Spring Construction: With Sister Tabitha Babbit & Kent Brown

Today I fastened down the top part of my new trellis. This has been a month-long project done with the help of Kent Brown, including pine provided by David Haenke from the sustainable Alford Forest near Rockbridge, Missouri.

My plan is growing pole bean in two boxes. We live in an apartment now with no garden space. That’s frustrating.

While Cathy and I have helped at community gardens; inspiring but there’s something about having one’s own patch of dirt however small.

The two grow boxes should produce a ton of pole beans, maybe an ideal crop for this situation. If we’re out of town and the plants dry up, we can still harvest and shell out dried beans for winter.

Also, bean plants should provide a lot of shade! We need that!

Kent’s a master cabinetmaker. He has done all kinds of projects around Springfield besides teaching at Ozark Technical College. He and his wife Louise Wienckowski have a Victorian townhouse that amazes me and requires mucho TLC I’m sure. A few years ago Cath and I had a bungalow in Springfield, requiring checkbook and toolbox to be ready.

I first approached Kent with a rough drawing of the planned trellis. Could he build it for $200? That’s more than twice what a trellis was selling for at the Springfield Botanical Garden.

“No way,” Kent said after looking it over. “The wood will cost almost that much!”

Back to the drawing board!

“But, would you like to work with me in my shop to build it?”

What a generous offer! I jumped at it!

Kent was right. I had to buy four Western Cedar 6”-wide boards for the boxes. They were over $150 at Janss Lumber.

Wood prices are spiking everywhere now, partly due to COVID-19.

David Haenke provided Ozark Yellow Pine for the trellis as a donation in part because I helped on his 501c3 sustainability project. (He’s recently sold his mill, and has a stack of full dimension 2x4s left if anyone needs these at a fair price.)

Luckily I got the wood together before the Freaky Big Freeze in late February. We started working at Kent’s shop usually after morning frost burned off.

I’ve done a variety of construction projects over the years with a range of Ozark friends. Everything’s been pretty rough. Working with Kent is different. He’s a real cabinet maker, not a wild nail-bender like most of my hillbilly buddies. This trellis system should last a century.

The whole process was an education. For example, Kent carefully explained the operation of the table saw, which he used to trim all the wood to exact size. He also told me about Sister Tabitha Babbit.

Everyone should know about Sister Tabitha, and her invention of the circular saw. Those clever Shakers, we need their Spirit now! That’s part of Kent’s design aesthetic. As a Quaker, I sympathize with much of the United Believers’ theology, and was inspired by a visit to the restored Canterbury community in New Hampshire a few years ago. It’s as amazing as Pleasant Hill in Kentucky; both world-class sites.

Kent’s also open to using garbage can lids if necessary. They can create the arc needed to set off the legs.

Everything’s organized in Kent’s shop, so many different tools, even a display of his first shotgun shell casing from hunting with his dad long ago.

Kent’s taking time to measure and remeasure most impressed me about his woodworking. Sometimes he’d adjust his saw blade just a fraction by tapping the fence to guide the cut. He created small jigs and wooden stops so I could not cut too deeply.

Or cut myself. He didn’t hesitate to tell me he didn’t like my form holding a board by the fast-moving saw blade.

Mainly he visualized the whole thing. Knowing the trellis had to survive heavy wind, Kent designed rabbet joints and dado grooves to make it strong.

Sure enough the first night it was up on our balcony, one box with its trellis blew down. Luckily, no damage.

Cath helped varnish the pine. Finally it’s all together and ready for dirt. We still have to find the right seeds. Magic seeds, maybe like Jack planted long ago then climbed to rescue the beautiful maiden.

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