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Feature Articles

Building Custom Gates

Between 1980 and 1994 I moved ten times—one fixer after the other, and a few rentals, too (fixers aren’t always profitable, even for a carpenter). When I moved into my current home, I promised myself I’d stay a while, and one of the first projects I wanted to tackle was replacing the gates. I accomplished the first goal, but it took a while before I got to the gates. Read the full article…

Making a Decorative Sunburst

I was working on a remodel—a high-end home near the Hamptons—when the homeowner came out the front door with a magazine in her hand. “Look!” she said. “This is exactly what I want on top of my front door!” She tilted the picture toward me: a handsome Greek Revival portico decorated with an elliptical sunburst. “It’s going to cost you,” I told her. “How much?” she asked. “About $1,200,” I said. She smiled and said, “Do it.” Read the full article…

Van Racking

Van racking is basically just trim carpentry with loads of scribes, using elements of North American face frame construction and European box systems of cabinet making. But it’s also an exercise in extreme organization. Getting it right can save you time and energy on the jobsite—both of which lead to increased productivity and profits. Read the full article…

Carving a Volute

Where carpentry and sculpture merge; and CNC machines fear to tread

When you walk into a custom home, an old Victorian or an old Colonial, one of the first and most impressive sights is the stair. There it is in the great room. Graceful. Elegant. It is often the biggest piece of furniture in a home and one of the most valuable ornamental assets.

Or is it? Read the full article…

Historic Cabinets

I’m more of a carpenter than a cabinet maker. I do mostly trim and cabinet installations now, and use my cabinet making knowledge on rare occasions—mostly to alter existing cabinets, as opposed to making new ones from scratch. For the few new cabinets that I do make, I use the latest technology. For example, I use pocket screws to assemble face frames, and SenClamps (Senco corrugated fasteners) to fasten cabinet sides to the frames—eliminating the clamping and drying time saves so much time when you’re making cabinets. Read the full article…

Copper Rooflet

A copper rooflet isn’t made of wood, so what’s it doing in THISisCarpentry? Well, working with copper requires a lot of the skills that we use every day working with wood. In this project, the rooflet is meant to “look” like wood, and it serves a purpose that is generally filled by wood. Sure, I use some skills that are not technically considered “carpentry,” but if you’ve ever sweated a pipe-fitting, or made a pan-flashing for a window or door, or flashed a cricket, valley, or chimney, you’ve got the skills. So, brush off that dusty skill set, use your imagination, and apply it to a project that just might be screaming COPPER! Read the full article…

Staircase in a Bottle

A Blast from the Past

Have you ever thought about building a model ship in a bottle? What about a staircase? Of course, if you think about it, it’s not the bottle that’s the problem, it’s the bottleneck. Quite a few years ago, I was facing just such a challenge. At first, it seemed simple enough, but the more I thought about it, the tighter the squeeze seemed to be. Read the full article…

Wooden Storm Door

Like many carpenters, I’m always looking for an interesting challenge. I like tackling something I’ve never done before—and succeeding. Not only is it satisfying to push yourself, but a satisfied customer means good word-of-mouth, which (hopefully) leads to more work. Win-win. This is exactly what happened when one of my best clients approached me with an interesting project. Read the full article…

Ramps for the Handicapped

Volunteer work: good for the community and good for the soul

One of my first memories, in the early 1930s, when I was 4 or 5 years old, was of our mother taking care of a neighbor woman, Eula Hughbanks, who had tuberculosis. TB was more common in those days, with little hope for a cure, especially for poor people. The nearest medical care of any kind was 30 miles away. Such care might as well have been on the other side of the world for most of us, as few had an automobile. So people did what people have always done, especially in hard times—they took care of one another. Read the full article…

Grinding Custom Shaper Knives

Learning to make your own tools is a step up for the serious woodworking carpenter

Most of my work is at the high-end of the New England custom home market. For the jobs I do, in Boston brownstones that even today sell for several million dollars, there are no off-the-shelf parts—everything is completely custom, or an exact reproduction of work done in the 18th or 19th centuries. Read the full article…

Working with Melamine

Melamine can be a viable option for many projects — with good conscience and no apology.

I remember reading an article about melamine years ago. The author was very apologetic about the topic because he knew he was addressing woodworkers who had a disdain for the material. Melamine has a rap sheet alright; it is looked down upon by both fabricators and consumers for its imitation wood grain and particleboard core. However, like it or not, it does have a place in the world of cabinetry. And that place is not always located at the bottom of the food chain. Read the full article…

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