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Of Axes, Chisels, & Mountain Bikes

Green woodworking with hand tools isn’t just about carving spoons or turning Windsor chairs. The method is immensely practical for building all kinds of outside-the-box structures in the woods, whether a log footbridge to span a stream or a lean-to for a quiet resting place. A few months ago, we heard from Seth Gebel, owner of Backyard Trail Builds, LLC, and proprietor of the popular (with millions of views) “Backyard Trail Builds” YouTube channel. Seth constructs incredible mountain biking features in the woods, and lately has been focusing his efforts on what he calls “Primal” builds, utilizing only hand tools. These creations involve clever hand-cut joinery, timber that is harvested, rived, and hewn on-site, pegged decking, and even incorporates reverse-twisted cordage from...

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Deadline for Craft Research Grant: June 1st

  Taking the time or finding the resources to be able to pursue craft knowledge can be hard when you’re a fixed-income retiree, a strapped grad student, or the breadwinner of a young and growing family. We’ve established the Mortise & Tenon Craft Research Grant to help folks from all walks of life to make these opportunities possible.   If you’ve been intending to apply but haven’t yet sent the application out in the mail, we recommend you do so ASAP, because the deadline is only two weeks away: June 1st. Mike and I already have a stack to read through and we’ve heard from others hoping to apply. We’ll be selecting the first two grant recipients in the first...

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Designing Simplicity

Design in its best sense means analyzing a problem and seeking the best solution. In order for more people to share in the joy of shaping the things they use, designs need simplifying in all fields. There is greater beauty in simpler forms and greater efficiency in saving materials, time, and energy. The important role of design in education has so often been ignored. Likewise, for too long the crafts have had an aura of the unattainable. This appears to function as a sort of psychological protective tariff for the members of an exclusive club. Frequently, emphasis is put on the most difficult designs rather than the simplest. This is another example of a wasteful approach to life, preserving an...

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Video Tour of My Spring-pole Lathe

  We just published a new video in our “Setting Up Shop” video series. This time, I introduce you to my spring-pole lathe. Besides an overview of the basic function and a few design considerations, I discuss a few additional features I’ve added since my article about the construction in Issue Three. Having been trained to do benchwork, I never envisioned having a lathe in my shop until a few years ago. I’ve had one kicking around outside for several years, but now that I have this guy settled in as a part of the workflow, I can’t imagine my shop without it.  – Joshua

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“Being in the World” Documentary

Philosophy is a hard sell. Pondering questions about the nature of knowledge, reason, existence, etc. is something that most folks have a hard time connecting to. At the level of ordinary, daily experience, we go to work and feel affection for our loved ones. In our downtime, we may ponder why it is that we gravitate toward certain perspectives or why things are the way they are, but few are able to devote their lives to mulling these things over. I know I have so much on my plate – family, business, farm, church, etc. – that I can only give so much to other things. But anytime I get to learn from those who have done all the mental...

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Repairs

It’s easy to bewail the current norm of “disposable furniture.” A flat-pack desk or shelf is purchased and lasts just a couple of years in a dorm room or office, only to be dragged to the curb when the back pops out or the drawer bottoms sag. In the past, this kind of wastefulness was unheard of. Objects were repaired and kept in use, often for centuries. It’s great fun to discover clever and unique repair solutions in old furniture. Take the example of this ladderback rocker. My guess is that the lower rear rung was a weak point and must have come loose periodically, so an ingenious (and mostly hidden) application of twisted wire under that rung was tightened...

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Not Everything Should Be Easy

  The video I posted the other day showing the Shaper Origin handheld CNC machine generated a number of thoughtful responses. The narrator made a few interesting assertions, but the one the was most peculiar was the first: “Making things should be easy.” This seemed to function as a premise for the sales pitch for a machine that, although pushed by a person’s hands, would “continuously fine-tune the spindle’s position” and in case the user wanders off course, “the blade automatically retracts.” This tells me that the express goal of the Shaper Origin is to ensure that “making things [is] easy.”  It can’t be denied that technological developments such as this machine facilitate the repetition and speed required of large-scale...

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Quite a Workout!

“I worked outside in the open air under the cover of a woodworking shed. The wood I was given was a trunk of greenwood, freshly cut from a tree. Unseasoned wood like this has a naturally high moisture content. I had no choice of wood during the television program, but usually when choosing the best wood for splitting you need to take great care to pick a vertically grown tree with no twists or knots along its surface. This ensures that once the wood is split it will be far less likely to bend or crack. It’s also important to make sure you have more wood than you might need. This ensures you have “spare parts” in the event of...

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People Behind the Walls

Editor’s note: This post is the first from our friend Cameron Turner, an accomplished woodworker based in Englewood, Colorado. We met Cameron at our 2019 summer workshop, after which he wrote an article for us about reproducing Henry David Thoreau’s desk. Mike and I have had many fruitful conversations with him over the past couple years, and we decided that we wanted our readers to benefit from his insights into woodworking, the natural world, and teaching young people. So, we invited Cameron to begin blogging alongside us. You’re in for a treat. John Cranch, Plasterer (1807) I’m not one of those perverse souls who actually enjoys hanging drywall, taping, and mudding. I do, however, deeply respect the people who do. The...

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