In order to really focus on what matters, I haven’t been on this blog or social media much.

The outrage machine works against my sanity–so I do my best to engage only enough to be a halfway decent citizen.

The social media machine works against my sanity (and my ability to work) as well, so I try to only engage enough to be a good friend.

I’ve been waking up early thanks to my new pup–he lives always in the present. It helps me get to my writing. Reading about Reconstruction has reminded me how deep the roots our our our national wounds and failure to pursue justice delve. Reading about farming reminds me how long we’ve known the dangers of concentrated power, short-term profit, and ecological ignorance. Nothing new under the sun.

Thanks to those of you out there who try to keep your heads down, love people every day, and do good work. You’re a minority, but you carry the fire. You inspire me to do the same.

More to come after November. That’s my dissertation deadline.

Read more Wendell Berry.

Stuck In Between


After moving, it always takes me a month or two to get a new routine established. And that’s been dragged out by balancing time for dissertating, a new part-time job (hello discount outdoor gear!), and fostering good habits for living with my partner. Oh, and I squeezed a two week trip back to Idaho for my best friend’s wedding and some family and wilderness time, and then a chip carving class up at Lost Art Press after that (I already love being only 90 minutes away).

So the workshop is only half unpacked, between the basement and the garage. The lathe is remounted, but I need to get the motor placed. Most of the other tools are stacked, since I have to still get someone over to help me carry the toolchest down the sketchy basement stairs. My saws are up with Mike Seimsen, who generously took me up on my saw swap idea. They should be back soon, super sharp, and in the case of the rip, retoothed!

Once I have those, I’ll start my bench build. It’s going to be an SYP knockdown Nicholson, but with a laminated top instead of the flatsawn sandwich (which I found on my last bench was prone to a bit too much cupping and didn’t hold my holdfasts quite as sturdily as I would like). It will also have my Wilton face vise. So it’s something like a Schwarz/Sellers mashup, which is probably something neither would like, but who cares. It’s my bench. I’m still trying to decide whether to flush mount the face vise or not. It could come down to how things look when I’m assembling everything. Thoughts?

Blogging to pick up once more. For now–switching from current events/politics blogs and listening to NPR to a couple baseball history podcasts has done wonders for my peace of mind. I need to be informed, yes, but constant outrage isn’t good for anyone.

The Red River Gorge is beautiful.

Gray’s Arch


First Kentucky fish on the fly–a new species for me: creek chub. (The mythical browns in this tiny creek were nowhere to be found)


Sandhills/Great Plains Reading List pt. 2

Here’s the additional reading list I left for my students. I’ve read most but not all of these books. There are also a number of fantastic websites at the end. Enjoy!


The Nature of Nebraska: Ecology and Biodiversity, Paul Johnsgard

The Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, David Wishart et al.

The Atlas of The Great Plains, Stephen Lavin et al.

The Atlas of Nebraska, David Wishart et al.

Nebraska Place-Names Lilian Linder Fitzpatrick

Field guides like Sibley’s Birds, Stokes Birds, Merlin (Cornell ornithology app), Sky Guide (astronomy app), and many more. Jon has some of these for sale in his office.



Most anything by Willa Cather, but especially My Antonia and O! Pioneers.

Old Jules by Mari Sandoz (semi-autobiographical, don’t know how fictionalized it is)

The Crossing, Cormac McCarthy (Texas and Mexico, wolves)

Lord Grizzly, Frederick Manfred

Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurty

Winter in the Blood, James Welch (and the movie!)

Fools Crow, James Welch

Green Grass, Running Water Thomas King

Centennial, James Michener

Giants in the Earth, E.O. Rolvaag

Dalva, Jim Harrison


Poetry (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Twyla Hansen, Nebraska State Poet (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

John Neihardt’s Cycle of the West (with some healthy grains of salt)

Allison Hedge Coke

Matt Mason

Don Welch



Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmer (traditional ecological knowledge–a Native scientist)

What The River Carries, Interior Places, The Nature of Home and moreLisa Knopp (Nature of Home has the Arbor day essay)

Not Just Any Place, John Price (encounters with Great Plains authors, including Dan O’Brien)

PrairieErth, William Least Heat-Moon (deep map of one Kansas County)

Great Plains, Ian Frazier (a somewhat romantic outsiders view of the plains in the 80s/90s)

Black Elk Speaks, John G. Neihardt (but get the annotated version so you know what’s Neihardt and what is Black Elk)

Killing Custer James Welch

The Home Place, Wright Morris

The Wheatgrass Mechanism, Don Gayton

Rising from the Plains, John McPhee

Buffalo Bill’s America, Louis S. Warren

The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan

The Blessed Earth, Ted Genoways (just won the Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize)


The Lay of the Land, Annette Kolodny (foundational ecofeminist text)

Settler Colonialism, Patrick Wolfe (the definitive scholar of the field)

Ecocriticism, Greg Garrad (a good intro, and the source of our “tropes” idea)

The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology, Cheryl Glotfelty (definitive early anthology of ecocritical scholarship)

Nature’s Metropolis, William Cronon (an environmental history of the trans-Mississippi Midwest and Chicago)

Dammed Indians: The Pick-Sloan Plan and the Missouri River Sioux, 1944-1980, Michael Lawson


Digital Resources:

Platte Basin Timelapse (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Loren Eiseley Story Map

Western Literature Association (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Crane Trust (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Nature Conservancy Niobrara Valley Preserve (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Wild Idea Buffalo (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Center for Great Plains Studies

Poetry from the Plains (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. (includes my essays on Neihardt and Kloefkorn)

Literature & Environment: A Reading List


As I posted on my IG account, I was lucky enough to teach a tremendous course at Cedar Point Biological Station in western Nebraska over the past two weeks.

For anyone interested in learning more about this place, here are the books we read. I’ll add synopses and some recommended reading for the overachievers later today after I pack up for a lightning-fast fishing trip.


Sandhills Reading List:

A Lantern in Her Hand, Bess Streeter Aldrich

The Ogallala Road: A Story of Love, Family, and the Fight to Keep the Great Plains from Running Dry, Julene Bair

The Immense Journey, Loren Eiseley

Keith County Journal, John Janovy

The Last Prairie: A Sandhills Journal, Stephen Jones

Swallowing the Soap: Selected Poems, William Kloefkorn

Buffalo for the Broken Heart, Dan O’Brien

Cheyenne Autumn, Mari Sandoz


More to come!

Moving: Packing Up

White interior sharpening box

The time has arrived, both before I was ready and finally, to start packing for my move to Kentucky. I’ve been kept busy with purging up to now. In addition to giving a few things away, and selling a few more, I held a garage sale ($1 a tool from the box moved things right along–don’t worry, nothing valuable in that box).

I first completed a couple projects that could be filed under “modular storage,” to help with the packing. I fitted an old fruit crate with a nailed Japanese lid (a fun project, maybe 90 min from start to finish, even with rummaging through scraps for the wood and looking up a few images for inspiration). I cleaned and spraypainted an old stamped metal toolbox that is just the right size for my sharpening gear. I soft-waxed a canvas tool tote for my turning tools and lathe bits and bobs.

I still need to glue up a number of drawers for my nail cabinet (amazing how other things come up. #procrastmanship).


Restoring Box



But now comes the difficult stuff. My two machines: the lathe, the grinder. And all the hand tools and appliances. And a few choice bits of lumber. Some friends are buying the bench, and I’ll make another in Kentucky. If I have room, I’ll bring my sawbenches along, but I’d like to make stake ones, so I don’t feel super attached. Even without those, I think my Uhaul will be 40% woodworking tools, 50% books, and 10% furniture (at least by weight).

I’ll be in Kentucky from Wednesday to Monday, and then teaching in western Nebraska for two weeks. It’s going to be a spring to get everything packed and ready to go by the end of May, since I’ve only got a handful of days to actually make it happen!

Also, it seems like Mike Siemsen is going to be my saw sharpening swapper. A very generous guy!


Moving: Saw Swap


So, as you may have seen on my IG account–I’m trying to downsize my saw collection. Here’s the deal: you sharpen/straighten three of my saws to as near perfection as is feasible, you get three saws that have been mostly restored and probably only need a little more work to either use yourself or sell for profit.

Saws to be sharpened etc.:

I’m hoping to find someone who does this semi-professionally. I (think I) can keep a saw sharp, but all of these were projects and I don’t know how good I am at shaping, jointing, or setting teeth, and I haven’t even approached straightening or hammer tensioning. So I’m looking for someone with that high-end skill set to work on these three core saws:

Big Rip: This is a nice saw, from what I can tell. Sadly I recently broke a chip of nose off. It’s half an inch shorter now. Guess I either need higher sawbenches or to ease up my stroke, but maybe that half inch less will be that much more protection for this one against further abuse. 7 tpi, with just the faintest ghost of an etch. This will be a rip workhorse, pulling light resawing now and then.

Big Crosscut: This is my newest saw. It’s filed crosscut and stamped 6 tpi. A very faint etch that says “Gold Medal.” I plan for it to be my heavy crosscutting.

Panel crosscut: This is a great little saw. It hangs on a cork nailed to my Tesolin-style tool shelf/rack. I use it for many bench jobs for crosscutting to length, either with a bench hook or hanging off the edge of the bench. It gets pressed into service for cutting long dados now and then. It lives in the in-between world that isn’t quite cutting joinery and isn’t quite breaking down rough stock. I might use it more than any other saw.

Saws for trade:

Panel Rip: 24″ 5 tpi. I like this saw, which has a smooth, comfortable handle. If I could keep one more, this would be it. Also my most aggressive saw.

Two 26″ 8 tpi crosscuts. Both with skew backs.

If there needs to be something else to sweeten the deal, I could probably find a few project tools I could part with.




Failing at Minimalism


“It is difficult to begin without borrowing, but perhaps it is the most generous course thus to permit your fellow-men to have an interest in your enterprise.” – Henry David Thoreau

I date my start with this handtool woodworking thing to 2012, when I bought a jack plane at a Boise antique store for $20. I didn’t have Instagram yet, though I think I had just bought my first smartphone (I’m now on my second). Times were a little different, and I felt less a part of a trend or community than I do now.

The trouble was, I didn’t know anyone else doing this stuff. I hardly knew anyone else who did any real woodworking. My dad only had a little benchtop table saw (that we used on the garage floor) and he used to build camping tables and garage shelving. But he was an engineer, not a woodworker. His joinery was all screws and bolts. So I didn’t have access to borrowing things. And as Thoreau points out, it is difficult to begin without borrowing.

That’s part of why it took me 4 years to begin. It wasn’t until 2016 that I had finally built a bench and had accrued enough tools to start producing things from wood. But–despite my drinking the Schwarzian Kool-Aid–now I find myself with more tools than I realized I had! And the thing is…there are still plenty more little things I find myself oggling.

Back in 2011, I somehow stumbled into the Anarchists Tool Chest and started to use it as a checklist. I’d look for the things in the book at antique stores and flea markets. But then invariably, I’d need to fix them up. And then people would give me tools, or I wouldn’t be able to resist a $10 handsaw. Or I’d fall in love with the beauty of a tool at a collectors swap (brass accented English mortise gauge!). And all this tool fixing required other tools and supplies.

Now, that I have to move, I see that this tool collection stage of my hobby is finally, perhaps, drawing to a close. I have enough tools, for the most part. I can probably upgrade a few things someday, but I don’t need to have more to get to work.

The tricky thing, though, is that even the most pared-down books and tool lists don’t include everything. It’s sort of like how most recipes don’t list water in the necessary ingredients. Or how they will include instructions to “pulse in the food processor”…because who doesn’t have that? This is often true of the finishing steps, or the lack of instruction on finding wood, or the fact that if you’re buying old tools you need a whole separate toolkit for tool maintenance/restoration. Or the idea that most woodworkers have a drill press.

I’m dumping a good number of tool odds and ends collected while I’ve been in Nebraska. But here is a brief list of things in my “shadow toolkit” that exist outside my woodworking tool chest or even my shop:

  • Secondary bench–currently in my basement, and has a mounted machinists vice. This is where I do most of my work on old tools. Like every flat surface, it collects lots of junk.
  • Random sandpaper, in grits from 80 – 600, both woodworking and wet/dry. All “cheap” hardware store/home center stuff.
  • Rust Remover and metal polish–I follow the instructions of Mark Harrell’s peerless guidance, all free at his website: Bad Axe Toolworks.
  • Red toolbox: this was classic, given to me when I moved into my first apartment. It’s got a screwdriver, pliers, clippers, a six-inch level. Just enough tools to hang picture frames and tighten doorknobs.
  • Clamps–I don’t have big old racks like the professionals, but I get by with a couple handscrews, some cheap home center bar clamps, and a few hand-me-down C-clamps.
  • Lots of files–I honestly don’t know how I got so many. They probably are all fairly dull. I don’t think I bought most of them. Although I did once order a single triangle file on Amazon and they shipped me a box of a dozen…
  • A saw vise along with angle iron vise jaw extenders
  • Leather scraps, always useful
  • Rags, never enough of them, never where I want them
  • Paint brushes, paint, a paint cup with a handle and a magnet that is very clever and was only a few dollars.
  • Oilcans, beeswax, soap, paraffin, a plane sole lubricating can (a rag rolled and stuffed into a tin can and soaked in mineral oil).
  • Wood scraps. Far in excess of my storage for them. Hoarded for who knows what (I’ll have a bonfire and grill out before moving…)

You get the picture. I know that much of this stuff isn’t what makes it onto tool lists. But it is the stuff that puts the lie to the whole idea of “minimalist.” I try to stay modest, keep these things organized, and avoid hoarding or unnecessary purchases. But I also know that a shop is a shop, and for those folks first starting out (where I was just a few years ago) you’ve got many more trips to the hardware store ahead of you, even once you’ve got a “full suite” of tools. This is not, in the end, a minimal hobby. It’s a tremendously complicated process to make something out of wood–and the “tools” part is really only the middle section. There’s a lot of work before (on the tools and finding lumber) and after (finishing, cleaning, cleaning the cleaning tools).

One of the great things about Mike Siemsen’s “Baby Anarchist Class” was that it was a helping hand over this rough start. In a fully established shop, it’s the work of a moment to restore a plane. In my apartment, it would have taken a week, probably with three trips to a store.

Maybe that’s different for specialists (I’m looking at you, spoon carvers). But in this community, it strikes me that we often forget the long process of investment and accumulation behind even the simplest task of woodworking or tool restoration. But it’s there, allowing us to work–or it’s not, making yet another hurdle for those who want to get into this.

I’ll leave you with more thoughts from puckish Mr. Thoreau, cutter of mono-dovetails, and skeptic about the accumulation of anything besides words and observations:

A lady once offered me a mat, but as I had no room to spare within the house, nor time to spare within or without to shake it, I declined it, prefering to wipe my feet on the sod before my door. It is best to avoid the beginnings of evil.

Moving with Handtools pt. 2: Design

I’ve spent a little time drawing a floor plan for my new shop yesterday. Here is it. My drafting supplies are all back in Lincoln, or I would have at least used a scale rule. But this rough freehand sketch is enough to show me that things are going to be a little tight down in my basement shop.


I also stopped by the library yesterday and picked up a Pop Wood book called The Complete Woodshop Guide “from the editors of Popular Woodworking” (the library was the first stop in a lovely books, burgers, and pet shop walkthrough weeknight date. Pet stores are full of fascinating creatures. Our culture is so bizarre.). This sort of book is both fun and obnoxious to me. On the one hand, it helps to be reminded that I should get a legitimate first aid kit for my shop, and think about the power requirements of my lathe. On the other hand–I’m a renter, and I’m going to be unemployed when I arrive. So–I can’t build a cellar entry (one suggested improvement in the book), let along paint the floor. It’s going to be a temporary shop. So all the articles on installation of flooring, dust collection, where to locate the router table…I can dispense with all that. Maybe someday I’ll be able to afford, or find for sale, a drill press, bandsaw, and portable planer, and by then, I’ll be somewhere with an outbuilding and a woodstove (Jim Tolpin’s little shop seems just about right to me). Such are the boundaries of my desire. The book, on the other hand, is a complete guide to building a shop for someone with twice my annual income to drop on a shop. So my story won’t be about buying my way to workshop bliss. It’s more of a make-do-or-do-without kind of story.

Come June, I’ll store all the tools in the basement, in my tool chest and hanging shelf. I’ll build some shelves to hold paint and other finishing supplies. Lumber will be purchased as needed and then stored in the garage or leaned against walls in out of the way places. Besides storage, I need a place for:

  1. the bench (built to fit)
  2. the lathe
  3. the grinder
  4. sawbenches (potentially to be new built, depending on space when I pack up)*
  5. A shopvac + bucket “dust collector”.
  6. A chopping stump*

My plan is to locate the * items in the garage. That way I can do the roughest work out there, and only bring in the lumber once it’s cut to size.

The bench will go along the south wall, aka starboard, wall. The lathe will be to port, under the ductwork since it needs a bit less headspace than I do. Dust collection will probably go fore of the lathe, against the wall and next to the toolchest. I’ll need to keep the basement quite clean because it’s also the laundry station. I think the best bet for the grinder is just aft of the workbench, on the other side of the knobless door.

Lighting is going to be a compromise as well. I have my plug and go shop lights, so I’ll bring those along, but there isn’t any outlet on the best bench wall. And I’m not too keen on guerilla diy wiring in an apartment basement shop. So–I’ll probably be using an adapter in the current light socket, which I’ll need to raise up between the joists if I want to not bash my head constantly (did I mention the beams are only 6’6″ off the deck? For my scrawny six feet, that’s not a lot of clearance).

Next up–planning a new bench. Nicholson or something more Roubust? (sorry).


Moving with Handtools pt. 1: Planning

Today I’m writing during a minor blizzard on the second day of Spring. I’m in Lexington, KY this week with my lovely fiancee. While the issues of the Kentucky Press don’t seem to be over (or sunnier), we signed a lease and a venue contract for our wedding. So even if she loses her job, we’ll both be here for at least a year.


My current place, back when it was festive.


Honestly, I’m excited to move here. Kentucky has been absolutely lovely, politics aside. But it’s going to require some big changes, woodworking-wise. I’ve been in a lovely little 1900 Craftsman-style bungalow in Lincoln for the last two years. And I’ve done basically all my woodworking from a shop space that was originally some sort of back porch (the construction history is a little obscure to me, but that space isn’t insulated). When I moved in my bench was new and I was just finishing my tool chest–a sort of hybrid between the “full Anarchist” (dimension-wise) and the “baby anarchist” (everything else) versions from Christopher Schwarz. (I was actually a bit surprised at how large it was, and I could probably get by with something not quite as deep…which maybe I’ll make with dovetails someday and find another purpose for what feels like the giant original…or maybe I’ll get used to it) Since then, I’ve completed (or mostly completed) several bookcases, a six-board chest, an nail cabinet, a couple medieval looking staked benches, a hanging tool shelf, and restorations on a number of old tools. In the basement, I’ve gotten an old Craftsman lathe working, set up a grinder station, and made a rough chopping block at which to hew and knock (thanks, Roy).


My last real project, in the “Kat Cave” my wonderful little bench room for the last two years.


At the edges of woodworking, a lot has happened in the past two years. I’ve been to two Handworks and a couple tool sales, published a couple woodworking essays, and took the Baby Anarchist class with Mike Seimsen. I started this blog. I’ve gotten to know some absolutely amazing woodworking folks through the local scene (aka softball), Instagram, Handworks, and that class. I also got to take a mind-blowing trip to Namibia, lost my dad, ended a relationship, fell in love and got engaged, and am within striking distance of finishing my PhD. So you know, about run of the mill for a couple years.

But now I’m faced with moving my tools and setting up a new shop space.

And that’s where things get interesting. I think there are going to be at least three overlapping phases: 1. I need to decide what to keep and sell everything else so that I don’t lose that investment, or at least give it away so it isn’t junked 2. I need to figure out how to transport what I do keep 3. I need to set up a new shop in our new duplex apartment.

When it comes to keeping things, I’ve already got a crate of definitely unwanted items. I’ll make another post about those, in case anyone is interested in purchasing a few–there are some subfunctional Yankee Drills, an odd duck rabbet plane, a giant corner brace, and some other odds and ends. Even a goofy little hobby size bandsaw someone gave me.

The tools waiting on restoration are tougher. I think I have about 8-10 handsaws and probably need half that many at most. Perhaps I can sell half of those to put toward a Bad Axe sharpening of the other half. (I do very much enjoy the saw restoration process, and they are surprisingly easy to find at antique shops–much better priced than the planes). I have some extra chisels and random gauges. I also have the crate of my friend Ellen Matthew’s great grandfather’s nineteenth-century carpenter’s tools, many beyond saving, but entrusted to me by their inheritor. I don’t feel right just consigning them to being chopped up for their old beech, but I doubt the feasibility of a rehab for most of the planes and many of the other tools.


The Matthews tools, how many beyond saving?


So when I’ve offloaded some tools, I’ll (I hope) be down to one chest, one crate, a nail cabinet, a lathe, and the tool shelf. I’ve already got a friend lined up to buy my workbench, and I plan to build another when I arrive in Lexington (land of cheap lumber). Since I’m moving in with my fiancee, I’ll also be able to get rid of most of my own furniture. My current plan is to load a utility trailer with books and tools and pull it with my 20-year-old Honda CRV. That plan may change after talking to a mechanic buddy.

But this week, what’s really occupying my mind is figuring out what the new shop space could look like. Options are limited.

There are three spaces that at least theoretically could be utilized: basement, attic, and garage. Each has pros and cons. The basement is the logical choice for most things: it’s convenient, temperature controlled, and has power and some decent space–about 10′ x 15′ or so on the unused end. The drawbacks are potential moisture, a low (6′ 6″) overhead clearance, and some ugly and unhelpful ducts and pipes taking up real estate. The lighting is also subpar and the stairs are also pretty rickety. It will be somewhat difficult to move wood in and furniture out. There’s little ventilation. And I’ll definitely have to up my dust game. I’ll also probably be bugging the neighbors with my noise whenever I do loud things like use a hammer. Still, I think this is where the bench, chest, lathe, shelves, and cabinet will go.


Future shop space


The garage is unattached, unheated, and unwired. I don’t want to make that my primary workspace, but I think it will be useful for finishing or assembly when I need ventilation or a larger space (cf. no boats in the basement).

Finally, there is the attic. It’s the space that looks like the best spot to work. There is plenty of headroom, it’s all rough open carpentry, there’s a north-facing window with lots of natural light. But, attics being attics, the temperature swings will be extreme. And it’s a hatch/ladder access attic, so forget moving furniture or tools in and out. And of course, everything would resound through the building from up there. So it’s out, and any storage features it does have can probably be fulfilled by the garage rafters. Mostly, it will be useful to keep other things from invading my woodshop end of the basement.


The appealing but useless attic


Tomorrow: layout plans.