September 2016

This September was the month of Herbie.  Herbie was the biggest American elm (Ulmus americana) in all of New England.  The tree sprouted in 1794, which was during George Washington’s second administration.  Frank Knight, the Yarmouth, ME tree warden, had kept Herbie fairly healthy for almost 50 years.  In 2010, the tree as beyond saving, and had to be cut down.  Some of the branches were over 4′ thick (1.22 m), and the trunk was over 10′ long (3 m) and roughly 7′ (2.1 m) at the butt end. I joined the Herbie committee and suggested that we distribute the wood to craftspeople throughout Maine.  During the next 9 months the branches  were  cut up, and the trunk was sawn and the boards were kiln dried, and the wood was distributed to woodworkers throughout the state.   They made chairs, benches, birds, baseball bats, cabinets, desks, tables, music stands, hundreds of bowls, pens, a coffin, sculptures,  cutting boards, and even an electric guitar.  In November of 2010, we held and auction of the items, and the Yarmouth Tree Trust grossed over $80,000., and cleared roughly $49, 000., making Herbie the most valuable tree ever cut in Maine.  3HerbieThe Lucas mill cut the trunk into hundreds of boards, but couldn’t go low enough to slice the last 4″ (10 cm) at the center of the tree.  We were left with a slab 59″ wide (1.5 m) and 118″ long (3 m). Nobody wanted that huge, heavy piece.  We had it re-sawn a year later and stored it in a heated warehouse.  Recently, someone bought the two slabs, to be made into table tops.  They had shrunk down to 52″ (1.3 m).

The re-sawing operation left both slabs roughly 1 1/4″ (3.18 cm) at one end and almost 2 1/2″ (6.4 cm) at the other.  How to flatten them was a problem. I tried a router jig, but found that a) I couldn’t  reach across the jig and the full width of the board,  b) my back couldn’t take it, and c) flattening both sides of two slabs would take days, routing 1/4″  (64 mm) at a time.  We ended up taking the slabs to Westbrook, ME to a big shop with a 54″ (1.37 m) wide belt sander.  Let me tell you those slab were heavy!  Even with a 50 grit belt, we could only take off  1/2 mm at a time.  Do the math… it took about 70 passes for each slab.  Six hours the first day, then another hour the second day.  This is what they looked like back at the shop, leaning against my bench:shop/projects


I had to get a neighbor to help me heft them onto sawhorses.  First I used my jig saw to cut curves into all four sides, then a belt sander to fair the edges.  I lined up my  Lie-Nielsen planes across the width, #62, #5, and #7, for a full 50″ (1.27 m) width at the slabs had bark inclusions near one end, where the trunk began to branch out.  Those voids were roughly 3″ wide (17.8 cm) and about 36″ long (94 cm).  I tied them together with walnut butterflies, 3 each, half the thickness of the tops. The bulk was routed out, then the neighbor again, we flipped them over, and I routed out for small strips, and made them flush with the bottom of the slab.  This added a little more strength and divided each void into 4 areas per slab,  later to be filled with clear epoxy.  But first, they had to be hauled off to the finisher for two coats of satin conversion varnish.  Here is what they looked like before they took the better part of a day to finish sanding, and breaking all the edges and corners.   While the tops are being finished, stainless steel bases are being  fabricated.  I’ll keep you posted.

On a lighter note, we had a chance to see Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally while they were in Portland.  Their two person play was lewd and severely hilarious.   Afterwards, Nick gifted me with a bottle of Oban and Lagavulin, tasty, top of the line single malt Scotch.  Just right for my smallest wall cabinet (this one made of the Elder Joseph Brackett maple from the Sabbathday Lake Shaker community).CHB cases

Don’t forget the Open House October 1 & 2.  It’s Maine Crafts Weekend.  Stop by to chat if you’re in the area.

Thought for September:  A friend is someone I have a lasting, enjoyable human interaction with, not someone who clicks a button on a mega-corporate web site. —  C.H. Becksvoort © 2016



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August 2016

Summer in Maine is short and fast.  Three months and it’s gone,  but it’s great while it lasts.  This year has been dry, but we still had a plethora of flowers, including morning glories and black eyed Susans.

IMG_8772IMG_1890Working in the shop, I had a few pieces of furniture and a pile of smaller items, “thank yous” and fixits.  First, a Deer Isle coffee table.  This is how it starts: two frames, with lapped corners, then 16 legs are added one by one.

IMG_1896I had a piece of live oak, that a friend sent from Florida about 14 or 16 years ago.  It looked like it wanted to be a mallet, so that’s what I made.  Live oak  has an oven dried specific gravity of .98, meaning it’s heavy, and just barely floats.  Just right for a mallet.

IMG_8780Friends brought in a hammered dulcimer that I made back in 1977.  It needed new corners, where the strings angle around the sides to connect with the pins.  While I was at it, I also had to re-string it.  I have a tuning wrench, but no pitch pipe, so they’ll have to do their own tuning.  With 23 pairs of strings, that’s quite a job.

IMG_8771I also had a bit of fun on the lathe.  Another friend wanted a top, the kind you spin with your hands.  So I spent the morning trying various shapes and woods.  Clockwise from the top: cherry with brass screws, dogwood, spalted maple with a hickory shaft, lilac with a cherry shaft, persimmon, solid lilac, and Osage orange.

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If you’ve never worked with Osage orange, it’s a real treat.  Bright yellow, it eventually develops a brown patina.  This is what the lathe bed looked like afterwards:IMG_1903At the Sabbathday Lake Shaker community, we had the annual Friends weekend.  Having been a life member for decades, this was the first time I’ve attended.  It was a rare treat, and extremely informative.  First Leonard Brooks took us through the Trustees Office, all three floors,  showing various improvements and changes made over the years.  Next, museum curator Michael Graham showed us the new acquisitions displayed in the meeting room of the dwelling house, maps, boxes and chairs.  Finally, Brother Arnold Hadd took us on a tour of the Shaker bog.  Even though it was a foggy and drizzly day, it was impressive to see the bog, the islands and the lake, which fed and powered the Shaker mill.IMG_1913The following week I ran  a single step stool workshop  at Sabbathday Lake, and we made a bunch of these:

IMG_8785I addition I made another of my favorite round stands, what I consider to be the simplest, yet the most contemporary.  A 16″ top supported by a 7″ turned disc, below, on a post that  looks straight , but is actually slightly curved.  The legs are simple arcs dovetailed into the post.  Another  is due in October.IMG_8791Finally, after 20 some years of hoarding antique library card catalog drawers, I’ve decided to sell a few.  They are extremely handy for hardware, jewelry, spices, or collectibles.  They all show signs of age, and have a variety of hardware and finishes. Dovetailed front corners and finger jointed back corners.  The fronts have oak faces, although these can be replaced. Just cut the fronts at the dovetails, and add new fronts to cover the rod holes.  Making the fronts just over 5″ tall allows you to store CDs in the drawers. I’ll have them posted on the main site, as well as under Specials.  Cost is $60. for two or $100. for four, shipping included.IMG_8784As a parting shot, I want to remind everyone that all my furniture is gluten free.

C. H. Becksvoort © 2016

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July 2016

There is a reason Maine is called “Vacationland.”  Summer is short but amazing.  There is so much to see and do.  The weather is mostly cooperative, we’ve only had 3 days above 90° (32°C).  For the fourth of July, we took a day trip to Acadia National Park.  Not the main part on Mt Desert Island, but the less visited portion on the Schoodic peninsula. Pink granite with black basalt dikes running through, and big waves.  I got wet on the last one.

After 30 some years, my sign out front was looking a bit shopworn.  So I made a new one, this time out of marine plywood with marine paint.

IMG_1834July is also the time of Maine Open Farm Day. Again this year I was at the Shaker village at Sabbathday Lake, inside the barn.  There, all the way in the back, stood and old, dusty Massey-Harris tractor (before Fergusen).  There were hayrides, spinning demos, food, flowers and great people.  Very nice summer weather, as well.IMG_1869

There was also a lot of shop work.  First another standing desk., this one with a small stone pull on the inside drawer.

IMG_1884If we’re lucky, the standing desk will make an appearance in FWW sometime in the future.  Standing desks are really quite handy and easy on the back, especially if you have a foot rail below.

Another desk was a small built in, something I don’t usually do, but this was for a special client.  A short wall in an upstairs room had a 3-foot nook, just right for a small desk.  I made a three sided frame with a groove along the top, into which the writing surface slid.  Below the writing surface are two drawers with full extension glides.  It only took four visits to get it fitted and adjusted. IMG_4407M. A. Stevens-Becksvoort photo.

Finally this month I had a set of hinges made.  If you recall the post from October 2014, I made a few forge welded billets of Damascus steel.  They’ve been sitting around the shop, and I finally decided to have Dereck Glaser, head of the New England School of Metalwork, turn two of them into blanket box hinges.  He did an amazing job.  I’ve got a few 24″ side clear pine boards that have been air drying for 9 or 10 years, that really want to be a blanket box.  It’s on the schedule for this fall.

IMG_1865C. H. Becksvoort © 2016


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June 2016

Summer is always busy, and this June was no exception.  In addition to the usual shop work, teaching and writing, there are all the outside chores: the lawn, the garden, pruning and planting.  Always a pleasure to work outside in June.  Peonies, on of my favorite perennials, put on quite the show in white, pink and dark red.

IMG_1828The maple trees we planted over 30 years ago are maturing and needed to have some of their lower branches cut, so as not to shade out the rugosa roses.  There is a spot between the driveway and the house where we used to have a cherry tree, which died, and a crab apple, which the borers did in.  I finally found a beautiful specimen tree for that location, a weeping blue spruce. It only reaches 12-15 feet in height, perfect.

IMG_1817Meanwhile, there was a lot going on in the shop.  I made a nice bookcase, 24 x 36, with a paneled back, but didn’t get a photo before it got shipped out.  I also received a treasure trove of carving tools.  There was  an extra spoon gouge ,and decided to pass it on to a friend.  First, though, it needed a new handle.  I dug out a piece of hop hornbeam, and copied the old  one.  Finished with shoe-polish and oil.  Not too shabby.

IMG_1818The better part of late June was spent making another standing desk.  This one will be featured in an upcoming FWW article.  It gets assembled and photographed today.  A finished photo should be here soon.


We also had great dovetail workshops at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker village on June 25.  Well received and attended.  Upcoming on July 8 & 9, the Open House at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks in Warren, ME.  Friday morning at 11 am, I’ll be giving a talk on Shaker Furniture.  Saturday evening is the lobster dinner, followed by a coincidental Cowboy Junkies concert at the Strand Theater in Rockland.  What a summer!

C.H. Becksvoort © 2016

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May 2016

May was a diverse month, both in weather and in items coming out of the shop.  May is also the start of tourist season and we had out share of visitors.  One of my first projects this month was a set of two library display boards, delivered to Edmunds, ME.  That’s near Eastport, about a stones throw from the Canadian border. Quite a trip.

Next up was  state of Maine plaque, laser engraved and carved.

IMG_1752The most time consuming and challenging job was a restoration project, a rocking horse.  It was in really bad shape, left out in the rain, in a barn, and generally neglected and falling apart.  The body consisted of a piece of 1  1/4″ thick hardwood, with  a sheet of 5/8″ plywood on either side.  The wood was rotting and required extensive splicing and filling.  The rear hoof looked like this:IMG_1756It took a pint of bondo, new paint, and new leather straps and saddle, to bring it back to its original glory.IMG_1769Then it was vacation time: MCA weekend at Haystack.  This year I again took a blacksmithing course. On a cold Maine night, there is nothing better than to stand next to a furnace, beating hot metal, and shaping it, accompanied by an occasional  drink of Laphroaig.

IMG_6166(C. Jenkins photo.)

I made a few hooks, a towel rack, two candle holders and three pendants from previously made Damascus steel. The pendants await two jump rings and a silver chain.IMG_1771The first candle holder was made from a 12″ bar of 1/4″ steel,  hammered drawn out, spiraled and shaped.  the drip cup made from black pipe.IMG_1783The second was made from a piece of 7/8″ black pipe, shaped, and welded to stems, all three mounted on a scrap piece of walnut filched from the woodshop.IMG_1786Then, our usual volunteer work for a few days.  We made tables, display cases, sharpened chisels and plane blades, oiled, de-rusted, and even added a sliding table to the Sawstop.  This has been a tradition of Maine Woodworkers for over 20 years.

Back in the shop, the month concluded with a two day photo shoot for three articles to be featured in upcoming issues of FWW.  I made a Shaker sewing stand, and we shot photos for  methods of drawer stops and two approaches to half blind lipped drawers.  The sewing stand was all cherry, the first I’ve done in a few years.  A timeless design.  The drawers are accessible from both sides, and I included small magnets to act as drawer stops.  IMG_1789Weather-wise, we went from snow in late April, to weekly lawn mowing and fully leafed-out trees in May.  In my trips through the woods, I found a white  lady slipper.  The pink ones are pretty common, but the white ones are quite rare.  The first one on our property.IMG_1795C. H. Becksvoort © 2016

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April 2016

April is a funny month. It can be the end of mud season, or the beginning of spring. This year is was sort of in between. In Maine there is spring vacation, and my wife and I took a day to visit friends in Ellsworth, and again spend time to enjoy Acadia National Park. The top of Cadillac Mountain is always spectacular, although it can be quite windy. Nonetheless, most stunning.


On April 26 we were supposed to get a few snow flurries, turning to rain. Instead we got over 4″ of white. What a surprise.


Fortunately, it didn’t last. A few days later the sun was out and the first spring flowers made an appearance:  Wakerobins, and trout lilies (dog-tooth violets).

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On the 29th we took a side trip to Tarrytown, NY.  The first of this years Cowboy Junkie concerts.  We missed them the past two years, but this year we get three chances within reasonable driving distance.

April was not all fun and games. There was serious work in the shop.  I started a 6′ bookcase, this one without the drawer.  The case is rather straightforward, but the back is always fun.  Six panels in a frame.  The frame is 1 5/8″ quartersawn cherry, for the top and sides, so I can glue it into the rabbet in the back of the cabinet, and there will be no problems with wood movement.  Gluing and clamping is always a chore, but not if you have enough clamps for the job at hand:  six three footers, and two eights.  Notice that all the panels are oiled along the edges, so that if they shrink, there’s no white wood.  Lots of sanding, to break all those edges, inside and out along the panels and frame edges.  Then all the joints have to be pinned.

IMG_1682I also made four plaques, tiger maple with walnut frames, laser engraved copy with an almost 200 year old peg from the church steeple, engraved with different names, one for each of the plaques.


The last project was a very simple 30 x 50 table/ desk, oiled cherry.  Pinned mortise & tenon corners, with braces inside, and  expansion washers to allow the top to move.  Once finished and paid for, I never want to see my pieces again.


C.H. Becksvoort © 2016



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March 2016

Every year is different.  Winter of 2016 will be remembered as “we almost missed it,” and spring came early.  The first woodcock on March 13, the earliest I’ve observed in this part of Maine.  This, the last day of the month, also brought out the first spring peepers.   It was 72° F (22° C) today.

I had to make a delivery to a Gallery in Somesville, on Mt. Desert island.  After driving three hours and dropping off the pieces, I treated myself to yet another tour of Acadia National Park.  Coming through Bar Harbor in the off season, both Cottage and Main Streets were virtually empty.  The benefits of not being a tourist.IMG_1668In the park, I stopped at a beaver pond for a few photos.  You can just see the lodge in the center, near the far shore.

IMG_1662Also, a beautiful boulder, with a strip of pink granite in the middle.IMG_1665So much for the excitement on the last day of the month.  However, most of the time was spent working in the shop.  I made a matching set of bedside cabinets, dovetailed, with a single drawer, paneled back  and one adjustable shelf.  IMG_1647I also made a few new tealights, with  glass inserts.  By request, a cherry version of the “Shaker Six-pack.”  All the 1/8″ shelves are removable, so the cabinet can also be used as a small display case.  It’s only 4″ (10 cm) wide and 16″  (40.6 cm) high.  It has that nice, slightly irregular restoration glass.
















C. H. Becksvoort © 2016

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