Back in the Barn

Well, it’s been a long and interesting year-plus-a-bit, but now I am back to work here in the barn for what looks to be a pretty good stretch of somewhat interesting work.  To that end, I have spent some time recently working on a project that is admittedly an exercise in pure indulgence.  Its roots lie in both my wood scrap pile and my experiences last summer helping out over at the furniture school across town.

For those of us who feel compelled to make things, there is a big question we must answer, either sooner or later.  Does our satisfaction lie in the product or in the process.  I’m pretty sure that neither is more noble, nor that they are mutually exclusive; but I am equally sure that each of us identifies more with one than the other, and I am definitely more about the process.

Of course, I can set out to make a purposeful object, and I can enjoy making it and take pride in my product.  It is a lot like taking a planned trip.  There may be detours, and there will surely be interesting and even unexpected things to see and do along the way, but, in the end, you reach your goal and feel a sense of accomplishment.  I am currently getting ready to build a king sized bed frame from some cherry.  And I am looking forward to it.  But there are some very proscribed parameters.  The size, of course, but also the style, which must play nicely with a bunch of existing furniture.  I plan to get the stock and rough plane it in the next few weeks.  Then, after Julie and I return from our upcoming trip around the Baltic, I will get to work.

But back to my recent indulgence.  About a month ago I came out here to the barn determined to tackle my scrap pile.  I have a tough time throwing away even the smallest piece of wood, but the stack(s- let’s be honest) was (were) impinging on my work space and threatening to topple and spill.  I set a goal of turning at least two thirds of it into stove wood.  And I succeeded.  But among the reprieved were a seemingly disparate few that kept catching my eye: a busy looking piece of 6/4 maple, about 8 inches wide and maybe seven feet long, with an interesting “live edge” feature along one side; an very resinous pine board that I saved out of an old (early 19th century, I believe) wardrobe that had outlived any usefulness; and some cedar scraps, left over from a series of canoes I built a few years ago.  I set them aside and finished my shop chores.

A few days later I started messing with this odd collection.  I jointed and planed and squared things up.  Next, I cut a strip (the live edge part) off the maple, then sectioned and resawed the remainder, resulting in four pairs of half inch by six inch boards.  Then I made a drawer out of some of the cedar and a piece of the pine.  Lastly, I dug out a set of hinges that had been kicking around on my bench for a couple of years.


The best part about my time at CFC last summer was to get to work alongside Adrian Ferrazutti.  Adrian is smart and talented and has a good sense of balance in his approach to making things.  He knows how to be serious enough about the work, without being too serious about the work (or himself.)  He is also curious and likes to try things, not worried about “success” so much as seeing what will happen.  I found his true open-mindedness to be refreshing, especially in a setting that can sometimes be fraught with, well, let’s just say fraught with the opposite of all of that.

Anyway, Adrian was fortunate to have studied out at College of the Redwoods back when Jim Krenov was not only still alive, but still making cabinets.  Hearing Adrian talk a bit about that experience got me interested.  I had heard of Krenov before, but didn’t really know too much about him.  I got a hold of one of his books, A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook, and found it kind of interesting.  I especially liked his idea of “composing” his work and letting the wood find its own way to a certain extent.

It was in this spirit that I took those maple boards and “composed” a carcase for the drawer I had built.carcase

In keeping with the simple feel of the project, I decided to use only butcher wax on the maple, and beeswax in mineral oil on the softwoods.  I got the facings figured out, did a bit of edge shaping,  and, a few days later, hung the door and installed some stops made from a little piece of walnut that had survived the recent purge.  My friend George the Potter stopped by and I showed it to him.  He admired the use of the wood, complimented my craftsmanship, and then asked me what it was for,  what was I going to put in it?  He immediately got embarrassed and apologized for asking just that question he so resented when directed at his own work.  I laughed and enjoyed his discomfort, but it got me thinking.duck_box

So I made this box out of some more of the pine; it fits inside the drawer.  And I carved this duck, and another, out of some more of the cedar; they fit inside the box.  I cut up some brass brads that were left over from my porch screens.  The heads made good eyes, and the shanks worked to attach the heads to the bodies.

And so I present: a small cabinet with a drawer, a box, and two ducks; a composition in  maple, pine, cedar, walnut, brass, butcher wax, and beeswax in mineral oil.  Making this was, as I have said, a pure indulgence.  Hopefully, I will get to do more things like this between my more product-based projects.

12 April- Back in the Barn

Back in the barn and back to work after a nice trip to Central Europe.  I posted some pictures on Instagram @whitewoodcraft if you are interested.  Please check them out (and follow me) there.

Now I need to work on getting Preamble and the dinghy ready for the summer.  And I have a few furnishings to build, including a shelf/tray for a galley icebox (out of cherry) and a big lazy susan (from some of that old pine I reclaimed.)

Also, please keep in mind (and share with any interested persons) that I have a couple of 17 guide canoes ready for spring delivery.  And, as always, a selection of solid ash paddles, both beavertail and Algonquin, in a variety of lengths.

I will update here soon, with some pictures of both work in progress and available items.

Almost April

Spring, of course, is an elusive concept here on the Mid-Coast.  It started this year with a few inches of snow, then some rain, and of course there is always the mud.

The dogs have been spending quite a bit of time by the stove lately- they like warmth and don’t really mind cold, but chilly and damp they can do without.  I haven’t been too productive of late, though I did fashion a crooked knife from an old straight razor, a few scraps of cherry and a couple copper boat nails.  A crooked knife is a traditional (among northern tribal people) one-handed (with out clamps, one hand holds the work) drawknife.  I plan to add it to my paddle shaping tool kit.  I’m thinking it will allow some cuts not possible with a two-handed drawknife or a spokeshave.

Most of my time has been spent renovating the upstairs here in the barn, putting a wall and door between the “office” (read- place where I keep hunting and fishing gear, as well as a few books and a drawing board) and the finishing area (now finishing room.)  I am hoping this will make it easier to control dust, resulting in even better paint and varnish finishes on my boats.

Tomorrow, Julie and I are heading to Prague for a few days, followed by a trip down the Danube from just inside the border of southeast Germany to Budapest.  It is our present to ourselves to celebrate twenty-five years of marriage.  I will try and put pictures on both Otis’s facebook page and@whitewoodcraft instagram.

Hopefully spring will be firmly established when we return.  Then it will be time to get Preamble ready for the coming season.  I also have a few “furnishings” to make, as well as an end table and a coffee table, in cherry, to partner with last fall’s bookcase/bench combo.

15 March- In the Barn

Spring Paddle Special!


Paddles are made to order in your choice of length and style.  All paddles are solid ash, hand shaped and sanded to 400 grit, and finished with multiple coats of linseed oil.

Normally $150.00- All paddles, Beavertail or Algonquin, are now $125.00 each, two for $225.00 (+Maine state sales tax 5.5% and any shipping.)  Price good on paddles ordered before April 30, 2016.

2 March 2016 – Barn Update

It’s been a while since I made an update from the barn, but today seems to be the perfect time.  It’s rainy and warmish here in Rockport today.  A front is pushing through, and,  if the forecast is to be trusted, we have a few sort of cold days on tap and then spring will begin in earnest.  The jet stream is supposed to move quite a ways north and more temperate patterns should begin to roll through.

Current projects include a tiller for my friend George.  He bought a nice Tanzer 27 from the YMCA Auction last summer and has done a great job refitting it for summer use on the bay with his wife and daughter.  It’s nice to make something for a friend, knowing he will both use it and appreciate the craftsmanship.  Hopefully we will get a chance to raft Preamble up with them at some point this summer.

I just finished a small shelf unit made from some beautiful reclaimed pine.   It is available for purchase (see previous blog entry.)  I have a bit more of that wood (it came from an old, nineteenth century wardrobe) and I would entertain using it to make something on commission from it.  Email if you have an idea.

Also available are two cedar and canvas canoes (Goose River Guide models) and an assortment of small items (which you can see in the on-line store section of the site.)  As always, solid ash paddles, either beavertail or Algonquin style, can be ordered to length and I will get them out within a few weeks.

One of my goals this spring is to figure out how to market my things.  In the meantime, please help me out by sharing my posts here on this site, as well as on Facebook and Instagram.

Lastly, I am trying my hand at making ash longbows, just for my personal use right now.  I will keep you posted as to how they turn out, and if it goes well I may offer them for sale.

On other fronts, Julie and I are headed to Prague at the end of the month, follewed by a cruise down the Danube to Budapest.  We have never been to central Europe before and are very excited for the trip.  It is our present to ourselves to celebrate  twenty-five years of marriage.

When we get back, it will be time to get Preamble ready for her nineteenth summer. Then comes yard work and garden planting.

Shelf from Reclaimed Pine Boards

I was sorting through a bunch of stuff in my dad’s shop last month and I came across a pile of old pine boards that we had salvaged from a nineteenth century wardrobe.  They are beautiful boards, with a very special character and hue.  I just have to make some useful things and get them back out into the world.  The first of these is a simple hanging shelf with a single wide drawer.  It is a one off piece, featuring hand cut dovetail and mortise and tenon joinery.  The finish is hand rubbed linseed oil and butchers wax.  This is a well constructed, all new piece made from beautiful old wood.  It is fashioned with a French cleat for solid, sturdy mounting.  Approximate dimensions: 26 1/4″ wide, 24 1/2″ tall, 7 1/4″ deep.  This shelf is available for $425 plus Maine state sales tax (5.5%) and any shipping costs.

I have enough of this wood left to make a few more pieces of this size range, or perhaps one coffee table, and will entertain your commission.

5 January

Happy New Year.  It suddenly became winter here in Maine, with some snow last week and temperatures close to zero this morning.  I have a bunch of different things going on in the barn right now, so I’ll get right to them.

First, I finished the cherry bookcase/bench.  It is in its new home, looking great and being functional.  The base is about five feet wide, sixteen inches deep and around eighteen inches high.  The shelves are four feet wide, eleven inches deep and stand five feet above the base.  The finish is hand rubbed, natural Danish oil.


I also just finishing making a pair of cherry cremation ash caskets.  The tops are floating panels, the finish is oil and wax.


Now I am busy getting the blue canoe ready for Maine Wood 2016, which opens Friday January 22nd at the Messler Gallery in Rockport, Maine.  white1

I am also gearing up to build toboggans with the eighth graders at the three HAL (Hope, Appleton and Lincolnville) schools later this month.  They will race them at the National Toboggan Championships in Camden next month, and then either raffle or auction them off as class fund-raisers.  I will post some pics later.

And, at the farm next door, Aaron and I are rebuilding the greenhouse.  It is our winter project for this year.  Last year we built an 8’x8’x8′ walk-in cooler that worked out great.

31 December-Ribs

My sister Melinda has asked me for “detailed instructions” on how I smoke ribs.  While I am the sort of cook who rarely does exactly the same thing twice, there are a few core details that I have found work for me.  I’ll try and get them down here in a manner that is hopefully useful.  I’m sure there are many other ways, methods and means that are just as good or even better…

Sometimes I smoke baby-back ribs, sometimes I smoke the bigger pork ribs.  I’ve never smoked any beef ribs.  If I have my act together, I ask my butcher to get me some nice, locally raised meat.  It is more expensive,  tends to be not leaner, but fatted in a different way, and has some very nice, subtle nuances, flavor wise.  The racks are also are trimmed and have the inner membrane removed, and are pretty much ready to go as soon as I get them home.

But I am just as likely to get the factory farmed, plastic wrapped, fluid packed grocery store ribs (Hormel or similar)  and they come out just fine after you do a bit of work on them.  First, open them up in the sink and rinse all of that nasty fluid away with plenty of clean cold water.  Then pat them dry with paper towels.  Usually, they need a trim to get rid of any big chunks of fat and any raggedy edges.  (I save that stuff for a dinner treat for the dogs.)  Most importantly, you need to remove the membrane on the under side of the rib rack.  It is a thin, translucent layer of tissue that blocks smoke penetration.  It is slippery, and takes a bit of effort to remove, but it is worth doing. Lastly, cut up the racks, as little as necessary, to fit inside your smoker.

I don’t really measure, and I am always using different things in my rub, but typically I start with a good amount of cumin.  It is my base flavor.  Other things I often add in are turmeric, coriander, white pepper, garlic and onion (either finely minced fresh or powder,) maybe cayenne pepper or paprika, or a bit of dry mustard.  Then add as much brown sugar as all of the other ingredients.  Mix it well.  You want enough total to rub all the ribs on all sides and have a good handful left over for your mop sauce.

Apply the rub to all surfaces of the ribs.  Don’t just sprinkle it on, rub it in.  Put the ribs on a platter, stack them right up on top of each other and cover them with plastic. Stick them in the fridge over night.

You want to get started fairly early the next day.  First, take the ribs out of the fridge, uncover and unstack them, and let them dry a bit.  The rub (which will be all wet from meat juices it has drawn out) needs to get sticky and the ribs need to warm up from the fridge temperature towards room temperature.  Also, take your left over rub and dilute it in either cider vinegar or malt vinegar to make your mop sauce.

Prepare your smoker.  Get the charcoal going, soak your wood chips in water.  You also need to have a deflector between the ribs and the fire, if you don’t have a side box smoker; otherwise, the radiant heat from the fire will be too much and ruin the bottom of the ribs, cause them to dry out, etc.  a metal pie pan, on a rack between the fire and the smoking rack will do.  When your fire is ready, damp it down to maintain around 225 F in the smoker, add the wet chips (you will get a drop in temperature initially, that’s ok, even good.  The longer it takes to get back up to 225 or so, the better.)  Place the ribs on the smoker rack, inside down and not too crowded.  Close it up and make sure it doesn’t get too hot.  A nice, wet smoke should fill the smoker at first, as you keep smoking it will dry up a bit.  Brush the ribs with the mop sauce every fifteen or twenty minutes or so. After about an hour and three quarters or two hours, the ribs should be developing a nice bark.  Remember, don’t let the temperature climb.  At this point, the meat will have absorbed all of the smoke it can, so now keeping the ribs from drying out is the focus.  Take them out of the smoker and wrap them well in aluminum foil.  Put them back in the smoker (or in your oven) at 250 F for another few hours.Then take them out, keeping them in foil, and let them rest for a while.  When you are ready to eat, cut the ribs into two or three bone sections, paint with bbq sauce (my recipe is below, but store sauce is fine, too,) and put them on a hot grill to glaze the sauce and make them tasty.

BBQ sauce recipe

chop up an onion and a few cloves of garlic and saute them in a sauce pan til soft. add around a half cup of cider or malt vinegar, almost as much worcestershire sauce, some yellow mustard and a bunch of the things you put into your rub.  simmer for a bit.  If you want a red bbq sauce, mix in a bit of ketchup.

Happy New Year and Enjoy!