40. In some ways, it’s just another day, and 40 is simply a number. On the other hand, it’s a milepost that offers a moment for reflection. Life is likely halfway over. Perhaps the “fun half” is already passed (though I hope not). The youthful half is certainly gone. But that’s alright. The last 40 years have been full of adventure, beauty, and growth. My path has crossed with many, many extraordinary people with whom I’ve been fortunate enough to share some days and years and hikes and classes and campfires. The first 40 years haven’t been perfect, and it doesn’t take much reflection to create a long list of ways I could have been a better friend, brother, son, spouse, father, or teacher. And yet, in recent years, I’ve found the words to elucidate my purpose. That purpose is nothing brilliant or profound. It is simply this: When my time comes, I want to leave the world a little better place than I found it. I hope I’ve achieved that. Certainly, there are a few more apple trees growing in Alaska than there once were. Hopefully, there are a few young people who have become better readers, writers, or thinkers. It’s been a good run, and I’m leaving this first half of life with many, many sweet memories.

One of my favorite poems of all time is by William Wordsworth entitled “Lines Composed a Few Lines from Tintern Abbey.” He’s returned to his favorite “nature spot” five years after having discovered it. This time, he’s brought his little sister with him, and he’s reflecting on how he’s changed. Some of my favorite lines are these:

“That time is past,

And all its aching joys are now no more,

And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this

Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur; other gifts

Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,

Abundant recompense.”

Do I hike up mountains as fast as I once did? Certainly not. Do I get enthralled with the “aching joys and dizzying raptures” of youth? Rarely. Will I confront much more grief during the second half of my life? Undoubtedly. And yet, I trust this second half of life will be full of “other gifts.” Wisdom. Contentment. More opportunities to make this world a little better. “Abundant recompense.”

I’m looking forward to the next 40.


Thoughts on Marriage

Note: I recently wrote this for a younger couple I care deeply for.

I thought I’d write out some of my thoughts on marriage. As I stare down 18 years of marriage, I have certainly learned many hard-won lessons. In many ways, I wish I had someone with a lot more experience with marriage and parenthood to tell me what they had learned or discovered. It may have saved me from a whole lot of unnecessary struggle and heartache.

First, I won’t pretend that I know what the fuck I’m doing. I don’t. And all of the “lessons” I’ve learned are ones that I constantly have to re-learn. I might be totally full of shit. Maybe most people have better marriages than I do. At the very least, I wanted to record some of my own thoughts, regardless of their value. 

You’re in the hardest part

I wish someone had told me that marriage while raising infants/toddlers was the hardest part of marriage. And I wish someone had told me that it gets better. It really does. Little kids take so much physical and emotional energy; there’s simply not much left to give to our spouse. I think that’s normal and okay, though it doesn’t feel okay in the moment. But I can offer this: It gets easier. Every day is a little easier than the day before. Before you know it –in five or ten years’ time– you’ll have so much more time and energy to contribute to the development of yourself and your marriage. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to neglect ourselves or our marriages for the sake of our kids, but I think it’s far more common than you think. If you can make it through the next few years, it gets so much easier. Parenthood and marriage are never easy, and they always take hard work, but it all becomes less overwhelming. You’ll have a little breathing room to care for the neglected parts of your life. In the meantime, soldier on and enjoy every moment of your kids’ first years. It goes by way too fast. Acknowledge that all marriages have really hard seasons. But they’re just seasons that come and go. 

Acknowledge that you’re both deeply flawed individuals 

This sounds like a simple statement. It’s easy to say, “Fuck yeah, my spouse is deeply flawed! Let me give you the list of his/her personal deficiencies…” It’s a lot harder to look at yourself and acknowledge, on a very deep level, the ways in which you yourself are deeply flawed and constantly fail your spouse. I think it’s helpful to verbalize your flaws to your spouse. Speaking the words gives them more weight. It’s a sign of good faith when you say “I really am a moody/anxious person” or “I’m short-tempered. I’m working on it, even if it doesn’t always seem like it.”

I think the concept of “good faith” is so, so important to a marriage. Even if your spouse is being difficult, if you believe they’re acting in good faith, you at least of a starting point, even if they’re being shitty. Ask yourself, how do you demonstrate that you’re acting in good faith through word and action? Are they the words and actions that your spouse will recognize as a good-faith effort on your part?

When you start from the perspective that you are deeply flawed and have often been a consistently shitty spouse, you start from a place of grace towards the other person. When your spouse is being shitty, break outside of your negative thought cycles and acknowledge that sometimes you are a shitty person as well. And your spouse still chooses to put up with you and extend you grace, even though you’re no picnic to live with.  

I think one of the strangely beautiful parts of marriage is the somewhat-cynical acknowledgment that you are both deeply flawed individuals, but that you still choose each other despite those flaws. (We might both be shitty people but at least we’re shitty people together!) For many years I thought that my goal and responsibility was to build a perfect marriage. I had this clear vision of how wonderful our marriage could be! (Of course, in my mind, it conveniently meant there were 27 things my spouse needed to change for that to happen! I was fine, it was her deficiencies that were holding us back. That line of thinking is simply bullshit.)

I think the other critical aspect is to simply accept your spouse, flaws and all. It’s incredibly unlikely that you are going to change them, despite your best efforts or intentions. To this day, there are so many things I wish my spouse would do/be. But that’s a dangerous line of thought, one that leads to a lot of discouragement, discontent, and resentment. 

For instance, my spouse is never going to be a particularly reflective individual; she lives in the moment. She’ll never be particularly philosophical or poetic. That’s okay. She has lots and lots of good qualities that I often don’t appreciate simply because they’re not the qualities I want her to have. That’s not fair to her. Despite whatever I perceive as her shortcomings, the fact is that I have committed my life to this deeply flawed person. She has done the same with me. Our marriage took a profound turn for the better when we stopped trying to change one another and simply learned to love and accept each other, flaws and all. She r 

Virtuous and destructive relationship spirals

My spouse and I have a very consistent pattern of conflict. 

  1. One of us gets our feelings hurt. Often the other person criticized us, didn’t acknowledge us in the way we wanted, or did something we perceive as inconsiderate or malicious. There other person’s intentions are rarely as malevolent as we think, but one of us is deeply hurt and feels attacked. 
  2. We get defensive. Whether we are the one who originally felt hurt or the one who feels attacked, we immediately put up walls and start justifying our behavior. Any conversations or arguments we have during this stage are usually futile or make things worse. Our hackles are up, we aren’t deeply listening to each other, and we are both lobbing emotional grenades at each other. This is when 20 years of history is brought up, rehashed, or used as evidence for our “clearly-I’m-right-because-look-at-this-evidence” attitude. 
  3. I start to ruminate. I can’t speak for my wife on this one, but I usually spend the next few days in a pretty dark place. My thoughts spiral. (More on spirals later). 

Just a couple of weeks ago we got into a pretty good argument. It was about a topic we have had countless arguments about in the past. We have literally made the same points and arguments hundreds of times in hundreds of different ways. The argument seemed pointless to both of us since we’d rehashed it so many times. Additionally, I didn’t feel heard or acknowledged. I felt a deep sense of hopelessness that anything would ever change for the better. Then I started down my long and ever-present list of my spouse’s perceived flaws. Before I knew it, I was saying all sorts of nonsensical stuff to myself: “She’s fundamentally not a good person. I never should have married her. My life would be so much better with someone else. She doesn’t deserve me.” Of course, these thoughts are just a form of self-imprisonment. They’re the nonsensical, emotional reasoning of someone who feels hurt. Each of those statements is objectively false, but I get stuck in them. Constantly. These thoughts make me mentally and physically sick, and that isn’t her fault; it is mine. 

Before I go on, I want to talk about spirals. I feel like marriage is constantly in a state of either spiraling downward or spiraling upward. The reason I consider it a spiral is because it’s the same shit over and over again. I bet every married couple can come up with a list of at least a half-dozen issues that come up over and over and over and over again. They’ve been arguing about these same issues for years or decades. It’s frustrating because it feels like nothing ever gets resolved. Nothing ever changes.  And if you stay in the downward spiral long enough, you can reach a place of real despair. 

On the same token, I think we can spiral upward. All it takes is a kind word or gesture. All of a sudden you feel appreciated or acknowledged again. It feels good, and all of a sudden you have the emotional energy and vulnerability to open up a little bit. You drop the defenses and can offer them some of the same grace and love you just received. This can turn into a virtuous cycle where instead of considering all the ways you’ve been wronged, you start to look for ways to show love, acknowledgment and care for your spouse.

Breaking the downward spiral always takes one person in the relationship to acknowledge what’s happening and break out of the cycle. Often this means swallowing a lot of pride and a lot of ego. Even if you know, in your heart-of-hearts, that you are objectively and categorically correct in the argument, it doesn’t matter. You have to stop the downward spiral. 

My wife and I have several ways of making this happen, and it usually takes a few days of hardly speaking to one another to get to this point. Here’s what usually happens with us:

  1. Someone owns their own shit. Even if I am convinced that my spouse is being the shitty one and should be the one who is apologizing, I take it upon myself to own my own poor behavior without any caveats or conditions. Often it’s as easy as saying “Sorry I’ve kinda been an asshole the last several days.” (Notice I don’t say, “Sorry I’ve been an asshole, but you’ve been one too.” That gets us nowhere.) I also don’t expect an apology in return. If I do, I’ve created a “covert contract”, an unspoken, uncommunicated expectation that if I do or say X, she will do or say Y. Covert contracts are excellent seeds for resentment. 
  2. We communicate non-verbally. We’ve been married long enough that the right kind of hug or the right kind of snuggle demonstrates that we’ve broken out of our spiral. It’s unspoken but profoundly recognized by each of us. 
  3. We offer grace and space. Sometimes it takes me a few days to get my head screwed on straight. I think the same applies to her. Even if one of us is ready to break out of the negative spiral, the other person might not be ready yet. Sometimes we have to give the other person some grace, space, and time to come around. In our most recent argument, my wife clearly demonstrated through words and actions that she was ready to break out of our downward spiral. It took me a few more days to come around. I was still feeling deeply hurt. I appreciate that she gave me a couple of days of being a withdrawn asshole. When I was ready to break down those walls, she was still there willing to work towards a more virtuous cycle. 

I can’t overemphasize how hard it is to break out of these negative spirals. It goes against our thoughts and feelings. It requires killing the ego, which is damn near impossible sometimes. And things still feel unresolved. My wife and I still have the same half-dozen issues we had last week, last month, or last year, but we are once again acknowledging and interacting with each other as human beings instead of adversaries. That is a monumental shift. 

Don’t trust your own narrative

Often, when my wife and I are in conflict, she’ll spout some narrative about our marriage that seems outlandish and ridiculous. She’ll give this narrative of our relationship (“You’ve always done X, I’ve always felt like Y, you treat me like Z”). What comes out of her mouth seems so ridiculous that I can’t fathom that she’s talking about the same marriage I’m a part of. It’s a crazy fucking narrative. 

While it’s so easy to point out the flaws and inconsistencies in her narrative of our marriage, it’s a hell of a lot harder to acknowledge the flaws in my own narrative. After all, they’re MY experiences, MY emotions, MY storyline. No one can argue with that. It’s the objective truth. On my best days, I’m able to examine my own narrative – my own simplified story of our relationship – and see where my own narrative is flawed. It’s profoundly difficult to reject your own “reality,” and to acknowledge that your perceptions, attitudes, and narrative are flawed, incorrect, and almost always created to make me out to be the hero of the story, with my wife playing the part of the villain. I think it takes a lot of humility and the total rejection of ego to let go of these convenient but also mistaken and destructive narratives. 

I don’t want to pretend like our marriage is perfect. It’s dysfunctional as hell sometimes. I expect many of our issues will never be resolved. We can both be terrible people and we have managed to accumulate a ton of baggage in 18 years. But we’ve also bound ourselves to another deeply flawed person, agreed to put up with their bullshit, and to love and care for the other person despite their deep and impossibly difficult flaws. There’s a certain beauty in that. 

I no longer expect or dream of a perfect marriage. I’m happy with one where we love each other in spite of our many flaws. I acknowledge that our marriage goes through predictable seasons of negative or virtuous cycles. I know there will be many days in the future when I don’t feel like I like my spouse as a person, and I know there will be many days that she will feel the same way about me. But 18 years in, I’ve had this deeply flawed person by my side, even when I haven’t deserved it. And that means something. 

You guys are in the hardest stage of parenthood and marriage. It can really suck, but there are brighter days ahead. Own your own shit, extend a lot of grace, break destructive spirals, question your own narrative,  and try to enjoy the difficult but deeply fulfilling stage of this journey until you arrive at those better days. 


“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”

-Noam Chomsky

“Instagram [has become] the premier venue for success theater, where people engender health-harming envy in others by showing off just their most glamorous moments.”

-Josh Constine


“The only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character, the only real emancipation is individual, and the only real revolutionists are philosophers and saints.”

-Will Durant


Manifesto of the Children of the Mountains

Recently, I found and read The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism, written by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti at the turn on the 20th century. With Marinetti’s spirit in mind, here is a manifesto of the mountains, much needed at the dawn of the 21st century.

We are the children of the mountains, the sons and daughters of the forests and fields. We are those who live beneath the barren stars in the solitary night.

My friends and I had stayed up all night, dancing in time with the frenetic movement of the Aurora Borealis, dodging the moonlit shadows of the mountains. We listened to the murmurings of the frozen river and the crackling of the fire. Ours was a night of laughter and merriment in the frigid darkness.

Through our revelry, we could hear the silence from the grimy horizon of the city. It was the silence of tomb-like rooms, abandoned tables, and discarded wrappers.

“Quick! Up!” we cried as the silence mingled with the smoke.

“Now is the time for action! Our brothers and sisters exist in that silence, slaves to their blue screens, their loneliness, the worthless obligations demanded by an impotent society! For too long they’ve listened to their corporate mothers and fathers. They’ve traded the real world for a billion, glittering unrealities. They worship their god ‘The Future’ and his archangel ‘Technology,’ as the altars of the past crumble and humanity lies abandoned underneath the wires and wheels and radio waves.”

My friends and I stood up straight, tilting our heads at the dark and unfathomable sky. We thought of our brothers and sisters, their backs arched in reverence to their tiny electric gods. We mourned their limp satisfaction with their artificial lives. We clenched our teeth on their unwavering faith in the empty promises of the future.

We stoked the fire higher. All through the night the mountains echoed our laughter and stories and the muffled sound of our axes. Higher and higher the flames lept into a dancing sky. The fire became our beacon, our tiny insubstantial flame against the indifferent technological darkness.

Somewhere from the deepest part of our aching guts came this chant — this manifesto:

  1. We reject the empty promises of the “future” sold to us by society. We look to the past for answers, drawing on the tapestry of authentic human experience to guide our path. The future has always offered empty promises.
  2. We’ve sacrificed too much personal agency, creativity, and original thought at the altar of technology. We abhor any technology that destroys community, that separates us from nature, or that traffics in unrealities and vanity.
  3. We demand the real. We will no longer be satisfied with the virtual, the hyper-real, the artificial. We demand dirty hands, strong backs, and stout hearts. We are children of the mountains.
  4. We reject our culture’s narrative of happiness and success. We will no longer measure our lives by the standards of a sick society. We will measure our lives by our own standards: by the ideas we create, by the gardens we plant, by the mountains we climb, by the feasts we share. We do not seek happiness. We seek authenticity.
  5. We welcome the hard road — the way of struggle, of hard work found in workshops and soil and lofty mountain peaks. Hardship is the crucible of truth; our skin tells stories in scars.
  6. We reject the trappings of vanity — the likes and shares and tweets and snaps that birth hideous discontent. We do not traffic in unrealities. We live our lives, not record them.

We repeated this chant louder and louder. Our forested echoes reached the silent city and was heard in the veins and the stagnant blood of a million sleepless bodies.

We ran through the city streets, our raucous shouts interrupting the nauseating industrial symphony of clicks and buzzes and dings.

“Wake! Wake!” we cried, “There is another way! It is the way of the children of the mountains!” In our rough and calloused hands we carried axes, torches, seeds, and poetry as we called to a hundred million souls lost in the fog of technology and comfort.

“Our axes are here to crush your Instagram realities! Our torches are here to burn down the pillars and temples of vanity! Our seeds will be spread in the concrete cracks of your illusions of control! Our poetry is crafted from words you have forgotten how to speak!”

Bleary, sullen eyes peeped with fear and distrust from behind curtained windows and above intimate screens. Their soft and fleshy faces began to appear in doorways as they stared at ours — hard and rough and etched with scars and lines of laughter. Gloriously flawed.

As our footsteps faded past their windows and doorways and bedrooms, they felt their blood warm with forgotten memory, with latent untranslatable desire. From our clothes, they caught the scent of wood and sweat and soil.

We returned to our mountains — to our gardens and feasts and midnight winter revelries. Here we craft our lives of meaning. Here we launch our raucous love songs to the barren sky.


Updated seed varieties for Southcentral Alaska

carrotsI was reviewing my previous posts the other day and was shocked to see I had not yet put together a list of my favorite seed varieties for south central Alaska. Here they are with a few notes:

  • Bull’s Blood –I only got serious with beets this year (for the root, not for the greens). Bull’s Blood worked fine and produced large, sweet roots.
  • Blue Wind (F1) – This is now my go-to variety. Large heads and excellent side-shoot production. We can’t keep up with the half-dozen broccoli we plant each year. 
Brussel Sprouts:
  • Franklin (F1) – Another excellent variety. Make sure to remove lower leaves as the summer goes on, and to pinch the growth tip a month before harvest. Harvest after a couple frosts. 
  • Golden Acre – Standard, easily grown variety.
  • Storage #4 – An excellent storage variety with incredibly dense heads. Slugs can’t eat these cabbage becasue the heads are so dense! However, they are dry — good for storage and soups, but not very good for fresh eating.
  • Bolero (F1)an excellent storage carrot
  • There are lots of other good varieties (usually Nantes types) around. We usually plant some rainbow mix carrots for fresh eating. 
  • Yukon Chief — Pathetic looking ears, but they were developed by the University of Alaska and tend to ripen when other varieties don’t.
  • Expresso (F1)I tried this variety for the first time this year. Most of my ears did not mature/get well pollinated, but the mature ears were AMAZING. Start these early. 
  • Spring Treat (F1)Similar to Expresso
  • Wautoma I am sold on this variety of pickling cucumber. Good crop of cucumbers, but most importantly, they’re never bitter! I’ve had terrible luck with bitter cucs (from my own poor heat and water management), but Wautoma will produce bitter-free cucs every time.
  • Telegraph ImprovedThe go-to greenhouse English cucumber. 
  • Bouquet — I’ve never tried another kind of dill, but this seems to work for me. Very susceptible to aphids. 
  • Most kale grows well up here. Blue Curled Scotch is my wife’s favorite, and we plant Russian Red and Tuscan-style kale just to add some different texture to our salads. Kale is perhaps the most reliable green here in Alaska and can be harvested long after the first frost. 
  • Most lettuces to well up here. We plant a mixture of romaine (Parris Island Cos), butter (Buttercrunch), and salad mixes (Spicy Mesclun Mix)
Pac Choi:
  • Most varieties will do. We go with the Joi Choi, which matures early.
  • El Jefe (F1) — steady producer of jalepeno peppers in the greenhouse. Matures in mid-August.
  • Red Flame — A heavy bearing, excellent drying pepper for pepper flakes and other uses. They take longer to mature, so while I have many harvestable peppers by the first frost, I usually bring them inside in the fall to add color to the living room. They’ll keep producing for a couple months if brought inside. 
  • Red Rocket — Nearly identical to Red Flame. I may prefer these even more. 
  • Any quality, locally-produced seed potato will grow well up here. We plant a mix of white and red. Don’t forget to mound them as they grow and never use store-bought potatoes. They have been sprayed with an anti-sprouting chemical and will not thrive. They also tend to carry potato diseases. 
  • Neon (F1) — a great little pumpkin that always matures in my raised beds. I cover the raised bed with hoops and plastic in the spring and take them off when the squash and corn outgrow it. Excellent eating pumpkins. 
Squash (acorn):
  • Reno(F1), Jet (F1)Both produce a small harvest of acorn squash. Using raised beds and/or hoop houses, they are easily grown outside. 
Swiss Chard:
  • Swiss Chard grows very well up here and is another incredibly reliably green. We just plant the rainbow mix to add some color to our salads. 
  • Siletz — A determinate tomato that produces a respectable harvest every year in the greenhouse. 
  • Gold Nugget — An excellent orange-colored cherry tomato that produces tons of fruit every year in the greenhouse. It is always the first tomato to produce fruit, and the last one to stop producing. 
 Where do I find these seeds? 

Every year I order seeds from Johnny’s and Territorial seed companies. Many of these varieties can be found on the local seed racks. Buy the Ed Hume seeds if you’re buying seeds in a local store; the varieties on his racks have been selected for cold-weather climates, and most tend to do well up here.



Have any varieties that are your favorites, or you think I should try? Leave them in the comments below!



On slaughtering chickens


The day comes without fanfare — usually a sunny day in June. I spend the morning bustling around the kitchen, nursing a cup of coffee. Roasting pans are prepared, knives are sharpened, and an assortment of other preparations are made for the day.

I work quietly, trying not to dwell on the task ahead. My lips are pursed, my brow furrowed.

Butchering day is always a intense mix of emotions. At seven to eight weeks, the chickens are large and ugly. By June, our family has been out of homegrown chicken for months and I’m already planning recipes with our harvest. Part of me is happy to see them go.

Another part of me is dreading the task at hand. I’ve spent a lifetime hunting and fishing, and while taking another life is something I’ve grown accustomed to, butchering chickens is somehow more immediate and visceral.

The process of slaughtering is repetitive. I take the chicken from its pen while it squawks alarmingly. I place it upside down in the killing cone. Holding it’s head in my hands, I make two swift cuts on either side of its neck. I put my knife down and place my right hand on its body. It struggles briefly, shudders, and begins to kick from reflexes. Once it is still, and its blood has been drained, I take it out of the cone and place its lifeless body on the ground. Then I go and grab another one.

There’s something about holding an animal as it dies that brings your mind to thoughts of life, mortality, and gratitude. Through my gloved hand I can feel the chicken tense as the blood flows. Then there’s a noticeable relaxing as its life slips away, before its reflexes violently begins.

While butchering 30 chickens, and watching the life drain from each one — which takes a couple of minutes a piece — there’s plenty of time for reflection. I spend a lot of this time thinking about my own death. Will it be sudden? Will I wither in a hospital bed for months? As I witness the sudden death of these birds, I can’t help but wish for the same for myself.

While these chickens have had short life — seven or eight weeks — their life has been far better than their commercially-raised contemporaries. They live outside with bugs to eat and a hell of a view. They’re more than just capital investments. They’ve been able to do much of what normal chickens do. It’s been a short life, but a good one.

I hope I can say the same — that I’ve lived a good life when it’s all said and done.

What is a good life? That might be a question better left to philosophers. But as I harvest this real meat — as I viscerally participate in this cycle of life and death in the attempt to feed my family from the land I’ve been given to tend for a short period of time — I can’t help but hope I’m on the right track to finding a life that is good — full of good food and good work and good soil.


How to Make Duck Breast Prosciutto


The Birch Table.

A year and a half ago, I embarked on the ambitious project of building a table out of the birch trees on our property. While I’ve built my own house, I’ve never had much experience with woodworking.I should stop here to explain the reason for this new table. Our dining room is not very wide, but with a family of five and the desire to entertain, we wanted a table that fit the space. Plus, it’s pretty damn cool to have a table made from your own trees. We decided we wanted a table about 40″ wide and about 8 feet long. That’s what we ended up with.

The first step was to buy a chainsaw mill and start milling the trees, most of which had been felled the year before. Milling was one of the most time-consuming but satisfying parts of the process. To take a tree, to turn it into lumber, and to reveal the surprising character of the grain is an exercise in patience and discovery. I took the logs (none of which are very big here in Alaska) and cut them into 8 ft sections. The first step in milling the log is to set up guides and make the initial cut. I did this with a couple straight 2x4s, joint hangers, and a level. I marked my first cut, put the guides in place, and cranked up the chainsaw.


After the first cut, the next step is the vertical cut. Here I used a “mini-mill” attachment for the chainsaw. The mini-mill runs along a 2×6 that has been outfitting with an aluminum guide. After the two sides were completed, I switched back to my regular mill to make the remaining cuts and to slab the wood. I cut most of my wood for the tabletop into 2×6 dimensional lumber. The lumber definitely came out rough-cut and not entirely square, but I used a planer and jointer to fix my mistakes.


After I had what I thought would be enough lumber for the table top, I cut two slabs of birch with the bark and edge still on. These would become the edges of my table. I learned that if one wants to  keep the birch bark on the wood, one should cut the trees in the winter then there is little moisture in the outer layers of the tree. Otherwise, as the wood dries, the bark and wood separate. I learned this the hard way, and had to live with table edges that did not include the bark.

After all the wood was cut, I had to dry it. I brought it to my dad’s barn, where I stacked the wood, then weighted it down. The wood sat there for a year, and when I came back this summer, the wood was quite dry. I began the process of squaring the wood with a jointer, a table saw, and a planer. One of the miscalculations I made was how much material I would have to take off of the wood get them square. I intended to make the table top 1.5″ thick, with planks 5.5″ wide. I quickly realized I needed to take off far more material to get the pieces square. Even though I cut the wood with a 1/2″ of extra thickness, I ended up with planks that were only an inch wide, and about 5 inches wide.



After the planks had been planed, I went about the process of joining them. I used the combination of a Kreg jig, wood glue, and pipe clamps to join the planks. In hindsight, I should have paid more attention to the direction of the grain (as I hear it helps keep the tabletop flat). By the time I had connected most of the planks, there was a noticeable bow starting to show in the table top.


Notice the bow. This was before I re-straightened and replaced the end pieces.

Notice the bow. This was before I re-straightened and replaced the end pieces.

I ended up taking the two edge pieces off, snapping a line, and carefully using a circular saw to re-straighten the edges of both boards. This seemed to help. My next step was to create the frame and legs. I didn’t have the lumber to do this from my seasoned lumber, but I had some logs still on  my property from the summer before. Once again I found myself on the mountainside, milling lumber. I made a basic frame with 2×4 lumber I milled, and created simple 4″x4″ legs for each corner. I put a few layers of polyurethane on the frame and called it good.

The next step, and perhaps the most stressful, was pouring the epoxy on the table. I sanded the tabletop, added several layers of polyurethane, and grabbed a gallon of epoxy from the local hardware store.  I set the tabletop in a small room without dust, spread plastic everywhere, and started the pour. 1 gallon was just barely enough to cover the surface, and it my stress to make sure the table was properly covered, the pour ended up being uneven. It left small dimples on one side of the table.  I used a torch to pop the bubbles in the epoxy and called it good, though I was still dissatisfied with the dimples. I left the tabletop to cure for several days,  then connected it to the frame.


When in doubt, use the Kreg jig. A lot.

I used simple 4″ x 4″ legs which I attached to the bottom of the frame when I brought the table home. The finished product looks something like this:



After we got the table home, I was still unhappy with the dimples in the epoxy from my first pour. In addition, the epoxy was still curing and the kids managed to scrape it up pretty bad. I decided to do a second epoxy pour, which ended up far better than the first one. We’re still using mismatched chairs with the table but that’s next summer’s project: small bench seats made from half-rounds of birch. It should be a fun challenge.