This is part 8 in a series of essays about when I was a young man (30+ years ago) trying to figure out how to “make it” in the world. Click HERE to go back to the beginning of the series.
My school year at the Grassroots Project in Vermont was behind me. The summer of 1977was ahead of me. I was 19 years old and back home in New York State wondering what to do with myself.
I still had no car and not enough money to buy one. I had a little more confidence in myself than before, but not enough to think I could get a job, especially without transportation.
That isn’t to say that I was idle. I want to make it clear that, job or not, I always had different interests and projects that I was working on. I have always been an avid reader and when I want to learn something, I start with a book. During those teenage years I was an especially enthusiastic reader of Mother Earth News magazine. Every issue had some sort of craft or how-to project that captured my interest.
When I was at school in Vermont I spent a lot of time in the school’s small basement workshop. The school had no woodworking class back then (I think it does now) but the shop with basic hand tools was there for students to use.
One project I made in the school shop was a rope making device. The plans had been in Mother Earth News. It was made out of plywood and heavy coat hanger wire. When I got it done, my friend Ed Bais and I tried it out. The thing actually worked very well. Ed and I also made apple cider (and hard cider) and I’ve written about that whole adventure at this essay: When Me & Ed Made Apple Cider.
Another Mother Earth article that inspired me was about how to make bent-willow chairs, using nothing more than a hand saw, knife, small drill, nails, and a hammer. There was no willow around my home but there thin tree saplings of another sort in the swamp behind my parents place. I spent a couple days cutting and bending and nailing two chairs together. In the end, they came out beautifully. My mother was amazed. So was I.
Yet another industrious craft project that I remember putting a lot of effort into was spoon carving. My stepfather’s barn had some old hardwood boards that beckoned me to do something with them. I used a jigsaw to rough out the shape of a spoon. Then I clamped the blank in a vise and went at it with a knife, chisels, sandpaper, and one old carving gouge that I found somewhere. I made several spoons and a lot of blisters. I also read about and taught myself to sharpen the tools. The spoons were functional pieces of art that I gave to special people. I gave one to Patty Womer in Vermont. She was so appreciative of it. I sure did like Bruce and Patty Womer.
Once, after seeing a wooden feed scoop in an Eric Sloane book, I was inspired to carve one. I found an appropriate chunk of old wood in my dad’s barn. It was full of worm holes which was just fine for a “rustic” old scoop. Years later, I sold the scoop at a garage sale. An antique dealer snatched it up. I told her I had carved the scoop myself. She didn’t believe me (or she didn’t want to). The lady bought it as an antique and probably sold it as one. Who knows, maybe it’s in a museum somewhere.
Most of my creative interests revolved around working wood. My only experience with woodworking as a boy had been in a 7th grade shop class where I made a paper towel holder. My mother used it for years. After that, in my teen years, I pretty much taught myself.
I went through a phase where I made small pine-stave canisters and firkins with hoops and wood covers. My inspiration for this was my Grandfather Kimball’s friend Roger Hall (read Life Lessons From an Old Maine Woodsman for more about Roger Hall).
I cut pine staves using a rusty old electric table saw that had sat unused in my stepfather’s barn for years. The blade was dull and the fence was out of adjustment. I did my best to sharpen the blade and get the saw to cut right but, for the most part, I burned through the boards, filling the barn with acrid blue smoke. Looking back, it is a wonder I didn’t cut my fingers off using that saw. I know people who have done just that.
I shaved bevels on the edges of the canister and firkin staves with a small block plane and assembled the pieces in my bedroom. My desk was a workbench, and sometimes the floor was a better worksurface. There are still holes in the floor from when I was drilling wood pieces for some project and went too far.
I could go on, but the point is that, even though I was not going to academic higher learning, I was still actively learning. I was developing skills that I had an interest in. No one was pushing me. I was self motivated.
I had come to the conclusion that in order to be a homesteader and make my way in the world, I needed to learn practical craft skills. All I had to work with at the time was wood and some very basic tools. So that’s where I started.
As I consider it now, those hours and hours of carving spoons gave me more than spoons and blisters. I learned about different woods and how they carve, how to “read” the grain, how to put an edge on the tools, and how to hold and control my carving cuts. I became familiar and comfortable with these things as my hands and mind became more skilled.
Nevertheless, with the summer of ’77 before me, I had no job prospect, and I was very concerned about that. How would I ever find my place in the work world? Time was a wasting. I anguished over my lack of purpose and direction.
To be continued....
Click HERE to go to Part 9 of this series
mark: StarPlate inner wall boards - [image: StarPlate chicken coop wall details part 3] The last full wall to be filled in on the StarPlate chicken coop didn't have much space for board att...
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