My studies and the rest of life generally have kept me away from the bench, and even more, away from this blog, for a while. But, since my little Popular Woodworking article was just published, I guess I ought get back to this on a more regular basis.

I’m in the midst of reading a biography of Henry David Thoreau right now, and learning how much woodworking/handymanning he actually did. We think of him as the patron saint of American environmentalism, and he was in many ways. Observation and appreciation of nature are at the root of his writing and life. But he also invented processes and machinery for the family pencil manufacture business (which was housed in a very modest building for the quantity the Thoreau’s were turning out in the 1840s). He was also a major fixer of things that broke in the Emerson household (Emerson was famously clumsy, his son Waldo once worrying that he would “dig his leg”).

This has given me the idea of further research on Thoreau’s knowledge of woodworking. While much has been written about the cabin, I’d like to do some more research on Concord’s carpenters and joiners of the period–and maybe try to figure out what other tools besides an axe Henry have borrowed.

Thoreau’s woodworking (and his writing about it) could also be compared to Walt Whitman’s (they met and enjoyed each other’s company and writing). Whitman worked as a house carpenter (like his father) for a time and of course wrote “The Song of the Broad Ax” in 1856. Both of these literary figures have had a lasting impact on the way that American culture talks and thinks about the relationship of work to the world around us. I suspect the role of working wood probably hasn’t been much explored–the ways that woodworking metaphors and metonyms pervade our common language and understanding of self, for example. That might be because scholars aren’t usually woodworkers, and woodworking scholars don’t usually turn to literary figures.





6 thoughts on “Publishing

  1. Glad I found your blog. I’m a woodworker from Utah, who installs fireplaces 50-60 hours a week so I can spend whatever time I have on the weekend to do hand tool woodworking. Knowing much more about me isn’t probably worthwhile, but I just wanted to say thank you for your words and your work. Something about your approach to what you are doing is very near and dear to my heart. Please continue your posting when you can.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, CAW. I’ll keep posting as I can. I hope to be a little more regular about it–especially now that I might have a little more of a following. Thanks for your encouragement. It means a lot.


  2. (I’m the same commenter above, CAW)

    Just out of curiosity, which Thoreau Biography were you/are you reading? I’m a huge fan of that era of New England thinking, Transcendentalism I suppose it should be called. Grew up reading Walden, big fan of 19th century Utopian experimental communities. I’m currently reading Walter Harding’s biography of Thoreau, and was just curious if it was the same one you were working on.


  3. Hey brother,

    Just realized your from Idaho; I lived in Boise for about half of my life. I live in Utah now, but regularly go up there to visit family and friends. Small world.

    Since we’ve been talking about Thoreau, I wanted to shoot you to a podcast that I’ve loved for years. They recently did a show on Walden (because of the bicentennial of Henry’s birth this year), also regarding the new publications that are coming out. I think you’ll enjoy it; its called Entitled Opinions, out of Stanford University. It’s hosted by Robert Harrison, the professor of French and Italian literature. He has also authored some books that you may enjoy.

    That’s the URL for the most recent show; but from what little I know about you, I think you’d probably enjoy the entire podcast. I’m a machinist and cabinetmaker, but I probably should have been an English or Philosophy major. Haha.

    Anyway, hope to see you post more; always nice to know there’s people out there with similar mindsets regarding literature, and woodworking. We’re probably close to the same age, so that makes it even more refreshing. I’m very much not a social networking guy, but hopefully you don’t mind me contacting you via the comment section. Good luck with your work and studies.


    1. Hey friend. It is a small world indeed, and thanks for this. I’m a longtime listener of Entitled Opinions (Prof. Harrison) introduce me to many great authors and thinkers) I can’t wait to give this a listen.

      Have you listened to the late Hubert Dreyfus’s Berkley podcasts? They are a delight, and mind bending.

      Sorry that I’ve been AWOL on here for a bit. My ambitions were crazy in the end, and during my six weeks of more or less nonstop travel, I haven’t had much chance to write. But that will change soon.

      If you’re in Utah, you should look up Bryon Darby. He’d be a good fellow traveler.


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