Khing, the master woodcarver, made a bell stand
Of precious wood. When it was finished,
All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be
The work of spirits.
The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:
“What is your secret?”

Khing replied, “I am only a workman:
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit. I did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set
My heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain and success.
After five days
I had forgotten praise and criticism.
After seven days
I had forgotten my body
With all its limbs.

“By this time all thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away.
All that might distract me from the work
Had vanished.
I was collected in the single thought
Of the bell stand.

“Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.
All I had to do was to put forth my hand
And begin.

“If I had not met this particular tree
There would have been
No bell stand at all.

“What happened?
My own collected thought
Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;
From this live encounter came the work
Which you ascribe to the spirits”.



”The Woodcarver” by Thomas Merton, from THE WAY OF CHUANG TZU, copyright ©1965 by The Abbey of Gethsemani.

Use by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

More lute-making tools

The fine dovetail saw, the jeweller’s saw, and  the wood-carving knife all fall into the category of ‘necessary luxuries’. I could probably make do without them – but they will no doubt prove their worth. They are a joy to use.

The Japanese Plane is an indulgence, pure and simple (I already have a beautiful low-angle block plane for lute-making purposes).

I am now faced with the challenge of setting it  up. It can be a tricky business, so I understand….

I will report further.




A Heath Robinson project….

This strange object (below) is my version of thickness callipers, intended to take measurements at various points of the soundboard.

The thickness of a lute soundboard varies from point to point.

Professional thickness callipers can be obtained at great cost – beyond my reach – so I thought to construct one for the Boatshed, using scraps of Ironbark, and a few offcuts from Dad’s special collection of Ebony.

Lignum Vitae, I recalled, was used long ago in the making of watch parts….it seemed to me that Ebony and Ironbark might serve well enough.

If the callipers don’t work, for some reason, I will try again….



Finicky work, but it will save time, and spare me potential grief  when I am cutting and fitting the wooden ‘ribs’, or (as I often think of them) strakes.

These will be  about 1.5 mm thick.

I can use both the mould and templates to make a second lute, and no doubt a  third….

Let fail all else….


But my books were always my friends, let fail all else….Joshua Slocum



A few weeks ago I set up the first of four or five shelves in the Boatshed, designed to house Dad’s fine collection of maritime books. It seemed like the appropriate place for the books, which are there for all the family to use as the need arises.

My brothers will recognize this first shelf of specially selected titles -the essence of the Maritime Library – which shaped and nourished our youthful hearts and minds, and (I feel sure) continue to inform  them in ways known and unknown.

The first book I installed was Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone around the World, and I could not resist flicking to the back pages, just to make sure my favorite maritime yarn was still in its proper place.

I have always thought The Voyage of the Liberdade was even more astonishing than Sailing Alone. Here is a quote from the preface:

Be the current against us, what matters it? Be it in our favour, we are carried hence, to what place or for what purpose? Our plan of the whole voyage is so insignificant that it matters little, maybe, wither we go, for the “grace of the day” is the same! Is it not a recognition of this which makes the old sailor happy, though in the storm; and hopeful even on a plank in mid-ocean? Surely it is this! for the spiritual beauty of the sea, absorbing man’s soul, permits of no infidels on its boundless expanse….

Perhaps Dad’s favourite volume was The Wandering Years, by Weston Martyr. You can see it in one of the photos. In fact, that little book  spent more time on his beside table than in the library: often enough perched on top of a battered King James Bible. I like to think of it as a sort of maritime Apocrypha.

Another precious (indispensable) book he kept close at hand was Howard I. Chapelle’s  American Small Sailing Craft. Sam has taken a photo of the inside back cover, where Dad noted page numbers of his favorite designs. The Tancook Whaler, of course, heads the List. Further down you will see South Jersey Beach Skiff, written in crabbed fashion: my own presumptuous entry. I was fascinated by that lovely vessel – which happens to be extremely difficult for a novice to build. One day, perhaps, if I can acquire the skills….

The light-blue Popular Mechanics volume has a plan of the second of our training boats: Silver Mist…. such a charming little craft, lost forever. It was in Silver Mist that my father’s sons ‘learnt the ropes’.

While we are on Maritime Books, I thought to mention an excellent title not held in the Library. It is called Of Yachts and Men by William Atkin. He was a fine designer of small wooden boats, and (like Slocum) had a way with words.

Young men should dream, and the old should not forget this enchanting pastime. For the old, the sequence of the dream may be interrupted because there is left so little time in which to pursue it – but this is poor reason for not beginning the pursuit. Suppose it is not interrupted….

And another quote from the same book (he wrote two or three books, and many articles):

Had you inquired why so much electric light was burning in the Mizzen Top’s cellar workshop, you would have gotten the answer, “Billy Atkin and Alison McIver are making a mast”. The ‘wiser’ and rasher neighbours might add that here were a queer pair finding fun in making something they had never made before. How is it that the ‘wise’ (in the sense of being well-satisfied with one’s own wisdom) never learn? I have found that it is quite easy to make anything, or for that matter do anything, once the spirit and will come a-knocking at the workshop door.

Now that is what a Novice likes to read: most encouraging…..

Novice update




A number of people have asked me why the 6 Course Renaissance Lute project moves so slowly.

My answer is a simple one: I cannot move faster.

I have also  been  asked why the lute looks so cumbersome – and this is easily explained: what you see in the photos is not the lute; it is the mould, or template, around which the lute body will be shaped.

The photos above show the first part of the actual lute – the neck-block, which resembles a sharp nose, and is carved from Poplar wood. (I chose Poplar because it has been traditionally used for that purpose; it works easily, and has good ‘resonance’).

The next step is to prepare thin ‘planks’ (known confusingly as ‘ribs’), and bend them around the mould. They will be glued edge-to-edge, and to the Poplar neck-block….thus forming a real lute body, which can be lifted off the mould.

That same mould will be used again to make more lutes: 6 Course or 7 Course Renaissance Lutes.

So much I understand; I move from lesson to lesson.

Of course, I am by nature a finicky sort of fellow, and I expect my silversmith training of long ago reinforced the trait- but at any rate, since I do not have a Master at my elbow, I must find out for myself how much ‘attention to detail’ is required.

For the time being I err on the side of detail, and caution….