Not lilac

Sumac has a bit of a curly/twisty growth habit, as does lilac. They’re quite different woods, the former soft and brown green, the latter hard and white purple. Old dead things though, I was clearing old brush and thought I had a great old lilac and that the wood had discolored with age. Not so. It took surprisingly long to clear the misapprehension.

I did make a knife/stirrer out of a piece.

It was the working characteristics, and the absence of the very distinctive smell of lilac wood, that finally hipped me to the present reality. It’s funny how strongly a (potentially false) first impression shapes belief.

It’s staghorn sumac. Not really the right kind of wood for a kitchen implement, but then again I only made it thinking it was lilac. This is one way a nonesuch can be born.

Peace, Love, Joy, and


You may recall the temporary ‘rescue‘ of a butter knife blade from the dustbin of history. That went well for a year or two but the wood selected for the handle was a trifle punky, the whole solution did not well resist the delicately tenacious influence of frequent washing. We don’t surrender here, though. Such indignities will not be suffered whilst there is power yet within us. No, we will fix the tools, we will raise the banner, we will march forward, and not only that, but with peace, love, joy, and humor.

The wood here is some non-endangered tropical hardwood, an ipe or ipe cousin perhaps. I had a nice scrap of it lying around. The blades are again Meriden cutlery.

My father’s father was a type-setter for the New York Daily News. He died when I was but a year old. I was told that in his role he was the final editor. Could you imagine, having to set blocks to stamp ink on paper? Manually adjusting micro-spacing? As I used these old letter punches I began to imagine.

The three knives pictured all had the same (short round) tang. Cutting the narrow handle blocks and centering the place for said tang took a little more precision than I usually deliver. A few tries, a old Chinese drill press, got it done with approximate correctness.

The last one, which was the one that had formerly been rescued, had a short flat tang. I tried a sawdust/glue mixture to fill the gaps, that worked fine for adhesion, but not so gracefully for the stamping.

You can see the cracks introduced, yet maybe this was a graceful turn, a suggestion from the universe (if one like to talk that way). I ran with it on the other side.

Surely you can follow.

Zebrawood Napkin Holder

Not too many of these. I was almost willing to bet that a search for “Zebrawood Napkin Holder” would whiff Google, but nay, one result.

There it is in the making. Quarter inch black walnut dowels will go down and across.


Deployed. Nothing learned here but at least avoided were the many common and hideous representations of mediocrity that often fill the function.

Not a birdhouse

Verily, as so many things are not birdhouses. The overwhelming majority, in fact.

But it looks like it might want to be a birdhouse, yes? This cannot be said of most things.

Fact is that it is to be a soap dish. You can see the soap dish that it will replace on the right. The old one was pine on the bottom and cedar on the side. This is teak on the bottom and red birch on the sides. The key design improvement is the orientation into the corner. The old one wanted to pull off the wall. This one will resist that inclination as it anchors on two walls. Wood joined with dowels. Impervious to rust.

There it is, deployed. MTBF perhaps 5 years.

Spoon 6

of lilac. Endeavor had a hanger-on as well, a stirrer knife thing. Stirrer knife thing failed.

Easily roughed with jigsaw, Arbortech ball gouge, hand tools.

The stirrer knife started with promise but lilac is often twisty and cracks follow those twists in the drying.

Next showing what the stirrer knife had to be reduced to in order to get around the cracks.

The thinness at the middle was not strong enough, even though lilac is a tough wood, again due to … micro-flaws!.

Nonetheless the spoon was deployed and now serves happily. The failed implement will help kindle some future fire.

Bowl 3

was a joy, quite spontaneous, matching the kitchen exactly by using the very same piece of wood as the counter, silly, a trencher, a dough bowl, two-tone. It floats.

First, wide Norfolk pine was used for the counter. About 30 running inches of this 24 inch wide board remained but it had a split in the middle. Running with that, I broke it along the split, slathered it up with wood glue, folded it over, and got an approximately 28 x 12 x 4 block.

Using a chainsaw I rounded the corners and did the rough gouging. Messy.

A kutzall disk, an Arbortech ball gouge, and one of those (terrifying) angle grinder chainsaw wheels let me complete the roughing.

Sandpaper, tung oil/limonene mixture applied

In very calm circumstances it may be seaworthy.

The act of producing it, I kept thinking of cubits and what a task Noah had. Even at a micro scale something feels compelling about building an ark, a vessel that carries all across a time of great challenge.

Palm at the End of the Mind

We don’t know where the end of the mind may be, nor if all or any minds may have such palms. We know that towards the end of his life Wallace Stevens wrote a poem called ‘Of Mere Being’ that spoke of such a palm.

The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,
A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.
You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.
The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

As usual, this may be a very oblique way of introducing the subject of this post. Then again, it may not be. You shall judge.

In early 2004, after a very cold and difficult yet triumphant winter in Syracuse I had the pleasure of spending a few days in Santa Barbara. Palm trees abound there and of one I took home a seed. I was very surprised later that spring when it sprouted in a pot on my porch in Massachusetts. For nine years or so it fought the odds of being a houseplant, kind of throve, pictured below in 2013.

It was struggling against the pot that it lived in. The roots were more vigorous than circumstance permitted. That story is told here. Some accommodation was made in the form of Box 17.

The goal of any seed is to find a place to thrive, eventually to bear fruit. Circle of Life and all that. In 2019 the palm moved with life and journeyed to Maine in a blue plastic trash can and lived therein until this past (2022) winter when a great and primal accommodation was completed.

The special thing here being, unlike Box 17, that the earth is connected and continuous, that should the palm seek to grow roots all the way to China (as they used to say, as it was told to children (one being me) in the sandbox, that of course you could dig all the way to China, it would just take such a very long time and it would be dangerous and what if the hole caved in?!) that indeed such roots could be grown.

Now it would seem that a bird is called for, with golden fire-fangled feathers.

Thunderbird Echo

Recently I’d provided a Thunderbird update, which was perhaps about impermanence. The funny thing that was occurring to me, perhaps captured even more in the idea of the phoenix, is the persistence of patterns across rising and decaying instantiations.

This is just a stack of scraps, on the one hand. It is in our minds that we desire to assemble scraps into meanings.


It might be something of an exaggeration to call it that, after all those being a type of massive structure built in ancient Mesopotamia, but nonetheless.

And what is it?

Taketh thee first 4 canisters of flaky layered Pilsbury Grands. Do not be feint of heart. Prepare several pounds of savory viands. In this case it was a parts of a tri-tip roast, a London broil, and some sirloin tips, browned tender with garlic and onions. Prepare also an warm and inviting sauce. In this case it was a combination of two sauces, the first being of 5 onions, 40 dried and homegrown tabasco peppers, and a quart of last years tomato harvest sauce. The other sauce was that from the ‘Heavenly Pork’ served at Easter, again tomato based, with thoughtful heat, black beans, and a depth of flavor. Full of warmth and nuance when combined.

Piece together eight of the biscuit dough pieces as a sheet. Layer on sauce, meat, shaved asiago, and spinach. Repeat. Repeat. Lather and rinse if you must. Repeat. Put it in the oven. 375. Cook till dough in the middle is fully baked. How long is this? Consult your proven oracles.

Let it cool. Slice.

Pictured slices were cut in thirds, all in all yield was about 16 servings. Froze most, awesome background snack to have available.

Mark my footsteps now good page, follow in them boldly!

Of Beefwood and Yew

For the last dozen years or so I’ve used a red oak wooden spatula, found on eBay, I think it was priced at four dollars. The fellow selling them had several for sale and I’m certain that he made them himself. I have an intuition, perhaps false, that he did not receive a lot of love at home for these labors of love. This post is in part to say that the what was made was perfect. Thank you, and not only for the that tool, but the inspiration and the knowledge that one can just, jiffy-quick, make your own.

Australian beefwood is a wonderful wood. It grows now, I think invasively, in Florida. Storm damage creates some supply here in the US. I received a large piece several years ago for my birthday. A small cut-off was all that was needed.

Tung oil, of course, with limonene, my default simple finish.

An emerging Buddha offers it to your attention.

As for yew, a wood noted for strength and flexibility, of English longbow fame, I had several yews at the front of the house and saved some trimmings. Same idea, a trivial making, quick, useful.

I won’t belabor the narrative. Simple things speak for themselves.