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.