Long ago, there was a quip that still means a lot to me about the OT list.
"If you want content, write content." The point, in case that's not
obvious, is that we're all responsible for what's on the list. It's a
small point, but it prompts me to write. Hope I still have something to
I've been on the OT list since (IIRC) 1996, and still read a few selected
notes every day. My life and interests have changed a lot over the years,
so as a kind of apology for posting less often, here's a brief outline of
those 20-some years with the list.
As a rank newbie, with my first IBM PC and Hotmail, I started my first wood
working shop in the closed back porch of our old farmhouse in Kansas. With
almost no wood working tools, my first interest was acquisition. In an
admission of shame, I recall actually breaking my first Stanley #5 (cheap
metallic Jack plane, Jeff) out of sheer frustration when I smashed the hell
out of a finger when the plane hooked on a knot in a piece of crappy white
pine. I was glad to find the list, where people interested in wood and
hand tools were eager to help us helpless novices, and even to sell tools.
It was my first epiphany. It was also when I learned the word "epiphany,"
by the way. One of my first goals was to fill out a set of Stanley bench
planes, numbers 3 through 8. I've never been one to spend a lot of money
on handtools, so the exotic number 1 and 2 were well out of the scope, but
I gradually settled on a preference for Type 11 Stanleys, mostly with
corrugated soles. Why not--they were cheap and plentiful, and the
technology was pretty much perfected a century ago. I remember a lot of
humor on the list from that era. Paddy O'Deen, Gunterman, and others who
don't come to my mind immediately just now. Remember the Satanley uproar
about shutting down the Blood and Gore site? Esther Heller helped me out a
few times with acquiring the conventional courtesy of the list--I honestly
didn't know how to effectively and politely communicate by email in those
Soon after that, I fell into a years long daily conversation with Larry
Holland. At first it was about treadle lathes (he still uses one or more,
I believe--I never quite got over the hump to learning the craft). That
gradually evolved into a folksy thing that I looked forward to every day.
We eventually met in person, during my move from Kansas to Alaska in 2000.
**Hi Larry--I miss those times. Glad to see your occasional notes.**
During my last few years in Kansas, I started a small blacksmith and metal
working shop, mainly so-as to start making my own tools. It was a fun
time. I bought my first forge from an Amish antique shop in Yoder Kansas,
acquired a post drill, joined a blacksmithing association, and learned to
make Damascus (actually, pattern-welded) steel. One of my first knives was
made from an old Harley Davidson primary chain. When we moved, I packed
the smithy up into a cargo box that weighed 5600 pounds. That was more
than the rest of our freight combined. My first treadle lathe, made at and
with Larry's constant encouragement, was mortised by hand from 4 x 4" green
oak salvaged from some extra nice pallets. It sorta worked, and I made a
few things with it, including some Osage orange mallets that I gave away to
the winner of the Bottom Feeder Challenge. Does anyone else remember
that? It's in the archive somewhere.
When we arrived in Alaska, our home was a tiny shack, and the WW tools
mostly stayed in crates, or way back there in Kansas. Our son Ben
eventually moved to Alaska, and brought most of the remaining tools with
him. We landed in a great place, and have prospered here in many ways.
Galena, Alaska is way off the road system, deep in the interior of Alaska.
It's about halfway between Fairbanks and Nome on the north bank of the
Yukon River. There's a lot more to say about where we live, but I've
already said most of it, in a blog <http
://pdknz.livejournal.com/> that I
kept for ten years or more.. One of my regrets about getting older is that
I've let the blog lapse for a long time.
Alaska has been good to us, but my interests and work have changed over the
years. There was a while that I tried to make a livelihood as a
blacksmith, and ended up doing production work on a single
product--holdfasts. That lasted for, I dunno, five years or so, and I made
hundreds of them. I never got very good as a blacksmith, but holdfasts are
dead easy, and they were a fad among wood workers for a while. I
eventually used up my right arm on the job, and suddenly quit; literally
between one hammer swing and the next one. Some of the older list members
will recall my long time accomplice Jake the Russian, who was a working
partner in our enterprise, which we variously called Galena Village
Blacksmith or the Galena Blacksmith Guild. The guild sort of evolved into
a steam boat project. That's all in the blog. You could look it up-- Jake
is still around, living in Galena now; still more or less a squatter,
although he has a house with a roof now, and no longer lives in a shack
dug into the permafrost. His arm has started to go out too, so his
blacksmithing has begun to taper off. He makes his own fuel--cooks
charcoal from our local white spruce. His most recent projects have been
mostly forge welded reproductions of interesting old axes. My metalwork
has evolved to fabrications and lathe work. It's kinda fun, sometimes
useful, and much easier on my right shoulder.
As we have lived in Alaska, my wood work evolved from furniture to
carpentry, and then to log work and tool making. Son Ben and I have been
logging most summers over the years, and we built his house, a recreational
log cabin, and our house, plus one for a local friend. The log work is
round logs, full scribed, dovetailed, and worked green. The first cabin
was in 2003 and 2004. Ben's house was finished in 2006, and SWMBO/my house
in 2008. The more recent friend's house is framed with lumber that was
milled from green trees. Tim set a local record by starting and finishing
his house in a single summer. We cut the first tree on June 3, and they
had a fire in the stove during September. I milled the lumber, and Tim
learned carpentry on the job. There have been a lot of sequels to that
house project, to the point that now, Tim is in charge of a local logging
company, and recently got his contractor's license to bid on a new office
project. Life is interesting--I remember clearly when Tim bought his first
tool--a 28 ounce Stanley Fat Max claw hammer.
So, in conclusion (I always am glad to hear that phrase in a long
speech)--The OT list has been part of my personal history for about 20
years. From newbie, to the acquisition phase, then the toolmaking thing,
home building and log work, and recently into mostly-retirement, I feel
like you guys have been friends and co-conspirators. The list is changing,
of course. We all are.
Home on the Yukon.