I entered my shop this morning to smell linseed oil, varnish, and wood shavings. I was transported to my friend’s boat shop in Newbury, the WoodenBoat School in Brookline, Maine, the shipyard I worked in one summer, and the shops of mentors and friends from over the past fifty years. A woodworker’s aromatherapy.

It’s hard to explain the languor that overcomes you as you share the unity of experience across the years and distances. It’s like you could step back twenty years or five hundred miles. One place and a single time stand-in for the others. The chips and shavings on the floor tell a story. Put them all together and have a negative shape echoing the garboard or eagle crafted from the plank.

There is a connection also, across the generations, to the mentors and masters who taught the trade to us. They sit on chairs near the woodstove during the winter, drinking coffee, smoking pipes, talking about the weather, and telling tales of launchings so long ago that the keel timbers are dust. Occasionally one will stand by our shoulder, whispering a suggestion.

I’ve been in the large industrial spaces some people call workshops, and I think they lack the sort of connectedness of the more familiar locations I am talking about. Instead, they perform a robbery of the spirit.

Maybe it’s the lack of patterns hanging from the joists, remnants of projects completed fifty years ago. The faint pencil marks tell a history of later revision as the project was modified for another client. Somewhere in the shop, you can find everything you’d ever need, every bolt, screw, or grade of sandpaper. All you have to do is find it.

So this morning, I entered my shop to smell linseed oil, varnish, and wood shavings. I was transported to my friend’s boat shop in Newbury, the WoodenBoat School in Brookline, Maine, the shipyard I worked in one summer, and the shops of mentors and friends from over the past fifty years. It’s nice to be rooted.

Catalog Shoot

Sartorial elegance has never been my thing. Frankly, it doesn’t go too well with cans of varnish, paints, and wood chips. 

If I put in an appearance at a friend’s boat shop dressed in the work threads from a fancy catalog, the sort that sells five hundred dollar work jackets, I’d be put to applying bottom paint. 

No, dapper at most working shops is worn jeans, a long-sleeve T-shirt, and a ratty sweater.

And some catalogs do sell very high-priced work togs. I get them at the house every couple of weeks. So someone thinks that a perception change in my appearance might help sales.

This morning I spent a bit of time looking at one of those catalogs; I was amazed to see that I was familiar with one of the shops where they shot part of the photospread. 

It looked almost as ratty as it did the last time I visited. Almost. 

They had moved a workbench or two out of the way. And some of the smears of paint looked like they had gotten Photoshopped. In catalog journalism terms, it was an advance in truth in advertising. They had selected shops that looked like people did work in them.

In a moment of reflection, I fantasized about having my shop selected. First, they moved half the junk out, and then they steam cleaned it. Now it looked less like a cavern and more like a shop.Then they decided that I wouldn’t do and dragged me outside. They Substituted a model dressed in fancy togs for me and shot the photos while I enjoyed coffee in the Craft Services tent. Afterward, I was given a nice severance check while my body double tried to figure out what a V-tool was.

I think I’ll drive down to the coast and bother my buddy for a while.

A Cat’s Work

A cat’s job in the shop is to supervise the careless human. Remind him when treats are due. Stay clear of the jagged edges of tools. And to display just the right amount of cheek to keep him in his place. Eventually, I’ll find some inconvenient ( for him) place to nap until mother calls me into the house for dinner.
A cat’s work is never done!

Prototype January

January is prototype month in my small carving shop. It’s the nadir of the shop’s cycle when I prototype ideas, designs and just play around.
This year, I’m spending time combining traditional carving skills with complimentary work accomplished on a laser cutter/engraver. Some things have worked very well and have generated further ideas for thought and practice, and some have been disasters. The photo shows some of the projects on the bench right now.
My greenhouse is the carving shop, and it receives lots of natural light that I enhance with LED lighting. The combination of the light and woodcarving projects helps abate seasonal winter blahs. The greenhouse is the wintertime home to plants needing a cooler climate than the house; I work with the scent of rosemary and other plants in the air. Small, yes, a bit messy, That too. But an environment encouraging creative processes when I would otherwise be at a standstill.

We all deserve the best creative environment we can get. Most often, we make compromises. Unless you’re in cabinetmaking, space may not be your critical need. Besides space, you need time to experiment. I strongly suggest finding a low point and filling it with creativity.

Pint XXV

I sealed Pint XXV shut last night, and that marked the close of another sapping season for the little sugarbush behind our house. Just a bit over three gallons of syrup, enough for family needs.
This morning the dog, cat, and I went out to survey the slow opening of spring in our tiny woodland garden. Hepatica, still not quite in bloom, trout lily slowly emerging from last fall’s leaves.
The opening of the maple buds and chorus of peepers marked the end of sapping, while the slow progress of the plants that we call spring ephemerals began the opening of the next phase of spring.

Xenia settles down for a day of supervising in the workshop

After the cat gets settled into her spot in my greenhouse workshop, and the dog wanders off to harass some early chipmunks, I settle down to woodcarving while listening to the radio.

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