Life Skills


One of my dreams is to be a woodcrafter. Taking trees God made, and crafting things that bring beauty and value to life. Running my hands on a smoothly sanded wood piece. The feeling of satisfaction one gets when you’ve taken raw material and made something unique. Something to enjoy.

Generations Ago

Back in the late 1800s, my great grandfather Reinhardt Chrispens was a carpenter in Russia. They lived in a village on the Volga River. Reinhardt would travel by boat up and down the river for weeks at a time, selling his services to customers. Some wanted a piece of furniture built; a chair, hutch, or table. Others hired him to make hammered dulcimers. It’s how he provided for his young family. Through a tragic event, he never made it to America. His son, David (my grandpa), however, came in 1911, at the heat of the Bolshevik Revolution. He was 7. He didn’t remember much of his father, except that he loved working with wood. As a teenager, I recall my grandpa making things in his woodshop on his Kansas farm. He would cut down cedar trees in the pasture, take them to be kiln-dried, and make plant tables and cedar chests out of them. He also made hammered dulcimers, as his dad did in Russia. When I was 22, I borrowed grandpa’s shop and made a table I have to this day. It was based upon a table design I’d seen in a friend’s castle apartment in Austria. 

With My Own Hands

With dreams to remodel our house, my wife and I imagined a new mantle for our fireplace. Being an architect, I sketched up the design. We let the design percolate for a month or so until we knew it was what we wanted.


Live Edge Wood

There is a local woodshop where you can buy live-edge wood. We set an appointment and scoured their stock of walnut boards. Finding the right one we had it cut to size. We also selected some other walnut to be planed into ¾ inch boards. 

Searching for the right walnut at the sawmill.

Make-Shift Shop

I’m at best a hobbyist when it comes to woodcrafting. I have a hodge-podge of tools and my skills are not as honed as others I know. But, if I have the time and patience, I can do a decent job. Having never worked with live-edge wood before, I was a bit apprehensive. Where do I start? How can I make this new mantle capture the look and feel we want?

Mitering corners and using my air-compressor nail gun, I glued and secured the mantle box that would sit below the live-edge wood top. 

Assembling the walnut box portion of the mantle.

Keeping the Existing Mantle

Our house is over 30 years old and the current mantle has served us well. It is very secure. Instead of removing it, I decided our new mantle would cover it up. The current mantle would serve as the blocking for the new mantle.

Sanding and Staining

Thankful for a new electric sander for Christmas, I sanded the walnut down with 200 grit sandpaper. Then, I used tung oil for the finish. Honestly, I didn’t like it. We wanted a darker, richer look. My sister suggested brees wax. Made in England, I waited for my order to arrive.

Time to convert the garage back to a temporary shop again. Using latex gloves and lint-free cloths, I rubbed the stain on and wiped it off. Much more like what we wanted! 

Live edge walnut mantle top being sanded and shaped,

Assembling the Mantle

Concealing fasteners took some extra thought. Our local hardware shop had four L brackets that we could screw from the underside. This way, we could slide the entire mantle onto our current mantle. With the help of a friend, we added the brackets to the underside of the new mantle and slipped it into place.  Success!

New mantle in place and enjoyed!

Dream to Reality

Back in grade 8, I decided to become an architect. It’s been my career ever since university. The parallels between architecture and woodcrafting go hand in hand. Taking dreams and making them into a designed reality. It can be very satisfying! That’s because God created us in His image, and part of that means making something beautiful. Perhaps you like to make things with your hands. Perhaps, yours is in the area of writing, or art. One young warrior I know comes alive repairing engines! Another lives and breathes forging knives. Another farms, raising cattle and planting crops. For some, it’s their livelihood. For others, it’s a past-time; a way to relax. 

Manhood in the Making

Just like a guy can take the raw material of wood, for example, making it into something useful and beautiful, God takes the raw material of a boy and shapes him into a young man. Making our mantle was not a solo task. I needed help. Help from the sawmill, from my sister, my friend. It’s a great reminder to me that I need others to mentor and speak truth into my life. To learn from others who have been down the road, who can guide me through my journey is to be highly valued.

Who is Your Guide?

Think about the aspects of your life that need sanding, refining, shaping. Ask God to give you godly men to come alongside you. Here’s what I know. Men who ask for help end up further down the manhood journey, and in a stronger way than guys who try to figure life out solo.  Who is your guide?

Warrior On!

David Riffel is the Founder and Executive Director of Having gone through his warrior years (18-30) essentially without a mentor, God has placed in him a heart for warriors, to come alongside them in various ways as they figure out life. David’s newly released book, Mentoring Warriors: Coming Alongside Young Men 18-30, outlines principles for mentoring and gives advice for warriors in six key areas of life: self-management, life skills, education/career, relationships, faith, and identity.

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