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Archive for the ‘Woodworking’ Category

Raised bed design

Posted by joeabbott on October 29, 2017

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


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

image  image

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

Store run

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

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

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

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

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

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

imageShop time

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

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

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

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

Here’s my thinking …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


At this point things broke down just a bit.

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

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

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


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


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

I made a thing

Posted by joeabbott on August 22, 2017

I love building stuff … taking wood, even fence slats and other scrap wood like I did this time, and creating something useful. It’s a kick. Here’s my latest build project.

Lumber and list

I bought fencing slats from our local big box store. Spent an extra few minutes going through the pile and carefully selecting the pieces that minimized knots and other defects. Of course I carefully stacked the pieces I left behind. I needed enough lumber to complete the cut list that I wrote out by hand and stuck nearby for reference.


The parts

And here’s the pile of pieces that, when assembled correctly, will be a “thing”. Can you guess what it might be yet?


Finish-cutting the parts

By virtue of the names “rail” and “panel”, those familiar with woodworking should pick up on my building something with a floating panel assembly. These next two pictures show me finishing up the parts in preparation for assembly. The picture on the left shows the diagrams I was using for creating the legs and rails … the parts scattered about are the rails in rough shape … lots of work to complete them! The right shows a shoulder plane and some rails … I’m working on the tenons.



My project had four legs with rails and panels between pairs of legs, making a box. I nested the rails inside the legs using mortise and tenon joints … should last as long as the wood does. Here I am chopping out the mortises by hand … two mortises on two different sides of each leg, making for sixteen mortises. That’s a lotta chopping!


Dry fit

Once I was done with the finish-cutting and chopping, it was time to dry fit. To ensure that final assembly would mate the same mortises and tenons, I labeled all the parts … upper joints with letters, lower joints with numbers.


After getting a comfortable fit on the mortises and tenons, I made sure my panels would float in the grooves that I’d created in the rails. More than once I had to use a shoulder plane to get the right fit but, with the right tools, it’s a pretty straight forward project.


Assembly time!

WP_20170806_16_51_30_ProAnd here it goes together!



Final part

I was building a planter for Suzy to use next to the bench\trellis project I made a month or two back. This one came out pretty good, however, we planned on using a plastic bucket inside to hold the actual plant. After putting in a bottom, you could see the white plastic pretty easily and it detracted from the overall look, so I made a “collar” … just a 1×4 top that would hide the plastic. I had to cut out the corners to fit around the upper parts of the legs and I held the pieces together using a spline. Actually, it was just a #0 biscuit, but it worked as a spline. I wanted to add a reinforcing plate to the bottom of the collar parts to provide some additional hold-together power, but for an assembly that was just going to sit securely on the top, it felt pretty solid without the reinforcing gusset … so that never was added.


Final product

And here it is … I’m pretty happy with it and will likely build additional ones for other places in the yard. It’s a good design that my buddy Tim gave me the plans for, so I have him to thank for that.

There are a few flaws in it and it’s not finished, but most of the wooden projects in our yard don’t have stain, so it’ll fit in with a season or so of weathering.



Thanks for dropping by!

Posted in Woodworking | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

The bench/trellis

Posted by joeabbott on July 1, 2017

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

The model

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

The structure

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

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


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

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

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


WP_20170625_12_16_48_ProDry assembly

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


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


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

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

The move

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


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

The seat and arm rests

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

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


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

WP_20170625_18_10_15_Pro 1  image

Almost done

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


Thanks for looking in at our latest project!

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

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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

WP_20160121_08_40_04_Pro_LI 1


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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