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Archive for the ‘Woodworking’ Category

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 »

Goat feeder screen

Posted by joeabbott on December 21, 2016

OK, I managed to build the goat feeder screen without taking a thumb off or any other serious gaffe. It took longer than I thought it would … not sure how long I expected it to take, but five hours is more than I would have guessed. But, it came out sturdy if not anything else.


Suzanne did a great job of cleaning up the tray and surrounding area. While I was working in a goat barn, her raking and scraping made building the screen something less than a filthy chore. Goats must not be too dirty because, with the exception of initially having them underfoot, it wasn’t bad. But I did keep all my tools outside, which wasn’t ideal. Essentially it meant that for every piece of wood, every cut, or any changes, I needed to walk out two latching gates and through a barn. But let’s look at the positive: I got my steps in and was able to work in clean air part of the time; I’ll call that a win.

Here was the original setup. It would have worked well if the goats hadn’t pulled the hay over the trough and onto the ground.


Here were the panels I was provided … after we cut them down to size. It’s good material and I plan on using this sort of thing at our home when we are ready for fencing. I’m sure it’ll be expensive, but it’s sturdy and seemed to weather really well.


And here was my work area: a couple sawhorses, a little benchmate (probably didn’t need it … or, at least I didn’t use it much), fourteen 8’ 2x4s, and a box of 2.5” screws. I brought a handsaw that I used to make all the cuts, a small router that I used to cut troughs in so the wire panels would be nested securely, and an assortment of other hand tools: a speed square, pencils/markers, a hammer, etc. Oh, and a dozen or so single-handed clamps. Aside from really wishing I’d brought my miter\chop saw, it was plenty.


The day progresses

Sorry for the low-quality pictures here, it appears the barn wasn’t created with photography in mind. I started by locking in the base in the trough … it seemed to be the best place to start: a known location. I aligned the panels with the existing ones and, once I cut grooves in the lower board, the wire panels locked right in and didn’t move at all. I had to use a length of rope to keep the panels from flopping over, but it seemed pretty secure even without screws holding the lower bracing in place. I’ll contribute that to the well-measured cuts! 🙂


Next up, I started with the top frame. I’m not convinced this was the right place to start, but it worked for me. The keys here were to make something level and to establish where the vertical end pieces would go. On the left side, this was easy: the wire frame ended within an inch of the wall; on the right side, there was about a 4-5” gap, so the 2×4 wouldn’t bridge it. In the end we put the right-side vertical piece about 1.5” from the side and it didn’t hurt anything … either aesthetically or structure-wise. The whole thing felt very sturdy.

The trick with putting in the top piece came when I had to attach it … sandwiching two 66” pieces of wood around the top of a floating panel is pretty tough! Suzy wasn’t nearby to help so I pat myself on the back for being able to pull this off. I guess sandwiching it wasn’t too tough, it was needing a third hand to actually put a clamp on the boards that made it a challenge!WP_20161220_12_12_24_Pro

I made the channels cut about 3/4” wide with the router. The wire is probably 3/16” or so, so the channel was huge in comparison, but I made it wide for two reason: I wasn’t convinced that I could measure in the low-light barn, carry the board out to the car to cut, and then assemble with the required accuracy, and because I was trying to align the parts I was installing with the existing structure having a bit of wiggle room to nudge it one way or the other was huge. It all worked out.

After installing one top rail, Suzy had finished all her chores … a sure sign that I was taking longer than I’d thought I would. But, it was nice to have her hands available on the right-side top rail … having both third and fourth hands made it a lot easier.

At this point It was time to add the outer vertical parts. I brought a level so I was able to get it reasonably straight up-and-down and, after the verticals were in, I just cut spacer blocks to hold everything the right distance from the feeder. As you can see, the right side “floats” a bit off from the wall, but I felt good about the vertical part hiding any sharp edges on the fencing and the gap being too small for even the smallest goat to get into trouble.


After this, it was just installing the center vertical (it hides the sharp edges on the panels … the panel was originally 16’ wide but I had to cut it down to match the spacing created in the original feeder screen). I knew I was getting tired when I originally made measurements in the barn, walked out to the truck to cut the wood … but realized I’d left my tape measure in the barn. And, on that same piece of wood, I had to change the battery in my cordless drill motor but, after swapping out the battery at the truck, left the drill when I returned to the barn!! I was getting my steps in!

But, the verticals went in fine and then I just added a top-cap to “make things look nice”. It really served no purpose other than that.



I felt pretty good about it being a quality product when I saw Suzy grab onto the top of the screen and use it to step up to look for any missing tools when we were cleaning up: the screen didn’t budge. While goats will be a lot less delicate with it than I’d treat it, seeing that someone could grab on like that made me realize I did OK in the “stability” department.

While it doesn’t look like five hours of work, it felt like it. That was one long drive home and the super-long shower afterwards felt fantastic. Neither Suzy nor I were interested in cooking dinner so we went out for burgers … and, after not eating all day, they were fantastic. And, with all those steps I got in, I didn’t feel guilty at all when I took advantage of their free refills on fries.


Thanks for dropping in. I hope your holiday is as well-constructed as this goat feeder was!

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

Goat feeder

Posted by joeabbott on December 18, 2016

OK … I’ve been asked to build a second wall in front of a goat feeder to minimize the amount of food (hay) the goats can pull out. As browsers (animals that forage mainly on high-growing vegetation), they pull and yank and give their food a little fight and end up pulling out more than they want. Once it hits the ground, it’s no longer considered food … and that leads to waste. So I get to build a second screen to help them get mouthfuls and not more than they’ll eat.

In order to do this, I asked Suzy to take some pictures and get me some initial measurements. Good stuff, but seeing it in person also helped … I’ve never seen nor built a goat feeder before. Armed with this data, I built a model in one of my favorite tools, SketchUp. Here are the pics I made … the brown parts are the original structure: the wood is mostly 2×6 and he’s done a great job of chamfering and routing out the parts. It’s nice work.

The purple parts are what I plan on building: the wood doesn’t require 2×6 lumber … 2×4 will work fine. I’ll also work with 8’ sections to save on a bit of cost there. But, simply cut to length and install with screws. I may need an extra brace or two, but there should be plenty left over from cut-offs to manage this. I plan on bringing my truck, some saw horses, a couple saws, and some electric drills. I’ll toss in a router, speed square and a few other oddments but I hope it’s a quick job.

One tricky part will be to align the metal panels so the holes allow the animals to get their heads in to eat. We’ll have to play with it a bit … maybe an intentional misalignment will help to save hay that would otherwise be wasted. Not sure yet … again, first time I’ve paid any attention to a goat feeder!






Thanks for poking your nose in … I’ll add some pics once I have it finished and installed on Tuesday.

Posted in Woodworking | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Didn’t expect that to come out as well as it did …

Posted by joeabbott on November 5, 2016

A short while back … ok, about a year ago … I “made a knife” for my nephew, David. And, when I say that, what I really mean is that I bought a kit from a local woodworking store and glued some nice wooden handles (scales) on the sides. I write it up here but, being on equally good terms with his father, I decided to make a knife for Stevie as well.

WP_20160914_16_59_35_ProThe trick with Steve is that he’s an outdoorsman and he has knives. He’s actually one of the few people I know who carries a knife (a Leatherman) who doesn’t look conspicuous doing so. It’s not some flashy end sticking out of a hip pocket, it doesn’t come out with a flourish: it’s just a tool on his belt that he’s very comfortable accessing and using for all sorts of reasons. A package to open, a plate that needs prying off, or maybe a screw requiring tightening … he’s just ready to help with whatever small, domestic chore you need doing.

WP_20160914_17_00_04_ProGetting back to making him a knife, I didn’t think he’d supplant the one he carries on his belt, so I chose to give him a small, boutique sort of knife. The kind that would fully fit into your jean’s fifth pocket (that little one above the main pocket on the right hand side); something you could just carry without being aware it was there until you needed it.

With the size picked out, I then went to choose the wood. I didn’t have anything on hand that I liked, so I browsed the local woodworking store and found a delicious blank of a hard, dark wood with a lot of grain movement. I don’t recall the name but it was gorgeous.

WP_20160914_16_59_11_ProI got it home and, with Suzy’s help, chose the section that would look best on the handle. Usually I just got off whatever happens to be near the end but this time, we went with what looked best. And, when the scales were cut and adhered, I had a little wood left over so I made him a box with the remnants.

And while the knife looked very handsome, that box was stunning!WP_20160914_17_00_09_Pro

A nice, small size, beautiful grain on all sides, and a simple, pressure-fit lid. Perfect.

And even better, Stevie seemed to like both the knife and the box. A big win!

So, I’m not doing as many woodworking projects these days, but I do get into the shop when I need to and knock out the projects that need knocking out. Thanks for dropping by.

Posted in Woodworking | 2 Comments »

Mason Bee Box

Posted by joeabbott on March 12, 2016

206px-Osmia_rufa_couple_(aka)For the past couple of years, Suzy and I have hosted mason bees on our property … you may, too, but just might not know it. Mason bees look an awful lot like common house flies and, to my knowledge, do not sting or even have a stinger. They don’t create “hives” (like a wasp), don’t need a special home, and will inhabit any crack in the wall that they can mud-up. And yet, they pollinate.

With the collapse of bee colonies worldwide, we chose to do what we could. And while mason bees might not be part of the species that are troubled, we like bringing pollinators to a property that is replete with things in need of pollination.

A little about the mason bee

imageI knew very little about the humble mason bee until Suzy suggested we put a “bee box” in our yard and was a little surprised that we didn’t get a tall set of white boxes with individual screens to pull out for gathering honey; instead, we got a small, 4”x7” box that we hung off our fence and filled with a block that had a bunch of holes in it about the diameter of a fat pencil. We also received a couple of blocked pvc tubes that had a small hole at one end and contained lots and lots of mason bees in their cocoons. By keeping them in the refrigerator until they were ready to come out (until the outside weather was suitable), we could ensure we had a good crop of bees.

The picture to the left shows a setup very similar to what we got: a box that was painted black (the better to capture heat), a set of wood blocks with routed channels … when placed next to each other and wrapped tightly they create grooves) … and a pvc pipe with a hole in one end to contain the bees. Additionally, note the overhang on the top to help keep the elements from the bees.

The mason bee will emerge from hibernation and start gathering food and mud, or laying eggs in the nearest available crack or crevice … depending on whether it’s the male or female bee we’re talking about. It’s the “gathering food” part that pollinates all the plants. By positioning the pvc tube with the hibernating bees in them adjacent to the tubes in your bee box (either special-made paper tubes, bamboo sections, or blocks of wood with channels routed in them), you can assure yourselves of a bee harvest at the end of the season.

I should also note that the mason bee is an early-season bee, meaning in this part of the world, they’re very busy mid-May through June and that seems to be about it. We placed our backyard bee box in one of our sunniest spots adjacent to lots of early blooming flowers, but we also noted a “hive” of “wild” mason bees using the cracks in the siding of our house (in the hollows created by the corner caps and the lapped siding) out front … not really near anything especially in bloom.

So there’s a lot to like about this little bee: early season, gentle, and pollinates the early season flowers… about as perfect as it can get.

My bee box

After two years of literally renting our mason bees and the boxes (the charge was nominal and went back into the mason bee program and general education), we decided to have a go on our own. First, we’d try to offer the bees out front a new home so we could manage that population, and through Suzy’s master gardening association, she had a friend who gave her some mason bees … so we’d put those out back where we placed the rented box.

My job was to build the bee box.

While a simple rectangle mason bee box is certainly functional and I could build it in my sleep, I wanted something with a bit more personality. We’d looked at other designs and I’d liked the look of a teardrop-shaped house but I wasn’t sure I was ready for building fair curves that would look good. Then I thought: honeycomb shaped! Or, at least six-sided … and, with a little patience, I could make a couple of the panels a bit longer and have a built-in overhang.

image    image    image    image

Something like the above.


The model looked great but then I had to build it.

My challenges were my limited skills, and figuring out those darned angles. I knew the sum of the angles would have to be 360°, based on my high school geometry classes, which told me I’d need a 60° cut for the sides. After scratching my head and thinking, “that’s not right”, I figured I’d be cutting 30° in each side considering I was sharing the 60° between the two parts. OK, made sense … kinda.

After cutting a few boards I became more convinced that 30° was the right angle and, after I had six boards and they all seemed to mate nicely together, I was happy my public education hadn’t been for naught. The hard part came when I wanted to add a spline between the boards to strengthen the joint.

I could detail the debacle that ended in me rage-quitting my building session, but needless to say it didn’t go well. I had glue everywhere, things didn’t line up, and I’d ruined a set of boards. Grr, sez the tiger. It seems the celebration of my high school education was both short-lived and premature. And just because the problems I was bringing on myself wasn’t enough, my saw’s power switch started to malfunction and, even when in the off position, the blade would keep spinning.

Anyhow, I finally figured out what to do and how to do it … even if I can’t completely explain the math or why it works out … and I managed to make the cuts with the requisite precision on my Shopsmith (it has a narrower than average blade to help cut through thicker wood without bogging down as easily … but this makes the kerf narrower than the standard 1/8” … which was the size of my spline material). Also, I rigged up a foot-pedal switch for starting/stopping the saw.

And then I got the boards all glued up without adhering any of my body parts to the table or saw. But it was nip and tuck there for a while.


The two images above are when I was dry-fitting them. While it wasn’t completely gap-free, it was close enough for a simple bee box. From the image on the right, you can also see that I didn’t quite have the angles right on the top, outer sections. I wanted a smooth transition between the lower segments and the upper (which had the overhang). Which I could sand out after it was glued together.


In the above images, I still had some sanding to do for the transition, but I had the splines in and was gluing things up. The splines I’m using here are simple hardboard … not the strongest option, but I had it in sufficient quantity, it was a consistent 1/8” thickness, and it would suffice. In all, it worked rather well.

After I had the sides all glued up, I placed the box on-end on some thin plywood and traced out the shape. Then I cut it out and glued it on the and to cap the overall house. Easy as can be.

Below is a second bee box I created using the same design but with different scrap wood that I had around. The small wooden box at the top is where Suzy will put our bees … it’s a little larger than we’ll need but it seemed small when I was making it. The tubes we’re using in this one are the paper variety, but in our other box we are using bamboo tubes.


We may opt to paint these black (again, for heat retention) but I think the bees will be happy.


Not much to say for signing off on this one: I have a good design, I know I can make more easily, and it was fun (mostly) to put this one together. Now we just need to see if the bees agree!

Thanks for dropping in.

Posted in Garden, Woodworking | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

My messy life … and what I did about it

Posted by joeabbott on February 28, 2016

A few weeks back I found myself struggling for desk space in my home office. It’s not for lack of actual desk space, but more because the space is used poorly. I have a desktop computer, my work laptop, a couple of Xboxes (yes … more than one), some games, maps, and a ton of woodworking books and magazines. You see, I don’t know what to do with the space.

In the climbing season, I use my extra space for planning my hiking outings, in the evenings I’ll chill with a bit of gaming, and the woodworking books and magazines … well, I just envisioned that having an area to plan my projects and reference plans would be great. So it all piled onto my second desk. As I looked at it, I thought, “there’s gotta be a way to clean all this up.”

Well, Suzy helped by selling many of my old, already-played Xbox games, I moved the maps to a storage location (honestly, I almost exclusively use online maps these days), and the woodworking books … well, I decided I’d do what a woodworker would do: build a shelf for them.

imageInitial idea

I doodled around in SketchUp and came up with the design to the right.

I usually start these sorta project by looking at the space I want to fill. In this case, I was looking for a tabletop bookcase that could comfortably be about 30” high and 24” wide.

My original original plan had just a standard bookshelf with rectangular sides and shelves all of the same dimension; the sides and back would be closed. It was just a block of wood. So I stretched and played and ended up with the model you see here.

As I stretched and played, I liked the three shelves but wanted to create some cut-away holes in the sides to lighten things up. That seemed to work OK but, as you can see here, I varied the length and width of the cut-away holes a bit … in the name of visual interest.

I was liking how this was turning out when I realized that I have books of various sizes so I made the shelves different depths. While I liked the idea, my flaw was, rather than keeping the largest shelf about 12” deep and subsequent shelves shallower, I grew the middle and lower shelf by a few inches.

As you can see, that leaves me with the lowest shelf being two-feet deep! A ridiculous proportion!

Fortunately, I seldom design something and then run to the shop to build it. I ponder and look at things, give time a chance to educate me, and then come back. When I came back, I asked myself just what I was thinking!

Next up

After scoffing at my prior effort, I took the parts that I really liked and built them into a similar, but different shelf.

I liked the three tiers, I liked the holes in the sides, I liked the open back except for a lip to keep books and things from tipping off the back, and I liked the height and width. But, I also decided I needed a drawer in the bottom for my loose notes, pictures, and a tablet of paper for sketching.

Here’s what I ended up modeling:


Most of my books are of a large format size and so I needed two shelves that would take books of that size; so I lost the different depths of the three shelves and ended up with just a smaller upper shelf. Because the shelf would be mostly backless, I made the vertical backs to the shelves just a bit bigger … I argued I’d need this extra wood to help keep the overall unit from racking.

Oh, and, yes, I built this from bamboo that I had left over from other projects. That seems to be a source that keeps giving! But, I only have a few boards left so I’ll soon be moving on to other wood varieties! And, maybe at that point, all my sheet-good dimensions won’t be 3/4” thick.

The drawer turned out to be a wonderful addition with my only regret being for not making it a touch deeper (to hold more) and not to have given the overall unit just another inch front-to-back so I could put a clipboard that I use into the drawer.


I start all my projects about the same way: measuring out the lumber I have, figuring out which boards will go into which parts, and then start cutting. As I gathered my resources for the shelf, I realized I’d need to change up my dimensions just a bit to use the material I had efficiently. So, the overall unit ended up being probably two inches shorter and about a half inch narrower … not big deals to me.


After cutting the rough dimensions for the sides and shelves, I built the shelf: meaning, I cut biscuit slots into the shelf bottom and back, glued them together, and ended up with three L-shaped shelves. Pretty simple.



WP_20160206_13_24_05_Rich_LI[3]The sides were by far the more complex.

After cutting the sides into rectangular piece, I drew out the slots and created a master template. I’d rough cut the slots using a jigsaw but then come back through with a router to clean up the edges using the template as a guide. Finally, I’d swap in a round-over bit and give the slots some nice, easy edges.

Unfortunately, I cut the template just a bit small (I argued that the top two slots were smaller size and just wanted one master) and this meant I was constantly moving and fiddling with the position. In the end, I gouged the template on one side and that made things worse. And, by making the template from stock that was on the smaller size (I was being “efficient” … in this case, “stupid”), I didn’t have a lot of room for the clamps to hold it down without a lot of jostling about.



Good idea, bad execution.

But, as you can see, it turned out OK.


After getting the slots cut in, I cut down the depth of the top-most shelf with a jigsaw. I don’t have a high quality tool and the blade deflected slightly, meaning I had a lot of cleanup to do to get the curves on that top edge to be square and matching.

Finally, I used the router again to cut some grooves in the sides with the intent that the shelves would nest into these. This included a vertical slot at back for the back of the shelf to fit into. I was going to use pocket screws (a new toy I got late last year), but this application seemed like it’d enjoy the strength I’d get from a dado joint. Again, I was worried about the racking … which didn’t manifest itself at all as a problem.



I was now ready to square the corners of the dados (when a router is used to cut a stopped-slot, you always end up with an round end), smear in a little glue, and clamp that baby up!


This part worked reasonably well. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at the results you get when you apply the better part of a dozen parallel jaw clamps to a job, but this worked out pretty well. The carcass was square, edges lined up, and most of my dados were the perfect size … a couple were a hair’s breadth too wide, but it was only noticeable because the others were near-perfect.


WP_20160214_17_08_33_Rich_LIAfter drying up and having the clamps removed, the project sat for a couple weeks. I’d smear in a little wood putty and continue to sand it, I had one small spot where I over-routed a dado and actually needed to make some wood shims (bamboo hides these areas very nicely), and I worked on removing the glue drips that had squeezed out. But, mostly, I was just waiting for my muse to nudge me on.

And it did.

One day I was talking to Suzanne before dinner and thought, hey, time to build that shelf. I tromped into the garage, took some measurements, tossed a few boards together, squeezed in a bit of glue, and added a bunch of clamps. I’m not sure why it took so long to do this, it was actually pretty simple.

I didn’t like that I used butt joints for the drawer instead of a locking joint, but my muse was talking fast and sloppy so that’s what I got. But, with a drill, a drill bit of the right size, and a piece of dowel, I whipped up a quick template, drilled a couple of holes in each of the four corners, and glued the dowels into place. After drying, cutting off the excess dowel, and then planing them perfectly flush, I had a drawer!


The last piece to this was making sure the drawer slid smoothly (a bit of sanding and some wax worked well here), I had to install a rail between the slides for the drawer to slide on, and then I had to position them just-so to make sure the drawer closed flush to the front. Mission accomplished.


I sanded the overall project from 60 to 80 to 100 to 150 and finally to 220 grit. It’s likely overkill for a bookshelf, but the parts are mostly rectangles so it wasn’t that hard.

I decided I’d try a stain on this one, both because I had never used stain before and, mostly, because I had a small can of stain that was on my shelf. Why would I have stain if I’d never used it? Search me! But, I had it so I wiped it on, buffed it off, let it dry a couple days, and then used some leftover wax finish we picked up from IKEA years ago. Yup, before I started building my own furniture, we went to IKEA.



And that was it. I hauled it upstairs, rummaged around for all my woodworking books (that just about perfectly filled the lower shelf), put all my smaller books and CD/DVD resources on the top shelf (nice!) and then used the second shelf for those books related to projects and building … everything from wiring to bike maintenance, to constructions topics. And I have enough space to grow my collection and to display a few other items in the interim.


Thanks for coming by and taking a look. Hope your home projects are as successful as this one was for me!

Posted in Woodworking | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

In every season …

Posted by joeabbott on January 23, 2016

Well, back in December I tried my hand at turning: using a lathe to create a woodworking project. The results were intended to be pure practice pieces but I ended up with a small mallet or “thumper” that I liked. In this post, I’ll show some of the practice pieces.


To start with I’d brought four walnut blanks to my nephew, David’s, house: blanks are rectangular wooden rods that were about 2” square in cross section and between 18” and 24”. This was wood I had around for a few years and was well-seasoned; meaning it was dry and pretty stable.

The first step was the rough them into cylinders. We’d turn a blank into a cylinder and then practice on each in turn, making the various cuts and shapes. In the picture below, you can see our progression: the second from the top is the first piece we worked on. This is before we tried sharpening the tools and were making tentative cuts.

The second rod from the bottom was our second piece: we still had some sharpening issues but were getting better as well as trying to keep a steady hand at making a long, smooth cylinder.

The bottom piece was the next trial. In that effort, I wanted to see if I could make a narrow, necked-down section. It worked well, but I’ll have more to say about that work.

Finally, the top rod was our final practice piece. In that one, I really wanted a long, smooth cone: to take the rod from the 2” diameter down to 1” diameter over, say 3”. But instead we tried our hand at symmetry: David would make a cut on one side, and I’d try to mirror that on the other. Let’s just say I have to work on that a bit more. <g>


Sharpen your tools

When we started at this David was insistent that you needed razor sharp tools and I was dubious: the wood was spinning fast and even a moderately sharp tool should suffice in making cuts. And then we started. After just a few passes we turned our attention to the sharpening wheel he had, made sure we understood how to use it, and started putting crisper edges on our chisels … and it sure made a difference!


The above pictures are the first trials and, in addition to showing a rookie hand, the dull tools are in evidence: chips in the wood and ratty edges. While we were making coves rather than beads, the sharpened tools proved out to making clean, smooth surfaces.


More practice

We continued making cuts and working on “getting good”, which is many sessions away, but we were starting here. As with any skill, you just need to keep at it to build that muscle memory and learn the feel of a new craft.

In the below picture, we were using a combination of sharpened and unsharpened tools. I brought over a couple chisels and hadn’t bothered to sharpen them … and, as you can see, I started getting the tear-out and frayed edges on the wood where I was using my tools.


Wood breakage

Having something that’s spinning at high speeds break is a big fear … as least it was for me. A couple times I’ve had mishaps on my table say, with the blade grabbing wood and tossing it at speed … usually at me. It’s something to respect and completely avoid. And so, after necking down the wood on one of the blanks to about a half inch … and feeling rather happy with that, … I inadvertently caught the wood with a dull chisel, causing the piece to break.

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You can see the lines on the wood (the above is a close-up of the gouge) that caused one part of the rod to slow while the other part was cruising along … causing the wood to part at the weakest point: the narrow neck I created. It’s not surprising but, happily, the wood just snapped, half dropped to the floor, and the other half fell a short way away. There was no explosion of wood, no wooden shrapnel flying about, and no injuries. We were lucky.


We continued playing around, seeing what the different tools did, looking at YouTube for videos of other people working on parts, and trying to go from some wood and tools to a skill.

I continue to point out how vastly different the quality of wood was under a sharp tool versus a dull one, but that’s mostly because I didn’t think it mattered as much as it did. Again, your can see how my chisels fared (I never tried sharpening them over there) when just trying to create smooth, even surface. While it doesn’t show in the photo below, in addition to being a rough, ragged surface, it had swoops and valleys all over it. Under the finger, you can really feel the difference.


Final pieces

I’ll have to do a lot more before I’m anything but self-conscious about my efforts but I took some good steps and learned a few good things.

In the last couple of pictures, I’m showing close-ups that call out my need to work on symmetry, but also that I can get a fair line and a smooth face. Neither of these had any sanding on them and they look OK.  They also show the tentative hand of a rookie, but that’s what I am … so I guess I’m OK with that.



Well that’s it for today’s post. I’d love to say I’m sharing this as a way of sharing a skill or interest, but the truth is, I just need these practice pieces to be removed from my desk and tossed into the burn barrel for one of Suzy and my after-work grilling sessions this coming spring/summer/fall. Well, maybe there’s a bit of interest in sharing!

Thanks for dropping by!

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2015 Projects–a year in review

Posted by joeabbott on January 3, 2016

In 2015 I committed to completing one project a month. The idea was intended to be a “shop project”, something to get me into my shop and using my tools. Because of early-year needs and late year busy-ness, I considered just about any handyman or woodworking project as qualifying. It showed me that I do a lot of work with my hands and I can be proud of those accomplishments … but also that I don’t spend a lot of committed time in the garage; my work takes me all over the property!

I do what needs doing.

But I did a lot. Let’s take a look at some of the projects here in a year-in-review tally!

January – Compost area and planting strip

Let’s just consider a before-after picture here. In the first picture, Suzy had already done a good bit of work clearing away some of the topsoil and weeds; still, it’s an area that could use some work. Compare that with the second picture: retaining wall in place, deep gravel underlay held off with concrete blocks, and a nice little planting strip against the fence.

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Since this picture we completed the February project (below) but also installed a trellis behind the planting area for some of Suzy’s climbing plants. Unfortunately, our chickens have voraciously gnawed on just about everything that grows on their side of the fence and we’ve had to install a small fence around this area to give the plants a chance to use the trellis.

That said, this wasn’t a shop or woodworking project, but definitely used a lot of tools and muscle to make happen. Great project.

February – Storage bin for chicken supplies

Awesome project by a couple measures: came together well, looks great, and super-helpful in keeping our chicken food and supplies near the coop but not accessible to scavengers. The design was mine and I really liked it, but I absolutely should have done more to create a stronger bottom. I’d used chipboard for most of it and it doesn’t have the same strength as plywood … and, as a result, the bottom sags a bit. Yes, we’re storing many bags of sand and feed … each weighing 50# or so … but I knew we’d do that when I built it. No excuse for not having a stronger support. As a result, I have had to retrofit an ad hoc support underneath in the middle (it’s not in this picture).


When I get more time, I’ll empty the unit, tip it forward, and install a proper support leg, but February’s project stands out as one that’s holding up to daily use and working great.

March – Outdoor brooder and 5 little boxes

The brooder is a work of art: when I’m storing it the parts break down to look like the first picture … just a flat pile of lumber; when I need it to house our chickens outside before integrating them into the flock, it looks like the middle picture. I should sell this design to IKEA!!

The picture on the far right are the small boxes, each holding a $1 coin that I sent to my family in honor of my Uncle Joe on his birthday. He’d passed away the prior year and, when we were kids, he’d always give us a dollar or so when he’d visit. Combining my time in the shop with a project recognizing this great man seemed appropriate.


March was busy with projects, big and small. I liked the variety but really would have liked more time in the month to get it all done!

April – Potato bin

The pace to crank out a project a month appears to have gotten to me as I considered building a potato bin as my April project. I wasn’t even proud enough to take a snap of the bin in action! You can read about it in my project article (the section title is a link) but this one appears to have been so simple I didn’t even photograph it!

May – Rebuilt stairway

We built a path across our yard a few years ago for almost zero reason. It’s not needed but sometimes practical to get to all parts of the yard in a hurry. A small stairway leading up to the gate in was falling into disrepair: weeds were growing up, the original construction was shoddy, and we’d used pea gravel and not crushed, making it a slipping hazard.

The picture to the left shows a close-up of a few of the steps; and the left is the rebuilt, freshly graveled stairway. Nice.


While it’s started to revert just a bit (damned moles are undermining my project!!), we have better bones to work with now.

It’s a bit odd that I didn’t count extending the chicken coop as a project-of-them-month. As I recall, that took a bit of time and effort to pull off … I went lame for a couple days from all the walking back and forth between the coop area and the garage!

June – Small temp coop

We’ve setup a temp coop a few times before but this time we did a few things differently … differently enough that I’m calling this it’s own project.


In addition to using a few of the panels from our normal temp coop, I built a handy suspended shelter, a stairway that doubles back on itself, and used some spare junk plywood on the bottom. In all, this worked like a charm.

July – Bedside table

This … this cute little bedside table for our guest room.


You could argue this was the first real bit of woodworking I’d done and I wouldn’t put up a fight. That said, I like it a lot and am happy to have pulled it off in a month.

August – Second nest box

With all our added chickens, we needed more space for them to lay in. And, thank goodness … a few times this fall a couple of our hens have gone broody and only two nest boxes would not have sufficed. As it was, it took our new chicks a long time before they became established enough in the flock to be allowed to lay in the nest boxes.


I just ripped out the hardware cloth wall below the original nest boxes and installed this new one between the legs. I then reattached a smaller section of hardware cloth below that and Suzy completed the area by creating a cobblestone set of pavers and river rock we’d dug up from the backyard in all our projects.

September – Living room table

I just wrote about this one a few post ago so I’ll just leave you with a picture of the table in action.


October – Storage shelf and stove holder

Both of these projects were immediately loaded up with gear, so hard to appreciate how they helped me control some of the chaos my ever-expanding hiking and climbing stuff. But they did. I didn’t include the stove holder in my original project-a-month write up, but it was small and went so hand-in-hand with the storage shelf that I’m adding it now.

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The reason the shelf wasn’t just something I did … that is, why it merits status as a “project” … is because I had to spend time thinking about the problem, designing something up, and time building it. All qualities that make it more (not much, but a bit) than just resting plywood on the ledge under the house and supporting it on one side. I especially like the “umbrella stand” on the end that I’m using to hold my poles and long items.

As for the stove shelf … it’s just neat! I like the stepped design to use space both above and below the step and to have a unit that I can pull down and know that I have all my stove items in my hands. This holds my MSR WhisperLight, my Coleman stove, my JetBoil, and assorted fuels, pots, and other “stove items”. Neat shelf.


I got nothing. The grind of a project a month, my knee issues getting worse, and getting ready for the holidays all contributed to being too busy to set time aside for a project. I’m OK with that as long as it’s a minor hiccup and not a habit.

December – Turned bat and knife

These two extended my skillset to include turning (my first real project) and putting together a kit. Fun projects that were successful … the best kind of project!



That’s a lot of projects over a good amount of time and it certainly doesn’t include many of the small projects that came my way … just the ones I counted as part of the monthly commitment.

I’ve found that, like any commitment on my time, I start to get annoyed by the constant demands and become a bit resentful of the obligation; it’s true for gaming and woodworking, and I like both of those things a lot. So, I’m going to try to keep the spirit of this commitment going in 2016 but just not the “gotta get something done in the next 3 weeks” sorta feeling. Meaning, I’ll keep tabs on what I got going but won’t have any pressure to complete something in a given month. Let’s see how it goes.

Thanks for dropping in and I hope your shop time and 2015 commitments went as well as mine. While I didn’t nail it 100%, I’m really happy with were this one landed.

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Shop Project–living room table

Posted by joeabbott on December 29, 2015

When looking through my pictures and tallying my final project of the year (the knife), I realized that I had failed to detail my September project: a table designed for the back corner of our living room. So, while a few months late, here we have it!

What problem are you solving

A guy I worked with a while back helped me with a pitch to a group of people; it seems I like to start in with what I did. He convinced me to get everyone on the same page with what the problem was first, and then discuss the solution. In that spirit …

A year or two back Suzanne and I bought a lamp that has a big arching arm allowing it to be positioned over a reading spot but the base is suitably off to the side. Unfortunately, the lamp sits right over your head if you sit below it and we talked about how it’d be nice to sit about a foot higher. Additionally, we have a few cat toys that gather dust beside our couch and thought it’d be nice to have a place to set out-of-the-way items like that. Well, cat toys or the magazines I can’t bear to toss out and swear I’ll get to reading “soon”.

What did you plan

To address those issues, I wanted to build a table that was about a foot high and had the footprint of something just slighting bigger than the base of the lamp … so about 20” square. As we got closer to build time, Suzy questioned whether that sort of table wouldn’t be too special purpose and she’d always imagined something a bit more rectangular; so maybe 20”x36” … and about a foot high.

Hitting SketchUp, I cranked out this little gem


Pardon the coloring … I didn’t have the right model wood style so using an approximate. The “yellow” woods above are maple and the brown is a strand bamboo. Sound familiar? It should … I used the same woods in my bedside table that was my July project!

The height dimension was chosen to suite the final lamp positioning and the length and width were a pleasant combination that suited the base of the lamp. I situated the lower shelf a bit lower than usual but wanted to have as much space to store things under the table as I could get.

What did you build

As you can see, the table is pretty simple: four legs, four apron pieces, and two surfaces (a top and a shelf). I was going to try to build something with curves or angles, but that wouldn’t match any of the other furniture we have. After talking about it with Suzy, she conceded to allow me to do something here “if I needed to build some skills or something”, but it was a concession with reservation; so I opted straight, clean lines.

Unfortunately, when I was cutting my wood, I cut all the apron pieces quite a bit longer than I needed. My thought being that I’d trim up the parts to final size when I was ready to start assembling. The unfortunate part comes into play when I forgot that I’d done this … and just started building the table with the oversized parts!

It wasn’t until I’d built the leg assemblies and then started to plan the top and shelf that parts weren’t matching up. When I discovered my flaw, I opted to just build the table slightly bigger and not go through the steps of cutting it apart. So while the height was right on, the overall dimensions of the top was 24”x36”. Not terrible but not my finest moment.

Legs and apron

When I built the bedside table, I tried putting everything together in one shot: a lot of clamps, a lot of activity, and ultimately some parts were just a bit out of square. For this table, I built up parts as subassemblies: two legs and an apron first, then another two legs and an apron, then the shelf and top, and then attaching the leg assemblies with the shelf and final two apron parts. Once all that was together (and the glue dried), I added the top.


The first picture shows the two leg assemblies just prior to glue-up. While I like mortise and tenon joints, I was really worried about this application because, due to the dimensions of the legs, my tenons only ended up being about a 1/2” long … which is just completely inadequate for durable furniture. I argued that the table would just be sitting in a back corner, so I went ahead with this design.

The second picture shows the trimming of the tenons to get a nice, tight fit in the mortise. Again, using a medium shoulder plane that may be my favorite tool … everything just seems to come out working perfectly after I use that tool!

The picture below shows a new tool, my shooting plane. While it’s a pretty special purpose tool (to create perfectly flat trims), I love it. In the shot below, it’s trimming the top of the legs so they’re perfectly flush and at right angles to the leg face.



I built the top next and, because I had chosen to stay with the over-sized legs, my top was just a bit too small. Which was disappointing, but allowed me to use two smaller pieces of wood that I merely joined down the middle. And, because of the strong grained feature of the wood, the seam would be nearly invisible.

You can click the pictures to see larger versions … in the first picture we have the two parts of wood that will be the top, in the second the very un-exciting glue-up, and finally you can see I’m adding the edge banding. The neat thing about that last picture seen at full-size: you can’t see the seam!


Here are two “action shot” of the banding actually being attached … as you can see, I used a plate joiner and biscuits to ensure a nice, strong joint.










The shelf was a lot like the top in terms of construction. I’d planned to have a thinner edge band (just to set if off) but with the larger table size, I was only able to use the prior top as the shelf if I had wider edging on it. You see, the shelf is smaller because it doesn’t have an overhang and it rests between the legs.

Here it is in a dry-fit configuration:


Final assembly

imageAfter I saw that everything would go together, I disassembled the whole shebang and sanded and sanded and sanded. 60-grit (where needed) to 100-grit to 150-grit and finally 220-grit.

Once that was completed, I nested the shelf between the legs and clamped it all up!


Because I was just finishing with oil and wax, I really waxed that top! About five good coats. You can see it here getting a good oil/wax treatment.

One detail you can see from making it longer: I’d cut the maple for the sides already, making them as long as I needed, but I planned on trimming them shorter. In the below picture, on the edge piece closest to the viewer on the left side, you can see a blackish mark that’s part of the wood. I had planned to trim that off but, needing a board that was another three inches longer than intended, I had to keep that marred part. You can say it adds character but it wasn’t intentional.


I’ll have to post a picture of the final product a bit later … right now it’s under a Christmas tree along with a tree skirt and I can’t even see it! But, because we did leave it a bit bigger, it easily supports both our small tree and the lamp! Win!

This project taught me that even something simple-looking like this table can have challenges; especially working on a project over multiple busy weekends is bad. But, that I can do it and do it well. The table looks great and is serving its purpose admirably.

Thanks for stopping in! I’ll create a final summary of my 2015 project review sometime in early January so I can both appreciate how much I accomplished but more to inspire me to get out there, even in the cold months!

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Final 2015 shop project

Posted by joeabbott on December 27, 2015

I committed to a project a month in 2015; some months I overachieved but only one month was missed: November. I had a lot going on that month and chose to hold out rather than rush something in. I had a lot of months with more than one project so I’m happy overall.

For December, I completed the bat project on a lathe but consider a knife I made from a kit to be the main effort for the month. While it would be pretty cool to have built an entire knife, I really just put the handles onto an existing blade.


You can get these kits from Woodcraft or any number of other resources: they consist of a folding knife without the “scales” and a thin set of instructions. You choose the wood, cut them to size, and then attach them to the sides of the knife. You can then finish them if you want.

I chose olive wood. It has a fantastic coloring and the grain is nice and tight, making it easy to work with.


I started by cutting two rectangular pieces of wood about 3/16” thick. Because I was working on my bandsaw and going by eye, some of the parts of the wood were thinker than others; but I was less worried about thicker than too thin!

Once I got them cut off the block of wood, I smoothed one side on a belt sander. The smudges on the wood in the picture above is residue glue from double-sided tape, To avoid burning my fingers off on the belt sander, I used the tape to fix the handle parts (scales) to another block of wood, and then held that as I flattened and thinned them.

That worked pretty well, but I then drew the outline of the knife on one of the scales and tapped the two parts together. I figured that if they were stuck together, I could treat the two handles as one and get both sides done with less effort.

The backfire to my plan came around when I realized the double-sided tape (carpet tape) moved ever so slightly. The difference wasn’t too bad, but it was compounded by the fact that I didn’t realize it was moving and that made some potential problems. I separated them before introducing any irreversible issues, labeled them as “L” (left) and “R” (right), and proceeded treating them as two different parts thereafter.








Once the parts were cut to size (just a hair over the outline dimension), I sanded down the outer side to about 400 grit and then epoxied the scales to the knife. The epoxy squeezed out just a smidge around the edges, but I used a razor blade to remove it before it hardened. I was happy with how that worked out. Almost no mess!

After the epoxy set, I oiled the scales twice, buffing with #0000 steel wool between coats, and then rubbed with a furniture polish. That just left cleaning up the steel with a bit of glass cleaner, using a Q-Tip to get any wax or oil out from the inner parts, and then pop it into a box and hand it to my nephew David as a Christmas Thank You for helping me with the lathe project earlier in the month.

I have to say, I really liked the quality of the kit and the olive wood; both were very nice and I’d absolutely do a project like this again.


And that’s it for the project of the month for 2015. I’m not sure I’ll enter another year committing a project a month … it just made for a frenetic time and just a bit less fun than I would have liked sometimes. Maybe that’s the nature of any time-based commitment. But I did like that it got me into the shop a bit more, so maybe in 2016 I’ll just have a list I work down and make sure I keep something going throughout the year.

I have another few days to figure out my commitment, so I’ll let you know how it goes and, as always, thanks for dropping in.

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