Optimism in Action - Exhibition: March 11 to May 1

Reception Opening: Saturday, March 11 2:30 to 5pm.

Join us in celebrating an exploration of Optimism. An array of artists have united through their embrace of the color ‘INT-O Yellow’ (International Optimism Yellow) with the shared intention to shine a light on Depression. www.INTOYellow.com

This exhibition also marks the kick-off of Madison’s ‘Paint the Town Yellow’ initiative: a town-wide celebration of International Day of Happiness (March 20) and recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month (May).

A portion of all art proceeds benefits the Community Mental Health Initiative.

Stay Sharp

I had a little time between projects and phone calls today and remembered that my chisels needed a little attention. Because I keep them fairly sharp and clean all the time I can bring my whole set up to peak performance in under 15 minutes. Here I started by running the cutting edge by hand over my 1200, 4000, and then 8000 grit water stones. Then I polish the backs a with a few passes on the 8000 and they're done! 

Like many things in life, when I let my cutting tools get too beat up, it takes me a lot longer to get back to this stage so I try to stay sharp by not getting too dull.  

Like many things in life, when I let my cutting tools get too beat up, it takes me a lot longer to get back to this stage so I try to stay sharp by not getting too dull.  

Dr. John's Bench - December

Today I made the last bench for the Bench Project. In a way, it is the first bench because it is how I remember the very first thing I ever made with my "grandfather," Dr. John. He was my maternal grandmother's second husband and I spent part of every Summer and most holidays with them since I was very young. One Summer day, when I was about seven, he brought me into his workshop and had me help him make a small bench that he wanted to put on the side porch. I can't say that this bench is an exact replica, but I remember it was made with a single Pine board, assembled with nails, had little braces made from the notch cut out of the leg. This bench is made from 6' of 1x10 Douglas Fir held together with forged nails. It took about an hour to make and I felt the loving presence of Dr. John the whole time. 


Meetinghouse Bench - October

This bench design is usually attributed to the Shakers and is well suited to a meetinghouse as it is light and easy to move, yet very strong due to the diagonal braces. The bench is made from White Pine and is finished with red milk paint.

Meetinghouse Bench

The Library Bench - May

This bench was one of a group that I made a thank you gifts for my children's teachers. The shelf below the seat is made from two boards set on angle like the shelves of a library cart. I thought it would look nice in a classroom or bookstore holding books waiting to be read to children. The seat is made from a wide plank of cherry with the light sapwood on both sides of the darker heartwood. The base is made from Souther Yellow Pine.

Library Bench

The Waterfall Bench - April

This bench is made from a single board of Souther Yellow Pine. The board is cut and the splined mitre joints assembled so that the wood's grain appears to flow up out of the ground, across the top, and back down into the ground without interruption. It is finished with boiled linseed oil and beeswax.

Waterfall Bench

Psycho Barn

I had some time between meetings yesterday and stopped by The Met to see the new installation in the rooftop garden. Transitional Object (Psycho Barn), a site-specific installation by Cornelia Parker, is a recreation of the set house from the Hitchcock movie Psycho in reclaimed red barn wood.

As a lover of American vernacular architecture, I really liked the attention to detail and the quality of craftsmanship on display. It wasn't until I walked around the back of the installation that I realized it was only a facade. As an added twist, Hitchcock apparently based his set on the Second Empire style house in the Edward Hopper painting, House by the Railroad.

The installation is up until the end of October.

Psycho Barn

Bedroom Bookcase and Workstation

We installed this piece in an apartment on the Upper West Side this week. It was designed by a general contractor I met recently (who also works as a professional actor - very interesting client) for a couple who moved into this newly renovated apartment last summer and desperately wanted to unpack their books. Despite running from floor to ceiling and almost the full span of the wall, it doesn't dominate the room as it is very shallow - just 10" deep. The desk in the middle is just the right size for a laptop, a few chargers, and a lamp. 

Bedroom Bookcase and Workstation

Recommended Reading

I just finished reading The Minimalist Woodworker - Essential Tools & Smart Shop Ideas for Building with Less by Vic Tesolin. I had seen the book mentioned a few places recently and thought I'd take a look as I am always interested in ways to teach woodworking to a broad range of people. Starting with how to set up shop in a space as small as a corner of your living room and tool selection, the book offers an excellent list of projects to get you working starting with a wooden mallet and moving up to really nice designs for a workbench and a hanging cabinet for tools. As a professional, I found his discussion of blade sharpening to be very interesting and will be making his shooting board hook this week in the shop.

Minimalist Woodworker

The Shoe Shine Bench - March

While working at a client’s house last year, I noticed a curious little bench about 19” high, 24” long, and 12” wide. It had an elongated hole thru the top that looked like a handle. When I askedabout it, I was told it was a shoe-shine bench that could be carried around by the lid, which could then be removed to access the contents within. Unfortunately, the top had been screwed on permanently at some point, so it was impossible to tell how exactly the top could be used as a handle and then removed. I liked the proportions of the bench, so I decided to make one.

For this bench, the legs are notched to accept the side panels, which are screwed and plugged. Inside, I attached a cleat to the legs and side panels to hold the shelf. To attach the top, I glued and screwed blocks of wood to the underside of the top that would sit just inside the outer panels. Then I bored a 5/8” hole thru the panel and blocks from the same point on either side. I took 5/8” dowel and inserted it into the hole from one side. At first, the fit was too snug to get the dowel to pass thru to the other side, but with a dozen or so passes of the block plane, I managed to get a good fit that could easily be moved with a firm push of a finger. Lastly, I bored a few holes thru the top and connected them at the edges to make the handle hold. The bench was painted with one coat of orange and one coat of black milk paint and then buffed with tinted wax.

Shoe Shine Bench

The Apron Bench - February

This is a fairly common form of bench that most people associate with Shaker furniture makers. Usually, the apron (side) boards are nailed into the legs and top board which makes for a quick assembly and a fairly strong bench. Over time and with use the nails tend to work loose and new ones will have to be set.

The bench is 18” tall, 32” long, and 9” wide at the seat. To build this bench, I cut a notch into each leg the width of the apron. Then I cut a channel into the back of the apron the hold the leg. I added a few screws (covered with plugs) to hold the parts together. The top is attached with figure-eight washers. The bench is finished with two coats of light-blue milk paint and then buffed with clear wax.

Apron Bench

The Saw Horse Bench - January

I’ve made dozens of saw horses over the years. Some fold, some stack, some are for light duty, and some could support a dancing elephant. The saw horse uses simple structural design to support a load and can be made into a very sturdy bench with the addition of a wider top. This bench is 20” high, 39” long, 8” deep at the seat, and 15” deep at the base. 


It’s made of Cherry that was milled by a friend of a friend and was given to me a few years ago. The quality of the wood was good, but the 16” wide boards were badly cupped, and I had to cut them down into smaller pieces to make use of it. The legs have a 15 degree rake that is held by the board that is notched into them and the two ends are drawn together by a stretcher. The ends appear to splay out as well, but they’re actually just tapered on the inside edge. The top is attached with tow dowels at each leg. The bench is finished with a few coats of Danish oil and then buffed with tinted wax.

Saw Horse Bench

The Bench Project

In 2016, I'll be making benches. One of the first carpentry projects I ever made was a small bench that my grandfather and I made for the back porch of his house in Lewisburg, WV. It was made of a single pine board not more than six feet in length and we built it in less than an hour. My grandfather was probably just trying to keep me busy on a hot summer afternoon and I didn't think much of it at the time, but I've always been drawn to the form and I think that first bench has something to do with this. I also like benches because they invite communal seating and when you share a seat with someone a conversation is sure to start.

Each month, I'll make a different bench. There are no rules per se, but I'll try to work with a traditional form and use materials that I have on hand in the shop. At the end of the year, I plan to auction off the benches to raise money for a local organization (as yet to be determined).

'Sconset Bench