Author: Jason

St Mary Magdalene


At long last the new chapel at St Micheal’s Episcopal is complete.  The icon was blessed and hung today.  I have blogged about some of the furniture I built for the space, but the jewel of the whole project is the icon.

icoin open

This was painted by Zachary Roesemann, an icon painter here in West Brattleboro and a member of St Mike’s. I built the frame or case.  I thoroughly enjoyed working with Zach on this project.  It posed many challenges for me, especially hand carving the swan neck moldings.  Mitering the top corners was also quite tricky, as evidenced by my ruining two of the swan necks and needing to re-carve.

As with the rest of the chapel, this is a gift from Helen Daly, whose vision and insight led us to the creation of a space for contemplation and meditation.  A space that is welcoming without the weight of the more frequently seen Gothic architecture and styling.  Of course, this case would fit into that style, but for St. Mary Magdalene, the subject, and panels on the outside of the side panels.  Here it is closed.

icon closedThis is the same curly white birch used for the altar and other furniture.   Totally outrageous figure to the grain and really helps soften what would otherwise be a dark and dreary piece.  I should point out a couple of details.

The finial cross is carved to match the cross upon the Cathedral of Peterborough.  No significance there, just a handsome cross.  Each point terminates with a stylized fleur-de-lis .

icon crossAlso, the latch or hasp was created by Brattleboro blacksmith Eric Newquist.

icon haspGreat fun to work with these other artists and church members to create this piece.  The blessing dedication was a beautiful yet simple affair with incense and prayer as one might imagine.  This all in the week of the Feast of St Mary, which happened last Tuesday.


The Long Winter

lumber up the drivewayIt has been a long winter!  Here’s a photo of our horse hauling 100 bdft of walnut lumber up our steep driveway.   A two-wheel drive pick-up couldn’t make it up the hill, even with all that weight in the back.  Luckily we have this option from the 19th century.  This was in January, when there was not much snow – just enough to make the driving tricky.   The cold has eaten most of my firewood.  Today it was in the teens!  If I don’t keep the fire going all weekend, Mondays are quite cold at the bench.   We have started Maple sugaring, but only just barely.  Usually we are finishing by now.

So all this lumber is for a repeat customer who would like more bookshelves!  Don’t we all need more shelves.  Other work this winter is also for repeat customers.  I am just finishing a storage for recording equipment for Trinity Wall St in Manhattan.  After the bookshelves I will build dividing screens in the frame and panel style that I matched last year for St Paul’s Chapel also in Manhattan.  Here’s a picture of the sound booth I did for them.

painted sound boothI’ll write a post on this later with better photos, especially showing the roll top desk inside.

I enjoy the varied work.  It takes longer, as the design always needs to be worked out and perhaps new techniques learned, but it keeps my brain engaged.  A vital strategy for surviving the long winters.

New Work for New Chapel

IMG_6302Here is a shot of the new chapel at the St Michael’s Episcopal Church, here in Brattleboro.  These three pieces – altar, side table or credence, and lecturn – I built this spring.  This is curly white birch, some of which is from a log I bought from a sawyer several years ago.  There is also a Roubo bookstand of the same stock on the shelf of the credence in the background.

Also of note, the two bowls on the altar are by West Brattleboro potter and friend Walter Slowinski.  He made  a communion set which I built a fitted box for of the same wood.  The arched door and one matching it were built by another friend, and old college buddy, Bill Congleton.

Here’s another piece with a more plebeian task, storing meditation pillows.

IMG_6303IMG_6305This one was a lot of fun.  The left and center doors are hinged together as bi-fold doors.  I don’t work in oak often, especially for case pieces, but this has me wanting to do more.  The design is rather spare, but the doors offered a good opportunity for the symbolic three crosses framing the door panels.

There will be an opening ceremony/celebration for all the new work at the Church, including the Mary Magdalen Chapel this weekend.  The Bishop will bless the altar!  Thanks must go to Zachary and Clark who know my work and hired me to do the custom furniture.  They were tapped by Helen Daly whose generous donation funded the addition and its furnishings.  Sadly, she passed away just as I was invited into the process.  May her gift bring the same peace she brought to the world in her life.  Sincere appreciation goes to her and her family.



New Carvings

mapleI’ve been wanting to do more carving in my work, so when an order came for a small box with a maple tree carved on the top, I built a couple extra.  Here’s a maple tree carved into a maple box.  The carving only took about twenty minutes working freehand.  I spend a lot of time looking at maple trees in the winter, so I could do this without much trouble.  I’ll need to look carefully at some cherry trees next winter.  This box and another with some nice figure in the top and an apple tree carving are available at the Ann Coleman Gallery in Wilmington, Vermont.

I had so much fun, I want to build boxes of different woods with carvings of the tree species on the top.  Cherry, birch, elm, walnut, butternut, oak, pine – I’ve got a lot of work to do.  I better get going!


What goes into a piece of furniture?

hauling mapleThis is the second step in building my furniture – hauling the logs to my mill.  The first step is cutting the tree.  This is a nice maple that died in our sugar bush.  Cutting it made room for some others to grow in and perhaps remove any contagions from the forest.  While I try to leave plenty of standing deadwood for the flying squirrels, this is too big and  nice to let rot.  Building something useful with it also keeps a lifetime of carbon sequestered in  the wood, rather than slowly releasing it back into the atmosphere.

But now what?  I need to decide how to cut it into boards.  What thickness?  Squared edge or live-edge?  If there is figure in the grain, I must decide what angle to cut it to maximize the figure.  Quarter-sawing yields narrower boards, but it will be more stable through the seasons.

I do not seek out FSC or other certified lumber, although I support the idea of careful forestry and resource management.  The fact is, I don’t need to buy much lumber.  I generally use what I harvest from my own land (usually dead trees) or neighboring properties.  I need to go a little farther for some species.  Maple, hickory, beech, hornbeam and apple grow well on our land.  Neighbors have cherry, oak and birch.   Occasionally I find an unusual log, like the mulberry I have waiting to be milled into lumber for a small table and perhaps chair.  This log and the sumac I used for the “Green Cabinet” came from my neighbor Doug.

Sometimes a customer has a log or tree that needed to come down (before, during or after a storm.)  I will mill to my own specifications to get what I need to make the piece(s) they desire.

milling pine 1Here is what I see as I set up the cut on the mill.  One face of this pine log has been cut and a board or two taken off.  Then I rotated it and am preparing to cut the next face.   The saw blade is barely visible about 2″ down from the top of the log.  In this case I’m making a timber for a building frame.  If I want pine lumber, I usually saw through-and-through – I don’t rotate the log, just cut boards.  This gives me boards that are wider on one end than the other.  This would be annoying if I was laying a floor or sheathing a roof, but I’m not.  I use three or four foot long pieces most of the time, so that board that tapers from 18″ down to 14″  could give me the side for a 16″ high chest, with the remaining 14″ board for moldings or feet, perhaps a bottom board.  If I cut everything square, I’d have a 14″ wide board – no blanket chest! So I can get maximum efficiency if I know what I’m doing with that piece of wood.  The design starts at the mill.

Next I’ll stack all the lumber with stickers – small, square pine pieces – separating the layers.  They will dry for at least a year, depending on the thickness.  Then I’ll bring them into the shop in the month before I need them.  The time in the shop helps to dry them further in hopes they will reach equilibrium with the moisture content in the room.  If I don’t do this they warp as I work with them, or should I say, “as I work against them.”

I do not kiln dry my lumber.  It does not need it.  Air dried lumber may be  more prone to twist and cruck while drying, but once it is done it can be worked without fear of it changing its shape.  I also find that air dried lumber has better color and working properties.  It slices before the sharp edge of the chisel.  Kiln dried lumber, especially cherry, tends to crack and splinter or turn to dust.  What is easier to cut, butter at room temperature or a very old, dry baguette?

All this goes into furniture making.  Mostly it happens by someone other than the maker.  I try to do it all, and enjoy the work.  I like getting out of the shop to work on my land.  My family works with me.  Jonas already helps where he can.  Margaret is learning to lead the horse and soon they can both start driving.
Here’s some of the unthought of steps in building with wood.  I’ll write more in time.





New woodworker


lapdesk and plans

My eight year old son Jonas often works next to me at a small bench I cart around to demonstrations.  He has made many toys, especially haying equipment for his little tractors or horses.  A few weeks ago he handed me these drawings.  He has always liked the small lap desk that lives in the farmhouse we rent in Maine for a week every fall.   This was the first  time he had made careful drawings.  I spent some time with him on a few details; then we worked out a cut list.

I try to keep thin pine in stock for both kids to work with, so he was able to go straight from drawing to sawing.  We developed a strategy for cutting one eight foot piece into all the parts needed.   With only a little help holding such a long piece, he cut it into needed lengths, then cut to width.

Over the next couple weeks he worked interpreting the drawings and cut list.  I helped with some of the more precise sizing and squaring, something he has not needed to do until now.  Then we nailed it together.

Jonas has been using it ever since.  He took these photos to post here on my blog.


lapdesk open


Chest of Drawers

walnut music chestHere’s a new chest made for sheet music.  Nothing fancy in the design, just some nice walnut and hand made knobs.  The chest stands about 20″ tall, so it has a presence, yet is still a small chest.  It reminds me of those thread displays that were once in every dry goods store,  with all the colors on display inside the drawers.  Perhaps also a machinists tool chest, although they would have much shallower drawers.

Here’s a shot of a drawer pull.  Nothing fancy, but a bit nicer than the plain Shaker styles available.  I ground a file to the profile on the end of the knob and just had to touch each knob while it spun on the lathe.  A very easy technique for making complicated duplicates.

walnut music chest cu

I’m kind of jealous, as I could use one of these in the shop for hand tools.

Happy New Year

The Holidays are over.  They get better every year as Erica and I figure out new ways to enjoy the season with our two kids.  At eight and five years old, they are still young enough to be captivated by the mysteries of Christmas.  They are now old enough to enjoy (and sing) all the music and the pleasures of both giving and receiving.  It is a time to reflect on the old year and dream for the new one.

jete table2I sold a pair of cherry tables I made a couple years ago.  These are the Jete tables, with subtle curves wherever I could work them in.  “Very delicate”, or “feminine,” some people have said.  “Sexy,” says another.  I have used this design as a starting point for a set of pieces for the new chapel at the local Episcopal Church.  The directive was for a “feminine” aesthetic.   In curly birch, this design will really fit the bill.

So the sale of some tables in the last month and the building of similar ones in the next ties the two years together with the kind of symmetry I strive for in my work and the rest of my life.   I’m also looking forward to some improvements in the shop.  More formal storage spaces and a new bench.   At this point I have no shows lined up, perhaps an open studio tour in the Fall.


Wood Puzzles

A new product for the Winter Farmers Market.  I first made this for my kids and their friends last Christmas.  The kids loved them; the parents love them.  I do, too, so I built some more.  The painted ones are maple, the natural pieces are walnut, cherry, sumac and yellow wood.  Total size is about five inches across.  The pieces are about 1 1/4″ on a side.  These are not suitable for toddlers and babies, due to the choking hazard, but are a lot of fun for 4-5yrs and up.  Especially for kids in the 30-60 range.

At market I can watch the kids walking  (bored) with their parents along the display of beautiful veggies, orchard produce, etc.  then get sucked into the whirlpool of color as they approach my stand.   They come right over and seem surprised to find something they would like.  Who says that Farmers Markets are for grown-ups?

Prices :  Colored $15, Natural $18.

These are for sale at the Brattleboro Winter Farmers Market, Saturdays through December.  See last blog entry for more details.

Brattleboro Winter Farmers Market

Here is a photo of what I’ve been playing with lately.  Helps to end the day with some meditative turning.  I will be selling these and other small items at the Brattleboro Winter Farmers Market.  Find us on Main St at the River Garden Saturdays from 10 to 2PM except until 3PM during the Christmas season.

I have turned bowls, various Christmas ornaments, a few turned boxes, including the stacked set shown below:If you’re in the Brattleboro area on a Saturday, stop in.  Have lunch.  Buy provisions.  Buy Christmas gifts.   Make friends.  Visit.

See you there.