Raivo Vihman

founder, Haystack Joinery


In 1996 I decided to take a year off from my studies at Bowdoin College, and to spend it at Khadighar, a beautiful subsistence farm nestled in the foothills of the western mountains in Industry, Maine. I thought I was going to learn about subsistence farming, seed saving and land stewardship. I did all of those things, and I loved them all, but it was another part of the farm that took me by surprise and captured my imagination. Each season has its work, and in the fall we were busy harvesting, processing seeds, gathering leaves and apples, pressing cider. In the long snowy winter the land goes to sleep, and the focus is on cleaning seeds, filling seed orders, working in the woods cutting timber and firewood, and on woodwork. I was introduced by Will Bonsall to the tools and techniques required for the maintenance of a homestead. Being off-grid meant doing everything by hand. Whereas power tools can cut through wood in any direction, hand tools require finesse and a nuanced understanding of each individual piece of wood. The tool shed was well stocked with air-dried slabs of cherry, maple, ash, butternut, beech, birch, basswood... I learned to make and repair countless tool handles, from hammer and axe to sweeping hayfork and d-handled shovel. I fell in love with the process of taking a block of wood and creating something useful and beautiful with my hands. I carved bowls and spoons. I built a boston rocker. A pair of kayak paddles. A yoke for hauling water buckets. A wooden wheelbarrow with removable sides for hauling hay, complete with wooden iron-tired wheel composed of hand-carved axle, spokes, and felloe blocks, and cold-forged iron bracing. And I was continually awed by the simple grace of the farmhouse crafted by hand of heavy timbers hewn in place from the farm's own forest. 


When four years later I began to build my own small house and barn, I knew I wanted to build with timber, using traditional mortise and tenon joinery fastened with riven, or split, wooden pegs. My first frame was raised by hand with a group of a dozen friends, and by the end of the day limitless space was bounded by posts and rafters into the shape of a house. I was bewitched. My education continued working in shops from Maine to Oregon to North Carolina. My times working with Tim Bickford were especially formative. His mastery of the craft was instructive and his love of complex roof structures and elegant design was contagious. During two winters I traveled to France to study descriptive geometry with the Compagnons du Devoir, the legendary trades guild in France, which gave me powerful tools for developing creative compound roof systems. 


      maison de compagnon, Saumur

      maison de compagnon, Saumur

I founded Haystack Joinery after moving back to Maine in 2008 to allow me the opportunity to explore the creative possibilities of design and expression within the building arts.  All of these years after my winter at Khadighar, it's still about the act of creation, the interplay between aesthetic grace and functional design, and the beauty hidden in the wood.