Woodcraft: A Reminiscence

13 10 2017

Woodcraft shares reminiscences of childhood experience, dating back to the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, as if told by a grandfather to his grandchildren during meals, just before bedtime, and while walking in the woods.

As may be surmised, the stories come through the perspective of a member of America’s Boomer generation. Many Boomers remember hearing stories from those in the previous Builder generation about their childhoods. We heard the now-cliché, “I used to go to school every day in sub-zero weather, knee-deep in snow, walking two miles uphill, both ways.” This anecdote would usually be employed by people who had experienced the Great Depression and World War 2 to remind younger people to put experience into context. Indeed, the Boomers have been among the most privileged generations in human history.

From time to time those of every generation ask themselves, “Which of the aspects of our past ought to be relegated to the rubbish heap of history, and which are valuable heirlooms that ought to be passed forward into the future?”

Jesus said, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household who brings out of his treasure things new and old”  (Matthew 13:52 NAU). Not everything old-fashioned is old. Not everything old is old-fashioned, which is to say that not everything old is obsolete and out-of-date. Indeed, some things old are better than the same things new.

Consider a tree. What’s an old tree got that a new tree hasn’t? Plenty. More leaves for air-conditioning shade and for the release of air-improving oxygen. More wood, and often more wood of a higher quality, for the production of lumber. More sap for the manufacture of syrup or naval stores. More nuts, more fruit for use as food by wildlife and by humans and their livestock. More seeds for the reproduction of forests.

Woodcraft does more than ring chords of nostalgia. It looks back not just to induce good feelings of old vibrations, but to remind that some things old ought to remain because they are vibrant and vivacious and vital, because they remain new.

Woodcraft may itself be a new kind of writing in its blend of literary fiction and creative non-fiction. It deals with facts of faith, with theology and philosophy and ethics. It also touches upon a number of other subjects: German-American history, mathematics, music, carpentry, woodworking, forest ecology, plant physiology, silviculture, and popular culture now half a century old. The entire story celebrates education in matters both natural and supernatural, temporal and eternal, physical and spiritual.

The narrative reflects the traditional human desire to pass knowledge and wisdom from one generation to next. More specifically, in this narrative a boy hears and learns things from his father and grandfather about the extended family enterprise. The author realizes that many contemporary readers will not care much about that enterprise. The author has, therefore, chosen to publish the text in an unusual format.  The essential story is printed using 14-point type. That which may be termed scholastic detailing is printed in 12-point type. This format makes it possible for a reader easily to skip over what may be considered TMI (too much information) and track the mainline of the story. Others more inquisitive can read the finer print.

Radio producer David Isay has said that, in a culture that idolizes athletes, popular singers, movie stars, and fashion models, it’s good to hear the stories of ordinary people because their lives and contributions are at least as important, if not more so. Certainly, while celebrities may stand in the limelight, the people who stand in our memories with greater significance are parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, best friends, and mentors. Most of these people have likely been, employing a couple words spoken by the late Andy Griffith, “just folks.” Yet they have been the ones who made the big differences in our lives.

The big difference in Woodcraft is this: a grandfather employs lessons in arboriculture to teach his grandson the meaning of “I in Christ, and Christ in me.”

For those who don’t cotton to Christianity, try tolerating it here. If nothing else (and that’s a big if), remember that Christianity has been woven into the warp and woof of the American experience from the first days of the Plymouth Colony. Recall how fundamental Christianity has been in the lives of great Americans from George Washington to George Washington Carver, as well as so many others before and after them. Realize the past pervasiveness of Christianity in the cultures of various communities. The culture of the state of Wisconsin, for example, cannot be appreciated without at least apprehending the massive influences of Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist, and Baptist forms of Christianity. Consider this reading, then, an exercise in cross-cultural appreciation.

Now available at Amazon as a paperback and as an e-book. If you like what you read, do tell others. Feel free to let these words inspire you to tell your own stories to the members of your own household, stories that edify and encourage and enlighten.


Woodcraft 17: Dead Wood

26 09 2014

That evening, shortly after my sister and I had gone to bed for the night, I heard my grandfather call my father on the telephone.

Now, back then, long distance calls were not frequent.  Because of the expense, people tended to reserve such calling for special occasions: Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays….  I could think of no special occasion for this call.  My mother had phoned my father the evening of our arrival in the Fox Cities.  She had pretty much said, “Hi!  We’re here. The trip went well. I love you. Good bye.”  She kept it short.

I heard my grandfather say, “Georg, my son.  You have taught your son, Konrad, many things about wood….”

Indeed, he had. A game we had commenced playing about the time I started grade school involved grading lumber.  The game got harder as I got older because of so much to appreciate.


People in the forest products industry subdivided softwood into three main classes: yard lumber, structural lumber, and factory & shop lumber.

Intended for general construction, yard lumber could typically be found in community lumber yards and was used in the manufacture of housing. Yard lumber was subdivided into finish lumber, common boards, and common dimension lumber.  Dimension lumber was further subdivided into planks, scantling, and heavy joists.

Mill workers cut structural lumber to meet requirements for greater strength and subdivided it into joists and planks, beams and stringers, and posts and timbers.

Factory and shop lumber didn’t need to come in long lengths or wide widths.  Smaller planks and boards were acceptable as long as the wood itself was clear and useful for such millwork items as sash, frames, doors, moldings, and cabinets.

All these various pieces of wood had grades based upon the presence or absence of defects such as cracks, splits, beetle borings, knots and knotholes, and even stains. Anything that would weaken the wood could be considered a defect, and anything that would spoil the appearance of the wood could be considered a defect.  It all depended upon intended use.  So, a piece of finish lumber could receive a grade of A, B, C, or D.  I could understand that system; that was the way teachers graded tests and quizzes and papers and other assignments at school.  The better the board, the higher the letter grade.

Things got more complicated, though.  Common boards didn’t get letter grades.  They got number grades, 1 through 5.  Number 1 Common was a pretty good board.  Number 5 Common was pretty poor.  Dimension planks got one of three number grades.  So, too, scantling and heavy joists.

Hardwood lumber had its own grading systems.  One system pertained to hardwood dimension stock, which had at the time only a small portion of the market.  The other system pertained to standard hardwood.  The grading system oriented on how much of the wood piece’s surface area would yield either clear or sound cuttings relative to specified sizes.

Here’s the sequence of standard hardwood grades:  Firsts.  Seconds.  Selects.  Number 1 Common.  Number 2 Common.  Number 3A Common.  Number 3B Common.

For example, for a piece of hardwood to be graded Select, it had to meet these requirements:  Six to sixteen feet long.  Four inches or more wide.  If the surface area of pieces measured 2 or 3 square feet, then 91.66% of each piece had to work into clear-face cuttings.  Only one cutting was allowed, and it had to be at least 4 inches by 5 feet, or 3 inches by 7 feet.

I could go on, but you’ve probably had enough by now.

My grandfather said, “You’ve taught your son, Konrad, many things about wood. What have you taught him about trees?”

I fell asleep trying to figure out what he wanted to know.

 woodcraft 8

Come Often To Us

21 09 2014

I’ve watched you now a full half-hour;
Self-poised upon that yellow flower
And, little Butterfly! indeed
I know not if you sleep or feed.
How motionless! not frozen seas
More motionless! and then
What joy awaits you, when the breeze
Hath found you out among the trees,
And calls you forth again!

This plot of orchard-ground is ours;
My trees they are, my Sister’s flowers;
Here rest your wings when they are weary;
Here lodge as in a sanctuary!
Come often to us, fear no wrong;
Sit near us on the bough!
We’ll talk of sunshine and of song,
And summer days, when we were young;
Sweet childish days, that were as long
As twenty days are now.

William Wordsworth

butterfly 1

Woodcraft 9: Shop Rules

8 08 2014

No Blood on or in the Machinery. 

No Blood on the Tools or on the Woodwork. 

No Blood on the Tables, the Benches, or the Floor.


That was my father’s way of saying, “Be careful.  Observe all the safety protocols.”

He asked me, “What does the Bible say about blood?”

“Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins,” I answered, as though I were reciting the catechism at school.

“And why is blood so important?”

“The life is in the blood,” I recited.

“And what does that mean?”

I thought about it.  That one, I couldn’t answer.

“You probably haven’t gotten that far in school yet,” my father said.  “Listen.  You know that you breathe, right?”

“Right.”  I didn’t think much about it since breathing is automatic, but of course I knew I did it.

“Air goes into your lungs.  Your heart pumps blood to your lungs to pick up air.  Oxygen, to be more specific.  Your heart then pumps the air-loaded blood to all the other parts of your body.  All those parts, down to the smallest cells, need air.  That’s why you need air.  Right?”


“What does the Bible say about the creation of man?”

“It says that God made Adam from the dust of the ground, and then He breathed life into him.”

“Right.  Man’s body is made from the elements of the earth.  Man’s spirit is made from the Breath of Heaven.  From the Divine Wind, as the Japanese might say.  The old English said the Holy Ghost.  The writers of the Bible, whether using Hebrew or Greek, used words made like plywood for the Spirit.  The words had many meanings glued together to try to make the concept work well in human language: air, wind, breath, even ghost.”

I wondered whether they might have thought of fog.  I was getting confused.

My father asked, “What did Jesus say about God?  How did He describe Him in short?”

“Jesus said God is Spirit.”

“And has anyone seen God?”

“No one has seen God at any time.  No one can see God and live,” I recited.

“Right.  No one except…”

I had to think for a moment.  “Oh.  Well, no one except Jesus Christ, the Son of Man and the Son of God.”

“Right.  As He said; as it is written.  And Jesus also said, ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father’.”  My father looked me in the eye.  “Have you seen Jesus?”

Again, I paused.  I didn’t quite know how to answer that, so I decided to be strictly honest.  “No.”

“Neither have I,” my father said.  “That’s why Jesus said, ‘If ye love Me, keep My commandments.  And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him.  But ye know Him, for He dwelleth with you and shall be in you.  I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.’ 

“There is that within us,” my father said, “that makes us living souls.  It comes not from within ourselves.  It comes from without.  It comes not from within the earth.  It comes from heaven.  As Elihu told Job, if God were to ‘gather unto Himself His spirit and His breath, all flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust.’  That spirit, that breath is, as the French might say, élan vitale: a vital, enthusing vigor.  Quickening is the old English word you’ve seen in the Scripture: an enlivening.  It’s something God breathes into us to make us alive.  It’s Something we breath in from God in order to live.”

“That’s the life that’s in the blood?” I asked.

“Yes, in a manner of speaking. The air carried in the blood is a symbol of the spirit given us.  It is that spirit that makes us among all creatures special: the image of God.  It is that Holy Spirit of God, spilling in the blood from the Son of God onto the woodwork of the cross, that kills sin and re-creates us to be what we were meant to be.  ‘But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord’.”

woodcraft 8

A Country Pathway

25 07 2014

I come upon it suddenly, alone:
A little pathway winding in the weeds
That fringe the roadside; and with dreams my own,
I wander as it leads.

Full wistfully along the slender way,
Through summer tan of freckled shade and shine,
I take the path that leads me as it may;
Its every choice is mine.


green leaves of summer

A chipmunk, or a sudden-whirring quail,
Is startled by my step as on I fare;
A garter-snake across the dusty trail
Glances and … is not there.

Above the arching jimson-weeds flare twos
And twos of sallow-yellow butterflies,
Like blooms of lorn primroses blowing loose
When autumn winds arise.

The trail dips, dwindles, broadens then, and lifts
Itself astride a cross-road dubiously,
And, from the fennel marge beyond it, drifts
Still onward, beckoning me.

And though it needs must lure me mile on mile
Out of the public highway, still I go,
My thoughts, far in advance in Indian-file,
Allure me even so.


Why, I am as a long-lost boy that went
At dusk to bring the cattle to the bars,
And was not found again, though Heaven lent
His mother all the stars

With which to seek him through that awful night.
O years of nights as vain! Stars never rise
But well might miss their glitter in the light
Of tears in mother-eyes!

So … on, with quickened breaths, I follow still;
My avant-courier must be obeyed!
Thus am I led, and thus the path, at will,
Invites me to invade

A meadow’s precincts, where my daring guide
Clambers the steps of an old-fashioned stile,
And stumbles down again, the other side,
To gambol there awhile

In pranks of hide-and-seek, as on ahead
I see it running, while the clover-stalks
Shake rosy fists at me, as though they said –
“You dog our country-walks

And mutilate us with your walking-stick!
We will not suffer tamely what you do
And warn you at your peril, for we’ll sic
Our bumble-bees on you!”

grassland floral

But I smile back, in airy nonchalance,
The more determined on my wayward quest,
As some bright memory a moment dawns
A morning in my breast,

Sending a thrill that hurries me along
In faulty similes of childish skips,
Enthused with lithe contortions of a song
Performing on my lips.

In wild meanderings o’er pasture wealth,
Erratic wanderings through dead’ning-lands,
Where sly old brambles, plucking me by stealth,
Put berries in my hands:


Or, the path climbs a boulder, wades a slough,
Or, rollicking through buttercups and flags,
Goes gaily dancing o’er a deep bayou
On old tree-trunks and snags:

Or, at the creek, leads o’er a limpid pool
Upon a bridge the stream itself has made,
With some Spring-freshet for the mighty tool
That its foundation laid.

spring green

I pause a moment here to bend and muse,
With dreamy eyes, on my reflection, where
A boat-backed bug drifts on a helpless cruise,
Or wildly oars the air

As, dimly seen, the pirate of the brook –
The pike, whose jaunty hulk denotes his speed –
Swings pivoting about, with wary look
Of low and cunning greed.

Till, filled with other thought, I turn again
To where the pathway enters in a realm
Of lordly woodland, under sovereign reign
Of towering oak and elm.


A puritanic quiet here reviles
The almost whispered warble from the hedge,
And takes a locust’s rasping voice and files
The silence to an edge.

In such a solitude my somber way
Strays like a misanthrope within a gloom
Of his own shadows, till the perfect day
Bursts into sudden bloom,

And crowns a long, declining stretch of space,
Where King Corn’s armies lie with flags unfurled,
And where the valley’s dint in Nature’s face
Dimples a smiling world.


And lo! through mists that may not be dispelled,
I see an old farm homestead, as in dreams,
Where, like a gem in costly setting held,
The old log cabin gleams.


O darling Pathway! lead me bravely on
Adown your valley way, and run before
Among the roses crowding up the lawn
And thronging at the door,

And carry up the echo there that shall
Arouse the drowsy dog, that he may bay
The household out to greet the prodigal
That wanders home today.


James Whitcomb Riley

Evening Solace

27 02 2014

The human heart has hidden treasures,
In secret kept, in silence sealed;
The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures,
Whose charms were broken if revealed.
And days may pass in gay confusion,
And nights in rosy riot fly,
While, lost in Fame’s or Wealth’s illusion,
The memory of the Past may die.

But there are hours of lonely musing,
Such as in evening silence come,
When, soft as birds their pinions closing,
The heart’s best feelings gather home.
Then in our souls there seems to languish
A tender grief that is not woe;
And thoughts that once wrung groans of anguish
Now cause but some mild tears to flow.

And feelings, once as strong as passions,
Float softly back, a faded dream;
Our own sharp griefs and wild sensations,
The tale of others’ sufferings seem.
Oh! when the heart is freshly bleeding,
How longs it for that time to be,
When, through the mist of years receding,
Its woes but live in reverie!

And it can dwell on moonlight glimmer,
On evening shade and loneliness;
And, while the sky grows dim and dimmer,
Feel no untold and strange distress,
Only a deeper impulse given
By lonely hour and darkened room,
To solemn thoughts that soar to heaven
Seeking a life and world to come.

Charlotte Brontë

winter moon

A Little Rill

26 07 2013

There is a little unpretending Rill
Of limpid water, humbler far than aught
That ever among Men or Naiads sought
Notice or name! It quivers down the hill,
Furrowing its shallow way with dubious will;
Yet to my mind this scanty Stream is brought
Oftener than Ganges or the Nile; a thought
Of private recollection sweet and still!
Months perish with their moons; year treads on year!
But, faithful Emma! thou with me canst say
That, while ten thousand pleasures disappear,
And flies their memory fast almost as they;
The immortal Spirit of one happy day
Lingers beside that Rill, in vision clear.


William Wordsworth

blue cascade (lite)