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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Would you like a pleasant alternative to "Black Friday"?

You may not know about Chincoteague...

but, it's a place near and dear to our hearts. If you are trying to avoid the mass hysteria of "Black Friday", I recommend that you consider a trip to Chincoteague, Virginia instead.

Years ago, when we started to go to "carving" shows, many of our friends and colleagues, in particular, the late great Lee Scheely, told us: "You've got to go to Chincoteague!". The way it was put made the show a bit intimidating. We didn't know if we could even get in, especially where our subject is boats, rather than birds. There is, however, a good deal of carving that goes into our work and so we started "doing Chincoteague". It may have been one of the best things we've done.

There are actually three of the Chincoteague carving shows each year: Thanksgiving, Easter and Labor Day. We've never been able to do Labor Day for unrelated reasons. We've discussed the Easter show on our Facebook page. This weekend (Friday & Saturday Nov. 25th & 26th) is the Thanksgiving show. It's also a Christmas show.

Let me tell you about these shows. They are held at the Chincoteague Combined School in its gymnasium. No huge signs out front. You might think that you're looking at a Holiday Bazaar or other Craft Fair when you only look at the outside of the building. A school with a lot of vans and trailers parked outside. Sounds like a bunch of amateurs???

When I first came to these shows, I was blown away. The exhibitors represented the Master's Masters of carving, many that I knew from Havre de Grace and The Waterfowl Festival and other great nationally recognized shows. Among them were Bill Veasey and Shannon Dimmig, Vince Ciesielski (I probably spelled his name incorrectly), Bill Cowen, Jennifer Daisey, Russell Fish, Walt Schmitz, Bill Hickson, Rocky Detwiler and scores of other truly great carvers. The painters and sculptors were no less amazing. Other artists, such as Donnie Thornton and Don & Donna Drew really rounded the shows out nicely. There is no room to mention many of them, no less to describe their work.

What was also amazing was to find such a low key atmosphere, where you didn't just have the opportunity to see some amazing art and artistry, but the opportunity to spend time talking with the artists and getting to know them. Over the years, we've made a lot of friends and we've learned a lot of things from being in the Chincoteague carving shows. Unfortunately, we've lost more than a few of those friends over those years, such as Lee, Don Repsher and some others who we came to expect to see when we arrived and now really miss. We were lucky to have the opportunities to learn from them and to be able to call such great people our friends.

These shows have changed over the years. Everyone used to know about them - they were legendary. Word of mouth has been overcome by electronic media and low budget shows can't buy the advertising that the large retailers can. The Deborah Waterfowl Show and Auction is a truly great show with truly great carvers and artists of many kinds. It's an honest display of high quality things, in some cases among the best in the world of those things.  They are reasonably priced and made with precision and care. If you are looking for gifts, you will be amazed at what awaits you.

As you consider the idea of patronizing small businesses, I recommend that you consider this show, full of hard-working people, who, although they may not be immediately recognized as such, are small business owners. Proceeds from the show benefit the Deborah Heart & Lung Center in Brown's Mills, NJ. As with the eggs that we carve for the silent auction at the Easter show, we apply our talents to wooden balls such as the one below. Come to the live auction on Saturday night to get your hands on some very special things...

The show is only a small reason to come to the island of Chincoteague. It's a beautiful town with shops, restaurants, hotels, B&Bs and beautiful views. The Wildlife Refuge opens up miles of road that are only open for Thanksgiving weekend. You can see the famous ponies (don't tell me that you've never heard of "Misty of Chincoteague"), Snow Geese, deer, beaches and... I've told you enough.

Again... Avoid the Malls! Come to The Deborah Waterfowl Show and Auction, Friday and Saturday, November 25th & 26th, 2011 at the Chincoteague Combined School in Chincoteague, Virginia. For more information call (757) 336-6161

Friday, November 4, 2011

Blast from the past!

"Where did you find that???" Nancy was doing some re-arranging and came across some old "stuff"...

I had almost forgotten the era of the "WinkieMobile". It's not such a bad name when you know that it was in honor of my old shop supervisor, Winston, an aging, but wonderful, Springer Spaniel, who was around for the building of all fourteen of them.

I know that I have many better shots of them somewhere, but these are available now and bring back some memories of the little car that we used to make, that we thought was a bit special. Unfortunately, it had over 300 parts to each one and we were unable to get back anywhere near what we put into them. Still, they hold a special place in my memory.

There was an evolution that came from the basic idea of it. A little car that was made of fine woods, with all sorts of features that kids might like. The hood opened and inside was a brightly colored engine with removeable spark plugs, air filter and the engine block came out too. Beneath that was the sophisticated steering system, operated using spindles and nylon rope to absorb shock. The trunk opened and contained a wrench made from maple, as well as a threaded jackstand so that the tires could be changed, or exchanged, with the spare which was held to the trunk lid by a maple "bolt" large enough to easily be turned by small hands. The wrench could also be used to extend the length of the car by unscrewing some maple nuts under the frame and sliding the the rear portion  of the car either forward or back.

That evolution started with visiting a friend's toy store and finding out that there was much more involved than looks. The next step was to have it kid-tested and they virtually destroyed the first designs in minutes. We still have those cars. Finally, the, much more solid, WM3 design was adopted and everyone loved it, but...

What was special about the cars was that they were made from very fine hardwoods. They were all painted with a lacquer-like feel to their painted surfaces, but all finishes were done with water-based paints.With all of the parts involved, we had to create a lot of special templates and jigs. It took from four to eight months to build one.

Although "Fire Engine Red" was the most popular color, we also made them in White, Dark Blue, Yellow, and Teal. The seats were usually "book-matched" as in the white one above. The lighter wood is Tiger Oak and the darker wood is Black Walnut. We made their seats from Birds-Eye Maple, Black Walnut Burl, Koa and some other very interesting woods. The steering wheels were made from Purpleheart, Mahogany, Maple, and others. The bumpers of the white car above were made from Purpleheart. The bumpers went through an interesting evolution of shapes, the first being made as assemblies to form springs from Ash, changing to solid shapes that had "fiddle heads" carved into their ends. That was some interesting carving.

The last WinkieMobile was a custom order. You can see the "fiddleheads" on the ends of the bumpers. The seats were book-matched Black Walnut Burl with Ash trim. It had a gold-lettered license plate. The hinges of the trunk lid were made from Koa.

Every now and then someone remembers that we used to make "those little cars". They were probably doomed from the start. We charged about $500, which didn't come close to covering costs. We were faced with people saying: "Why would my kid want that? They have a battey powered jeep and I didn't pay that much." We even had offers to have them made overseas for us. Our answer then was no and it would be the same now. To make them properly, you have to love them and nobody else would do that.

It's a moot point now. Hurricane Isabel flooded our shop in 2003 and we lost many of the necessary templates and jigs required to make "those little cars".  We had pretty much moved over to making only boat models by that time anyway, because they were in high demand.

Still, I have some good memories of "those little cars". Perhaps I'll find some of those other photos, so you can see the engines, the steering mechanisms and the chassis...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Need to find something special for the Holidays??

If you are looking for serious Holiday gifts, for others (or even for yourself), I hope you’ll hang around long enough to read this...

As authors of a book that includes much common sense, but also some pretty specialized information, we've been particularly pleased, not just at the number of favorable reviews that we've gotten, but about where some of those reviews have come from.

When I used to play music for a living, the older and wiser musicians would remind me "Don't listen to the hecklers; they're probably drunk." They also followed that statement with "Don't get too high on the compliments; they're probably drunk. These are good words of wisdom for anyone trying to keep their assessment of the opinions of others in check. The same guys would also point someone out in the audience and say "If that guy says you did well, it means something", referring to someone that had been in the business for many years. Of course, "that guy" might put you in your place just as quickly; maybe more often.

We wrote our book for all levels of model makers. That is to say that it provides fundamental information that can teach anyone to learn the art of model making and it also has a significant amount of information that can add to any master model makers skill set. There are a number of areas of focus including; learning the art of "scratch building"; concepts and techniques for improving your ability to "see" your subject in order to better represent it in your model; understanding shapes, spatial concepts, drawings and how to measure boats accurately; different ways to build and display models; tools; materials; construction theories and much more.

It's got 160 pages, 264 photos, and 94 drawings and it took 4 years to write. Those photos were culled from thousands; the drawings from hundreds and the fifty some odd original chapters were focused down to twenty. It was quite a bit of work and, as with the playing of music, when you put your work out in public for others to judge, you want to know what they think... ...what they really think.

At shows and book signings, we’ve received positive compliments from all sorts of people and it's been very gratifying. We don't always know who among them knows what, but we certainly know, from some of the serious conversations that we've had, that among them have been some very knowledgeable model makers. Unfortunately, those conversations are gone to the wind...

With our book, as when I was a musician, we wait for “that guy”, who is known for their expertise, and whose words can be relied upon to “mean something”. Because we believe in the quality of our book and want confirmation that we succeeded at doing what we intended, it means a great deal to us when “that guy” speaks up. It also helps us as we write our next book.

When you know who “that guy” is, you know that what they say can help guide you, especially if the subject is one that you don’t yet know much about or in the case where you are looking for a gift for someone else. We have now heard from a number of “those guys” and it is probable, if you happen to be reading this, that you are well aware of one and likely more of those we’ve chosen to list here:

As you read note not only what is said, but who is saying it. They are people who know what they are talking about:

From the November 2011 issue of The Waterman’s Gazette, a trade publication of the Maryland Watermen’s Association. The Watermen that work on deadrise and other types of workboats in the Maryland waters of the Chesapeake Bay rely on the “Gazette“. Watermen have no problem telling you what they think; good or bad. The review says some very nice things, referring to how model boat builders and enthusiasts“, both “professional” and “hobbyist” will benefit and “can apply the principles learned for design techniques and theories to other models they want to build” and concluding with “it’s well worth the price”. Believe me, Watermen know value.

Tom Holmes, noted expert and restorer of classic Century boats and President of The Century Boat Club, wrote in The Thoroughbred, a magazine published by The Century Boat Club, “their attention to detail is awesome” and “their chapters on Understanding Lines Drawings and How to Measure a Boat are very instructive for club members tackling a restoration job, especially a basket case. Their approach to problem solving is fundamental to a boat restorer especially if you are not simply copying , but need to scratch build boat parts. You will learn many skills and approaches to boat building from reading this book.”

Good Old Boat Magazine, well read by many for years said among many nice things: “My learning curve would have been much less steep if Fundamentals of Model Boat Building had been available.” and “I looked at this book from the perspective of a fellow model boat builder and found the explanations and terminology easy to follow. With that in mind, I asked my husband, who is a sailor, but not a model builder, to look it over and he told me it’s a fascinating read.”

Fine Woodworking Magazine, respected by woodworkers the world over; in addition to awarding our book as a prize, included this in their assessment: “This seems like a pretty intense book, but if you want to build model boats, this book will show you how to do it all.”

As of this time, all of the reviews that we have seen have been very positive and we are very pleased and proud to recommend our book to you, or your loved ones. There are many others and I will be happy to give you the sources so you can read their complete reviews. Just email me at

That said, I want to know all opinions, whether you are a novice or a master, whether your opinion is full of praise or full of criticisms. We have yet to see a negative review, not that we would look forward to it, but we really want to know of all honest opinions. We really want to know what you think. Take a look for yourself!