Joe Abbott's Weblog

Letters home to mom

  • Stuff posted on these days

    December 2017
    M T W T F S S
    « Nov    
  • Meta

  • Joe Abbott Musings

  • RSS Cat Cartoon w/o the Cartoon

    • Coda
      Posting these cat-cartoons-without-the-cartoon was a long journey that I don’t know if I’ll repeat soon again. A daily blog is tough … even when you have your material handed to you! But, I couldn’t have done it without the artwork … Continue reading →
    • December 31, 2011
      Father Time is riding out his last few minutes of being the temporal keeper for 2011; he sits in an easy chair with a calendar showing “Dec 31” behind him and a grandfather clock pointing to the time of 11:53. … Continue reading →
    • December 30, 2011
      A happy young lady shares a table at a tony restaurant with her cat; they both wear festive, cone-shaped party hats. The woman gaily says to the tuxedoed server, “One martini and one glass of milk.” The cat does not … Continue reading →

Archive for the ‘Home projects’ Category

Raised bed design

Posted by joeabbott on October 29, 2017

In I must be getting handier I wrote about replacing the wood on our raised beds, but I realized I didn’t give a lot of details. Now, for a raised bed that may be just fine, but for my sense of understanding or documenting the project, I will be going into more detail in this post. Consider this your “I can ignore this post and be just fine” get-out-of-reading excuse.


Those that have seen my construction posts before know I love my SketchUp models, so let’s start there … here’s what the finished design will look like next to a “final” picture:

image  image

It actually came out like planned … not bad! So let’s get on with the build.

Store run

I had two 5/4x6x96” boards in my lumber loft already; as I was building two of these beds I figured I’d need ten more boards. While it’s not necessary for anyone who’s done a bit of building, here’s how I came to needing 12 boards for this project.

Each long side is made from two 8’ (96”) boards, and so we’ll need four boards for the long sides. The short sides (or ends) are 48”; so I can cut a single 96” board into the two parts for each end. With two ends, I need two boards for the short sides. That’s six boards for each planter, so for the two planters I need a total of 12-5/4x6x96” boards.

Because 5/4×6 are nominal dimensions, the board you walk out of the store with is not 5/4×6 … the finished dimensions are 1”x5.5”. The nominal in the description means that the lumber mill cut the board to those dimensions but they would later plane the boards smooth, taking away some of the thickness and width, arriving at a finished board of a smaller size. Ultimately this meant that the doubled height of the planter bed wall would be 11” high.

As we wanted to posts to be a bit proud of the wall height, the nominal dimensioning played in our favor: we bought a single 4x4x96” post, cut it into 12 corner posts, and each corner measured about 12” high.

As you’ll see, I needed a few more pieces of wood to pull this project together but I found those in my scrap bin. If you don’t have a scrap bin and plan to build the same thing I did, you’ll need another 8’ long 5/4×6 board, two fencing pickets, and an 8’ long 2×4.

Let’s get to cutting and you can see what I’m talking about!

imageShop time

I started by setting eight of the best boards aside for the long sides. All the boards were pretty good, but with the long sides supporting higher loads than the short sides, I wanted the long ones to have fewer knots and cleaner, smoother lines (meaning no warp or curve\bend to them). With the remaining four boards, I cut them in half so I had eight 48” long short sides.

At this point I dipped into my stock of cut-offs from old projects to come up with a few parts I’ll call “plates”.

As I’d seen the sides to the beds bow and pooch-out over time, I wanted to lock the two parts making up each side together. I very likely over-built this part of the planter but I have no regrets and feel it’s just fine. What I ended up doing was creating eight 5/4x6x11” “thick plates”, and 16-3/4x6x11” “thin plates”.

I screwed a thick plate smack in the middle, tying two boards together at the center, and then used a thin plate on each end. To the right is what one of the long sides looked like.

Here’s my thinking …

With the middle portion of the boards seeing the highest loads, I wanted a stronger joint at that location. A thicker board meant the screws I drove in would have more holding power. More holding power gave me that stronger joint.

imageThe ends were buttoned together using thinner plates less for strength (although there’s some of that) and more to keep them together when I ran them from the garage where I was building things, back up by Chickenville where the raised beds are located. I’d have hated to have screwed them together at the center and then had them tear out in transport.

The short sides (left) had an extra block of wood attached to the very end; this would allow me to screw the free ends of the long sides into something thick and provide superior holding power. Essentially, it keeps the rectangular raised bed rectangular.

When I built the old version, I slotted the corner posts and nested the free end into the post. I wouldn’t be doing that this time so the extra block gave me a strong piece of wood for the connection. Here I just cut a 2×6 I had laying about in half and was confident it would do the job.

As for the placement of the thin plates … I just screwed them in with an inch or so to spare to avoid the “extra block of wood”. In retrospect, you do not need both the extra block of wood and the thin plates on the short sides, and I’d avoid using them if I had to do this again.

And I’ll make a final admission. We just finished our summer cookouts and fire pit evenings and I burned a lot of cedar cut-offs over the past few months. If I had a choice between using that cedar in a project or burning it, I’d rather use it on a project. But, I only have so much space to store lumber scraps, so I end up burning more than I’d like.

The thin plates were made from a few extra planks I had from the planter box I made earlier (I made a thing), and the thick plates were from a few cut-offs I had stored so far back in the lumber pile I have no clue how they came into my possession.


imageNow I wanted to avoid some of the rotting out that happened in my corner posts so I planned for the corner posts to be completely outside of the bed. Doing this was easy: just set my table saw blade height and fence depth, run each block over the blade twice, and I would be done. The first pass I took I just removed an inch or so of material, but that ended up looking, in a word, stupid. So I got a bit more aggressive and removed 2”, leaving my sides about 1.5” thick.

I’m not sure if this is the perfect dimension, but it looks OK. I suspect there’s a better dimension to use but I’m not a fiddly sort and this seemed fine.

Rinse and repeat on each of the eight corner parts … see the pic to the left.

The cap was super easy. So easy I’m delighted at my own craftiness. Or maybe because I could do this simple thing and it turned out OK.image

With some of the leftover 5/4 cedar I had in my loft, I cut eight caps … and, actually I cut 10 but a couple of them had defects I wasn’t happy using on our beds and they served as test pieces for the table saw cutting.

I then tilted my blade 10°, got out a jig I made years ago that allows me to hold thin pieces of wood on end securely, and I ran that over the blade four times. It was that easy. I included a little picture to the right to help imagine what I was doing.

I then just screwed the caps onto the ends of the posts, driving the screws from the inside notch I cut out of the post, into the bottom of the cap. Easy peasy.


At this point things broke down just a bit.

My intent was the screw the four sides of the bed together and then hide those screw heads with the corner post and attach those with screws coming from the inside of the bed. Meaning, there’d be no screws visible from the outside.

Unfortunately, I mis-measured or mis-planned something somewhere. I had already screwed the corner posts to the short sides but when I got outside, the pilot holes I’d created for the long sides were covered up by the post. I figured I could just remove the post and fiddle around, but placements caused problems and I didn’t have longer screws to make the connection through the “block” (as opposed to the plates). There was probably a solution somewhere in here that could have maintained the purity of the “no screws” philosophy, but it eluded me.

And so I ended up using the pilot holes I’d created for the sides, these screw heads were hidden by the post but I then drove two screws (one high, one low) through each side of the post to hold it onto the corners. The screws are visible in the pics but they’re not so noticeable. A little something to do better when I make my next set.


And that’s it: a lotta words about a little project. But one that I ripped out quickly and it came out well. I guess I am getting handier … now I just need to work on my concision to make these posts shorter. Thanks for dropping by my shop for a look-see.


Posted in Home projects, Woodworking | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

I must be getting handier

Posted by joeabbott on October 28, 2017

When Suzanne and I bought this home over 2 decades ago, I wasn’t much of a handyman. Below-average skills tempered by above-average interest and a sincere desire not to mess up too badly. Over the years my skills have improved and I see messing up as just a path to getting better … it’s not that big of a deal; my interest in being handy hasn’t changed a bit.

This comes to mind as we recently rebuilt the raised planter beds we had in the backyard and, upon completion I realize we didn’t really take any photos, didn’t make a big fanfare of it, and the most concerning question was: is there any lumber from the original project that we could save? There wasn’t, at least not for using in the raised bed project, but I still have them in the garage where I’m considering whether they could be saved for any project.

Sometime last year we noted the raised beds were starting to show some wear and tear. I used some rebar I had in the corner of the shop to help support the walls and ends but earlier this year we realized it wasn’t enough. We used a good quality cedar in their construction back in 2010 … but that was back in 2010. I was mighty proud of that job and detailed it back in this post: Raised Planters. It was a good bit of work and I’m still happy with how that came together, but take a look at what over half a decade of Seattle weather can do to cedar:


The planking along the sides suffered similarly: edges and ends rotted but the exterior face was OK. Which is why I thought I might be able to save it. No luck.

So, one Saturday afternoon, Suzy and I headed to the local big box store for a shopping trip. She picked up some crushed gravel and sand for this project here (and you really should take a look … it’s a very fine bit of work), and she helped me pick out some 8’ planks and a 8’ 4×4 post: we weren’t repairing, we were replacing!


After getting them home I decided not to rebuild the planters exactly as I had, but to make a few minor improvements. Because the posts seemed to rot the most and they did where I had cut them, I left the posts outside the planter. I also screwed them to the planks but drove all the screws from the outsides.

Finally, I added a couple of wooden mending plates between the horizontal slats. Looking at the old planter beds, it was obvious the pressure of the soil inside was pushing the boards outward and they were separating. By adding a few mending plates between stacked planks, I hope they hold together better.


When I started building the replacement beds I didn’t really have a committed plan. I asked people at work what they’d done, used a reference someone recommended, and went from there. I like how they turned out.

In addition to seeing improvement in my skills by not taking pictures of the journey, I built the caps for the top of the posts without even thinking about it. Cut out some square blanks from an extra piece of cedar I had in the garage, angled my table saw 10°, buzzed each piece on all four sides, and screwed them on. The caps took a long time to figure out when I originally built these planters!

To install them I brought the lumber outside, screwed them all together, and, with Suzy’s help, placed the empty raised bed over the dirt mounds left standing after we pulled the rotted wood away from the old beds. I then marked where I’d need to shovel dirt away, moved the empty forms to the side, dug away a couple inches from the scribed line, and then placed them back over the mounded earth. Then we shoveled soil into the gaps, raked the beds and were done!

So, I’m a handier handyman now than I was 17 years ago, but what I’m really looking forward to is how handy I will be seven years from today! Thanks for being with me on this journey.

Posted in Garden, Home projects | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

21 hours with Suzy–or, heading back to the beach

Posted by joeabbott on September 17, 2017

DSCF1511Last weekend I enjoyed my annual outing with some old friends and on a long hike; during that hike we visited the Olympic Nation Park on a beach hike (more on that later). On the way home, I came across a beach with so many unique and lovely stones, I gathered a Nalgene bottle full of them to show to Suzy.

As we looked over them at home, I asked if she would like to see the beach; she was game and so we had a date.DSCF1551

This part of the Olympic National Park is some 5-hours distant accessed via narrow, 2-lane highways; and then the hike to the coast is a short 3-mile affair, but to get to Yellow Banks (where I found the neat rocks), you need to put in another 2-3 miles of hiking. Unwinding that stack so you can sleep in your own bed that night means a 10-12 mile hike on top of 10 hours of driving: a tall but not insurmountable order.

And so we arose early on a Saturday, saw to our morning breakfasts, packed the car with the prepared foods and gear, and were off around 6:30AM. With only a brief stop in Port Angeles at the Ranger Station to confirm our tide information, we made it to the trailhead by 11:30AM and were marching to the beach shortly thereafter, hitting the sand just before 1PM.

DSCF15363DSCF1570From there we wandered a bit more lazily toward Yellow Banks, stopping for our sandwich lunch and pointing out various seamounts, detritus washed up on the shore, or poking at a pebble here and there. Once we hit Yellow Banks, we turned our attention to the stones on the beach and started the long, slow march north again, all the while picking up anything that looked interesting.

DSCF1583At about 4:30PM we assessed our situation: we had about 60” of rock … that’s over four stone in stone … and a neat piece of driftwood that caught our eyes. Additionally, the sun would start setting around 7:30PM and we had about 5 miles yet to hike. Given our pace of roughly 2 miles per hour, understanding we were both quite tired, and we were lugging a lot of weight, we immediately started for the car.

Like clockwork, we hit the trailhead about 7PM and had time to tidy up, pop our stuff into the car, and get a few miles under the tires before the sun set.

The ride home was uneventful but long. First, we headed back to Port Angeles and had a fast food dinner in our car. While we typically aren’t eating from a bag, it was nice to have  hot meal without waiting, not worry about feeling grubby, and to just be able to sit without moving for a bit. It wasn’t just nice, it was needed.

However, after asking our GPS to take us home, we found it had sent us to ferry heading back toward Seattle! By the time we got there, the last boat had sailed and so we were out of luck. We then asked us to get us home and I explicitly stated to not use that ferry … but, it sent us to another terminal! Yikes! We didn’t realize it at that time but when we did realize it, we were within 6-miles of the terminal so we continued on. Fortunately for us, the last boat was a bit late and so we got a short ride into the city. I mentioned to Suzy that I may have dozed just a bit as we sat in our car for the ride over, and she informed me that, yes, I was snoring nearly the whole trip! I guess I needed a little shut eye!

Once back in Seattle we drove a half hour to our home, left the car a mess to clean up the next day, showered, and hit the sheets. And putting my head down has seldom felt as good.

We’re not sure what we’ll do with all the rocks, they’re awfully pretty but best seen all together. We’re sure some project will present itself and, when it does, we’ll tackle it with the same energy we showed in getting them.


Thanks for reading.

Posted in Home projects, Travel | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Did I tell you about the time I fixed the gate I built?

Posted by joeabbott on July 29, 2017

I built a gate into Chickenville and it started to fall apart. And so I fixed it.

When we brought chickens into our life we decided to cordon off a part of our yard to create what I call “Chickenville” … the part of the yard that belongs to the chickens. They range there, the live there, their coop is there: and anything we put on that side … a bench, plants, art … is theirs to do with as they please. But, with only one entry point on the north side, we wanted another entrance, so in summer 2011 we put in a gate on the south side that’s been a fantastic addition to the yard.

However, for a couple years now, I thought the gate was warping. The gate closes against two blocks attached to the upright but very slowly, a gap has been appearing between the upper block and the gate. It was a small gap for a long while but recently it grew to the point I couldn’t deny what I was seeing: the gate wasn’t warping, the upright post was starting to slump.

image            image

The true test was when I wiggled the post, it was clearly broken off beneath the soil. It wasn’t completely busted, so my strategy was going to be sinking another post directly next to the original but deep into the ground, and then screwing it to the existing post such that it held things steady.

While digging the hole for the new post, I found the problem but didn’t take any pictures … you forget that sorta thing while you’re sweating and spitting mad: the wood I’d used for the gate was rotting away under the soil and a piece had so completely eroded that I had two lag bolts sticking out into the middle of nothing … the wood had just disintegrated!

Well, I removed the bolts and was able to use them to tie the new setup together. This time I added concrete to hold things in place and while I am under no illusion that this will “last forever”, it’ll last at least another half decade and I’m hoping for more.


After digging the hole, I found that some of the the original structure wouldn’t allow me to lay the new post directly against the slumping post, so I needed to add a spacer. I was hoping I had a 2×4 pressure treated stick in the garage but I didn’t … so I took a couple 4×4 sections, cut them in half, and used them as the spacer. The four smaller sections weren’t as clean as a single piece of lumber, but it did the trick and kept me from spending my way out of another problem.

After chamfering the top of the new post sections, I tied back the slumping post with some bungies I had laying around, clamped the posts and spacers together, and then drove the lag bolts through the stack. I then used some concrete that I had tucked away on a shelf (it was just a partial bag) and covered the rest of that hole with some of the soil I’d removed from the hole. And then let it set.

Here’s the gate after the concrete cured and I was able to remove the straps. Good as new!



While I don’t celebrate my failures and things breaking, one of the things I like best about building stuff is that, if I have to build them a second time, I can do better and if something goes wrong, I can fix it. It’s an incredible feeling.

Thanks for looking in and I hope your gates, literal or otherwise, always swing open and close to your liking.

Posted in Home projects | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The bench/trellis

Posted by joeabbott on July 1, 2017

The other day I made a thing: a simple bench with an overhead trellis. I have a little more work to do on it, but we can get into that at the bottom of this post … let’s talk about the thing that’s done!

The model

As with all woodworking projects, I started this one with a simple model in SketchUp; using that tool allows me to figure out the joints and connections. I have a few comments about that but I’m going to hold off and post those thoughts later. But, I always start with a model so that’s how I wanted to start my post!

The structure

The basic trellis (as I’ll call this thing) is a 4×4 frame with a lighter canopy and some slats for a bench. I started by notching out the 4×4 posts I’d use for the legs to accept the bench crosspiece, and cut the top ends of the posts to accommodate the canopy crosspiece.

The picture on the left shows me tying the four leg posts together so I can make a single cut across them all to ensure the location of the joint would be identical. This works great and really makes things more accurate. On the right you can see the finished cut for the bench crosspiece. And on the far right, you can see a test piece fitting very nicely.


I learned something here that I’m concerned I’d learned before but forgotten: when I cut the slot, I make many passes with a circular saw taking ~1/8” off each pass. The saw rides on a track that I can position exactly where I want the cut to fall. However, I chose to make a cut, then move the track over the cut and take the next pass. Over any single cut it just means extending the track 1/8” over just-cut open space … but as I was eventually hogging out ~3.5” of material, that track was ultimately riding over a lot of open space. And so I found (during assembly) that the track was starting to dip a bit and cut deeper in the later passes. It wasn’t noticeable while making the cutout, but it was obvious later on.

In the picture above on the far right, the joint looks tight because that crosspiece (which is horizontal in the picture) isn’t at 90° to the leg. It was ever so slightly skewed.

In the picture below on the left, you can see the top, canopy crosspiece cuts coming together; on the right I was cutting a notch opposite where the bench crosspiece fits; that allows me to tie left and right sides together at a lower location. This joint was going to provide structural support so it needed to be tight. I used my table saw to cut the rounded edges off the part I was nesting into the legs and took a lot of very careful passes when making the notch. I wanted that slot to be tight, tight, tight!


WP_20170625_12_16_48_ProDry assembly

I assembled it without fasteners and found my problem with the notches being slightly different depth (rats) but it also told me that things were coming together fine. Once I was happy, with the fits, I ran lag screws through the lower crosspiece and into the bench crosspiece. I mean this joint:


When I first put them together, I didn’t notice the gaps … heck, tighten three lag bolts snuggly enough and you’ll clean up most any gap. It became really obvious when I looked at the tops of the posts and noticed they were splayed out. By loosening the lag bolts enough ensure the vertical posts were at 90°, you could easily see the gap:


On the left you can see my “best” joint, on the right you can see the worst. Pretty gappy. <insert sad face here>.

But, the thing that mattered most to these joints was the up-and-down gap … of which there isn’t much. These members are in downward compression so, as long as they have  a goodly amount of crosspiece seated into the post, they’ll be fine. And, because I covered this part with a “skirt”, no one will be the wiser. Sshhh!!

The move

To get this positioned outside I called in my ace mover specialist friend, Suzanne. And, it was fairly painless. I had an old dolly I’d made myself that was the perfect size to hold two leg posts. I used a couple clamps just to keep it from sliding, Suzanne kept everything straight WP_20170625_14_43_09_Prowhile we rolled this over the aggregate driveway (probably the hardest job), and I simply lifted the far end and pushed.


Once we got it to the platform (now with gravel in it), we hefted it off the dolly, positioned it on the tree opening, dug down a bit to seat the legs, and it was time for me to put in the seat!

The seat and arm rests

This was the only adlib part to the plan: I raised the seat. You see, when I was building the model, I forgot that I’d want to bury the legs a bit and so I had put the seat about a foot off the ground. It’s a low seat to start with and, after sinking the legs a bit, felt somewhat too low. So, with a couple 2×4 spacers I was able to bring the seat up the distance I’d buried the legs!

Here you can see both the 2×4 spacers and the “skirt” I’d mentioned earlier that I used to hide the gaps:


After that I laid in the slats for the seat, crafted a couple arm rests (more handy for setting down drinks!) and was done for the day! I have to admit I’m not excited about the way I have the seat slats sticking so far over the ends of the bench. If I didn’t have the gaps caused by the leg posts it might not look so odd … see the picture below, to the right. But, with them being long, I can easily come back sometime and snip it off or change the look another way. No need to address that now!

WP_20170625_18_10_15_Pro 1  image

Almost done

While I’m very happy with the look as-is, I still need to do two things: install some horizontal sections between the leg posts so a climbing vine has something to grab, and build a planter to home that climbing vine!


Thanks for looking in at our latest project!

Posted in Home projects, Woodworking | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

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!

Posted in Home projects | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

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!

Posted in Home projects | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Home projects | Leave a Comment »

Bee house

Posted by joeabbott on March 13, 2017

Last year I built a mason bee house and it came out pretty good: six-sided with a clever roofline to shelter the bee tubes. But, this year Suzy bought a block with slots cut into it that the bees will use to lay their eggs. The good thing about these blocks is that you can split them apart easily to remove the bees and clean them, and then re-assemble and you’re ready to go for next year. The bad part about the block is that it wouldn’t fit the clever six-sided house.

So, we built a new one.

While the new one is a little more boring (just a rectangle with a gable roof), it came out well and I thought I’d bragger-tell you about it here.


I went to Home Depot and picked up a half dozen fencing pickets that were mostly clear. As pickets, they were about 5.5” wide and many of the boards I’d need would be 8-10” … and even a 12” wide board for the back. So, after planing them down, it was time to glue them up!


WP_20170123_17_31_35_ProMaking parts

I typically make things with all the same dimensioned thickness. That is, if I’m using 3/4” boards, everything is 3/4” thick. This time I decided that my 3/8” boards were too thin for some uses but would look great for walls and the back. So, I took a couple of the boards and glued them together, face-to-face.

With these thicker parts, I’d be able to make a bottom that had more weight and looked good, as well as create a roof that had interlocking parts, ensuring the sensitive bees in cocoons wouldn’t get wet from all the spring Seattle rain.

The picture to the right shows how I ensured the parts got good clamping pressure: add a lot of clamps!


WP_20170205_13_53_31_ProAfter that it was assembly time and, with as cold as it’s been in Seattle this season, we brought the project onto our kitchen table on the chillier days.

WP_20170205_13_53_39_Pro  WP_20170208_05_51_52_ProWP_20170219_12_34_30_Pro


We weren’t sure if we wanted to put a finish on it. The joints were solid (see the picture to the right … it also shows what I meant by having an “interlocking roof” … rain is not getting through that!), and the wood would age to a grey that matched nearly all the other cedar in our yard.

But, we argued that if we wanted it around a long time, having a finish would be the best way to go. So, we chose a spar varnish but avoided finishing any of the interior parts where the bees might go. We weren’t sure if it would be toxic to them, and it wasn’t worth the “science experiment” to find out.


I don’t have a lot of pictures of the finished house (with finish) but the two pictures below show how much even a simple, clear finish will make the grain pop and really give wood a warm, wonderful look.

WP_20170305_15_28_07_Pro   WP_20170305_15_28_02_Pro


And that’s it! A simple bee box that took nearly two months to complete! There’s a tiny bit more to the project in that I built a thin, removable panel that I can wedge into the top triangular section below the roof. It has a small hole at the bottom that will allow bees to crawl out and fly off, but it’s not big enough to let something like a bird eat the larva.

Thanks for dropping in and checking out another mason bee house!

Posted in Home projects, Woodworking | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »