No exaggeration

Henceforth, UK and European orders of Making Things Work will be handled by Classic Hand Tools. But I will be a little sad not to be handling those orders personally.

‘Til now, those orders, along with others from Canada and the southern hemisphere (I am looking at you, Megan, and you, Chris), have been shipped by yours truly via the Stanford Post Office. The Wikipedia entry for Stanford doesn’t even bother to give a population figure, though the place has had a Post Office since the 1830s, which is to say, damn near as long as Indiana has been a state. Ray, the clerk, has been very good-natured about the unbelievably time-consuming customs stuff (which makes abundantly clear to me why some other publishers choose not to deal with international orders).

Still, the first order from England came from someone with a name so impossibly British that I had to wonder whether it was made up: “St.John Starkie.”

Uh huh.

Always glad to indulge eccentricity, I sent “Mr. Starkie” (nudge nudge, wink wink) a brief note informing him that postage to the UK would require an additional payment. You have to understand that when I read “Starkie” my mind ran immediately to “starkers,” a British euphemism for “naked.” But hey, if an editor at the World Book Encyclopedia circa 1969 was willing to address me as “Norman Stanley Hippietoe,” who was I to question this book buyer’s name?

Come to find (as many folks in south-central Indiana would say) that St.John Starkie (pronounced “sinjin,” not “Saint John”) is this man’s real name. And he is quite a character. Today I got one of the most delightful missives I have ever received from a reader. You can read it below. (Don’t worry; I got express permission to share it.)


All of which is to say that if you thought my accounts of the English cold were exaggerated…well, NOT. As I replied to St.John at lunchtime today, I omitted my take on that unique Fenland weather phenom that is the headwind. Regardless of which direction you’re pedaling on your bicycle, it will bedevil you. (I imagined that most American readers would think I was, to use a good British saying, “having them on,” had I included this in my account. So I’m grateful to St.John for saving this particular day.)

You can follow St.John on Instagram at the_quiet_workshop (the quiet being a stark [ouch! don’t do that!] contrast to the daily reality of my workshop) and also via his blog:

New distribution for Making Things Work


I’m thrilled and honored to share the news that Making Things Work will shortly be available through the following three distributors, which are listed here in the order in which they made arrangements with me:

Shop Woodworking

Lost Art Press

Classic Hand Tools which will distribute the book in the UK and Europe.

Thanks to Megan Fitzpatrick, Chris Schwarz, John Hoffman, St.John Starkie, and the guys at Classic Hand Tools.

One of these days my desk may be clear again. (Yes, that is a wad of cat hair in the foreground.)


Can you say “cluster”?

Thanks primarily to Megan Fitzpatrick at Popular Woodworking Magazine and Chris Schwarz of Lost Art Press, things have been busier than usual around our place over the past few days, which is to say: I’ve spent all too much time sitting on this chair, filling out FedEx forms online, and wrapping books for shipment.

This is not helping the jobs in progress in the shop.


Au contraire. We’re still talking about the break-even point (though we are, at two weeks in, approaching that point, thanks to the two folks in the first paragraph, along with a few others [Laura Mays? Freddy Roman? St.John Starkie? Thank you.])

The point of this post is to note that, due to the unforeseen but most definitely welcome volume of orders, I realized yesterday that I had purchased too few shipping boxes. So whether you’re in Moscow, Idaho, or your surname is Moskowitz, or you live on Moscow Lane (never before did I realize that countries, surnames, cities, and streets get so jumbled in this free-for-all that is the U.S.A.), your order may be delayed by a day or so. Please know that I’m on it.

Beauty Overload


Chipping Campden, viewed from up the road following a shower

I spent last week in England doing research for a Popular Woodworking book on English Arts and Crafts furniture. Monday took me with my good friend Bronwen to the impossibly picturesque Gloucestershire village of Chipping Campden, where C. R. Ashbee moved his Guild of Handicraft in 1902.

Although the original Guild was dissolved in 1908 due to financial troubles–the move from London to Chipping Campden made it harder to reach the necessary clientele, an unfortunate (though predictable) problem that was compounded by a widespread economic slowdown–it was reorganized as a trust and operated until 1914. Some of the craftsmen continued their work independently thereafter.

One vestige of Ashbee’s Guild still operates today: Hart Silversmiths, located in a small workshop on the second floor of the old silk mill building on Sheep Street.


Historical marker on the building’s facade

Here’s a brief virtual tour.


Derek Elliott has worked at Hart’s for 35 years, since he finished high school.


On the day of our visit Derek was working on this silver bowl, which started out as a circle cut from this sheet. The decanter is one of many variations on a signature Ashbee design.


The view from Derek’s bench


A wood stove stands at the middle of the workshop.


A no-frills filing system takes care of invoices paid, which must by law be kept for several years (those are pinned to the rafters) and those still due (the white ones clipped in a sheaf).


Amidst all the history, you will still find a few plastic-handled tools, modern light bulbs, and even a telly.


The guest book includes evidence of a visit by a certain American architect in 1910.


No doubt some wit will point out the oddness of the bolts on the outside of the door. Rest assured, there was a variety of locks on the inside as well.


Visiting Chipping Campden was like bringing the pages of a Penelope Hobhouse gardening book to life.


Lots of thatched roofs


My dear friend Bronwen (left) drove us to Chipping Campden. We went for tea after visiting Hart’s.


On the Home Stretch

After more (many more) neurotic revisions than I would like to admit, the dust jacket for Making Things Work has at last been sent to the printer. Here’s the front cover:making-things-work-dust-jacket

We’re waiting for the final version of the text to come back from book designer Meghan Bates, then things will go into production, beginning with the long-anticipated arrival of fabric swatches for the binding. (Being a color junkie, I cannot wait to see the available colors.)

Here are some choice excerpts from the back-cover blurbs:

“…chisel-sharp, damn-funny…” – Jonathan Binzen, Senior Editor, Fine Woodworking

“…funny and sharp, occasionally pathetic, often brave, and most of all, inspirational…” – Chuck Bickford, former Senior Editor, Fine Homebuilding

Yes, occasionally pathetic.

“A must-read for those brave souls ready to sally forth into a creative profession where belief in oneself must never waver.” – Mark Harrell, Bad Axe Tool Works

“This book is riveting, pulling the reader into the author’s transatlantic story, including unrequited romances, conflicts about hinges, occasional slapstick, and sleepless nights spent worrying about budget, hardware, and design.” – Kathryn Lofton, Professor of Religious Studies and American Studies, Yale University.

The book should be available for purchase by mid-March. I’ll be posting updates here, as well as on Instagram and Facebook.

Genius activity

Yesterday I sat down with Raney Nelson at his shop, something I’d been itching to do ever since I read his pre-publication editorial comments on my December 2015 cover article for Popular Woodworking Magazine. It was clear from the start that I was dealing with a most unusual editor:  not just a sharp reader who understands the ins and outs of conveying technical direction via the written word, but a refreshingly down to earth iconoclast with zero tolerance for bullshit, finely tuned sensibilities vis-a-vis sexism, and a delightfully dark sense of humor.*


Genius* at work: Raney with Crucible Tools’ Haas tool mill and obligatory self-deprecating/why are you doing this to me? expression          *my word, not his


Take his comment about my use of the radial arm saw, a mainstay in every English shop I worked in, and a tool I rely on every day:

Pg. 5, Graf 1, first line:  Totally valid, of course, but whenever I see reference to ‘radial arm saw’, I expect the public safety police readers to send angry vitriol about how they’ll [radial arm saws] kill your children in their sleep and cause cancer, etc… Since the photo is a RAS, I might suggest simply changing to ‘if you do this on a power saw, note that you’ll need two stop settings…”

I’m still clueless about why the radial arm saw has such a bad rap.

Or this one about my occasional reliance on ad hoc implements in the interest of getting the job done:

Pg.5 Graf 3, lines 4-8:  PERSONAL NOTE – I love the cat food can custom toolmaking, and wholeheartedly support linking to it in the extras section.  I also would support adding to the end the parenthetical:  “…(You can, of course, use a spindle sander if you’re a wuss.”)

This, from a maker of exquisitely crafted hand planes.

Elaborating on the previous two points, he continued:

If I had any more general comment, it would be that if anything, I actually think the piece could’ve pushed more into the non-canonical joinery and techniques where they come up.  I’d have considered making them a focus in the article: “Beautiful Lebus inspired bookcase: pro shop tips simplify and speed construction without compromises” or something. Sorry – headlines and subheads are always my weak point, but you get what I mean.

The icing on the cake was his insight into common gender dynamics, complete with a self-critical remark on mansplaining:

I [understand your] concern that people will combine ‘non-traditional’ and ‘woman woodworker’ to get holier-than-thou**, but I think the explanations here were more than strong enough to override that in all but the most obnoxious trucker-hat-wearing misogynist.***

…And having just reached fever-pitch irony as the man giving you advice on dealing with sexism, I’m signing off there.

Maybe what I loved most was that coursing throughout his comments was evidence of a perspective we both share, one that comes with having your work published: an awareness of how your stuff is likely to be judged by some of those who read it–most notably those who know just enough about a subject to be dangerous. These are the readers who know the Proper Way of doing everything but aren’t ready to question whether the Proper Way is necessarily the best way (or even relevant) in a given situation.

So after waiting about a year, it was a treat to see Raney’s shop and learn more about his background, which encompasses punk rock culture and service on US Navy submarines; something like 240 college credit hours, motivated by sheer love of learning, that did not result in a formal degree; and a solid stint as a stay-at-home dad. My head is still exploding after hearing him discuss cognitive science, literary theory, and grassroots economics as we sat in a corner of the shop filled with gorgeous tools, cabinets, and workbenches built by his own hands, a new batch of elegant dividers in production just across the room.

You can read more about Raney’s latest business venture, Crucible Tools, in partnership with Chris Schwarz and John Hoffman here.

*This is not to deny that other editors in the world of woodworking publications (many of them known to me) share these and similar virtues, just that they don’t (usually for very good reasons) tend to be so unabashed in revealing them.

**I.e., this combo tends to send a certain percentage of woodworkers (including female ones) into full-blown dismissive mode–“She obviously doesn’t know the right way to do x, y, or z,” etc.–which is a drag and can also be a drain on credibility, at least in some circles. The fact is, in most such cases I am down with the “official” way to do whatever; I’m just beyond the point where I feel obligated to recite chapter & verse when paraphrasing strikes me as making better sense.

***I would not want to diss the trucker hat as a worthy form of millinery. My own husband, a staunch feminist, has a collection of trucker hats, several emblazoned with the Dogfish Head Brewery logo, that he wears to work.

Kitchen Color Harmony

From the golden age of print advertising: “the latest, smartest home enhancement to captivate the taste of refined households the country over.” I definitely want one.


Tips for a Tricky Two-Tone Finish

Here’s how I produced the finish on the audio booth for First United Church:

Step One: Match the stain on the woodwork in the church.

It’s a semi-opaque stain of some sort, so I used gel stain to emulate the look. Because the original stain is primarily orange-ish (is that a word? well, yeah), I mixed up several samples using cherry, brown mahogany, and red mahogany in different proportions, measuring each component of each sample and recording it along the way. The closest match was one part Old Masters red mahogany to two parts Wood Kote [sic.] Jel’d [sic.] cherry.

When you make a custom color, it’s a good idea to mix up more than you’re going to need. Sure, keeping the recipe on hand will enable you to reproduce it (I note down finish recipes and all finishing products I use in every job file; as a result I can tell a client what I used on a job 20 years ago), but as with batches of anything, the next one may be just a little different. Hence the recommendation to mix up extra, even if it means you don’t end up using it all.

Step Two: Figure out how to stain the framework while keeping the panels natural.

I didn’t want to use painter’s tape to mask off the unstained portions, not least since I have found that stain, even viscous gel stain, has a way of sneaking beneath even the finest tape seal.

Instead I took the following route:

  1. Cut all the joints and sand the inside edges of each frame.
  2. Clamp each frame up dry with the rails and stiles in their final positions.
  3. Apply the custom stain mixture to the inside edges of the frames using a bristle brush, let sit for several minutes, then wipe away the excess with a shop cloth.

The reason for clamping the parts together instead of just staining the whole length of each inside edge is that I wanted to leave the cherry bare of gel stain at the joints so that glue would penetrate the wood without even the slightest impediment when I finally glued the panels together.

Next, I sealed the stained inside edges with Zinsser Seal Coat, an alcohol-based dewaxed shellac, with the frames still in clamps.

I cut the panels to size and confirmed the fit, sanded them, and brushed on Seal Coat to help prevent glue from staining them during the assembly, as well as to provide at least some protection in case I splattered any stain on them while staining the frames’ faces.

Once the Seal Coat had dried on the panels, I glued each frame together with its panel(s) in the grooves. I sanded the inside and outside faces (i.e., the front and back of each panel) using a random orbital sander, then finished sanding by hand with the grain.


As you can see in the scale drawing, some of the horizontal pieces go over the vertical pieces, while some go under. It’s not a basketweave, but an interplay between different pieces; some are dominant, others submissive. (I like to think the pieces agreed to their positions–like, it was more of a dance than a fight.) Thanks to this interweaving, sanding the latticework by hand with the grain was more challenging than it sounds.

I marked the pieces and their corresponding parts on the drawing with letters, because that turned out to be the only way I could keep track of where they belonged. Once I’d cut the pieces for the latticework I had to stain their edges and the end grain on pieces that terminate on the panel, instead of at a joint, before gluing and pinning them on the panels.

Once everything had been sanded, I carefully applied the gel stain using a 1″ foam brush. There were a few splatters, which came right off; I used a shop cloth moistened with mineral spirits to remove them, since mineral spirits would not dissolve the Seal Coat shellac.

One more tip: Gel stain dries pretty quickly, and if you don’t wipe off the excess in time, you’re in trouble. Going back over it with thinner or another application of gel stain pulls some of the original pigment out, leaving a paler color. Since oil-based finish would have dragged pigment out of the gel stain, even after it was dry, I needed a topcoat with a different solvent base. I had David Willibey of Bloomington Powdercoating spray the panels with precatalyzed lacquer. They came out great.

David Willibey of Bloomington Powdercoating

David Willibey of Bloomington Powdercoating

Interdisciplinary Crossover

As a cabinetmaker with an academic background in religious studies,* I’ve been asked more than once whether I specialize in building church pews.

Interdisciplinary crossover has occurred on just three occasions. Once I was asked to turn a part for a ceremonial scroll at a local synagogue. Then I built a display cabinet for a Presbyterian church.

The most recent coincidence of woodworking and religious studies is the sound booth I designed and installed for Bloomington’s First United Church.

Photo by Kendall Reeves, Spectrum Studio of Photography & Design

Photo by Kendall Reeves, Spectrum Studio of Photography & Design

The booth consists of a platform built by congregation member John Turner, a retired union electrician, who engineered the wiring plan.

I slept well for the first time in days after that 9' monster was finally set in place.

I slept well for the first time in days after that 9′ monster was finally set in place. I couldn’t have done it during this exceptionally rainy summer without the help of a strong and careful crew from A Better Way Moving & Storage.

I had the simpler task of designing and building the cabinetry that would go inside the booth–the three-drawer base seen here through the glass and a two-door base at the opposite end–along with the exterior assembly.

The panels  enclosing the booth are built from 1-1/4″ (net) solid cherry with custom-veneered, sequence-matched cherry panels laid up on a 1/2″ m.d.f. substrate by Heitink Veneers. In other words, heavy. Complicating matters was the decision to have the solid framework stained to match the glass and wood wall between the entryway and the sanctuary, while leaving the panels “natural.” Fun. (I’ll share that technique in my next post.)

Veneer flitches at Heitink. I chose the cherry with "bubbly" figure because the effervescent connotation seemed fitting for this church.

Veneer flitches at Heitink. I chose  cherry with “bubbly” figure .

John Dehner and I after the traumatic glue up of the 9' x 5' panel with seven sections

John Dehner and I after gluing up the 9′ x 5′ panel with seven sections: a stressful experience, to put it mildly. Immediately after this (I know…it should have been before), I invested in a half gallon of Titebond Extend.

I designed the lattice pattern on the north section of the booth to echo a latticework wall far across the church, which is visible in person but impossible to capture adequately on camera because of the distance.

I designed the lattice pattern on the north section of the booth to echo a latticework wall far across the church, which is visible in person but impossible to capture adequately on camera because of the distance. The pieces are simply glued and pinned in place. To locate them accurately, I used spacers cut from waste plywood.

The left section of the north wall is actually a lockable door.

The left section of the north wall is actually a lockable door.

The completed audio booth from inside the sanctuary. Some of the pews may be removed in the future. For now, the booth had to occupy precisely this footprint.

The completed audio booth from inside the sanctuary. Some of the pews may be removed in the future. For now, the booth had to occupy precisely this footprint. Photo by Kendall Reeves, Spectrum Studio of Photography & Design

*specializing in aesthetics and ethics, not religious history or comparative religions, etc.

Drooling over vintage stoves?

Check out this site devoted to Chambers Stoves:

The site is run by Joe Oliver of Chambers Stoves Chicago, who specializes in repairing and restoring Chambers stoves, and also services other vintage brands. Joe has done house calls for clients all over Chicagoland–Milwaukee, northwestern Indiana, southeastern Wisconsin, and northern Illinois–but he’s happy to work on stoves for those who live farther afield, as long as they bring them to his shop (and of course pick them up again).

Joe works on all vintage brands, as long as they’re gas; he doesn’t work on electric or wood-burning stoves. Need a stove converted from natural gas to propane? Call him.

Both of Joe’s parents worked for Northern Illinois Gas, and Joe followed in their footsteps. As he says, “I guess I just have gas!” He acquired his first Chambers in 2001 and is a major fan of the brand.