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A Pair of true divided light doors

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 10.44.54 AM

The path to enlightenment is long. And as anyone who has been to one of Santa Fe's many "Spiritual Retreats" could surely attest, it can be expensive. If someone tells you that there is only One True Path - be it in religion, politics, canoe paddling, love or woodworking - you should probably run screaming the other way. Personally, it took me years to reach my current state of Bliss. In this case I'm talking about Door Bliss. As much as I would love, like any good Guru, to charge you $899.95 to bring you to Enlightenment, in this case (just this once) I'm gonna give it to you for free.

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Building the Mattawa - a small Tandem Canoe


paddling 1

While I was building my Northwest Passage Solo canoe back in November, my girlfriend Kathi decided that she needed a canoe too, so we started looking for a design for her perfect boat. There were some parameters. She wanted it to be a tandem boat so that she could take other people out, but it also had to be light enough for her to carry. My tandem boats weigh 60 pounds and that was definitely too much for her. That meant that we were looking for a small tandem. She also wanted to be able to comfortably paddle it herself which meant that the boat needed to be kind of narrow in the middle so that she could easily reach over the gunnels with the paddle. She also wanted an all around boat that would turn nicely on rivers as well as easily track straight on the lakes. One design that kept popping up was the Mattawa which is a design by John Winters. It fit almost all of the requirements that we were looking for. The only disadvantage was that, as designed, it is almost 37" wide in the middle. That was going to make it a really stable boat, but it would be a little harder to paddle solo. After coming back to the Mattawa again and again we finally decided to build it…..but with some modifications. 

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Making a pair of Turkish doors with 74 panels

neff inside

I recently contracted with a client near Santa Fe, New Mexico to build an unusual pair of doors. He had seen some doors that he liked in Turkey and wanted me to make some like them. These doors, instead of having one, two or three panels, each had 37 panels. The panels had a small 45 degree raise on them and were separated from each other by narrow muntins that had the same raise, along with a beaded profile on their face. There was clearly a lot of very precise woodworking to do here and the question on my mind was how to do it accurately and quickly.

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Building a wood strip canoe part 2

solo boat angled

This blog post is the second half of an article about how I made a strip built canoe. If you want to catch up on the how I got to this point you can read about it in the first post. That article took us to the point where all the woodwork on the hull had been done, it was sanded and ready for fiberglass and epoxy.

Read more: Building a wood strip canoe part 2

Replicating historic doors

pr window detail

The historic Alexandre Pigeons Ranch building in Glorieta, New Mexico, is one of the last significant structures left that were involved in the civil war Battle of Glorieta. I was referred to the Pecos National Historic Park to work on repairing and replicating some doors and window sash. You can read more about the history of the building and how I replicated the historic window sash in one of my previous blog posts. This article is about how I built the doors to go in the building.

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Replicating historic window sash

pr building shot

Along the side of highway 50 between Glorieta and Pecos, New Mexico, is a rundown old adobe building. I've seen it driving by for 22 years but had no idea what it was. Over the years I've seen people from the Pecos National Historic Park working on it and leading tours there. Last summer I got a call from my friend Doug Porter, who I do some historic preservation work with, and he asked me if I would be interested in replicating and repairing some historic doors and window sash at the Alexandre Pigeons Ranch. It turns out that this old building has some interesting history.

During the Civil War there was a struggle between the Confederates and the Union over control of the territories that were just being settled. The winning side would get to determine whether the territories would allow slavery or not. It would also determine who controlled the gold and silver mines of California and Colorado and the Confederates were pushing north to take Fort Union and then move up through Raton Pass to take control of Colorado. In March of 1862 there was a running battle that started in Apache canyon near Canoncito, on the west side of Glorieta pass, that ran up through the pass along the Santa Fe Trail and down toward the village of Pecos. The Confederates had their wagon train in Apache canyon and were pursuing the Union soldiers up the canyon. The heaviest fighting took place around Pigeons ranch, which served as a field hospital during the battle. Eventually the Union soldiers got up onto Glorieta Mesa, above the pass, and circled back around to Canoncito behind the Confederates where they burned the Confederates supplies and shot or scattered their horses and mules. With that the Battle of Glorieta (AKA The Gettysburg of the West) was over. Without supplies, the Confederates were forced to retreat back to Arizona territory (now southern NM) and then on to Texas, leaving the territories to the union once and for all.

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Building a wood strip canoe

passage plans

Relationships are a series of compromises. Your main squeeze might like to do lots of the same fun stuff that you like to do, but you can't expect that you're both going to want to do everything together. I mean, come on, get real. If you want to get a little rowdy sometimes, but they're only into the mellow contemplative stuff, then you just have to let it go. That's what your other friends are for. I'm not talking about boys and girls here, I'm talking about boats. Specifically canoes. 

The shape and size of a canoe determines how it's going to behave on the water. That's probably obvious. How the shape changes the handling is less so. A boat that's long and straight along the keel line will be fast and want to track in a straight line. That's great if you're paddling into a stiff headwind on a lake but not so good if you are picking your way down a rock strewn rapid on a river. For that you need a boat that's shaped more like a banana, with the bow and stern being higher than the middle. This boat will want to pivot on the low spot on the bottom. The more "rocker" it has, the easier it will turn. A canoe with a high bow and stern will be good at pushing waves aside, but will also get shoved around by the wind; a round bottom is fast but unstable; a flat bottom wants to "stick" to the water, which is great until the waves kick up; flared sides deflect waves and add stability, but they make the boat wide and harder to paddle solo. Every decision that gets made when designing a boat affects every other detail in the boat. Compromise.

This is how a guy can end up having what some might call too many boats. What do they know? I mean, a sports car might be super fun to zip around in, but you ain't gonna haul your firewood in it. That's how you end up owning a pick-up truck as well.

passage rio

In New Mexico we are blessed with a full compliment of paddling opportunities, from lakes to class five whitewater and everything in between. I like the flat stuff. And I like the white stuff. And I have canoes for each. Recently I've been paddling the Rio Grande down around Albuquerque a lot and I've also been hankering to build another boat. But what to build?

Read more: Building a wood strip canoe

Flying Woodwork

wing piper

I don't know about you, but when I think about what airplanes are made of, I think about aluminum. That might be true for jets and airliners, but, in fact, it turns out that there are lots of airplanes that are largely made of wood and fabric, with maybe a little fiberglass and metal here and there.

After WW ll the Piper aircraft company was in tough economic shape. They had had success with the famed Piper Cub, but needed another big hit to save their financial bacon. In 6 weeks, under duress from their investors, they designed the Piper Vagabond; a two seater with cruising speeds over 100 mph. They made about 600 of them. 

At some point the company Wag-Aero started selling kits to build your own version of the Vagabond. The called it the Wag-a-Bond and it was advertised as a cross country plane that was great for camping! Now, that's old school. Build yourself an airplane and take it out on camping trips. I love it.

A friend of mine bought one of these recently from a guy in California. On his way home from picking it up, he stopped in Grants, NM to fuel up, had some sort of brake issue on landing and clipped one of his wings on something. Busted it all to hell. Bummer. Since the wings are just bolted on, you can pop them off and replace them. But they aren't cheap. That's when he called me. 

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Parquetry on a bow front Custom Sideboard

Zebrawood diamond sideboard

parquetry |ˈpärkitrē|


inlaid work of blocks of various woods arranged in a geometric pattern, esp. for flooring or furniture.


This custom sideboard was inspired by a media cabinet that I built some years ago. That cabinet also had a diamond pattern across it's doors and alternating grain in the diamonds. The zebrawood used for the parquetry on this piece has a very strong linear grain that really makes the pattern pop in interesting ways. 

The carcass of the cabinet itself was relatively straight forward; a top and a bottom dovetailed to two sides. The top and bottom panels both have a bow cut on them, and the sides are made from thick material that is also shaped to a curve. The box sits on a curved cove moulding and is attached to the bowed leg assembly. 

It was the parquetry on the four doors that was the fussy part of the project.

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Building a custom nightstand with drawers

ns done

I recently had an order for a pair of custom walnut nightstands from a decorator in Colorado who I've done a bunch of work for in the past. She supplied a picture and some dimensions for me to build from. Working drawings weren't necessary for this one. I've built some like this before so I was ready to crank them out. 

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Making Wood from Weeds


coffee table

We don't think about the biggest ecological disaster in US history very much these days. When we think of the Dustbowl at all we think Grapes of Wrath and displaced people searching for a place to go where it rained and food grew. We don't think about the huge, almost daily, sky blotting "dusters" that buried houses, fences and livestock in drifting dunes, filled peoples lungs with dirt and dropped tons of dust in far away places like Chicago and Washington D.C. The price of wheat was high in the early 1900's and the US government was still giving away land for homesteading. People were moving out west, plowing the short grass prairies under, growing record wheat crops and making a lot of money. What they didn't realize was that they were living in an historically wet period. When the precipitation returned to 'normal' the amazing topsoil, that had built up over thousands of years, quickly began to blow away.

With the dusters blowing up and dunes covering large parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas, the newly formed Soil Conservation Service was desperate to find plants that would grow in these new conditions and hold down the soil that remained. They found some. It pretty much worked.

As a Landscape Architecture student in college I took semesters of classes on landscape plants. Occasionally we would learn about a plant that was originally brought to the country for 'soil stabilization'. I thought they were talking about highway embankments! I didn't realize that someone imported them to try to hold down the middle of the continent. The legacy of the dustbowl continues 80 years later with these invasive species.

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Restoring an historic handrail

handrail finished

It doesn't look like 20 hours of work, but there's some tricky business in a little project like this piece of handrail. 

Last year I spent 9 months working on an historic preservation project in Clovis, NM. The Hotel Clovis was, in it's heyday, a prety big deal. When it was built in 1930 it was the biggest building between Dallas and Los Angeles. The Glen Miller orchestra, Louis Armstrong, and Bob Wills all played dances in the ballroom on the second floor of the hotel. It was a big stop on the railroad and is just down the street from the railroad station and the Harvey Hotel. By the late 70"s the hotel was in decline and when the train quit stopping, it was the death knell. 

After being abandoned for 25 years or so, a developer from Santa Fe took on the project of turning the hotel into low income housing. Since somone along the way had gotten it put on the Historic Register, the place had to be restored instead of simply being gutted. 

So, the last part of the restoration that I worked on was the 18" piece of missing handrail where the staircase comes down into the lobby. Since this is historic preservation we're talking about, I couldn't simply toss out the remaining handrail and start from scratch with something off the shelf. Instead I had to make a chunk of handrail to match the existing. 

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