Temple Blackwood

Jun 162016

Perhaps as a result of the impact of meeting Peter Korn in November 2015 at the meeting of NEMA (New England Museum Association) and then reading his book Why We Make Things and Why It Matters (David R. Godine, Publisher ©2015) in January, I have been steeped in reading books that reveal and explore the passion and spiritual richness of people who work with wood. Two other such passionate books from the winter (long periods of darkness and gloomy, cold days are not balanced by a too-steady diet of evening TV in mid-coast Maine) are George Sturt’s The Wheelwright’s Shop (Cambridge University Press ©1963) and Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman (Yale University Press ©2008). Also this past winter, I read (actually listened to – I am an addicted audible book listener in my shop and car) David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers (Simon & Schuster: ©2016). All four of these books represent the deep feeling for history, craft excellence, and exceptional accomplishment described many years ago for me by my artist wife’s guiding admonishment to our sons: “Life is too short to use poor materials or bad ingredients.” Time (life) is far too valuable to squander on anything less than performing at the highest level of excellence with a commitment to always improve to a new level.

My first plan for my summer woodworking reading is to go back in time to re-read Eric Sloane’s A Reverence for Wood (Ballantine Books: ©1965) and Museum of Early American Tools (Ballantine Books: ©1964). I remember reading these in the late ‘60’s and being tremendously filled with admiration for Sloane’s intensive research into the history, use, and spiritual connection to wood and the tools we work it with. I believe that at this point in my life I will find Sloane even more relevant and compelling. This must be why I have treasured these volumes all these years.

Michael Ruhlman’s Wooden Boats: In Pursuit of the Perfect Craft at an American Boatyard (Penguin Books: ©2002) is high on my list for this summer and new to me. As a woodturner, I am frequently asked to turn one or two replacement fixtures for wooden boats, and when I do, I feel a special connection to the boat and its journey. Boatbuilders, like woodturners, share a fascinating relationship with the fluid sculptural shaping of various types of wood as they practice their craft, sometimes weaving the wood with its bends and twists into a shape both beautiful and useful.

The passion for excellence that I suspect Ruhlman will describe in his book derives from the core example set by Joel White in Douglas Whynott’s A Unit of Water, A Unit of Time: Joel White’s Last Boat (Washington Square Press: ©1999). The driving energy of an exceptionally talented master of his craft to always seek to improve and to discover the magic balance of creating something impressively efficient by developing its beauty reaches the inner core of the creative spirit guided by years of expert and brilliant experience. Uniquely, wooden sailing craft link us to our ancestors, and the correlation between woodturners and sailors is naturally and understandably high.

As a coastal Mainer, I schedule a regular time for my reading and creative reflection in the late summer afternoons in our home as a retreat from the excess of vacationers from the south and travelers from around the globe. Although I am a regular book-listener (audible.com) in my shop, I also enjoy holding the physical volume and turning the actual pages of a good book late in the evening. Another similarly reflective and inspiring opportunity for me is to explore the talents of others in boat building and handling as presented by the folks at www.offcenterharbor.com. These video chronicles document the experience, knowledge, and skills of the talented men and women who dedicate themselves to beautiful boats and sailing.

As a professional woodturner, I find I am eager to reread George Nakashima’s The Soul of a Tree: A Master Woodworkers Reflections (Kodansha International/USA Ltd through Harper & Row: ©1981) because by speaking to the core of my experience processing a tree, splitting or sawing it into turning blanks, turning it to a new form with texture, color, shape, and beauty it will renew my understanding of why I have chosen to pursue the next tree, the next turning blank. With an ever growing number of years of woodturning behind me, I hope that by rereading this book I will create a new more focused perspective. “So much wood; so little time.”

Lonnie Bird’s Shaping Wood (Taunton Press: ©2001) will be the groundswell of practical application for the summer. When standing with a new piece of freshly green wood and newly sharpened tools at the lathe, the creative vision challenges the practical reality of what I can achieve as a craftsman. The elusive ideal form seems forever just beyond my grasp, and the challenge fuels my effort.

Readers of this Highland Woodworking blog can appreciate the spiritual connection many of us are fortunate enough to have with our materials and tools through the deep sensuality of combining touch, smell/taste, sight, and weight with the imagined vision of a finished piece as wrought into reality by the touch of a master craftsman’s skill.

Find more great Woodworking Books and Plans at the Highland Woodworking website.

Dec 262015

Welcome to our 2016 Woodworking Resolutions blogger series. Every year we invite our bloggers to share their resolutions specific to their woodworking goals for the new year. Click each link below to read our bloggers’ resolutions!

A letter I have written to my son on his 39th birthday.

My dear son,

As I prepare for your upcoming 39th birthday in the first month of the New Year, I hope you will remember many years ago when as a young teenager you so proudly gave me that beautiful wood and brass 4’ Level in the plastic case from Centerville Lumber Company that I had often looked at longingly. You know, the gift that the Lumber Company so kindly sent me a charge for $43.97 on my bill about a month later. Your mother and I engaged in some conversation about it and I paid up without a fuss. Your excitement over giving me “just the right gift” that I wanted badly but could not allow myself to buy made all the difference. You and I have used that level back-and-forth so many times over the years, and each time I pull it from its plastic case, I remember you and how it came to be part of my tool collection, expanding on the 2’ level I used before.

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The next year I believe you gave me a new set of socket wrenches, always a well appreciated and useful gift. This one was particularly welcome because it had the sockets for the 1?2” and 7/8” sizes that I had not realized were missing from my existing socket set the last time you used it. In the following ten or so years I believe you gave me about three other new socket sets, sometimes instead of bringing back the set you borrowed and sometimes treating it as a trade “up” for me. You have always been considerate about seeing that one of us has a complete set when you need it.

The big year, about the time you were fifteen, you captured your mother’s agreement with your enthusiasm and bought me that 8 1?4” Hitachi compound miter saw. What a wonderful gift. You and your mother were so proud; I was cautiously delighted because I knew that I would love it but uncertain about who would be paying for it. No real surprise when it showed up on your mother’s credit card bill as a major purchase the following month, yikes! But truthfully we have both used and enjoyed that saw over the past twenty or so years. I hope you enjoyed the newly sharpened blades you found on it each time you borrowed it. I do appreciate you bringing it back so readily without prodding just in time for another newly sharpened blade.

Resolutions 2

One Christmas from that earlier time stands out from all the rest and epitomizes the core of my subsequent New Year’s resolutions in the shop. It all started when I asked your mother to please not give me any gifts that cost money and especially to not give me any gifts that you might suggest because frankly I could not afford anything that I “did not realize” I needed for the shop. Instead, I requested that she give me the gift of time – time alone, undisturbed, uninterrupted, left to myself to work in the shop after the Christmas holiday in the lull of the New Year. That is exactly what she gave me that year – one day of uninterrupted time to work in the shop all by myself. What a spectacular gift — no surprise credit card or lumberyard billing expenses, no new tools (however welcome) to feel guilty about, and no guilt about not doing some of the other “fun” family things that would usually accompany an holiday vacation.

Building on the success of that your mother expanded her gift to me of two or three days in the shop undisturbed. If someone called on the telephone for me, she would tell them I was “away” and would call back when I returned. Eventually the gift turned into a full week. You might remember the year she gave me a “sabbatical” in mid-February when everyone else was at work and you and your brothers were in school. My plan that year was to teach myself to build a Windsor chair from Mike Dunbar’s excellent book. I subsequently wrote up a diary account of the week that I shared with you boys and your mother.

What a wonderful woman she was to understand how much I wanted that time to explore, learn, experiment, and grow on my own. This year in her honor I ordered the package of carving goodies from Highland Woodworking for Christmas. Having spent nearly all of my time over the past forty-five years turning wood, I will use this year’s gift of time to improve my stationary carving skills by setting aside three days in early January to work my way through Mike Davies’s lessons and practice with a goal of adding significant hand carving to my skill set on both turned and fixed pieces, a personal goal that will reward me many times over.

My son, you and I have enriched our lives by sharing our tools and projects over the years. The fun of planning and mutually rationalizing our need for this or that new tool or piece of equipment has remained the outward and visible sign of our inward passion for taking on new challenges, developing new skills, and talking to each other about them. While it has been years since you had access to your mother’s credit card and easy access to my shop, our relationship continues and I am deeply appreciative of the new trailer you built for me several years ago as well as the old plow truck you fabricated the hydraulic hoist on for me. I still use that hoist lifting woodturning logs when I am not close enough to use the tractor-loader you fabricated from various machines and so proudly delivered to me last year.

Resolutions 3
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Well-equipped for my new adventures in the wilds of mid-coast Maine, I am blessed by your talent, design and welding skills, and devotion. I definitely love my customized turning tools and equipment you have made for me for their intrinsic value as well as for the deeper meaning of your thoughtful sensitivity and practical understanding of me, of my own goals, and of my passion for work.

My RESOLUTION for 2016 is to share the discovery with you that I made about twenty-five years ago when your mother gave me the “gift of time.” For your 39th birthday and each year going forward, I will solve the question of how to give you something personally valuable by giving you the remarkable “gift of time” to explore some new passion of your own in your shop or in a class. Part of the gift might be a Christmas pre-birthday teaser tool or encouragement to push you to figure out when and how to best use your new opportunity – a “wish-list of New Year’s resolutions.” I will give you two days of matched pay from your job so you can take those days “off” without losing from your paycheck or vacation benefits to fund the time you spend plus tuition and/or tool expenses. I encourage you to make some kind of report back – written, audio, or personal visit – with a summary of your project for your family, your brothers, and for me.

In this way I hope to perpetuate in our family that spontaneous but unexpectedly wonderful gift your mother gave me so many years ago. Time and encouragement to learn and grow as an artist, a craftsman, and a spiritual being.

Nov 182015

wishlistsmDuring the Christmas season of 1967, about two months after the late October school event where I met and began dating my girlfriend (later my wife), she told me that her mother wanted a list of what I might like to receive for Christmas. Pleased with this affirmation of my growing membership to this new family, I thought this a splendid idea (the nineteen-year-old). I also realized I should handle this with diplomatic sensitivity to avoid creating an undesirable impression (the college freshman in me).

Having been well trained by my grandmother to pay special attention to proper etiquette, I created a list of tools that I wanted to feed my growing interest in woodworking. I was ready to grow beyond my father’s basic, utilitarian bench of pliers, clamps, quarter-inch drill and a gray electric Skill saw to build a better quality tool collection of my own. I designed my wish list across a broad spectrum of prices (remember, it was 1967) beginning with the most practical and reaching into the “out-there” level of wanting to learn something about the wood lathe. (Note: at that point, I had never actually seen a wood lathe being used and I am quite sure my future mother-in-law had no idea what one was, but apparently we shared a vision.)

Temple’s Wish List for Christmas 1967 (approximate prices of the time):

  1. Combination screw driver set — $3.99
  2. Deluxe try square — $9.29
  3. High-quality dovetail saw – $16.66
  4. Set of five bench chisels — $24.95
  5. Toastmaster power multi-tool: lathe, sander, saber-saw — $35.95

The total was $94.84. (Connecticut State sales tax was somewhere in the 0.06% range at that time did not apply to purchases from out-of-state that were delivered by the US Postal System, as addressed by a US Supreme Court ruling. The Toastmaster multi-tool came from the John Plain Mail order catalog company in Chicago.)

In my own family experience, my siblings and I often laughed about the reality that whenever any of us gave our mother a wish list of presents we might want for Christmas, we were pretty well guaranteed to never receive those items. True fact.

The tradition in my new girlfriend’s family turned out to be quite different. When a person in her family put an item on the Christmas wish list, that person was guaranteed to receive it. If the list had five items, that lucky, and in my case totally humbled, person received everything on the list! Imagine my surprise, embarrassment, and delight (quite a complex set of feelings) when I visited my girlfriend and her mother that Christmas morning and discovered all of my carefully planned Christmas wishes in beautifully wrapped packages that I unwrapped one after the other.

That Christmas was a turning point for me. In a lasting way, because of my MIL and late wife, I discovered the lathe and rewards of woodturning, a passionate pursuit for me that continues. I ultimately learned through trial and error to enjoy the crisp benefit of a well-sharpened saw and chisels cutting clean well-measured dovetails. In a larger perspective I grew to enjoy having the right tool to accomplish the job efficiently and effectively.

As I think about the many years and projects since that Christmas, I grow in my appreciation of my mother-in-law’s confidence and support for my passion for shaping and cutting wood. Reflecting on her life and on my late wife’s gentle but firm guidance that urged me to seek excellence, I look again to see how that original whimsical and uninformed list of new tools would stack up this year for my wish list.

New version of that same list for Temple’s Christmas 2015:

  1. Isomax 100 Piece Security & Standard Screwdriver Tips — $34.99. Of course there are many more screw types 48 years later, and a set of driver tips to fit a screw of nearly every type fulfills that shop urge to meet every possible need with just the right tool, not to mention the ubiquitous dependence on the cordless driver (which outstanding engineering I would also like to include). This extensive set seems to cover every possibility for any occasion, which is an admirable goal for every on-call fixit person.
  2. Rosewood Try Square – 9 inch — $24.99. Another lesson I learned from my grandmother and later my wife is that only the best quality of tool or material makes the effort of a craftsman worthwhile. There is no point in wasting valuable time on a perfectly good project with inferior materials or tools. I have grown to appreciate the depth of this concept, and the contemplation of measuring carefully with a beautifully crafted square reinforces the goal of making each measured mark and cut precise. “Things won are done, but the joy lies in the doing.” (Troilus and Cressida)
  3. Bad Axe Stiletto Dovetail Saw – 12 inch — $245.00. For those of us who value the sensual and spiritual pleasure of cutting and fitting dovetails by hand, this is the kind of tool that challenges the craftsman to work always at a challenge level of excellence. Magically the higher level of the artistic beauty of the tool itself energizes and inspires the craftsperson to new levels of achievement.
  4. Narex Premium 6-Piece Bench Chisel Set with Leather Tool Roll – $119.99. What a beautiful presentation these fine chisels properly make in a properly protected roll, and complimentary they are for use on fine furniture. I believe this set might make the best kind of gift for my oldest son who builds wooden boats at Brooklin Boatyard in Maine, a fitting connection between the encouragement from his grandmother long before he was born and now when he does such beautiful work on the impressive new boats such as Foggy being designed and built at the yard.
  5. Rikon 70-220VSR 12 ½” Midi Lathe – (on sale!) $599.99 This represents a tremendous advance over that tiny little Toastmaster multi-tool combination lathe, saber saw, and sander with which I first ground out a little goblet from a pine blank with one scraping tool in January of 1968. What a terrific starter machine with versatility and stability that will launch novice woodturners into that wonderful world of expression in craft and art.

Total $1,024.96 Plus CT Sales tax of 6.35% of $65.08 = $1,090.04

I think asking for the lathe I really want, the Oneway 2436 3HP Lathe at $6,481.00 plus freight might have been a little ambitious after only two months of dating, but then again, if I did not ask, she might not have known what I really want. Those Oneway’s are truly beautiful tools in all sizes with precision, safety, well-balanced fixtures that inspire a woodturner to seek excellence, and a powerful launch into a new adventure of exploration, skill-development, passion, and personal development that may never be equaled.

The end of the story is that the wife of one of my woodturning students (both extremely good friends) called me to ask if she really needed to take the plunge and if so which lathe did I recommend she buy for her husband’s 25th wedding anniversary, birthday, and Christmas. She said she was sitting down and ready to take the plunge. I gave her the link.

Nov 192014

Editors Note: This is a continuation of Temple Blackwood’s article from the November 2014 issue of The Highland Woodturner, which you can read by CLICKING HERE.


I encourage you to engage in doing regular demonstrations as part of your woodturning service to others, both organizations and individuals, because you will ultimately gain in skill, confidence, knowledge, and reputation. Selecting something like a belaying pin or mini-baseball bat challenges you as a woodturner, while bringing that delightful understanding and surprise to the children of all ages in your audience.

Begin by identifying your audience in age, safety, and experience level:

  • Children
  • Potential Students
  • Experts

Practical preparations:

  • Lathe, wood, tools, projects, time
    • Minimal tools, equipment, and turning blanks
    • Easy-to-mount, safe turning blanks
    • Sharpening vs multiple tools that are sharp
  • Travel, packing, setting up, taking down
    • Wheeled carts and tool-totes
    • Clean-up broom, dustpan and bag for chips and trash
  • Face-mask vs Goggles as potential essential obstacles
    • Your safety and protection
    • Your need to talk and be heard during the demonstration


  • Be mindful of how much time you have
  • Be mindful of how much time your project will take
  • Be prepared to give away incomplete pieces
  • Be prepared and practice for failure/breakage/accident
  • Anticipate questions and be prepared to stop and answer them

Critical P’s

  • Plan
  • Practice in advance
  • Prepare “before” and “after” samples
  • Present demo items to a devoted audience member

Other Considerations

  • Noise (yours and others competing in the same area)
  • Dust and chips (yours and others competing in the same area)
  • Splatter management (moisture from wet wood and excess finish)
  • Lighting
  • Workbench or table
  • Time
  • Clean-up and leave the area cleaner than you found it

Why do these demonstrations?

  • Share the passion for working with your hands in wood
  • Offer others the gift of your knowledge and talent
  • Expand your own turning knowledge and experience
  • Welcome others into the community of the American Association of Woodturners (AAW), its regional clubs, and the many woodturning resources for tools, supplies and lessons