Like ‘The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,’ with Sheep


I often joke about chucking it all and moving to Montana to herd sheep. I don’t mean it of course; my little experience with said animals is wearing their fleece (I do like a good wool sweater) and eating their young. But I’ve a romantic ideal about the age-old trade – how its continuation allows us to stay in touch with our collective history, if but vicariously. Modernization has in some ways led to life as simulacrum rather than as physically connected to the world. That’s one of the things I (as someone who doesn’t do it for a living) likes about hand tools – to me, they offer a deeper connection to the wood and to a long history of makers. I feel as if in some small way I’ve a physical connection to an important past, and in helping to keep it alive today. (Plus, flattening a board a day keeps the arm wattles at bay…at least for now.)

If you’ve read “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” by Christopher Schwarz, you know that for him, a connected (he calls it “ethical”) life centers around woodworking, tools and making things — and buying things from other makers and family businesses (butchers, bakers, clothiers) instead of corporations. And you know that while the book is ostensibly about making a chest (it’s a great chest) and acquiring a good set of tools to fill it (excellent list), those are secondary to the central philosophy therein: “Though woodworking might seem a traditional, old-time skill, it is rare and radical stuff in this age.”  It’s one of my favorite books (even if I oftentimes take the prologue’s title, “Disobey Me,” to heart).

And to that list – and for many of the same reasons – I now add James Rebanks’ “The Shepherd’s Life” (Flatiron). It’s a book ostensibly about just what the title says, but the central conceit is to champion a way of life in England’s Lake District that’s been virtually unchanged for centuries – a way of life that while always hard, is more challenging to sustain in the face of modernization. “We are each tiny parts of something enduring, something that feels solid, real, and true,” writes Rebanks.

It feels a like lot anarchy by Chris’ definition, but with (a little) more lanolin.

Now I want to move to the Lake District and herd sheep; I’ll just need to pack a few sweaters and my ATC.

Even the endpapers are

Even the endpapers are “bloody marvelous.”

Follow James Rebanks on twitter @theherdyshepherd1 to see his gorgeous photos (all shot with an iPhone) of the Lake District, sheep and his dogs. And read his book. Don’t disobey me; you’ll be glad you didn’t.

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In Search of Illumination

It ain't me babe. And it also ain't anywhere close to Arts & Crafts.

It ain’t me babe. And it also ain’t anywhere close to Arts & Crafts.

100 percent gen-u-ine plastic (though to be fair the glass shade isn't bad...and I get out of fixing the plaster until I find the right fixture).

100 percent gen-u-ine plastic (though to be fair the glass shade isn’t bad…and I get out of fixing the plaster until I find the right fixture).

I have Pappy Van Winkle tastes but a Four Roses budget. Many of the light fixtures in my house – with the notable exceptions of two lovely contemporary chandeliers made by a local artist – were acquired on what must have been Old Crow tastes. There’s lots of plastic – though a couple “higher-end” fixtures are pot metal.

I can’t paint the hallways until I’ve replaced the wall sconces…and I can’t replace the wall sconces until I talk myself into something less than what I want on the lighting front…or pony up for the good stuff.

Rejuvenation’s Cascade Double Sconce is playing the siren’s song…loudly. I might have to start sippin’ on Evan Williams (the watered-down, uber-cheap version from the grocery store) for a few months.*

The worst offender (and not only the electrified portion). One of us will have to go -- unlike Oscar Wilde, it's not going to be me.

The most egregious offender (and not only the electrified portion). One of us will have to go — unlike Oscar Wilde, it’s not going to be me. But first, I have to make a replacement cabinet.

* No way will I resort to that…but I will crack open the backstock of holiday bottles instead of buying more. I think I’ll survive.

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I Need a Man, Or…



My muscles and telekinesis skills are equally ineffective.

I need to either get married or start building bookcases out of balsa. Or just borrow a husband…again.

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Deliverance…Very Soon

Old ductwork

Old duct work

Today, I was greeted upon my arrival home from work with yet another pile of crap. But this pile is far more heartening than the piles of boxes inside.

The HVAC work started today, and as soon as the central air is up and running, I’ll be able to make some headway on unpacking the second floor. I miss my books. And I’ll move a lot of stuff (still in boxes) to the third floor…just as soon as it’s less than 100°F up there.

I simply can’t do anything in this heat; my people are from cold, rainy peat bogs.

The impending central air isn’t the only welcome news; what will be my bench room is well on its way to being a lot more spacious. What was two massive furnaces of approximately my age (read: old and inefficient) that combined were about the size of my first apartment, will be one ultra-high efficiency unit that’s smaller than a steamer trunk on end.

The destruction went well; hoping the installation is done with equal alacrity.

The destruction is moving along apace; I’m hopeful the installation will be done with equal alacrity.

Once the new furnace is in and the a/c is running, I’ll be able to move my bench and tools in, and get cracking…literally. There are walls to tear out, and I’m itching to swing a sledgehammer.  Right after I get some of those boxes unpacked and stashed.

My bench will go between the windows. (Anyone want a foil-papered bar? It can be yours, free.)

My bench will go between the windows, where the movers put my old baby bed. (Anyone want the brown and olive foil-paper covered bar in the background?)

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Stacks & Stacks







And there’s much more – but I can’t bear to look.

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Closer to Fine




After (I guess it was foolish to hope that the fridge would come w/the interior already chilled…)

New appliances is but part of the kitchen equation – but the rest is going to be a few months off (though I’ll be hooking up the ice maker sooner rather than later – what I wouldn’t give for some ice water right now…). In the meantime, I’ll just have to put up with the stove jutting out farther than it should. The gas line comes up through the floor about 6″ out from the wall…which is itself 6″ out from the wall proper because there used to a fireplace there (I think). I think this was done however many years ago to clear the thick foundation – though I suspect if I really wanted to, I could use flexible piping below to address that problem somewhat.

But I’m not going to bother because a) due to the chimney, it would still stick out beyond the counters and b) this fall, I’ll remove the large hutch (below) so I can move the gas (and stove) to the other wall, thereby creating a classic cooking triangle. My thought is that the resultant 30″ gaping hole over rough plaster behind the current stove location will make me jump on making new cabinets and counters. But I’ll probably just stash the trashcan there for a while.

A domino-effect job...inside the upper cabinets in this hutch is the back of a recess in the bathroom wall on the other side. So to remove this, I also have to take out that bathroom shelving and patch the hole.

A domino-effect job…inside the upper cabinets in this hutch is the backside of a deep recess in the bathroom wall on the other side (yeah..the upper section of this is hutch is wholly useless for storage). So to remove this, I also have to take out the bathroom shelving and patch the hole.

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It’s Only Money (But I’m About Out of It)


Not only do the appliances not match (horrors!) they don’t work. Were it not for electricity and hot water, it would be like squatting in a vacant home. In fact, most of the stuff on the first floor belongs to the former owners (I gave them until the end of July to find space for the stuff). And the bulk of my stuff won’t be here until next week. It really doesn’t feel like my house yet.

Does “HolyshitwhathaveIdone?!” count as buyer’s remorse? I really don’t regret selling my old house and I know that this one is going to be fabulous…in 10 years. But right now all I can see is an empty bank account and a K2-sized mountain of work. (It was Mt. Everest-sized…so I guess that’s progress.)

The closing was May 29; I had $20,000 remaining after signing the documents. As of June 6, I have (maybe) enough for a cup of coffee (gas station coffee, not coffee shop coffee).

What was the second-flloor kitchen. I'd call it the junk room, but at the moment they are all junk rooms.

What was the second-floor kitchen. I’d call it the junk room, but at the moment they are all junk rooms.

At the moment, other than the microwave I brought with me, there is not a working appliance in the house. The 25-year-old stove on the second floor worked on all fronts at inspection; apparently it was held together by crud. After being moved to the garage, cleaned, then installed in the first-floor kitchen? Nope.

I’ve ordered the least expensive gas stove in the Bosch offerings (the former owners have kindly offered to give me $100 toward a stove; that’s the least for which I could find a decent one on Craigslist). It should be in later this week.

The refrigerator that was on the second floor also worked at inspection. It, too, was moved to the garage and cleaned. It might still work, but there’s no electric in the garage so I can’t test it (and my extension cords are still on a truck). I hear it was literally hosed down and scrubbed. I’m guessing direct hits of water aren’t good for coils. Even if it does work, “energy efficient” is not in its lexicon.

So I went a little nutty and ordered the nowhere-near-least-expensive refrigerator in the Bosch offerings – the one I’ve been coveting for years but couldn’t fit in my old house (36″-wide, French door, counter-depth with bottom freezer). It, too, should be in later this week. I’ve already had to remove a cabinet so that it will fit.

See? Junk. And still not the right paint color.

See? Junk. And still not the right paint color.

Granted, a dishwasher is non-essential. But the first-floor kitchen (henceforth known as the kitchen) has a dishwasher in place; one can use it only as a dish-drying rack.

So I got a new one of those, too. Again with the Bosch. Which got to me to three kitchen appliances and a rebate as a result (hey – those brand-loyalty programs really work!).

It’s on backorder for a couple weeks…which is a good thing because it’s 1/4″ too wide to fit the space; that gives me time to hack off the 1/2″-wide trim from the edge of that cabinet run.

But the above is the comparatively cheap stuff. And I’ve resigned myself to the laundromat for the foreseeable future.

The roof, gutters and a few downspouts are in the midst of repair, though my roofer seems to have disappeared. I trust he’ll be returning; his tools are in what will be my study.

A lovely statement for any study.

A lovely statement for any study.

On June 15, the HVAC work commences. The new furnace is (I’m told) incredibly quiet, 98-percent efficient, and approximately the size of a footlocker on end; that’s about one-quarter the size of one of the two existing units. It’s going in what will be the hand-tool and bench area of the shop. My bench room just got a lot bigger.

I’m also having a/c installed…about a week too late. I’ll be spending the rest of this day – projected to be 87° – editing at the local coffee shop…even though I can’t really afford to buy a drink from the nice people there.

And there are still floors to refinish and 20 new windows that need buying – and of course, I want wood frames, at least on the interior. With what money I do not know (if anyone needs any editing…do get in touch). The eight on the second floor simply must be replaced by winter – otherwise, I’ll be throwing money right out the window and the gaps around them.

Addendum (because I’ve heard a few kind people are genuinely concerned): By “out of money” I mean that I can’t do things like buy $20k in new windows right now or have the floors refinished. I can easily afford groceries (as soon as I’ve the appliances to both store and prepare them later this week)…and coffee. I am perhaps employing a wee modicum of hyperbole above.

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