Nobody ever interviews me so sometimes I interview myself. Plus even if someone did interview me, they would never know the right questions.
I love that show called “Best Thing I Ever Ate”. What’s the best thing you ever ate?
My Mother-in-Law’s chocolate pie. She could make the fool out of a chocolate pie.
What is it you like about woodworking?
I like carrying around that fantasy of making anything I want out of a piece of wood. Like some young fellow came to the shop one time and looked around and asked “So, you just get a tree out of the woods and make something!?” Well, yeah.
What specifically do you like best?
I like that finishing touch on a piece. I like taking my little Lie-Nielsen block plane signed by the man himself with an engraving pen the day I bought it, and breaking a sharp edge on a completed piece. If, a hundred years from now, someone turns the piece over and finds my name or initials on the bottom of it, and then touches that rounded edge and realizes that the guy who signed it took the time to round the edges with a hand plane, then my life will be complete, even if I am dead and gone.
What do you not ever eat?
What part of woodworking do you not like?
I don’t think anybody likes sanding. I certainly do not. Nothing even remotely fun about sanding. That and cleaning the shop. I despise cleaning the shop.
Cherry. I love the way cherry looks two hundred years old within two hours after you put finish on it. I love the way it oxidizes from light. I stacked some pieces of a chest on top of one another one time and left them for a few weeks until I got back to the project and you could see the shadow of every piece on the one beneath it. I think it is lovely.
Least favorite material?
Particle board and plywood are tied for first place. None of either in my shop. I bought some plywood imported from eastern Europe one time – I guess it was real cheap. It smelled like a wet dog when I cut it, even though it was perfectly dry. I threw it away, recycled it back to the earth. Reminds me of trying to turn a bowl out of locust wood near the beginning of my turning career. That stuff smelled so bad, I took it back to the place I got it and returned to sender, so to speak. Life is too short for stinky wood.
Most remembered lessons from woodworking?
Two things, incidentally from the same guy, Mike Dunbar. Many years ago, Mike came to Highland to teach a class on Windsor chair making. Now understand, I am an Engineer and a Land Surveyor. I measure things and make engineering drawings to solve problems, and if you build things from my plans as I drew them, it will fit together and work as it should. Inevitably, those lessons transferred to woodworking, so it was a total revelation to me when Mike made a piece of his chair and instead of going to the plans, simply made the next piece to match the first. Totally opposite to my work philosophy, it changed my woodworking.
The other lesson from Mike was twofold. I went to his classroom in New Hampshire to make a chair and the first day he showed us two things. First, he clamped a board in the bench, took a wooden hand plane and flattened the board – the first time I ever heard a properly sharpened hand plane make that wonderful snick snick noise. No earplugs, no dust collector, no electric planer, no setup, no dust, just wonderful long curls of hard maple drifting to the floor. Second, he drilled a hole in the flattened board and used a reamer to taper the hole. He drove a tapered pin into the hole and picked up the end of the whole workbench by lifting on the pin. No glue, no nails, no fasteners, nothing but friction on the pin. Amazing.
And all that changed things how?
Life works well for me when I do the chair thing like Dunbar. I start from where I am, accept what I have, and then go to the next piece. Like the GPS in my car when I make a wrong turn, I recalculate and go from there. And I don’t have to invent everything. Someone has probably had the same problem before and found a solution — all I need to do is find it. Not bad ways to operate, I’d say, based on making a chair.
Anything you want to add?
You can’t make a cobbler out of strawberries. It’s just wrong.