I love working with wood, love the varieties of colors, grain patterns and physical properties. Some woods are dense. Lignum Vitae sinks in water! And some woods like balsa are super light. Some are strong & springy, like Osage Orange a.k.a Boi D’arc (bow wood) which was used by our indigenous to make powerful hunting bows. Some, like black locust, are rot resistant making them good for fence posts and other outdoor uses. Some are simply beautiful, especially when varnished or lacquered. Quilted maple and various kinds of burls are amazing.
Detail of the cherrywood table I built with Sandra Caldwell. The stones are from a creek bed near the Des Moines River. They are set in clear resin, simulating a flowing stream.
My professional woodworking career began when I started working at a boatyard on Cape Cod, building and restoring wooden vessels. There I had the pleasure of working with men in their sixties and seventies, “old men” to me at age nineteen. These master craftsmen and mechanics had a natural wisdom, knowing the strengths and limitations of a wide variety of materials, and many techniques for making the work go easily. I am grateful to them for passing on to me their knowledge, humor and wisdom. Now, as a teacher of the practical arts, I have the pleasure of passing on to the new generation their ways. Here are some of my projects:
A Cherrywood Conference Table, with Sandra Caldwell
A violin restoration, completed with the help of my brother David
Over the years I’ve built several musical instruments: two harps, uilleann (Irish) bagpipes, and restored two violins. I had the honor of learning pipemaking from master craftsman Tim Britton, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and a life-changing experience. The photo below is of a set of pipes I helped make. I roughed out the various parts on the lathe, and Tim did the final work. I made the bellows and did a lot of the brass work. The photo above is of a (1920s?) violin I restored, with the help of my brother David, another master craftsman. Below are shots of Celtic harp-building with my daughter Rae, and the set of pipes I made for myself out of cocobolo wood. Henry does not seem to approve.
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