You’re never too old unless you’re dead.

About a week ago I took a woodworking class.  I had no real interest in taking a woodworking class or working on a lathe.  I mean, I was interested in it the same way I’m interested in pretty much everything, but I never had the deep-seated desire to turn wood, hold it up and declare to the world I MADE THIS HUNK OF WOOD OUT OF A HUNK OF WOOD!

But, my mother and one of my sisters ran into a guy who gave woodworking classes at some craft show a while ago and that was it.  They were taking a woodworking class in an old Cotton Factory in town that now houses a bunch of artisans and business owners who understand nothing makes you more legit than working in a century old warehouse in the bad part of town.  Seriously.  An old building that the wind can whistle through and mangled wood floors smack dab in the middle of the hood.  It’s like a sticky trap for cool people.

NOT hipsters.  Cool people. There’s a difference.  Hip is now, cool is forever.

How could I let my 83 year old mother be cooler than I was (yet again)?  I signed up for the class immediately.

At 11:00-ish a.m. sharp we made our way through the maze of Cotton factory corridors and buildings until we came upon Y Knot Woodturning.  Our classroom for the day. Instead of books there were chisels, instead of desks there were lathes and instead of apples on the teacher’s desk there were bandaids. Other than that, same same.


We were told we could make almost whatever we wanted.  Most of us wanted to make a pepper mill but Betty had to be different, and asked to make a salt box out of Ebony.  When she was told Ebony would cost an extra $60 she gave a little snort and declared walnut her wood of choice.

Hugh, our instructor.  I don’t think he gave us the good tools to work with. He’s smart like that.

In total I think we dropped our tools or rammed them on the lathe approximately 894 times.

Yet this is how happy he was to have us there.


In fact everyone was happy. We were all smiling like simpletons who had just been given new cardboard boxes to play with.




Betty refused to wear an apron, a dust mask or accept a seat during our 5 hours there.  I on the other hand crouched on the floor due to exhaustion several times, wore safety glasses and a face mask and made sure I knew where the emergency exit was on the off chance someone’s arm was taken off and I needed to make a quick escape to avoid vomiting in Hugh’s workshop.

If you’ve never worked on a lathe before or have any idea how wood is turned, it’s pretty archaic.  You literally just clamp a square hunk of wood into a wildly spinning machine and hold a very sharp implement to it and hope the square hunk turns round before the wood or the chisel flip in the air and make their way to one of your important arteries.

Please accept that lesson from me to you, free of charge.  You’re welcome.

Now let’s walk you through the process of making my pepper mill from start to finish.

This is what my pepper mill started out as. A long, square piece of wormy maple.  Hugh cut it to length for me and then I was on my own.  He told us how to use the lathe and safety precautions to take and that was really it. You were the official lathe operator from then on.



The first step to making most things is turning the square hunk into a round hunk.  To do that all you do is hold a chisel against the fence of the lathe until you have wood shavings in your underwear.  Once you have that, your hunk of wood is probably round.


We always had a lathe in our home because my father was a machinist.  But he was making metal bits of stuff and it never interested me.  NOW I wish I’d paid attention or shown some sort of interest.  But mainly he liked to be alone in his workshop and drink while using dangerous power tools, so it’s probably better I was uninterested.


Once you have your round shape, you do a bunch of stuff I don’t remember because it all happened so fast.  You have to drill holes so the mill is hollow on the inside, plus a couple of holes in the bottom for the mill gear to fit.  You have to cut off the top and do a bunch of other things that, like I said, I don’t remember.  Every once in a while Hugh would wander over, grab something out of your hand, fix something that was about to go horribly wrong, and then he’d whistle over to the next person and do the same thing.

One of the last steps is shaping your pepper mill.  You can do anything.  Make it all bumpy like a typical, traditional pepper mill, or make it completely straight up and down, WHATEVER YOU WANT. It was so overwhelming I had some kind of breakdown.  Everyone else knew they wanted a bumpy pepper mill and my mother was making a salt box so she didn’t have to decide on anything.  I wanted to make a bumpy pepper mill because it seemed more fun to do … but … I also wanted something a bit sleeker.  Against my better judgement I went with a sleek design.

There’s no template, no pattern, no guide at all.  You just grab your chisel, freehand the pepper mill and hope for the best. Once your shape is done you sand it until it’s like glass and then you grab a big pile of wood shavings from the floor (or your underpants) and sand the pepper mill once more with those.  Then it’s like wet glass.

Now all you have to do is put the hardware in the pepper mill, sign it and decide what you’re having for dinner.

Ta. Da.  My Scandinavian pepper mill, right down to its finish of Danish Tung Oil.  I kept telling everyone I just needed to lick it, but no one got the joke.  I’m Danish you see.

If you look at the spot on the pepper mill that’s directly in line with the middle of my palm you’ll see two holes that look like snake bites. Those are the worm holes.  And corresponding to those holds are dark stripes down the wood.  Those dark stripes are created by an enzyme released by the worms. It discolours the wood.

5 hours it took to make that baby.  Hugh says I could sell it for $85.  The course cost me just over $100 and took 5 hours of my time so I’m not sure it’s the best way for me to make some side cash.


With our completed projects.

At home in the kitchen.

Which brings us full circle to my first point.  Betty is 83 and still taking courses and learning new things.  Just a few months ago she told me she learned a LOT by watching the show Orange is the New Black for instance.

So the next time you think to yourself I’m too old to (insert ANYTHING here), tell yourself to shut the hell up. If 83 year old Betty can learn how lesbians have sex without a penis then you can learn how to skydive.  Or play the drums or the piano or poker.

You’re never too old.  Unless you’re dead.

Have a good weekend!




  1. Rachel says:

    I love this post…Merry Christmas

  2. Kris Wilson says:

    As usual, educational and witty!!
    Great reminder to us all about staying curious and young at heart. Thank you!
    Merry Christmas Karen, you inspire and entertain us with every post.
    “Hip is now, cool is forever”. Can I use that?

  3. Brenda says:

    I know you were on TV and don’t want to be there again, but I can totally see you taking suggestions from subscribers on what class you’ll take next, what trade you’ll learn and turn it into a really cool show (or blog). A little like Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, except you have to learn something new (blacksmithing as noted above, upholstery, chocolate making, etc…)!

    • Karen says:

      Funny. I did that show exactly like that YEARS ago. And it was my mother’s favourite show of mine. She STILL talks about it. It was at my local cable station when I first learned about television. The How to Show. I hosted it with a local DJ, Mike Naburs and each week we both went out and learned something new. ~ karen!

  4. Brenda says:

    spanx would keep those wood chips out + I wonder if the brown stripes are a lifetimes worth of worm poop filling up the tunnel and those two holes are the last two bites they took (maybe some of the darker stripes are where the worms leaked when they died full of wood they ate … how interesting. Knowing now what you learned after seeing the two holes – maybe they could be where the salt comes out if you could figure out how to make them be the top … I like them where they are though because you could face them towards certain people at your name tagged place setting’d table as a good conversation starter for introverts who might not know what Tibet talk about.

    When Betty’s 95 maybe she will discover like my mom finally did that she needs to REhem all her pants because none of them hang right due to your front foot being higher than your heel – you need to know to look at yourself sideways for this. The things we just don’t know we don’t know). It’s relentless.

  5. Barb says:

    Even though all projects are great, I like the sleekness of yours. And you know you’ll be going back to do another project once the sawdust is cleared out.

  6. Monica says:

    I did a wood turning class a couple of months ago! Found wood shavings in my pockets for days! Days!

  7. Marilyn Majalca says:

    What a great opportunity to offer to people who want to try something without purchasing expensive equipment. I want to do that! Your pepper mill is beautiful.

  8. Leslie Zuroski says:

    Thanks Karen, great story, great pics, great people. Made me feel good to read it. PLUS, I really needed to be told that I am not too old to learn something new. I’m gonna pick a class to take as a New Year’s resolution!

  9. Phyllis Kraemer says:

    If Betty goes missing…don’t look for her at my house!….I’ve told Jane the same thing about Grant…how much fun would that be??…Grant and Betty in the same house! Yowza!

  10. Karin in NC says:

    I like the way you think!

  11. Monique says:

    I love Betty..if I am like her in exactly 20 yrs I will get on my knees and Thank God.What a gal.You all look so cute and I bet your teacher had a ball w/ you..the class was well worth those hand milled mills..Gorgeous..and fun..I’m like your mom..Orange is the new have to see what’s happening outside my lovely little country snow covered town.The only downside is sometimes I surprise myself w/ an off color word in my head..and then out of it:)So be it.

  12. Kelly says:

    The end is priceless! So true. So hilarious. So perfectly timed. Also, wanted you to know I’ve jumped into a frog project that I had listed on a long term goal list from your Do More Stuff workshop. Never to late to go back to school and start my masters degree. Thanks for keeping us laughing and inspired!

  13. Tarra says:

    Beautiful wooden things! So far in my 50s, have taken up beekeeping, basic carpentry, trail running, bike- and skijoring and your blog has had something to do with all that. Thanks for your confidence & humour and for sharing your mom!

  14. Sabina says:

    Spit my coffee at the last paragraph! You’re the best Karen and I needed this! I seem to be saying “I’m too old” quite a bit lately and the truth is I’ll never be younger than I am today so Carpe Diem!

  15. Ev Wilcox says:

    Thanks for a fun and informative post. You and your relatives are very cool, esp. Betty! Ladies rock! Learning things whilst on the road to aging is so much more fun than not doing so! Though you are not on that road yet Karen, your mom has given you a great blueprint on
    “The Art of Doing Stuff”!

  16. MaryAnn Behrens says:

    Great Life Lesson.
    Beautiful Mill
    Priceless Laugh for the Day!
    TY Karen

  17. Alice Hinther says:

    I absolutely love this and I love your posts. I have a saying that we use in our family “Be like Betty.” It would take me too long to explain, but this is another reason I want to “Be like Betty”. She’s amazing and so are you. Thanks for the morning laugh!

  18. judy says:

    WOW ! I can’t believe how beautiful that objet d’art is,but then I remembered who created it and of course ….I have followed you as you destructed and constructed a back yard into a Malibu ocean front terrace and a kitchen fit for a cordon bleu chef a spooky magical halloween front porch-delicious recipes and humor that has lightened and brightened my day and I feel you should be awarded some sort of planet wide award for sooper dooper achievements. Also you are the most appropriate candidate for creating said medal since obviously you have magical powers and a genius IQ.

  19. Teri says:

    Your blog is the one thing that is must reading when it shows up in my in-box.
    Great looking pepper mill, Karen, I’m partial to sleek myself.
    Kudos to all of you. No wonder you are so remarkable – you come from a remarkable family!
    My neighbour, ‘Old Wood Guy’, had me turning my own draw pulls for a dresser I restored. Very satisfying work especially if your working life (what you do to earn the money to support your life) consists of shuffling papers around and giving good phone. Actually making something useful is powerful.
    Thanks for reminding me – think I’ll go visit the neighbour.
    Merry Christmas to you and yours.
    -Teri on the wet coast.

  20. Marilyn Meagher says:

    Lmfao. This was funny…really funny…shavings in your underpants. Hahahahaha coffee snort on that one. Funny and sweet…I envy you ..I would give anything to have my Mom are so blessed, I am grateful for my sisters ..built in best friends ..and I too have awesome nieces and nephews who are also friends ! And your pepper mill is the bomb! Great job. Xo

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Marlyn! It was fun. And there really were shavings in our underpants. Pink Tool belt came back from the bathroom with a look of wonder on her face during the class. ~ karen!

  21. MindyK says:

    Funny you should mention drums. When I turned 40, my friends went in together and bought me a drum kit and a lesson at the local music store. They told me to stop talking about it and play the drums already. I took lessons for about three years before life got too busy. But the kit is still in the basement and I occasionally go work out some angst with really loud, really bad rock ‘n roll rhythms.

    I’m also the editor of some woodworking magazines. You ever want to learn about carving, woodburning, or scroll saws, lemme know.

  22. Kim Kelley says:

    “simpletons who had just been given new cardboard boxes to play with”
    *snort* spit coffee over this — you’re so dang clever :)

  23. Lifelong learning, I’m in! In fact I am learning to play the drums, something I have always wanted to do. I am a little impatient because I just want to sound like a rock star immediately and that brings out how uncoordinated I am, ugh, high hat (which I called top hat), snare, foot pedal for the base back to high hat, uh wait, they were supposed to go together on that beat, shit, oh screw it just beat everything and start again. So much fun!

  24. Kate says:

    Love, love, love it!!! You’ve made my day. :)

  25. karen j cosme says:

    hey, karen. i saw that pepper mill in one of your recent posts and i thought, “that looks new…i wonder if she made it.” it’s absolutely lovely.

    we have quite a few old factories and mills that have been converted to arts and crafts venues as well as condominiums (18′ ceilings!) and city/business offices. (the buildings that were too contaminated have been razed.) these buildings are really old, but it’s nice to see them put to good use.

    thanks for clearing up the origin of said spied pepper mill.

    • Karen says:

      I saw that a couple of people spotted it in my toothpick post, but I didn’t want to say anything until the big reveal. Just about killed me not to scream out “I MADE IT OUT OF A HUNK OF WOOD”! ~ karen

  26. NinaMargo says:

    Karen, this is one of your best columns ever (although I did miss the eyebrow threading one… maybe that one was?)

    Kudos to Betty and to Moms everywhere who inspire us not to grow moss (except in fun unexpected places) and who remind us to never stop being curious. Oh yeah, and to always be kind.

  27. Ella says:

    You just made my week, thank you! Also, I would love to take this course. Could you supply contact info for Y Knot? Merry Christmas Karen (psst your pepper mill was the bestest!) XO!!

  28. Bonnie Gutierrez says:

    The Art of Doing Stuff, and stuff you did. Kudos to all, and especially to Betty because she is a real inspiration! Besides, I happen to like salt boxes.
    Good to see y’all bonding and having fun!

  29. Heather says:

    I love the distinction between hip and cool. Your pepper mill is beautiful.

    • Karen says:

      I’ve been saying that since I was about 20. My friend (also named Karen) thought it was brilliant at the time, so I stuck with it, lol. ~ karen!

  30. Jack Barr says:

    Congrats, Karen! fine, sleek pepper mill: sleek was the better choice- so many commercial bumpy ones around. The enzyme inclusion on the hard maple is a beautiful accent that wouldn’t have worked as well with “bumpy”. Thankfully, the worms that burrowed the two tiny holes are long gone; they’re powder post beetles, nasty, insidious wee creatures, if you have a lot of wood around your home…… as I do. I too, play a lot with wood: just finished a birdseye maple paddle yesterday, for my 15 yr. young granddaughter’s Christmas (she won’t be reading this post). Now, of course, you make the salt mill!
    I must make a note to plant the birch for the toothpicks.
    Have a great, memorable family Christmas.

  31. This is so cool Karen! It’s fun to try something you’ve always had in the back of your mind. Mine is to snow ski… but at my age I really think it’s too late for it. I now have visions attached to it that shows me in casts for broken legs or a pinned hip! So I just keep the vision for old time sake. Your wood piece looks great. I took a stained glass course years ago and felt very pleased I could create a beautiful glass piece even with bandaged fingers from glass cuts! My best friend “Kitty” & I love your blog and your wonderful sense of humor. My friend has your same sense of design and she loves that I compare her to you, she’s quite flattered with that. Anyways we wish you a very very Merry Christmas and incredibly wonderful things in 2018!
    Blessings, Sherry @ Edie Marie’s Attic & my friend “Kitty”

  32. Jenny W says:

    Reading your posts simply makes me Happy :)
    They also make me want to dye my hair blond, run away, and join your family!
    Keep on learning new things to share with us Karen – cause there’s an Art to Doing Stuff <3

  33. Der Karhu says:

    But, you really MUST try a blacksmithing course!

    The power to shape iron and steel; it’s “elemental”: fire, iron, hammering… and, the permanence of the things one can make is unlike almost anything else we do. (Stone sculpture and good ceramics/glass work fall into the same class, of course)

    After taking a knife-making course in Finland (forged blades, NOT just grinding away at steel), I took a course in Sweden, for 8 days, at Gränsfors Bruk (Lee Valley carries their wonderful axes), and “made stuff”. Dirty, loud, hot, but something “real”!

  34. Catt-in-Kentucky says:

    Love this post! Your pepper mill is fab!

  35. Marna says:

    Beautiful! I love learning new things. I have many interests.

  36. J says:

    [and yes I am shouting!!]
    Glad to know you and Betty!

  37. Jayne fortman says:

    This was made for my Mom by a neighbor 51 years ago. Love it so much, watched him carve it with a pocket knife. Nothing like the real thing. Oh, by the way my best friend of 52 years dad whittled it. His name is Donald Greear. Also made me a true blue CUBS fan.

  38. Teresa J says:

    Guess Fish Pedicure isn’t into woodworking like you and Pink Tool Belt hey Karen! Hot yoga niece doesn’t fall far from the apple tree. Absolutely want to be Betty when I grow up ! Guess I had better tune into OISTNB!!! Could learn something it sounds like!!!

  39. Amanda says:

    I would have definitely laughed if I was around to hear you say, you’re going to lick your sleek pepper Mill. I plan to be just like Betty in 40 years.

  40. Janet Urquhart says:

    I LOVE Betty!

  41. Barbie says:

    I love your pepper mill!! It beautiful Karen! I like the sleek design the best! What a fun thing to do with the gals! Most of all I loved the picture of all of you holding your finished project!! Sister, neice, mom, correct? Gave me wam fuzzies!
    Merry Christmas Karen

  42. Tina says:

    This is something I’d love to try! But I’m in Boston and that’s a long way from you. Regardless, it looks fun!

    • Nicole Sparks says:

      I bet the Elliot School in JP has a wood turning class. Seems like something that’d be up their alley. If they had an alley.

  43. Gayle M says:

    My husband would never let me go near a lathe–I have to have permission to use the pruners ever since I cut my left forefinger to the bone about mid-nail vicinity. I have so many scars from stitches on my left hand. The dr stitching me up from the pruner incident asked me why I had so many scars on my left hand. Duh, I personally thought it was obvious, but decided to state the obvious: “I’m right handed…” “Oh.” Must have been his lesson for the day. Then there was that time we were negotiating for a discount because my husband had to show the dr how to open the “surgical” glue (really, just super glue, she said) so she could glue my wound closed. Ha! No chance.

    So you see why you won’t ever see me near a lathe. But…I’d sure like to carve me a pepper mill, too. Cool job, Karen!

  44. Sarah says:

    Am I the only one who thought the beautifully-ribbed piece behind the lathe (in the first photo after the one where Karen is using the lathe) was one of Hugh’s masterpieces?!

    (Which I now realize it is not :-) )

  45. Dot says:

    Beautiful pieces and beautiful people!😍. However I don’t think I’ll ever get that picture of Betty being educated by Orange Is The New Black🤪 out of my head.

  46. MrsChrisSA says:

    Betty is a legend!!! If I get to be that age, I hope I have her thirst for learning and living!!!

  47. Kristina says:

    I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS!!! (Intentional shouting, ty) My husband always jokes that if someone offered to show me how to milk a cow or rebuild a scooter or to graft 20 different fruits onto one tree, I will be there! I’m 46 and I hope I can keep that love of learning. I don’t learn well from books but dangit, I can learn darn well by hands on doing!

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Kristina! I hear ya, I’m a hands on learner too. p.s. Milking cows is FUN. ~ karen!

      • Katie says:

        Milking goats is easier and they (usually) don’t try to kill you – LOL. I love that your mom (and you and your sisters) are still willing to try new things! I am a big fan of trying new things…for my 50th, I plan to go indoor sky-diving (I don’t think I will *ever* be willing to jump out of a perfectly good plane, but you never know)

  48. Linda says:

    Your Mom is such a great sport! She is always up for something. I sure hope I have the same energy and interest in life as she does when/if I am her age.

  49. Diane Amick says:

    I love you….Merry Christmas!

  50. Caris says:

    I signed up for your site because you’re hilarious, and this was hilarious, along with added suspense, danger and excitement. I really like your sleek take on a pepper mill. It’s quite beautiful. And I like the homily about age. Well said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Seed Starting Calculator

  • About Karen