Carving Words

Most of us have some kind of creative outlet: photography, painting or drawing, cooking, knitting, making jewelry, whatever. Something to let our creative side run wild.

Table1(Mortise and tenon joinery)

One of mine, when I’m not working my day job or writing, is woodworking. I enjoy crafting furniture, especially the challenge of handcrafting joints. I have always admired the simple beauty of Shaker furniture – the clean lines, the perfect utility of their pieces. I love working in cherry. It has a gorgeous grain and color, but it has its own peculiar characteristics. Each species of wood does. They like to be planed in certain directions; some cut and carve easily, while others are more like glass or a jewel.


(More mortise and tenon with ebony pegs)

Manuscripts are like this as well. Some flow out of your mind and hands, smooth and silky, while others resist being carved into finished form. Some take more rough work, like research.

I’m writing the second book of a trilogy set in Ireland of about 700 C.E., and I am constantly checking on the origins of words to make sure they would have been in use then. It’s amazing how many words associated with warfare didn’t come into being until the Middle Ages. Says something about that era I guess.

I have to check which plant and animal species were native to Ireland, even if they’re extinct there now. I was describing one character who was carrying a bag on her back as looking like a tortoise, but then thought to check. Ireland has no native turtles or tortoises. Oops.

pens(My collection of fountain pens)

Tools are another thing I love – fountain pens for writing and hand tools for wood. I have some power tools – a planer, a jointer, a table saw – for the big work, but what I really love are the hand tools. Especially the antique ones. A lot of people collect these to have them sitting around on shelves. I look for ones that still have soles in good condition and whose irons are in good enough shape to take an edge.



Getting the boards cut and jointed into some semblance of whatever they will eventually be is a lot like writing a first draft. Get it down on paper (or in a computer). Give it form and substance, then the fun begins.


I start the planing, the shaving, the carving away of extraneous material until each piece fits together seamlessly. Whether it’s carving wood or words, the process is similar. Sometimes, I make a mistake and realize certain things don’t fit together very well, then I have to go back and patch it.


Thank you, EGK, whoever you were.


My furniture will never be mistaken for anything made by a professional, like the late Sam Maloof. His furniture – especially his chairs – are works of art. You can’t help but want to touch them.

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 4.12.07 PM


I like to touch the pieces I’ve made, too. Something about wood is very tactile. Unlike Sam’s pieces, mine will always have the plane marks and little tear-outs and boo-boos I made (along with some of my blood somewhere in each piece), but I’m probably the only one who will ever know about some of them. I absolutely love running my fingers over wood I have worked, feeling those little ridges and undulations made by my tools and my hands.


(Here’s a bead made with an antique beading plane)


Likewise, the result of my writing is unmistakably mine. My stories and writing style are not everyone’s cup of tea – and that’s to be expected. But when I hold a book in my hands and run my fingers over the print (yes, you can actually feel the print on a page of a real book), and know that those are my words… that is a really, really cool feeling.

Here’s to our creative sides!

Tools5(Tools can tell a story too. This one has been around!)


9 thoughts on “Carving Words

  1. I haven’t done anything in wood for years , but I loved the sense of accomplishment at a finished product. Usually utilitarian items, decks, window frames, benches. along with the feel of the wood is the smell! (I collect pens, as well–another tactile joy).

  2. You’re right, Barrett. Building something like a deck or bench that you’ll use is a great feeling of accomplishment and pride. We eat at that maple and cherry table every day. And sometimes I really miss hand-writing patient notes. It gave me more opportunity to use all my pens!

  3. I completely understand your woodworking obsession. I am not good at any of it but I love the smell of the wood while I’m sanding it. I thought I was the only one that felt the words on book pages. Nice to know someone else feels the same way.

  4. I like the analogy you’ve drawn between writing fiction and making furniture, Caren. To build on your analogy, it seems that a solid underlying structure (of work, thoughts, and/or research) is important for both novels and furniture. It has to be there to enable us (readers or furniture-users!) to appreciate all those artistic elements and fine details layered on top of it, as well as the novel or piece as a whole.
    The details of your furniture joinery are beautiful in the photos.

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