Inspiring Young Woodworkers #1: A Special Gift from Charles Neil

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Blog entry by David posted 11-26-2007 09:51 PM 3489 reads 0 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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I just posted this on my woodworking blog and felt it was something important to share with my fellow Lumberjocks. I am sure many of us can remember middle school and high school woodshop. It is a sad state of affairs that industrial arts are being dropped due to budget constraints. It is up to each of us to help pass on the joy and traditions of woodworking.

Those of you that have followed any of my entries on, The Folding Rule Podcast or The Folding Rule Show Blog know that my son Matthew is a burgeoning woodworker. We have had a lot of fun in the shop. His first project was a birdhouse that we built 10 years ago in Paulsbo, Washington. That birdhouse hung with pride from the limb of a large pine tree in the front of our first home. More on Matt’s woodworking projects to be posted in the future . . .

Since that time Matt has continued to learn about woodworking while pursuing scouting. When he was a Cub Scout we built toolboxes as a den project. Later in Boy Scouts he completed his Woodworking Merit Badge when we hosted some scouts from Troop 728 in my shop. I posted the experiences of Matt and his fellow scouts as a blog series on, as well as, an episode on The Folding Rule Podcast.

Matt is also a very serious history buff with a special interest in The Revolutionary War and The Civil War. I recently had the privilege to strike up an email conversation with Master Woodworker, Charles Neil. I complimented him on his Unplug The Kids YouTube episode where he hosted a number of kids for an afternoon of woodworking in his shop. I also shared our experiences with Matt and his fellow scouts in my shop. Getting young people into our shops and passing on the joy and traditions of woodworking is vital in these days where industrial arts have been dropped from many school curricula.

Relating my regret for not knowing Charles sooner, as we had recently made several trips to Virginia for “history vacations”, I shared Matt’s passion for history and The Civil War. Charles very kindly responded with an offer to send Matt some left over material from a recent commission. Some very special material as this was timber from a limb pruned from The Stonewall Jackson Prayer Tree! Well, Charles made the day for a 12 year-old boy that day. We will not travel through New Market, Virginia again with out taking the time to stop by to visit Charles and shake his hand.

Matt was quite excited about a package soon to arrive in the mail. Luckily we went away for the Thanksgiving holiday providing for some distraction. Upon arriving home we found a package on the doorstep from New Market, Virginia. Matt was very excited as he opened the box and pulled out two pieces of some very remarkable wood. What will become of this timber? For now it is safely tucked away. We anticipate taking advice from Charles and will likely turn a pen or two and hopefully a small presentation box.

The Stonewall Jackson Prayer Tree is estimated to be anywhere from 275 to 300 years old. It is considered one of 36 most historic trees in the United States, according to the US Forestry Department.

Please checkout Charles on YouTube at In The Workshop, as well as, his homepage The Workshop of Charles Neil - Maker of Fine Handcrafted Furniture.

Below is an excerpt from Charles’ November 2007 Newsletter.

I had the opportunity to do a historically significant piece too. A client who is on the Board of Directors for the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation asked me to make a gavel and a dovetail box from a limb pruned from the Stonewall Jackson Prayer Tree.

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OK…the story goes that after the close of Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign…and his victories at the Battle of Cross Keys (June 8, 1862) and Port Republic (June 9, 1862), Jackson and his men camped near Mt. Meridian (between the Middle and South Rivers)... to let his men rest for about a week or so (his ‘foot cavalry’ had marched over 350 miles in about 30 days…and were able to defeat the Union Army, who were twice their size, in five battles).

Legend has it that Jackson would ride to a nearby brick home (still standing today) every morning for breakfast, but would stop at this tree on the way, get off his horse, and pray. A small project, but a very meaningful one.

- Charles Neil, November 2007

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15 comments so far

View mot's profile


4928 posts in 5098 days

#1 posted 11-26-2007 10:27 PM

That’s awesome, David! Give Matt, a big old Canadian slap on the back for me!

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View cajunpen's profile


14578 posts in 5127 days

#2 posted 11-26-2007 10:31 PM

Thanks David for posting this story. I am really happy for you that your son is so interested in sharing our passion for woodworking. He seems like a very intelligent young man – you should (as I am sure you are) be very proud of him.

As for Charles Neil, the more I learn about him – the more impressed I am. He comes across as a genuinely nice person. He obviously is a very talented craftsman – but what is more impressive is his willingness to share his knowledge.

-- Bill - "Suit yourself and let the rest be pleased."

View David's profile


1969 posts in 5200 days

#3 posted 11-26-2007 10:31 PM

Tom -

:-) Will do! Is that done with the other hand passing off a maple cookie? If so, Matt will be looking forward to it!


View David's profile


1969 posts in 5200 days

#4 posted 11-26-2007 10:45 PM

Bill -

Thanks for the kind comments. I am indeed very proud of Matthew . . . he is quite a young man.

I too am very impressed with Charles Neil. He has a unique ability to share and teach.



View mot's profile


4928 posts in 5098 days

#5 posted 11-26-2007 11:18 PM

David, yes, sorry that I forgot to mention it. There has to be an obligatory passing of a cookie in order for it to be in context.

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5222 days

#6 posted 11-26-2007 11:49 PM

How wonderful.. and once again the LJ connections grow stronger and stronger.
Matt. You are a lucky guy. I can’t wait to see how you decide to honour that wood.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6874 posts in 5041 days

#7 posted 11-27-2007 04:06 AM

Hi David;

Great post!

I suspect you are on your way to having a very close friend, after the parenting duties have waned somewhat. There never gone completely, but the friendship that can develope, based on mutual respect for each other is a very nice feeling.

That mutual respect is something your son will eventually hold very dear to his heart. I believe my biggest accomplishment is earning my father’s respect and admiration. Everything else is just gravy.

I hope you can find an appropriate project for that very special piece of wood.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4073 posts in 5125 days

#8 posted 11-27-2007 06:22 AM

Can’t wait to see Matt’s project! Thanks for sharing your story and gavel/box, David.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over two decades.

View Karson's profile


35271 posts in 5462 days

#9 posted 11-27-2007 06:28 AM

Thanks david and we await Matt’s special project.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View David's profile


1969 posts in 5200 days

#10 posted 11-27-2007 07:44 PM

Thanks for the great comments!

Matt and I are going to learn some turning skills before we touch that wood. Should be a fun adventure for us both. It was a pleasure to see the joy that historic timber brought him. This morning at breakfast he was going thru one of his boxes of Civil War relics. You could almost hear the wheels turning in his mind . . .


View Dadoo's profile


1790 posts in 5052 days

#11 posted 11-28-2007 12:42 PM

I think maybe it’s time for Matt to join LumberJocks and post the project that he’s doing with this wood. “More on Matt’s woodworking projects to be posted in the future . . .” The future is now.

I’m also a former Scout Master and brought all my “boys” up thru scouting. 90% of them are into good lives and work outdoors today, including my son and nephew. The other 10% moved from this locale, so I really cannot attest for them. But there still are a lot of fond memories there.

-- Make Woodworking Great Again!

View David's profile


1969 posts in 5200 days

#12 posted 11-28-2007 03:32 PM

Dadoo -

Excellent advice from a former Scoutmaster!


View CharlesNeil's profile


2501 posts in 4932 days

#13 posted 11-30-2007 11:20 PM

David, gotta tell you, I still get choked up when I play Matt’s video. I am so honored I have had the opportunity to meet you and Matthew and look forward that someday we may meet in person. Keep me posted.

View David's profile


1969 posts in 5200 days

#14 posted 12-01-2007 02:52 AM

Hi Charles! All I can say is you reached out and touched a young man. We will keep you posted!

David & Matthew


View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 5361 days

#15 posted 12-10-2007 12:18 AM

It’s touching to see a Dad, & son with the same interests.

Keep it up, it seems like the time goes by to quickly, & Matthew will be flying from the nest.

Make every minute count.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

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