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Next up … bench and trellis

Posted by joeabbott on June 22, 2017

OK, I normally don’t post until I’m done with a project, but I’m finding I finish and yet fail to post. And then I don’t post for a while and suddenly slam out a bunch of disconnected posts.Well, my posts will be just as disconnected but let’s get some content out more regularly, OK?

imageI built a small platform off the side of my driveway where a couple trees died and now we want to build a trellis. I guess I should detail the deck/platform for a start.

The land around my driveway falls off quickly so I didn’t want to build a deck/platform that would either erode that land or cause forces that push against the thing I was putting in. I just don’t have a lot of earth to hold it in place. So, I wanted the deck/platform to be a “shelf” or “tray” to hold some gravel. It took a long time coming up with a plan I liked but I finally decided on this … the driveway would be level with the right-side and the raised part around the edges would help keep someone from stepping off. Additionally, the long legs both near the driveway and in back would be deep enough to keep it from moving. As we’ll see later, that worked a bit “too well”.

imageI built most of the entire thing out of 4×4 pressure treated timber that I used mortise and tenon joints to hold it together. I started by building what I called the “H” shapes … you’ll have to squint at the picture to the left but it’s one of the outside\end ‘H’ sections.

Ignore the clothing hanging on it … while I was installing them, it was hot as heck and I was using this one to dry my bandanas on!

The long, vertical timber to the right is the longest upright; then the two vertical timbers … you can see those in the mockup image above and to the right. The far vertical member is supported by a “tool” I build specially to allow me to set these H shapes up in my garage as I dry-fit them to ensure everything worked well.

And, just like the model, everything worked great!

2017-05-29 10.46.41I then dug the eight holes for the legs (the bottoms of the H shapes) to fit into. That sucked. Sorry for the slight vulgarity, Mom … but it was a nasty, nasty job. First, I designed these things with legs that were too long. They won’t move, but I could have gotten away with half as long, I’d guess. But, I’m not so smart and I would rather over-build than take a chance. So … a lot of digging.

Then, I was going through an area that was comprising the driveway bed. Super-compacted, LOTS of rocks, and some of the worst digging I’ve done on this property. And I’ve done my share. Brutish work that had me sore for a week. And, yes, I was using a manual post-hole digger.

Also, because I didn’t want to take away too much material, I was digging the smallest possible holes … so, just about 6-inches in diameter. I felt great about nesting a 3.5” post into that size hole but, as I found out, it gave me almost zero capacity to maneuver stuff around. And when I had to clear a stone from the hole, I was laying on my side with my arm completely in the hole, scraping around and trying to loosen the offending rock.

As I was putting all the H-shapes in, and then trying to get the vertical parts to nest into their mortises, I was hitting all sorts of problems getting tight fits. I couldn’t nudge things left and right or wiggle them about to get a good fit. Some parts would nest really well and then I’d run out of room getting another piece to fit into the web of timbers I’d created. it was a mess that frustrated and had me spitting.

In the end, I lived with a bunch of gaps but the concrete I poured around the posts locked everything solid as can be. Here are a few “action” shots:

2017-05-29 10.46.372017-05-29 10.40.032017-05-29 10.46.182017-05-29 13.55.312017-05-29 17.01.18

After letting the concrete in the above parts set, I laid down some 2×6 PT timber as a base, covered it with landscape fabric, and then piled in about 3” of crushed gravel. The result is a very nice, very solid surface on which to place the bench.

In my next post I’ll show you what it looks like now, and some of the pictures of the bench that I’m constructing. I have to hurry if I want this done by the time my out of town guests arrive … that’s a good motivating factor for getting it done!

Thanks for looking in!

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Stuff I built

Posted by joeabbott on June 21, 2017

Over the past couple years I’ve struggled when taking my bike places. In the early days I had a small, hatchback car … we bought the sort of bike carrier for it that hung off the back and attached with straps but that never fit well and seemed sketchy. When I got an SUV I ended up just placing the bike on its side in the back. If I was hauling both Suzy’s and my bike, you’d end up worrying about potential damage you were doing to the bikes.

So, with the purchase of my truck and and getting back into biking a bit, I wanted to build a rack.

Over the past few months I thought about various wooden racks I could build … thought through the shapes and sizes, but nothing seemed “just right”. And then I turned to the Internet! Sure enough, out on YouTube, I found someone had built a rack using PVC for around $25 … just the ticket.

I followed the instructions, used a modification someone in the comments suggested, and in an evening came up with a serviceable setup. It felt a bit flimsy but I hadn’t set the pieces at that time so I went ahead with gluing and nesting the parts together with a small mallet. And … tada:


In the picture the white parts are the modification; for thin tires these really help hold a bike upright a lot better. They’re a bit of a nuisance as you need to lift the bike in and out of the rack (you can’t just wheel it forward into the slot) but they’re a lot more steady. I will note that, when traveling, I will be lashing the bikes down with nylon straps (both front and back), and in that configuration they’re rock solid and barely move.

Also, full credit goes to Suzy on the painting. In the pictures she hadn’t finished yet so it’ll be completely black when it’s all finished, but she did a really good job of changing the look from Big Box Rig Something Up look to a more respectable rack. Here are a couple other pics:

WP_20170618_15_34_45_Pro  WP_20170618_15_31_27_Pro

And, in the way of credit, here are the two sources I used for the instructions and seeing someone else put of of these together:

If you need a simple bike rack that works well either in the back of your truck or just for setting up in the garage, I highly recommend this project. It’s quick, cheap, and surprisingly solid.

Thanks for dropping in!

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Where’d I go last weekend? Good question!

Posted by joeabbott on June 19, 2017

I headed up to Mt. Dickerman.

Mt. Dickerman is a moderate hike on moderately good trials that ends in excellent views in a phenomenal area. It’s about 85 miles from my front door, making it about 20 miles from the property we own up in Granite Falls. As a matter of fact, you’d be hard pressed not to go through Granite Falls to get to the trailhead! That’s where I found myself going with my buddies Tim and Heath, two guys who are training with me to do the Snoqualmie-to-Steven’s Pass hike later this summer.

The Mt. Dickerman trail runs about 4 miles … one sign indicated 4.3 miles … and gains some 4000’ in elevation. Due to its location, from the top, you are given commanding views of mountains in all directions: Forgotten, Pugh, Glacier, Sloan, Columbia, and Big Four to name a few … unfortunately for us, low clouds kept most of the more distant peaks from us but what we could see made the hike worth it.


It took 2.5-3 hours to get to the summit, with about a third of the going through moderate snow. The more icy, hard-packed slopes had me wishing I’d brought a boot with a firmer sole, but my Keen hikers treated me well on the trail. The best part about the outing is that, after it was over, I was a little sore if my leg muscles were rubbed but, for the most part, didn’t have any problems with stiffness and could easily get up and down the stairs. While that’s a pretty low bar to be proud about, it’s showing good progress and giving me hope that I’ll be ready for the summer hiking when it starts in earnest!

Thanks for looking in!

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Last week’s outing

Posted by joeabbott on June 18, 2017

I mentioned I was getting in shape for the hiking season but, aside from “banged up”, I haven’t went into details about how or what I’m doing. Let’s take a look at last week’s outing.

The trip was a bike ride, from west to east, along the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, an old reclaimed railroad bed, from Rattlesnake Lake to Snoqualmie Pass. For those less familiar with the area, here’s a little diagram:


The trail starts around 1000’ and ends roughly 25 miles later at a hair over 3000’; but the grade is level as can be, so you really don’t notice that you’re heading uphill. At least not in a fatiguing fashion.

While the Trail heads through some historic areas, there’s little left; a few signs from old depot stops (ostensibly for mining or forestry purposes), a few trestles that have been rebuilt, and the tunnel at the pass which is in great shape. Our timing was a bit unfortunate as we found out (after starting) that a marathon had been planned for that day on the JWP Trail, but we tried to avoid being a problem for the runners and, for the most part, they stayed to their side of the trail.

Here are a few snaps from the trip:

WP_20170611_11_41_14_Pro 1  WP_20170611_11_23_36_Pro 1  WP_20170611_12_46_24_Pro 1

WP_20170611_12_52_24_Pro 1  WP_20170611_12_46_29_Pro 1

And, aside from my spill not 10-minutes away from getting back to the cars, it was an uneventful trip. A bit of a sore tuckas from the long ride but the weather was great, the company was very fine, and I can now check-off “rode my bike to the Pass and through the tunnel at the top” from my list.

Thanks for dropping in.

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Oops … that wasn’t supposed to happen

Posted by joeabbott on June 11, 2017


So I’ve been trying to get into hiking shape for the season with the goal of hiking a ~70 mile trip later this fall. Other than the distance and a bit of up and down, it’s not a challenging outing; we plan on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Snoqualmie Pass to Steven’s Pass … Section K, in the parlance of section-hikers. To get ready, I’m doing weekend outings, a smattering of this and that. Last weekend it was Mt. Si, this weekend I biked about 25 miles uphill from Rattlesnake Ledge to Snoqualmie Pass. I came back, but that was downhill and a lot easier.

However, there was an oopsie that makes it hard to feel confident and proud of my abilities.

I was about 10 minutes out of the parking lot and came up behind a couple of hikers. As we were both on the right and wanting to pass, I made a quick juke to the left side … at exactly the same time there was a big dip in the trail! And so my tire hit the far side of the dip and I hit the trail. It was a glorious mess: my face, arm, and shoulder hit the gravel trail, I crumpled over the handle bars, and everything came to an abrupt stop.


Here are a few of the souvenirs I came away with:


I took a knock to the ribs that I’m going to keep an eye on but it’s not too bad right now. Suzy took a look and asked if I’d managed to get all the dirt out of my wounds … I’m not sure. But, it’s a bit tender now to dig into it … I’ll save that treat for before I go to bed.

I’m not terribly disappointed … but maybe a little. And certainly not interested in doing it again. So what am I going to do? Well, get back on the bike, improve my biking skills, and avoid face-smashing the trail again. Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet that took most of the damage. Tomorrow I’ll give the bike and my gear a good look over. Tonight? Well, I’ll give everything a rest and get to bed early.

Sorry for being away for so long and thanks for looking in.

Posted in Hiking | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Now that was a heavy rock

Posted by joeabbott on May 21, 2017

I don’t have before pictures, I don’t have “during” pictures … I just have this:


And that, my friends, is a picture of a very old rosemary plant, surrounded by rocks and chickens. And the rock on the far right … well, that was one heavy beast.

Suzanne’s gardens are a thing of wonder: vibrant greens, amazing textures, and lots and lots of plants. But she’s learned not to be sentimental: if something is working, great; if something isn’t, yank it! Her treatment is far more nuanced than that, but she has developed an attitude that allows plants to hit the compost bin “when it’s time”. And for the rosemary in the picture above, it was time. But I wasn’t ready to let it go.

When we put in our backyard, this was one of the first plants, so I’m happy to see it stay. As I agreed with her that it wasn’t fit for the spot it was in, we moved it to the chicken side of our property. But we know the chickens will revel in soft, turned soil. They love it. Want to keep a bunch of hens happy for a while, just shovel a spade of earth over in your yard and leave them to it … before you know, they’ll have excavated something truly impressive and continue to dig. And so we’ve come up with the “surround it with rocks” strategy. It works in our current yard (looks-wise) and keeps them from uprooting plants, but with our loose soil you really need some big rocks to anchor things.

So, as we readied to move the rosemary, we looked around for a good-size rock. All the stones on our side have been spoken for but the plot next door that has been recently turned and flattened (for development of a home) had a number of large stones just laying about. I eyed one of them and set about to bring it over. It was a challenging project.

The stone had good angles but was heavy as all get out. Picking it up was out of the question and even rolling it proved a greater challenge than I could easily manage. The soft soil didn’t help as any drop tended to lodge it deep into the earth and require a bit of digging to clear. Ultimately the stone sunk into a tractor tread divot and I was unable to push it out. I ran to the garage and rigged up a piece of plywood that I could tether the rock onto using nylon webbing … and then I hauled the plywood, sled-like, across the lot. The plywood kept the rock from lodging into the ground and diffused the load. It was a good plan and worked … until I got it into our yard.

In our yard, the rock had to be dragged up the hill and up steps … which would have been impossible for me to do alone. Suzanne helped by pushing while I pulled, but it was a hard bit of work. We were happy to finally get it into place: a massive, keystone rock that would look great. That is, right up until we buried it well enough to support the plant on the hillside. Enough of it was sunk into the ground that, what remains above looks like a simple rock. For comparison, the largish rock on the left was small enough that I not only got it from the same lot, but I was able to carry it without stopping.

But, this is the sort of thing we do over here: make our lives a bit more challenging by feeling sympathy for plants and seemingly finding the hardest way to accomplish something like transplanting an herb. Good thing it makes us happy. And we are happy … well, once we’re rested, that is! Thanks for coming by.

Posted in Garden, Home projects | Leave a Comment »

The property

Posted by joeabbott on May 21, 2017

Well, it’s an uphill battle and some days I feel like we’re winning, and other days sit me back on my heels. Yesterday was a mix.

I’m referring to our property up north, the 5-acres we bought and plan to build a home on some day. Suzanne and I are clearing the land and doing it by hand. There are a number of reasons behind that decision … many of which I mentally challenge each time we come back from a trip, fatigued and beaten up … but we’re in it for the long haul and the haul that’s left looks shorter. Those are the good days: the days you can see your progress, you know what you’ve done and what remains, you’ve planned out an attack, and the work you do is noticeable. Good days.

The challenges are the days you look back on work you’d previously completed and find time isn’t standing still. Weeds creep into the garden beds we’ve created, ferns and grass grow over the sections we’ve cleared, and we notice additional projects that weren’t obvious before. Tough days.IMage

Last year we cleared about an acre and a half of the worst of the worst: dense stands of vine maple, ancient blackberry entwined in trees adjacent to our property boundary, and many many square yards of ground vines, grasses, and all manner of vegetation. It was a challenge and one we were happy to surmount.

This year we are targeting the last half acre before the tree-line that marks the back half of the property. We’ve done a fantastic job in just two or three days of work to clear the majority of it; I estimate we’ll need one more day to clear the remaining and then onto the projects that remain: clearing both property lines completely, spreading the chip left over from when the crew chewed up the shrubbery from the front half of the lot, and take out any scrub trees we just don’t want. That is a lot of work and will likely take us through the year to finish… provided we’re diligent and make time for it. But that’s sort of thing doesn’t set me back on my heels; it’s how aggressively the plants are moving back onto the land we cleared last year!

Yup, bracken fern are about five-foot, the ground vines are thick and healthy, and the grasses are about knee-height. All very disappointing. So, for at least one of the days that Suzanne and I go north, we’ll need to set aside time to weed-whack through that stuff. I don’t imagine it’ll be hard; just time-consuming. We’ll both don brush cutting machines and sweep through, very likely leaving the grasses and ferns where they fall. But, as it’s a lot of ground to cover, it’ll probably take all day. <sigh>

Such are the joys of homeownership … property-ownership. I’m sure we’ll be happy when we’re done; satisfied with our hand in all of it, confident we know every inch of our land, and more skilled in the use of the tools we needed to clear it. But today … today I’d like to rest because all of that is a lot of work.

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Quick update

Posted by joeabbott on May 7, 2017

Well, it’s been a furiously fast couple weeks but lots going on. Work is busy and commanding a lot of my mindshare right now; probably why I’m now (more than ever) not very productive with home chores. That said, we did get a little work out of me recently!

Cedar Plaque

My sister had a milestone birthday a few weeks back and we scrambled to get her something nice. She’s the youngest sibling and has been an active lifeline in keeping me up-to-date on my family “back home” and assisting with estate stuff when a dear uncle passed away. I wanted to let her know how much we value her help. So, we bought a little something at a art fair, got a nice gift certificate to a spa and some candy. And yet, nothing felt special enough.

Well, with our trip back to MN and the short time to accomplish a normal woodworking project, I settled on building her a small cedar plaque. Years ago she came out to Seattle and bought an art print with a native Pacific Northwest Indian motif on it; so, I found a couple similar images, printed them out on a company laser printer … and this is the cool part: this was a laser burner … a machine that could etch\burn an image into wood (or even cut right through it). After that it was just designing a small frame and getting it completed by the time we left.


I was so short on time that I was still cleaning it the morning we took off and we wrapped it in paper towels in case the oil treatment was still drying! Anyhow, it came out nicely and was well received.

Work Party

The second “big” thing that has happened here is a work party up in Granite Falls that Suzy and I attended.

We bought property in a neighborhood that was sponsoring a 4-hour work session with your neighbors. As a gated community, the roads are private property and require the homeowners to manage … either hiring that work out or doing it themselves. As Suzy and I don’t have a home in the community yet, there’s no expectation that we’d participate but we felt we should. First, we’d get a chance to meet the folks we’d be living with; and second, we thought it’d make an awfully good impression.

We were right on both counts.

The only problem was that we drove the 130 miles (65 miles each way), raked gravel back onto the exposed roadbed sides for four hours, and missed out on putting that time into working on our property! That, however, was overwhelmingly negated by all the good stuff that came of it: we met wonderful people, we contributed to the place we’ll live, and enjoyed a fantastic picnic when it was all over. Lots of “win” in all of those!

So, I awoke this morning sore and quite tired, unable to really feel awake as I rolled about in bed. And Suzy and I will now spend 4-6 hours clearing brush on our property today.


Sorry this is so short but that’s it! Just a couple moments in the last few weeks that have been rewarding. Thanks for dropping by.

Posted in General stuff | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

When I get serious about blogging, I’ll follow this advice

Posted by joeabbott on April 30, 2017

I get a surprising amount of information\news from Twitter these days. I’d originally avoided the service as my perception was that it was a place people went to post things like “I hate rude people” and “Ate a great sandwich just now”. The sort of comments that aren’t really helpful or entertaining. But, since joining, lurking, and curating folks I follow who caters to my interests, I find it both helpful and entertaining. At some time in the past couple weeks, this came across my feed:


I don’t follow Darren, so I got the item as something someone else shared, but I’m a fanatic about writing well. Unfortunately, I rarely edit my posts and so, upon rereading them, I feel I very much need this sort of advice. Darren’s Twitter post then links out to this page, which contains the 9 crucial tips. While I encourage you to read the original post, I’ll summarize his nine tips here, with a few notes from my experience:

  1. Plan before you write – aaagh … I fail the first rule!
  2. Avoid editing while writing – agree … I often let things sit for a day or two before getting back to it
  3. Don’t go straight from writing into editing – yup … your head is still too into what you’d just said to be objective
  4. Edit the big picture first
  5. Cut down the introduction – this is a place I often suffer (I start a post about one thing and wander off to another)
  6. Add a call to action
  7. Don’t let spellcheck do your proofreading
  8. Don’t agonizing over making it perfect
  9. Preview the post and check the formatting

That’s it: just some simple tips that may or may not work for you. A lot depends on whether you’re writing a blog, but most of the tips are solid enough to work against any writing you do. Thanks for dropping in.

Posted in Trivia | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Now that’s pretty cool–weather influences in your area

Posted by joeabbott on April 30, 2017

I save snippets and websites throughout the week when I come across them at work and, those I think are interesting, are sent to my home email address. Not all are winners … I just discarded a list of “15 things Kurt Vonnegut said better than anyone” (it was interesting but just didn’t inspire me as I thought it would) … but a simple link I’d sent myself filled me with a sort of sense of magic; the kind of thing that makes me happy we have the Internet. Here’s the link:

That was all I’d forwarded to myself and, on clicking it, I silently smiled a minute or two as I scrolled around the site. Here’s the sort of image you’ll see:

Zooming in shows local effects from terrain, let’s you see what’s happening in your area, and is just fun to play with. In addition to tracking wind, the site allows you to look at temperatures, precipitation, cloud cover, and pressures. Add to that the ability to see a forecast over days and even show weather at various elevations and this is one cool website. On top of all this: no ads. Yup, as of this writing, none. Love that. LOVE. You never realize just how tired you are of this model of monetization until you get to a clean site that’s truly useful but doesn’t have a sidebar widget trying to sell you the last thing you looked at on Amazon.

I hope you find a little time to play around on the site. I’m not a weather nerd but but found this to be both interesting and well done. Kudos to the developers!

Posted in Trivia | Tagged: | 1 Comment »