Saturday, December 17, 2016

Time Marches On:

In 1980, we bought a woodlot, sight unseen.  We were living in Yellowknife at the time and I asked my father to check it out for us.  This photo was taken in 1953 probably not long after someone gave up trying to farm it.  You can see some treed areas but a lot of open space.

During all the following years of road building, stone moving, and harvesting wood, it didn't look like the property was really changing all that much.  Other than observing the progress of the pine seedlings we planted with our children in the '80's, we didn't really see much growth.

However, when I checked out a satellite image of the property recently, it was astonishing to see the change.  Although much of the area is made up of young trees, the canopy is closing in and we now have a forest.  In spite of our activities, Mother Nature has continued working and we have deer, turkey and grouse at the same time as we've harvested countless cords of firewood and thousands of board feet of lumber.  You can have a working woodlot and still maintain biodiversity, create wildlife habitat, sequester carbon, purify air and water and beautify the province.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Real Life Learning:

Both my wife and I grew up on farms, and so we gravitated towards the rural lifestyle.  Our children were approaching their teenage years when we finally moved out to the old farm where we still live today.
Now, when they come to visit us, I like to show their children our garden, and the pond and, when we still had them, the chickens.  There's nothing quite like the look on a child's face when they meet a baby chick for the first time.

It's through their interaction with little creatures that children learn about gentleness and care.  And by observation, they begin to understand that there is a larger world around them.

They absorb that sense of accomplishment, and of being part of a team, which comes from sharing a chore with the adults.

The greatest joy for a grandparent is to watch them grow into builders and bird watchers, and to feel that you were a small part of it.

If you want to read a good book about the importance of the outdoors in a child's development, I recommend "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Massey Tradition

This year I got the chance to do something I'd been thinking of for some time. Ever since I came across this old photo of me on the tractor with my dad and two younger sisters, I'd wanted to replicate it with my grandchildren.

So, this summer, we recreated the scene with my grandson on the tractor, about the same age I was in the original photo, along with his sister and two cousins, this time on one of my Massey Harris tractors.

It's the little things that mean the most...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014: The Year of Lasts

Normally, people make new year's resolutions at the beginning of January.  This time, I'm making mine in December to ring the old year out.

Looking back, I can point to several events which will not likely be repeated again.  Some are dependent on me learning to say "No"; others are just a fact of life; a milestone reached.

So this has been my year of lasts.

2014 was the last year for sawing 20' long oak logs.  When I was talked into sawing several logs for a neighbour, that little voice in my head was saying "I thought we'd agreed the last time you did this, you'd never do it again!".

Well, seven trips hauling logs, one return trip with two oak beams plus planks, and a week of toil in between, I really mean it this time!

2014 was the last year for parking my tractors in my wife's garage.  Now that they have their own building, we can put the correct stuff in the garage (firewood and patio furniture).

2014 is also the last year I'll have my grandson sitting on my lap steering the tractor.  He's now old enough to go solo.  The good news is that the next step of the adventure begins (and, I still have three granddaughters to go).

Tuesday, December 31, 2013


My daughter recently suggested I post a blog on favourite tools.  It got me thinking and I've concluded that all my favourites have one thing in common; they feel right.

As age creeps up on me, I appreciate more and more how repetitive movements wear on the body, and the importance of properly designed tools.  Nowadays we call it ergonomics, but I prefer the old fashioned "it feels right".

Mallets were the first tools that came to mind when I started thinking about my favourites.  I own several but these two are special for different reasons.

I like the feel of either mallet; the balance is good and the weight is right for me.  But each conjures up different emotions when they come to hand.
The uppermost one in the photo, I made myself, mostly to see if I could do it.  Turning a scrap piece of hard maple burl and attaching a peeled hickory stick, the result was a handsome looking mallet.  Imagine my delight when it turned out to be wonderful to use!  Because the handle isn't symmetrical, I can tell without looking which face I'm using.  Every time I use it, I'm thankful that scrap wood didn't end up in the stove.
The second mallet was turned by my father out of a single piece of hard maple that his father in law had given him many years before.  He turned it on a crappy little Canadian Tire lathe that my mother and I gave him for Christmas before I was married.
Both Dad and his father in law were farmers and woodworkers.  I never knew my grandfather as he died by the time I was two, so to receive in the mail a mallet made from wood that had been in the hands of my woodworking grandfather was a gift above all others.
Every time I pick up that mallet, I think of my father, my grandfather and the little house in Yellowknife, 3000 miles away, where my adult woodworking life began.

Willow Adventures, part two

Now that winter has firmly established itself, and Christmas is past, time allows me to write again.

The pieces of willow have been drying in my shop for several months now, waiting to be picked up again and reshaped into something new.

Some small bits, however, were selected from the moment they came home.  They were destined to be the first willow burls I'd ever carved and, hopefully, be ready for my two Christmas shows.

I was surprised how wet the wood was, considering it was harvested in the fall.  There was so much sap that the fresh cut wood attracted large black wasps, crawling all over it as I removed the bark.

The next surprise was how quickly the willow lost its moisture. Once the rough carving was done, a warm, dry breeze meant I could do the final finishing within a couple weeks.

My main concern was the look of the final product; would it have an interesting grain or a pleasing colour?  The initial appearance wasn't encouraging; it was bland and pale in tone, but after the carving was done, the willow finished drying with a very mellow patina that I quite like.

I completed a few pieces in time for my shows and several of them sold; an encouraging beginning.


The remaining forty pieces wait impatiently in the back of the shop with a dozen or more other burls .  Hope springs eternal for a productive new year.
Here's wishing you health and happiness in 2014.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Willow Adventure

My neighbour had a willow tree he wanted removed.

The base was badly rotted and it was losing branches with each storm.

It also had burls of all sizes on the trunk and branches.

 I offered to take the tree down in exchange for the burls.

Felling the tree was the easy part...

With three men, two chainsaws, one tractor, two trucks, two trailers and seven hours, the cleanup was complete.

The pieces I kept made a substantial pile behind my shop.

The next day, I started debarking.

The burls turned out to be remarkably irregular under the bark.

As I debarked, I set the pieces in the shade to dry slowly.

I have another show in a bit more than a month's time and I hope I'll have some of these ready.

I've never carved willow before, so I'm not sure what I'm getting into.

Stay tuned....the adventure is just beginning.