If I lived and worked alone, music would play almost 24 hours a day. (In fact, on the rare occasion when Lucy leaves town, that is exactly what happens.)
Many times it’s the radio (WMOT-FM is a favorite). Or an album or playlist based on my mood.
We play music in the bench room during classes, and several students have asked if I had a playlist I could share. So here is one that I have put on Spotify. (I’m not a fan of the way Spotify pays artists, FYI. I prefer Bandcamp. But this is the best way for me to share this. I buy all my music, and I hope others support the artists they listen to.)
This is my Mid-tempo-so-I-hope-you’ll-like-me Playlist. It’s mostly melodic Americana from the last 30 years with an emphasis on acoustic and electric guitar. Right now it’s 378 songs – more than 24 hours of music. But I’ll add some more songs to it, I’m sure.
I hope you find some new artists here. But in the end, you get what you pay for with free playlists.
Oh, one more thing: This playlist isn’t sequenced (that would take weeks for me to do). So just put the dang thing on shuffle for best results.
Because People Ask
I have other musical moods. At times I go into long periods of listening to the earliest recordings of American hillbilly music. I love it, and it helps me interpret and understand the music I listen to today. I also have an aggressive mood, which is where I play a lot of Husker Du/Bob Mould, Superchunk, Pixies and other post-punk and punk bands. And I have a Growing Up Music mood, where I listen to the bands that were formative of my taste today: R.E.M., the Replacements, Velvet Underground, Violent Femmes, The Police and others (some embarrassing).
Also good to know: I’m not an audiophile. My sound system is nothing special: Some Apple HopePods (you Hope they’ll actually work), plus a stereo with a Thorens turntable and Schitt pre-amp and amp. Mid-range Klipsch speakers.
I’ve always owned vinyl, CDs, cassettes and digital. I’m no purist searching for some religious sonic experience. I like vinyl because of its glorious artwork and lyrics sheets. I like digital because I can take everything anywhere.
When you encounter a person who is an incredibly talented woodworker, designer and teacher, it’s natural to wonder, “Why hasn’t this person written a book and become a famous author?”
I’ve met a lot of these people. I’ve attempted to get some of them to write a book. I’ve succeeded a few times and failed at least 100 times in my efforts. The next time you think, “Why doesn’t this person write a book?” here are some reasons I have encountered in my career.
They are perfectly happy with their life. They are plenty busy. They make enough money. They are not interested in becoming better known. You can’t argue with this. Writing a book can make you and your family miserable for a couple years.
They don’t have the organizational skills, focus and stamina to complete a book. A good book can require two years of work. It’s easy to get distracted or bored by the project. Especially if your day job is already a challenge.
They have no confidence in their writing skills and they fear the book will not find an audience. Basically, fear of failure. A related reason: The person is functionally illiterate. This is more common than you think. The smartest person I’ve met in my life was functionally illiterate. Writing a book will expose this fact to others, which can be embarrassing.
They know they have a problem calling a project “finished.” They will work and work on it, and it will never be good enough to release to the world.
They cannot afford to gamble spending two years on a project that might only pay them pennies on the hour. Many books do not make economic sense. If you do the math, it’s easy to conclude that only successful authors can afford to write books (a paradox).
They aren’t interested in sharing their methods of work with the entire world. Some authors fear their furniture business will be ruined if they share plans and their real methods with the public (John Brown was this way).
They feel like a fraud for some reason, perhaps a valid or invalid reason. Writing a book will expose them.
They distrust publishers. It’s a fair criticism; a lot of them are snakes.
The person is a complete jackass. Publishing a book is a team effort. If the author cannot take constructive criticism or they belittle everyone else in the project, their book is unlikely to be born.
I’m sure there are other reasons I haven’t yet encountered. Bottom line: It takes a special kind of maniacal, well-organized, generous optimist to write a book. Oh, and they have to have some talent, too. Honestly, the process is so fraught, it’s a miracle we have any woodworking books.
John Wilson, who unlocked the mysteries of Shaker oval boxes for millions of woodworkers around the world, died on Friday, Jan. 27. He was 83.
Wilson of Charlotte, Michigan, began his career as an anthropology professor, but then became a home builder and professional woodworker whose main line of business was building Shaker oval boxes and supplying woodworkers with the training and raw materials for these boxes (especially the copper tacks that hold the bent bands together).
But Wilson’s career encompassed more than just the beguiling and beautiful boxes. He also wrote extensively about toolmaking and taught classes on a wide variety of subjects, from boatbuilding to workbench building.
The business at the center of it all, The Home Shop (aka ShakerOvalBox.com), offers all the supplies and information that woodworkers need to build the boxes. Wilson retired fully from business in December 2022, leaving Eric Pintar, his long-time employee and partner, in charge of the business.
“John took full retirement… in full confidence that we will carry on with The Home Shop, and I’m ready to live into that,” Pintar said.
Pintar worked for Wilson for 28 years, and began as a shop assistant there when he was 16. In 2004, Pintar became an equal partner with Wilson in The Home Shop. Since the start of the pandemic Pintar had taken the lead responsibility for the output of the Home Shop including the teaching of Shaker oval box classes. With Wilson’s passing he takes ownership of the Home Shop and will lead it into the future.
So the supply of Shaker box supplies is secure for years to come, Pintar said. Still Pintar is humbled by the role he is moving to fill and said he is saddened that it is under these circumstances.
From Professor to Woodworker
Wilson grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., and was allowed full use of his father’s hand-tool workshop. While he studied anthropology at university, he worked as a carpenter on the side. After graduating with a master’s degree, Wilson taught anthropology at Purdue University, Michigan State University and Albion College. Despite his best efforts, a doctoral dissertation eluded him, thus ending a career as a university professor. Wilson then went to work in home construction.
In 1977, Lansing Community College offered him a job teaching furniture design. There was a catch: The class began in two hours, according to a 2007 interview of Wilson by Kara Gebhart Uhl. On his way to class, Wilson checked out Ejner Handberg’s “Shop Drawings of Shaker Furniture and Woodenware, Vol. 1” (Berkshire House). That book, and the course, led Wilson to investigating the Shaker’s oval boxes and figuring out how to make them.
“To be able to take the methods used by the Shakers and share those with others is a very beautiful thing, and in the spirit of the Shakers,” Pintar said. “Before John (making these boxes) was mysterious. He brought the methods and materials to the public.”
Wilson began making the boxes to sell and taught others how to make them in classes all over the country. That led to him starting The Home Shop, a large workshop on his land that he built using mostly recycled materials. The Home Shop supplied makers of Shaker boxes everything they needed to build them, including the carefully sawn wooden bands, plans and – most importantly – the copper tacks.
In 1991, the W.W. Cross Nail Co. – the last copper tack manufacturer – stopped making tacks. Wilson acquired their machinery and began making seven sizes of tacks and 1/2” copper shoe pegs. The noisy, ingenious machines crank out a pound of tacks in about 15 minutes. In the early 2007 interview, Wilson said he was making about 300 pounds of tacks a year.
Wilson insisted for years on keeping the personal touch with The Home Shop. It was years before they had a website. Orders were taken over the phone and shipped with a bill – the honor system.
The Home Shop also offered classes on toolmaking (planes, spokeshaves and travishers), joinery (hand-cut dovetails, mortise-and-tenons), plus sailboat building and paddle making.
John Wilson & John Brown
I first heard of Wilson by reading the column of Welsh chairmaker John Brown (aka JB) in Good Woodworking magazine. JB took his first trip to teach chairmaking in America in 1997 and taught at Drew Langsner’s school, Country Workshops in North Carolina, and at The Home Shop in Charlotte.
Wilson always used an efficient blend of machinery and hand tools to make furniture. JB, on the other hand, used only a band saw to rough out the pieces and then was passionate (probably an understatement) about using hand tools only for the remainder of the work.
During the class, the men famously butted heads. Though Wilson was hosting the class, he also was a student in it. So when Wilson got behind in his work in the class, he would try to catch up in the wee hours of the morning with the help of some power tools.
JB was furious.
“I received a proper dressing down such as a boot camp sergeant might give,” Wilson told Gebhart in 2007. “I stood attentive like a good solider, listening to a man deserving of respect because of his expertise and experience. I could appreciate his point of view, so passionately given, on the virtue of hand tools while blending that kernel of truth with the mix of tools I had just employed that morning.”
JB also confiscated a micrometer from one of the students and threw it in a lake.
In the end it all turned out OK, and Wilson ended up making several of the chairs for his family: his wife, Sally, and children Molly and Will.
Writing it Down
In the early 2000s, Wilson began writing magazine articles and books to help spread the word about Shaker oval boxes and toolmaking. He wrote multiple articles for Popular Woodworking Magazine, which is how I got to know him. Many of his articles are free for the reading here on The Home Shop’s website.
Plus he wrote and self-published four books. Three were on Shaker Oval Boxes plus “Making Wood Tools.” Like his business in general, Wilson made his books with a careful eye to quality with a personal touch – every book was autographed.
I made several visits to The Home Shop to help take photos for Wilson’s articles. I was always struck by how nearly everything there was made by him. I mean everything. He built the buildings, the kiln, the shop, the storage areas. Plus everything inside them.
His work was always soft and humane. The workshop was flooded with light thanks to enormous skylights (salvaged from sliding doors). I got to stay in his so-called “Little House,” a 15′ x 15′ structure where he lived for 12 years. This building – built decades before the “tiny house” movement – was incredibly well-considered. It felt absolutely roomy and comfortable thanks to his planning and careful construction of every bit.
As a person, Wilson was remarkably generous with his knowledge and his time. He sent hand-written letters (always accompanied by a postcard for The Home Shop). And he has been generous to the craft. His work with oval boxes has launched the woodworking businesses of hundreds of people over the years, and he never sought credit or royalties or anything. He just seemed thrilled that other people enjoyed making the boxes as much as he did.
Thanks to Wilson, I’ve made a bunch of these oval boxes – they are incredible gifts to give. And I couldn’t have done it without him.
So thanks John, for everything you gave us and more. You will be missed.
The first writing class I took at Northwestern’s journalism school – “B-01 Basic Writing” – was intended to weed out about one-third of the students. You had to make a “B” in the course or you were thrown out.
The class was intentionally boot camp-ish. And there were a variety of infractions that would result in an “F” on your day’s work, such as misspelling a proper noun. (I will never misspell “Nicaragua” again.)
Perhaps the most dastardly detail of the class was that you were required to type everything on manual typewriters in the writing lab. It was Spring 1987 when I took that class. And electric (even Selectric) typewriters were common, and dedicated word processors were in the writing labs for the advanced students.
A lot of my fellow students were freaked about the manuals. Plus how to use correcting fluid. And moans such as, “Where is the ‘1’ key? My machine is missing that key!”
Working on a manual was the only advantage I had in the class. For the first 20 years of my life, everything I wrote was on my manual typewriter, which had been handed down to me by my mother. I knew the machine inside and out. I had to repair the thing, oil the thing. Clean it to keep it working, especially the platen. And change the ribbon, of course.
I didn’t like electric typewriters. They made a hum like a bug zapper, and every time I brushed a key accidentally I’d jump in my seat. I needed a typewriter that required effort to use. And was quiet.
I barely passed Basic Writing with a B-, the absolute lowest grade that allowed me to continue in school. And I often attribute my love of manuals to be the reason I didn’t get a C or worse.
This week I took delivery of an amazing piece of work that has brought a lot of emotions to the fore. It’s a completely restored 1949 Smith-Corona Silent. A beautiful and compact piece of insane engineering.
The machine was completely rebuilt by Meagan Syata of the Unplug Typewriter Co. I have been following her work on Instagram for a while. And at some point our paths crossed. Her husband is a woodworker, and they live in Hope, Arkansas, my home state. We worked out a trade (I think I got the best part of the deal) – one typewriter in exchange for a huge pile of books.
The typewriter showed up yesterday, and I cannot take my eyes or hands off of it. It looks and works like it is new from the factory. And after reading about and watching everything that Meagan does to these machines, I am not surprised.
This typewriter is going to get used. I hate writing notes and short letters by hand. My handwriting is terrible. I’m a much better typist.
I doubt I’ll ever write a book using it. But who knows? I’ve done stupider things (such as our letterpress version of “Roman Workbenches.”)
To be honest, I don’t have romantic notions about using a manual typewriter. I don’t do detective cosplay, and I’m not a “His Girl Friday” reenactor. Like my handplanes and saws, this is a tool. And knowing how to use all the tools is part of my DNA.
As a writer with a long history with these machines, it’s nice to have one of these back in my possession.
If you have any interest at all in these old machines, do check out Meagan’s store. I am incredibly impressed. Plus, if you buy one, you might just save an old typewriter from getting cut up so its keys can be turned into jewelry.
Rudy Everts (aka Underhatchet, Chair Chatter, sculptor, painter, lover of Mexican food) made this amazing sculpture for me that’s a scale replica of “The Anarchist’s Workbench.” Even more shocking: It’s all one piece of linden.
The bench is remarkably detailed. The holdfast holes are properly spaced. The planing stop looks like the fancy one that Tom Latane made for the bench. And the leg vise looks like you could give it a spin (I wouldn’t dare).
On top of the workbench, Rudy has carved a board, a handplane, a doe’s foot and a holdfast.
I cannot imagine how nerve-wracking some of this must have been for Rudy to carve.
I’m going to need to make a display case to protect it from harm. This is one bench that I won’t be treating like a rented mule.