The Nativity Trees

Forest of the Nativity 3
The Nativity Trees

Greetings everyone. I have been working in my shop to create small turnings that I call “Seasonal Trees.”  Included is a set I refer to as: “The Nativity Trees”. I have been working with various wood types and sizes in many colors that have been in my shop for some time. The trees you see here are part of a collection made this Fall and as a group called “The Nativity Trees.”

Some materials for the “forest” include pine, spalted birch, cocobolo, aromatic red cedar, oak, ash, and boxelder. In addition, I have used several different colors including “strata-board” variations that have been used to turn pens, bottle stoppers and engraved medallions.

Each tree that I turn is “custom”, that is, there are no exact copies. This is by design so that I may stay interested in the process, and, so those who might want to collect them will have, in each case, a signed, dated, and unique addition to their ‘forest’.

Patriot's Christmas Tree
Patriot’s Christmas Tree

Although basic turning is rather simple, a more challenging part in the process is to impart a high gloss permanent finish that will withstand the much handling that these trees invite.  I sand each tree with 14 different sandpaper grits, apply 9 coats of CA Kwick Krystal(TM) finish and finally use a very durable high gloss polish to complete the custom tree. Even though each tree is wood, the finished product looks and feels like polished glass.

Each tree is topped with either a Swarovski crystal, a glass or metal star, or an Hungarian furnishing. The tree sizes vary from 1.5″ – 4.5″ and come in a presentation box that is stamped with the “Needles of the North” logo.  These trees make excellent hostess gifts, stocking stuffers, or special occasion mementos.

First offered at a shop in Bigfork, Minnesota Timber Rose Floral and Gifts they have found a high acceptance level and there are individuals who have begun to collect them to be displayed all year round. If you are interested pleased send me an email or contact me through Facebook.Facebook .

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Latest Seasonal Pen

I’m not a deer hunter anymore. Instead, to make pens like this one I use the antlers that I find on my walks along deer trails, or those that are brought to me by friends. The other day I heard a person comment about the senseless killing of such magnificent creatures just to get the antlers.  I tactfully asked for permission to explain that the antlers on male deer grow new every year. They are shed and fall to the ground for the tiny creatures to consume as food. Living in Minnesota and having many friends in Wisconsin I have no trouble buying or gathering suitable antler material.

30 cal lever action deer antler ball point

My pens are not made from unused or poached animals. The very idea goes against my nature. Instead when I receive or discover an antler I always ask where the antlers came from.  Then I clean them, size them to fit the pen kit I use, and then polish the material to produce a lasting memory or very special writing instrument. The pen pictured is a fine example of a high end sportsman’s pen.

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The Last Before the First

As these things go, its about time to reorganize my shop before I throw away lots of junk! For me the contemplation of how to rearrange my shop has been on my mind for quite some time. I spend too much time looking for things and/or moving from one end of the space to another. So I have looked at  the present layout and started to execute a plan. I’ll put up a short video of how it exists today to show you what I mean.

What I hope to do here is use my iPad for my video camera, upload to and then link from here to those files to give you a journalistic report. I’m not sure about that whole process. 

To get started I thought I’d make one more turned object with the present configuration and then when I have it all done do another one.  That’s the reason for

2015-09-11 11.06.02the title of today’s blog: The Last Before the First.  I randomly chose a piece of dried wood (Ash) that seemed about the right size and I made a box with a simple finial (Mahogany) on the the top. Its 6.25″ x 3.5″ and nicely figured. I used carbide tipped chisels exclusively and finished the piece inside and out with 3-in-1 friction polish that I mixed up for myself (1 part BLO; 1 part denatured alcohol; 1 part Clear shellac – Capt’n Eddie calls this O.B. shine juice.)

This piece will go in my office at church to be a constant reminder that I have an ongoing project waiting to be completed.



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New School Year Medallion

Its hard to believe that we have entered our 70th year of school!

Back to school medalion
Back to school medallion

To commemorate this I made this for my wife and have added it to her private collection. Its made from a piece of flooring that I had left over from a cutting board project. Its about 2 inches round and 1/4″ thick.

Even as I type these words I am planning further steps at making a segmented bowl. I have gathered the wood, and conceived the design, what remains is the actual production of the piece of art. Stay tuned.


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An update on the 4th

Greetings everyone. Without a doubt this 4th of July is one that has me thinking of things political. I have not journaled much of my feelings about what has been happening through the year since last year’s 4th, but let me assure you that I have had many problems understanding the reasons for the the president’s decisions, the actions of many political figures and the decisions rendered by the highest court of our land.

The other element of my life that gives me cause to reflect is the way that things are reported to me and the rest of us by the collected voices of the public media.   I’m no longer able to view things reported as fact! In fact, I’m sorry to report that in regard to daily news my prevailing attitude is to be very skeptical. Living on a day to day basis with such an attitude is not good for me or for those around me, wether it be in my family circle, friendship circle, or in casual or professional relationships.

It is for this reason that I want to give my energy mostly to the ministry of The Gospel, ministry and to wood turning.

I have learned much this past year in the area of woodturning. Not only have I spent time in a leadership role in our regional woodturners association, but I have had the opportunity to learn from the new friends that I have gained.  One of the areas of skill growth is the process of segmented turning. So, in addition to reporting and illustrating my pen turning activities, I’ll be showing you what’s going on as I learn more about segmented turning.

I have been teaching myself how to design segmented vessels using computer software, while at the same time practicing the delicate processes of cutting segments and preparing the rings that are to become a bowl or small box. Here’s an example of what I mean.

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Pens, Stoppers and medallions

2013-11-07 14.22.35Greetings and thank you. Its been quite a while since I have been able to get to the tasks of updating this site since I had to go through the recovery process from carotid artery surgery (6/13) Now, fully a year later I’m able to turn, write, preach and teach as I had been doing before the clip and snip process.

What you see is a medallion that I have turned using an offset faceplate and laminated pieces of Baltic birch. The colors are yellow and dark blue and the cord is black. I will be offering these and similar pieces in my catalog along with various other creations.

In addition I have been working at transitioning from traditional turning chisels to those that are carbide tipped. One of the objects that I have been learning on is the bottle stopper. Youy can see some examples here. I will offer these as a part of my catalog. The wood and kitchen grade of stainless steel makes these beautiful and functional beyond compare.



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From Plywood to Pen

Today I was in an experimental mood. Things had gone well during the first part of the week in spite of a major snow event in my part of the woods. Up to 12″ in the area! In Minnesota we have, however, grown used to such things, and so have the folks in the MHD. They have some of the biggest snow plows and best heavy equipment operators in the nation. So we simply let them do their thing and we get back on the roads in no time. Its a pretty impressive thing to see a phalanx of heavy duties moving along at almost the posted leaving behind them a slick but clean roadway. A little salt or brine and in a couple of hours we’re busy as bees again.DSC_0015

I was happy to get into my shop for my usual “Turning Time” right on schedule and pretty well caught up on the duties of the week. I had been thinking about a couple of variations to the usual pen blank prep, coloration, and a corroborative style to go along with my American made shop apron my youngest gave me recently. So, here’s what I came up with. I chose a Wall Street II kit from Woodcraft. For the blank I selected a piece of 11 ply balsamic birch plywood. I ripped several sticks 3/4″ x 3/4″ x 20.5″ and then chopped them into 5″ blanks. I drilled the blanks and super glued the burnished brass tubes in place. I squared the ends with a pen mill attached to my handheld drill and I was good to go. Turning plywood was something I’d thought about and so I increased the speed of my little JET, selected my razor sharp carbide tipped chisel and had at it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had no problems at all!

For the finishing process there were at least two things I wanted to do: give it some color; and give it a durable high gloss finish. I wanted to see if I could match it up with the shop apron fabric I wear, so I had to get some unnatural color into the process. For that I selected an interior Martha Stewart custom mix sampler that I picked up at Home Depot. The sanding process was the hardest part for me. Why? Because I’m so impatient! So I sanded for a while, then I took a lunch break with my oldest daughter. We talked about, taxes, travel plans, and the weather out East. The dow was up at noon, the plot was getting thicker on the soap she watches and after my lunch break I went back to the project and sanding. I hope the enclosed pictures give you an idea of how things turned out. If you have any suggestions, I’d be glad to hear from you. I carefully screen all the comments that are sent, however, so don’t just add something in the hopes of seeing your perspective…If its in the interest of the common good of fellow turners it’ll be posted and responded to for sure.DSC_0016

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Cursive, Print, Pen or keyboard!

Boy did I stir up a bees’ nest! Actually, I came upon one that had already been disturbed. It stemmed from a report in our town about the school districts in our state laying aside teaching the artistic skill of writing in cursive. The big debate was over  whether to make the kids learn how to write in cursive or not. Keyboarding, printing, and when one doesn’t have a smartphone, iPad, or keyboard, maybe, if you have to ….print…but,  please, oh, please don’t make ’em master themselves and their urges and as primary grade  students learn how to write in cursive.  Why that’s tantamount to making a youth practice the piano after someone has thrown a football or baseball his or her way. Hey, maybe I stumbled on a great idea: Let’s add "cursive teachers" to piano teachers, "tap dance  and baton teachers"  and have writing recitals. What d’ya think? We could sell videos, give away smart phones or mini iPads….the possibilities are endless.

Now, I’ve taught youth in the preteen category for over 50 years and I know what it’s about when I say with regard to learning how to write, "There’s trouble in River City!" Yeah, Yeah, I know that some eager to "be on the curve" techie type is going to say: "old man, readin’, ‘riting and ‘rithm’tic when out with the hitching post." Really?, perhaps, (Why, just the other day, I saw an electric car tethered to a power outlet on a post, hmmm) just maybe, that’s part of the reason why we Americans have a hard time keeping the label, "Made in America" on the products we buy and use. Sure the kids are bright, and yes, they learn quicker that the speed of light, but, in my opinion, it seems that part of their brain is being short-circuited while they’re being under trained when tthey’re not required to learn how to write their names. Most of them can’t read the "hen scratching of their peers, much less the letters and gift cards that grandma or grandpa sends them. What happens in our family is close to "rip open the card, glance at the picture, and show me the money." It’s really simple, they act like that because they can’t read either the printed or written words that are placed before them.  "R U with me so far?"  It used to be that I would get requests to translate letters sent from Germany. It was because the recipients didn’t know the language or recognize the letters with their special markings, etc. What I’m writing about here is nothing like that. It’s far more problematic.

Let me tell you that something relative took place in a class I was teaching just yesterday. The need for translating came about because a fellow who had been ill missed class. His buddy had been kind enough to take notes for him while hie was gone.  Then it happened… the sick dude, as he was called, was given the unreadable notes for the class taken by his buddy. But the notes were worthless! Why? Because the note taker’s "printing" was so bad that the words  were unintelligible for his friend. What made it worse, and, I think proves my point, the guy who took the notes was asked to decipher his printing and he couldn’t!  He couldn’t read his own writing. Ouch!

So… I guess I’m aiding and abetting the youngsters in their misery by making a pen that has both a ballpoint with which to write on one end, and a interactive tip on the other end with which to swipe or stroke a screen. Sometimes you have to ride two horses at the same time. Which brings me to my shop project for today. I was experiencing a little problem in achieving true roundness on my pen blanks. This I determined had to do with the flex of the mandrel that they’re turned on. So, when I came upon the solution presented by one fellow turner, I thought I’d give it a try. Well sure enough it worked…in the picture you can see how I still used the mandrel, but turned only one section of the stylus pen I was making. The note taker in the story above will get the stylus/pen with which to learn and to practice learning how to write in cursive while stroking his iPad. LOL!

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Storage is at a Premium


Over the past few days I’ve stayed away from turning pens or making pen blanks. Why? Well, like so many other things in my life I didn’t think ahead far enough to consider what I was going to do with the blanks once I had made them! I was so excited that I was having success in getting different species of wood from various sources, and then, with the new blade on my table saw I was able to make blanks with such reckless abandon. With all that excited success I hadn’t figured out where and how I was going to store them and organize them according to the different woods.  I began to think that I couldn’t be the first person to have such a problem and wondered what others might have done and/or be doing with all the various pieces of wood 3/4 x 3/4 5.25" piling up in their shops. So I started to look  on the internet. You know the saying, "You can find anything on the internet."… well, that’s almost true.  I picked up a few ideas while surfing, but, it became clear that if I wanted something to suit my needs I’d have to design and make my own.

So, I took a deep breath, got out my 6" ruler, a sharp pencil, and some plain paper. Actually I use the back sides of old bulletin stock that I have saved for note taking, scratch paper, and shop drawings…..  I keep them all filed in my hanging file folder system. That way I do know where old ideas are, and  I can dig out unfinished projects and/or  completed projects or tool evaluations that I’ve kept for later reference.


First I put down in writing the goals: 1) Storage, 2) sized to be portable, 3) able to be mated to another unit through a hinge system, 4) suitable for table display for shows, fairs or association meetings, 5) low cost as a proto-type, 6) dovetail construction with dados for divider panels. With these criteria articulated I began the process:

I drew, measured,  and erased until I came up with the storage cabinet proto-type pictured. It’s c. 24" x 24" x 5.5" deep with 16 –  5.25" square cubbies. (that’s 400 pen blanks of 16 different varieties at my fingers’ tips. A similar unit hinged and on a travel dolly would allow me to handle 800 blanks.  However, I plan another set for kits for pens and bottle stopper kits and blanks. I have since had suggested that I might include finished pen and stopper space as well.) Each cubbie will be labeled accordingly.

I looked at my scrap materials for low cost purposes and found that I needed to buy some 3/4" poplar, the rest I had on hand. Total cost for the project $32.86.

Before I could do anything, however, I had to learn how to do dovetails! Anybody do dovetail joints lately?  I remember from wood shop some 57 years earlier using a saw, ruler and sharp pencil and lots of practice to make a simple box. Times have changed. A few years ago I had the good fortune of getting a Leigh Jig as a gift from a widow. There were bits, a wrench, a square screw driver, some extra fingers, a video tape, and one of the best written instruction books I’ve ever read. I have the routers, so I thought, "okay, let’s get crackin!" Well, I want you to know that I spent more time reading, watching, and making mistakes over the past week or so than I will admit to my spouse. Whenever she would ask: "What are you doing down there anyway?" I would come up with a different and more creative excuse. Bless her heart, she’s lived with me long enough to know when I’m being innocently evasive, she will go to her sewing and knitting room without pressing me further. Yay!

As you can see the joints aren’t perfect, "But for the first time wad’ya expect?"  One thing I’m satisfied with is the fact that it turned out square!  Once I got this far I could show the little lady my project. She responded with: "Well now why don’t you make the granddaughters some ‘hope chests’ with corners like that?’" (There are six of them!) Talk about a slippery slope.

Back to pen blanks for now!

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A Great Day For Making Shavings!

Brrrr! Its cold outside!  (6F when I got up this morning) So I headed down to the shop to see what I could do.

I managed to turn another stylus pen. I use a 7mm slimline kt with the special tip provided by WoodCraft. Paid $5 for the kit before discount.   This one is destined for one of the youth in my confirmation class at church. He has and uses quite avidly an iPad and iPhone. Both of which he worked and saved for and, as he says: "I had a little help from my folks." He thinks its cool that his pastor is on Facebook and uses an iPhone.  I think he might see me as old and incapable… whatever!  The wood I used for this stylus/pen is from a piece of flooring that I was given. I’m not sure of the species, so I won’t say, but, whatever it is, it turned easily and took a great finish.

The second piece for today is a small bowl made from northern white birch from Itasca Co, Minnesota. It happened that my wife and I were exploring the side roads this past July and came upon a small mill set into the deep woods. To my good favor the sawyer was on hand and he had a couple of nice pieces of Birch, Cedar and Maple.  They were sound and not dosied, sized about  6" x 6" x 8ft. and priced right. I loaded them in my van, headed back to our place on the lake and proceeded to make bowl blanks out of them. I put some sealer on the ends and let them dry.  Today’s bowl is the first of that batch and it worked perfectly. Another first for this bowl was the tools I used and the finish I gave to it.  The tools are carbide tipped. I used a larger round, and a square wiith a radius to it… both worked well.  The the finish I applied was a commbination of sanding sealer and paint thinner. (3-1). The inside I finished with butcher block oil to see how the combination would look and last.

While all that was going on I put out  to drip dry and condition some pen blanks that I had immersed in Turners’ Choice. The board was a piece of kiln dried lumber that had been cut from a Walnut burl. I like walnut and the smell of cedar so I look forward to making some pens from that batch. I got about 25 blanks form the board.

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