Mixed-Species at Maize Valley Winery


Today I’m a beauty blogger. It’s not what you think. I have no product suggestions or insight into spring color palettes. I’m talking about the natural beauty of wood. My weekend was permeated with it and it simply has to be written about.

I spent a day with Dan planing boards to complete the mixed-species wall paneling being installed at Maize Valley Winery in Hartville, Ohio. They are constructing a 4-season pavillion with large doors that will open up to the vineyards in warm weather. In cool weather, the view will focus inward, with no less interest and charm, as the space is lined with the rainbow striations of mixed-species wood.

Single-species has its purpose and place. It allows the eye to glide over the mostly monochrome surface, enjoying the sheen of light evenly distributed, and then the eye comes to rest or focuses elsewhere.

Mixed-species invites the eye to continually engage, to dance, bounce and twinkle. To focus first on the ripples in a piece of curly cherry, then the golden flecks of the adjacent quartersawn oak, and on to the black webs of spalt in a nearby maple board. It reminds one of the forest itself. With many kinds of trees living alongside each other, varied in size, with the light catching them in different ways.

The boards I helped Dan to plane for this project originated in just such a forest and had come to be stacked in the barn of his father’s tree farm for years. Sawn long ago, well-seasoned by now, awaiting their moment and a customer with the vision to create not just a wall, but an experience. Their moment had come, and as the planer peeled back a millimeter of each rough, dusted, seemingly unpromising board surface, hidden secrets were revealed in the form of spiraling grain patterns, streaks of purple and green, a faint blush indicating red oak, a stronger blush heralding cherry. I imagine holding up a glass of red wine against those rosy tones and seeing the resonant interplay of color.

To complete the effect of rustic elegance at Maize Valley, Dan and his team have also installed live-edge bar tops along opposing walls, where one can set down her glass of wine for a moment, run hands over the surface, lean in for a closer look at the wall panels, then glance out to the vineyards, taking it all in. And this is what wood ultimately does, creating an experience speaking to all the senses. Maize Valley’s customers this summer are in for all kinds of treats.

On Throw Pillows, Minimalism, and Styling a Someday Timber Frame Home

All you need is less.
— Unknown

It amazes me the deep pull on my psyche of two things: the mindset that I need to work for a paycheck or I’m not pulling my weight in our family, and the mindset that I need to continually consume in order to be happy. We are in a season of paring down to essentials for a couple of reasons: to make it work on one paycheck, and with an eye toward selling our home and building a small timber frame to live in. We’ve been in our current city home for nearly 13 years, but I remember well the every-two-years moves prior to that, where I’d start out with a smug feeling of “This will be easy, we don’t have that much stuff,” to the dazed realization two days later of “Holy moly, we have a lot of stuff!” And unlike those moves, now we have a small child whose toys I estimate make up about 25% of the total volume of stuff in our home.

I envision living in a nearly empty timber frame home someday, and that would be my ideal. To have only the true essentials of life--and those of very spare design--in order to be able to focus the attention up … up to the trusses, the rafters, the light, the space. We plan on a frame itself of spare design, economical to build but lacking none of the aspects that make timber frames so special. That vision today has me energetically boxing up throw pillows to donate to charity.

Can we just talk about throw pillows for a minute? I am by no means immune to their allure, and it has nothing to do their ability to cradle the head for a nap. I spend idle moments scrolling through pages of pillows of various colors, textures and fibers for fun, picturing how each would perch in its assigned place and communicate something in particular. A rough, colorful, recycled kilim would say, “these people are wordly and well-travelled.” An ombre velvet of subdued color … “these people are sophisticated.” An off-white canvas screen-printed with “Live, Laugh, Love” … “these people are warm and family-oriented.” My latest temptation? A white silky square embroidered with “All you need is less.” Do minimalists really need, or want, throw pillows?

I resist, reminding myself that living in a timber frame home is the ultimate statement of its occupants’ identity. Throw pillows, and any other type of decor, although perfectly acceptable and admittedly lovely, distract from the loveliness of the wood. Holy moly, the wood ... with its glow, its warmth, its resonant scent of the forest. Also, a timber frame is a structure built to shelter people, lots of people, and I’ve always thought a timber frame home would be the perfect gathering place for family and friends. Its open space unpartitioned by weight-bearing walls, its incomparable head room, and no need to be continually pushing aside pillows in order to sit on the couch. No pillows needed at all to achieve such comfort and style.

So for today, my commitment to minimalism is winning over my ego, and the vision of our someday timber frame rises hopefully in my mind.

Something to contribute

It is the ultimate luxury to combine passion and contribution. It’s also a very clear path to happiness.
— Sheryl Sandberg

Two months ago I quit my job as user experience designer to help Dan with OCH and start homeschooling our son. It wasn’t super-clear to me how my skills could be of use to Dan and OCH. I am not a timber framer. I don’t have the physical strength to lift up a large board let alone a beam (it still astonishes and terrifies me that Dan does it regularly). Nevertheless, Dan was confident and optimistic that I could contribute. We discussed a redesign of the website, keeping up our social media presence, and helping to organize the paperwork.

We knew this new arrangement was something sorely needed by all three of us. Dan had too many hats to wear as business owner and couldn’t focus in all the different areas he needed to. Danny was existing in preschool but not thriving. And I went to my office job each day with the feeling that I’d left my heart behind me, and was going through the motions as an incomplete person, the majority of my strengths and interests untapped. Even so, the past two months have felt a bit haphazard as we flounder to find a new rhythm to our days and a workable division of labor.

So this past weekend it felt good, and helpful, and productive to invite a former colleague from my user experience design days to help us brainstorm ideas for refreshing the design and photography of the OCH website. Dan always says that if given the choice, he’d rather be cutting wood on his sawmill than doing just about anything else. But even he enjoyed our stand-up design session with sample wireframes, sketched out on Danny’s painting paper, taped to the shop walls that are criss-crossed with blue chalk-lines left over from laying out the scissor trusses on our most recent timber frame project. In the coming weeks, we’ll be introducing a new layout for our website that focuses on our core audience, more clearly communicates our message and offerings, and features the awesome photography of Chris Uhler, the aforementioned former colleague. We are so excited about this, and can’t wait for you to see it!

And I’m starting to realize that in the past two months I’ve actually relied on so much of--maybe most of--the knowledge I’ve acquired from past experiences. The website redesign makes use of my user experience design skills. Writing this blog has been helped along by my years as a manuscript editor. And homeschooling Danny is informed by my teaching training. This is a reminder to me that Dan was right, that I do have much to contribute to the well-being of my family and the success of Ogonek Custom Hardwoods. As the early fog of uncertainty clears, and spring starts to steadily creep its way in, I start to feel just a little bit better about all of this. Here’s to continuing this journey on the up-and-up.


Craftsmanship Goals: The Housed Joint


This past week Dan, Danny and I attended the Cleveland Home and Garden show where we saw several examples of timber-framing, mainly as garden pavilions and outbuildings. I was excited to see them, since it reinforces our belief that this building style and the values it represents are making a comeback. But Dan challenged me to look closer, pointing out details of the joinery. “We house our joints; these aren’t,” he said often.

It took me awhile to figure out what he meant, but then I saw it … several millimeter gaps where two members come together at an angle. I think back to the frame raisings I’ve watched, where the fit of each joint is tight … so tight that it takes a fearsome looking wooden mallet swung by a very powerful person to persuade them to come together. And yet they do, every time. The craftsmanship of our frames follow the philosophy of our muse, Roman Troyer, who insists upon joints so precise--with not a millimeter to spare--that they squeak when fitted together.

Many of the frames we saw at the show were being sold as kits that homeowners can assemble themselves in a weekend. Our level of precision-fit may preclude our frames from being assembled that way. Our frames really require someone like Jake Grant to persuade them together. But there is no air in our joints. No opportunity for moisture and insects to invade the crucial connections upon which the strength of the overall structure depend. Our frames are built like fine furniture on a large scale. You can run your fingers over a seam where two huge beams come together and barely feel, or see it.

There’s something about Ogonek Custom Hardwoods’ assembled frames that I’ve never been able to articulate, something breathless. They are so massive, but also seemingly weightless despite it. They don’t seem to be tied to the earth, yet how can that be when each beam out of dozens weights hundreds of pounds? A few imperfectly housed joints here and there may not have much effect on the overall aesthetic, but over an entire frame they must reduce that sense of effortless-seeming strength.

Danny is currently learning about gravity, and starting to understand that it is a formula of mass (“You have more matter than me, Mommy!”) and distance. A well-executed timber frame design is also a precise formula balancing mass and height, using, while seemingly defying, Earth’s gravity. Housed joints are important to that formula.

Live Edge: Trend or Tradition?

White Oak Beams 014.jpg

Live edge … furniture and finishes that include and exalt the contour of the living tree. Unlike squared-off edges, which permit only wood experts to decipher the original form--reading the grain and knowing where in the tree a particular slice grew--with live edge the layperson can know, and relate, and touch, and connect the material to the being it was part of.

We see live edge (or natural edge) everywhere now and have for some time. So many home decor catalogs I receive in the mail offer at least one piece within their collection. We marvel a bit at the staying power of this seeming trend, wondering when it will taper off. The team at Urbn Timber, whose open house we attended last weekend and who specialize in live edge slabs and furniture, believe it’s actually just starting to really take off in popular home decor in our area.

I wonder, are they right? Is this less a trend and more a furniture tradition that is just now reaching its height? A quick bit of online research reveals the origins of live edge use in furniture. George Nakashima, an American of Japanese ancestry, first used live edge in his designs right after World War II. His story is fascinating and inspiring, as he, along with so many other Japanese Americans, was confined to a concentration camp during the war. During that time, Nakashima studied with a master of Japanese joinery and hand tools also imprisoned there. He later used that knowledge in distinctive, award-winning designs that are still highly desired today. I mention his name to Dan, who immediately nods in recognition, and observes that he saw some Nakashima-inspired pieces just a couple weeks ago at the Columbus Woodworking Show, where we also first encountered Urbn Timber.

Live edge is clearly a contemporary furniture tradition, rather than a passing trend. And still I wonder what is it that people so love about it that they are willing to spend $4000 on a custom built live edge table rather than an $800 squared-edge, mass-produced option. We believe that, while there is a time and a place for Ikea (such as in the bedroom of a rapidly growing 4-year-old boy), there’s also a time and a place for that one-of-a-kindness, no-you-can’t buy-this-because-it’s-the-only one-anywhere kind of awesomeness. We also believe there will always be special kind of customer who is looking for just that.

Timber framing, a style and technique that, like live edge, has roots in the wood-working traditions of Japan, is a similar value proposition on a larger scale. We are encouraged by the popularity of live edge, and by the success of businesses like Urbn Timber, as it shows there is still a real desire for the things we’ve always valued at Ogonek Custom Hardwoods: sustainable materials, hand-craftsmanship, and an aesthetic of authenticity.

Time Lines


Earlier this week, after watching the OCH team load a trailer with the trusses and timbers headed for Detroit, Danny and I eased into our quiet week together with a hike to the man-made waterfall near our home. The path through the woods showed how damaging the winter so far has been to the trees, with jagged, torn-off branches cluttering the ground and some trunks uprooted altogether. The ground is so, so wet with the current thaw, and the trauma of repeated cycles of bitter cold alternating with sickly warm can be felt in the air and seen in the stems all around.

Tree crews had been at work, trying to get ahead of the massive spring cleanup, and we came across a freshly cut, flower shaped stump, the rings clearly defined. Seizing on the teachable moment, Danny and I counted the rings together as I gently nudge him toward the concept of numbers greater than 20. This tree turned out to be 110 (more or less), a number that seemed magical to Danny in its enormity. I smile to myself as I wonder how we will one day encounter the concept of infinity together. Later in the week, looking at a matrix of numbers, 1 to 100, Danny points to 100 and says, “Is this how old the tree is?”

Today it’s just a slightly incomprehensible number to Danny, but we will also one day encounter the concept of numbers representing time. The tree is just a little older than the house we live in, and I often think about what our house has seen since its construction, who built it, the prior families who have lived here, what their days were like. Timber frames have the potential to stand for much longer than our Stick-style house will, and the family history that will be lived out in the frame Dan and his team are building today can span many more generations.

As an undergraduate I studied archaeology, and learned that wood is not a reliable material to learn about the lives of past people because it biodegrades. Stone has far more longevity and retains evidence of the ways in which people manipulated it for thousands of years, not just hundreds. But I am more than content with the thought of a home lasting for hundreds of years, especially in our current faster-paced, shorter-sighted world. The book I’m reading to learn about timber framing, Wood and Wood Joints, by Klaus Zwerger, gives a sense that timber framing is a dying art, more the stuff of archaeology than modernity, as several-hundred-years-old examples of timber frame master-craftsmanship in Europe and Asia begin to decay and disappear. But I can’t agree when I see in-progress pictures of what Dan and his team are creating this week in Detroit. As the old examples destruct, new examples are rising, even now as I write this.

As Danny and I await photos from the frame raising progress today, and Dan’s subsequent return home, we’ll remain here at home, quietly counting away in this season of growth.

Treasured Trees

I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.
— Henry David Thoreau

We are so lucky to live within a short drive of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the only National Park in Ohio and one of the few National Parks in our part of the country. Hiking there we’ve encountered some truly spectacular trees that, thanks to the protections they enjoy, allow us to see what trees can really be if allowed to live out their natural lifespans. Such hikes are a special kind of torture for Dan, who stops frequently to gaze up into the canopy at tantalizingly straight cherry stems, and white oaks of broad diameter. “That walnut is worth at least ten thousand dollars,” Dan might say. And I will chide him for bringing business talk into our leisure time together.

Although he expresses it in terms of monetary value (he can’t help it, he’s a business owner), Dan is really just appreciating the existence of such natural richness in our environment. People who aren’t as familiar with Ohio tend to imagine mostly flat land blanketed with cow pastures and corn fields. A child’s atlas that I’m reading with Danny depicts Ohio with a large red barn and silo stretched across the whole state. But the forests are lovely, and the western-most edges of the Appalachians give way in gentle undulations on the eastern side of the state. For a time we owned property along the Ohio River that backed up to Wayne State Forest, where we were delighted by new living discoveries on each visit, from chanterelle mushrooms, to paw paw trees, to baby turtles, to Scarlet Tanagers. The trees, working with the land and the water, create the habitats that nurture that biodiversity.

When I met the Ogonek family over two decades ago, I was introduced to the idea of tree farms, as Dan’s parents owned two. Why would anyone “farm” trees? Don’t they just kind of, you know, grow? On their own? But I’ve learned that calling them tree farms doesn’t convey the full value proposition. It’s not just about trying to maximize the investment in the raw material with an eye toward future harvest, sale and profit. It’s also about conserving the richness of our natural environment for the well being of future generations. The Ogonek family has not only harvested trees from their farms, but has planted many there as well. Ogonek Custom Hardwoods as a business grew from the tree farming mind-set, and in its DNA is the idea of our raw materials being sourced from Ohio forests in a respectful, sustainable way.

Maybe the barn picture on that child’s map of Ohio is a good choice to represent the state after all, since the Ohio country-side is indeed dotted with many old timber frame barns, built by hand from nearby trees that are one of our state’s greatest treasures.

A chat with Dan


When you meet Dan, you’ll might first notice that he’s a big guy, and second that he’s very often smiling, and--it has to be said--he has a terrific smile; wide, toothy, and 100% genuine. After that, you might go on to notice his habitual plaid flannel shirt, often dusted with particles of wood, his baggy grease-stained work jeans, his enormous muddy boots. His plaid shirts often have blue in them, and that’s because I pick them out to match his eyes. You might also notice his glasses which are surprisingly trendy compared to the rest of his presentation, and again, that’s because I picked them out. But if you’ve gotten as far as to notice these details, you are a keen observer, because most people have long since been diverted by what he’s been saying to you. Dan has a wealth of wood-related wisdom, and more than anything, he loves to share it.

I recently sat down with Dan to talk about the origins of Ogonek Custom Hardwoods, and where it is heading today. Our conversation is below.

Leah: Tell me the story of Ogonek Custom Hardwoods.

Dan: In the late 60s early 70s Dad bought 2 tree farm properties. In ‘72 he set up a checking account for the properties and the family started selling firewood off of them. He began developing the properties and having forestry inspections. The inspectors cited a heavy wood load and recommended he cut some trees down and let them lay and rot. Many of those trees were walnut. Dad thought there had to be a better way. He started looking into sawmills and learned about Woodmizer portable sawmills. In 1985, on the way to a medical conference he stopped in Indianapolis to look at them, and on the way home he stopped at Woodmizer again and bought one.

Leah: In 1998, after completing your history degree at John Carroll University, you took on the business, which had employed you and your brothers on-and-off during school breaks for years. How did you acquire the skills for this type of business?

Dan: Tenacity and hard knocks. The first job I did took me three days. I charged the customer $185, and he gave me a $15 tip.

One thing I’m not is a mechanic. The sawmill kept making this awful screeching noise and started cutting slower and slower. Dad sent me to a sawmill maintenance class at Woodmizer where I learned that the belts were so loose they were almost coming off. I started paying more attention to the machine after that.

First and only time I drank coffee for a week.

Leah: What do you like about this kind of work?

Dan: I enjoy the physical work. Still do. If I don’t do the physical work for a few days I start to get listless and feel like I’m not meeting my purpose.

Leah: Why timber framing?

Dan: A timber frame has strength, durability, longevity. It carries on the tradition of hands-on labor as we continue to do all our joints mainly by hand. We have some power tools, but no CNC. These structures stand, not forever, but for a long time.

Leah: Understandable how that would appeal to a history major. When people are considering building a timber frame, what questions do they ask you?

Dan: How much does it cost? Timber frames are not cheap, they are a custom-built home. Many people are often comparing it to a stick frame that has a 50-year lifespan instead of centuries. Probably because that’s what they’re familiar with. But I think that might be changing for some, as people start to look more at sustainability.

In timber framing, you have to frame to the plan. You can’t stretch or fudge the plan.  If the plan calls for a 10-foot timber, I bring a ten foot timber to the site with the joints already cut and ready to fit together.. If the foundation is off a half-inch, that timber won’t fit. You can’t modify anything or fudge a half-inch here or there. Spending 2 million dollars on a stick frame house doesn’t mean you got anything better. Maybe you got some high-end fixtures, but you didn’t get plumb and straight walls.

Leah: Why do people ultimately decide to go for it and build a timber frame?

Dan: Aesthetics. Craftsmanship that’s hard to find now. Superior insulation values, depending on how you enclose it. Open spaces. Feeling closer to nature, a connection to the land. We often use trees from the customer’s own property.

Leah: You’ve built timber frames of all sizes. Now you are focusing on smaller frames. Why small timber frames?

Dan: We’re trying to bring strong sustainable building practices within reach of smaller budgets. It’s the idea behind our Modern Modular design, where we can set up simple, repeatable joinery patterns that reduce the labor costs and time. Regardless of size, we can duplicate the module efficiently and erection is quicker.

Leah: What are the moments that make you say, “this is why I do this”?

Dan: Any time we are starting or finishing a new frame. When I see the customer enjoying their frame. Any time a customer points to a beam and can say “That tree came from right over there.” Sometimes I don’t know who enjoys that feeling more, myself or the customer.

Leah: You and I have been married for almost 18 years. I’ve been witness to the journey you’ve been on this whole time toward building this business. And I know you pretty well. I have a theory about this next question, but I want to hear your theory before I tell you mine. Why do people want you to build their timber frame houses?

Dan: I don’t know, I really don’t. Maybe I have an open and honest face.

Leah : I think people want you to build their frames because of the time you take to envision the future with them. To paint a word picture of their frame, how you will bring it to life, and the care you and your team will take to do that. I think people feel like their dreams are in careful, steady, loving hands. And I also think it’s no coincidence that many customers end up as long-term friends.

Cold Stamina

Traditional carpenters … had to apportion the energy of their labors sensibly across the entire day. The more primitive the tool, the harder it was to work against the will of the material.
— Wood and Wood Joints, by Klaus Zwerger

Our website includes weather disclaimers, such as “Inclement weather does play a factor in obtaining raw material.  We will do our best to keep you informed about delays due to weather conditions.” The past couple of weeks and the weekend to come are good examples of why these disclaimers are necessary.

Dan and his team are no strangers to tough weather conditions. Up until last winter, Ogonek Custom Hardwoods didn’t have an enclosed workshop and so all work, including joinery, was done outside, year-round, in all conditions, for 18 years.

Before our son was born four years ago, I used to help Dan out on weekends, sometimes catching boards off the sawmill, sometimes catching boards off the planer, sometimes loading boards in a kiln, sometimes unloading them. As a person with an office day-job, those weekends were a real lesson in bodily stamina, especially on the coldest days. Cold has a way of draining away your energy without your realizing it, just in the effort to keep warm. It wasn’t unusual for me to end up sitting out the last hour of the day, out of the wind, in the truck, while Dan finished up his tasks. Tasks such as strapping down the skid steer to a trailer using steel chains which in the cold feel searing-hot to the touch. Tasks such as breaking up rock-hard clumps of frozen sawdust from the truck bed. Tasks like changing the razor-sharp blade of the sawmill with clumsy numb fingers. Tasks all involving pacing back and forth across jagged frozen mud, easily felt through the soles of the toughest boots.

Dan and his team don’t stop working in such cold. But the cold requires them to work in different ways, adjust how they work, and to “reapportion their energy” in response to the day-long demands of keeping warm. It’s a kind of awareness that I don’t have yet, and that I think may be increasingly rare as more of us spend more of our days indoors, working on computers. I’ll be thinking of them in the days ahead, and of others who work outside, putting their energy-apportionment wisdom to work.

On Teaching


Being married to Dan for going on 18 years now, I’ve learned a little about wood, milling and timber framing just by virtue of proximity. But now that I’ve joined the company I’m wanting to deepen my knowledge. Dan gifted me a beautiful book for Christmas, Wood and Wood Joints, by Klaus Zwerger. I’ve only read part-way through the introduction so far and encountered the idea that woodworking benefits from having knowledgeable teachers, and that wood itself is a teacher.

Teaching is an area where I seek deeper knowledge also, now that I’ve undertaken the education of our son as we homeschool him for preschool. I want to know what makes a great teacher.

Luckily, I know who is a great teacher—Jim Arnett. For the past 30 years, Jim has taught woodworking classes to adults. As scout master of the Boy Scout troop that saw all eight Ogonek boys to Eagle Scout, he’s also a dear friend and mentor to Dan. I had the opportunity over the holidays to talk to him about wood and teaching woodworkers.

I asked him what he loves about wood. His response was to take from a nearby shelf a lovely walnut urn with a mirror-like sheen, smoothly proportioned and perfect, created for his late wife. He turned it over in his hands to show me how you can tell by the grain that it comes from the very center of the walnut tree; “You look at that, and you gotta love wood, “ he said.

Another example from his shelf was a turned cherry plate autographed by a fellow woodworker, with dark ripples across it, “Bark inclusion, where a branch grew out of the tree.” As he continued to take pieces down and tell the story behind each, each with a connection to a loved or admired person, I realized that the love of woodworking for Jim is as much about the people involved as the material itself, that woodworking is synonymous with community, and friendship, and love.

We chatted about Jim’s approach to teaching, which starts with the ideas of each student. Where he steps in is to teach them the specific tools and methods needed to realize their idea. And so they go, idea-by-idea, tool-by-tool. There is much similarity there in what I’ve learned so far about homeschooling, which is less about teaching specific content, and more about enabling the student to generate and pursue ideas, with the learning happening along the way. And so we’ll go, idea-by-idea, tool-by-tool, into a new year of possibilities.

Moving Fast to Build Slow

A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.
— Charles Darwin

As 2017 winds down I’m thinking a lot about time. I’m already noticing, after only 2 days of working with Dan, how time means something different to the self-employed person. It’s Saturday, and I’m not thinking of it as a weekend, but rather a day in which there are decisions to be made about what to work on. Perhaps I might slow down a bit and tackle less than I would on a weekday, or perhaps not. After all, Dan is spending the day chipping up branches and milling timbers—tasks as onerous as any he’d tackle on any given Tuesday. I’m starting to suspect that Dan has always seen weekends this way, and when he’d tell me “I’ll be working this weekend,” it was mainly a term he used for my benefit, and that he hasn’t thought of weekends the way most people think of weekends, for many, many years.

And now, with both of us working for Ogonek Custom Hardwoods, I can see the possibility of the word “weekend” losing its meaning entirely, especially now that we are beginning to homeschool our son and no longer have the structured schedules of 9-to-5 work or school days imposed upon us. We are truly masters of our own time. I really hope what Jack Canfield said is true: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear,” because something feels a little scary about this to me, a person who has been ruled by schedules for as long as I can remember. It's going to take some getting used to.

Sometimes I explain timber framing as “slow building,” since people seem familiar with the ideas of slow food or slow fashion. A couple days ago I stood in the shop watching Justin expertly shave the flat surface of a lap joint with a hand chisel, one millimeter of red oak peeling off at a time. This slow, focused care is what makes timber framing so special. At the same moment, Dan wasn’t even at the shop. He was out on a day-full of errands to obtain materials, tools, parts, fuel, supplies, meet with current and prospective customers, suppliers, agents, bankers. Dan moves pretty fast all day to make slow building possible.

That same day he called me around sunset to find out if there was still time between Danny’s dinner and bedtime to squeeze in a snowman-building session. There wasn’t, but we made time anyway. Because we are also committing ourselves slower living, which ironically seems to require moving much faster. In this season for me of learning to think, and move and work differently, I wish the blessings of slower living for all.

The Adjacent Possible

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For the past 7 years I’ve held the job title “designer.”  I recently heard an interesting definition of what a designer is--someone with the ability to see “the adjacent possible… the range of answers that exist to a given question, including ideas that are one step away from the ideas we’re currently working with.

Timber framing is an adjacent possible to people building homes today. It’s an option that’s not widely known, and yet it’s so perfect for many more applications than it’s currently used in, particularly modest-sized homes.

We subscribe to a number of timber frame home magazines, and the vast majority of projects we see in those pages are massive, well outside the reach of most people contemplating building a new home. (They also tend to employ decorating schemes heavy on the trophy deer heads, but that’s another post entirely.) We believe timber framing is a real and attainable option for modest homeowners, provided they lean towards quality in the quality-versus-quantity debate. It takes longer to build a timber frame, and costs a bit more, but the results are incomparable. I’ve never lived in a timber frame home myself (although I hope to one day soon), but I can’t imagine complacency and selective blindness setting in the way it does in a stick-frame home, surrounded by four white walls unbroken by any architectural interest. I challenge anyone to spend time in a timber frame structure and resist the urge to pause during mundane tasks to run a hand over a nearby post, feel the weight of its presence, connect momentarily with a greater span of time and space. Not to mention that interior walls of any kind are totally optional. As are trophy deer heads.

Ogonek Custom Hardwoods is setting out to move timber framing firmly into the set of options that people know and regularly consider. Our Modern Modular design makes a simple rectangular frame into a repeatable unit. Change the dimensions, fit them together in different ways, and create a layout that works for your needs. The predictable, simple joinery means the overall cost moves closer to that of a stick-frame. An affordable handcrafted custom home with a modern aesthetic? Now that’s what I call the adjacent possible.

Tool Appropriation, and Appreciation

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Before recently joining Ogonek Custom Hardwoods I worked for years as a user experience designer. I attended various digital design conferences where there was always at least one presenter who discussed the topic of digital tools while showing a photo of woodworking tools. In some ways I get it … what can you really show as far as a picture for digital design tools? Also, woodworking tools are immediately recognizable as tools, and depending on their state of wear, can also convey the idea of putting in the hours to acquire a level of mastery.

Still, those images of tools always amused me, and I’d often snap a photo of a PowerPoint slide to send to Dan, who actually uses those kinds of tools. It happens often enough that I wonder, is it really just a metaphor? Or do many of us, deep down, wish we were really woodworkers?

When people ask me what Dan does and I tell them, I often see a glimmer of something in their eyes that looks like envy. I empathize with that reaction; I’ve spent 17 years as a knowledge worker and don’t have anything tangible to show for it. Nothing that can shelter a family, or that you can spread a meal on, or keep the sheep fenced in with. User experience borrows the concept of “embodiment” from other fields-- psychology and anthropology--which says people store knowledge within their bodies, not just their heads. Seeing Dan and his team work, I know that this is true. It can’t be a coincidence that one of the most popular posts on our Instagram account is a video of Jake drilling a hole into the end of a beam. You can see the confident knowledge in his hands and his stance as he does it.

For this post, I asked Dan to take a photo of some tools around the shop, “just find a jumble of tools and snap a picture”, I told him. But it turned out not to be a jumble; the tools were arranged carefully and lovingly like artists tools. And that’s what I’ve come to think of Dan and his team, not as builders, and certainly not as contractors, a term many people seem eager to apply to them once I explain what they do. But as artisans; artisans with both actual and embodied knowledge of their craft. I hope I’m lucky enough someday to live in a home they’ve created.

Thoughtful - Personal - Hand-made - Lasting


Dan and I believe in the movement of things. We don’t keep things around the house that we no longer use or like. Once something starts gathering dust, it’s off to the curb to become a lucky find for some passerby. We live on a busy street where absolutely anything that we put on the curb will find a new home within a few hours. Sometimes we get to meet the person who stops, help them load the object into their vehicle, and hear an interesting story about their lives and the circumstances that made this particular thing a welcome, serendipitous discovery.

It also offers a chance to teach our son how to let go of stuff, and not to let it become something overly valued in his life. We tell him, “Now that you are too big for this tricycle, we can give it to another baby to enjoy.” He seems to have internalized this lesson, especially after the day that we made a serendipitous find of our own. Driving home from school one day, Danny spotted a toy lawnmower conspicuously placed at the curb. “I wish I could have one of those someday,” he said wistfully. “You can have that one,” I told him. We turned around to go get it, and I could see the understanding dawning on his face as to why we put things on the curb. Because someone else who needs or will enjoy it is free to take it. That lawnmower is now one of his favorite toys.

But there is one, and only one, piece of furniture in our home that I can’t imagine ever kicking to the curb.

Many years ago, a dusty aluminum wine rack with a fake wood top caught Dan’s eye in a second-hand store. He brought it home, spray-painted it black to look like iron, and replaced the top with a natural edge slab of walnut. He presented it to me on my birthday, which is in November, and vowed to fill it with wine as a Christmas present.

These days it is rarely filled with wine, and even rarely has a single wine bottle at all (we tend to drink wine as soon as be buy it). But even so, to me, it’s a thing of exceptional beauty. Maybe it’s the contrast between the cold, matte “iron” and the warm, glowy walnut. Maybe it’s the entertainment value of watching the cat try to climb through the empty wine-holder rings like a jungle gym. Maybe it’s the way the few pretty treasures I display on top are often joined by Danny’s small toys in an eclectic still-life.

Probably it’s because it was the very best kind of gift … thoughtful, personal, hand-made, lasting.

Dan and I tell each other that if we ever move from this 100-year-old American four-square to a timber frame home of our own, that wine rack may be the only piece of furniture we’ll take with us.

Frames of Heart

It seems the happiest humans sprinkled throughout mankind’s history were those who found balance between head and heart, between intellect and emotion .… Yes, pay attention to frames of mind .… But pay equal attention to frames of heart ….
— The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child, by Linda Dobson

Standing inside a timber frame structure is like being in a real forest. Light plays off the broad surfaces of wood. There is a fresh, warm smell. A dignified silence. A regal span of vertical space. A certainty of lastingness. And also a sense that the trees are still alive and growing, sheltering, protecting.

I first experienced this about 14 years ago, when Dan worked on his first timber frame project; a large residence built within the lovely Cuyahoga River Valley here in Northeastern Ohio. He served as sawyer for that project, custom-cutting beams at the construction site using the customers’ own trees. The house also included many “green” elements, including what at the time was the largest residential solar panel array in the state. We were both captivated by what we saw and learned.

Since then, we’ve been looking for ways to be involved in more such projects.

More than any other building technique, timber frames have the potential to reflect the individuality and values of their occupants. The owners of the Cuyahoga River Valley house love nature, they admire artisan-level craftsmanship, they invest deeply in their personal relationships, and they possess a sense of responsibility to future generations. All of this is reflected in their choice of timber framing as a construction method for their home.

Love and respect for nature is required in responsibly harvesting the trees. Artisanal skill is needed to mill the beams for optimal performance and beauty, and to craft the joints that will endure for generations. The ultimate balance of head and heart.

The goal of this blog is to address both within a discussion of the craft of timber framing. Join us on this journey.