Return to Earth

I was at a crossroads on the job site, so I took a day to organize a chaotic shop. Unfortunately the shop is mine, so there was no running from it, or reward for putting it off. I cleaned up a good bit. Enough to see and use the work surfaces. I rescued the jointer and welders from an abundance of moving blankets that were never put up after last cabinet install.

My best friend called. Perfect reason to take a break. I told him what I was up to and how I have lately become infatuated with green woodworking and Roy Underhill. Mr. Underhill is subtle.

Roy is an author who you read as a teenager and say “yeah, that’s me one day”, then life happens and you move on. Then, when reaching your 40th year, you once again have an encounter with him or one of his books and wonder why you haven’t been more like Roy for the past twenty years.

I’m getting ready to build a new shop, so Mika is kind enough to sound as excited as I am about the endeavor when I speak about it. I tell him that I have been thumbing through the Underhill books and notice that the footprint of his shop looks identical to the footprint of the shop I’m getting ready to construct. I go on to tell him that I just need one outlet in the shop and if I had my wish, it would be run off the stream in hydro-electric fashion.

Remember what I said. “One outlet”

We end the conversation and in the somewhat clean shop space, I feel invigorated to to get a project underway. A box that can be returned to the earth, or kept near to treasure. A urn. Rustic yet finished. I have dimensions of the box currently holding the ashes. Are they outer dimensions or inner dimensions? Do you know how terrible it would be to build a box of this nature and not have the contents fit?

I opted for the dimensions to be of the inside of the box. I’ve always liked lap joints. Don’t get me wrong, dovetails are beautiful..but to me they look out of place on something that may return to the earth. I’ve got some copper nails that will hold the box together and give it just enough pizazz without being too gaudy.

“Return to Earth”. The phrase keeps repeating itself in my head. Spalted. Spalted wood has beautiful character and is well on its way to return to earth. I like the idea of spalted wood much more than porcelain. Who wants to be found in an archeological dig? Or worse, in ten years from now by a metal detecting treasure hunter? But to be found, returned, and nurtured by the earth, now that sounds like one hell of a reward after a life well lived.

I’ve got a piece of spalted maple in mind.

Spalted wood has a couple more characteristics other than damn good looks. Spalted maple is much softer than before as its been ravaged by bickering fungi. This causes the wood to become much lighter than normal. Extremely sharp hand tools are in order to cut through the spalt without tear-out, or worse, extreme splits. One can no longer follow the grain and have the wood react as it typically would. I think about prepping a couple extra pieces just in case my hand plane has a disagreement with a side of the box. And if it all works out, all pieces make it to the end, I may just make a urn for myself.

Before you ask yourself, no it is not strange, or morbid in thought to desire a urn for yourself. Many people have grave sites and some even have tombstone plans before they are even born. Gravesites. Could you imagine marrying into a family gravesite? It would be like a family reunion that would never end. How fair would that be to live a good life and then immediately get placed into extended family purgatory, in a locked box, with a huge piece of limestone on top of your head? Yes, I’m most definitely making an urn for myself and updating my will.

My wife must have already had this thought for she showed much interest in a clay dragon the year we got married. I thought it was just a neat vessel. I had no idea it was a urn until ten years later I built her a bookcase and was dusting the items to go on it and there a card sat inside of the dragon’s hollow belly “Pottery and Urns”. Its fitting she would pick a dragon because she can be a fire breathing….thing of beauty!

What do you say we get back to building the box before I hasten my time to get into one?

Lap joints, copper rosehead nails, spalted maple. Remember what I said earlier about I only need one outlet in my new shop since I could do all work with hand tools? First I cut the stock to rough length with the compound slide mitre saw. I then send the material through my 15” 5hp planer. I then join the pieces with my tracksaw, and cut the joints with my bandsaw. I assemble the box, and then start shaping the sides with a smoothing plane. The blade is starting to tear at the grain. I tilt my bandsaw table, strike a pencil line midway up the box to roughly follow by eye, and send the box through the bandsaw, flipping it over, and doing it again. This gives a somewhat symmetrical curve on all sides. The hard line the bandsaw leaves is faired out with a electrical rotex sander. I use the router table for the rabbet on the underside of the lid. I find a tree of life I like in Google Images, import it to my Cnc program, attach the laser head to my cnc, and burn the tree into the top.

I rub some oil into the box, take my earbuds out, plug them up, then turn off the lights and fan.

See? I can make do with just one outlet.

Urns can be beautiful. Urns can be practical. Just say no to sitting in porcelain atop the mantle. Nobody like that. Gives the kids frights for years to come. Get ashy. Get in a wooden box. Then enjoy the ultimate gift after a life well lived, being returned to earth.

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