Sunday, October 16, 2016


 This stool was made for my kitchen counter, to take advantage of the best natural light in my house.  It has a black walnut seat, douglas fir legs and black locust rungs.  The exercise in this piece was to use only hand tools.  I did, admittedly, end up using a power drill to make holes in the seat for the legs to fit into...

I gouged out the bottom of the black locust seat which left nice radiating tool lines.  The bottom of the seat is still a bit wet with oil in this photo.

I used a scraper on the top of the seat and absolutely no sand paper on the whole project.  I have never enjoyed sanding, because once you start you have to make a uniform finish on the whole piece.  I try in every way to reduce particulate matter dust.  The wood dust is an irritant, but the aluminum oxide dust from the abrasives are what I believe cause lung problems in the long term for crafts people.

On another note a have a strong affinity for a knife edge finish.  One relies on sharp tools and skills instead of covering up mistakes.  Mistakes are inevitable and reveal that the work was made by hand, not by a 3d printer or a robot... 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Visit to Dickinson's Reach

In 1981 my parents went on a camping trip in Nova Scotia, Canada.  My father had a copy of Drew Langsner's book "Country Woodcraft" and a fellow by the name of William Coperthwaite wrote the forward for the book.  There was an address at the end of the forward that was simply labeled The Yurt Foundation in Bucks Harbor, Maine.  He didn't know what a yurt was but he saw on a map that Bucks Harbor was not far out of the way, so they drove to the small town and went to the post office because they did not have an address.  They were given simple instructions to park by an old building in a gravel lot and follow the pathway.  After a mile and a half hike through the woods they came upon a 3 story yurt and arrived at Dickinson's Reach.  Coperthwaite was hauling two buckets with an old yolk, moving seaweed from the shoreline to his garden beds...

A few years ago, my Dad was flipping through a book by Lloyd Kahn entitled, "Homework," and he saw photos of some of Coperthwaite's yurts.  He shared them with me and I remembered his tale and the striking images of the round structures.

A few months ago, I questioned SunRay Kelley about his lap cedar roofing and sheathing technique.  I wanted to know where he had seen it first.  The name William Coperthwaite popped up again. This time I bought his book, "A Handmade Life" and then Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow's book "A Man Apart:  Bill Copperthwaite's Radical Experiment in Living."

I proceeded to learn about an academic who was making his words a reality.  William Coperthwaite was a living manifestation of Emily Dickinson's poetry.  Philosophy was as much apart of his structures as cedar and pine.

A few weeks ago, I asked my dad to meet me in Maine and visit Dickinson's Reach again.  We used the guiding principles of Bill Coperthwaite's words and made the journey to the remote coastline of Northern Maine.   Here are some photos of our adventure...

William Coperthwaite's home, the Library Yurt.  When my mother and father visited it was only three stories, but Bill was already talking about raising the yurt and building a 4th level.  Sure enough, with three jacks he was able to lift the house with all his stuff inside!  His mugs were on his counter top.  When questioned about how he did it he would say,  "really slow."

The Guest Yurt:  This is where we stayed for our visit.

 There was an outer ring...

and an inner yurt...

There were several outhouse yurts on our adventure.  These little structures made me so happy.  They are intrinsically beautiful, with amazing natural light and after spending the last year living with a composting toilet I have really learned to appreciate the change from the hard, white, reflective surfaces of modern bathrooms to the rustic, wooden and natural ambiance of the outhouse.  There will certainly be an outhouse yurt popping up near the Leafspring soon...


The outdoor kitchen dining yurt.  My dad and I spent a lot of time analyzing this little building.  Its natural curves are amazing.  Not only are the walls canted at an angle, but they are curved.  It took us a while to discover how it was done, but he ripped the curve on a wide board with a band saw and then nailed together the flat sides of the two pieces left from the curved rip cut.  More info about it is written on page 112 of "A Handmade Life."

This building was definitely the most complicated and intricate building we saw.  My Dad remembered it was there when he visited in 1981.  

A food cache and storage yurt on a post...

Across Mill Pond is Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow's yurt.  After reading the book we had to try to find the building, so we spent a few days scouting and looking for it, we found the bell described in the book and eventually made it to the building site.

The last yurt that Bill worked. He tried out his "tortured plywood" technique on this one.  One of the few yurts that used plywood.  It was constructed for a caretaker to live when Bill got old, but unfortunately he died tragically in a car accident 3 years ago at the age of 83.

Amazing natural light on the interior.  There was a grouse trapped in this yurt one morning that I freed and it left me a single, beautiful feather.

After a few days we packed up, cleaned up any garbage we found, emptied the composting toilets and even chopped down a tree that was precariously hanging over an outhouse yurt.  We traveled to Melanie and Josh's project  a few hours south and visited one of the last yurts that Bill designed.  It was still under construction so it was a great time for us to see the details and ask questions...

This was the ladder to the third story loft and one of the best photos I took on the trip.  Josh had a woodmeizer mill and had milled a lot of the lumber for the project on site. 

Here is my dad in the third story loft.  It was an open conference style room with bench storage and a great view.

An absolutely amazing trip.  It was perfectly timed in the middle of my project and now I am back on my building site, sheeting my first concentric yurt project that I am taking on myself.  I did not use Coperthwaite's designs, but his influence is unmistakable.  Check out for more info on Bill. I return humbled and inspired...

"Not knowing when the dawn will come
 I open every door;
Or has it feathers like a bird,
 Or billows like a shore?"

Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Snail Shell Sauna underway...

The Snail Shell Sauna is inchin' along...  Here is a re-cap of two weeks of work...

I started by ripping up a bunch of found 3/8" plywood into 4" strips.  I screwed together the strips and staked down an 11' circle for a form board.  Rick and I dug for a few days with the tractor and with shovels to grade the site and get all our drain lines figured out.  One drain for the sauna (as a clean out and there is a plumbing vent to allow fresh air into the sauna as the woodstove uses oxygen), another drain pipe for outdoor tubs and a third for outdoor showers.  You can see the three 3" abs pipes above.  They feed into a 6"concrete pipe that was installed in the ground to drain off the footing of a large barn beside the sauna location.     

I finished forming the snail shell entrance and outdoor patio around the sauna, then reinforced everything with a big ratchet strap (thanks pops for that advice).  You can see the hog wire fencing that is cut and fit into the form boards. 

We had a work party with a bunch of friends over to pour the pad and inset stones and forms for pebble mosaics.  

Here is the outdoor shower drain decor...  Thanks Marsha, Wendy, and Deston! 

While Rick, Wendy and Willow were on vacation, the dogs and I spent a few days putting up the concentric ring yurt for the sauna. 

I made an 8 sided cupola as the center ring for all the rafters to land on.  I used 1/8" clear poly carbonate as the shell.  I stuck that cedar dowel out of the top of the cupola as an armature for our sheet metal decor that will be added to spice up our spire later. 

I used a 10' ladder as a scaffold to hold the cupola, while I custom fit all 8 rafters

 I replaced the ladder with a 2x4 brace to fit my last rafter.  You can see the 2x4 brace in the center of the sauna in the picture above... then i kicked out the brace...

The cupola didn't budge with the removal of the brace! I have to frame the entrance way and hang some more rafters, but first I'm taking a trip to Bill Coperthwaite's homestead, Dickinson's Reach in Machiasport, Maine. An opportune time to seek inspiration from the legendary concentric ring yurt builder.  More on that trip to coming soon...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Special thanks to photographer Rebecca Lamont

Thanks to photographer Rebecca Lamont, we got some finished pics of the Leafspring and we are bound for Lloyd Kahn's next book Small Homes!!  Enjoy... more photos coming soon...

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pairoducks meets SunRay Kelley

From forth the pages of Lloyd Kahn's volumes, SunRay Kelley entered into my life.  The french Carpenter Yogan visited my home during his west coast adventure and told me a tale of an earth dome he had built with SunRay Kelley.  Months later I was talking with a carpenter from Zyl Vardos  and he mentioned that SunRay had left a note on Zyl's facebook page.  The note complemented Zyl's curvaceous designs.  I took it upon myself to follow down the rabbit hole and I contacted SunRay with the intention of visiting to see his work.

SunRay returned my online inquiry with a brief email and a phone number, so after a short chat we made plans for a visit.  When I arrived he gave a brief introduction and skeptical inquiry of my east coast upbringing, then informed me he had to do a dump run and pick up fire wood.  I tied down piles of garbage to the truck rack of his Toyota and off we went, only to return with an equally disproportionate load of firewood, Fir and Madrone.  We walked around the homestead and delivered tractor bucket loads of wood to hungry wood stoves and fireplaces.  Its constant work to keep the buildings warm during the downpours and gusty blows of Northwest winters. The guy burns a lot of wood.

I asked questions at every opportunity igniting stories of his life, and stories of his buildings' lives.  After years of imagining these structures from the pages of Lloyd Kahn's books, they took form and I had the mad scientist himself as a narrator.  SunRay slowly answered all my questions with a sincere and beautiful honesty.  Electricity flowed through me during the conversations as I was propelled beyond what I thought was possible to what I was seeing as possible.  SunRay's lapped cedar technique allowed curves that plywood sheeting will not.  A mesh of Gaudi, an old logger and Ken Kesey on the forest planet of Endor.

Months later SunRay told me about a new building.  Another cedar dome with a 42 foot timber framed yurt around the dome.  I wanted to be a part of the process however I could, and I had aspirations to collaborate as an artisan.  SunRay made it clear that I could help on the project so I began the journey of navigating the I-5, back and forth from Olympia to north of Seattle every few days, dancing between my job installing photovoltaics and the project with SunRay.

First we put in form boards, ran electrical, installed plumbing and radiant heat floors.  Then we layed out the 9 posts and poured the concrete pad.  

Next a scaffold was built inside the dome.  The three sided scaffold had a mid level that supports the middle tension ring and the cupola was lifted and secured at the top of the scaffold.  The boards of the dome were bent from the cupola around the tension ring and fasten to the bottom ring.  

We finished lapping and bending the 1/2" thick live edge cedar boards.  The building looks like a viking ship version of Cinderella's carriage or a giant wood acorn squash.  The function of the dome is a yoga studio and a place to center one's self.  The curves of the cedar encourage warm and harmonious auditory reverberations.  This place is an om vortex.  

We set the posts and notched the timber ring on a Saturday, then we set a few rafters on Sunday.  I had to go back to work, so SunRay and his apprentices finished the rafters with a larger boom lift. 

I had been thinking a lot about spire on the top of the Harbin Hot Springs Temple and imagining what the cupola would look like on this building.  The spire on the Harbin Temple had a large copper ball on top with 108 spikes protruding from the ball.  Below the ball were three flared cones of increasing size.  I loved it's look and I encouraged the idea of copper.  

I asked SunRay about his plans for the spire. He gave a brief description of what he was thinking and I started sketching ideas.  I shared some ideas, most of which SunRay did not like.  He was set on steel and he wanted to use 7 big discs off of a disc tiller, with a bowling ball as a cherry on top. Not exactly what I was imagining, but I thought lets draw some designs and see where it takes us.  I questioned about leverage on the spire and how to brace it, then I went home with my mind full of ideas.  

Each time I drove home my mind was humming with the excitement and absurdity of childhood grandeur.  I would grab Seattle coffee and tell tales to my friend John Reese in the U district.  I would rap as long as I could keep his eye contact in between spouts of conga drums.  

On my next trip back, SunRay was interested in one of my ideas!  He liked the 9 part lotus petal flashing.  He was also keen to the bracing ideas and how to transfer the load from the spire to the top plate of the cupola.  We came up with a design for three brackets and returned to Olympia to fab them in my shop.  With the aid of the some Olympia metal smiths we bent the fish shaped brackets in the evenings of the long summer solstice days.  That weekend I was back at the building site with the brackets in hand.  

I welded the brackets on the spire and talked to SunRay about changing the design on the spire from lotus petals to a similar shape, a Northern Flicker tail feather.  SunRay was open to the shape.  The following morning I walked to SunRay's treehouse from my van, only to find an injured bird on his porch.  The bird had flown into the window and hurt it's wing.  I walked up to the bird slowly and sure enough it was an adolescent Northern Red Flicker, which is a native Washington woodpecker.  SunRay said, "Holy shit, it's a sign" and we set the docile animal on a table and drew it's tail feathers.  The design changed from seeing the birds actual feathers.  The woodpecker hung out with me for a few hours, jumping on my shoulder and head.  After a berry and peach meal we released it back into the woods and went to work on the Flicker tail feather flashing piece.  

We used a metal shim and rare earth magnets to mock up and weld the re-bar spikes.  Then we cut out the sheet metal pieces with a shear.  I welded it all together then set up my anvil and forge under the massive timber roof of SunRay's shop.  I used the anvil to flare the ends of the tail feathers. 

With the spire parts ready, it was time to assemble it.  SunRay's friend Bonnie purchased a metal kinetic sculpture with two spheres and SunRay liked the idea of using it for the top of the spire.  It was more dynamic and lighter than the bowling ball idea. We mocked it up and took it to the building site.  I went home exhausted and uncomfortable.  I had sun burn from my welder and SunRay's eyes were very sensitive from glancing too many times at the welding flashes.  

I had to come back for the flying of the coop, so once again after a few days of work, I returned.  The cupola spire went up almost flawlessly.  It sat a little off kilter so SunRay blocked the top plate with long shims to adjust it.  We bolted it down and continued on to the roof sheeting.  

With the completion of the spire my days are less riddled with Seattle traffic, but my nights are still filled with the whimsical whisperings of Mother Nature's designs.  I am so grateful for the time I spent with SunRay and his team and my contribution to this beautiful building. I step onto the pages of the books that have nourished my aesthetics and inspired my work.