E-prophylaxis

Nancy riding baled wire March 2 2016 by Bradley Cox

You’re as likely to get joy from emails like these as you are to get from Indiana to New York on a bale of old fence wire. Photo by Bradley Cox, Giant Eye Photography.

Subject line: Undangan penawaran pelatihan

Message contains attachment.

Seriously?

***

Dear Talented,

I am Talent Scout For BLUE SKY FILM STUDIO, Present Blue sky Studio a Film Corporation Located in the United State, is Soliciting for the Right to use Your Photo/Face and Personality as One of the Semi -Major Role/ Character in our Upcoming ANIMATED Stereoscope 3D Movie-The Story of Anubis (Anubis 2018) The Movie is Currently Filming (In Production) Please Note That There Will Be No Auditions, Traveling or Any Special / Professional Acting Skills, Since the Production of This Movie Will Be Done with our State of Art Computer -Generating Imagery Equipment. We Are Prepared to Pay the Total Sum of $620,000.00 USD. For More Information/Understanding, Please Write us on the E-Mail Below.
CONTAT EMAIL: bluesskistud@163.com
All Reply to: bluesskistud@163.com
Note: Only the Response send to this mail will be Given a Prior Consideration.

Talent Scout
Kim Sharma

$620,000!

***

Hi,

I hope you’re having a nice day.

We are interested in sending over a quality and relevant article to your site nrhillerdesign.com as a contribution. We have a team of writers ready to prepare a post that adds value to your site and its readers.

Is this something you might consider? If yes, I can email over the article asap. Rest assured that it will be subject to your review. Please note that we’ll also add references to our client.

Aside from the article, we will also pay an administrative fee worth $100 through PayPal.

Please email me back if this is something that might interest you.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Julia xxxxxx
Outreach Executive

Translation: We will pay you to publicize our service/product using your good name. We know better than to state this outright, which would be a violation of journalistic ethics; hence our reference to an “administration fee.” Nor do we actually want to advertise, because that would be too obvious (and probably ineffective).

If your credibility is only worth the $200 to $300 you’re likely to receive before subscribers stop following you because they realize you’ve sold out, go for it.–Nancy Hiller, Author of Making Things Work

Don’t be a Fallacy

Lost Art Press

IMG_1930[1]Editor’s note: We still have a few spots open for an evening with Nancy Hiller at 7 p.m. Aug. 12 in our Covington, Ky., storefront. Nancy will read from her book, there will be beverages for everyone and then we’ll play some games. Read more here. Or skip that and get your tickets here.

Twenty years ago, I had to replace my refrigerator. Being a person who breaks into a cold sweat at the thought of facing the wires, tubes and electrical panels that make up the contemporary fridge, I bought a new one, the lowest-end, no-frills model from Sears, which came with a warranty, instead of gambling on a used appliance. Delivery added so little to the price that I signed up for it.

Two young men arrived with the refrigerator, which they carried up the steps to the side door just off the kitchen. I know a fridge can be a…

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Things That Are Not*

*as Chris Schwarz would say

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Smart toilets that flush when you merely line the seat, prior to sitting down. (Maybe it’s just me, but I thought they were smart because they saved water, not wasted it.)

Smart faucets that won’t turn on, no matter how creatively you wave your hands under, over, and around them. On the other hand, if conserving water makes them smart, I guess this design could be called successful.

“Crafted with care” when the product in question, such as the bag of chips above (which I bought for the label’s irony) is manufactured in a huge, automated factory by a global corporation.

Smart toilets that flush when you leave the stall — i.e., after the toilet has already flushed (successfully).

Smart faucets that get stuck in ON mode.

Dad's dog food

“Local family farms” in the case of the dog food pictured above. Everything is local to someone; this use of the word by a manufacturer that markets its wares nationwide makes it meaningless. And when words lose their meaning, we’re in trouble.

Call me anything but boss

William reading the comics

William reading the comics, 1998

When my former husband and I moved to southern Indiana in 1988, we became friends with a carpenter named Joe who possessed an endearing confidence that everything he thought and said was right. He and his wife were literal about the biblical injunction to go forth and multiply. By the time we met, they were well on their way to having a chief for each of their own twelve tribes. My husband and I, on the other hand, had decided not to reproduce, convinced that our species was already consuming such a disproportionate percentage of the earth’s resources that we had a moral duty not to make things worse.

One day Joe brought up the subject of our not having kids. “People who don’t have children are just selfish,” he began. “Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that you two are bad people. But you think only of yourselves: your work, what you’re going to cook for dinner, where you’d like to go on vacation. Now, none of this stuff is unimportant! But when you have children, you’re forced to think about others. Instead of keeping everything for yourself, you’re forced to share. It makes you a better person.”

Those of us who have a business but no employees occasionally find ourselves faced with a similar kind of judgment. Some people see the mere fact of having a business as evidence that you’re privy to a certain largesse that should be shared. If you don’t have employees, well, shame on you for keeping all that wealth for yourself. You ought to be a job creator, give something back.

You can find out where this opening leads in “Don’t Call Me Boss,” one of the stories in Making Things Work

Christopher Vickers, Craftsman-Designer of Furniture and Lighting

English A&C Furniture_Vickers_CFA Voysey Kelmscott Cabinet - Copy

Vickers’ reproduction of C.F.A. Voysey’s Kelmscott “Chaucer” cabinet, built to commission

Do you really need that 2400-square foot workshop?

I’ve lost track of how many retired friends of friends are currently building themselves shops. Most of these people moved to a rural location so they’d have the space to build. Once you’ve taken the plunge, it seems, the old English saying applies: “In for a penny, in for a Pound.” I mean, why have a shop that will hold a Mini Cooper when you can have one large enough to house a fleet of RVs? Who can’t use the extra space?

As someone who never seems to have enough room to store lumber and salvaged hardware for bona fide jobs, never mind the recycled plant pots, bags of ice-melting salt, antique chamber pots, old dog beds (which, perversely, became “insufferable” [to the dog] after being washed), and surplus hickory floorboards that “just might come in handy, and besides, the wood is so beautiful” (even though the boards in question have been lying there, undisturbed, for a dozen years), I feel your pain. And I am here to share a sobering example of a consummate craftsman who has made a name for himself internationally with a workshop smaller than one of those structures we Americans know today as a “tiny home.”

***

Christopher Vickers was born in Bexleyheath, south-east London, in 1961. His father, a cinema sales rep, had a keen interest in all things DIY but was especially taken with marquetry. That love of fine woodworking spread to Chris, who, at the age of 16, decided he wanted to be a furniture maker. No apprenticeship was forthcoming, however, so he served a seven-year apprenticeship as a joiner at Clark and Son in Islington.

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Chris and Jenny Vickers in the conservatory at the back of their house.

It was an excellent foundation in woodcraft: He made windows, doors, and staircases according to traditional methods. Still, he longed for finer work. When a friend suggested he apply to the London College of Furniture, he did. Most applicants to the program had taken A-Level exams (roughly equivalent to graduating from a high school in the United States), the usual prerequisite for university admission. But Chris’s significant woodworking experience, combined with his passionate desire to refine his skills, won him admission.

During that two-year furniture training Chris and his classmates visited the Cheltenham Museum (now called The Wilson) in Gloucestershire to see some of Alan Peters’ work. The museum also had extensive holdings of work by many other luminaries of the Arts and Crafts Movement, among them Ashbee, Gimson, Voysey, and the Barnsleys. “When I saw all the exposed joinery of the Cotswolds School, the penny dropped,” he remembers. He knew the direction in which he wanted to take his own work.

Vickers blog

Vickers made this hayrake table based on an original design by Ernest Gimson published in a book by Mary Greensted about Gimson’s life and work.

After college he spent two years working part-time for a specialist silverware canteen maker, F. Mottram, in London, making pieces for Asprey’s and other top silversmiths. He then set out on his own, producing jewelry, sewing, and writing boxes made from English hardwoods.

In October 1987 Chris and his wife, Jenny, moved to the small town of Frome in Somerset, primarily because it was affordable. They bought a Victorian red brick row house on a narrow lot typical of that architectural form, and Chris set up a woodworking shop measuring 18’ by 8’ (yes, that’s under 150 square feet), which he nicknamed “the bunker,” in the backyard.

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Vickers in his workshop with one of his canteens

The ceiling height tapers from 8’ at the high end down to 6’. Chris is 6’ 2-1/2” tall.

With a workbench, hand tools, and basic set of small machines, he turned out beautifully crafted boxes that he sold at craft fairs, supporting himself and Jenny on that income. Small boxes were made with keyed miters, larger ones with handcut dovetails. His interest in specialty hardware for the boxes eventually led him to begin fabricating his own hinges, straps, and latches. He started making furniture for their home, along with small pieces such as side tables and chairs to sell.

His big break came in 1998. The owner of the Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa, wanted to create a room decorated in authentic William Morris style. On a trip to England she visited the Cheltenham Museum, where she met Arts and Crafts expert and curator Mary Greensted. Mary suggested she contact Chris. What began with an invitation to lunch at their home turned into two years of steady work.

“We had never flown before,” Chris remembers, “and the client flew us over business class, which was an adventure in itself.” Chris and Jenny were in Iowa for about two weeks, “wined and dined and shown around.” When the furniture was finished, it was shipped to its destination. “All done with just a handshake!” he adds. The hotel’s website has a section on the Morris Room with photos of Chris’s work.

After the hotel commission Chris was confident of his ability to make larger pieces in his tiny workshop. “The rule of thumb thereafter was, once I had worked out the size of the piece, would it go up the hall [of our house] and out the front door? Assuming the answer was yes, then I just needed to work out how to assemble and finish the main parts in our living room.”

Did you get that? He made the parts in his workshop, then assembled the pieces in their living room.

This concern with size should help explain why he now specializes in lighting, which was originally an offshoot of his work producing his own hardware. In 2014 he added a second workshop to the backyard (this one 12’ long by 6’ wide with slightly higher headroom than “the bunker”), where he crafts replicas of original fixtures designed by W.A.S. Benson, C.F.A. Voysey, and the Birmingham Guild of Handicrafts.

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Exterior shot of “the bunker,” left, with the new purpose-built workshop at right. As is typical of terraced housing (known as row housing in the United States), this is a narrow lot, which makes photography of side views such as this on a challenge.

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The Vickers household is filled with furniture and lighting made by Chris over the years, such as this droolworthy ceiling fixture.

You can see more of Chris’s work and read more about him at Inspired Illuminations

The Story Behind the Cover

popular-woodworking-cover-e1498335691494for blog

When Megan Fitzpatrick at Popular Woodworking Magazine asked me to write a project article about an Arts and Crafts style bookcase three years ago, I had something Stickley-ish in mind. I pictured something long and low in amber maple, designed to fit behind an antique settle in the home of some clients in Chicago. There was just one catch: My clients hadn’t yet found the right settle. There was no telling how long or tall the settle would be until they had it in hand, which meant the bookcase had to wait.

After a few months, I decided to forget about trying to combine the article with a commission and just build a bookcase. My husband and I are hardcore bibliophiles; we can never have too much storage for books. But we decided that this bookcase, which would be the loveliest one I’d made to date, should have a special purpose: to commemorate our son, Jonas, who died shortly before his 16th birthday. We would call it the Jonas Longacre Memorial Bookcase.

Some people can’t bear to mention those they’ve lost, but Mark and I love to talk about Jonas. He was a self-motivated learner who excelled at school. He was always game to do his part around the house. He wanted to learn Latin and started a Latin club at his school (even though he was the only member). In fact, he was fascinated by languages of all kinds, including computer code; after his death, we found a blog post written that morning in which he proudly announced to the world that after several months of effort, he had just finished creating an online translation tool. Of course he could have used a similar tool made by someone else, but he found it more exciting to figure out how things work. Books were some of his favorite things.

Jonas with carving for blog

Jonas at 13 or 14 with a piece of limestone on which he carved a description of students at his school, using an old railroad spike

Tragically, it was just this curiosity that caused his death. I came home after work on the night of January 2, 2014 to find him lifeless. Amid the cognitive dissonance, I happened to notice that even though he had a rope around his neck, suggesting he had hung himself (which made no sense, considering how eagerly he was looking forward to the family reunion that weekend and the new semester at school), his feet were on the ground. He had also padded the rope with a t-shirt. Neither seemed consistent with intentional hanging, but I wasn’t analyzing these details as I stared, disbelieving, at his body while I waited for an ambulance to arrive. Thanks to the insight of a friend and conscientious work by the detective who came out to our house that night, we learned that Jonas had died while experimenting with the choking game.

Since that day I’ve learned a lot about the choking game, especially from Judy Rogg, who lost her own son the same way, and Trish Russell, an MD who also lost her son to this practice. Although boys are statistically more likely to die while playing this game, girls do too. Many fit a similar profile: They’re excellent students, curious about how things work, athletic, creative, and they tend not to be interested in alcohol or drugs. Hence one nickname for the practice: “the good kid’s high.”

Along with Judy, Trish, and others, I now make a point of spreading the word about this dangerous activity. Hence this post. If you have children or know others who do, please inform yourself and others.

Here’s an instructive editorial by the editor of Bloom Magazine, who knew Jonas.

Mark and Jonas at the beach - Copy

Jonas with his father, Mark, on the Delaware coast at Thanksgiving, 2013

 

Cathryn Peters: Weaver of seats and baskets

Voysey chair seat by Ruef Design

Bulrush seat for a Voysey two heart chair, woven by Cathryn Peters. Photo by James Davis, Ruef Design (www.ruef.com)

When most people stop at a fast food restaurant, they run in and out without so much as a glance at the surrounding landscape – and that’s if they get out of their car at all; a high percentage place their order in the drive-through and sit there idling until they’re at the head of the line.

Cathryn Peters is different, at least when she visits her local McDonald’s in Cook, Minnesota. Peters doesn’t go there for the burgers. Her treat’s in a marshy spot behind the parking lot: bulrush.

Peters has been weaving seats since the 1970s, when her son was an infant. Thinking that she should have something constructive to do besides caring for the baby, her mother-in-law brought over a seat frame she wanted to have woven, along with rush weaving instructions from a magazine article and a pack of paper fibre rush. (The British spelling is used in the United States to differentiate the artificial paper material from the natural cattails and bulrush).

“My mother-in-law talked me into learning how to weave this seat using the instructions in the magazine article,” Peters says. The payment for the job was a walnut drop-leaf table from her mother-in-law’s home. “I got the better end of that deal for sure,” says Peters, looking back. “The chair seat I did looked horrible! It had a big hole in the center, there were overlapping strands and the gauge of paper rush was too small for the chair frame.”

 

In the 40 plus years since then, Peters has woven thousands of seats – some for new chairs, some for chairs undergoing repair, and some she bought for resale. She also weaves traditional baskets in a variety of materials and her signature antler baskets.

Although she has taken a few workshops in basketmaking, Peters is primarily self-taught at weaving seats. In the early years, pre-internet, she was able to get some direction from pamphlets provided by material suppliers. But most of her learning came from trial and error or from taking apart seats that were going to be rewoven to figure out the patterns.

In the mid-1980s The Caner’s Handbook by Bruce Miller and Jim Widess, The Craft of Chair Seat Weaving by George Sterns, and a few other books were published – an immense help to seat weavers across the country. Resources in print and online, many of them written by Peters herself, have proliferated since then.

Peters-weaving-bulrush-seat-demo

Peters demonstrating her craft

A high point of Peters’s career came in 2006, when she was awarded a fellowship to study in England with basket maker and seat weaver Olivia Elton Barratt. Barratt was the President of the Basketmakers’ Association (BA) and was also installed that October as Prime Warden of Basketmakers in the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers, a guild in existence since 1569.

During her ten-day fellowship and stay with Barratt, they traveled across the country meeting members of the Basketmakers’ and Seatweavers’ Association, of which Peters has been a member since the early 1990s. Barratt also taught Peters how to weave a bulrush boater’s hat at her home studio. They drove to see the harvesting of bulrush from the River Ouse with Felicity Irons, watch the weaving process of making willow coffins and hot-air balloon gondolas at Somerset Willows, visit the Coats basketry museum, and to the Musgrove Willows farm to learn how cultured willow is grown and how buff willow and white willow are processed.

Peters weaves seats using a variety of natural and commercially prepared materials; natural bulrush, cattails, paper fibre, cane webbing, strand cane, Danish cord, rawhide, oak, ash and hickory bark splints.

Natural hand-twisted rush seats are woven with the round stalk, stems or strands of the bulrush plant, and cattails with the flat leaves. Both plants are just right for harvest between late August and September, when they have reached maximum height and the ends of the cattail leaves have turned brown. Peters harvests the natural bulrush and cattails from her rural northern Minnesota farm and the surrounding area.

bulrush-cattails-parking-lot

With so many years of experience, Peters can weave a seat in far less time than it would take a beginner. The 15” seat for the hand-twisted bulrush Voysey chair would typically take her from six to eight hours to complete. After a couple of years, the fresh green and gold tones of the natural rush will fade to a nice, warm honey color.

If you’re interested in learning how to weave hole-to-hole cane and over-the-rail cane seats, Peters will be teaching a class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking on the weekend of Sept. 16 and 17, 2017.

The Wicker Woman®

www.wickerwoman.com

bulrush-hat-Peters

Bulrush hat

Live and Learn

Some people have the vague notion that when you’ve been a woodworker for decades, you know how to do everything. If only. No one knows how to do everything. Experience in a variety of techniques may be transferable to new forms, but just because a technique will work does not mean it’s especially good in structural or aesthetic terms, let alone efficient to use in specific circumstances.

When faced with a woodworking mystery–say, a look I want for a finish, or some convincing 3-D effect I’d like to produce in an 1/8-inch-deep relief carving–I like to try to answer the question for myself before I seek the answer from others. The effort of thinking a problem through will often give me deeper insight into methods others recommend, and it’s especially satisfying when I find that “my” method is the one used by other woodworkers I respect.

I’ve enjoyed a few such moments while planning how to build a hayrake table for the book on English Arts & Crafts furniture I’m writing for Popular Woodworking.

Gimson table drawing

My contact at Bridgeman Images provided a hi-res image of Gimson’s original drawing for the table, which we will purchase the rights to reproduce in the book.

I chose this particular table based on an original drawing by Ernest Gimson that I came across online. The artistry in the rendering is delightful, and the table fit the bill when I was looking for a furniture form distinct from the other two projects in the book, a chair and a sideboard. It wasn’t until I was at the lumberyard looking through stacks of sassafras that I got wind of the fun in store for me, thanks to a message from Frank Strazza. “The challenge is getting all 5 shoulders to meet perfectly, everything is scribed to fit,” he wrote in an Instagram post to which he referred me. My blood ran cold. Then I adjusted my perspective: This table is a puzzle.

In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say across the Atlantic. Here are a few of the thrills I’ve enjoyed on this journey to date.

The lamb’s tongue
I love the look of a lamb’s tongue, but in more than 30 years of work as a cabinetmaker, I had never before had occasion to make one. I devised my technique based on what made sense, starting with a saw kerf to make the clean transition from chamfer to carving. I made a sample; it worked well.

Lamb's tongue trial

Yeah, it’s super rough. It was a quick experiment in a piece of discarded wood. But I figured out how to make a lamb’s tongue.

When you’re writing for publication, you want to be informed about these things. I was especially concerned that my use of the saw kerf might be way out in left field. So I did an online search. Up came a Lee Valley post written by Chris Schwarz, who starts with a saw kerf and follows through with a chisel, as I had.

Yes.

The joint between the stretcher and the legs
The hayrake table form I’ve seen published most often is based on one by Sidney Barnsley in which the stretcher meets the legs at a 90-degree angle. I’d seen the same leg-to-stretcher orientation in a gorgeous hayrake table made by Ernest Barnsley at The Wilson last spring. But the Gimson table’s stretcher rails meet the legs in a V—commonly known as a bird’s mouth in the realm of architectural moldings, which presents a challenge.

I could see the joint being an actual bird’s mouth (in molding terms, if not in ornithological terms), preferably with a tenon or spline to lock the stretcher mechanically in place. Not that I was sure about how I’d create that mechanical part. Alternatively, the stretcher could be notched into the leg.

This time I consulted Christopher Vickers, an English craftsman-designer who has built several variations on the Gimson hayrake theme; we met last spring when I interviewed him at his home in Somerset for this book. (Look out for a post on Vickers, coming soon. You’ll be blown away by his shop.) “Your first guess is almost correct,” he wrote back, “in that the legs are notched for the stretchers but with the addition of a short tenon on the end of the stretcher with a mortice (1/3rd width of the stretcher) into the leg.”

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Cool again. It’s so fun to learn a new technique that builds on stuff you already know.

Mitered mortise and tenon joint
The hayrake stretchers meet the center stretcher rail at 45 degrees, and the drawing indicates a pegged mortise and tenon joint. This all seemed fine until I experimented with chopping the mortises. How would I get the point at the far end, I wondered—that is, make a mortise that ended in a pointed V?

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A trial tenon for the hayrake-to-center-rail joint, placed next to the full-scale layout. I tried to cut that sharp far point of the mortise but wondered whether it was really necessary.

It seemed to me that it would make more sense to make that end of the tenon square, but I was worried that this might be cutting corners. (Ouch.) So I looked up Mike Pekovich’s article from 2012. Mike cut the far end of the tenon square.

Happy dance.

Hedge your bets by leaving parts over-length until you need them cut to size

It seemed like a good idea to leave the stretcher parts long, cutting each joint in a logical sequence called for by the structure. This way I wouldn’t cut the joint on one end of a part only to find I’d thereby made the part too short to allow for the joint on the other end. Leaving the parts long would also allow me enough material to redo a joint if I messed it up. If I was correct, the parts should come together like a puzzle. It was nice to see that Mike recommends just this approach in his article, although the joinery in that table has significant differences from that in the Gimson example.

And so it goes. We live and learn.–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

The Sad Tale of Tom Turkey

Warning: The following is not about woodworking, so if you wish to limit your reading to that subject, you may prefer to substitute an installment of Routers I Have Loved (my personal favorite was my 1980 Elu) or wait for Chris’s next post about Roman Workbenches (which I am, in all seriousness, eagerly anticipating). This anecdote was excised from Making Things Work on the grounds that too much of a good thing is, well, sometimes too much. It will be included in a future collection. Also, you probably won’t want to read this story while eating.

A few days after Thanksgiving, my phone rang. “Oh, hello, Nancy.” It was Andrew, my client at the time. His tone was suspiciously cheerful considering our recent contretemps over the installation of his 1.6 gallon per flush toilet.*

“Look, I hate to ask you, but there’s no one else I can call. I had an accident on Thanksgiving morning. I know…it was stupid of me, really. Should have known better. I was on the top of a ladder cleaning leaves out of the gutter on the garage when I leaned over too far. The ladder collapsed and I broke my ankle.”

“Oh no! I’m so sorry,” I replied.

“Thing is, the accident happened when I was defrosting a turkey in the kitchen sink. I didn’t have a chance to get it out before the ambulance arrived. So it’s been sitting there for several days….

“As I said, I hate to ask, but since you have a key, would you be willing to go by the house and get the turkey out and put it in the trash?”

This assignment would have proved challenging for the most dedicated carnivore. But for me? I had been a vegetarian since the age of nine; the smell of even the most delectably seasoned turkey roasting in an oven can send me to the brink of nausea. Still, I felt sorry for him. I mean, who wants to spend Thanksgiving in the hospital?

“Sure!” I said. “Don’t give it another thought. I’ll take care of it.”

“Um, Nancy?” he added. “You might want to take a candle and some matches. It might be smelly.”

“Smelly” does not come close to capturing the miasma that hit my nostrils as soon as I cracked the kitchen door. I found the hapless turkey stranded in the half-filled sink. The sight was so pathetic that I could almost hear the bird addressing me: “Damn. I spend my whole freaking life crammed in a barn with a million other birds only to get slaughtered, plucked, and frozen. Then this clown doesn’t even have the decency to eat me?”

Just as horrifying as the stench was the bird’s sheer size. It reminded me of a story my sister once told me about a photo she’d seen of a pig in South America that was as big as a VW bug. She was so repulsed by the image that she swore she’d never touch pork again. Of course, the pig couldn’t help its gigantic stature. Nor could the turkey. But Andrew was a confirmed bachelor He was cooking for one person. Why couldn’t he have purchased a quail or a Cornish hen?

“It’s all problems,” I told myself, feeling a little like Dorothy chanting “There’s no place like home” but without the prospect of being magically transported out of Andrew’s kitchen. Holding my breath, I rummaged under the kitchen sink and found a pair of Playtex gloves. I quickly pulled them on and plunged my hands into the still, cloudy water, only to feel the stinking broth gush into the glove on my right hand. So much for Plan A. I ran outside, retching. It was a cold, overcast late-November morning, but the fresh air tasted so sweet that I felt lightheaded. I pulled off the useless gloves and threw them on the ground. This turkey and I were going to have to get up close and personal.

I ran back inside and pulled a blue bath towel out of the linen closet. Then back out to fill my lungs. Inside again, I threw the towel over the turkey to keep my hands from having to feel its cold, stubbly flesh; the thought of touching it almost made me vomit. I heaved with all my might and lifted the sodden carcass out of the sink. A trail of fetid water flowed from my arms as I carried the mass out the back door and lowered the terry-shrouded turkey as respectfully as I could into the jumbo Rubbermaid trash can.

After half an hour of mopping with disinfectant to clean up the floor and sink I went home and dove headlong into the shower. Maybe, I thought, I should make my peace with cabinetmaking instead of trying to make a go of it as a remodeler. At least a workshop smells better, even if the shop cat occasionally presents me with a disembowelled headless mouse first thing in the morning.–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

*See “It’s All Problems” in Making Things Work

Why I married my sister

I published my latest book in March. Publishing it myself was the last thing I originally had in mind. I’m well aware of the stigma attached to self-publishing. Chris Schwarz puts it as starkly as anyone ever has: “In the media world, publishing your own book is akin to marrying your sister. Most self-published books are about encounters with aliens that involve wax paper and Wesson oil, or Klingon wildlife poetry, or recipes for curing cancer with celery salt.”

With Maggie 1963

She’s the one without the fake smile.

The book was a longstanding thorn in my side, albeit a thorn of my own placing. I started working on it a dozen years ago, fitting the writing in around the edges of my daily work. The book would respond to two of my professional peeves: (1) the widespread public ignorance of what it costs to make things when you’re doing so for a living and have to cover the many expenses, beyond labor and materials, associated with running a business; and (2) the romanticization of furniture making as a way to make a full-time living. My model, authorially speaking, was Michael Pollan; I hoped to present a detailed picture of what goes into making a table, a dresser, or a set of kitchen cabinets and explain the related costs – in existential, as well as financial terms.

One year in, I began to wonder whether I would ever find enough time to complete the research and get the necessary distance from my manuscript to do the subject justice. Out of the blue, a client asked me to write a book directly in line with my interest in period cabinetry for the Indiana University Press; she even arranged for a contract with an advance. How could I turn that down? Two years later, I had an opportunity to work on a book about another subject that has long exercised me: the way many of us form relationships with our home, especially when living without a human partner. That book was published by the same press. All of which is to say that it was easy to be distracted by writing other books with firm contracts, in contrast to the nebulousness of the book I still felt compelled to write but didn’t really know how to.

The book continued to nag. I worked on it when I could. One day I was working in the kitchen of an especially trying client, marveling at how Fawlty-Towers-surreal the job had become, and it hit me: Maybe Michael Pollan was not the best author-model for me. Maybe David Sedaris was a better fit.

I went back to square one, making many of the same points, but now through humorous tales drawn from real life. A friend put me in touch with a literary agent who had secured not one, but two lucrative offers from prestigious presses for her husband’s book. The agent graciously discussed my book and agreed to represent me. We worked together for several months, during which he provided some good critical feedback. But I never quite felt we were on the same page.

When the time came to discuss pitching the proposal to publishers, the question of blurbs arose. “Of course you know who the obvious choice for a blurb is,” the agent said matter-of-factly.

“Sedaris?” I wanted to respond, but kept my mouth shut, knowing that Sedaris is on what he calls a self-imposed “blurbatorium.”

“Jimmy Carter!” the agent exclaimed with a note of triumph.

My heart sank. My agent and I really weren’t on the same page. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a serious fan of Carter, the man. But he doesn’t strike me as the right woodworker to blurb a book in which the F-word appears four times in the first two pages. I couldn’t reconcile the former president with the ribaldry that colors daily life for so many of us in the crafts and trades. What I needed was someone edgy, with contemporary clout.

“I think Nick Offerman would be more appropriate,” I replied.

“Who’s that?” the agent responded.

Maggie and I 1962

She has always been the cute one hamming for the camera.

It was starting to look like I would need an alternative plan. As anyone in the book world is aware, barring some inside connection it’s all but impossible to get an East Coast publisher to look at a manuscript without an agent. Getting an agent is a challenge in itself, and I’d already had a taste of what working with one can entail. I wasn’t even sure I’d want to write a version of my book that my agent was likely to deem marketable. And if I got a contract with a big-time publisher, I would face the prospect of who-knows-how-much-more reworking to bring my manuscript in line with an editor’s vision for what he or she thought the book should be.

Shortly after this dispiriting conversation with my agent, I was discussing my projet with Megan Fitzpatrick. She urged me to publish the book myself, having it printed and bound by one of the firms used by Lost Art Press. “You may not sell as many copies,” she said, “but you’ll make more money [on each copy] than you would with a commercial publisher.”* I took her statement with not a pinch, but a pound, of salt. As one of my editors in the world of woodworking periodicals, she was familiar with my work in words, as well as wood. But she hadn’t even read the proposal for my book, let alone the manuscript. For all I knew, she and everyone else might consider it a load of rubbish. What if I couldn’t even sell enough copies to break even?

In the end, my agent and I parted ways on friendly terms, and I took Megan’s advice. I sent the manuscript to some of my most discerning friends for critical feedback, then hired a professional copy editor, book designer, and graphic artist to ensure that it would be as close as possible to a commercial publisher’s quality. It was a big financial risk (OK, a drop in the bucket compared to the risk taken by Lost Art Press to bring Roubo Deluxe into being, but a big financial risk relative to my resources); I had to borrow the several thousand dollars it took for printing and binding.

Fortunately, Megan and Chris Schwarz both wrote enthusiastically about the book and recommended it. Thanks to those who bought the book on their (and subsequent readers’) recommendation, I broke even after two months. Huge relief. Another early reader saw to it that a copy found its way into the hands of Nick Offerman, who wrote the kind of blurb a writer can only dream of.

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Photo via Instagram, courtesy of Offerman Wood Shop

These poignant, honest, sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious but always masterful stories are so much more than woodworking anecdotes – they are nakedly human moments…. A necessary read for any aspiring craftsperson, but just as requisite for the clientele. I can’t decide in what retail section this book should be displayed – fine woodworking? Sure, that’s easy, but the integrity of Ms. Hiller’s voice, the tenacity of her principles, and the respect with which she endows honest, hard work compel me to suggest instead the shelves of philosophy, self-help, etiquette, or even religion, goddamnit.–Nick Offerman

Selling a book becomes a job in its own right. I’m grateful to everyone who has read the book and recommended it to others.–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

*I’m always shocked when I hear someone talk about authors “getting rich” from their books. Sure, some best-selling authors make a good amount (a few make a very good amount) of money from book sales. But many authors make $1-$2 per copy in royalties. The odds are tiny that sales of Making Things Work will ever cover the cost of the time I invested in writing, let alone promoting the book. But when you feel compelled to do something, you do it.