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Archive for the ‘Home projects’ Category

A party of special magnificence

Posted by joeabbott on July 1, 2018

Suzanne had a birthday and it celebrated a milestone: 50 years. And it was done right.

We catered food, had simply perfect weather, and opened our home to some close friends and family as well as a few goats. Yup, actual goats; and to be more precise, four 2-week old baby goats. It was great. Suzy’s blog covers the event better than I could, so please check out her So I never had ponies post. My contribution was building the enclosure for the goats!

We had planned on getting a few cattle panels, that are just 4’x8’ heavy duty wire sections that we’d zip-tie together to build an area the goats weren’t able to escape; however, Barbara (the lady who manages the Puget Sound Goat Rescue) didn’t appear to have enough sections so I offered to build a few “simple sections” that we’d attach together to create something suitable. Suzy and I discussed the height requirements, mapped out roughly where they’d go, and then I sat down with my friend SketchUp to mock up an option using standard 2×4 and 4×4 lumber. It came out pretty good.

Here was my stab … five 4×8 sections and two 4×4 sections, with one of the 4×4 portions only attached at one side, allowing it to swing open and act as a gate. As we were planning for this to be on our “plateau”, a graveled area in the backyard, it was going to be on an uneven surface and the section attachments required some flexibility.

2018-06-16 09.08.43

I planned for this to only take a few hours to build, but during the construction we decided we needed to cover the faces with plastic fencing mesh, so it took a lot longer … two four-hour sessions or so. Also, after getting the basic three-slat sections completed, we realized we didn’t need to angled stabilizer, which saved us almost $40 in lumber! Nice!

As always, our garage doubles as my workshop and this time we didn’t even pull out her car! It was a pretty simple construction job.

2018-06-16 16.23.322018-06-16 16.25.05

After the build, we hauled them to the rough location in the backyard. Suzy moved the fire pit, allowing us to use the seating stones as a place for guests to sit, as well as a fun little something for the goat-lings to climb on. Then we had to determine how to put it together.

I considered metal stitch plates (a construction item that’s simply a thin sheet of metal with a bunch of holes in it … you can drive screws through the plate, into two wooden pieces butted together) and even actual hinges. I discarded both as potentially dangerous (sharp edges on the stitch plates) or costly (hinges!!) and decided to just pull out some 3/4” tubular webbing I had in my climbing gear boxes.

Using the webbing, I’d attach the free end of a piece to one of the posts with a screw, circle the post with the webbing (pulling tight), and then fasten the other end to the other post. I did that a couple times on each connection and it held perfectly tight.

I am including a bonus cat picture as a gift to those who have read this far into my post!

2018-06-16 16.33.552018-06-16 16.34.002018-06-16 17.12.55

And here’s an action shot … yes, I simply stole a pic from Suzy’s blog post. I (sadly) never took any pictures on her actual birthday.

2018-06-23 13.34.43

And that was it … a bit of lumber, some creativity and time, and you get a little corral that delighted both goats and guests. And the hosts.

That was a pretty fun afternoon: a party celebrating a person of special magnificence … Suzanne.

Thanks for sharing a bit of our party.


Posted in family, Fun, Home projects | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Quick shots from the last couple days

Posted by joeabbott on April 26, 2018

I’ve been off this week and now it’s Thursday … glorious Thursday! Temps here in Seattle should near 80°F and the day is ours to choose what to make of it. Let’s take a look at what I did yesterday and what’s gone before.


Yesterday was a weird day. I’d planned to get up early for a couple hour hike on a nearby trail but instead, found myself with a terrible night’s sleep and awakening to a miserable headache. After the hike I was going to grab a half yard of gravel and do projects in the yard. But, with my head causing me to actually take pain medication (you know it’s serious when I head to the medicine cabinet), I laid low, napped, and stayed out of the sun. By late afternoon I was feeling well enough to make good on my offer to help a buddy move some stuff and then returned home to watch a movie with Suzanne.

Today is the reset. I won’t hike the nearby trail but I will get that gravel and spread it about.


WP_20180426_07_13_02_ProThe start of our week was taking our dozen-year-old cat to the vet. He has always acted the role of an entitled cat (and when said of cats, that’s a big thing), but this was more than melodrama … a cat that stops eating for three days has issues. But, the vet checkup and subsequent analysis of various samples says, “a cat in very fine health.”

The doc suspects something to do with the pancreas and its various mechanisms. We still think there was a mechanical aspect … meaning he ate and choked or reacted to something. Neither hypothesis holds up under pointed scrutiny so we can just be happy he’s back to his princeling ways.

And, to that point, he’s even better than normal. He’s sociable, active, and almost playful. Fun to have this behavior back but not sure I’d want to trade another vet bill like the one we got in exchange for it!

Oh, and the picture to the right … that’s a cat we met at the vet. It was a surrender from a client and has a number of other issues. Our vet insists that he’s not that overweight and it’s just his body type, but from the “ooomph” Suzy uttered on picking him up and proclaiming him a “butterball … all softness and roundness”, I suspect he could stand a reduced calorie diet and still be just fine.

The Gear Rack

WP_20180424_12_03_33_ProI crowed about a gear rack I was building to take the place of a cart Suzy had purchased for (and was soon going to deliver to) her Master Gardener program. It was time to move my stuff.

WP_20180424_12_03_20_ProIf the attendant pictures show something that looks WAY overbuilt … meaning, do the sides of the trays really need to be made from 2x4s? … the fact is I built this using all scrap wood sitting around the shop.

The sides of the trays and legs are all scrap 2×4 parts … about a dozen pieces stored in various places around the shop.

The bottoms of the trays are actually some scrap the builders had left over when they enclosed the deck on our house. It’s been waiting for a project for a few years now!

And the top bar was a 2” cut-off of a 2×4 that was sitting in a corner. The original design had that bar just as long as the rack but I extended them so I could hang a few things.

I still want to sink a few nails (or, if I want to be fancy, some wooden pegs) from the top tray for additional hanging capacity. Other than that, it’ll do great!

I built it using mostly screws and no glue, this way I can reclaim the wood if I ever need to. You see, I only need this because I’m spreading out for a season of hiking\climbing; once that’s over, all of this stuff has places it can be stored in. Maybe I’ll just unscrew the trays from the legs and store it all flat, awaiting another season. Not sure but I’m happy with how this came out.

Parting shot

Gotta share one more from last weekend. While I fully intended to get back this coming weekend, Tim showed me his heels last night and both had holes burned in them from the outing … open, red, and sore-looking. We may choose another destination this coming weekend.

DSCF1780 Stitch

Thanks for dropping by!

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

Planning a new home

Posted by joeabbott on December 29, 2017

Well, when Suzy and I had a chance to build a new home from the ground up, we started with just a few ideas: we need separate work areas (“home offices”), we need a big outdoor living area (deck, patio, porch, etc.), and we were looking for a rambler. The house size should be no bigger than what we have now (just don’t need it), we wanted a “great room” concept entertaining area, and would like a guest room with their own private bath.

Reasonably simple with enough luxury to feel like we were building a modest dream home. And then came some of the other necessities.

I had planned for a stand-alone wood shop of about 20’x30’, Suzy wanted a big kitchen with a nice pantry, we needed a largish mud\laundry room, and we wanted a fireplace indoors and one outdoors on our patio. As for our master bedroom, bath and closet … that could all be identical to our current home, and we’d even be willing to have a smaller bedroom. No his and hers suites, no vaulted ceilings … just simple. We also wanted some storage and agreed to a second level over the garage provided it was accessible via a stairway (no ladders); my recent fall cemented that idea.

After settling on a builder, we started the design discussions with a professional and things changed, but just a bit. My stand-alone shop became attached to the house in part because it solved a number of issues (heating, access to a bathroom, having a small office nearby, etc.) and because Suzy mentioned that she lives with the sound of power tools now and it’s never that bad. While we agreed to make our master suite smaller, the designer pushed back against that saying most people wouldn’t make that call and it could make resale an issue. Fine.

The biggest change, however, was that the overall size of the house increased over our current home … and what we had designed. That wasn’t our first choice but the builder agreed that a rectangular design plan would ultimately cost less than a design that flowed, largely because the rectangular plan would simplify the roof and trusses. By squaring up the house, the rooms grew and shifted a bit, causing an overall increase in size. Again, not exactly what we were after but (for now) we’re going with it.

Here’s the plan on paper:


And because I like to have things built in 3D, I started to build this in SketchUp. I’ll leave the details of which room is which to the reader to make out, but it highlighted a few things for me. First, for an “open plan”, the 3D model really gives the impression it’s a warren of rooms. Next, even though the rooms appear small, once you start to drop in other items (like commodes and sinks), it’s apparent that it’s a bigger place than where we live now.


But, I should note that we’re only just starting with the design discussions and things could change drastically as we go back and forth on the plan. For instance, we only have a ballpark number of what this might cost and we ultimately may choose a different design based on how things fall out as we tune that number. But, for now, it’s fun to dream and play with a little model and see where that takes us.

My brother gave me a book on shop design that will help me lay out my tools for the woodshop portion of the house. That will be a lot of fun to consider! In the kitchen area, we haven’t even started to plan on where things might go and are only roughly penciling-in various placements. That’s Suzy’s domain and she’ll get final say.

And that’s it. It’s probably far too early to share details like this, knowing it could all change, but we have a rough design and we’re going from there … welcome aboard as we consider one of our preliminary steps on the path to our new home. And, as always, thanks for dropping by.

Posted in Home projects, Me | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

What went wrong on that furnace?

Posted by joeabbott on December 28, 2017

In a word: woodshop. Or, maybe that was just part of it. While Ray was replacing the motor, he noted that he could tell I was a woodworker. I’m not 100% sure he didn’t surmise that from looking around our garage, as opposed to just the dust on the motor, but I’ll give his opinion weight considering he has a lot more experience than I do. While the motor looked like it was pretty full of debris, most of it looked to be of common “dirt\dust” variety and I didn’t see much wood chip or saw dust in it.

You be the judge:


Admittedly, most of the dust had been wiped\cleaned off by simply handling it, but that’s a foul bit of junk on that motor … I can see why it burned up.

But it doesn’t give a lot of hope to a simple homeowner like me for keeping something like that clean. To get to the motor, Ray removed the front panel (I could do that!), pulled out the front center heat duct (I could do that but not sure I’d want to), pulled a couple more screws and then bodily yanked the motor\fan combo from the unit … and at that point it would be in position to be cleaned up. OK … notice I stopped chiming in saying I could do things? That seemed like an extensive bit of maneuvering and I likely could but absolutely wouldn’t do that.

So the plan is to do more woodworking with the garage doors open and hope I don’t gunk it up too much before we head to new digs.

I took a few extra pics of the inside of the furnace with the front panel removed. I’ll add them here for general interest although they don’t tell a whole lot more in this story.

First pic shows the furnace with the fan in place and most of the front center heat duct intact; second is the cleared unit, and the final pic just shows a close-up of the control panel … that’s a lotta wires.


Well, that’s it for today. We’re warm and happy and hope the same for you. Thanks for dropping by for the tour of our furnace!

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Posted by joeabbott on December 27, 2017

Props to Ray from Puget Sound Energy … totally bringing (literal) warmth to our holidays!


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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.

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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!

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