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They say that in Spring, a  young man’s thoughts naturally turn to romance. Well, it’s winter here and I’m no longer young by any rational metric, so my thoughts gravitate to…building stuff with wood!

The current project buzzing around my brain is a dedicated, stand-alone workshop for my woodworking. Currently, I have taken over half (well, let’s be honest: 3/4ths!) of our garage, and Melissa patiently endures tromping through sawdust and wood shavings on the way to do laundry or access our storage. Plus, I could use a bit more space to spread out, especially for my treadle lathe, shaving horse, sharpening station, wall space for storage, area for drying my milled lumber, etc.

Two design goals shape this project:

  • Hand-crafted. As much as feasibly possible, the shop and its contents will be built by my own hands, including much of the infrastructure needed to help me complete the actual construction.
  • Unhurried. Many of the rural properties in my neck of the woods have detached workshops but they’re usually a variation of a pole barn with metal siding. Those kind of buildings go up fast, but I have no deadline to meet or urgency to “get ‘er done,” so construction speed isn’t a priority. In fact, spreading out the costs over a longer time actually softens the financial blow.
  • Freely sourced. Most of the wood for the project will be harvested right from Barewood, and I’d prefer to get as much of the other construction materials from Craigslist or other free/recycled sources.

The old construction adage claims “we can build it good, fast, or cheap: pick any two.” Looking at my goals, I’ve clearly made my choice! I want a shop that reflects my style of hand-tool woodworking: a building that is equal parts functional and nostalgic. In later posts, I’ll talk about the structure I’m planning, show some design inspiration photos, and get into the details. But I hope you’ll join me on this next building adventure. If you’re not a follower now, you can sign up in the right column and be notified for further updates.

Stay tuned!


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Selective breeding of animals has been a powerful tool in humanity’s survival for thousands of years. It has given us the draft horse, the dairy cow, and the housecat. We transformed prehistoric wolves into domesticated working dogs like the Malamute and the Akbash, and we developed feral rats into the Chihuahua and Chinese Crested. (Okay, that last one may be an exaggeration:  the rats weren’t developed much at all.)

Until this year, though, I had naively supposed that all the hundreds of breeds of chickens were basically similar underneath the varieties of plumage and egg color. Sure, some breeds are more tolerant of cold weather, or tend to go broody more or less often, but they’re all basically the same, right?

We’ve had Brahmas, Barred Rocks, Australorps, a Buff Orpington, and an Americauna. The last breed definitely is more broody than the others, but all of those layer breeds behave more or less similarly in terms of growth, temperment, foraging ability and other traits. So, when we decided to get into meat birds for this year and ordered the popular meat breed Cornish Cross, we expected a basic chicken that maybe grew a bit bigger.

Not so! Here are a few of the major differences we’ve already noticed:

They grow insanely fast! They look like this when you buy them:


And ELEVEN DAYS LATER, they look like this:


Their bodies are bigger than my hand and they’re surprisingly heavy. They eat like crazy and grow at an incredible rate.


They’re incredibly stupid. And I don’t mean the normal, quirky silliness of all chickens…I mean total, box-of-rocks dumb. These guys literally cannot find their own coop! Every night, I come out and find them huddled together for warmth in a corner of their feed shelter, rather than snug in the straw-lined roosting box of the coop five feet away! I have to pick them up and put them in the box each night.


Athletes, they ain’t. I’ve never seen chickens sit around so much. My other ones are always on the move, except for the occasional dust bath, but these guys sit more often than they move around. And they tend to die for no real reason. So far, two of these chicks have just turned up dead for no explicable reaso, and research says it’s pretty common for this breed. If they live longer then than 8 or 9 weeks it takes to get them to butchering size, the problem gets even worse.


Owls find them tasty. This week, four of these pullets have disappeared, one or two each night. At first, I couldn’t figure out where they were going, since there have been no signs of predator entry, no feathers on the ground, nothing–just missing birds. I finally guessed owls might be taking them, so I covered the run with bird netting, and the disappearances seem to have stopped. I’m down to five birds in there now, but hopefully those will survive.


Besides those ten (five), I have another two dozen chicks in the barn, waiting to get their feathers before they transfer out to the outside run. At least it seems that the owl restaurant is closed for business.

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Well, it’s been a long road, starting from here:

And here:

And ending up here:

I wanted to use this final entry on this project to talk about some of the many things I’ve learned, in order to maybe help out other woodworkers who might attempt similar madness.


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The Hobbit Door

At long last, the only thing remaining was the door. Now, as I have mentioned earlier, my daughter Eleanor (10 yrs old) has read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and she really wanted me to put a round door on the barn like a hobbit hole.

Well, as luck would have it, I found a free Craigslist posting for a company that had what appeared to be a side of a massive construction spool: it was a huge circle, 7-1/2 feet in diameter and 1-1/2” thick, made of of 1” x 6” pine boards in two layers set at 90 degrees to each other. In other words—it was exactly how I’d make a round door if I was building it myself!

The logistics of a round door are interesting, though. How do you hinge it? When you put a round door in (basically) square wall, how do you frame the empty corners? How do I latch it but keep with the central doorknob look that iis iconic of hobbit doors? How much strain would a nearly 8’ door put on the door post when the thing is swung open? And on and on…and remember, this is the main door of the barn, that I will be using several times a day, every single day!

The first realization I came to was that a single door nearly eight feet wide opens very slowly! I would have to back up nearly four feet in order to open it enough to get inside, and that would be a huge pain on a daily basis. I decided that functionality trumped form in this case, so I cut the door vertically into two unequal parts (sort of a 60/40 split), given me a 3’ wide left door and a 4-1/2’ wide right door. This would also really reduce the load on the hinges and doorposts, too.

The second challenge was hanging a door with a round hinge edge. Here I took advantage of an item of serendipity: a concentric circular groove cut into the face side for whatever need the original builder had. I stained the inner part of the circle to match with window I built (a Minwax Gunstock) and the outer part of the circle I stained much darker (a Jacobean stain, also from Minwax). This gave the illusion that the inner circle was the real hobbit door, while the outside was part of the coaming or frame. After that, I sheared off part of the door frame edges, giving me a straight, flat edge about four feet long on the wall edges. This would give me a easy place to attach my hinges.

Because I would be muscling this door into place either alone or with only the help of my wife (a lovely woman with a game soul, but I would not describe her as “burly”), I needed a way to hang them true and level as easily as possible. I solved this by hinging two four-foot 2×8s together with 3 heavy-duty door hinges. The post plate was then lag screwed into my maple wall posts, and the other plate would be attached to the door itself. Once the hinges plates were attached to the posts, Melissa and I muscled the doors into position, marked and drill bolt holes through the hinge plate and door, and bolted the door onto the 2×8 hinge plate with 4 strong bolts. Worked like a charm:

The next challenge was the surround—those awkward arc-shaped corners that the door didn’t fill. Conventional wisdom (and the Peter Jackson movies) would dictate that these should be part of the door frame, but I hated the idea of installing permanent foot-catching sills that I’d have to step over or negotiate every time. So, I simply cut them from 3/4 outdoor ply and screwed them to the back of the door! Again, this worked visually (I think) because I had stained the door to look like the entire outer part was a raised frame anyway. Now we had this:

The last piece was the doorknob/closure mechanism. Again, the central doorknob is the classic look for a hobbit door, but how to make it work? Luckily, smarter heads than mine—specifically Matthias from Woodworking for Engineers—had already figured this out! From his oh-so-cool site, I download an app that let me design a rack and pinion gear, which I cut from 5/8” birch plywood. When the spindle of the pinion gear turns, the bar shoots across the doors into a socket, locking the two doors together! I have a video of the action before I installed it, but unfortunately I can’t figure out how to upload it here. I finished off the mechanism with a “doorknob” cut from an alder branch. The finished product:

With that, the barn is nearly finished, though of course, a woodworker is never really done…I’m sure there’ll be plenty of internal improvements, external embellishments, etc, etc. etc!

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My daughters wanted the barn to be “hobbit-style,” complete with a round door. So, for the wall on the “human side” that will be visible from most of the property, I wanted to find a round window to match. Again through a free find on Craigslist from a floor and door company, I managed to acquire 2 beveled half-round and two rectangular door lites, double -paned:

For the “goat-side” window, I was also able to get 6 15” double-paned squares from the same place.

While I was building the walls, I used rainy days and evenings to work on the windows to go in the rough opening. At last, it was back to “real” woodworking: mortises and tenons, plow planes, miter cuts, and all the fun stuff. I decided to build a frame to hold the windows in roughly the layout above, with the two rectangular pieces forming sidelights to the central round window. I built the sidelites first, capturing them in a fairly straightforward post and rail frame I made from some poplar pieces I had around:

When both of those were made, it was time for the centerpiece. I decided the best way to mount it was to make a birch plywood surround the same width as the window with molding on both sides to hold the glass in place. In order to facilitate glue up and fitting everything together, I cut the surround into top and bottom parts to allow me to attach the molding before I inserted the window pieces.

To make the molding, I turned to my trusty 1926 Stanley Mitre Box No. 460, with its Disston 30” x 6” saw. I had restored the piece after it had been badly corroded and salvaged from a flooded garage. Using some beech slats from an old futon frame, I cut two dodecagons (12-sided) to hold it in, and glued them in place. I stained everything using simple Minwax Gunstock stain.

I was happy with the finished product: it looked good, it was square…everything was working out. Then I went to install it, and discovered that my 2×6 framing in my rough opening had shifted out of square by about 3/8” of an inch! Somehow, even two diagonal braces didn’t stop the cordwood from altering the shape of the frame. Of course, I had sized the frame to fit the window with about a 1/16” tolerance, so I had to enlarge the 2×6 frame to make a truly square opening again. Once that was accomplished (though now I had about a 1/4” gap on each vertical side of the window, I fit the window in place:

I’m really happy with how it turned out. I’ve gotten a lot of grief from my buddies for making such a fancy window for a goat barn, but hey, the materials were free and the woodworking is the fun part!

Next (and perhaps the last challenge: hanging a round door!

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New Residents

As you may have noticed in the last post, the barn is already occupied. True, the walls aren’t even done, but friends of our were thinning their herd and offered us a doe and a wether, so I asked for a couple of weeks and quickly built a 20’ x 25’ paddock and partioned the interior of the barn off to separate the goat lounging area, kidding stall, and sleeping platform from the human side that houses the hay crib, the feeder rack, and the access to nest boxes and feed/water station of the attached chicken coop.

Then we got our first three residents: Zeus, the livestock guardian dog; Leia, the Boer/Nubian doe, and Stormy, her 1-year old wether. As you can see from the pictures, they’re going to have a tough life!

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My wife and I have been interested in building with cordwood for almost 5 years now. Initially, we planned to use the technique to build our Washington home ourselves but we found great home that was already built that saved us the work.

Cordwood masonry is a centuries-old technique that uses short, debarked logs (like you might use for firewood) set in mortar to form structural walls or else fill in a timber frame structure. It’s a great way to use woods that otherwise would not be structurally useful. I harvested and collected all the wood from our property last winter, debarked the logs, and left them to dry for nearly a year. Here are a few pictures of the walls in progress:

You may notice a few animals photobombing the pics: the dog is Zeus, our 6-moth old Akbash (a Turkish livestock guardian breed). And one of the goats, who’ll I’ll introduce in the next post…

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