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AX EXPERT LETS CHIPS FALL WHERE THEY MAY

Norman Carlson doesn't mind letting the chips fall where they may -- at least in the literal sense of the term.

The 54-year-old Busti man can even demonstrate it. And he'll be doing just that all week at the Chautauqua County Fair in Dunkirk, during his debut fair appearance.

Just inside the fairground's Central Avenue entrance, wood chips are falling -- and flying -- everywhere as Carlson chops timber to demonstrate how log cabins were made.

Using a metal object called a framing square, Carlson maps out a block at the end of a 10-foot log. Then, he stretches out a string and lines the length of the log with bright blue chalk.

"Hew to the line," he calls out. "Let the chips fall where they may." Then he stands on the log and starts chopping.

By now, a few passers-by are starting to watch.

"Not many people know where that saying comes from," Carlson says. "Here it means working to keep a straight line and not worrying where the wood chips go."

After several chops, the lanky, animated Carlson, clad in work clothes and a straw hat, bounds over to a foot-propelled sharpening wheel. He sits down and begins working the pedals, explaining to the onlookers how he sharpens his axes.

On a wood block are several axes of varying shapes and sizes, each serving a different purpose.

The demonstration includes a history lesson on timber frame construction, which Carlson estimates began in northwestern Europe around the year 1000 and reached America by the 1600s.

"Before that, people used woven twigs and saplings with mud plastered on it," he says.

While walking around his makeshift lumber yard, Carlson munches on cherries and drinks cider from a white jug. Several children walking by enthusiastically yell out "Hi Norm!"

Suddenly, Carlson gets an inspiration for a short tutorial on the first "lawnmowers" and races into the nearby antique equipment display.

"Where's the reaper?" he yells to one of the attendants, then explains "That's what they used to be called."

This is when it becomes really apparent that he isn't only fascinated by timber frame construction, but has a genuine interest in history and "how things work." A beef farmer, he also is a collections manager for the Fenton Historical Society in Jamestown.

"In this world we are so full of technology," he says. "We all go to school and we're so educated but we don't know nothing about how things work, like our televisions, cars and clothes washers. For absolutely everything we have, someone had to think about it and invent it one part at a time."

Carlson's fascination with wood frame construction began in the early '70s while he was working on a restoration project at the historic Busti grist mill.

He says he has never built an entire structure but has offered to cut logs for fairgoers for $50. The only catch is they would have to supply the trees.

"It would take about two dozen to make a small cabin and some of those would be about 30 feet," he says, then adds, "I'm not going to do any 30 footers for $50.

Carlson is also vice president of the Antique Equipment Association.

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