Tuesday, July 26, 2016



You’ve probably heard the old joke, how do you carve a marble elephant?  Easy, you get a lump of marble and cut off all the bits that don’t look like an elephant. 

I did some carving during my training in antique restoration and to a degree the punch line represents good advice, just cut off the pieces that don’t belong.  My tutor made it look easy.  He could visualise the finished product very early and remove large slices of unnecessary timber with confidence and speed.  He saved his concentration for the finer, detailed work required towards the end of the process. 

In my earliest attempt I was scared of taking too much away and carved the piece 20% larger than needed.  I then gradually brought the overall size down in small increments.  Essentially, what I did was completely carve the same object several times in the same block of timber.  That’s why my first life size lion’s foot took me 8 hours while the tutor knocked it over in around 30 minutes.

Like many activities I did get better with practice and my fourth attempt “only” took 2 hours.  Since then I have developed a better eye for which bits “don’t look like an elephant”, but I don’t think I’ll ever be in the same class (so to speak) as my tutor.


In his letter to the Ephesians Paul writes:

“…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24 (ESV)

Unlike carving, Christianity isn’t just about removing things from our lives - it isn't just a matter of "stop doing these things”. It is also, and profoundly, a matter of “and now do this”.   
Is there anything you need to start doing?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Job done?

Over the last 8 years I’ve built, or rebuilt, a lot of things in my workshop including a stair case, a kitchen, 22 square metres of leadlight windows, 10 french doors and 6 windows to name just a few. I’ve then carefully trailered each piece to the house we’re building some 250km away. At times it seemed like we would never finish with the list of “things to do” seemingly stretching for miles. But, after 80% of a decade, the building inspector has declared the job “complete”. (There's a bit more about our house here: http://pemberley-estate.blogspot.com.au/).
Granted it hasn’t been an all day every day occupation - not even every weekend for that matter. In fact, at the start we decided that the house build would be a hobby rather than a vocation.  As a result we’ve probably only averaged 3 or 4 days on the job per month over the whole period. But don’t get the wrong idea, our “relaxed” approach hasn’t always felt that relaxing for us. 5 years elapsed before we had an upstairs floor, 6 years for the flushing loo and the hot water system was only fired up for the first time 6 months ago.

Why did we tackle it this way?  Well, we didn't want the project to become the focus of our family's lives - that position was already taken.

Two verses come to mind:
Matthew 6:21 - For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Proverbs 16:3 - Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Nick from Shady Creek

After a great weekend at the Henry Lawson Festival in Grenfell I felt inspired to have a crack at this poetry thing.......
His name was Papadopolous, but he went as Nick the Greek,
Or the bloke who ran the vegie garden down at Shady Creek.
He’d sailed out from the Islands, no money and no ties,
At least ten lifetimes ago in 1925.
At Sydney he met Jo from Shady Creek’s elite.
Her Dad a local hero no sport ever saw him beat.
She told Nick about her home’s clear stream and bright sun.
He had nowhere else he had to go, so Shady Creek - well it won.
He’d get a job, buy a block and join the Odd Fellows.
He’d raise vegies, work hard, grow old and mellow.
He’d find a wife, settle down and have some children.
He might try to become domesticated even.
So Papadopolous decided his life to revise.
Nick the Greek of Shady Creek would be his reprise.
As for a job, Jo’s Dad would be the first he’d ask.
If he was like her, work would be a pleasant task.
“Who da hell’s this greasy bloke”, the local hero squawked.
“Nick the Greek.” Said Jo. “He wants a job, a new start.”
“A wog in the shop.” The Hero said. “That ain’t gonna work.
No one’ll understand the curley headed jerk.”
“It’s OK Jo.” Said our Greek. “Your Dad doesn’t need the likes of me.
‘Cause I don’t look and sound the part I’ll go to plan B.
All I want’s a patch of dirt by the creek you said was near.
I’ll grow those greens I did at home and sell them to people here.”
The Hero snorted, “so the wog thinks he’s gonna steal me trade away?
I’m the local grocer, have been for years and many more I’ll stay.”
“Afraid of a bit of competition?” Asked Nick with a stinging tone.
“Me. I’m afraid of nuffin mate. Fear’s something this Hero don’t know.”
Nick replied “Excuse a simple foreign boy who’s not too canny,
But I’m sure “not nuffin” is not in the dictionary
Though, I am no expert and will defer to you.
As you have only one to concentrate on and I unfortunately have two.
With anger and steam the hero’s shade and height,
Both elevated sharply to a greater fahrenheit.
“Plant your bloody greens and rubbish, as if I care what you do.
But I don’t know where you’ll get seed – I won’t sell it to you.”
“So the land of opportunity is only that for some?
Not to worry, ‘cause I bought seeds from my Greek Mum.
For certain they won’t mind which soil they’re planted in.
And I’m sure the dirt and water will care even less than them.”
So what became of Nick the Greek? Much, but especially to note.
He married Jo, had ten kids and for mayor he won the vote.
The hero though never mellowed, acquiesced, forgave or bent.
His pride would not permit it, himself to Coventry he sent.
The moral, if there’s one, is around the choices we sometimes make
And if they don’t hit the mark how pride can stop us righting the mistake.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Their real value

My workshop is a giant mess. Apart from the usual tools and junk I recently added 70 meters of random length 300mm wide cedar skirting board to the obstacle course. The story goes that the 100 year old boards were removed from a Nursing Home in Cremorne Sydney a couple of decades ago by a fellow who had intended to use them for his building project. This obviously didn’t happen so in search of cash and floor space, he advertised the timber. Even though it was a 6 hour round trip, I couldn’t resist. This will look perfect in our upstairs bedrooms. Picking them up was an adventure, even the satnav had trouble finding the place and on the return trip we were caught in a deluge that would have made Noah think twice. But their story doesn’t end there.
I am spending about an hour per metre stripping back several coats of paint and 80 years of grime. Next, they’ll get bundled onto the trailer for the 3 hour ride to our property before being laid out on the back lawn. Finally, like a giant puzzle, we’ll figure out the most economical way to cut the boards so they can be reborn as prized skirting once again. The dollar cost of the boards was pretty low, a couple of dollars a metre – but that's not their real value.

The value of a man is about $1 in terms of trace elements. Thankfully God doesn’t value us in that way, He looks at us and sees the whole exciting story. Luke 12:6-7 (NIVUK) spells it out.
"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."

Friday, November 8, 2013

The $64,000 question

Over decades of making things, and making mistakes, I’ve developed a gaggle of questions that I ask myself about a project before I pick up a tool (when I remember that is).  They don’t apply to every job, but they do make me stop and think.
  1. Have I done this before? (Hint - usually the answer is "no".)
  2. How many do I need?
  3. Would construction benefit from an accurate jig or repeatable process?
  4. Does it need to interact with (eg fit into, sit on etc) something else?
  5. What type or level of finish will it have?
  6. What level of precision is required?
  7. Does it have a left, right, front, back, top or bottom? (Hint - this is a big one.)
  8. What is the ideal tool set and do I have it (and does it matter)?
  9. Should I consider buying one instead of making one?
  10. Have I really thought this through? (hint - a lot of times the answer is "no".)
It’s not a bullet proof recipe, but it does often bring to light some aspect that I would have otherwise overlooked.
There are also some other questions that I occasionally ask myself.  These have been picked up from various online sources and tweaked by me, for me.  Maybe they will work for you too.
  • Where do my thoughts first go when I wake up in the morning?
  • What is my greatest worry?
  • What, if I can’t have, do I get distressed or anxious about?
  • What person or activity do I often find myself anticipating?
  • Where do I seek comfort when things get tough?
  • What preoccupies my thoughts?
  • Where do I find my self-worth or identify?
  • What is my greatest hope for the future?
My reasoning is that if God doesn’t somehow feature in at least some of my answers then perhaps I need to reconsider the boundaries around, and balance within, my life.  

A clock comprising a large gas pressure valve, recycled bolts, chain from my Dad's shed and
any hours work.Answering question 7
really took some thought.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


One way I while away many enjoyable hours is with lead lighting.  It's amazing how some odd bits and pieces of glass and lead can be turned into something not only useful but beautiful.  The real skill in making a good lead light window is to cut and grind the individual pieces very carefully - with the aim of them fitting together with a consistent gap between them. 
A gap?  Yes, there needs to be a space between each piece to accommodate the lead that brings cohesion and structure to the finished window.  Without the lead, you just have a jigsaw of loose pieces lying on the table.
Sounds a bit like a church family doesn't it?  All the pieces, regardless of size and nature, have a part to play.  They must fit closely together.  After all, it's not like other pieces of glass can expand to fill a void.  And the lead - read Romans 12:4-5 and see what you think.
"In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvellously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t."  Romans 12:4-5 The Message

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A treasure

I was helping Mum clean out a corner of one of Dad’s numerous back yard sheds a while back when I found a treasure.  Dad was supervising – 84 years gives you that right – when I lifted up an old file handle.
“Chuck that old thing”, Dad said instantly.  But I didn’t have the heart to.
Dad used to sharpen a lot of chainsaws during his sawmilling days and if you’ve ever tried it you’d know that the small tang on the end of a round file is hard on your hands.  That’s where a file handle comes in.  Usually a turned piece of timber it can be transferred to a new file when the old one becomes blunt.
This handle had split a couple of times in its life, probably when it was being hammered onto a new file with gusto.  The split pieces had been nailed back on and then several turns of fencing wire added for good luck at some point.
When Dad looked at this particular handle he saw something broken and useless.  But I saw something that had been thoughtfully repaired so it could continue to serve its original purpose.  Granted, it had some scars, but in many ways they just added to its strength.  Sound familiar?
"Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked him to take it away. But his answer was: My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak. I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ's power over me.  I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 Good News Translation (GNT)