Tuesday, January 31, 2012


"Buddy" Tabor loves wood.  He is obsessed by it.  He was a lumberjack in his younger years, and you can tell, even at 73, that he loves being out in the woods.  He's slowing down now, and has some health problems, but he knows trees like no one I have ever met.  He calls them by name like they are his family.  He knows almost every tree that grows on his 20 acres of Pennsylvania forest land.  Give him time and he will tell you about how he once cut 1000 locust posts for fencing, and carried them out of the woods on his shoulders and split them by hand.  He'll tell you about the red oak tree he cut down that was 66 inches across at the base.  He'll tell you about how he would count each piece of firewood he cut, and could recall the exact number of sticks that filled his woodsheds.  He'll tell you about how every year in December he would go out walking and return with an arm load of spruce boughs so the house would smell like pine.  That's him in the center, standing with me and my brother in the kitchen.

I remember as a kid, helping with "the wood."  What that really meant was that I would stand around and watch my father cut firewood for hours on end, stopping only to put more gas in the saw and to drink ice water out of mason jars that my mother would bring up for us.  Sometimes he would use hammer and wedges to split the logs into smaller pieces where they lay, other times he would hook a chain to an entire tree and drag it out of the woods with the tractor and cut and split it down near the house.  I remember the time he brought home a handmade maul to split firewood.  It was a piece of pipe with a wedge shaped piece of steel welded to the end.  I could barely lift it, but he would work for hours, splitting log after log after log.  Sending that steel wedge driving through logs, drenched in sweat, and happy as could be.  If you haven't figured it out by now, he's my hero.

I just got back from Pennsylvania on Sunday afternoon.  I spent the weekend cutting wood with my dad and brother.  I think I enjoyed it as much as my dad did.  It was nice to spend some time together in the woods.  We cut down, sawed and split a pin oak and a honey locust as well as split a few cords of red oak that was already on the ground.  I think dad should have enough to last him the rest of the winter now.  We sat in the kitchen later that evening and talked and laughed together.  Drinking a few cups of hot coffee and nursing our sore muscles.  I'll remember it for a long time.

I have been sitting here for the last 15 minutes thinking about how much I hated helping cut wood as a kid.  I mean what 15 year old would want to go out and carry firewood for hours and hours on a Saturday morning?  It must have made an impression on me though.  Maybe it was because my dad loved it so much.  Maybe because deep down I knew that it was the wood that kept us warm all winter long.  I don't know for sure to be honest.  I can tell you though, beyond the shadow of a doubt, I love wood too.  Thanks Dad.

Before we carried the saws to the house, Jim and I cut down a small cherry tree.  He took a few pieces and so did I.  I've got a post or two planned to talk about that though, so until then happy carving.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Spoons, man!

Man, I can't even remember the last time I had a post about spoons up on this blog.  Lately it has all been frilly stuff about quaiches and paracord beads.  Beads!  There was even some knitting thrown in!  I'm at a loss for words and I apologize to any of you that have come looking for the latest round of poorly carved eating utensils.  It just so happens that I have been kicking around out in the garage, freezing my you know what off, making a few spoons!  Well, making a spoon or two and pulling a few off the work bench and getting them finished up.  Pictures of those coming in a few days once I get around to getting them finished.

Now!  On to the good stuff!  First off the quaich I carved a few weeks ago has been finished with a nice coat of flax seed oil mixed with some beeswax.  It was my first time working with beeswax and let me tell you I wasn't prepared for it to smell like honey!  I guess I thought it would just smell like..well..wax.  It smelled like fresh honey.  It really deepened the colors and darkened the whole thing up nicely.

I can't wait to make more things out of this Tulip Poplar wood.  I love the color of the heartwood.  I have a few pieces left that I already have plans for. 

Here is the finished quaich laying beside the other half of the log, notice the same colors running through it.

I have a few sticks of maple laying around as well, so I carved this spoon.  I liked the way it came out and I purposely made the handle a lot thicker than normal.  I wanted something that could be used for baking or cooking, with a focus on being strong enough to be used for mixing batters and such.  It has a nice thick handle that fits well in the hand and feels strong enough for whatever task is set before it.

Here is a small eating sized spoon that I made for my father.  It is made from ash and is laying on part of the log that it was made.  Notice the growth rings.  I just love the way it turned out.  I love working with this seasoned ash.  I have a good bit left, and if it could all be turned into spoons as nice as this once, I would be satisfied.  I got this ash from my father's house in Pennsylvania.  He, my brother, and I went out and cut the tree down that it came from.  It seems fitting that a spoon made from it goes back to him.  I hope he likes it.

Last, but not least, a coffee scoop made from maple.  It is quite deep, deeper than this picture shows, but small enough to fit down inside the coffee can.  I am putting this in the mail and sending it off to a friend of mine.  Actually, all the items are being given away to friends.  I hope they enjoy using them as much as I have enjoyed making them. 

What's next?  I'm off to Pennsylvania for the weekend this week.  Going to be cutting some wood and visiting with my parents and family.  I might even try to scrounge around for some cherry and or birch that I can bring back to do a few more carving projects.  First though, I need to make a few slingshots.  I've got a great idea for a design that I can't wait to see how it works.  More on that later, this is a spoon focused post!

Happy carving all.  May your knives stay sharp and your mind stay open! 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ranger Beads

At the same time that my friend Jon Mac, was busy making Char Cloth, I was busy fulfilling a promise that I made to my brother a few months (has it really been that long?) ago about making him a set of ranger beads.  To be fair I had no idea really how to make a set when I promised him, but I had been fooling around with making a few paracord bracelets and was full of myself. 

I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about how sometimes you make promises that you fully intend to keep and then life gets in the way, or rather, you allow life to get in the way, and they fall by the wayside.  I'm going to try to do better in 2012.  I've got a few unfulfilled promises that need to be kept.  I haven't forgotten.

Back to the point of this post, I promised my brother I would make him a set of ranger beads, and it hadn't been done.  So today, I kept that promise.

I'm working on a few other odds and ends for him, mainly for his girls, and when I get them done, I'll put them in the mail and send them off to Pennsylvania.  I figure with all the walking he is doing, he might get some use out of them.

They aren't much, just some lanyard knots in 550 paracord, with some sliding paracord "beads" to act as the counters.  I tightened them with a pair of needle nose pliers to the would be tight and then trimmed and melted the extra paracord from each bead to ensure they won't unwrap.

I made two sets of beads, first the top set that are used for marking each 100 paces walked, and the bottom set, which is 9 beads to count each 10 paces.  The idea behind ranger beads is that you move the bottom beads after every 10 paces, and the top beads after you have moved all 9 at the bottom and you have walked 100 paces.  Pretty simple and effective.

There is a loop at the top for attaching to your belt or pack.  One promise down, quite a few to go.

Happy Carving everyone.  Before I go, let me leave you with one final thought.  Never apologize for working with your hands.  Never feel like working with your hands is silly or embarrassing.  It isn't.  Try it, just one time.  Create something just one time.  It is a powerful thing to hold something in your hands that YOU have made.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Quaich'n in my boots!

I'm a huge fan of the quaich and have been wanting to make one ever since I saw Robin Wood's post on the ones that he makes.  I love the shape and history behind this simple drinking vessel.  I'm a fan of simple things I think, much more so now than when I was younger.  I'm trying to work more toward having at least a few things in my house that I use on a daily basis that are hand made.  Not stamped out with a big machine on the other side of the world. 

One example of this is the spoon I use to cook my dinner with every night.  I made it, it works great, doesn't scratch the non-stick frying pans and washes up with no issues at all.  I find myself taking better care of that one spoon than any of the other items in my kitchen.  Why?  Because I have a personal connection with it.  I made it, it came from a tree in my neighbor's yard, it has a small crack in the bowl, it's imperfections make it perfect.  At least to me.

Anyway, now that I am done rambling about old spoons, let me get back to the purpose of this post.  The quaich, pronounced "quake", is a Scottish drinking vessel.  Today it is used for ceremonial purposes, but in the past it was just a convenient way to drink whiskey or brandy and more importantly, share that drink with another person.  Traditionally it was used as a way to welcome visitors or to send them on their way.  Maybe that is why I like it so much, the tradition that it carries with it makes it even more special.

I had a few pieces of tulip poplar that came down in a storm in late August and I figured that it was time to get out there and make a quaich of my own.

Tulip Poplar really isn't a poplar at all, it is a member of the Magnolia family.  The colors of the heartwood depend on the soil it grows in, but the purples and reds are very common.  It is pretty soft and easy to carve when wet. 

In this picture you can see the greens and purple tones in the heartwood.  It is very pleasing to the eye and somewhat surprising when it started to show up.

I ended up making it a bit out of round, at least on one side, but overall I was very pleased.  I'll make the next one a bit smaller, with smaller handles I think as well.  I have a few more pieces to use, I need to make a spoon with some of it for a friend and a few other odds and ends.  It is all about being willing to brave the cold temperatures outside and getting the job done.

Ooh!  Just in case anyone thought my quick foray into the world of knitting was a fluke, check out my latest scarf that I did for my daughter.  She picked out the colors, I took care of the rest. 

Anyway, that is it for now.  Thanks for reading.  Keep making stuff.  Whatever you make with your hands is wonderful.  Happy carving!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Knitting!...Wait what?

I think I have always been like this.  What does it mean when you get distracted by something totally random and then become obsessed with it?  Crazy?  Maybe.  It happens to me all the time.  For example, I was at a program at my son's elementary school a few weeks ago and this lady in front of me was busily working away at something in her lap.  Of course I had to check it out, because she should have been paying attention to what was going on, but she wasn't, and if she was having fun with something, I wanted in on some of that action!

I think I dodged a few pokes and prods from my wife for not paying attention as well, but it was one of those times where my curiosity got the better of me and I had to figure out what she was doing.  It looked like a scarf!  I mean, she was sitting in the school, knitting a scarf!  But not with needles, it was this circle thing, like a ring, with yarn wrapped around pegs.  She had this tool, like a hook that she was flipping the yarn over the top of the pegs with and then wrapping more yarn.  The scarf itself was hidden in a bag on her lap, but I knew right away what it was.  A present?  Defense against the winter wind?  Something to keep herself from passing out from boredom?  I didn't know, but I knew that I had to find out.

Before I knew it, the program ended and the knitting lady was pushed out of my mind with the hustle and bustle of getting home, having snacks and getting two tired kids to bed.  The seed had been planted of course, it just needed time to germinate.  Last week, I was sitting here at my computer and I remembered that lady.  Google to the rescue! 

Before long I was watching a video of something called Loom Knitting.  There it was, people making hats, scarves, baby blankets, mittens, you name it, on these round or rectangular plastic devices called knitting looms.  Oh man!  Oh man!  I had to figure out how it worked.  I watched a few hours of video and the next day, I took my daughter to a local craft store and bought a circular knitting loom set.

Now listen.  I am a big burly looking guy.  Six feet, two inches tall, 250 pounds of grumble and grouch.  My wife reminds me almost daily that I really need to work on not looking so mean all the time.  I am about as far away from your stereotypical knitter as you can possibly get.  That being said 15 minutes after figuring out how to wrap my cheap yarn around the loom, I was hooked.  I was sitting there in the living room feverishly wrapping yarn around the pegs on the loom, hooking them over and wrapping more.  Muttering things like "not too tight..not too tight!!"  My wife, heaven help her, called me granny a few times and went about her normal business.  She is used to this sort of behavior by now after almost 15 years of dealing with me.

A few days later after a few false starts, I had made two hats and a scarf.  I even drug my family down the yarn aisle at the store, searching for better yarn, higher quality stuff.  I've got plans for a home made knitting loom in my head, made with scrap lumber and nails, with tighter spacing to make a pair of socks.

In other news, I got the garage cleaned out today.  Well, pretty much cleaned out.  If the weather stays nice, I'll be out there working on a few spoons that I need to finish.  If it doesn't, I guess I can always..um..well..heh..do a little knitting.  Happy carving! Or Knitting!  Actually, you know what?  Just go make something with your hands.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy New Year!

Well, it is that time again.  I guess it is almost obligatory that people post something about the New Year and the plans that they have.  I did it last year, and I am sad to say that a lot of the things that I was working toward, just didn't get done.  I guess that is how it goes with resolutions and such.  They get lost in the shuffle of every day life and before you know it 12 months has rolled by and you have run out of time.

That being said, 2011 wasn't all that bad really.  I met some new friends, got a few tools, made some progress in spoon design and I'm happy with my handles.  I've even made a few slingshots here and there.  I've got a list of things that I want to work on in the New Year, but I think I'm going to refrain from posting them here.  At least for now.  That way, at the end of the year, I don't have to look back and see all the stuff that I haven't done. 

I still need to work on sharpening, I'm going to watch the series of videos that Ben Orford posted again.  My friend Kepis posted about them just the other day and I watched them all again for the third or forth time. 

I've been on a cleaning binge around the house.   We have been really taking a hard look at all the stuff we have lying around.  Some of it has been donated and even more has been thrown away.  I am going to work really hard in the coming year to reduce the amount of things we have.  It seems our house is always cluttered with things that we just shuffle from one place to another.  We are actively cleaning things out, I just took a load of trash to the dump this morning.  I've got another load of things that need to go to Goodwill.  I've got things in the garage that need to be donated as well.  I'll tell you, it is a freeing feeling to get rid of things.  It also makes things like household cleaning so much easier and faster.

There isn't much woodworking or even spoon carving in this post, but I guess not every post needs to be about that kind of stuff.

Happy carving everyone.