Bill suffered from none of this. He had departed for Baltimore right after the trouble at the Gardens.

As is often the case, we don’t learn from our mistakes unless we suffer from their consequences. In this incident, only Bill’s friends have. So it came as no surprise that no one at the Folkie Palace was willing to contribute to paying the fine to get Bill out of jail in Baltimore.

He had been cutting into the action of the”legitimate” psychics in Downtown Baltimore, and they had tipped off the police. I hitched down, solicited as many of our friends as possible, and got him out.

He was a repentant, Bill. a Bill who promised never to tell a fortune again. Besides, while in the joint, he’d met this great guy who’d taught him how to count cards in Blackjack.

” Wes, have you ever been to Vegas?”

Lucky

Most people won’t publicly acknowledge their little “luck-enhancing” tokens or behaviors. But most of us have them.
You may scoff at those who tote a rabbit’s foot on their key chain or the sports figure with lucky socks. But the rubber of rabbit’s feet and the lucky sox wearer are honest about their attempts to manipulate fate on their behalf. They postulate that fortune can be influenced to favor them. They are opposed by those who regard these as blatant superstitions. I’ve noticed that some scoffers have fuzzy dice on their rearview mirrors, mutter small prayers or cross extremities.

After years of carving for mariners, sailing, time in the Navy, working on boats, and knowing merchant seamen, I’ve concluded that the average sailor is less interested in making luck than avoiding ill fortune. This explains the avoidance of bananas on board. Refusing to sail on a Friday, whistling, having preachers on board, belief in Jonahs, and other items sure to bring disaster. The postulate for the sailor is that the water is a flukey place to be at the best of times, and you shouldn’t make things worse. So instead of seeking good luck, you seek the avoidance of ill fortune.

It’s up to you which way you go. But believers in luck seem to be about material gain or winning, and avoiders in ill fortune are about survival in a hazardous environment. For me, it’s no Jonah’s, bananas, and certainly no whistling.

Pernicious rumors

There is a pernicious rumor that father makes these combs for my grooming. I want to address this in a direct and frank manner.

First, I am sure that the source of these slanders is none other than that mutt of questionable parentage, Max. Just because he lacks lustrous, silky fur like mine is no reason for him to slander his betters. Having short scratchy fur is OK if you are merely a dog.
Secondly, I do not need or ever use perfume. Cats are born into a state of perfection and need no amendment.
Finally, It’s time for my second breakfast. So bring it to me here on the dining room table father, the mother isn’t home yet, and she’ll never know. Chop-chop!

Stage Dressing

1961 – New York City-

Some people are masters of intimidation. There’s not much behind their bluff, but reasonable humans see the crackle of madness in the eye and don’t want to mess with the strange dude with the twelve-inch blade tucked into his boot.
Douglas was large, more than a bit flabby, but the madness stamped into his gaze made people think that he might just be mad enough to grab his snickersnee and stab you. But, of course, the knife was a convincing theatrical prop obtained from an uncle who was an actor. And the psycho-killer pose was a routine learned from the same uncle. But hey, as we all said, “fake it till you make it.”
Douglas was our secret weapon. Our phony wannabe street gang didn’t have much in armaments, tough guys, or reputation. But we had won some alleyway confrontations by putting our super weapon forward. So we all stood in a wedge behind Douglas and his routine and grew cocky.
That ended the night the Irish kids came up from Saint Nicholas Avenue. We took positions, and Douglas began to run through his routine. The Irish kids stood firm, and the group parted for their leader Sean. Sean casually pulled out a sizeable homemade single-shot .22 zip gun, Pointed it at Douglas, and fired. The bullet flew off somewhere in the dark, but the noise was loud in the alley and scared the shit out of our group.

Sean discarded the spent zip gun, and his boys were on us with chains, sharpened car antennas, and knives. Our group tried to scatter, but we were knocked flying as Douglas used his heft to be the first off the scene. I was in the rearguard with my two-by-four studded with three penny nails.

Our “gang” officially disbanded the next day, and we left the nasty stuff to neighborhood toughs more capable than we were. However, it did sting that the new gang recruited only Douglas from our group. Stripped of the knife and psycho routine, a big guy was useful if only as stage dressing. Which pretty much was all he had ever been.

Afterwards

How does death change your perspective?

Thankfully, I am still above ground, taking nutrition and making trouble. When asked about my take on the hereafter, I tell people that you need to go on a journey before you get there. No fancy limo pulls up to drive me there. Instead, my old backpack appears, my guitar is in its case, and I go off on a frolicking detour for epic proportions. My best friend and I visit every top-notch party of all the other travelers, visit fantastic locations, and enjoy the most piquant meals in the best restaurants. Along the way, we run into old friends and tell outrageous stories of all the outlaw things we’ve done. And, oh yeah, cry some tears for the wasted opportunities, lost loves, and tragedies. Good times without some regret couldn’t be really good times.
Eventually, we wind up where most old sailors wind up on the wide river, almost an ocean, at Fiddlers Green. The hostel at Fiddlers Green is part hotel, concert, and dance hall, plus being the embarkment point for the final voyage. It’s a continuous concert with string band music, dancing, and all-night-long conversation.
Now everyone is different, but there is a point when you are ready. It’s different for everyone, but at some point, you know that you are prepared to leave Fiddlers Green. Then you get aboard a fancy paddle wheeler for your final voyage and pass beyond knowing.
I have no clue what happens next. And I am satisfied.

I’m not interested in criticizing, denying, or denouncing someone else’s mode of transport to a final reward or another form of afterlife. But, being so little seems to be known about it, it just seems to make sense to fill in some of the blanks on our own.
Take the opportunity to fill in the blanks. I do have some caveats, however. First, if devils sticking you with pitchforks is your kink, keep them away from me. Also, I’ve never been one for floating on clouds singing hosanna either. Finally, I’m a guitar player, harps and lyres are not my thing, and I don’t do duets with angels of the noncorporeal sort.

Have fun. It’s your afterlife.

Clean!

I had a friend in Greenwich Village who employed an effective method for handling hecklers. He was a linguistics student at one of the city’s universities and had happened upon a formula that generated plausible but meaningless, four-letter words that followed the rules for such terms in Anglo-Saxon – you may have noticed that many of our juicier curse words derive from Anglo-Saxon?
So some drunk would start at two AM about something, and Todd would start a machine gun recitation of fake curse words and graphic gestures. The drunk, unable to make a discrimination between the real and the fake, would grow incensed as the audience began to howl with laughter.

This little stunt was so valuable that it became a regular part of his nightly performance, with me or some other friend filling in for a drunk. When he started appearing on a local radio folk music show, he wasn’t allowed to do the routine for fear that complaints of profanity would take the show off the air. As Todd began to perform at better-quality venues, they refused to allow the routine even though the words were a total fabrication.

At the time, we decided it proved how uptight and puritanical our society was about body issues, sex, and curses. But we were all sobered when in 1966, comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested for saying nine words deemed offensive.

Here we are in 2023, and I wonder what the reaction would be to Todd’s routine. The words, many with apparent sexual and excretory implications, even though fake, might continue to prove that smut is in the eye of the beholder rather than in words themselves.

Please note that I kept this entire diatribe clean! No twilight messing about in the gloaming for me!

Perfection

Perfection may be the enemy of practicality. Let me give you an example. For years I made a line of cherry and maple cutting boards with carved details – leaves and stems. They were popular show items, and I always kept a few in stock. If you do boat and craft shows, you always look for popular things to sell from your booth. But being mindful that these were cuttings boards and subject to heavy use, I kept the carving bold and not very detailed. You don’t want a bit of carved maple in your salad.

But there are people who think that something like a cutting board shaped like a pear or strawberry should genuinely represent a pear or strawberry. At first, I tried to explain that that much detail in a heavily used item was not great. After that, I stopped trying to explain the apparent to Captain Oblivious. I shrugged and accepted payment for the not-perfect but lovely cutting board.

Now, comments and suggestions from customers are frequently the impetus for new products or changes in the old. So I listen carefully to suggestions. The only ones I outright reject are requests for inappropriate perfection or those that are impossible to achieve for the price point at which the item has to sell. Sometimes notes about improvements sit waiting until I figure out how to do a technique. But perfect, I don’t do. Instead, I aim to achieve lovely, fantastic, attractive, and useful.

In terms of things, I carved for boats and made for people’s kitchens, perfectly practical and lovely was the goal.

Key- 71 words

It’s a favorite term at one professor’s lectures, ” the key point to take away…” or in a sales presentation or an article- “key to the success…” Always followed by paragraphs of complexities.

But a key is a simple thing like the keystone in an arch. Remove the keystone, and the arch collapses. Simple.
A key locks or unlocks. Not like the reams of paper that only confuse. That seems key.

Team Work

I am ambivalent about the partnership between our cat, Xenia, and our dog Max. It has gone from enemies to frenemies to partners in the past couple of weeks. Back in August, they could not even be on the same house floor, but just before Christmas, I came home one evening to find them lounging together on the second-floor landing and looking for an evening snack.
So this relationship has progressed from gladiators meeting on the arena‘s sands to something entirely different. Even my wife, usually much more the optimist than I, admitted it was a surprise.

Then the six in the morning, arias started up again with Xenia in my room singing about hunger, the agony of abandonment by beloved humans, more about the desire for breakfast, and just a bit of a threat regarding what might come next. OK, those we’ve had before. But it was the baritone growls and yowls of Max that surprised me. Damn! They were doing a duet.

I get up, stumble downstairs, make them breakfast, and they slink off to the living room to lie in front of the fire. Obviously, the cat is the dominant member of this partnership. She has years of experience manipulating humans, and she gets results. What more can you want?

More Combs

Why break a perfectly fine comb? Well, to see if it can take some punishment.

January being my month for prototyping and study, I eventually settled on combs as a project. If you view many Youtube videos about making a comb, it appears to be just a one-two-three proposition, and there you have it. But, unfortunately, what seems to be straightforward is not. as is often the case, things can become a little more complicated than they first appear. Yes, anyone can make a comb using the video as a guide. How practical, durable, and effective that comb will be may be an issue, though.

At a show, one year couple came to my booth, and while the wife was picking out spoons, the husband was flexing them to see how sturdy they were. Luckily none snapped, but I was alerted to a tendency of some people to absent-mindedly bend and twist woodenware. Since then, I’ve designed the shafts of spoons to be graceful but strong. With combs, I’ve adopted a similar practice and put a bit of effort into testing the structural abilities of some of the prototypes to bend. Can you still break it? Sure! But I’ll know that much more than average effort was required.

The key to the added strength is making the comb’s spine thicker. It turns out that this also aids in making it easier to grip and use the comb and improves the appearance. You get all this from the cracks and crunches of breaking an otherwise good comb.

Why does a wooden comb need a thicker spine? Because the strength of the comb teeth requires that the wood grain flows the length of the tooth; be perpendicular to the body. Too thin a spine, and the lovely piece of wood cracks.
I am still making prototypes. There is a bit more to test out, and time spent at this stage on structural concerns means fewer issues later in making the combs. My wife has agreed to test the product but insists that the drawings I’m working on of hairsticks for long hair get a priority on the work schedule. There is a certain amount of compersion, a joy in seeing my wife get pleasure from using the comb I made, that exceeds anything possible if the comb had merely been purchased.

Combs of wood, ivory, bone, and shell were probably the origin of good grooming. A good comb can shape, hold, or groom hair into shapes. Combs are found in archeological sites going back thousands of years, but most of us never give more than a casual thought to something essential to beauty.
Like a spoon, a comb is something essential; its utility is valued, but its aesthetics makes it a pleasure to use.

bad coffee

What do you complain about the most?

Griping about things is part of being a sailor. I discovered this from my father, a Merchant Marine engineer, and had it confirmed while in the Navy. Griping as an art form was re-affirmed to me while working in the marine trades as a carver and catch as can boatyard worker.
Griping is not necessarily pejorative of other people. We don’t just complain about the bosun, the carpenter, the skipper, or the boat owner. We complain about the food, weather, and workloads. But, of course, a cherished area of complaint is coffee. We can complain about coffee until the third pot of the day is downed, and the thought of another cup will make us bilious.

OK, I’ll say it – take any random sampling of castaway sailors on a desert island with nothing to eat but coconuts, and their biggest complaint will be the lack of coffee. When they get tired of griping about no coffee, they’ll move on to the lousy coffee they’ve had. After exhausting that, they’ll move on to bad chow, the rotten bunks they had to sleep in, the worst liberty ports they visited, and then the miseries of being at sea in heavy weather.
Regardless of political orientation, they’ll rage on all evening about this stuff until they are exhausted and sleep. Then, the lack of coffee will start the day rolling in the morning.

I hate to side with the officer class, having worked for a living myself, but the continual griping is why it’s crucial to keep sailors of any sort busy. Let them sit around and get bored, and the complaints start.
Maybe that is the reason for all the rotten coffee? Give the apes something to gripe about that’s safe.
Rats! I make my own coffee. It’s unfair that I can only complain to myself.

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