In the summer of 1975, Dr. Heibert said to Tom Moser, “I want a wheel made entirely of native oak, in the old-world style. No plywood, just oak to age in dignity. Of course, it needs to be perfectly balanced to drive a wooden set of gears and power a generator. Can you do it?”

“Of course,” Tom Moser said. “Let’s see the plans you have to start with.” And with that, the good doctor reached into his coat pocket and handed Tom the crumpled blue and white bread wrapper.

Dr. Heibert had held on to that blue and white plastic bread bag for over eight years. His dream was to recreate the iconic mill that graced the wrapper on his property and a waterwheel that, should he need, serve as a backup generator for his home. To gather information on how to build such a mill, he traveled to the Smithsonian Institution and several mills throughout Virginia. Back home in Maine, he hired a crew to build and wire the mill itself, but he needed someone to construct the three-foot-wide and eleven-foot in diameter overshot wheel to fit his mill and generate the electricity. That’s when he reached out to Tom Moser.

 

“There were so many variables, but there were no plans,” says Tom. Looking at the size of the project, Tom estimated that it would take six weeks to build the solid oak wheel. Tom and his team designed an overshot oak water wheel (so named because the water rolls over the wheel from above), built around a 600-pound, 6-inch steel axle salvaged from a stone crusher. Tom remembers that he “tried everything to find a plan for a water wheel; what should the angle of the buckets be? How deep should the buckets be?”

With characteristic ingenuity and inventiveness, Tom and his team created their blueprint. The blueprint included grooved rims that would take the boards that formed the drum. The buckets would be made of two boards each and set at a 30-degree angle and fastenings made from galvanized steel to protect against corrosion. With a few sketches, the bread wrapper, and a homesteaders guide called Cloudburst in hand, Tom and his crew, which included his eldest son Matthew who was instrumental in much of the site work, gathered the two-thousand board feet of native oak and took to building the wheel in the front yard of the vestry.  

With characteristic ingenuity and inventiveness, Tom and his team created their blueprint. The blueprint included grooved rims that would take the boards that formed the drum. The buckets would be made of two boards each and set at a 30-degree angle and fastenings made from galvanized steel to protect against corrosion. With a few sketches, the bread wrapper, and a homesteaders guide called Cloudburst in hand, Tom and his crew gathered the two-thousand board feet of native oak and took to building the wheel in the front yard of the vestry.  

Top Left: Transporting the water wheel in the back of Tom’s pickup. Top Right: Moving the wheel into place. Lower: Using a telescoping crane to lift the wheel off Tom’s truck and into place.

Tom and his small team finished building the wheel in a matter of two weeks. It was then time to move the massive wheel from its railroad tie cribbing onto Tom’s pickup truck. Carefully maneuvering the back roads of Maine, Tom and his crew delivered the wheel to the site of the mill. By mid-summer, the work was complete, and Dr. Heibert released the water from the dam, and the wheel began to turn. Not only did the water wheel work as planned, it still works today, nearly 50 years later!

 

Like everything crafted at Thos. Moser, the water wheel, was built to perform a function and last for at least a lifetime of use. The execution of the water wheel required an understanding of woodworking and joinery techniques and an understanding of the mercurial nature of wood itself. Every wood species has its own personality – a unique growth pattern; a tendency to bend, split, or crack; how it reacts to air and sunlight. With the water wheel, as with every piece that Thos. Moser makes today; technical measures must be taken to accommodate for environmental factors.

Like everything crafted at Thos. Moser, the water wheel, was built to perform a function and last for at least a lifetime of use. The design featured an inner gear assembly with through tenon joinery that utilized a removable wedge on the backside to hold the wheel’s replaceable teeth. The execution of the water wheel required an understanding of woodworking and joinery techniques and an understanding of the mercurial nature of wood itself. Every wood species has its own personality – a unique growth pattern; a tendency to bend, split, or crack; how it reacts to air and sunlight. With the water wheel, as with every piece that Thos. Moser makes today; technical measures must be taken to accommodate for environmental factors.

One might wonder, “What do waterwheels have to do with building furniture?” But the water wheel project is a perfect example of how an adventurous spirit, appreciation for craft and utility, and creative thinking have guided Moser in furniture design and business since the very beginning. After all, starting a business is not without risk, and as Tom himself has said, “Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention.”