{ Category Archives: daily handwork }

Simple Seating for Complex Combos

simple chair

Simple Stool, Simple Chair, for Healdsburg Shed.

I always loved how in comic books when the hero was going through a challenge the thought bubble above his head would have cropped, choppy sentences, in italics, narrating the thought process behind the struggle. Going for extreme simplicity as I continue to design and prototype seating and dining elements as part of my collection for Healdsburg Shed, my thought bubble would be something like, “Must reduce form to pure structure; reduce structure to one repeated part; ease manufacture of part; stack joints..”

The challenge has been to create a harmonious range of seating options to support Shed’s culinary offerings, which range from a coffee bar to intimate dining at small tables along a banquette or at a large community table, to a wine bar, all happening simultaneously under one roof. I’m continuing to champion the themes of transparency and permeability, agricultural vernacular and a kind of generic minimalism, and it’s been exciting to finally see the building go up and be able to see things in context. I think we’re close to having a cogent collection to support the Shed ethos and brand.

My goal has been to design furnishings that meet all functional and aesthetic criteria, but that are easy enough to be made or modified by any decent carpenter or cabinet=maker. I will be making the furniture myself, but I like the idea that the design is implicit in each structure and could be repeated and possibly improved with future iterations, like a folk song, where the idea of the thing can be as powerful as the thing itself.

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“Stir thy lethargy!”


My great-grandfather, Howard Heinkel, at Brigantine, c 1928 (still from home movie).

I’m lucky to have known my great-grandfather, Howard Heinkel, an extremely energetic Philadelphia doctor of German ancestry who lived to be a healthy, cogent 96. Gramps built one of the first houses on the island of Brigantine on the Jersey Shore, where he entertained three generations of kids and their families, beginning with his own three daughters in the 1920’s.


Gramps, Grandma and their youngest, in front of the Brigantine Hotel (still standing).

Gramps was in most ways a forward-thinking man, what we might today call an ‘early adopter’. A health nut, he worked out on a rowing machine and stationary bicycle, did not smoke or drink, and practiced a form of homeopathy as a doctor, making many of his own remedies. He was also an avid and enthusiastic world traveler, treating batches of grandkids to Grand Tours of Europe by ship and cross-country road trips by car. He also shot beautiful 16mm home movies throughout his life, some of which I’ve had digitized (all of these stills are screen shots from his films).

A man of rigorous personal habit and routine, Gramps had a saying to accompany most major aspects of daily life. I only remember a few, my favorite being Stir thy lethargy!’, used playfully to animate people into action, his preferred default mode. This motto still pops into my head whenever I’m feeling discouraged and reminds me that sometimes all you need to do is to get the engine running in order for everything to fall into place. I was surprised recently when I stumbled upon the quote in its entirety, ‘Stir thy lethargy- go forth, expiate thy sins!’. I have not been able to find its origin, but it was quoted in association with freemasonry. I’d love to hear from anyone who can tap its source. Continue Reading »

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stacking wood1

A barn full of beautiful wood, carefully laid up to dry, is better than money in the bank.

I’ve never really studied economic theory, but imagine there’s an odd relationship/kinship between miserliness and greed. Suffice it to say I learned firsthand over the past week how one might give way to the other, in predictable order.

In the course of single-handedly stacking over 1000 board feet of premium wood I had recently milled, aided only by gravity, levers and rolling bars, I loaded my barn and felt a sense of pride bordering on prosperity. I’ve never been interested in money or accumulation, but the simple act of loading the barn with my own hands shifted my perspective. My new pile of wood drying in the barn might as well be bars of gold, and will likely increase in value at an exponentially greater rate.

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Learning from Sand Patterns


A section of the texture I’ve been carving into my crane sculpture.

I’ve learned a lot from studying sand patterns at the beach over the past few months. I’m always astounded at how such beautiful formations result from the erosive interactions of just a handful of elements- the density of different sands, slope of the beach grade, the continual play of surf and drying effect of sunshine.

I try to apply these lessons as I texture the fared contours of my wooden crane sculpture for our Tsuru project, cutting parallel channels that follow the arc of the grain over compound curves. The process takes concentration but is easy going with my very sharp 1.5″ Japanese gouge. When the wooden form is finally cast in bronze, the ridges of my chisel marks will be slightly highlighted with burnishing and their line patterns will recall the feathers of a large soaring bird while remaining true to the inherent tautness of the mother material.

Beauty becomes intrinsic to a thing only when its pursuit is incidental to the process.

sand pattern71


Beauty becomes intrinsic to a thing only when its pursuit is incidental to the process.

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Fog Studies 3 (systems over routines)


When it comes to making things, I’m drawn to systems over routines. As a craftsman, my default system is tradition. It’s simply easier to keep one foot in the patterns of the past, especially if tradition is viewed as a very malleable template, a set of parameters as opposed to outcomes. Studying the grain of wood tells me just how best to put it to use.

I’ve been trying to make pictures the same way. Walking the beaches each morning I devote about as much time to studying the patterns of waves, sand, light and fog as I have to studying wood. I want my pictures to capture the ‘grain’ of these temporal interactions, which I distill into succinct categories depending upon the conditions of the day. I think of every wave as a cant cut from a fresh log, and relish the immediacy and simplicity of reporting on its rawness, everything reduced to just being present with camera in hand. Making pictures should be like catching a fish, or catching a wave.

Fog Studies 2

Foam Studies

Sand Patterns

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Deep Deck Developments

deep deck trio

A triad of Deep Deck longboards in American elm, ready for trucks and wheels

I’ve been making small batches of my Deep Deck longboard in the background of other projects in the shop, laying up a new deck each day, trimming, sanding and finishing the previous day’s cured laminations. Making decks at this scale has been a pleasant, fairly effortless task, a good way to wind down from carving the crane before I sweep up and call it a day.

deep deck logo

I burn my ‘deep’ logo onto the undersides of the decks, and stamp the species and date.

In the coming year, I plan to scale up my Deep Deck production, and hope my limited production prototypes will help to generate interest. I’ll continue to make the decks by hand, but in larger batches, which should be easy once I invest in a few key tools to speed production. The decks will be offered in dated, limited editions, sequenced from locally sourced logs that I mill and dry myself; the scale of each tree will determine the scale of each production.


My next batch of decks will come from a 100 year old white oak.

I recently purchased the log that will yield my first large production run of decks, a giant white oak that was felled for safety reasons on the property of a historic, one room schoolhouse in Healdsburg, CA. It’s likely the tree was planted adjacent to the Felta schoolhouse when it was constructed in 1906. I look forward to researching the site and posting more about its history as the wood dries after I mill it in early 2012.

felta schoolhouse

The Felta schoolhouse, built in 1906 in Healdsburg, California

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Tsuru Update


the great white egret flock in the marshes around Bodega Harbor as they migrate south

The Dungeness crab season officially opened in Bodega Bay over the past weekend and the beaches have been teeming with life just after dawn- fishing boats on the bay, surfers on the south swell, pelicans skimming cresting waves, geese wedging overhead, sanderling and dowitcher combing the shoreline, suddenly strewn with bull kelp and crab carcasses. Ene and I typically walk a stretch of Doran Beach each morning with our dogs as the sun comes up, so we’ve developed a good feel for the patterns of migration, tides and seasonal shifts, most of our weather originating offshore.

Lately I’ve been drawn to the marshes around Bodega Harbor, where the great white egret takes seasonal shelter on the journey south. The birds typically cluster in large groups at the harbor’s shallow edge, where bulrush protects against wind and wave. Just as the sun rises over the hills to the east, the egret take flight in small groups and circle back, drying their wings and warming up in the sun, sometimes landing remotely to forage for breakfast. It’s a great place to study how these elegant birds move in flight; they take off, climb to soaring height and land within about 30 seconds, and the process takes about an hour, when the flock begins to disperse for a more substantial meal.

I’m preparing to carve a slightly larger-than-life sculpture of a whooping crane for our Tsuru project in Denver, and have been enjoying my morning field research before committing to a final form in wood. My sculpture will combine additive and subtractive techniques. I’ll laminate layers of basswood to approximate the shape of a soaring crane, then carve the form with chisels, rasps, adzes and draw-knives, probably adding a final layer in clay for texture. The wooden form will eventually be cast in bronze and, measuring about 8’ x 9’, will need to break down to transport to the foundry, so I’ll engineer a joint to allow for the wings to be separated from the outstretched body.

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