Port Townsend School of Woodworking
Preserving the Tradition


Sometimes, It Is All Just Whimsy


Whimsy—if I am to believe Webster—suggests a playful or amusing quality, a sense of humor.  I am more taken with serendipity, luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.

I beg forgiveness, the latter definition also belongs to Mr. Webster, but he seems likely to allow my using it here.  

Why all this word play?  Well, in my ongoing procrastination concerning construction of an office desk, I started to look around the shop for things that could arguably be called “justifiable” employment of skills and tools.  (Don’t ask about the electric bill, I try to turn off everything in the house when wandering into the shop—then I don’t feel so badly about overemploying Mr. Edison’s contribution to modern society.)  

So there I am contemplating the desk, or doing something more whimsical…that likely will take as much time as building the desk. Procrastination is a wonderful thing…I just claim that slab of sapele sitting aside my bench is curing to house temperature.

Here’s where my father gets me into trouble.  He has an imagination stirred by years of teaching, and then serving as a principal at elementary schools. Kids, you see, don’t have the same inhibitions or comprehension of physical limitations concerning materials we use to craft objects out of wood—to say nothing of what they expect from glass, metal or plastic.

Now we are back to whimsy.

The end of January reminds me Spring is coming.  Even here in the great “Northwet”—where it has been blustery, cold and rain.  

For weeks.  

Nice to have a heated shop with closed doors when the Pacific Ocean decides we need another day of liquid sunshine.  

But Spring is due, and with it come the birds who keep our insect population at bay.  

All of which brings me to that project any craftsperson can share with younger members of the family, building a birdhouse.  I know, I know, birdhouses are woodworking 101, find cheap pine and start cutting.  An interesting prospect for the first-time woodworker, but nothing to keep you going.  Here’s where whimsy and my father’s imagination kicks in.  

A bird house that two sets of skill levels will enjoy.

The basic bird house is a box measuring 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 inches.  Yup, that’s a box.  All you need is a hinged bottom to empty nesting material at the end of each season and a 1 inch hole with a two inch peg (I find ½ inch doll rods make good stock) for a perch inserted about 1 inch below the entrance hole.  

The 1 inch diameter for an entrance is no mistake.  That diameter is the right size for birds you would like in a backyard—no crows or other scavengers—and will keep out squirrels and their like (around here that would be seagulls) who would find eggs or chicks a nice snack.

With me so far?

Now we add some whimsy.  

No one said your birdhouse had to be conventional.  How about we add a shake shingle roof, a slightly carved goose head perch, wings, legs and some feet.  A little paint from your junior assistant and, ta-dha! A birdhouse unlike any other in the neighborhood.  

Ok, before I flee back to the shop in an effort to start this desk, one more comment.  If you are doing this with a junior partner use 1 inch thick pine—it’s very forgiving and paints easily, even if you choose to use watercolors that are subsequently coated in a varnish for longevity.  Poplar works as well, but is less forgiving when teaching a new craftsperson.

There you have it, a bit of whimsy at a serendipitous moment.  This project offers a chance to pass along skills and should keep you out of trouble with a significant other who wonders what goes on in that dusty cave we all like to call our second home.

Eric Anderson is a retired Air Force officer who can be found puttering in his shop when not scribbling on the keyboard.  A new resident of Port Townsend, he is an avid sailor, struggling carpenter, and would-be writer.