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THE BIRTH OF A BOOKCASE (actually 4 of them)

I was asked to build a memorial bookcase for the Stillwater Library in memory of a long time library lover—Mabel Linquist. The mission was to design something to display new fiction books in the original rotunda area of the 1905 Carnegie Library. I began doodling—and my pencil kept drawing round things (hey, it’s a rotunda!) Another goal was to have the bookcase(s) flexible and movable. I began doodling with the idea of four “quarter slices” of a circle. As I circled in, I wound up with the preliminary design (below.)


4 bookcases

I ran the sketches by the folks at the library and all seemed to think it was worth pursuing. I built little foam core models to begin with, then went ahead with a full size mock up as shown below1) bookcase 3:4 viewIt seemed like a historical library needed bookcases with some history to them. So Librarian Carolyn Blocher and I rummaged through some old storage rooms and found two really cool possibilities: 1) Some shelves from the original 1895  library (Stillwater’s first) and 2) some cast iron brackets also from the original library. I goofed around with the shelves (turns out they were yellow poplar) and realized they might make the perfect raised panels for the sides. The brackets could become “back rests” for the books on top. It also seemed, since Stillwater was founded on white pine, that using that wood would be cool. I contacted Conrad at Forest Product Supply and discovered he had some slabs of white pine from a tree in Marine that had been downed in a storm. That’s be a good top, eh. So I went at itDSC_0891 I wound up bending wood every which way: Cutting curves, laminating thin pieces to make curves, and just outright bending stuff to make it curve. Twas a labor of love: Love of books, love of woodworking, love of the idea of a memorial bookcase.DSC_0882

A few weeks ago we installed them. And here’s how they look. The plaque below also gives a rundown of what the bookcases are made from.IMG_4310

The plaque:

1) Mabel plaque

Go check them out, while you’re visiting the library, checking out books. (One of the bookcases even has a magnetic panel with magnetized cars and animals that kids can play with while their folks are browsing the fiction area.


HARVEST TOTE holiday gift (think warmer weather)

Here’s a do-it-yourself Christmas gift you can make for the gardening (or foraging) lovers in your life—a harvest tote. Great for hauling stuff into and out of the garden (tho you’ll have to wait a few months if you’re a Minnesotan.) All you need are a few boards, a few fasteners, a few hours and maybe your belt. This and other projects both large and small featured in “The Backyard Homestead Book of Building Projects,” by Spike Carlsen (Storey Publishing.)

tote photo jpeg


tote 1 jpeg

tote 2 jpeg


clamp 3 loWorking on an arch top cabinet as part of an all-in-one changing table—dresser—closet—storage chest for our soon-to-be-born 6th granddaughter. Lot harder than building square stuff, but more fun and educational, too. I’ll keep posting photos as things progress. Due date? Early May. Gonna keep cranking.

How to Build a Leopold Bench—even in the winter!!

I recently finished shooting some instructional videos with Storey Publishing to promote “The Backyard Homestead Book of Building Projects.” Here’s a link to the video on how to build an Leopold Bench—one of my all time favorite (and easiest) projects.

Screen shot leopold video

Learning to See Through Blind Woodworkers

Yesterday I received an email and a link to a YouTube video from an old acquaintance, Larry Martin, who was instrumental in starting an organization called Woodworking for the Blind. The video is pretty amazing; check it out here.

His email jogged my memory about a chapter I wrote in my book, A Splintered History of Wood, a few years back. Part of the writing focused on Larry’s work. There were a number of sight-impaired woodworkers who were having difficulty gleaning the needed information on woodworking projects from books and magazines. He began reading and recording CDs containing information on the projects. He also made himself available via phone to answer questions that sight-impaired woodworkers might have. He did all of this because, well, he’s just a nice guy. Click here for more information on the Woodworking for the Blind.
Larry directed me to three sight impaired woodworkers who I interviewed over the course of one long, amazing afternoon. I talked with David Albrektson who loves making furniture.

David Albrektson with his hollow mortise machine

David Albrektson with his hollow mortise machine

And Ron Faulkner who gravitates toward cabinets and dovetailed boxes

Ron Fualkner with a few of his decorative boxes

Ron Fualkner with a few of his decorative boxes

And Gordon Mitchell who not only enjoys building furniture, but built his woodworking shop and a house to go along with it.

Gordon Mitchell at work in his shop (that he built!)

Gordon Mitchell at work in his shop (that he built!)

When I hung up the phone, I realized I hadn’t heard one utterance of “poor me,” only words of thankfulness and positivity. Wow. Turns out, these woodworkers are no different than any of the rest of us. We all savor the touch and warmth of wood. We all experience highs and lows. We all make mistakes. We all love to innovate out way through problems. We all enjoy the fellowship of other woodworkers and savor the solace that comes when working alone. And that’s what makes woodworking the best pastime of all.

Workshop Overhaul

Sometimes I take before & after photos of a project—and wish I hadn’t. That’s because the “after” doesn’t look much better than the “before.” But I rue not having taken a before picture of my basement before converting it into a workshop. If you remember what the basement of the creepy guy in “Silence of the Lambs” looked like, you’ll have a pretty good visual image of the “before” picture. The after looks much better.

The whole project-like most-started innocently. One wall of the basement of our 160 year old house was a mishmash of crumbling brick, cinder block patches and concrete chunks. I furred out the wall and installed 1×6 tongue and groove pine paneling to clean up the look. That involved removing an old set of shelves and clearing out a pile of stuff that had sat there since we moved in 10 years ago. The completed wall looked so good that it made the adjacent wall look shabby, so I installed tongue and groove on that wall. And around the room I went until all the walls were covered.

The floor, which was a quilt work of patches and holes, had to be leveled with floor leveling compound. And of course that had to be covered with tile. And so on and so on.

At one point it became clear that the rickety old workbench the previous owner had installed had to go. The doors were falling off their ancient hinges and the deep drawers were inefficient. Which brings me to the point of this Blog: The workbench top. “Work top” is probably a better term than workbench top, since this is the area I use for assembling and gluing up, not planing and hammering.

The work top area was big and awkwardly shaped, so I did what all good woodworkers do: Improvised. I bought a couple of boxes of discontinued maple flooring and started splicing and herringboning the pieces together. These next photos show how it went together.




And of course, I needed a place for my miter saw, so I created this little curved nook to accommodate it. The curve looks cool and prevents me from wangling my hip bones on the sharp corners.


So far, so good. The prefinished top is easy to keep clean and the maple provides a solid working surface-though it doesn’t take a hit as well as other maples. Pretty soon the workshop will stop being the project and start being the place where projects get done.

NOW AVAILABLE! Woodworking FAQ: The Workshop Companion

Spike Carlsen’s newest book Woodworking FAQ: The Workshop Companion

Woodworking FAQ: The Workshop Companion: Build Your Skills and Know-How for Making Great Projects

Woodworking FAQ: The Workshop Companion: Build Your Skills and Know-How for Making Great Projects

(Storey Publishing, $16.95)
Now available at bookstores and on-line retailers

Over 300 pages packed with hints, tips, projects, answers and great information for woodworkers and do-it-yourselfers of all levels. Clear illustrations and a friendly voice help answer the most common woodworking and carpentry questions. By the author of A Splintered History of Wood and Ridiculously Simple Furniture Projects. More information and excerpts at: Storey Publishing: Woodworking FAQ and