Riken Dreams (2)

Hello dear readers,

I want to start by thanking you again for all of the wonderful messages and support over these last couple of months. I have been so swamped that I haven’t responded individually to many of you and want you to know that your comments have meant so much to me. It is a big comfort to know that there are people around the globe thinking about Chris and also bringing his work forward in your work.

Please continue to reach out. You are always welcome to email me directly if you want to connect about something. My email is ilanamartha1 “at” gmail dot com, and I also check Chris’s email addresses every few days at this point.

I have been to sending out links for carpentry essays every 2 – 3 days , and please feel free to send an email if you do not see one you are expecting!

Now onto the arrival of the Riken.

As many of you know, as recently as December, 2019, Chris thought he would have enough time left to use the shop he was setting up in our basement. He carefully considered what types of machines would be the most versatile and would also be possible for him to use with reduced physical strength. Given his extensive use of the Zimmerman milling machine during his last few projects, he knew he wanted to continue using a milling machine. He appreciated the wide range of functions and accessories and, of course, the precision that he could achieve. After a lot of machine research, searching, and correspondence, he decided upon a Riken RTM-3 from Japan, a machine that is nearly a copy of a Deckel FP2. So similar, in fact, that at least some Deckel parts can be used on the Riken. More on this in his own words in Old Mill Drivel ? II and III.

The machine he finally bought is from 1978 (um, I think!) and was shipped from Japan across the Pacific ocean, through the Panama Canal, and up to the Port of Boston. Chris was thrilled to think he would have a chance to know and use this machine. It’s a Swiss Army Knife of machines, according to him and others who know a lot more about machines than I do. Since it does not currently have a high enough speed head to use for woodworking, he planned to get one (of course). And in the meantime, he looked forward to fabricating metal parts.

Unfortunately, Chris was mostly unconscious by the time the machine arrived in Boston. It became available for pick up two days after he died.

Many people have asked why I didn’t sell the machine upon its arrival in this country. Well, the answer is that Chris was extremely attached to (the idea of) this machine and having it in his little basement shop. He realized that even if he could not use it himself, it is so emblematic of who he was as a craftsperson that he wanted our son to be able to use it someday. “Someday” is an important part of that last sentence, as Ryden is still 3, turning 4 in a few weeks. I would have preferred to sell it. But when my husband and father of my child asked me as one of his dying wishes to bring the machine home and make it available in case Ryden wants to use it when he is older, well, I said yes. And, of course, I did it. With a LOT of help…

Chris worked hard to figure out a process for getting the machine from Japan into our basement when he realized that he would not be here for the final stages. He thought and thought about how to get it INTO the basement, which had to be done through our bulkhead. He had all kinds of ideas that terrified me, including using a tow truck with a winch and somehow sliding it down a metal plate on top of the stairs. Maybe those ideas were perfectly fine, but since I don’t know enough to know what IS actually dangerous, I really wanted a solution that would have the lowest risk of someone getting crushed by a machine. In the end, he found a local rigging and towing company that was willing to pick the machine up at the Port of Boston, store the machine at their facility while he (actually a friend of his, since he had passed away by then) removed parts from the machine so it would fit down the bulkhead, and then bring it to our house and lower it into the basement with a crane.

I won’t go into all the logistics of actually getting the machine released from the Port of Boston, but I will say that they expected me to be a freight forwarding company with accounts set up to pay all of the associated fees, and to know all of their lingo, forms, and codes. It took a few days, help from the customs broker, and a lot of head scratching on my part and the part of the towing/rigging company owner, who was also trying to help…but we got it released! I almost cried tears of joy, which was very strange two days after Chris had died, when I finally talked with a very nice human at the Port who told me he had received my payment and the machine COULD be picked up!

But you may be wondering something else…how does the crane lower the machine into the basement if there are stairs in the way? Well, Chris had the forethought to ask a neighbor friend, Steve, to take the stairs out. Here he is, with Ryden supervising.

Note Ryden’s outfit, which includes a pair of Chris’s safety glasses and rainbow boots. I tried to get Ryden to give Steve some space to work without an audience, but Ryden was adamant that he wanted to watch the entire process. And tell Steve which tools to use…as in “Yes! Steve, use the hammer now and BANG it! No, use the crowbar. Yes, you are DOING it!” Kind of a combination of cheerleader and drill sergeant.

And here is the view from below after completion. Thank you, Steve!

Then I moved things around in the basement and even felt a bit burly getting the heavy stuff moved on my own to make room for the mill. Here is the corner where Chris told me he wanted it and put a 3-phase outlet intended for it. The green metal hood on the right goes with the machine. Chris’s friend, Christopher, was recruited by Chris to remove the extra parts from the machine and help with delivery (and a lot of other things after Chris died). Christopher brought over the hood a few days before delivery day.

Final preparations on delivery day! Here is Christopher decking down rough spots on the part of the floor that was revealed when the stairs were taken out. He was concerned that rough areas and bumps in the concrete might make it very difficult to move the machine across that part of the floor.

And then the crane truck arrived in our backyard! I remembered (barely) that I had to come up with a path for the truck that didn’t involve underground pipes and directed the driver across the back field to our bulkhead. You can see that there are two items on the truck: the milling machine and the cabinet that goes with it.

With everyone stuck at home most of the time due to COVID-19 and a very close knit neighborhood, quite a few neighbors came out to watch. It was the best live entertainment in weeks and many of them offered to help too.

First step, deal with the crates. Christopher is working on that in this photo. Did I mention that this guy has done a LOT of stuff for us recently? As you will notice, people are wearing masks in almost all of these photos. Massachusetts has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 cases in the United States, and even though our part of the state is fairing much better than urban areas (due to lower population density and swift response from local officials and residents), most people do wear masks or stay at least 6 feet apart.

And away we go! Here is the crane lifting the cabinet off the truck and toward the bulkhead. So far so good. I had a flash in my mind of the much larger crane lifting the gate Chris built for the MFA high above our heads and over the trees on delivery day there. I could picture Chris so clearly, wearing the construction hat he almost never used (now sitting sadly on a shelf in our laundry room), nervously watching the gate as it sailed through the air…

A little bit closer now…

And meanwhile, inside the basement…here’s Steve controlling the cabinet’s movement from below to keep it from getting scraped on the wall.

It landed with no problems and was easily rolled in to place on its own wheels. I can even move it with the help of one other person.

And now, the machine itself! A tighter squeeze and more delicate parts to be aware of…

OK, but there was still the matter of how to move the machine across the floor once it was lowered into the basement. The crane truck driver brought some pipes and a metal plate, but in the end, Christopher thought it was a good idea to use heavy duty wheels that Chris had bought for moving machines. This seemed like a good idea until we realized that the bolts that came with the wheels were too long to fit in the space at the bottom of the machine. So Christopher shortened the bolts with a hack saw. And me? I was proud that I remembered where the hack saw and the vice were! I am super useful in these situations. Just ask Christopher and Steve. (For those who are not as comfortable with English…I am making fun of how little I actually did during this period!)

This process took a little while, so Ryden decided he wanted to see what was inside all of the drawers in the cabinet. Here he is with another neighbor looking at “his” new tools.

And we’re back in business! Those are the wheels on the bottom of the machine. We all agreed that it was better to have the machine as far over as possible to the left to avoid handles and other more delicate parts from scraping on the right. Christopher and Steve slid the cardboard in next to the other side of the machine to prevent paint scraping. (I found the cardboard!)

And the eagle has landed. On its own very helpful little wheels.

The wheels were actually so helpful that by the time I got outside to thank the crane operator and looked down into the basement again, the machine was most of the way across the floor.

And here it is, in its new home.

I am deeply grateful to everyone who helped with this process. Christopher stuck around and re-attached some of the parts. The stairs are even back in, thanks to Steve. And other neighbors disposed of the pallets for me. My mom also took care of Ryden most of the time on delivery day, with help from another neighbor. Others came by and offered to help in various ways and cheered everyone on. Friends stopped by and asked if we needed anything. So many people to be grateful for.

At the end of the process, I was incredibly relieved. Getting the machine safely from Boston to our basement was the thing that Chris wasn’t able to do that was most nerve-wracking for me. My first priority was that no one got hurt. Check! Second priority was no damage to machine, house, etc. Check!

Another several hours in the heat with an N95 mask helps me to appreciate what builders do every day when there isn’t a pandemic.

But of course, then I had a moment to breathe as the crane truck drove away, and it hit me (again) that Chris will never see this machine and that he should have been here. I got a bit teary. Then it was time to keep cleaning up. At least I got to take my mask off.

The next step is getting it set up to run. Chris purchased a Phase Perfect Phase Converter, so I just need someone competent to do the rest of the wiring. Chris found someone who offered to do that as well, and I just had another offer from an electrician friend, so I think we will actually get it up and running soon.

Chris’s friend Brian recently asked me if I am interested in learning how to use the machine. It’s hard to imagine finding the time at this point, but I am interested. In the meantime, I hope that others with prior machining skills or related skills and interest might want to get to know this machine. During the warm weather, our basement is very pleasant.


I have received a bunch of questions from caring and curious readers about how Ryden and I are doing, if I am a woodworker myself or a craftsperson of any kind, etc. I will try to answer those questions over time without shifting the focus to me, because this is still a blog about carpentry, crafts, wood, machines, precision, architecture, and history.

I will say now that although it’s been a heartbreaking and exhausting few months of hospice and early grieving during a pandemic (preschools closed and friends not able to come in our house or even give us a hug), we do have great support and moments of triumph. Although Ryden seems healthy and happy overall, I’ve been concerned that he hasn’t been eating much. However, on this night a neighbor made us tacos and he loved them. My expression says “My child is eating solid food!!!” (This was a few days before the machine arrived, just before I gave Ryden a summer haircut.)

Also, especially because we can’t have a memorial service due to COVID-19, several local friends bought and planted a tree in Chris’s memory. Such a thoughtful gift. It’s a koto no ito Japanese maple and I’m about to go water it as soon as I get this posted!

Also called a thread-leaf maple, the leaves vary on the same tree and you can see them silhouetted against the sky. Chris loved trees like this.

Lastly, coming soon(ish):
A participant from a course that Chris taught on Gabriola Island 15 years ago recently sent me and several other participants from the same course some footage of Chris teaching and the beautiful property where he lived at the time. I will share it here soon. Definitely a blast from the past and it may also have some useful information for you.
As mentioned, I am going to have the Riken wired by a professional, and Brian Holcombe plans to come for a visit and check out the machine, so there will be more posts coming about the machine itself and its many accessories.

Stay tuned!

Thank you for remembering Chris and helping to keep his memory and work alive through yours. And thank you for stopping by The Carpentry Way.


10 Replies to “Riken Dreams (2)”

  1. Thank you so much for keeping Chris’s Blog going. It has always meant a lot to me and all the others that have been coming here over the years.
    Chris was such a dear soul and shared so much knowledge on so many subjects that has educated all of us and to see that being carried on is truly an inspiration for us to remember what Chris gave to not only the woodworking world but world of knowledge in general.
    Know that my wife and I think of you Chris and Ryden often and send you our prayers and hope for the future.

    Charlie & Mary Mastro

    1. Charlie, thank you very much. Chris really appreciated your interest and support over the years! Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts. If you have any favorite parts of the blog that you recommend that I highlight for newer readers, please let me know. All my best, Ilana

  2. Dear Ilana,

    I would also like to thank you for keeping Chris’s blog going.

    Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Chris in person, my sense is that he well understood the meaning of a good education.

    He educated our minds and hearts.

    The following quote by Aristotle sums this up perfectly.

    “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”.

    I am pleased that you and Ryden are doing ok with the support of your family.

    Take care and all the very best.


    1. Thank you very much, Herbert, and that quote is very much in the spirit of what Chris believed about education and about carpentry as well – that it’s important to engage the head, heart, and also the hands. I am so glad that came through in his writing and I appreciate that you shared the quote, which I was not familiar with.

  3. Ilana, thanks for the story of the Riken. I know a bit about moving large machines into a shop, and how much planning and help it takes to do it safely. But I can’t even imagine importing a machine from Japan and what that involves. Good on you and your friends.

    On another topic. I’m making a cabinet with drawers and was looking for information about Japanese style drawer pulls. The internet offered up a blog post from Chris way back in 2012 that is, still, the very best info I’ve found:


    Detailed, with pictures, and history, and etymology. Just what I wanted to know, all in one place. Remarkable.


    1. Hi Gary, Thank you so much for your comment. I am so glad you enjoyed this post and I really appreciate what you shared about the 2012 post. Glad it was so useful and I know Chris would be too! If you think of any other posts you think are worth highlighting for other readers, please let me know. ~Ilana

  4. Dear Ilana,
    I needed a Chris “fix” and randomly chose his February 2017 entry on A Ming-Inspired Cabinet. Chris’s determination and his application of everything he could muster to remedy a situation not of his making made me both smile and wince. Woodworkers are not usually graced with both lucid prose and talent. I hope Ryden’s heart will swell with love and pride when he reads these entries.
    All my Best,
    Bruce Mack

    1. Thank you very much, Bruce. I am glad that the blog is still available to give you a “Chris fix” when you need it, and I do think that it will be wonderful for Ryden to read all of these comments when he is older. As I have said to other readers as well, if you have ideas for how I could better organize the blog or particular blog entries that you think are worth highlighting for other readers, let me know. Hope you are well! ~ Ilana

    1. Hi Ward! Thank you! And I JUST posted an entry with footage from the Gabriola workshop in 2004 that you attended. You are in a photo I included in that post, so right back at you! ~Ilana

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