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The Apprenticeship Program, Term One: Awesome.

The first term of the Mortise & Tenon Apprenticeship Program is wrapping up this week. We designed this eight-week course to offer students the opportunity to build structured handcraft practice into their lives, and to start to develop a pre-industrial way of thinking about woodworking. And it’s been an amazing ride. Joshua and I intended this course to be more relational than most online learning tends to be – we wanted to give regular feedback to our students and give them the chance to interact with one another. Handcraft has always carried a community aspect to it, and even in our compartmentalized lives today (and through a limited digital medium) our goal was to keep personal engagement at the center of...

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Charms Where None Exist: On Veneering

In an 1888 issue of The Decorator and The Furnisher, N.S. Stowell asks his well-heeled American readers to imagine what’s inside their fine furnishings: “Has it ever occurred to you when you have been looking with conscious pride at your elegant rosewood piano and mahogany furniture that its beauty is, as a matter of fact, only skin deep? If not, just give this subject a few moment’s consideration, and learn how art and ingenuity cannot only add to the attractions of nature, but actually create charms where none exist.” As Stowell suggests, veneer – in its pre-industrial and early industrial production – interwove frugality with luxury. By flaying a log of expensive mahogany into 1/16" thick slices, sawyers took advantage...

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A Place Full of Creativity

“I like to think that today's handcraft interest is helping us all to re-learn how to live with our hands and our hearts. I know it shows me how to slow down, use all my senses, surround myself with beauty, so something I love, and need less. My hope for everyone is that handcraft becomes a core guiding part of daily life rather than a temporary refuge from daily electronic chaos. The back-to-the-land movement had many of us learning rural skills that were commonplace only a generation before. Today, the so-called maker spaces popping up, especially in urban areas, are similar to exercise gyms that have taken the place of what were daily activities necessary to simply live in an...

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My Friend, the Mad Scientist

Donald Williams is one of my heroes. As the senior furniture conservator at the Smithsonian Institute for many years (now retired), he has been instrumental in shaping the field of conservation and training many of our nation’s foremost practitioners. Despite the fact that his experience and acumen are far beyond most anyone I’ve ever met, he’s a down-to-earth guy, eager to converse with craftspeople at all levels. For many years Don’s graciously welcomed me into his life as a mentor. He’s advised me through my meager furniture conservation efforts, supported me through my research into the furniture making of Jonathan Fisher, and remained a friend over the years M&T has developed. We regularly exchange emails, but I hadn’t seen him...

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Such a Gift

Over the past week, my family has been immersed in the beauty of the natural world on a road trip west from our home in coastal Maine. We started out at a remote cabin on a lake in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, then visited friends at their farm in Orange County (central) Vermont, and hiked through the vistas and rock garden of World’s End State Park in Forksville, PA, before dropping into Highland County, Virginia to visit our good friends, Don and Carolyn Williams. There will be more to come about my time with Don in his shop, but for now, I want to share a few snapshots of the glory we’ve been basking in. Our mission at...

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A Walk in the Woods: The Beauty of Maple

The numbers of tourists visiting Acadia National Park here in Maine are beginning to dwindle for the season, so those of us who live here are increasingly able to enjoy the park again. My family has a specific loop that we walk every autumn, in October as the foliage is peaking in color, and we continued that tradition last weekend. It was a good opportunity to reconsider the maple tree. Our most common maple is the red maple (Acer rubrum), which may take a backseat in prestige to the more widely known sugar maples (Acer saccharum) of New England, legendary for their maple syrup production. But the red maple has another trick up its sleeve. In the fall, when the...

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Make an Omelet from a Tree

It’s Greenwood Week in the Mortise & Tenon Apprenticeship Program, and our students from around the world have been felling trees with axes, riving, hewing, and carving their woodworking projects! In our Apprenticeship Forums, there’s been a lot of discussion about different greenwood projects that we can do. One of my favorites is making balsam whisks. I use balsam fir for these because it’s the most prevalent conifer in our woods, and because it’s super easy to find nice, symmetrical whorls. Five or six branchlets is ideal, and hunting for just the right whorl is half the fun. After finding a few good whorls, I bring them home, peel them, and bind them to dry a bit. This step helps...

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His Deepest Connection with the Past

Courtesy of the Eric Sloane Estate  Wandering abandoned farmsteads and rebuilding stone walls (a favorite hobby), Sloane made more discoveries: old tools, tucked away in the corner of a hayloft or hanging on some forgotten peg. He found a bog-iron gouge that had been long hidden in a stone fence and marveled at the durability of the tool to survive rust-free for centuries. In these tools, he found his deepest connection with the past. Courtesy of the Eric Sloane Estate “When we consider tools, we are dealing with human benefactors of the most primary sort. Tools increase and vary human power; they economize human time, and they convert raw substances into valuable and useful products. So when we muse on...

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YeOldTube

  A little over a week ago, woodworker and YouTube hero Rex Krueger kindly welcomed us onto his Patreon channel for a “Workbench Sessions” shop tour and Q&A. Mike and I had a great time sharing in the ins and outs of our woodshop and typical working arrangements. I think we hit all the essential features of the space, including our sole woodworking machine. (Can you guess what it is?) I’m sure those of you who regularly haunt the YouTube woodworking scene already know how successful Rex has been at championing human-centered woodworking. He builds all kinds of furniture, investigates antique pieces, and has even ventured down the green woodworking rabbit hole. Rex markets his instruction to beginners, and he...

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Off the Table

As the years have gone on, the M&T team has developed a few traditions to celebrate the completion of each issue. I have a few of my own personal customs, but the one I look forward to most is the triple-date dinner party in the shop. Mike and Megan Updegraff, Mike and Grace Cox, and Julia and I get sitters for our kids so that we can feast, laugh, and play games late into the night. We always seem to discover some new adult beverages and each couple brings a favorite game. Card and board games, mostly. Some have been strategic and level-headed, but most are… well… raucous. My kids always razz me the next day saying they could hear...

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