Hello Folks,

Clearly this blog is long over due for some good updates. After the first full season with my new boat I have good tales to tell, and have also learned that one should not start sanding a boat down to refinish it unless he has enough time to do so. I’ve missed some good days out there and the Shearwater is currently back in the basement, where I’ve been too busy to get the necessary paint and varnish back on it to enjoy as much fall sailing as I should be doing.

That all being said, I’ve gotten some good work on furniture done, and I have two events next weekend where someone interested in seeing my furniture in person could easily do so without making an appointment.

The first is Gifted, ADX’s annual holiday event with lots of vendors and holiday cheer. It will go from 12 till 9 on Saturday, December 12.

The second will be Portland Center Stage’s Holiday Bazaar which will go from 12 till 5 on Sunday, December 13. Its going to be a busy weekend.


The new lounge chair. Still in progress, this piece will be freshly upholstered and ready to sell this weekend. Come test it out!


The new coffee table design.

Come check it all out either day, though I’ll also have a new whale assembled and present at Gifted. Happy Holidays!(null)


My blog somehow seems to attract possibly more attention for the Waldorf movable classroom benches I built for a small school two years ago than for just about any other subject. Many people have asked for plans, and I apologize for the wait. I have finally taken the time to find my original plans and various jigs, to drawing the plans in a smaller scale with dimensions and to writing down some instructions. The link to the pdf version of them is at the bottom of the page. Though there are not any particularly difficult steps, I would not personally want to take on this project without a variety of power tools, especially if you intend to build more than 2 or 3 of them. These plans and instructions are free to use, however, I am starting my small furniture business, and if you were inclined to help spread the word on my new business( Wessinger Woodworks LLC), it would be much appreciated.

If you do build any of these benches, please send pictures! I would love to see them.

The Bench:image

Among the tools that will make this project go much more smoothly are a good tablesaw with an accurate crosscut sled or miter gauge, a bandsaw for cutting the profile at the bottom of the feet, and a router with a patterning bit and perhaps also a round over bit to speed up the shaping of the various pieces. There are angles that must be cut accurately and a lot of corners and rounded profiles to cut if the benches are to be built exactly the same as I built them. I also attached the top to the rails and legs using Kreg pocket hole screws. Though this design may not have a lot of classy joinery, it is an expeditious way to build some sturdy benches.

Materials include the following:

3/4″ baltic birch plywood for the top, legs, and rails directly under the top.

Construction grade 2×4 for the spreader between the legs closer to the floor.

1-1/4″ Kreg Pocket Hole Screws.

8, #12, 2-1/2″ Sheet metal screws per bench to attach legs to rails and stretcher.

8 finish washers in size appropriate for those screws.

I am not providing the number of sheets of plywood or the number of 2×4’s because the amounts will all depend on the number of benches. Doing some work to find ways to optimize your materials before beginning to cut pieces out can help minimize waist, and minimize the materials that you have to buy, though especially if you plan to assemble these benches with students get enough extra screws that if some get stripped you can still assemble all the benches.

Before cutting out any pieces I would strongly recommend laying out the plans for these benches full size on a large piece of paper or perhaps some plywood. This will help build familiarity with the plans and as you begin cutting pieces out it will provide a way to double check the dimensions of parts. There are also some parts that I am not providing the length for on the plans. You could measure the length of these pieces from the drawings (If you print these plans out and they happen to print out at precisely the same scale as the drawings I have scanned, each 1/4″ on the drawings will represent 1″ in real life), but I think you would get a more accurate measurement from full size drawings. I am providing the side view as only half of the bench so that I could draw it at a larger scale, but laying both halves of the bench out would allow you to lay the rails and stretchers directly on your copy of the plans to check their dimensions.

The tops are 18″ in width and 4′ long. They are cut from 3/4 inch birch plywood. The corners could be simply rounded over with sand paper, but I took the added step of routing each corner with a patterning bit to give them a 1″ radius. If you are doing multiple tops, you can create an original pattern to route each corner on the top of one bench, and then use that first bench top as a pattern for each subsequent top so that you can route all 4 corners without moving a pattern each time.

The legs are cut from 3/4″ birch plywood. The top and bottom of the leg are cut at 10 degrees off of a 90 degree angle. Most easily done with a crosscutting sled or miter gauge on the table saw with the blade tilted, but these angles could probably also be cut with care using a Skil Saw or track saw. Take the length of the legs off of your full size drawing. They are cut to be 14-1/2″ wide. When cutting the angles for the top and bottom make sure the resulting side profile will be a parallelogram instead of a trapezoid.

The two rails between the legs and under the top are also cut from 3/4″ birch plywood. They are 2-1/2″ tall. The ends are cut with the same 10 degree angle. Get the length of these pieces from your full size drawing.

The stretcher is cut from a construction grade 2×4. It would be worth finding ones that are as straight and knot free as you can find. Especially if you think students will be flipping the benches over to use the stretcher as a balance beam. The length can be measured from a full size drawing. Then angle on each end will be 10 degrees off of 90.

Jigs to ease construction:IMG_1939

To ease with assembly I cut several jigs. I did them out out of some scraps of 1/4″ plywood. The first is a drilling guide. Cut to the same dimensions as one face of the legs, it had the locations of all screw holes predrilled. If you plan to build a lot of these benches, a drilling guide will save you a lot of time spent laying out hole locations.

The second jig is the width of the leg and is clamped to the inside face of the leg to steady the stretcher while drilling the pilot holes for the screws that hold it to the legs and while driving those screws in.

The final jig fits above the stretcher is clamped to the leg to hold the rails steady while their pilot holes are drilled, and the screws are driven into them.

Assembling the pieces:

  1. Drill all holes in both legs. Clamp your drilling jig to each leg in turn and drill each of the four holes( one for each rail and two for the stretcher).
  2. Attach the stretcher to one side by first clamping the jig to steady the stretcher to the leg, lining the jig up with the bottom and sides of the leg. Set the stretcher into the notch, and drill the pilot holes for each screw. Drive 2-1/2″ screws with finish washers through leg into stretcher. This step, with the jig clamped in place, can be seen in the right side of the picture below. It also reminds me of how nice it was to use a router mat as a grippy, padded surface. I bet an old yoga mat would also work well.image
  3. Attach the stretcher to the other leg following the same procedure as before.
  4. Clamp jig for steadying the rails into place, lining it up with the top and sides of the leg. A scrap of wood can be clamped to the other leg to hold their other end if you don’t have an extra set of hands to hold the rails steady. drill pilot holes in each rail and drive screws with finish washers into the ends of the rails.
  5. Move the jig for steadying the rails to the other side to make sure the rails stay the right distance in from the edges of the legs, drill the pilot holes and drive screws with pilot holes as before.
  6. The base should now be fully assembled. The base is attached to the top with 1-1/4″ Kreg pocket hole screws. Drill pocket hole screw pilot holes every 6 inches along the inside face of each rail. I don’t remember whether I added any pocket hole screws to the legs, but I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to add two screws from each leg into the top. Carefully center the base upside down on the top and screw the base down, starting at the corners to lock the position of the base in, and then adding all the remaining screws back in.
  7. At this point the bench should be fully assembled. Especially if the stretcher will be used as a balance beam, carefully sand all edges until they are well rounded over.

To finish the benches there are loads of options. What I did was finish them with two coats of natural colored Watco, sanding lightly with 220 grit sand paper between coats. After the second coat I sanded the top a final time with 220 grit paper and wiped on a coat of paste wax which I buffed after it had dried. The final coat of wax makes the surface easier to clean when things inevitably get spilled on these benches.

With a little wax on top and a bit of time for the finish to cure, the benches are good to go. If you have any difficulties with these instructions or plans let me know. With the instructions written out and plans drawn up I should be able to answer questions about these benches quickly.

The Plans in pdf, which should print off in a scale of 3″:1′. This scale allows each 1/4″ on the plans to represent 1″ on the full size bench.


The plans in mostly complete form as images, and which would not print off true to scale:


IMG_1935And lastly, because it makes me smile:



Naturally, they took me longer to build than expected. I suppose that’s a perk of starting my small furniture company, Wessinger Woodworks LLC, as a side project while continuing to teach. Regardless, the first 5 of my Hilltop Side Chair are completed and available to purchase.

These chairs are built in Oregon White Oak that I purchased from Zena Forest Products, and finished with Osmo Polyx- Oil, which I like for its durability, low toxicity and its feel. I would compare its feel to hand rubbed oil finishes with wax on top, but I am able to get the feel and look I want with much less work using Osmo. Four of them were upholstered in blue fabric while one was done in black leather. The upholstery was done by a local upholsterer who works out of ADX with 40 years experience. His name is Johnathan and without his input during the design stages and his experienced hands at the upholstery these chairs could not be what they have become.

That list point is one I would like to pause on. Though I am starting this furniture without any employees, I rely on a wide variety of people and the relationships I have developed while working on these chairs is likely the most rewarding part of building them. Over the coming weeks I would like to introduce some of these folks. In the mean time, I’d like to ask for the assistance of my readers. If you like these chairs and especially if you know of anyone who might enjoy them, please help me get the word out. My goal is to sell these chairs directly to those who will use them, which will allow me to keep the price much lower than if I was to offer them through stores in the area.

For more pictures of the finished chairs, visit WessingerWoodworks.com.



I think the time has come to make my big announcement:

I am starting a small furniture business called Wessinger Woodworks!

I’ve had an operating agreement written up, I’ve registered the business with the secretary of state as an LLC, I’ve opened a business bank account, had a logo designed, and created a website. The first run of chairs is nearing completion. I’ve thought about whether I should wait for the first run of chairs to be completed, but I’m excited about it and I decided to share the news now. The first chairs should be completed within the week, and with some final details complete out on the website, they will be available for purchase there. I am planning to upholster 4 of them in the same blue color as the prototype (pictured below), but one will be upholstered in black leather. I’m excited to see that one completed. Its going to look sharp. Stay tuned for updates.

Visit the website here:


The first run of chairs as of last night:


As I launch this business, my goal at least initially is to market the pieces through word of mouth. Posting this announcement here is one small part of that effort. By marketing through word of mouth and selling directly to consumers, my hope is to keep the as low as possible. To that end, if you know of anyone who might be interested in these chairs, please share this link.

Creating this first set of chairs has been quite a journey. I was joking with someone here at ADX last week about how my next design needs to be easier to build. As I continue to teach with the Wind and Oar Boat School, and working occasionally with the ADX fabrication team this business serves in part to fill in the gaps between classes and other work, but it is also a chance for me to push myself to develop my technical skills and my to challenge myself creatively. This chair has served both those needs. Despite the minimal number of pieces, it is one of the most technically challenging pieces I have ever created, and I am very pleased with the result.

Below are some of my favorite pictures from the build process.

One of the most challenging aspects is found where the rails meet the legs. The shoulders are cut to match the radius of the legs.


Every curve was carefully evaluated and revised from the prototype. The cutouts below the sides of the seat were enlarged, the curve on the outside of the arms was filled out, and the point where the arms curve to meet the piece across the back was brought forward slightly. Though subtle, these changes make a big difference.


Much of the furniture being built today is angular but without many curves. I set out to create a piece of furniture that has curves along with enough splay and rake to the legs to create some angularity. The interplay between all these angles and curves means that from every angle you will find something different and perhaps unexpected to admire.


Along the way I discovered that without the seat and seatback, the chairs are stackable at least 5 high. I’m working to keep my overhead and foot print low initially.


The prototype in its delightfully bold livery (please note that the curves on all pieces have been revised from this iteration). This is a chair that will lend a light and airy feeling to your spaces in the summer, and which will be cheerful in the winter.IMG_1447 IMG_1443

The first issue of Wooden Boat Magazine that I ever bought was a special edition they published in 1994 called Beautiful Boats. It was a selection of previously published articles that had appeared in the magazine and among those articles was one titled “What More Could the Commodor Ask.” The article features an Egret type Sharpie built by a man to cruise the shallow water in southern Florida. Pictures of the man standing on the stern of his boat, poling along in the light evening breeze or sailing in the light blue water have haunted me ever since.

His quiet way of traveling: sailing when there was wind and either using a sculling oar or poling when there wasn’t that immediately appealed to me then, and continues to appeal to me now. There was a sense of freedom communicated through those pictures which I think influenced my own aspirations for how I wanted to travel by boat. In the images within the article it is always a solitary man represented on his boat. Below is an image from that article named “What More Could the Commodore Ask?” (First published in Wooden Boat Magazine, Issue 56, January/ February 1984, page 85).


In the years since I first read that article, I read and admired the accomplishments of many sailors who have undertaken difficult journeys including circumnavigations alone. I’ve read accounts by Joshua Slocum of sailing Spray. I read and enjoyed Bernard Moitessior’s account and eventual abandonment of the initial arround the world race. I read Robin Knox-Johnston’s account of his victory in the same race. My grandparents gave me a copy of “North to the Night” by Alvah Simon, the incredible story of his winter spent frozen into the ice near the north end of Baffin Island. Another story that impressed my is by a woman who tells the story of how she kayaked the Northwest Passage over the course of 4 seasons. The book is called “Kabloona in a Yellow Kayak,” and was also given to me by my grandparents. I have long been drawn to these stories of solitary adventurers facing the mental, physical and technical challenges which they had to surmount during their respective journeys.

Many of my own outdoor pursuits have paralleled this fairly solitary approach. At times I pursued outdoor activities on my own because it was difficult to find people with similar goals and interests, and sometimes it was a choice based on what I wanted to gain from the experience. When I was in college and decided to begin racing in triathlons, I did considerable research and trained almost entirely on my own. At the time almost all of my bike rides were done alone, including my first century ride during the spring of my sophomore year of college. After graduating college I set out on a bike tour, starting near Jasper, Alberta with the idea that I would find some clarity about what I wanted to do after college. I wouldn’t say I gained much clarity in that regard from the trip, but I did have an incredible experience covering nearly 1300 miles touring through some remote parts of British Columbia over 22 days. I remember the experience fondly, and remember talking to people where ever I went and learning about each of the places I traveled through. Even so, I remember struggling at times with feels of loneliness.

Though I am often quiet, sharing the experiences I seek out is hugely important to me. Just as sharing my woodworking is a way for me to express myself in subtle ways, and at its heart woodworking truly is all about relationships, my outdoor pursuits are also a way to explore my relationship with the world around me, and to learn more about the places I travel through. At times it can be a way to learn about the natural environment, the history of an area, or about ourselves. Over the years I have come to have a greater and greater sense that exploring and learning in a variety of ways is best done and shared with other people.

Changes in how I enjoy boating have paralleled changes in how I pursue my personal woodworking. Much of my woodworking is now done at ADX where I have enjoyed becoming part of the community of makers that use that space. I have enjoyed sharing what I know about woodworking as well as learning from others. Recently, more and more of my boating has also been done with others, and it is something I am grateful for. Over the past year I have been spending more time going out with others in their boats, taking other people out in my boats or simply going out in one of my boats and traveling with other boats. Regardless of the manner, I’ve enjoyed being able to share my experiences in boats in a variety of ways, and I’ve enjoyed learning from others.

After so many years of pursuing many of my outdoor activities on my own, I’d be the first to admit that I’m not the greatest at planning ahead and reaching out to organizing folks for outings. My friend Bruce recently started a new listserv to make it easier for those of us in the Portland area who are interested in sail and oar boating to quickly get in touch when we are going out, and to support the growth of this community. I am grateful for his efforts.

While I continue to admire those who have undertaken extended single-handed or solo adventures, I don’t find myself fantasizing about pursuing similar adventures the way I used to. Perhaps some day some series of events will cause me to revisit this more solitary method of travel to gain what can be gained from it. My dad is about to set off to hike the Oregon section of the PCT. I am excited for him, proud of the work he has done to be ready for it, and excited to hear about the experience he is going to have, but at the moment I’m looking forward to spending more of my time out on the water with friends.

So much of sail and oar cruising is about how we relate to the natural world around us, that it would be a shame not to share how we experience that relationship with others.

If you are in the Portland area, and are interested in becoming a greater part of the local sail and oar community you should visit Bruce’s blog and join us.


A Toast

Tomorrow morning, at 5am, a race of unreasonable proportions will begin. Participants will begin in Port Townsend, Washington and travel by boat to Ketchikan, Alaska, 750 treacherous miles, and basically the only rule is no engines are allowed. These boats will be powered by the wind or by paddles and oars exclusively.

Tonight I am toasting them, and all the work they have put into their preparations. Entering this race is a bold choice, and as Gothe suggests this boldness has genius, though I also think they are all a bit nuts. That being said I am more than a bit jealous of all those who have entered into this endeavor. That statement might reflect my own level of sanity, and I’m ok with that. Its going to be one hell of a journey for everyone involved, and I wish them a safe passage, whether it is enjoyable or not.

Over the coming weeks I plan to have my Race to Alaska flask with me at all times. I’ll be keeping close track of the competitors and want to be prepared to toast the victor whenever they arrive at the finish line. I will likely also toast second place and their proud acquisition of what I’m sure is a fine set of steak knives.

To learn more about the race and to see how you can also follow the progress of these stalwart individuals, follow the link below:


Several weeks ago I wrote a post in favor of exploring new places. Sunday reinforced my opinion that when you go out to a new spot in your boat, you never know what you’ll find, and that’s where a lot of fun can be had.

Early in the afternoon on Sunday, Bruce called and we started talking about where to go. We had talked earlier in the weekend and decided to go out, but we hadn’t decided where to go or even which boats to take. After chatting and weighing the options we decided to go check out Caterpillar island. Neither of us had been around it before, though Bruce had sailed past it last summer. The island lies on the north side of the river, across and a few river miles down river from Kelly Point Park where the Willamette meets the Columbia. I would take my skin on frame kayak, and Bruce would be in his Guide Boat.

We put in on the Columbia Slough, headed out to the Willamette and across the Columbia. As we traveled we talked about different experiences we’ve had on the Columbia and different options for quick overnight getaways. We reached the entrance to the channel that goes behind the island, and turned into it.

What a fantastic little backwater. The range of craft we found was broad to say the least. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more unusual mix of old work boats and various types of pleasure craft in one place. There was an old barge that looked like it might have had an earlier life as some sort of small WWII era ship that was latter cut down to use as some sort of barge. Then we encountered the catamaran below. I suppose I would describe it as looking like one of the shuttles from Star Trek. It had this really interesting frame for an awning built up on top, but it looked like it would have had masts and sails at one point. Now it sounds like it may have birds living in it, but restored I think it would still turn heads on a waterfront, even if mostly from novelty.  As we continued our water borne mosey down the channel we encountered a variety of old work boats including this small tug.  Then we came across this pair. At first I thought they were just some sort of random shanty boat, but then I got a better look at their profile, and immediately recognized the shape.  The name on the back of the second one confirmed my suspicion. The design was almost certainly influenced by the work of Sam McKinney or even built by him. The name is a reference to both how far the tides reach back in the Columbia and to the title of a book Sam wrote called “Reach of Tide, Ring of History.” It is a lovely book which would be of particular interest to anyone interested in the history of the northwest and of the Columbia River. In it he tracks a journey in a small boat with a cabin from the Columbia Bar upriver. That journey might have been taken on one of these boats. Through the journey he recounts he weaves in a mixture of history related to the dangers of the Columbia Bar, and of the various fishing, canning and logging villages which popped up on the river once European settlers arrived and most of which dissapeared just as quickly. He relates different parts of the Lewis and Clark exploration as he is passing the locations where parts of their journey took place including a particularly miserable 4 days spent pinned to the base of a cliff on the lower Columbia with weather too foul to move and not enough land to pull all the boats ashore. He weaves in history of the native people in the area as well as his own memories being sent by his mother down to a fishing village for a summer to live with his grandmother and to work on a fishing boat. Its a quick and thoroughly enjoyable read. What an incredible surprise to come across two boats which might have been the vehicle featured in this book!  The channel fit the definition of backwater to me. It was quiet and seemed like the sort of place where many sorts of people were pursuing a wide variety of dreams and where they were coexisting quietly. There wasn’t the sense of affluence you find in some marinas, but with the variety of odd craft, many old and many well kept, I had the sense that many peoples dreams were represented by the various craft we were passing. These old tugboats, fishing boats, sailboats and pleasure craft and the various floating homes were all owned by people with aspirations to whichever lifestyle fit their demeanor. The fact that some were in wonderful shape while some were clearly in need of some attention spoke to the frailty of those dreams. Regardless though, it seemed like a delightfully peaceful backwater to pursue those dreams. Those thoughts were reinforced by the raccoon I saw washing his hands in the water on the shore opposite the boats and also by the turtle we saw sunning itself on a log. Bruce described the turtle as doubly surprising because we were able to get close enough to get a good look without it spooking and dissapearing into the water, and also because it appeared to be a relatively uncommon native variety.  As we paddled and rowed out of the channel on the north end of the island we were greeted by another surprise: This big old wooden rudder sticking out of the sand and mud. Check out the size of that pintle and gudgeon. What at first appeared to be a row of pilings, perhaps to tie up a large raft of logs to transport to a mill when that was still common practice, turned into the remains of a large wooden ship. The diagonal boards were the planks at the up-turned ends of the ship. The large gap between the stern post and rudder post must have housed a large propeller at one point.    We decided it was a good moment to get out of our respective craft and investigate. I found the bow pointed into the channel and barely poking above water. Clearly it has been there for quite a while.  I climbed up on what remained of the stern to get a better perspective looking down at the rudder and to get a sense of the size the ship had been. You can see Bruce standing off to the right below for a better sense of scale.  Currently I’ve been unable to find any information online about what this ship was or how it ended up embedded in the sand on the end of a small island in the Columbia River. I’ll be sending e-mails to some folks I know to see if they know anything. With a little luck I’ll be able to learn a little more about what this ship was, but regardless, it was an amazing thing to come across unexpectedly.

I’ve long felt that there is something about islands that promises a sense of adventure. There seems to be some sense with islands that fantastic discoveries are possible. I know that Sam McKinney would have agreed with me. Maybe I just heard too many pirate stories as a kid, but this afternoon of paddling close to home seems to suggest that its a feeling which is well founded.