Box 17, the Cincinnati Connection

or maybe it’s the Blob connection.  We’re talking about a big box here, at least compared to the size of any previous box I’ve made.  Greater than 16 cubic feet..  Only two previous boxes (4 + 6, the tool box and the tombstone planter) vaguely pushed at a cubic foot. The idea of it kept whispering ‘Cincinnati, Cincinnati’ to me, as if something that big was meant to consume something even bigger, to grow, a force unto itself.  There was a movie.  Actually, here I was about to insert a hyperlink to a move called “The Blob that ate Cincinnati” – HOWEVER – apparently there never was such a movie. There was a movie about a cockroach that ate Cincinnati, and apparently the Blob was not as vigorous as I’d imagined, eating whole municipalities, so the connection must have to something to do with rational proteins making a memory where none existed.  I could have sworn till moments ago that I could picture said Blob (from memory) overwhelming the skyline of Cincinnati on its way to heaven knows where.  So this connection, this whispering by an idea of a (false) memory.  Subtle are the workings and non-workings in the mind.  First things first though.

Going back to early 2004 I was in Santa Barbara after a long project.  I spent a day collecting seeds, since they have such beautiful things growing there.  One was a palm seed that eventually sprouted and has thrived since.


Of course every year it gets bigger.  The last few years I’ve not re-potted and I guess the roots keep growing, they’ve pushed it up in pot till the soil is over the top of the pot.

Palm Soil

Also the pot itself is crumbling.  Long story short it needs a new pot, but there are not so many pots that would be a fit step up.  Flash now to 2010, in Hawaii, stopping somewhere near Punalu’u at a roadside coffee farm where also there were lots of macadamia trees.  Took a bunch of the nuts home, planted a few, one took and for a few years each year did better and better.  This year though it too was getting tired of it’s pot and something happened too where it dropped most of its leaves.


It too, therefore, was in the new pot market. Maybe a pot big enough for both of them?  Cincinnati, Cincinnati!  The existing pots, truncated cones, were about eighteen inches in height and also 18 inches in diameter at the top.  I wanted not to do this every year or two.  Twenty four?  For each, as cubes, 2 x 2 x 2, x2, or 2 x 4 x 2.  It’s only sixteen cubic feet.  How much could that weigh?  I looked it up…

Weights of Other Materials in Pounds Per *Cubic Foot

Earth, Common Loam    75.00-90.00
Earth, Dry/Loose            76.00
Earth, Dry/Packed         95.00
Earth, Mud/Packed        115.00

Hmm.  How much does a milk cow weigh?  About 1500 pounds, it is reported.  Light dirt would bring it in at 1200.  Packed mud at 1840.  Somewhere in the middle, about a cow’s worth.  It’s hard to believe though.  And the box itself probably adds 100 pounds.  Mud + box plus a few decorative rocks on top?  Perhaps a ton.  Sounds like a realistic plan, so.

Grooved Posts with Pegs

Notched 4 x 4’s for strength.  No screws, so nothing can be screwed up.  Dowels.  Can’t rust either.

Frame Ends

Two end frames.

Frame clamped

I was pleased with this, only having four foot long pipe clamps, that by using the middle bars I could effectively brace the whole thing for assembly.  I had a bunch of  1 x 6 fir tongue and groove boards left over from a dozen years ago, had to supplement a bit.

Clad Frame

Got a feeling of building a barn or an ark.  A mighty thing it seems, initially, but would a cow just laugh at it?  Clearly the design banks on the inertness of the soil.  A ton of earth is not a ton of live and kicking muscle.

Clad Frame Emerging

Here it is emerging from the workshop into the world.  So uncertain, these first steps.

Stops for a sanding

Stood up nicely, first on one side then the other, for a final sanding in a well ventilated area.  The lowest two slats worth of cladding and the bottom are lined with plastic sheeting, to keep water off the wood and to force it to drain out that center opening you see.  A catch pan will sit under that.  During this sanding process it started to snow – this being October 18th, mind you, and the first frost only having been the previous evening.  I had taken the sanding outside both for the open air and also to see what my assistant wanted to contribute.

Assistant sees the snow

The assistant first has gone to get some lumber, but then he saw (see the white streak in the picture) the snow flakes.  He decided instead then to contemplate them

Assistant contemplates

Tonight Box 17 sits outside on the deck waiting domestic blessing.  The palm and macadamia, had they eyes, would be able to see it just on the other side of the window.  I don’t know what they know, if a plant knows it has a mentor.

Another post on this will follow, showing either the rejected box, no doubt angry, hitching a ride for Cincinnati, or a box living a purpose driven life, holding the world together for two trees and probably a ton of smaller experimental plantings.

Until soon


Anôhcumunsh micuwak mushaniqak

Really.  In many ways this missive will miss many marks, yet squirrels do eat acorns.

First, to translate, the Mohegans, a Northeastern US tribe of Native Americans, whose language is in the Algonquin family, might declare “Anôhcumunsh micuwak mushaniqak” if they meant to indicate that squirrels eat acorns.  I get to this for several reasons and in several ways, but first, myself not being much of a Native American, wish to briefly go on record against the titling of this post as being an wicked act of cultural appropriation.  I don’t think I even need to testify that my respect of all indigenous peoples in the practice of their culture far exceeds my respect of we in the practice of rabid modernity.

OK.  It was my intent this week to gather a great mass of acorns and make them into cookies and acorn butter.  I had done this once before three years ago and it turned out plausibly well, but that was before I had this ability to document such an enterprise so readily.  I figured that this experience ought to be preserved that others might benefit (I do have to wonder how my imagination comes up with such hypotheses).  Let me start with the process of gathering the acorns.  Even though it’s really a pretty straight forward thing I found so many points on the way that were not acorns yet held related interest.

I set forth with my dog one morning near the end of September to the local woods.  It’s a big woods, well, in this suburban area a woods of 1000 acres is considered big.  It’s no wilderness.  Much of it is forested in pine, maple and oak.  Knowing when the right time is is very important.  Too early and nary an acorn.  Too late and the acorn weevils have won the day.  Acorn weevils, you ask?  Yes.  I’ve never seen an adult, but I’ve seen the larvae. The larvae are planted into the acorns by their mothers.  They eat their way out and drop to the forest floor.  Funny looking things, supposedly.

Acorn Weevil - Lignyodes helvolus

Anyway, I know to avoid acorns with a tell-tale little hole in them – that’s where the weevil larvae have eaten their way out and wreaked important havoc on the integrity of the acorn, especially for eating.  I’ve not always noticed the hole that gets the larvae eggs in there.  I was encountering about a 1 in thirty ratio of acorns with larvae.  Maybe one in twenty where somehow there had been a larvae, you could tell from black marks in the nut flesh itself, but no larvae to be found.  Most were clear though, of those I picked up, but if I picked up all I think most would not have been clear.

Now the actual looking for the acorns – of course they are near to oak trees, and in the woods I was in these would be red and white oaks, so named for the tones of the wood they yield.  Red oaks drop acorns every second year, while white oaks produce new ones each year.  The actual looking involves looking for the recently fallen, so to see a few recently fallen ones together suggests some sort of active drop zone, as soon the squirrels will come, and they can tell the good ones.  Thankfully the squirrel population in this woods is low, as we have just enough wild cover that we have natural predators. Foxes, coyotes, an occasional lynx.  Now and then a bear proves that he’s more than a myth, but I don’t see the bears as really gobbling up all the squirrels.  Remember the fox who ran by in the early spring?  I think that’s a squirrel in her mouth.  The looking for acorns though, as one goes quietly in the underbrush, guided by what seem nearer or further oak-like silhouettes and the occasional sudden messenger sound of an acorn falling close or just a little farther away – should I go and pick that one up?  Has it fallen just for me? Quercus, Quercus, can you hear me – do you laugh that I would think to call you Quercus?  Might the Algonquins who called you mitigomij, the Abenaki who called you wachilmezi, the Cherokee who called you tsu-s-ga – might they know your real name?

And here I stopped for a moment.  Real name.  How powerfully romantic.  And for what, the ancestor spirit of all oaks?  Still present?  Are you here, can you hear me?  If I could speak your name, if you had a name, would you answer?  Will you open the door for me, the door to where the great oaks live powerfully ideal oak lives,raining apple-sized acorns down, fit for dire Pleistocene mega-squirrels, the door to where abundance and magic dwell?  If only I knew your name.  Even the earth-wise natives who roamed the forests and lived on the acorns, did they know your name, and if so how, how is it that they had different names, unless a name is only a name for the limited experience we can have, so that a name is like “I encountering what I imagine you to be” and is more colored with our imagination than the real oak or object named.  Maybe names are the weakest things, a device of megalomaniacal monkeys, a tool perhaps for them to refer to some cluster of phenomenon (and thereby hopefully control them), but by no means possessed of the magic and truth they’d like to imagine.  Quercus, can you open the door?  If there were true names, names inseparable from the being they named, what would it be?  There’s another challenge I’ll mention, that of this oak vs. that oak.  It is easier to imagine that a given oak has a given name.  The tree Orgovius.  The tree Reefshnees.  One might never know how they got such names, but it could be that only the given tree could have such a name.  All trees though, especially trees, are connected in time and space through the seeds, that the first tree morphed and gave life to ten or a thousand trees – I think it is right to consider those children very much like branches, and those children then each another thousand, until somewhere some one of them was Oak, and the millions of children and progeny are also oak and that invisible tree which spawned them all lives in them and (it taunts the imagination) in many ways is presently here, is a giant thing that is more than spirit, and the name of that – perhaps such a name, were it to exist, would be not something rendered in a narrow frequency of sound, but maybe in smells and a music of sounds and patterns of growth and decay, or maybe (the name) is just not a thing for it, that while it is real and immense and present it has no recognition whatsoever of our puny magic of names.

Without true names I am only as good as my attentiveness to what is here.  If there is an available magic it is found in being present.  I hear you, though I know you not.  Look, there are a bunch of, why they are practically watermelons they are such big acorns, and there, where the path rolls down, look how the fallen acorns have gathered in clumps, and here, in this hollow with last years leaves, so many, so many fat and good ones.  The more I looked the more the blessings I received until I had filled the five pound bag almost all at once it seemed, and indeed, could have gone on had I a village of helpers to un-shell them, but for now, this business of gathering acorns, accomplished, and with wonder and thankfulness.

Before going on I do must have to say that another branch of the thought on names, their true-ness (as inseparable from the being so named), and even leaving aside for a moment the comparatively new idea to me that no true names may exist, a rush of thoughts were drawn along the line of the ancient story of the Tower of Babel.  Remember that thing with the tower?  Supposedly at that time all persons spoke the same language. Perhaps not a language of “true” names but one shared by all.  The word for oak, whatever that was, was never in dispute, there was only one name.  A very amazing circumstance.  That across the whole of the earth all monkeys shared the same words for the same things. And it was arbitrary?  The word was somehow randomly chosen?  Or is it that the names came from our nature, as I suggested above, I encountering both you and what I imagine you to be.  Tiger.  What a grave muddle, not a random thing nor necessarily a true thing, yet from our nature.  Something perhaps of a necessary consequence.  Anyway I’ve not even gotten to the point yet, that here supposedly we were, all sharing a language and building towers and other monkey what not when supposedly God takes notice.  Not liking the look of that, he says.  I shall confound your tongues so that you will no longer understand each other.  Is this why I cannot talk to a tree?  Back before this confounding, if there was only one language, did all creatures understand it?  There’s a lot one gets into when gathering acorns, or at least that one can.  The forest is full of avenues of wonder.

This story of the confounding of tongues has always sat ill with me.  If we’re gonna go for an omnipotent creator God, could that God really be so piddling that he was afraid that people might understand each other?  Or was the message subtler, that since perhaps there really are no true names, that therefore to rely on truths that can be gotten to via language alone, is to be deceived from the start, is to be self-enchanted, too much in a land of monkeyshines and too little in the immense sea of what is possible.  Maybe even knowledge, if this is the metaphysical digression paragraph, is like that too.  In the grand scheme it’s either small or wrong or both.  Whether the reason we don’t have true names is because such just aren’t available, or because the almighty creator got wigged out at us very tricky monkeys, the facts are that neither do we understand each other nor do we understand things with a keen and magical precision.  It’s not going to happen soon either. The long and long of it is that I gathered up a bunch of acorns.

Full Dish

So finally I can get on to the story of what I did with these acorns, but it could be that most of you will not get here.  Oh wait – I’m having a reflective moment.  Maybe, oh, no  – I won’t go that way.  Really – we get to progress on the acorn channel.  Here I am preparing philosophical cookies.  I know beforehand that unless great care is taken they will come out objectionable to modern man.  Bitter.  But this is a little ahead of the story line.  Shelling.  Five pounds of acorns.  About three hours.  Here are the tools I used.


The nut cracker is excellent with that backing plate.  The knife is good too in that it’s not too sharp.  It’s pretty easy to stab or slash oneself accidentally when applying what sometimes is more than a little force.  The array of bowls follows.

Shelling in Progress

Cracking one acorn then prying out the nutmeat was a very slow way to go.  Better to crack thirty or fifty in a row, then pry out the batch.  The cost of changing the tools in your hand fifty times pays back well.  Also more force on the crushing better than delicate.  They are not brittle, so it’s not like a little crack in the shell means the resistance is broken.  Crush quickly and strongly.  Next.

Three hours later, a bowl of shelled acorns.  I did not take photos of the acorns containing acorn weevil larvae, that is too visceral a negative association.. Google it if you must.

Bowl of Acorns

I set the acorns in water and set them down to leach.  When the water got red I dumped and re-filled, about every four hours.

Let the Leaching Begin

Tannins in the water

I think the last time I did this step I leached with a low simmer of heat.  This time I did not.  It took six rinses to get the tannins out, or so I thought.  Foreshadowing.

I then took the acorns and put them under a towel and beat them.  It was nothing personal. I think this step would have been better before the leaching, so as to expose more surface area.  After roasting they looked great.


Roasted Close Up

And I ate a few but they were still quite tannic – bitter.  I plowed forward though, for sugar and honey were on the other side – what is not fixed by sugar and honey, oh America?  Tell me!

I used a blender to grind them to a peanut butter like consistency.  About half of them actually.

First Grinding

In the first cup above are just a few shelled acorns, as I said, noteworthily bitter, not a flat stop don’t eat it bitter, but only for those not against real bitter.  The second cup is just a dry grind of same.  The third adding honey, but not so much, maybe two ounces.  The fourth with salt and honey.  Overall these all were just a little too bitter for any common taste buds, mine notwithstanding.

Not wanting that the cookies should be a fail, though, I wondered if heat in the leaching would produce a stronger tannin removal.  I took the second half of the acorns and gave them two hour long boiling rinses.  The water turned heartily brown red the first time and less so the second, so I thought, I think rightly, that the end of the utility of the method was near.  I could have ground them more and repeated, but to my taste they now had a nice ‘signature bitterness’ – flavorful, like hops or too long brewed tea, something one could identify and appreciate.  Therefore once again, I proceeded.  The acorn starch below I got at the same Asian market from which I rescued the radish last year.

Acorn Starch

Acorn Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies.

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 light brown sugar
3/4 cup coconut sugar
2 eggs medium eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup acorn starch
1 cup rolled oats
11.5 oz milk chocolate chips
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup acorns ground to a chunky nut butter consistency
3/4 cup acorns not too much chopped at all – chunky

Mix it all together, use a tablespoon to portion out dough.  Bake at 350.  Made 36.

Acorn Cookies

Fine milk chocolate chips, a cup and a half of sugar were enough to persuade the majority of tasters, including some very polite Jehovah’s Witnesses who had stopped by, that these were good cookies.  Eating a few myself I feel the anticipated benefits – clear vision, increased strength, enhanced clarity of thinking, exuberance, I think I’ll live longer, I’m now impervious to dull axes.

I ground the remainder of the acorns with a hand grinder and mixed them with the initial bitter ground nut butters.  I mixed a much more liberal amount of honey with these, and added just enough salt.  I am thinking an acorn baklava next, with this surplus.  I know it will work.

Second Grinding

All in all this was a very satisfying journey.  Lots of mistakes, lots of things learned, lots of little surprises and twists, some decent eats, some knowledge of what our ancestors had to negotiate to eat acorns.  I’ll close with a link to real native American acorn preparation narrative.  Much more grounded and direct than this.  At the same time those are California acorns, and this is Massachusetts, and maybe the deal is that you have bring who you are to your acorn process or it won’t come out right.  Or maybe not.

Thank you and all the best to you dear readers.

Dancing Mirror Cabinet

Because really, you did not know that you needed one, but is not the appeal to self-evidence sufficient?

Mirror Box Back

This is 100% upcycled.

Mirror Box Right

See how ready it is.  I think it more a dancer than a runner.  And it gives something back, like when you look it in the face it shows you something.  And it has ample payload capacity.

Mirror Box Left

It sees things too – notice how it reveals THE brass turtle spittoon.  You might have to click on the picture.  I close with an old poem referencing said turtle.

Melancholy Threshold
The day is waning where pomegranates,
lush and languorous, have blithe dominion
on sultry and indolent afternoons.

The hour is nearly past where languid decay,
like over-ripe fruit, sweetens the absence
of honest reflection and firm resolve.

The moment is fading in an amber
twilight where the imagined animates
the reality of the inanimate.

Now every stone that is thrown
is inseparable from the throwing.
Every intention nurtured becomes
the character of what is perceived.

Now the brass spittoon,
in the form of a turtle,
taunts the ghost of indecision.


Box 16 is a Turtle

I never would have predicted this – I mean, boxes are generally not turtles.  I guess there is a kind of turtle called a box turtle, but I only knew that in passing and could not tell you much about box turtles before reading the content in the hyperlink you’ve just passed.  This started because my sister recently sent me a wooden turtle that had come from my grandfather’s house.



I vaguely recall this guy from when I was a wee lad, as something in the set of forbidden things one was not to touch.  Anyway, the turtle comes to my house and I’m honored, that across fifty years finally, it has no better place to go, and now I’m good enough.  But really I’m at peace with this turtle, just being a little dramatic.  Anyway, looking at it, suddenly it seemed like a great idea to make a new one – this is what ADD is all about – there is a wild delight in chasing that next squirrel.

I noticed that quarter-sawn wood would be a very bad choice for this design, as that would taunt the legs to break off at where they join the body.  In fact, selecting a flaw-sawn piece where it was a chord near the edge, such that each of the legs could be with the grain as they came down and out from the body, that would be perfect.  I found a piece of black walnut with just such a grain.  I probably should have taken pictures of some of these intriguing intermediate steps, but I had not thought the exercise would turn out so happily, so my dry text will have to do for a bit.

Getting the face and feet more right seemed somehow important, as if in keeping with my neo-primitive preferences a little worshipful realism might be the thing.  I browsed pictures of turtle tails and turtle feet and turtles faces.  My primary model for the face, just to make sure I was honoring the truth about turtle faces, follows.



And thus memorialized –


My attempt was not to mimic the whole turtle photo, merely to use the face as a way of improving the marginally correct face on the wooden original.  This is a box, and I even stamped the inside using the railroad spike signature stamp I’d made some time back.  The cool thing was, that to make an imprint properly one needs single strong and decisive hammer blow.  I still have lying around my grandfather’s sledge hammer.  I used that.  That made a nice circle, of replicating something he had and applying the signature with the force from his hammer.  Rich and strange are these seemingly desirable associations.


Here he is open before getting the tung and orange oil treatment.



The doing of this went very fast using a jig saw, kutzall wheel via angle grinder, kutzall bits via Dremel, rasp, files, sandpaper.  Ok, that’s not neo-primitive.


There pretty much you have it.  Here he is before donning his shell.


And then two shots of them playing on the kitchen counter.

IMAG0766 IMAG0767

It’s one of those things.  I noticed specifically as I was filing the turtle, shaping the neck and head and legs, a certain deja vu, like I’d done this before, perhaps many times before, that it seemed very natural.




Redwood Gobans

Alright.  This evening we have a happy turn, just a little bit of doing, one of those things one means to get to but of course years go by.

I’ve played the great and ancient game of go since 2001.  If you don’t know what it is I recommend it to you earnestly – it will sharpen your mind.  A wonderful website that is wide and deep can explain everything about it, the history, the strategy, the proverbs – yes, it has proverbs:  Sensei’s Library.

A goban is a go board.  There is a lot of history to this too.  The Japanese, who ruled the world of go in modern times (until recently) mandated that only certain woods be used, actually there was a hierarchy of woods that could be used.  I believe kaya was at the top. It’s quite a beautiful tree.  Bottom line it’s a big old evergreen.

Go boards are apparently divided into really good ones, with regular grain (masame), and less good ones, with irregular grain (itame).  The first board I made, just to be able to play, was of an outdoor plywood that probably was treated with arsenic.  Aesthetically it was a grave fail, but it did allow me to play.  After using it for maybe a year and a half I decided to make a real one.  This was 2003.  Massive hunks of kaya, though, are hard to find at any price, and if you do find them the price is quite prohibitive.  I scratched my head a bit and eventually came up with and appropriately American idea, why not use redwood?  It’s massive, available, beautiful, celebrates the game taking root on these shores.  Seemed like a plan.  Off to eBay and shortly I was the proud possessor of a 24 x 27 x 2 piece of quartersawn redwood – curly redwood no less, with flames, as they call them, a sort of chatoyance.  At that time I did not have any real working equipment, nor so much money, so I went to Home Depot to buy a sander, because I knew it would need a finish.  I walked over to the man with the big chop saw and had him trim it to the lines I had drawn.  Home I went and here it is, a redwood goban.

Old Goban Old Goban 2 Old Goban Corner Old Goban Detail Grain

What a lovely thing.  Even though it’s humble and rough in more ways than not, the wood ennobles it sufficiently, and that I took the trouble to precisely measure out – those are not squares mind you, but prescribed to be 7/8 by 15/16 inch rectangles, because that’s the specification.

Years go by.  This is a 19 x 19 grid.  The game of go is notoriously difficult.  Beginners falter.  The 19 x 19 dimension is daunting.  The culture of go recognize that the game is valid at any grid size, though the weight of particular considerations changes with board size.  I wanted to make a 13 x 13 one as a teaching platform.  Some like 9 x 9 for this purpose but I think at that point the relation between global and local is lost, and that’s such a key part of the game.

There I was on eBay one day and a piece of dawn redwood appears.  I’d not seen that ever commercially available as a wood.  Dawn redwood is a Chinese redwood, actually one of only three types of Sequoia in the world (these days) and the only Asian one.  This appealed to me conceptually, maintaining the redwood idea but gong back to where the game was born.  Can you say itame?  I don’t think it’s because dawn redwoods are necessarily of irregular grain, in fact I know that not to be the case, but the piece I’d beheld looked a little like the sky (ok, I exaggerate) in Munch’s ‘The Scream’  (marginally reminiscent?).  Since it was going to be itame I figured I’d just do it rough and quick, so here we are

New Goban 1 New Goban 2 Gobans End Grain New Goban edge and Face

This last shot shows the swirling sky I saw on the left, but gobans are so not supposed to be about swirling sky.  I figure for those who are not so serious that they bleed from the ears as they play that some light distraction is no great crime.  If they become serious enough to scoff at such lightheartedness, perhaps they’ve become too serious.

Anyway, this post was merely to share this creation and my feelings of happiness thereto pertaining.  I’ve played for 14 years now and the journey of playing and trying and learning has been deeply satisfying.  Mostly I’ve played online at the wonderful server  They keep all your stats for free and there’s a lot to be learned from a history spanning more than a decade.

Dragon Curve

If you ever have a yen to play go don’t hesitate to go there and invite Rusty2 to have a game.  Onegaishimasu.



Painting that falls off the wall

This one keeps falling off the wall, not sure if it’s just that I’m not serious enough about hanging it or if I’m being sent a message and I refuse to hear it.  The photo is poor – I’ll upgrade that when I find my good camera.

Flower in Big Picture

One of the reasons it falls is that it seems to want to curl some, even though it’s Utrecht Canvas Panel.  Another is cheap tape.

What I like, what will be seen in the upgraded picture, is the wealth of things that are happening in the sky, from foreground storminess and water in the air, to spectral hues in the background suggesting advancing or declining light.  The flower itself is a much repeated theme of mine, I have no idea what it is to mean, except that perhaps it wants to be a sun, or, in more ambiguous cases like this (flower) could well be, and the plant itself could be headless – or even more wildly, that there might be a connection.  Here the presence of the flower slightly below the horizon makes that unlikely, not that we know that the horizon does not contain a dip exactly conforming the the shape of the sunflower.

Enough for the moment, will revisit with better photo.

…^^^ – 10 days later.  A second version of the same picture I paste

Detail Flower with Mountains


This should test the resolution of your screen devices.  This first is a cell phone shot, the second from a whomping mondo-mega-pixel Nikon CoolPix P510 (I so have no use for the verbiage that surrounds devices with superior technology – every year it changes and what was great and best becomes passe, becomes lame, sad, comic even, that we thought it was good).  Anyway though, the first picture was not really doing justice to all the artful brush strokes in the sky, the way there is movement of the water, falling more densely in some places and less in others, something we seldom note when in the rain, that it’s all different in different places – it’s much easier to figure it’s all the way it is here, even though it’s just not true.  So there’s lots of weather happening in lots of ways and our friendly cactus flower why, it’s almost as if he’s crossed his ankles and taken a moment to act all quiet and cactus-y but at any moment, perhaps when the raindrops hit or when we stop looking it will again be time to dance.

Maybe that’s why it falls off the wall, in fact, so that to the extent that some dancing is necessary and our conceptions of reality are so fragile and that plants are very thoughtful in helping us maintain non-magical interpretations of the world, at least as best as they can, disregarding the obvious miracles of feeding on air and water and sunlight and soil, and the processes of flower and fruit and seed, why introduce voluntary motion as a variable and ponder the volition of what we so love to deem not sentient.  Gently I will place the picture back on the shelf, out of a direct line of sight, and so complete my duties here.

Alabaster Detour

One of the earlier things I wanted to do, a desire born probably around the age of ten years old but never abandoned, was to be able to sculpt stone.  This wish arose both from an even older almost intrinsic love of stone, it’s strength and truthfulness and beauty, as well as the things I began to observe as being wrought from stone.  That summer of 1972 we had moved to a new town (West Bay Shore) and one of the things one does (or did) was get a library card.  The first two series of books I took out were high class picture books on both the history of World War II and on the works of great artists and sculptors. Rodin and Michelangelo were very impressive and so was the idea that one could represent the imagination in stone.  Nigh on formative.

Recently my nephew was visiting and I wanted to demonstrate the power of an angle grinder with a kutz-all disc on it, so I took a piece of alabaster I had lying around, put it in the wood vice, vrrm, vrrm, and a very impressive hollow appeared almost instantly.  I was struck by how fast that was, as in the sculpting of stone, from my limited experience, the gross removal of material is the cumbersome part.  I made a note that I’d make something out of this particular block just to try a few things.

I call this post a detour because I had actually gone to the workshop to make the first shaping of the oaken elephant I’ve been planning.  The alabaster was in the vice that I was to put the oak block in.  ADHD.  How could I remove the alabaster without working on it?  I could not..  Speaking briefly of that elephant, you might have to click on the pictures below, but you should certainly be able to see both side and front views.

Elephant Side at Start   Elephant Front at Start

Anyway, so the elephant had to get in line.  This alabaster block, I drew a circle on it, and beneath that a triangle, and all I really first thought was to use various tools to flesh out (subtractively) those shapes.  The angle grinder makes very short work of alabaster – I think for an outside project though, as opposed to in a closed workshop where the air quality rapidly deteriorates and smoke alarms quickly get set off.  Also it’s noisy to the point of obscuring thought.  Usually I listen to music and think as I make things.  In the future I’d save the use of the angle grinder for cases where a lot of material wants to be removed quickly and it’s outdoors.

After I unplugged the fire alarm I mused as the dust cleared, and finally, thinking Cyclops really, I sketched an eye in the circle.  When I brought the one-eyed circle triangle rough upstairs that night my younger daughter said, oh, it’s an Illuminati.  I did not know that there were such things (not counting ancient secret societies and/or conspiracy theories) as creatures but decided to run with it.  Really my purpose was mostly to discover how certain tools, it didn’t matter here what I made so much as the observations while making. IMAG0611 IMAG0612

I figured if you take the nose and mouth away from a cyclops, just leave the eye, that can be an Illumati.  For the purposes of explaining how such creatures survive, their exceedingly sensitive and specialized eye absorbs the energy of the light it beholds and transforms that into electricity.  That powers their immense cognitive apparatus (far more efficient than ours, as the in their model the thing perceived actually creates the energy for thought) AND the little energy they devote to their specific physical incarnation.  An Illuminati with hair as rich as this one

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probably took a very long time to get that way.  But let’s leave the ponderous bits aside for a moment.

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A standard flat and round file/rasp combo was very quick to cut this stone (I think it’s a Moh’s hardness rating of 2), as was a farriers rasp I had on hand.  I had a Dremel tool with a pea-size kutz-all ball bit that was almost as easy to use as a magic marker, as far as making lines.  What surprises me most though was how a simple orbital sander with grits ranging from 60 to 220 readily put silky polish on the stone.  A stone like this really shames the reputation of stone as being harder than wood, because it’s not.  Nonetheless, at a hardness like this I can’t see how anyone can say that tools limit their ability to shape stone.  The files, rasps and, and sandpaper were perfectly adequate.  An awl could have done that the Dremel did.  Because of this experience I really have to open my thinking to the idea that the real limit is more conception than execution, that sure, you could think of things so wispy that the stone could not hold the form, stallions rearing on two feet as well would not work, but most things will be fine.

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So back then, for a moment, to this imaginary creature.  I kept wondering how it would advantaged or disadvantaged by having only one eye.  No stereopsis (fancy for binocular vision) as least real time anyway, as models could be made by memory and traversal.  It’s the immediacy though, which of course leads the wandering mind, a la Flatland, to the mind of a fly – if flies have minds as we understand them, and whether the idea of a two dimensional reduction of the multidimensional world would seem such a non-starter, as only the barest hint of the underlying reality is so portrayed.  But enough of these conjectures.  I think the singularity of perspective, at least in the immediate sense, maps as a scary quality.  Maybe cyclopes needed to move about more, to obtain the multiple angles we take for granted.  Maybe this need to act to obtain perspective made them wiser, recognizing that a single point of view was not enough; maybe it made them more circumspect, less inclined to think that to see was to know.

What a Cyclops knows, he knows by heart.  Such has been this alabaster detour.


Two Potato

or Potato Two, or second laminated wooden potato.

This genre – I am thinking of patenting, or, should I discover that there is a patent holder I’d be willing to buy, or if that holder is unwilling to part with it I don’t know, I’m lost, or, if I discover that such laminated wooden potatoes are an indispensable part of human history and archaeologists encounter them all the time, then I just have to re-think everything.

I don’t know why.  It is as if there is all this beauty sitting around, in the form of wood, and the act of specific representation would only detract – why a duck, why a leaping antelope (and one so poorly executed, at that), why even an egg, because an egg has algorithmic requirements – violate them and it’s not an egg.  But a potato?  It is hard for a simple man to violate the idea of a potato.


Behold that perfectly irregular yet vaguely oblong shadow.  Does it not have the potato je ne se qua?  Another wrinkle I wondered about, along the lines of whether the laminated wooden potato was already a thing of historical significance, was whether perhaps the National Academy of France perhaps had elevated the ‘stratifié bois de pomme de terre’ already to a place where my experience and remarks could never have any significance.  I’m just too afraid to research this point.


This particular potato, the second of my works in the genre after the now progenitor (Potato One), is made of a red gum eucalyptus, a spalted maple, some orange osage, and perhaps cherry but more likely butternut as the fourth wood.  I focused specifically on the irregularity on this one.

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and I think that part came out pretty well.  I’m sorry the photography here is only marginal.  If you click on an image I think you’ll find rewarding detail, but the composition is certainly inferior.

Why are wooden potatoes made?  What made the crater near the Yucatan peninsula?  Is there any connection?  How does the fate of the world as we know it depend on fundamental things that we do not understand?


Good Morning World,

Not a lot of much to brag over here existentially.  I resurfaced a landing and a few stairs in white oak.  Had never done much fundamental carpentry of this nature before but the concepts were not far.  I did use rough lumber (on purpose, to justify the getting of a thickness planer, which for all their inelegance show why the blessed and beautiful hand plane could not compete on the mass market).  Able assistance in preventing many errors was provided by my brother in law.

Some of the wood (the thick 5/4 9 inch wide treads) I obtained from a local Massachusetts tree-cutter who dries and ages wood himself.  It was of good quality and nicely priced.  The other wood I got, rough also, from Highland Hardwoods in Brentwood, New Hampshire.  Great shorts, including quarter-sawn oak.

1 - Landing

We measured and milled the lumber to size, landing at 15/16 in thickness.  One could get under this from the basement side, so we screwed it in from the bottom up.  Two of the boards we did not getting the jointing just right, we were using the table saw to try to get a straight edge and that does not always go just so.  The variance is never more than an eighth, usually less than a 16th, but I can’t say we planned it for expansion or anything clever like that.  This was done in August and if anything shrinkage will occur during the winter.

2 - Turn

The main point was the replace the existing treads which had weird trip-hazard moldings at the lip over laminate.  The landing was laminate too, matching the kitchen above, but leaving that would have been no fun.  Also the existing stairs were not of a consistent rise, so what seemed like an excessive amount of math and measuring went on to remedy that.

3 - Turn More

I made all the little moldings using the a router with a round over bit and the then the table saw.  That was surprisingly easy.

4 - Top Three

The pictures have enough detail if they are clicked on.

5 - Detail QS

There was very nice figure in some of the boards.  I like thick one piece treads.  We used some sort of honey stain trying to match the kitchen – came close there but I prefer the natural.  Polyurethane on top, low gloss.

6 - Detail Tread

No trumpets, no special remarks, but this was fun to do, a lot learnt including

  • That existing structures often have no level or plumb references
  • That past a certain point I am just not a fine trim painter.  That part came out not so great and for me it would take many lifetimes to remedy.

Anyway, I am thankful to my mother for letting her stairwell be the crash test dummy for this exercise.


Hammer 2 – Bodark and Purpleheart

All right, my neo-primitive co-conspirators in modernity, all right.  Settle down.

Bodark really is bois d’arc, the hedge apple, maclura pomifera, we’ve spoke of it before. It’s among the hardest of North American hardwoods.  Purpleheart, I probably should not use it, as I have suspicions about it being properly sourced, but as I found this piece at the dump and to save if from fire or landfill can’t be so wrong

Hammer 2 Bodark Purpleheart B Hammer 2 Bodark Purpleheart A

The two previous posts give this one context.  It’s the replacement hammer for the one that failed but then was fixed, so it’s not really a replacement so much as another hammer.  It’s heavier and of denser wood.

Hammer 2 Bodark Purpleheart C Hammer 2 Bodark Purpleheart D

Still I am impatient.  I fitted the handle by successive approximation – no measuring tools were used in the creation of this object.  Successive approximation is an art by itself.  I think the design in general is dubious – that head will crack as soon as it is hit too hard.

It will be on display at the next exhibition of neo-primitive artifacts to be held… wait… you mean there is no such thing?