Easy First Steps In Acquiring Carpentry Skills

By Neenah Payne

Four guys in my community garden in Brooklyn, NY are outstanding carpenters. However, it had never occurred to me that I, as a woman, could learn to be a carpenter since I had never seen a woman carpenter. When I was in school, “Shop” was taught to guys and “Home Ec” was taught to girls.  So, learning some carpentry skills came as a revelation when I took the 10-week Earth Matter Compost and Farm Apprenticeship Program on Governors Island, NY from September 10 to November 19, 2022. Marisa DeDominicis, (shown below) who leads the program, is an accomplished carpenter and a great teacher. So, in Week 6, on October 22, she gave several of us an introduction to using some carpentry tools to build a new composting bin!

The finished bin is shown below on the right. Another bin the program built is shown on the left.

Marisa is shown below with bins in the fall at the end of the course.

On Graduation Day, November 19, the Apprentices and their guests were taught some carpentry skills to create a flower press to preserve the flowers and/or leaves we had chosen from the garden.

My flower press initially had just a  flower and two leaves. I later added the leaves shown below.

I used the Picture This app recommended by one of the Apprentices to identify the leaves. It’s the best plant ID app I’ve found so far. This Fall, I plan to collect leaves, label them, and preserve them in wax.

Earth Matter Carpentry Workshop: January 28

On January 28, Earth Matter held the workshop discussed below for $25 on Governors Island, NY.

Carpentry and the Compost Critters

You’ll construct simple benches using a Japanese saw technique which will be used in our Compost Critters youth gardening outdoor classroom. Par­tic­i­pants will receive sus­tain­ably sourced wood­en coast­ers to take home with them.

Marisa headed the workshop and recommended these books:

The Complete Do-it-Yourself Manual Newly Updated

Beginners Guide To Woodworking:

An Introduction To Basic Hand Tools, Equipment, And Techniques In Starting Your Woodworking Journey

About 20 people attended the workshop and each of us was given a 4.5” wooden coaster made of Choke Cherry like the one below shown on my particle board computer desk!

Marisa showed us the model bench for kids below made of Pine with Douglass Fir on the side panels. We were divided into seven groups and each group was given the tools and eight pieces of wood needed to construct the bench.

Each group was also given the Design Sheet shown below which explained how to modify each piece to construct the bench.

Vaishu Ilankamban and Elena D’Amanda co-led the workshop and demonstrated the steps we needed to take. The three co-leaders circulated through the room to help wherever needed.

Vaishu showed how to use the clamp and Japanese saw to cut out the required piece from a leg.

The class started at 1PM and by 4 PM, the seven benches had been completed and taken outside for a group photo. Two of the benches had been laminated with Linseed Oil (aka “Flaxseed Oil”) which provides both protection from the elements and a lovely finish. The workshop was so well organized that people with little or NO experience in carpentry built seven benches in less than three hours!

Earth Matter Annual Report 2022

Earth Matter’s impressive work is reported in the Earth Matter NY 2022 Annual Report. The cover shows the Lasagna Compost that Apprentices in the fall program built. The Lasagna Compost method which turns poor soil into great soil was used to create the Earth Matter Sol Star Farm.

YouTube Videos For Beginning Carpenters

Andrew, who led the team I was on and who was the most experienced carpenter in the group, said he has been learning a lot about carpentry by watching YouTube videos. Paola, who was the other person on the team I was on, said she is taking a class in carpentry to learn how to build a chair.

The following two YouTube videos link to many more on carpentry.

Brilliant Woodworking Tips for Beginners

The Top 10 Woodworking Videos for Beginners, this is the best place to start! S1E31

Learning More About Trees and Wood

The Art of Woodworking: A total beginner’s guide is free on Kindle and explains various properties and uses of hardwoods and softwoods.

The Encyclopedia of Wood has over 290 photos of wood from trees around the world with a map to show where each tree grows. That section is similar to Wood Specifications by Species.

The inside flap says,

The Encyclopedia of Wood is the most informative and comprehensive guide for all those who fully appreciate the beauty of wood. It is much more than a craftsman’s guide. The anatomy and lifecycle of trees are described, as are the subtleties of grain, pattern, figure, and color. Forest types from around the world are explained and illustrated with a special section on the complex subject of deforestation and conservation. The processes that wood undergoes between the forest and the end user are explored, including how timber is cut and the way in which this affects its uses. Stress and grading, drying and conversion, and advanced wood manufacturing technology are all dealt with in detail.

Amazon Description

Wood: It’s everywhere. The stuff literally grows on trees. We use it every day of our lives. Of course, this book is made from wood. Timber is one of our most valuable and vulnerable natural resources, and the best way to protect it is to make sure we use it properly. This in-depth guide from the United States Department of Agriculture tells you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about wood—and then some. Whether you’re a master woodworker or a weekend do-it-yourselfer, this is the ultimate reference material for any trip to the lumberyard.

  • Learn which type of wood you should be using for each project
  • Know the physical properties of different types of wood – and why it matters
  • Get to know the characteristics and recommended uses of various woods
  • Learn the best methods for fastening and finishing
  • Get tips for fire safety, and the long-term care of wood

Identifying Wood Types

Because much of our furniture now comes Particle Board, it’s easy to forget that some of our furniture, many of our floors and homes come from trees. While Particle Board saves money, it robs us of the conscious connection to trees and the natural world — as well as of being surrounded by the beauty of wood. Yet, not only is every piece of furniture a gift from trees, but so is every piece of paper, every book. In fact, every breath we take is a gift from tree and plants — and they absorb our carbon dioxide.

Trees also reduce storm water runoff and landslides, provide shade on sunny days, and create wildlife habitats. In addition, we benefit from the beauty they provide each season as well as their fruits and nuts. Life would not be possible without trees and plants which convert sunlight through photosynthesis into food for animals and people. So, we have a symbiotic relationship with trees and plants and have a very powerful debt to them — but one we may not often think about. That lack of awareness allows us to destroy the Amazon and other rainforests, the lungs of the Earth.

The following veneers available on Amazon show the look of the wood of various trees.

30 Pieces Wood Veneer Identification Labeled Pack Named Name Variety Domestic Marquetry Pack Inlay kit

American History Is Rooted in Eastern White Pine Tree

How Ancient Trees Created America

Eastern White Pine- the Tree Rooted in American History explains the central role of the Eastern White Pine tree in the founding and building of America, its logging history, and its current importance to wildlife and humans. The king of England prized these huge, straight White Pines as masts for ships and founded New England to provide a reliable source for masts. A mast 36-inches in diameter was valued in the 1700s at $25,000 in today’s currency. Lumbering was THE economic powerhouse. The White Pine was the basis of colonial economy. The contention over its ownership was the major factor that gave rise to the American Revolution.

The St. Croix River Valley on the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin supplied pine lumber that built St. Louis, Omaha, Des Moines, Kansas City, and other prairie towns. The advent of the railroads increased the demand for lumber for tracks and fuel. The video points out, “It would not be an overstatement to say that the White Pine is the tree that built the United States of America!

Restoration of Redwood Forests

The Man Who Restores Trees To Save The Planet

David Milarch’s near-death experience inspired his quest to archive the genetics of the world’s largest trees before they’re gone.  This short film from documents his effort to save the redwood champions of Northern California.

About Archangel Ancient Tree Archive


Tree Sitting To Save A Redwood

Julia ‘Butterfly’ Hill: The Modern Day Lorax explains why Julia “Butterfly” Hill lived at the top of a Red wood tree for two years in 1998. Julia’s story transcends even the work of saving old growth forests.

The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods is by Julia.

Amazon says:

On December 18, 1999, Julia Butterfly Hill’s feet touched the ground for the first time in over two years, as she descended from “Luna,” a thousand year-old redwood in Humboldt County, California. Hill had climbed 180 feet up into the tree high on a mountain on December 10, 1997, for what she thought would be a two- to three-week-long “tree-sit.” The action was intended to stop Pacific Lumber, a division of the Maxxam Corporation, from the environmentally destructive process of clear-cutting the ancient redwood and the trees around it. The area immediately next to Luna had already been stripped and, because, as many believed, nothing was left to hold the soil to the mountain, a huge part of the hill had slid into the town of Stafford, wiping out many homes.

Over the course of what turned into an historic civil action, Hill endured El Nino storms, helicopter harassment, a ten-day siege by company security guards, and the tremendous sorrow brought about by an old-growth forest’s destruction. This story — written while she lived on a tiny platform eighteen stories off the ground — is one that only she can tell.

Julia Butterfly Hill “The 6 R’s”

The 6 R’s Julia advocates are “Respect, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink, and Rejoice!”

Julia says:

While I was in Luna, I learned that every issue we’re facing is the symptom, and the disease is the disease of disconnect. When we’re disconnected from the Earth and we’re disconnecting from each other, we make choices and don’t realize how it’s truly impacting all of us, and that means all the beings, everything, and the future generations. I wanted to try and help weave that together for people, that if…we’re working on the symptoms, if we don’t work also at the disease, we’ll never be able to get to the healing that our world and our planet needs…. If the disease is the disease of disconnect, then the healing is all the ways that we can, and do, connect.


Man Turns Degraded Land Into Massive Forest!

Film: Visionary Transformed 5,500 Barren Acres With Grass

The Many Gifts of Mother Cedar

Robin Wall Kimmerer says in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants:

In those days the ancient rainforests spread from Northern California to southeastern Alaska in a band between the mountains and the sea….an ecosystem rivaled nowhere else on earth. The biggest trees in the world. Trees that were born before Columbus sailed. …This is the land of the tree…known in the Salish languages as…. Mother Cedar. No matter what the people needed, the cedar was ready to give, from cradleboard to coffin, holding the people.

In this wet climate, where everything is on its way to back to decay, rot-resistant cedar is the ideal material. The wood is easily worked and buoyant. The huge, straight trunks practically offer themselves for seagoing craft that could carry twenty paddlers. And everything that was carried in those canoes was also the gift of cedar: paddles, fishing floats, nets, ropes, arrows, and harpoons. The paddlers even wore hats and capes of cedar, warm and soft against the wind and rain…

A long process of shredding bark with a deer bone yielded a pile of fluffy cedar “wool.” Newborn babies were delivered into a nest of this fleece. This “wool” could also be woven into warm, durable clothing and blankets. A family sat on woven mats of outer bark, slept on cedar beds, and ate from cedar dishes. Every part of the tree was used.. The ropy branches were split for tools, baskets, and fish traps. …Who warmed the house? From bow drill to tinder to fire, it was Mother Cedar.

When sickness came, the people turned again to her. Every part is medicine for the body…Some people equate sustainability with a diminished standard of living, but the aboriginal people of the coastal old-growth forests were among the wealthiest in the world….Scientists know Mother Cedar as Thuja plicata, the western red cedar. One of the venerable giants of the ancient forests, they reach heights of two hundred feet.—fifty feet in circumference, rivaling the girth of the redwoods….Today, when cedar is mistaken for a commodity from the lumberyard, the idea of gift is almost lost.

Wood Technology

Honey Locust Tree

My First Time Sawing Honey Locust shows what it’s like to carve the Honey Locust tree. It’s fascinating to see a tree being turned into such beautiful lumber!

Black Locust Tree

The wood of the Black Locust tree is not nearly as beautiful as that of the Honey Locust.

(1793) Milling The Black Locust Trees For Timber – YouTube

Black Locust Firewood – How Does it Compare? (Episode 5: Firewood Series)

Identifying Plants and Trees

Before we went foraging in Week 6 of the Earth Matter Compost and Farm Apprenticeship in the fall of 2022, we were asked to watch the Honorable Harvest video below by Professor Kimmerer.

The Honorable Harvest with Robin Kimmerer

What does ethical reciprocity between humans and the natural world look like? The Honorable Harvest reminds us how to take, use and share while mindfully honoring the indigenous legacies that teach us how to commune with our planet. Featuring Robin Wall Kimmerer, Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

I was so impressed with the video that I bought Professor Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants. It is the most beautifully written book I’ve ever read.  Wikipedia says: Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants received the 2014 Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award. By 2021, over 500,000 copies had been sold worldwide…. In 2022, Dr. Kimmerer was awarded the Macarthur “genius” award.” It became a NYTimes Best Seller.

I wrote the article Mapping a New Geography of Hope With Native America to share Prof. Kimmerer’s ideas. In her book, Professor Kimmerer says one way to become more “indigenous” to your area is to pay more attention to your surroundings.  One of the ways I did that was to go foraging in December with “Wildman” Steve Brill in Central Park. I documented the trip in my article Foraging With “Wildman” Steve Brill in Central Park.

That also led me to notice trees in my neighborhood. Next fall, I plan to collect a variety of leaves and preserve them.

Oak Trees

The Pin Oak and Northern Red Oak (aka “Red Oak”) are the most prevalent Oak trees along the streets of my neighborhood. I found most of the other Oak trees list below in a nearby park. I had no idea there were so many kinds of Oak trees — and all in very easy walking distance of my apartment!

I have found the following Oak trees are in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY so far.

  1. Chestnut Oak
  2. Black Oak
  3. Blackjack Oak
  4. Bur Oak
  5. Gambel Oak
  7. PIN OAK
  8. Sawtooth Oak
  9. Scarlet Oak
  10. Shingle Oak
  11. Shumard Oak
  12. Southern Live Oak
  13. Swamp White Oak
  14. Valley Oak
  15. White Oak

The chart below shows seven Oak Trees I haven’t found in my neighborhood.

How To ID Oak Trees By Acorns

Neenah Payne writes for Activist Post and Natural Blaze

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