What is inside a carpenter’s head?

Hi Julie –

Long-time reader, first time writer. While I understand that running a farm obligates you to write about mulch and all that nonsense, it seems like there’s a fair bit of renovation going on at the farm this year. Having employed a number of carpenters myself over the years, I thought I could save you some trouble and offer my top ten tips for handling them.

  1. Carpenters in the wild are a prey species. Your readers may have noticed that even your domesticated ones are highly skittish and tend to bunch up into small packs, and that their eyes are set surprisingly far apart. It’s important to remember that carpenters have excellent peripheral vision, so when you approach them you should do so slowly, and with your hands in plain sight. Carpenters generally have one eye on the table saw, as well, so avoid touching it or placing anything on top of it, as your carpenter will take this to be a sign of aggression.

  2. Carpenters love pencils of all types, and use them for a wide variety of purposes – push-stick, shim, paint stirrer, etc. If you see your carpenter using a gnawed-down stub of crayon, or marking cuts with dirt or chalk or – God forbid – a pen, offer your carpenter a pencil. You’ll make a friend for life. The type of pencil is less important – regular dull #2 pencils with a broken eraser are a safe bet, and those short golf pencils aren’t bad, but should you have a new carpenter’s pencil, its price is far above rubies (since rubies are basically useless in carpentry). Don’t be offended if your carpenter doesn’t immediately start using the pencil you offer; pencils are meant to be smelled and fondled and lightly nuzzled with the lips several times before use.

  3. Avoid using technical jargon. In your heart of hearts you might want to walk up to the job-site, cock your head back, and let fly with “Your roof angle looks to be a 3-in-12 pitch, but the use of a furring strip for a rain-screen will force that siding member further away from the sheathing, thereby making your angle template less accurate. Are you planning a slight back-bevel on the rake cut, or will you hide the problem with a tapered frieze member?” but you should refrain from doing so. No one likes a show-off. Also, you run the risk of getting swatted with one of the afore-mentioned furring strips.

  4. Since you won’t be using jargon, your best bet is to call any piece of wood you see a board. There should be boards somewhere on the farm, so, like a stopped clock with only one hand, you’re bound to be somewhat right eventually (I’m making the assumption, here, that the majority of your readership knows what an analog clock is). In a pinch, you can safely refer to a 2×4 as a ‘stick’. You can also use ‘stick’ when referring to actual sticks. Or large twigs. Furthermore, never refer to ‘sixteenths’; call them, instead, ‘the little lines on the measuring thingie’. Pro tip: sections of plywood are the sole exception to the ‘board’ rule above.

  • 4a) Never, under any circumstances, use the expression ‘do construction’, as in “So you do construction?” It is both grammatically incorrect and unspeakably asinine.

  1. Build a straw man. That is, while expressing your lack of fitness to judge such things, mention that, say, “my brother done cut down a passel of trees and nailed ‘em together to build a porch, and he said it worked out jes’ dandy.” Your carpenter, though initially reticent to criticize, will press you for further information, chuckle grimly at the details you spill, and his visage will grow dark with rage at all ‘hacks’ and ‘weekend warriors’ and anyone who performs ‘cob-jobs’. This approach is ideal, because not only are you not the bad guy in this situation, you have aligned yourself with the agent of all things level and plumb and true. Uncles and brothers-in-law make for the best straw men.

  2. Having established to your carpenter’s satisfaction that you are a harmless neophyte, you will watch him undergo an amazing transformation. Your carpenter will shed his diffidence, quit mumbling numbers, and make direct eye contact, albeit briefly. Inquiring after the progress of the project at hand will unleash a veritable torrent of arcane carpentry trivia, hastily rendered and unintelligible sketches on scraps of framing, and a lot of sentences which begin with “If only I could get it square…” and tail off into silence. Make sure to nod your head a lot, throw up your hands when fastening patterns are discussed, and mimic your carpenter’s facial expressions, so he understands that you understand.

  3. Make sure to address the high cost and low quality of framing lumber ‘these days’. Rest assured that you cannot possibly go wrong with this approach. Framing lumber has always been too costly and scarce and has never been straight enough. Gilgamesh had to battle a demon to get his hands on enough old-growth cedar to build a gate. In the time of Pliny the Elder, Roman carpenters had to travel all the way to Germany to find lumber. Complaining about lumber is like cheating on your taxes: everyone does it and it will never go out of style.

  4. If you are significantly older than your carpenter, you are permitted to make factually incorrect statements, such as “I remember when a 2×4 was two inches by four inches” or “I never needed a chalk-line; I could always cut a straight line by eye” or even “The obvious skill you bring to your craft will no doubt be appreciated in its own right, rather than being ignored by most people in favor of cheap cosmetic finishes.” You are even allowed to use the word ‘ship-lap’, but only in reference to barn siding and only if you have never heard of Joanna Gaines.

  5. Having established that you’re not a predator, your carpenter will soon begin discussing his fears, concerns and regrets. His fears will be predominantly structural (Why couldn’t they pour the slab level?), his concerns will be mechanical (…but an in-swing door only gets me so far. What about the jamb extensions?) and his regrets typical (Where did I go wrong in life? Why didn’t I take up chicken-plucking? I’ve got fast hands. There’s good money in chicken plucking!) Just remember that these are all part of the seven stages of carpentry (mis-measuring, re-measuring, hammering it until it fits, despair, checking for plumb, cutting a third time to find that it’s still too short, and leaving it for later). Once your carpenter works through this process, remember to use the phrase “and despite all that, you got everything straight and plumb!” Your carpenter will return to the job at hand with a renewed sense of purpose, a hammer in his hand and a dream in his heart.

  6. Remember that carpenters love morning pastry. They’ll never turn down a rugelach or a bialy, they go nuts for donuts, and a warm blueberry muffin will bring tears of real joy into their eyes. They also love beer, but only if it’s cold, only around 4:30 pm on Fridays, and only strong IPAs, because the flavor profile of an IPA pairs well with sawdust from spruce, pine, fir, and even some native hardwoods.

The above rules also apply to female carpenters. Don’t mistake their slightly smaller physical stature for weakness. They’re tougher than their male counterparts, and better at tearing down ceilings – glass, drywall, or otherwise.

Here’s to successful future carpentry projects!

– A Local Contractor

Personal Health Tips

Rhubarb Honey Mustard Dressing

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  • 2 cups sliced rhubarb (1-2 stalks)
  • ½ cup diced onion (about 1 small onion)
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ⅓ cup red wine vinegar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 Tbs dijon mustard
  • Sea salt to taste
  • ⅔ cup avocado oil (or mild tasting oil of choice)


  1. Mix water and honey together in a medium sauce pot, bring almost to a boil.
  2. Add rhubarb and onion. Simmer for about 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring often.
  3. Add vinegar and lemon juice. Mix well.
  4. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  5. Place mixture into a blender. Add mustard and sea salt.
  6. Blend until smooth.
  7. While mixture is blending, slowly add oil in a steady stream until fully immersed.
  8. Use as a salad dressing while warm, or allow to cool and transfer to an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

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Agricultural Education from MHOF

Here are some quick videos from this past week. I was on an iPhone vacation this week so the videos and pictures are in a bit of a short supply this week.

We race up to June 1st to get things done that we won’t realistically get back to until after the CSA ends in late November.

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On one acre of land drench around your trees and small fruits the following recipe from AEA:

  • 1 gallon SeaShield
  • 2 quarts Rejuvenate
  • 1 quart HoloCal
  • 1 quart SeaCrop
  • 20 grams spectrum

Opportunities from MHOF

It is not too late to join the CSA- three weeks until the opening

We are right around 100 folks and still taking CSA members. Don’t tarry! Though I am not one to be afraid of food shortages, that might be because we have about 75% control of our food production here at the farm. Whatever your motivation to join the CSA, you will be rewarded by good food, good health, and a vibrant community.

A fall share

Join the CSA here

Working Shareholders Always Welcome

All of a sudden our Friday working shareholder day has significantly depopulated. So, looking for folks right now particularly for Fridays, but we can talk about other days also.

Danny is moving to a full-time working shareholder – and take a close look at the early chard and kale for the CSA.

Volunteer at MHOF – info here

Free Stuff this Week

We have some curly and flat parsley in excess, and still have red raspberries to dig. We also have left over chard plants that are worth saving.

Emails from Subscribers

Have a happy Mother’s Day. You are a wonderful mother to your children and the earth God gave us. Thank you. There aren’t enough like you around. 

Coleen and Andrew

Thanks for the kind words about Mother’s Day. I don’t think I will need any other gifts tomorrow!


Musical  Opportunities

Circle of Song Concert, May 14

7 pm at the Barre Town Hall. We would love to see you there.

Play with the Quabbin Community Band this summer

This ensemble and its predecessors are over 100 years old. Truly a community band, QCB is made up of professionals all the way down to beginners. We read each concert on a Monday night and play it the next Sunday for 10 concerts. All are welcome to drop in and to take off as vacation or other plans conflict. We start rehearsals on Monday, May 9 at the Barre Town Hall, 6:30 – 8:30 pm and our first concert is Sunday, June 19, Father’s Day. Contact me if you are needing a nudge to pull out the instrument. Margaret Reidy is our conductor this summer, a consummate musician, director and very fun to work with.

Farm Doin’s

We are picking our way through May with a combined farm purpose of getting our perennials all taken care of to be left alone until season’s end and to move forward in the slow slog to get everything planted. We also need to balance weeding and mulching early crops in a timely fashion.

This week we actually didn’t plant much, though we finished our four onion seedling beds early in the week. We did get 4 beds prepped in the west field, and did a foray into our potato planting operation. The garden is where they will go and the early hoeing and adding oats and peas worked quite well. We will develop furrows to plant the potatoes (next week) in the mulch. Later we will hill them, mulch close up and leave the cover crops to grow.

The same idea in the front of the south didn’t work so we spent some time on Thursday removing 2 tarps from the pond field (soon to be leeks and other things) and put those on the front of the south.

In gold star country we weeded and mulched four of our onion sets beds. We had covered them with row cover and germination was astounding (for the weeds and the onions). They are now under a beautiful bed of straw mulch.

And much progress on perennial fruits – moved and trimmed red raspberries, black raspberries, and blackberries and hardy kiwi, our rose hill, our juneberries and gooseberries. All are sporting new straw mulch. Blueberries are in process.

Danny mulching blueberries

This looks like a nice place in which to take an afternoon nap.

Jonathan and company finished the brooder in time to receive our new chicks on Friday and now a front door, continued work on windows, pull down door to attic of the garage and then siding. I think I would like to retire with Jack to the brooder house when the time comes!

Baby layers at home in their new digs.

I had a nice chat with some residents at the Barre Family Health Center on Friday accompanied by a great PowerPoint about the farm that Christy put together.

Franny likes to keep her dead chickens close at hand.

Skippy surveying for marauders.

I suspect that you farmers out there are as weary as we are at the end of the day as we all build our “farm strength”.