Living Seasonally

The crisp crunch of leaves in the early rays of dawn, the rise of a brown trout as it’s dorsal fin crests the water, the infectious laughter of children as they careen down the sledding hill and the explosion of flavor from a cherry tomato popped into the mouth while tending the Summer garden.

Seasons come and go, and return once again in the dance of life.  “For everything there is a season…” as King Solomon once said.

While in the big picture, seasons of life refers to being a child, raising children and finally meeting ones Maker; I would like to speak about living seasonally within the context of a rotation of life throughout a year.  I share this with you as a concept of the good life, not as a template for you to necessarily follow – rather as a principle for you to interpret in the context of your own life.

My rotation starts on April 1st, April Fools Day, as I stand in a near-freezing WNY stream trying to trick a trout or two.  The afternoon is then given over to starting seeds for the coming year’s vegetable garden.  This inauguration of Spring begins the season of Fishing/Gardening, which will then dominate my “leisure time” throughout the coming months until October rolls around.

As September draws to a close, the season of Harvesting/Hunting begins.  The garden is preserved through freezing, dehydrating and root cellaring.  My beard begins to grow from a goatee to a full beard fit for bowhunting.  My leisure time is consumed by walking through the woods and climbing trees.  As the temperature drops below freezing, we slaughter and butcher a steer, a hog and whatever deer I was able to harvest.  By Christmas, our 3 deep freezers, pantry and root cellar is full to bursting (we raise about 30% of our fruits/vegetables and butcher about 90% of our own meat).  There is a wonderful sense of contentment that comes from having plenty from the works of our own hands…and a sense of the sacred act of eating and sharing a meal with friends.

As Winter locks us in, my heated woodshop becomes my place of creativity and respite.  Planes get sharpened, shavings are made and furniture is the by-product.  This past year, cutting boards, tea shelf, a canoe and a cherry homework table were on the list.  As the snow piles up outside, I listen to jazz, drink coffee and pile up sawdust.  Nothing is wasted: off-cuts become kindling for the wood fire, plane shavings become tinder for same and sawdust gets layered with kitchen scraps in 5-gallon buckets in the corner of the shop for next year’s garden.

Each year I cut a better dovetail, grow a better garden and walk more silently through the woods.  The balance of the familiar and constant change, of inside and out of doors, of growing and harvesting and of constant purpose for my “leisure time” brings joy, balance, health and a sense of constant discovery.

Is it easier to live life vicariously?  Where money is the only thing you make, spend and save?  Where your free time is consumed on a couch with a bag of chips?


Each day would be easier, but life itself would be far more difficult.  The meaninglessness of being bored while being constantly entertained is a much more trying life to live.  The tug of a trout, the thrill of the hunt, the taste of truly fresh food and daily using furniture I have made myself is a far more fulfilling life!Salmon_edit

A Handcrafted Life

father and son


My second son, Caleb, wanted to spend every moment I was in my woodshop with me.  He was constantly looking for something that he could bang with a hammer, cut with a saw or tighten with a screwdriver.  On the one hand – nothing is more gratifying to a dad than a son wanting to be like him.  On the other hand, nothing is more frustrating than constantly having to tell your four year old that he just isn’t big enough to hit, cut or screw whatever it is he was attempting.  

Solution: I got him a cut-off 2×6 and pounded a bunch of large-headed nails into it about 1/3 of the way in.  He then gleefully pounded away at the nails.  This was a short-lived success.  That’s when I decided that he needed a workbench of his own.  Under the guise of seeing how big he was getting, I measured the height of his hipbone, his reach and his spread.

I built him a workbench that was as deep as he could reach easily, as wide as his spread and as high as his hipbone.  We then outfitted the workbench with a pegboard back, some hanging baskets for tool storage, basic tools and his very own nail apron.  He was ecstatic!!  So was my wife…until he started banging away in the playroom  🙂

Caleb’s bench fits him.  It is a horrible workbench for me, but for him – it is exactly what he needed.

Life is a lot like that workbench.  When we try to make ours look like someone else’s, we are constantly frustrated, inefficient and ineffective.  When we build a life that fits us though…it fits, it just fits.  

God knows you and every little detail about you.  He knows how far you can reach and what kind of tools to put on your pegboard.  Stop fighting his handcrafted fit for your life, and let him – the Master Craftsman, build you a life that fits.  “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13, NIV)


Ways to Save

Español: Mantequilla de maní

Español: Mantequilla de maní (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Turn waste streams into revenue streams.  This is the hidden profit that is already there, you just have to take advantage of it.  This could be something as simple as upcycling (finding a new use for an old product – my personal favorite is old peanut butter containters as hardware storage in my workshop) to something as complicated as a new product line.  Take all your kitchen waste, place it in a worm bin – presto worm tea, a terrific foliar fertilizer for your gardens – and it’s organic and free.

2. Buy quality whenever possible.  A word of warning: expensive does not necessarily mean quality – it could simply be the name that you are paying for.  Research actual customer reviews of the products you are looking to purchase – this honest feedback will tell you far more about the product than their glossy brochures.  This also does not mean that you should always buy new either.  New to you can be the best bang for your buck, and it’s better for the environment as well.

3. Take care of your stuff, and it will take care of you.  A proverbial saying that brings “A stitch in time saves nine” to mind.  Paint your house – it’s cheaper than replacing all the siding.  Change the oil in your vehicle – it’s cheaper than replacing the engine.  Vacuum your carpets – it’s cheaper than replacing them (dirt plus traffic = sandpaper).

4. Coupons…but only what you were going to buy anyway.  You are not saving any money at all if you buy things you don’t need.  You are in fact, wasting money.

5. Deep freezer.  This is an upfront investment that will pay you back year after year.  Food is far cheaper when it is in season locally.  Buy it in bulk and freeze it.  This is also true of buying your beef from a farmer.  You will wind up paying ground beef prices for the entire animal.  Filet Mignon for the price of ground beef…sign me up!  But you have to have a way of preserving 450 pounds of meat at a time.

6. Friends are better than funds.  This one is worthy of its own separate post, but suffice it to say here that a community of friends will own more collectively than any individual in the group will.  You have a canoe.  I have a power-washer.  We have a canoe and a power washer.  Share.  It was true in kindergarten and it remains true today.  He who hoards has no friends.  He who shares has both stuff and friends to enjoy it with.  Trust me.  Life is better this way.

7. Grow it.  The single scarcest commodity on the face of the earth is time.  One seed of corn costs about a penny.  Three ears of corn will set you back at least a dollar.  The difference is time.  Live your life according to the seasons.  There is a season to plant and a season to harvest.  This not only applies to food, but to all of life.  Think retirement account.  Invest early and let time do its work, while you do yours.

8. Pay up front, not down the road.  This is a corollary to point #7.  If you pay up front – you save the interest.  Go into debt, and you pay for someone else’s planning ahead.  Cash is King!  If you can’t afford it, you don’t need it.  Save up the cash, then purchase the product.

9. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”  ‘Nuff said.

What are some of your favorite ways to save?

Tablesaw, Bandsaw or Workbench: Your Spiritual Gift(s)

Bob's New Table Saw

Bob’s New Table Saw (Photo credit: milletre)

In woodworking circles, there is always a debate over which tool should be the centerpiece of your shop: The tablesaw, the bandsaw or for handtool aficianados – the workbench, usually with a 3″ thick hard maple slab top upon a similarly bulky trestle leg setup.

Those in favor of the tablesaw cite its unparalleled ability to make repeatable, accurate rip and cross-grain cuts, not to mention dadoes, rabbits, tenons, etc.  If you want square, you want a tablesaw.

Those in favor of the bandsaw cite its unparalleled versatility from resawing firewood into lumber, lumber into laminates, rounded cuts or even straight cuts (once drift is accounted for).  This is of course not to mention the greater safety of the wood being forced into the table instead of being shot off of it like the tablesaw.  If you want versatility and safety, you want a bandsaw.

Hand tool gurus love their workbenches!  These heavy, flat, square pieces of furniture excel at holding your workpiece for sawing, planing, drilling, routing, assembling and finishing.  If you want to do handtool work, you want a workbench.

In fact, let’s be honest, the real argument isn’t about what should be the centerpiece of your shop, but rather which kind of woodworking you should be doing (which is in fact a ludicrous argument to get into).  If you primarily do cabinetry, for which you need repeatable, straight cuts – a table saw should be the centerpiece.  If you do woodturning, furniture-making or sculpture-based woodworking – a bandsaw should be the centerpiece.  If you do primarily hand tool work, whether cabinetry or sculpture – a workbench should be the centerpiece of your shop.

The question therefore is not which is the best centerpiece tool, but rather what kind of work do you want to do?

This same principle applies to the Church as well.  The Apostle Paul said that there are many gifts but one Spirit, and again that Christ is the one that apportioned the gifts to us based upon His good pleasure, and yet again that those parts which are hidden are worthy of double honor.  If your gift is giving then do so generously, if your gift is preaching then do so in accordance with your faith, if your gift is hospitality, etc.

We have been gifted by Christ, our Savior for that kind of work which he desires for us to do.  There is no best gift, no right gift.  Let Christ, the master craftsman shape how you work by the gift he has given you, and don’t look up to or down upon another based upon the type of ministry they have been called to perform.  After all, who doesn’t want kitchen cabinets, a rocking chair and beautifully handcrafted pieces in their life?

How to get started

Japanese-style joinery at Wagner Creek EcoNest...

Japanese-style joinery at Wagner Creek EcoNest in Talent, OR (Photo credit: Derek Severson)

Nothing is more foundational to joiner-based woodworking than being able to create a flat surface.  You cannot have square joints, square corners, square projects without first establishing a flat reference surface from which all measurements are made.  In machine work this is performed with a joiner, a tool with two flat beds that are the depth of cut of the joiner knife away from being in a perfect plane with one another.  The board is then held against the infeed table and fence, pushed across the rotating knives of the tool, and received onto the outfeed table.  When the entire length and width of that face has been surfaced by the tool, it is flat and in a single plane.  If you skip this step and move on to the planer, you will have two perfectly parallel surfaces on opposite sides of the board, the second one perfectly paralleling every twist, undulation and imperfection of the first side.  The joiner must come first, only then will both sides be flat and parallel.

The second thing the joiner performs best is to make adjacent sides square to one another.  Flatten a face, then make an adjacent edge square (90 degrees) to it by holding the reference face against the fence of the joiner as it passes across the spinning knives until the entire length and width of the edge has been surfaced.  Take the board with its flat face against the tablesaw surface, with the square edge against the fence and rip to just fat of the final dimension, return to the joiner and clean the matching edge up of all saw marks until final dimension is reached.

Everything starts with the joiner.

Have any heroes in your life?  Any people you look up to and admire?  Any one you want to emulate?  DON’T!

Now don’t get me wrong, I certainly have mentors in my life, and other imperfect people that are better than I am in certain areas.  I certainly could improve by becoming like them in their areas of strength, but they should never be my reference.

Jesus Christ is the only adequate reference for the human experience.  He alone lived life without the twist and taint of sin.  He alone can I parallel without fear of marring the  work of the master carpenter in my life and the lives of those around me.  He alone can give consistent guidance in how to be human in this out-of-joint world.

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11, NIV)

Work Space

English: A study table

English: A study table (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my office, I am surrounded by books and ways of communicating (a 64 GB Blackberry Tablet, An Ancient Dell Inspiron 9300 Laptop, a land-line telephone, A Brand New Blackberry Z10 cellphone, a desk to write on, another desk to type at and three chairs – one for me and two for those whom God wants me to communicate with).  I walk into this room and sermons are crafted, blogs are written, emails sent and received, lives changed.

In my wood shop, I am surrounded by materials and tools (table saw, joiner, planer, miter saw, myriads of hand tools, sawhorses and a workbench).  I walk into this room and furnishings are crafted, broken items repaired, dreams built, lives changed.

In my garden, I am surrounded by soil and plants (cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, basil, oregano, potatoes, carrots, garlic, beans, peas, etc.).  I walk into this space and weeds are removed, vines are trellised, Japanese beetles are killed, food is harvested, lives changed.

In my home, I am surrounded by things and life (Ashley – my wife, Rebekah, Joshua, Caleb and Elizabeth – our children, guests, friends, drop-ins in need and Nick – our dog).  I walk into this place and love is shared, children disciplined, games played, meals consumed, guests entertained, tears shed, lives changed.

My work spaces.  Lives changed when I walk in and abide.

God walks into my life.  His office, His shop, His garden, His home.  He is surrounded by my thoughts and yearnings (to be what He wants me to be, to be significant, to be rich, to be famous, to be powerful…to be His)  He walks into His space and weeds are removed, love is shared, broken items are repaired, sermons preached the first time, my life…changed.

Is God allowed space to work in your life?  Are you being changed by Him and changing others for Him?

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalms 139: 23-24 NIV)

Worthy Work


Tenon (Photo credit: Let Ideas Compete)

The “whisk whisk” of a tuned-up #4 smoothing plane across a piece of cherry is as calming to me as Yani seems to be to half the female population of the world over 45.  There is something centering about making sure that the plane is staying perpendicular to the edge or face of the wood and taking a full curl from across the surface.  Everything else recedes into the distance like a photograph with the background intentionally out of focus.

There are so many different ways you can build a piece of furniture: purchased, veneer-covered chipboard that you simply assemble with an allen wrench all the way to hand-tooled, solid cherry joined together with mortise and tenon joinery and hand-cut dovetails.  There is a time and place for either type (and anything in between).  There is a time for inexpensive and efficient.  There is a time for costly and time-consuming construction with its attendant heirloom-quality.

One of the joys of woodworking is in solving a problem.  An end table the right height, gives you a place to put your drink without having to look while watching the football game.  A bookcase gives you someplace other than stacks on the floor next to your side of the bed to put your voluminous cadre of books.  It’s also quite gratifying to hear, “you MADE that?!” when your friends see your completed project.  My favorite was when I made hanging quilt racks for some of the family for Christmas, and upon opening the gift a cousin, Trisha screamed, “Shazaam!”  I’m not kidding.  You can’t make that stuff up.

The greatest joy, though is that when you build a shelf (or any other project), you are also building yourself.  Your decisions define you in a way that nothing else does.  Your willingness to redo a joint so that the shoulder is perfectly square.  Your decision to hand plane instead of sand for that mirror-finish.  These decisions build into you the person you wish to be.  On the other hand, the “putty and paint makes it good when it ain’t” perspective tears down the person God made you to be, and you’re left with a facade of quality without any peace about the work you have done.

As a pastor, how I work in the woodshop is a reflection of how I work in the study.  No shortcuts, no preaching what I do not absolutely know to be truth.  Work that is worthy.  Work for which I do not need to be ashamed.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV)