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About 30 days ago I posted the first of, what was supposed to be, a series of gift projects great for holiday giving. The snag was, 25 days ago I busted my pelvis—sort of negating the “series of gift projects” idea. Some day soon I’ll cover the “How to screw together a busted hip” project (definitely NOT a DIY thing) but for now here’s another gift project.

0-tic-tac-toe-jpegIt all got me to thinking there are 3 WAYS TO GIVE GIFTS LIKE THIS: 1) You can build the actual project and give it, 2) You can give the gift of time by offering to build the project with a kid, grandkid, friend or spouse, 3) You can give the gift of know-how by wrapping up the book in which the project first ran. All ways are good ways. Today we look at a simple TIC TAC TOE shelf featured in “Ridiculously Simple Furniture Projects.” Stay tuned for more (unless I crack the other hip.)



Top 5 “Wooden experiences” in France

Kat and I just returned from France—spent one week biking through Normandy, visiting many World War II battle sites and memorials, then another week taking in the aura, museums, vibe and foods of Paris.

I always keep my eyes wide open for extraordinary uses of wood. Here are five cool things I found:


We visited Eglise St-Catherine church built in the 15th century—one of the largest wooden churches in the world. Legend has it that masons were in short supply, so the townspeople, primarily shipbuilders, used their boat-building skills to craft a magnificent church. Weird twist: The bell tower is a separate structure perched on the ground—built that way, perhaps, for fire prevention.


We visited Pegasus Bridge. Seizing it from the Germans was one of the first objectives on D-Day. Six Horsa gliders, made almost entirely from wood and plywood, carried 180 men to the site at midnight; some landing within 50 yards of the target. The mission was a success. Visiting sites like this gives one great appreciation for the troops that put it ALL on the line.


We biked to a rural chateau that had been in the same family for 250 years. One of the primary products of the area is Calvados—a distilled liquor made from apples. It packs a wallop and every restaurant in the area provides a complimentary glass of the stuff after each meal (except breakfast.) This is the large “smashing” wheel used to crush the apples; goat powered.


At the D’Orsay Museum I encounter this “chaise” crafted by Arthur Simpson in the early 1900s. The lines and design are so graceful and fluid I wanted to sit in it—but the guards had other ideas. This may be the inspiration I need for my next woodworking project.


In the D’Orsay Decorative Arts section I also encountered this whimsical nightstand that incorporates mice in various positions of frolic as the drawer pulls. It’s magnificently crafted—and a joy to know woodworkers of all eras have had a sense of humor.


GIRL SCOUTS RULE (and build)


Mr. Carlsen,
When our local school district removed shop class from the middle school curriculum, the girls in my little troop were disappointed. They saw their older sisters come home with napkin holders and lamps and knew they would never get the chance to make anything. Instead of just accepting their fate, they asked my co-leader and I if we could do some sort of woodworking project as a troop. We handed them your book, Ridiculously Simple Furniture Projects, and told them to pick something that interests them. They decided on the Nomad Laptop Desk. They had a great time using power tools (and simple tools) and learning about measuring, cutting and staining.

I have attached a picture of them with their desks. Thanks for writing a great book of simple projects!scouts

Stacey McCracken
Girl Scouts of Southern IL Troop 370

desk beauty shot JPEG


Does this look familiar to anyone (or is it only me?)HOW I SPEND MY TIME

“A Splintered History of Wood” makes it into a medical journal

Every once in a while, something cool, unexpected and meaningful happens with something you’ve written. In this case it’s an article written by Dr. William Spinelli that ran in the Sept. issue of “Mayo Clinic Proceedings.” He pulls a quote from “A Splintered History of Wood” and uses the concept of heartwood as the starting point for a discussion on the role of “elder physicians.” A true honor to be included in this article; one with much broader application than the title suggests. Here it is.TurningPhysiciansintoHeartwood_final copy-1 (dragged) TurningPhysiciansintoHeartwood_final copy-2 (dragged) TurningPhysiciansintoHeartwood_final copy-3 (dragged) TurningPhysiciansintoHeartwood_final copy-4 (dragged)TurningPhysiciansintoHeartwood_final copy-2 (dragged)TurningPhysiciansintoHeartwood_final copy-3 (dragged)TurningPhysiciansintoHeartwood_final copy-4 (dragged)TurningPhysiciansintoHeartwood_final copy-1 (dragged)TurningPhysiciansintoHeartwood_final copy-2 (dragged)TurningPhysiciansintoHeartwood_final copy-3 (dragged)TurningPhysiciansintoHeartwood_final copy-4 (dragged)TurningPhysiciansintoHeartwood_final copy-1 (dragged)TurningPhysiciansintoHeartwood_final copy-1 (dragged)TurningPhysiciansintoHeartwood_final copy-2 (dragged)tu full filetu full filetu full filetu full filetu full file


A list of Spike’s upcoming library, bookstore and other appearances:



MAY 6, 7:00 p.m.

Stillwater Public Library, 224 Third St. N., Stillwater

Official launch of “Cabin Lessons.” Spike will discuss the trials and tribulations of building a cabin and writing a memoir. Books available through Valley Booksellers. Shindig to follow at the Carlsen residence. All are welcome.


May 12, 5:30 p.m.

Subtext Books, Blair Arcade Building, 165 Western Ave. N (beneath Nina’s Cafe).

Spike will discuss Cabin Lessons, read a few segments, sign a few books. All are welcome


May 28, 6:oo p.m.

Chapter  2 Books, 226 Locust St., Hudson, WI

Spike will discuss Cabin Lessons, read a few segments, sign a few books—and maybe build a Leopold Bench (to be given away).


June 3, 5:00 p.m.

Gilbert Library, Gilbert, MN

Spike will discuss “Cabin Lessons”  and talk about lessons we can learn from wood. Maybe build a bench.


June 4, 6:00 p.m.

Grand Rapids Library, Grand Rapids, MN

Spike will discuss his most recent book, “Cabin Lessons” as well as other literary endeavors. Who knows what might happen!


June 6, 1:00 p.m.

Readers’ Loft, Green Bay, WI

Spike will discuss cabin building, memoir writing and other things that might give you blisters


June 7th, 2:00 p.m.

Arcadia Books, Spring Green, WI

Spike will discuss cabin building, memoir writing and other things that will give you blisters


July 11, 10:00

Cross River Heritage Center, Schroeder, MN

Spike will discuss “Cabin Lessons” as part of the 11th Annual Lundie/Vacation Home Tour. And “Oma Tupa, Oma Tupa” will be part of the tour later that afternoon. Should be a gas. More information at

Spike will also be sojourning to  Milwaukee, Alexandria, Park Rapids, Winona, and Decorah (Iowa) in late June. Stay posted for details



CABIN LESSONS—A long, long journey from pen to publication

Twelve years ago Kat and I bought a chunk of land along Lake Superior. Ten years ago we—along with our kids Kellie, Tessa, Zach, Maggie and Sarah—began building a cabin on it. Nine years ago I started writing a book about the experience. Eight years ago the book was almost published—but “almost” doesn’t cut it in the world of publishing. Then, surprisingly, a year ago my current publisher, Storey, approached me about publishing it. (My editor had come across it in a pile of “I’ll get to it someday” papers while cleaning out her office!) May 15th, 2015 the book will be released. It’s part memoir, part construction manual; complete with photos, sketches, lists and thoughts on life. I’m thrilled, since it’s unlike anything I’ve ever written before. And I’m terrified, since it’s unlike anything I’ve ever written before. The subtitle says it all. More details as the details develop. A few more details here.

Cabin Lessons (Storey Publishing) available May 5, 2015

Cabin Lessons (Storey Publishing) available May 5, 2015

Maya Angelou, woodworking and life

What do woodworking and Maya Angelou have in common? Not much. But after seeing her speak a few days ago in Minneapolis, I have to jot down an impression or two.

Maya at her 82nd birthday party.

Maya at her 82nd birthday party.

The curtain opens and there sits 84-year-old Maya Angelou. Her 6-foot frame rests comfortably in the chair. She has no notes or prompts; just a head full of stories and a keenness of mind that makes one think old age must start at 85 or beyond. She begins by belting out a few lines from an old blues standard. The packed house is enthralled. People laugh, cry, clap, whistle and shout “amen.” And it only gets better.

Maya receiving the Presidential Award of Freedom from Barack Obama.

Maya receiving the Presidential Award of Freedom from Barack Obama.

One of the lines from the song exclaims, “When it looked like the sun wasn’t going to shine any more, God made a rainbow in the clouds.” And that was her theme for the night: A look at these rainbows that helped make her-and all of us-who we are; people who love, support, teach and guide us in, sometimes, unexpected ways even in the darkest, cloudiest of times.

Maya’s rainbows didn’t come easy. She was shuttled between parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles while growing up. At the age of 8 she was raped. She told her brother about it and her abuser was found dead a few days later. Convinced her voice had killed him, she went mute for 5 years. It was during those five years Maya developed her keen sense of observation and a love of writing and literature.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

She had a child at 17 and made ends meet working as a streetcar conductor, cook and prostitute. But the rainbows in her life-and an indomitable spirit-drove her upward. She became a dancer, singer, actress, author, playwright, teacher, poet and speaker. She challenged those in the audience to think about the rainbows in their lives and how they could become rainbows in the lives of others.

Her other theme was the need for courage-a trait Maya does not lack. Without courage, all other traits, strengths and aspirations lay dormant or, at best, underutilized.

The takeaway from the evening was clear: Think about and thank those who have been rainbows in your clouds. And use your courage and strengths-whether it’s woodworking, wisdom or time-to become a rainbow for others.

Windsor chairs and backwoods bodgers

I spent part of last weekend at a delightfully old house (Arcola Mills), watching a pair of delightful young-at-heart men (Jim and Mike) build the parts to a delightfully old piece of furniture (a Windsor chair) using delightfully old tools and techniques (riving tools, draw knives and shaving horses.)

mike windsor chair
The morning was full of one-line zingers that stuck in my brain. One was, “If you want to be a woodworker, you first have to be a metalworker,” referring to the notion that you need to have sharp plane blades, chisels and other tools to get any woodworking done.

Another great line came after Jim and Mike used a riving tool and shaving horse to rough out a chair spindle. “Yep, after a day of doing that, people didn’t head to the gym.”

split with fro
Another interesting notion was proposed: When folks moved from the old country to the new country they were usually allowed one chest to bring on the boat. Given the sparseness of space, and the necessity of tools most people just brought the metal parts of their tools with them. The handles, plane bodies and other wooden parts were crafted upon arrival. The main thrust of the day was cranking out parts for a Windsor Chair. Spindles were crafted, legs were turned and hoop for chair backs bent. While turning legs Mike began musing about “bodgers.” There were a unique breed of men that turned chair legs for chair builders. Rather than hauling wood into a shop, then over to the chair makers, they found it more efficient to simply set up shop in the woods. They had their pole lathes, riving tools and planes in the great outdoors. It wasn’t unusual for a bodger to crank out a gross (144) parts in a day. No need for the gym indeed.

steam bend jig

Bending the hoop back was another highlight. Jim had a steamer concocted of PVC pipe, tubing, an old gas can and a propane burner.

bend start
After steaming the wood for 15 to 20 minutes, Mike and Jim bent the back over a form. I won’t way their motions were like those of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, but-given the 30 seconds they had to get the hoop out of the steamer and into the mold-moved in exact harmony to get the job done.

jim and mike bend
It was a thing of beauty-both in the making and in the final product.

bend complete

For more information about Mike’s woodworking school, visit For more information about Arcola Mill, visit

Roaming the Roman and Ancient Worlds

Kat and I are back from a four week-long vacation: We spent one week in London, one week in Rome, one week sailing the Isles of the Aegean Sea and one week recovering from jet lag and reverse culture shock. I’m just emerging.

A confessional from a church in Rome: Extraordinary craftsmanship using hand tools

A confessional from a church in Rome: Extraordinary craftsmanship using hand tools

Traveling is one of those activities where there’s a lot of Yin and Yang (which, by the way, translates from the Chinese words “shadow” and “light.”) It’s both invigorating and exhausting. It’s relaxing and tension-filled —like when you think you’re stranded in Istanbul. It’s good to get a break from the day-to-day routine, yet you realize you sort of like that routine. Sometimes being immersed in other cultures make you think the American Dream isn’t all the dreamy, while other times you feel there is truly no place like home.

Salvaged from an ancient shipwreck, these clay amphoras were designed to cleverly stack in the curved hull of a boat

Salvaged from an ancient shipwreck, these clay amphoras were designed to cleverly stack in the curved hull of a boat

When I travel, I usually keep one eye open for amazing things crafted from wood; jewelry boxes, cathedrals, chairs—everything is fair game. I found lots of amazing wood things—more on that in later posts— but the thing that struck me on a more general level was the incredible craftsmanship and artistic eye our ancient relatives brought to things both great and small.

I’ve included a few outstanding examples.

The design and proportions of the Celsus Library in Ephesus blew me away. Built in 117 AD, it once contained 12,000 scrolls (making it the third largest library in the world at the time). The city is surely a testament to our changing world; once a seaport, it's now 6 miles from the sea.

The design and proportions of the Celsus Library in Ephesus blew me away. Built in 117 AD, it once contained 12,000 scrolls (making it the third largest library in the world at the time). The city is surely a testament to our changing world; once a seaport, it’s now 6 miles from the sea.