Closing the Year With Thanks!

Twas the eve before Christmas, a carpenter put down his tools, swept the shop floor, and placed the tools away for a few days’ rest. His hands, aching more than usual, and his body, seemed more wearied than usual. The loneness of finish, finalising things, no one else can do, rests on his shoulders. Questions flow in, out, back and forth and across with each brush stroke skimming the wood with silent liquid flowing out and the light reflects his care.

It was Christmas eve when these panels came together. Mesquite for the centre panel and the frieze on either side of the oak and ebony stripes.

I remember the years when beds and dining tables were ‘needed’ for Christmas delivery as though life depended on it and the work that took me many times into late nights, early mornings and then through the night too had to be done. How wearied I felt delivering on time after a four-hour trip both ways. Such are the days of the lone makers. In 2008 the order for two mesquite credenzas came in — not too many days before the Christmas holiday. Then halfway through the delivery date was changed, brought forward from the 24th of January to the 19th; one day before President Obama’s Inauguration. The credenzas had to be in place the day before. I recall an hour per day’s sleep for three days for me.

I completed the design above three weeks before Christmas and started it two weeks before. There are two of these, one either side of the door leading to the Oval Office in the Cabinet Room. It may have really taxed us to pull it together and deliver by the 19th of January but we did it! We did work Christmas day too though.

My enjoyment in making always overcomes the weariness I sometimes feel in the constructive processes of pulling and pushing, lifting, placing, shoving, stretching and compressing. Whenever I make my mind focus on the person I am making for. This seems always to steady me. Such is the power and dynamic of designing and making. In many ways I am thankful to no longer have customers per see, and that everything I now make comes from my inner being where the design formulates in a steady succession of preplanned steps. To describe work as joy seems to some an odd thing. I think few have the joy of three-dimensional making in a material that is so diverse. My granddaughter’s baby crib came together with all the needed joints in a short time. I was glad for the joints when I saw the three-year-old standing with both feet inside it even though it is but a foot long.

This was from a couple of years ago. I made it for my granddaughter’s Christmas present. Quarter-sawn offcuts mainly. I used housing dadoes throughout. It’s the only piece I ever made with hearts in it.

These seem small and mindless things, but I took stock of my mother’s request for various cutting boards through the years. She preferred small and thin to clunky, chunky and heavy that seems the more prevalent in kitchens these days. I trusted what she said in her creative abilities and that includes her kitchen abilities beyond the dressmaking she worked at as a full-time year-round maker.

Made from mesquite, these boards and spatulas will never crack, warp in any way and resist any of the usual wood tendencies. I discovered that maple was most likely to crack, twist and distort by comparison. Put six-inch wide mesquite in a bucket of water overnight and it expands a mere 2mm, put any other wood in the same bucket and they all expand 10mm minimum.

This is one of my last pieces this year. It’s the only one of its kind in the world. A hand-made, hand-cut dovetailed Zassenhaus coffee grinder made from mesquite cut down from a tree I took from Texas 30 years ago in a wilderness excursion near where I lived. I removed all of the metal components to reinstall them in my handwork. I thoroughly enjoyed this particular work as it is for one of my children who I know will treasure it for the years to come.

I am not always sure why I like making simple pieces like this. Basically, I replicated what already existed that was well-made enough but then I added a few features of my own. One feature was to add some inside diverters so that the grindings didn’t land on the rim of the drawer after grinding and thereby drop the powder all over the countertop. I added a tensioned steel leaf spring to the sides of the drawer so that the drawer self-centred in the opening. I assumed the lateral openness either side of the original drawer about 4mm on each side, was to allow either for expansion if wet or gravelly powder from the coffee grounds. Of course, the dovetails throughout the box front and back and to the drawer were definitely an upgrade.

This stand is for a hanging crystal light catcher in the form of a round prism. Turn the strings a few times and it rotates at speed and slows to a steady reciprocating spin to spin rainbows in refracted light around the room.

Mobile light catcher stands on the window sill where the prisms split the light into bright colours that spin off the walls and ceilings. It’s a simple gift made from strips of scrap wood from my latest project.

I made this one from 1/8″ mesquite and 1/16″ beech. The stem I tenoned through the foot with two shoulders left and right. Simple to make mostly with a spokeshave for shaping and then scraping with a thin scraper that bends to the contour.

Well, this has of course been and still is my lifestyle. Nothing of the past 58 years full-time daily making would I change. I made choices for this future planing at age 15 in 1965 and here on the cusp of 2023 I am still making. Who’d have thought that possible?

I hope that you have a wonderful Christmas. Thank you for spurring me on in the delivery of my craft into your hands, for perpetuating the life of a mere carpenter following in the steps of his Maker

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