Category Archives: BUILDING


Now that several weeks have passed since the completion of my oil stone box project, I have detached myself enough to have gained perspective on it. The oil stone box was PC 1’s (Preservation Carpentry) first woodworking assignment, and it “seemed fairly straight forward.” The box is intended  to hold my combination Chrystalon and India sharpening stone. I find it humorous that two months ago I would’ve had no idea what a combination stone was, let alone know how to use it; and now I have a protective desire to shelter it with a crafted wooden box.  My box was rather basic , measuring 8″ x 3″ x 1″ and made of two mirroring halves of Eastern White Pine married by two 1/2″ x 1/4″ dowels. We started by drafting a life size drawing of the box we planned to build, and then we ran the pieces of wood through a series of milling steps (all by hand), which I will elaborate on. The halves were hollowed out by chisel and mallet and hand planed with a freshly sharpened blade, which unfortunately demonstrated its keenness by opening up one of my knuckles. Prior to this experience, I have never drafted, nor have I ever used a plane, chisel or mallet…so the learning curve was very steep.


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At this juncture in my life, I have gotten to know myself fairly well (a couple of decades of therapy have helped with this); and one of the things I have learned about myself is that I DON’T DO SIMPLE. If given the choice between a) a freshly paved and sealed, straight, and secure road and b) one that is bumpy, and full of steep climbs, treacherous downhills and tight windy turns, I inevitably opt for “b” 99% of the time. The peculiar twist about me is that even though I have spent a lifetime taking the more challenging road, I still find myself underestimating how difficult and time-consuming my travels down that road will be.  In fact, the definition of insanity often used in the addiction world  (“doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”) rings particularly true in this case.

After drafting our oil stone boxes and having it reviewed by our instructor, we completed our stock list and started on the following basic milling steps:

  • 1. FLATTEN ONE SIDE OF ONE BOARD- (TOOLS: Bench plane #4 or #5, and Starrett Combination Square)
  • 2. PLANE BOARD TO THICKNESS- (TOOLS: Marking Gauge, Bench plane, and Starrett Combination Square)
  • 3. JOINT AN EDGE- (TOOLS: Bench plane and Starrett Combination Square)
  • 4. RIP TO WIDTH- (TOOLS: Rip Hand Saw)
  • 5. SQUARE RIPPED EDGE- (Bench Plane and Starrett Combination Square)
  • 6. SQUARE AN END- (Hand plane, Bench/Block Blane, Marking knife)
  • 7. CUT TO LENGTH- (Crosscut saw, Starrett Combination Square, Bench/Block plane)

A few weeks after making the oil stone box, we started on our second project (a pair of saw horses). This involved the same seven milling steps on every piece of wood,  but this time we had to do all our milling with power tools in the shop rather than by hand. Although I made plenty of mistakes throughout, I guess the progress is that the phrase “third time is a charm,” is solely reserved for my oil stone box and not my saw horses.  In spite of the fact that I anticipated the oil stone box project would be fairly simple, it took me starting over three times before getting it right. At times like these, I am grateful for the wisdom of people like James Joyce who said, “A man’s mistakes are his portals of discovery” and John Powell who shared, “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” The mistakes I learned from during these two woodworking projects included the following:

  • a) when flattening a board with a bench plane (step 1), check to see where the high and low spots are before just excitedly setting the plane loose on the board.
  • b) when planing to thickness (step 2), follow the previously mentioned tip because you might take off too much wood if you just start shaving willy nilly without paying close attention to your line.
  • c) triple check what line you are cutting with any saw because you might cut a line that was not supposed to be cut…especially when this is one of your final steps :)
  • d) Keep in mind Albert Einstein’s phrase, “Anyone who never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Then adjust your expectations accordingly.

To measure my level of success in terms of my first two projects, again I will turn to the eloquence and wisdom of those who came before me…

  • I don’t measure a man’s success by how he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits the bottom.” George Patton
  • The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire; the size of your dream; and how you handle disappointment along the way.” Robert Kiyosaki
  • Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Herman Cain
  • “The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.”                             Sven Goran Eriksson

As I consider how applicable these quotes are to my oil stone box and saw horses projects, I can proudly own my success. Before mulling these quotes over, I would have acknowledged my success in spite of the mistakes I made; but now I recognize that my mistakes are instrumental components of my success.  These projects were successful because…

  • I tried
  • I didn’t give up
  • I started over
  • I felt discouraged and defeated, and pulled myself up
  • I asked for help
  • I laughed and had fun along the way
  • I learned a lot
  • I didn’t give in to my fear of failure
  • I gave my best
  • I finished

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P.S. That little knuckle cut from my freshly sharpened block plane iron did a little more damage than I first thought. Another first to add to the list…1st in my class to have surgery after an injury sustained in class. Basically the equation was this…

1 sharp plane iron + 1 new carpenter (me) = 1 severed tendon + surgery to screw tendon into bone + 6 weeks of splinted finger + OT185006008009007008 (2)009 (2)007 (2)




Well, it is October 1st, one month into the school year, and I AM STILL A NBSS STUDENT. Contrary to what the unwelcomed and intrusive voices tell me when fear creeps in throughout the day, my teacher has not told me that I would be better off taking up ANY other career BUT carpentry…yet.  I am writing this blog post, which is strong evidence that I am still alive. Thus, I have not mortally wounded myself or anyone else with any sharp tools yet, which is a big accomplishment considering I was battling a cold with regular sneezing fits during the two days we were hewing with large axes at Hatch Mill. In spite of the fact that I have a mischievous sense of humor, quick comebacks, and have seen the inside of the principal’s office more than a couple of times in my school career, I have not been disciplined, suspended or expelled from school yet :) My experience at North Bennet Street School has been nothing short of encouraging, inspiring, and empowering thus far. Students, teachers, and administrators have all been kind, supportive, and accomodating. They have welcomed me  as a novice carpenter;  and one by one, the teachers are helping me build a solid foundation of skills, which I can take with me into the workforce after graduation.

I must admit I have been “slacking” when it comes to writing blog posts about school. In fact, if you pay attention to detail, you may have noticed that I started this post on October 1st, and finished it 18 days later. Part of the reason for this is because I am insanely busy, and finding time to do write blog posts has been difficult. I get a chuckle when I think about what I pictured before school started. I thought I would have ample time and space to leisurely write daily posts on my train ride home each day. I didn’t account for the crowded trains in which I am often standing. I didn’t think about needing to use every free moment to catch up on school readings. Lastly, I definitely didn’t anticipate the level of exhaustion I’d feel and how I’d be battling to stay out of a constant nod on my way home. Alas, it is 6 weeks into school, and I am submitting my first blog post about this school year. Sorry folks, but this is the best I can do at the moment.

While I am not discussing any preservation projects in this particular blog, I will share why I am making quite a name for myself thus far; and then will include some of the shots I’ve taken of my classroom, classmates, and job sites over the last few weeks.

I am quite humbled and grateful to have been chosen as a recipient of the Partners In Craft Scholarship this year, thanks to our wonderfully generous donors. Seeing my name and picture in the NBSS Newsletter feels like I am living in a dream.  Ssshh…please don’t wake me up!


Secondly, I was kindly asked by our fabulous Director of Communications Nancy Jenner to be one of this year’s “Faces of NBSS” for NBSS’s Annual Report. If I hadn’t learned some degree of tact and professionalism in my former life, I would have replied back, “OMG, AYK…YES!”

As you can see from the previous couple of examples, I have been making a name for myself thus far; and this is totally not of my own doing. While these are both incredible examples, this is not what I was referring to when I titled this post, “MAKING A NAME FOR MYSELF AT THE BENNET.” The two examples I just shared can only be attributed to some type of blessing from beyond because I have not earned these awards through my craftsmanship or creativity YET.  So what, you may ask, did I mean by making a name for myself at the Bennet? I will give you a few brief examples of how  I make an immediate impression, when it is up to me.

  • We receive our discounted T passes twice per year. The first pass started October 2nd, on our first day of school, and expires December 31st. Who lost (or thought I lost) and had to order a replacement T pass on the second day of class? You guessed it.
  • Since I work after school each day, I am not able to stay late to work on projects. To compensate, I try to get to school at 6:30 so I have an extra hour to do work before class begins at 7:30. Even though I have been early every day since I started, a few times I have ended up in red pen as “LATE” on the daily attendance sheet at our front desk because I forgot to sign in. Fortunately Lillian is a doll (and is getting to know me), so she now signs me in when she knows I just forgot to sign in YET AGAIN!

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  • When learning how to sharpen tools, our teacher Steve gave very clear step by step instructions about the process. When demonstrating the grinding process, he showed us why it is important to pay attention to the temperature of the tool and showed us how not to “burn” the edge of our chisels and plane irons on the grinder. He assured us that “there would be someone who burns their tool.” Thanks Steve for the foreshadowing because it was me who caused the first burn.
  • Speaking of “firsts,” I definitely know I was the first to create an oil slick in my drawer. Unfortunately, the cap to my honing oil somehow loosened, and it saturated every other item that accompanied it in the drawer. Weeks later, I am still wiping oil off of tools, pencils, and other miscellaneous tools. Needless to say, my first finished drafting project of an oil stone box (pun not intended) is highlighted by symmetrical oil spots sprinkled around it.
  • Lastly (for now), I was the first student in class to break into the first aid kit after slicing the top of my knuckle with my freshly sharpened block plane iron. The truth is that my teacher had just warned me not to touch the blade because he knew I had just finished the last steps of my honing process to the point that the blade could shave my arm hair with ease (yes this is how we test it). I tried to steer clear of the blade while using a wire brush to clean a little gunk off the back side of the iron, which was my last step. When I did this, the blade slipped out of my hand. Instead of pulling my hand away, I instinctively reached my hand out to catch it. Truthfully, I was in fear that the hours of work I put into this blade would be erased in one fall to the ground. When I did that, the blade not only shaved my knuckle hairs, but it opened up my knuckle like a can of soda. SO I WON YET ANOTHER FIRST!185

By this point, you can see that I am going to make quite a name for myself at North Bennet Street School. Hopefully in the future, I get recognized for the quality of my work rather than than my absent mindedness :) Until then, I will keep showing up early, studying hard, listening intently, and smiling.


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To donate to Liz’s Bike to Build to NBSS fund, click here.


Because I am a girl, and girls build.

  • It is in my genetics.
  • Nothing smells better than fresh cut wood.
  • I’d rather be wearing work boots than high heels.
  • Real women wear tool belts.
  • I would rather move than sit.
  • I would rather be outside than inside.
  • I love working with my hands.
  • Power tools excite me.
  • It gives me a great sense of accomplishment.
  • It’s very challenging, and I love a challenge.
  • It makes my brain work hard, and utilizes my math skills.
  • I can be my own handyman.
  • I am determined to follow my dreams.
  • My brother will be so proud.
  • Because I am a girl, and girls can do anything.

A few shots of the items that now fill my former office (turned workshop)…thanks in part to all my 40th birthday Lowes and Home Depot gift certificates…

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Thanks to my belated brother Derek for leading the way. He was a talented carpenter who was passionate about his craft, and I am humbled and honored to have received many of his tools after he passed away. In fact, those are his overalls and tool belt I have on in the picture above. THANKS DEREK!

Memorial Day


To donate to Liz’s Bike to Build to NBSS fund, click here.