Who’s working on a Friday, besides the folks who work with their hands? That’s just the size of things I think. Maybe some folks will read this anyway.

I had an old friend drop by yesterday who had laid down his tools a few years ago. Forty years of building chairs was enough for him. I asked him how he liked his new life, and he told me that he was fine with it. But he had promised himself to stop remodeling houses and he was still doing that. So he was still working with his hands.

This is what I know. For my friend Steve, for me, we fill our hours, our days, and our weeks with this stuff, this busy work, this hand work. For some of us, it’s because we love doing it. We are the lucky ones who aren’t fighting poverty or illness. We get to work with our hands.  For others they fill their lives with careers or a desk job, they wait and hope for that weekend to come so they can find the time to reconnect with their loves, their lives.

Take some time soon and do something for yourself. Build something and give it away to someone. You’ll feel good building it. The recipient will love having your work and not even notice your mistakes. It is a win/ win situation. Everybody’s happy. Share your knowledge and create something of value.



Oh, yeah. Stool workshop coming up Sept. 19-23. Come and build something great for yourself.

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I had this crazy idea about the world and how I’d like to change it today.

Hear me out.

What if folks acted as if they were responsible for their actions? That whatever they did out in the world had a pond and ripple effect? That they are not alone on their computer, on a phone, in their world, entitled to more of everything at the expense of everyone else?

It would be like working at the bench if you will allow me. Where when you screw something up you are the one who did this. You are the one who has to fix it. You can’t turn to your neighbor, the car next to you or the bike rider, big business or the government, or your sad upbringing and history and blame them for it. You have to take responsibility for who you are and where you are in the world.

For I think we are largely where we have put ourselves. After recognizing our socio-economic limitations, the constructs our culture lashes us to, the hitches and limps our personality have placed upon us, once this is all understood, from that point onward, we have the responsibility to make something of this mess we’ve been handed with the burden of living a good and productive life.

No one said it was going to be easy nor should it be. I suggest that we take the blinders from our eyes and realize that if we want the work to get done, we will have to do it. Cain’t blame somebody else all the time. Time to shoulder our own burdens and make something of ourselves.

[Insert ad for woodworking classes]

Get to the bench. Make something of yourself.


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The Size of a Problem

I am a simple man. I would say simpleton sometimes too. Because I know how problems continue to pop up in the shop. They are always the same. It is always me causing them. My mistake in set-up or not paying attention to a mark made or choosing the wrong side for a cut. Yet I react as if this is the first time it has ever occurred.

These mistakes are always the same types, done over and over. When made, they fill the room. I work in a large room. It is the response to these mishaps that is probably so amusing, from a remove. To watch this raving maniac talking to himself about the latest misplacement of a tool or a cut too small or tear-out coming in an obvious spot because I didn’t slow myself down. Then the blame dance begins as I rail on about my lunacy, the cursed passage of my lineage down to me, and the small stature of my brain.

But, with practice, and enough repetitions, I am able finally to effect some small change in my attitude towards these missteps. If I can tear myself away from staring at my latest bit of self-sabotage, if I can get myself away from the scene of the crime, if I can walk myself outside and stomp around the block just once, by the time I return to my bench the problem has shrunk in size. It has returned to its normal stature and I can see more clearly now how to fix it. It generally takes very little to fix it as well.

So that is my goal now. When the latest problem that I have caused shows itself, I leave it behind, walk out of the area, and come back to it with fresh and now clear eyes to figure out to move past it. Forgiveness and just a little bit of time will do the trick.





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Finishing up

I had a one hour project to complete. Another six hours later, I was still working on it. It didn’t bother me that much. My eyes are always such grand estimators of my hands’ abilities. And almost always wrong about how quickly something will get completed, so I’m getting used to this disconnect.

It is education that is the problem. And no, do not get yourself to a school to fix this. I mean the education of myself about myself and my time and my foibles and the things that I let distract me and the standards that I keep close by and the ways that I can lose a screw that I just held in my hand the moment before. Educating myself to remember these things.

This is my curriculum. Remedial classes by this time are called for as well because like a palm print, the lines of of these habits are now deep in place. I try not to think less of myself for having them. [Although a loud word will escape now and again when I lose the next screw in line.] It is the way of things, so there is no use complaining about what side of the world the sun rises on.

So in the midst of a full afternoon of work later, I keep telling myself to slow down as I really want to finish this dang project soon. I remind myself not to get too upset with the estimator as he’s only being an optimist for all concerned. It’s in his nature to think too much of his skills.

Then I get back to work and remember the times I have done this move or that one with my hands and it all comes back. Slow but slow, it comes back and I get the one hour job complete with satisfaction some six hours later. It will take no time at all in memory.

Podium Book Broads 003







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I recently received a letter from a reader of my new book. Yes, an actual letter written on paper, by hand, to me. It came from out of the blue and from a place in California. I have never met this writer.

He wrote me that in reading my Handmade book round about page 38 or so he threw the book down on his kitchen table, alarming his wife. Then he reread the passage out loud and stopped reading the book altogether. This was the spot where I was talking about my accident on the jointer years ago.

The same kind of catastrophe had occurred to him. Only his was but a few years ago. The first words out of his mouth were the first words out of mine when the kick-back occurred.

“That was stupid.”

It was anger mixed with that feeling of shame that rushed over me when I realized what I had done to myself. How I had betrayed myself and put myself in harm’s way and then gotten bit. The hardest thing, after my finger mostly recovered its use, was figuring out how to A) get back on that pony and use my jointer again and B) forgive myself for my sin.

It’s not an easy lesson to learn. It is worth hearing about. The most important thing we need do at the bench it seems to me is forgiving ourselves our stupid and constant, it seems, little mistakes, our “I know better than this” gaffes, and our “My god that was stupid” events where blood flows and the work stops for a day or longer.

It will happen to you. Prepare yourself. Put safety habits in place for your days when you’re not on top of your game. Habits that protect you on your stupid days. It’s a dangerous and magical place is a shop. Beware and have fun at the same time.


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The Hand Tool Shop

Starting in April we offer four weeks of class. This series is called the Hand Tool Shop. It is a great opportunity to get to the bench to work on some important techniques. Enroll for one week, the third week, or as many as you would like.

Come the first week to learn sharpening skills. We will take new tools and make them sharp or tune up old ones. Bring your chisels, gouges, hand planes, spoke shaves, and scrapers. We’ll get them all sharp enough to prep some lumber with our hand planes and then learn inlay techniques as well.

Taper Oak Chest Inlay


Week Two is Carving and Shaping week. We will carve several small projects that increase your skills at the bench. Starting small we will work on a rosette and some basket weave patterns.  The more ambitious can tackle spoon and relief carving.

Rosette Carving on Green

1-USFS Bass carving GR

Week Three practices dovetails and a little bit of steam bending as we build a tool box. Through dovetails will make the box and a shaped handle will carry things around nicely.  Isn’t this cool? Chris’ great work from last year.

Tool box 2017


Tool box detail

The final week of class takes on mortise and tenon joinery as we build some light weight sawhorses. I love this design because it’s so versatile yet strong. Made of pine and cedar but built to last in the shop.



Sawhorse hand tool shop close

Join us for a great week or two or more at The Hand Tool Shop.

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Just a quick note to say that I’m reading at Broadway Books this Wednesday, Feb. 28 at 7pm. This is to let folks know about my new book called Handmade: Creative Focus in the Age of Distraction. 

The talk that night will focus on several items. The first is the importance of your particular voice, stance, point of view. No one else has it. The world awaits.

Next is the connection I believe exists between our hands and our minds and why it is so important to keep that connection limber and well-oiled.

Last and most importantly for us knuckleheads at the woodworking bench is the topic of forgiveness. It is never a question of whether I will make a mistake. The only question is how soon will my next screw up occur. And when it does, the fix usually takes less time than the complaining about how stupid I seem to be that day and every day and why won’t these tools do what I ask them to, and on ad infinitum. Let it go. Forgive yourself your mistakes and make the fix. Forgiveness is so important for us at the bench.

I hope to see you at Broadway Books, 1714 NE Broadway in Portland. 7pm. Bring your brain and your dancing shoes.


Front cover 1



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Folks don’t seem to realize this. It took me a long time to figure this one out. Good flow in the shop, like a stream running downhill, makes for good work. Now I’m not saying there aren’t bumps and rocks in the way, things that deflect us for a time from our appointed goal. But I know that working at the bench is always easier when my tools are where they’re supposed to be, my jigs are handy and not taken somewheres else, when my  head is in the game and not a million miles away. I find that everything from sharpening to cutting a mortise goes more simply when there is good flow in the shop.

Flow comes from the physical placement of things. Getting things right at the bench so the work flows from your hands without thought. But flow also comes from inside. Allowing myself time at the bench to make my focus right, to slow down from the pace outside the shop, to discover the mood of the day, and direct it to the end I have in mind that day.

Flow comes then from inside and outside and some days things flow and some days I’m a rolling stone in the river. Some days are smooth. Some days I stumble along like everyone else. But I know what I’m after at least. I am after that flow. Slowing down enough at the bench to be certain and sure and productive. It’s a good feeling to have.

Taper Oak Chest Inlay




The stool class starts today. Breathe deep.


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1-Dovetail corner1

Dovetails. This symbol of woodworking excellence. What a pain in the butt.

They’re fussy. They require concentration and skill and enormous patience. At least if you want to do them halfway well. I do have students who after trying tail and pain by hand, turn to the router and dovetail jig. I get this. I never had clients who could afford hand cut work. This was out of everyone’s price range. I used sliding dovetails for their pieces instead cut with a router and bit.

But I understand as well the dovetail joint’s virtue in teaching accuracy and slowing down. This helps me at the band saw and the router table. In the end, I advocate my 5 minute dovetail as a means of getting our heads to the bench, slowing down, and training our focus to get tight. Because the work we do at the bench has a tight focus to it.

It depends entirely upon one’s intention while at the bench. If it is to build good work at a pace, then finding methods that work whether by hand or with a machine seems to me a fine choice. Check out the furniture of Greene & Greene and the Hall Brothers building for them. No dovetails used. All finger jointed drawers and cases.

If on the other hand, one’s intention is simply to be at the bench then hand cutting everything makes good sense too. Pace doesn’t matter then.

Simply answer this question: does it feel good to get work completed that you can feel proud of? Then use all the tools in your kit. {Note: I stop short of programming a CNC to cut mine, if I had a CNC.} If product isn’t your goal but process is, then mill your wood by hand too. But always ask yourself before you dive in: What do I want from this project?

If it’s a gift, get ‘er done. If it’s a gift for you, take your time and enjoy the ride. Either way you’re at the bench and that’s a good thing.

Dovetail chest Matthew DMP #12 013

Distance Mastery Student Matthew Kanomata’s Dovetail Chest







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If I Only Knew

If I only knew how easy it is to fix [insert problem], I would have done it years ago. The problem is not the problem in need of a solution: the drawer that needs planing or the joint that needs re-tuning or the door that needs to be built. It is turning my attention to this issue at hand that is the problem. It is getting me to slow down long enough to turn and face it. It is turning the battleship that is my attention and then moving forward.

Usually when I do, I find a solution, I dive into the work, I may make a couple of mistakes and fix those and get the job done much faster than all the complaining about how much work there is to do.  If I slow down long enough to focus on the issue, it oftentimes gets fixed in a jiffy.

Now turning that battleship, that’s the trick part. But so satisfying when I do.





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