This past weekend I put the final touches on the sycamore burl hall table. The sycamore wood was like a magic sponge infinitely soaking in tung oil. I seriously applied at least ten coats before the finish was even.
I waited a week to allow the oil to cure. Then I sanded the finish to prepare it for finishing by hand. I brought out the elbow grease and sweat and went to town with mineral oil and steel wool. Once the finish was silky to the touch with a soft luster I continued buffing with oiled thousand grit sandpaper and rottenstone for the final touch.
This table started as a log placed on the curb for trash. A few years in the making and a bunch of trial and error work but I think the end result worked out nicely.
In 1955 my father dropped out of high school and enlisted the US Marine Corps at the age of sixteen. Sixteen? How is that possible? Federal law regulates seventeen years the minimum age to enlistment in the United States military, and that’s with parent’s consent! Turns out my father conquered several obstacles throughout his life, the US Marine Corps serving as one chapter in his story.
He’s proud of his service and he’s proud of the US Military. My jack-of-all-trades father got the urge to write a book about his experiences. The catch? He types with one finger and writing pen to paper doesn’t go much faster. The solution? He recruited his jack-of-all-trades son to lend a helping hand.
We spent a road trip weekend together and I brought along my trusty digital audio recorder. My father recounted tales during our adventure and I returned home with hours of audio to transcribe. I’ve been busy organizing the text and working with my father to organize the story as chronologically as possible.
The tale starts in his hometown Swoyersville, PA and follows him to Camp Lejeune NC, Yemassee SC, Parris Island, Camp Geiger and the Boston Navy Yard. My father shares many anecdotes painting a vivid picture of what it was like to be a Marine in the 1950’s. He was one of the last recruits to complete boot camp at Parris Island before the tragic Ribbon Creek Incident took the lives of six recruits resulting with several changes in Marine Corps recruit training.
I started to post his stories online at www.ninetyonesuns.com. Ninety ones suns being a reference to the thirteen weeks, or ninety one days of boot camp. Please read this work in progress and pass it to your friends. We’d love to hear your thoughts.
This past Saturday I enjoyed a father and son day road trip. My father shared many of his Marine boot camp stories, perhaps I’ll share more details on that in the future. We visited Lancaster, PA one of my father’s favorite places, Hershey Chocolate World and a few woodworking stores in the area. On Sunday my parents and I enjoyed the Arts and Hayfield festival in Lehman, PA.
On the drive home a roadside grove of blossoming sumac trees caught our attention. The stretch of road had no shoulder to provide a place to pull over and harvest the bounty. I suddenly recalled stumbling across sumac trees in the forest behind my parent’s home. Dad and I set out for a short hike after returning to home base. My father found a few edible mushrooms and after a few minutes the sumac trees spread out in front of us.
I collected the (slightly under-ripe) berries and brought them home with me. Once home I filled a pitcher with cold water and crushed the bundles of berries into the water. Periodically stirring the mixture for an hour produced a slightly sweet “lemonade”, it actually tastes more like tea. I enjoyed a small glass and put the pitcher in the fridge to chill. Everyone should have a chance to enjoy such a delightful, easy to make and free beverage on these hot summer days.
Back in April 2012 Amy was walking our standard poodle Fleur in Glen Ridge, NJ a town very near where we live. While on the walk she came across a section of sycamore wood on the curb waiting to be removed on trash day. She sent a photo of the stump to me with the message, “Do you want this?” I responded immediately with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” When she returned home Amy jumped in the car and, with the help of neighbor, loaded the stump into her vehicle.
The stump remained in the driveway until September 2013 when I found some time to chainsaw the stump into slabs to expedite drying. The wood was riddled with hundreds of insects and critters of all shapes and sizes. I exterminated what I could with pesticides and sealed each slab in black plastic bags to bake in the hot sun to kill whatever remained. Somewhat satisfied everything was terminated I stacked the slabs in the loft of my shed.
In March 2014 I built a small side table out of the smallest of the slabs. This side table was featured alongside the remaining slabs at my 2014 Newark Maker Faire exhibit. The exhibit, titled Urban Lumberjack, was a collection of things I built from tree branches and stumps found during dog walking outings. My sister Joanne fell in love with the side table and even more so with one of the larger unprocessed slabs. She asked me to make a hall table for her with the larger slab – and has probably lost hope in the passing years.
Earlier this month I found myself caught up on weekend projects. I ventured out to the shed and removed the sycamore slab from the rafters and planed both sides to an appropriate thickness. The task is always more laborious than I think it’s going to be. This past weekend I added a second butterfly to the sycamore slab prevent a growing crack from expanding and cut mortises on the underside for each table leg. Lovely cherry wood purchased from a local supplier was used to make three tapered legs.
It seems as though the project will be complete soon. Time will tell. The legs need to be attached and all the surfaces require a thorough final sanding. Once everything is sanded and assembled the process of applying finish can begin. This project continues to be fun and challenging and I think I’m going to have a hard time letting this one go to a new home.
This past Saturday my nephew Bernard and I did a little day hiking on the Appalachian Trail in the Delaware Water Gap. During our expedition we chewed on teaberry leaves and foraged a few wild raspberries and blueberries – leaving plenty behind for fellow hikers to discover. The forecast called for thunderstorms but the weather was on our side, gently raining shortly after each time we set up the hammocks for trail-side siestas. We stopped at Rudy’s Tavern in East Stroudsburg for a few pints and delicious bar pizzas for some post adventure refueling.
Sunday was filled with catching up with many odds and ends around the house. I worked a little on my Magic Mirror carving which I hope to complete soon. I also did some taxidermy experimenting with a song sparrow my sister provided me with a few months ago. To my surprise I find the task of taxidermy relaxing. Freezer storage, however, is at a minimum at home and I have many big woodworking projects (some started years ago, some to start soon) on my horizon so I’ll likely pause the taxidermy hobby for a while.
This past weekend Amy and I visited with Pennsylvanian friends Linda and Jeff. We enjoyed good home cooking and plenty of fresh air. After finishing a delicious chili dinner on Saturday we lounged in the pasture around a fire, chatted and waited for the stars to come out. Jeff helpfully shared his knowledge of the sky while we peered through binoculars and experimented with cameras. We admired the moon (that’s the moon in the photo, not the sun) which rose later in the evening and one by one we doze off to sleep in the delightful cooling air.
Sunday morning Jeff prepared delicious french toast with eggs freshly retrieved from the hen house, accompanied by treats Linda cooked up. Energized by a relaxing night of sleep and a hearty breakfast we sprung into action. With Linda’s instruction we got creative making tie dye shirts. As the dye was setting Linda took the time to teach Amy the art of canning while Jeff and I entertained ourselves doing man stuff (not that canning isn’t man stuff). The experience flew by and we hope we can find the time to do it again soon.
Also, I was mentioned in a news paper article this week regarding the Essex County, NJ Parks System. Check it out here.
While visiting friends in Romania we had the awesome opportunity to visit Cimitirul Vesel, better known as the Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, Maramures. This has been on my list of places to visit for quite some time. The cemetery is filled with hundreds of colorful woodcarved grave markers. Each tombstone includes a carved scene which represents the deceased with a carved narrative about the person beneath.
Exploring this wonderful place is fascinating! I was thankful our hosts were patient with me as I examined the craftsmanship and creativity surrounding me. The slideshow above is a fraction of the images I captured during my stay. I departed the Merry Cemetery inspired with many new and creative ideas. I hope to find the time to tackle a few of the many ideas which resulted from the tour.
I’ve returned freshly from an awesome Romanian vacation. My wife Amy and I visited with our Romanian friends Delia and Marian. I became friends with Marian while discussing 3D animation online. Amy and I visited Marian, and Romania, the first time thirteen years ago. Joining us on this two week trip were our German friends, fellow woodcarver, Lydia and her husband Hans.
I hope to share more of the Romanian experience in future blog posts but for now I will share some audio I recorded at various locations.
Mila 23 is a small village located in Tulcea County, Romania, nestled in the middle of the Danube Delta Reserve. Thanks to Marian’s diligent planning I toured the Danube Delta for two days via speed boat and 4×4. We soaked in plenty of nature accompanied by sights of wild horses, pelicans and egrets. While relaxing at our villa in Mila 23 I placed my audio recorder on the windowsill to capture nature’s songs.
Mila 23 Day: Various birds, nature, distant boats and sounds about the villa.
Mila 23 Night: Dogs, insects, distant boats and sounds about the villa.
Sighetu Marmatiei is a quite village in northern Romania near the Tisa River.
Sighetu Marmatiei Morning: Various birds, roosters, nature.
Sighetu Marmatiei Day: People, playing children, vehicles, dogs.
Mamaia is the beach resort district of Constanta Romania.
Sorry I haven’t posted in the past few weeks. I’ve been busy working on a new woodcarving titled Magic Mirror. You can check out the progress of the project on my new jchismar Instagram feed. When the project is complete I’ll post the details here on my blog.
I have continued to forage for wild edibles including red mulberries, Japanese knotweed, lamb’s quarters and wild strawberries. Red mulberries are my favorite pickings around the neighborhood while walking Fleur. There are many red mulberry trees in the public parks and streets in my vicinity. Many people dislike these trees because the berries drop from the trees, making a mess. Not many people are aware that these berries are edible and delicious. The berries can be found on the trees until autumn – providing a free and delicious warm weather snack.
After completing my Maker Faire projects I jumped immediately into creating new whirligig parts to replenish my dangerously low inventory. I hustled a few days resawing and planing cypress lumber for propellers and processing poplar lumber into the various whirligig hubs. It’s amazing what a mess I can make of the workshop doing all that work. I’m also amazed at the amount of unusable lumber bits and imperfect parts that result from the task.
Call me frugal, but I save all the imperfect lumber and parts to use on many personal projects. One of these projects is the Whirligig Wind Farm. Each windmill is constructed from scraps and seconds. I prepared all the parts simultaneously but was unable to assemble the projects because I needed to help Amy tidy the yard and such for a party we were having at our home. While scrambling to organize the workshop I tossed all the completed parts into the kindling bucket.
An hour or so later I realized my mistake, dug everything out of the bin and assembled the windmills. The windmills were installed in the yard and party visitors to were invited to take one home. They were all quickly claimed and are now at their new homes. It feels good to take trash and turn it into something fun.