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Raised bed design

Posted by joeabbott on October 29, 2017

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


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

image  image

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

Store run

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

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

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

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

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

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

imageShop time

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

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

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

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

Here’s my thinking …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


At this point things broke down just a bit.

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

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

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


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


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

I must be getting handier

Posted by joeabbott on October 28, 2017

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Little stories

Posted by joeabbott on October 22, 2017

A handful of years back this world lost my uncle and, in that moment, a great storyteller. He comes from a family of storytellers: his mother (my grandma), his brother (Uncle Bob), and now I’m finding the same comfort hearing the little gem-like tellings from my mother (his sister). These tales come out typically in firsthand conversations; perhaps on a long drive or maybe over a game of cribbage in the evening, or anywhere folks gather. Most recently, I’ve received a few in mail or email and in that they’re golden … the easier to read later or to share.

To be clear, these aren’t structured stories with proper beginnings, middle, and endings. They aren’t about great people or pivotal times in history. They’re not incredibly worded and masterworks for language study classes. These are small stories about small town happenings in average times. Sentences may not be complete, may trail off, and maybe a less apt word is used here and there … but they’re short and simple and always make me smile.

These stories are more important than all those things they’re not … they are about the lives and dreams and times of people in and around my life. And here’s one I’ll share that came from my mother a couple months back. While she’s passed on many years ago, it arrived on my grandmother’s birthday and in response to mail I’d sent to my mother remembering some trait or other of my grandma.

Thanks a lot, Joe.  I love hearing memories that you kids hold dear. 

She [ed. my grandmother] had a wonderful heart and at one time or another nearly all her siblings spent time at our home.  Aunt Clarice was there with Terri and Monica, before her little John was born, when Uncle Ted was in the service, in Alaska.  They used my bedroom, and I’d moved up into my mom’s sewing room.  Little did I know that I’d be staying there again, helping out Uncle Joe!   Uncle Jack (John, she always called him) came over for years for Sunday Dinner with our family, and to read our Sunday papers, and when the City told him they were taking down his house (the oldest in Virginia), he returned to my family home for his last days. 

Uncle Stanley and Uncle Wally also were cared for by your Grandma.  I’d bring lunch upstairs to Uncle Stanley and he’d have me go into his wallet, in the drawer of that little desk up there in “the boys room”, and with shaky hands he’d count out 6 $1 bills, “for the children”.  And always there’d be a $100 bill just before Christmas, that I’d use to fill the Christmas stockings.  And of course Uncle Wally used to go to the Target in Duluth (first one in Minnesota) to shop with Grandma and they’d arrive at our house with his trunk and back seat piled high with all manner of foods, which we would so happily haul into our kitchen. 

And Aunt Mitzie – well, I was glad to be able to put food on the table for all of us, but at Christmastime she always made me feel like a Queen, with her opulent gifts to me  – once it was the Fruit of the Month Club, and our first delivery was a box of kiwis which none of us had ever heard of as they weren’t in our stores here yet.  Imagine, those funny fuzzy brown things, and all of us looking down at them with our mouths open! 

The funniest sibling that came over was Aunt Rose, who used to crochet slippers for all you kids.  She and my mom would be talking in the breakfast nook, and splitting a beer (shocking, as my father neverI imbibed), and more than once they’d break into speaking Polish when I’d come into the kitchen and once they were laughing so hard they both rushed upstairs to the sewing room, and continued their laughing.  We all laughed too, and I wonder what it was that was so hilarious. 

Uncle Ed used to come over with his wife Ailie, whom I liked because she had a great sense of humor.  And they’d bring their kids, Liz (who became a nurse, married a doctor, and they live in Duluth; And Eddie became an attorney and practiced in Chicago – I think they had a family even bigger than ours, and often have a photo of all their kids/grandkids on their Christmas card.)  Both Liz & Craig  and Eddie & Cora came to UJ’s funeral, and always visited him when they were in town.  I wonder if you have memories of them? 

Well, you’ve probably heard all these stories many times, but it’s fun for me to look back on my childhood, as it was full of happy times.  And also lots of summer vacations – out east or into various parts of Canada. 

Have a good day, Joe.

Love,  Mom

And how could you not have a good day after reading such a beautiful thing?

I’m not sure what brought this topic to mind; maybe the article on Humans of New York that I read in this morning’s paper. But it’s sure a fine read the second time … and saved for many more reads in the future.

Thanks for dropping by and sharing this little story with me.

Posted in family, Me | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Go, Rock Island Independents!

Posted by joeabbott on October 15, 2017

WP_20171015_13_04_32_ProA couple months ago my brother-in-law sent out an email to the extended family saying:

Dear Family,

With all my genealogy work, I have done some research on your Grandfather’s football days in Rock Island.  I started visiting the Rock Island Independents website ( and noticed the team photo they had on their site had the wrong names to some of the players.  I emailed the photo from your Grandfather’s collection with the names of the players.  Simon at the website used the photo I sent him on the website and with credit to the Kraker Family.  I also sent him the photos of your Grandfather and Jim Thorp.

While visiting the website I saw they were playing a football game with the 1920 football rules over the last few years.  One day I received an email from Simon, at the website, inviting me to their football game.  He included a copy of the game announcement of the game.  On the announcement, he used the photos I sent him of your Grandfather and Jim Thorp. 

If any of you are interested in going to Rock Island let me know.  I might be fun to have the Kraker Fan Club at the game. 

And then, a week or so ago, I got a package in the mail from my mother … the package was a bit beaten up but the contents were in perfect condition: I’m wearing it in the picture to the right! Yup, a Rock Island Independents t-shirt, perfect for wearing today, the day of the game being played by 1920’s football rules.

Here’s a copy of the picture my brother-in-law sent to the RII website:


And my grandfather? He’s the good looking fella with the perfect stance and the superman cowlick wearing #3:


While I may not be able to catch up on the scores on ESPN, I’ll check in with the family and the Rock Island Independents site to see how they fared but, either way, they have a fan out here in Seattle. Go, RII!!!

Posted in General stuff | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Fall is coming

Posted by joeabbott on October 9, 2017

Seattle actually has a drought climate for 3-4 months out of the year. That’s forgotten most of the time as the other 8-9 months are spent in varying degrees of rain and now the rains are back. A curious matter that in equal parts bemuses and amuses me is the fact that, when the rains first start returning, they only appear on the weekend


While the forecasts are often wrong, it’s surprising how often we get these sorts of predictions.

Fall is coming.

Posted in Trivia | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Volunteering at Puget Sound Goat Rescue–a job well done

Posted by joeabbott on September 23, 2017

WP_20170915_09_16_34_ProEvery year Microsoft encourages its employees to volunteer a workday in the service of a charitable organization; it’s called the Day of Caring. While they encourage charitable contributions and volunteering any time, this is the one day a year you can look your manager in the eye, say, “I’m going to be at a Day of Caring event”, and there are no questions asked or worries about how your work will get done. Your work will wait as the community benefits from your efforts this day.

To assist in the volunteer efforts on the Day of Caring, Microsoft coordinates staffing at organizations across the Puget Sound and even places employees from other companies at charities in need of help. This year I wanted to volunteer my time at the Puget Sound Goat Rescue (PSGR) and while there wasn’t going to be a Microsoft group helping this not-for-profit business, crews from the local Nordstrom and Amazon companies would be onsite. As this is a place Suzy normally volunteers her time, she would also be on-hand.

Barbara runs the PSGR and setup a few projects for me and promised to send along a couple of helpers. I’ve done some work at the PSGR before and this time she requested I set posts around a garden area she’s building out and, if time allowed, widen a gate to allow wider loads to pass through.

Having seen how innocently destructive goats could be, I asked Barbara if the plan on the left would suffice. We only shared mail but I get the feeling she blanched a bit at seeing the heavy-duty structure, coming back with a polite perhaps not quite so industrial. She didn’t use those words, but I was told the area would only support smaller goats and the biggest load on the posts would be the stretched fencing between them. OK … how about this: the plan on the right:

image clip_image002

The second design was more to her liking. The “double post” on one side of the gate would hold the hinges and ensure the gate (she had a pre-existing gate that would fit here) wouldn’t slump. The others just needed a little extra support to hold up to the fence stretching.

So, last week on Friday, rather than head into Redmond, I drove to Maple Valley with Suzy and my truck loaded with saws, shovels, and all manner of other tools, ready for a day of physical labor.

WP_20170915_11_13_00_ProAt the rescue we started moving materials to the garden patch and, on the way, I pass through the gate she wanted widened. Not only did it need widening, but it had a low beam overhead and a board at the bottom that blocked small animals from crawling\burrowing under, but also posed a tripping hazard. As we had a lot of materials to pass through the gate I was looking down as I passed through … and proceeded in cracking my head so hard I saw stars. I decided then and there that I’d prioritize fixing the gate first … or, at a minimum, removing the old gate structure first.

The gate was located between the legs on a raised deck off the back, upper floor of the house and though well-made, a hammer, power screwdriver, and Sawzall made short work of it. Once I’d removed the gate, and pulled off the upper beam and “tripping plate”, we turned our attention to the garden fence. And at that point I met Kellen and Ryan, both Nordstrom employees.

Kellen had put in posts before and had even worked for the DNR with fire support while in college; Ryan was a bit less experienced but able-bodied. Happily, both were very willing to dig in and get to work.

Over the next four hours or so, we labored on digging holes ~30” deep, into which we dumped some gravel, ensured the installed 4×4 posts were vertical, and then filled the rest of the hole with Sakrete, a dry, bagged concrete product.  For the posts to the left of the gate, I cut the horizontal and diagonal sections and, both happily and unexpectedly, they all fit perfectly on the first try. I’ll downplay the fact that I cut the diagonal brace a quarter inch long so I could “sneak up” on the fit because, well, it fit perfectly on the first try. Admitted Kellen was doing the fitting, so I suspect it was “encouraged” into the space. Kellen is a big boy!


After placing the posts that are shown in the above (right) diagram, we realized that the spacing on both sides had too long of a span between posts, and so we ended up digging two more holes and installing another couple of posts, one on each side. By that time, however, we ran out of Sakrete, so we opted out of installing the diagonal braces supporting the posts that would hold the fencing. The posts seemed sturdy and probably didn’t need the extra support. Probably.

So, we went to lunch very happy with how things turned out.

After lunch Barbara let the volunteers spend time with the goats, either the adults or the kids, and all of them LOVED that part. It was fun to watch a bunch of people just coo over the little goatlings and take turns feeding and holding them. I participated a little but spent quite a bit of time packing up, cleaning the materials, and generally treating the PSGR property as I would my own. And then I turned my attention to finishing the gate below the deck.

It was easy enough to add a second support beam to the hinge side and then another on the side the gate would latch on, but as I looked over both projects with Barbara, she asked a couple questions that suggested I wasn’t “done”.

On the garden fence area, we hadn’t hung the gate. We hadn’t because the posts were drying in concrete and you shouldn’t put load on the post until it’s cured. But, having the hinge side supported by two posts sunk 30” into the ground and three other horizontal braces suggested it could probably handle the hanging weight of the gate just fine. So I finished that off.

On the gate under the house, she asked if the free space (the part not covered by the gate itself) would be enclosed. I pointed to the fencing I’d removed and said, “someone could use that to block it off”. Well, the “someone” was obviously me, so I put in a little more time making that look good.

While I was very happy with how everything turned out, as Suzy and I drove home, we stopped to look at the garden fencing posts. They looked good but I had a nagging worry that we hadn’t finished the job: those diagonal supports giving the posts some extra hold-power when the fence was stretched weren’t in place. Would it matter? I wasn’t sure.

By the time we got home I was I was sure, so I sent Barbara an email saying that, if she would get another couple buckets of gravel and three more bags of Sakrete, I’d come back and install the four diagonal posts. She agreed and so, yesterday afternoon at 3PM with my manager’s approval, I returned to PSGR.


We only had two remaining 2×4 boards, so I cut them in half (48” long) and used those for the braces. After halving them I cut a 45° angle in one end and slotted that end into a quarter-inch slot I cut into each of the posts about 23” up from the ground. They’re a bit short and intersect the post well-below the halfway point that I’d like, but with the posts buried deeply they should provide the additional stability and support they’ll need when the fence is stretched against them.


After placing the chamfered end into the post slot, dug about an 8” deep hole for the free end, added gravel, and covered them with Sakrete. With that done, I screwed the support into the post with three screws, added water to the Sakrete, and made sure everything was set properly. It was a job I’m happy to have returned to complete.


And that’s it: a little volunteer time from my company, a bit of good company doing a quality job, and the conscious to follow-up and make sure it was done the way I’d do on my own property. Let’s call it a job well done.

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

Annual Test Lab Hike–North Olympic Peninsula Beaches

Posted by joeabbott on September 17, 2017

I look forward to one hike all year: our annual Test Lab Hike. It’s an odd name, but a group of four of us then young-ish engineers who worked for Boeing in their Test Labs and started taking strolls in the great outdoors, enjoying what the wilds of Washington state would afford us. Now, twenty-four years later, we still get out for that stroll.Olympic Peninsula

The plan was for a five-day, four-night outing with travel to and from Seattle on the first and last days. While we’d move our camp each of the days, the tides dictated that we’d have to leave relatively early in the day and arrive at our next camp well before noon; a somewhat odd situation. Additionally, the weather was forecast to be mild with one day seeing potential drizzle and another at 20% chance of rain … which is a pretty decent prediction when heading to a rain forest for a camping trip!

In the above map, the four named locations are the places we pitched our tents. While I’ll try to be brief, this is me … and it may get long-ish.

Thursday – drive to the peninsula, camp at the trailhead

No matter how you look at things, getting to the coast is little more than driving from Seattle. We met up around 7AM at Tim’s house, he made us breakfast, we packed the SUV we’d be taking, and started the 5-hour drive. Rush hour traffic and road construction got the best of us, but we likely only lost a half hour or so to that. We headed south to Tacoma and then west, following the northern coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

At Port Angeles we stopped at the Olympic National Park Ranger Station for current weather, tide, and camp site information; they informed us that Seafield Creek and Yellow Banks were “dry”, meaning they had no running water. Bummer. Also, due mainly to raccoon troubles, we were required to carry the provided “bear-proof food canisters”. These are hard plastic caches roughly 18” high and 10” in diameter and can only be considered to hold a lot of food if you ram your food in pretty tightly.

But, after getting some gas and snacks, we continued on to Lake Ozette where we got one of three final camp sites, ate our freeze-dried dinners, pitched our tent, and got in an evening game of Hearts before the mist started falling. By the time we’d made our final bedtime accommodations, the mist was pretty thick. And sometime late that evening, it was unequivocally raining.

Friday – get onto the beach, camp at Seafield Creek

DSCF1186We arose around 6AM and had stricken camp, did our final packing, moved the car, and were on the trail before 8AM. Not bad for a bunch of codgers looking for the loo, needing hot breakfasts, and wondering just how the heck one packed a bear-proof food canisters into an already-full pack. And then it was walking … I chose to not wear my rain slicker, in spite of the heavy mist, because it was warm enough that I’d be sweating furiously if I did. Wet is wet, and rain feels cleaner than sweat.DSCF1187_stitch

The trail from Lake Ozette to the coast has two paths: a northerly route to Cape Alava, and a southerly one to Sand Point. We took the northern leg and marched the three miles at a modest clip, making it to the beach around 9:30AM. By that time, the mist had slackened and we all became silent as the crashing surf aroused our senses. On top of the distinct sounds of the ocean, dozens and dozens of sea lion voices could be heard barking from some far-off rocky isle. The tide was heading out and we had a camp some seven miles to the north; and so we turned our attention that way and continued our march.

DSCF1506DSCF1191Somewhere just before the Ozette River, Tim lost his footing and took a tumble, painfully damaging his side; as if in commiseration, I shortly thereafter took my own slide. I fell forward and unfortunately had my hand pinned between the rock and my trekking pole … getting a cheese-grater greeting by the myriad sharp barnacles. Upon inspection I saw a bloodless wound and attempted to rip off the hanging flesh with my teeth. I had a faint sickening sensation as the tug was substantial and wasn’t sufficient to part the skin from the thumb: that was a deep wound. I cupped my hand to my chest and made my way bank-side on the Ozette in order to shed my pack and bandage my hand. By the time I had a wrap on it, the blood was profuse. I worried a lot about infection as we all crossed the river and took a small break.


Tim rested his side, Ron and I headed upstream into the Ozette River to filter water for camp, hoping low tide and a plentiful current would provide salt-free water. Unfortunately, the water was still brackish and only really good for use as cooking water or with heavily flavored powders. But, we brought what we could with us and, after our short rest, continued marching the two and a half miles north to Seafield Creek.

We setup camp and Tim realized he had forgotten his sandals back at the Ozette River just after the crossing. Without truly hoping we could get them (the tide was now coming in) … and without a lot of worry if we didn’t … we headed south and while we were unable to make it past the final headwall safely (the tide had risen beyond a safe height to pass), returned to camp happy for a chance to stretch our legs without a pack and enjoying good company.DSCF1201_stitch

DSCF1249A short time later Ron showed interest in heading north toward Shi Shi and, game for most any stroll, I joined him much to the same result as my walk with Tim: we got a couple miles in but were ultimately stopped by impassible terrain and so we walked back.

I figure I added roughly 10 miles to my day but enjoyed the beach walk and company. And, I had slept somewhat poorly the prior night and looked forward to fatigue doing what it does best: providing me a deep and excellent night’s sleep.

Our camp was set about 15’ up a bluffy wall, accessible via two trails: one with a hand-line strung down it, and the other a scampery little path that took one over a jumble of driftwood logs. The platforms were generous and Dan opted to setup his own tent a short distance away. In spite of the fact that we carry a 6-man tent on these trips (we all like our space and room for gear), Dan continues to carry his own 2-man tent for the evening’s sleep. He’ll socialize, play cards, and whatnot, but when it’s time for lights-out, he heads to his own little suite.

The clouds had long-since parted and as we settled into dinner (and, later, Hearts), we hoped the “20% chance of rain” that had been forecast for the next day had happened and was over. And, yes, I slept well.

Saturday – head back south, camp at Cape Alava

DSCF1253We awoke to a fairly good rain coming down. It sounded worse from inside the tent than it felt when one was outside, but it was coming down steadily. I was in a cross mood. I’d have rather waited out the rain but we were low on enjoyable water, had a camp site 7-miles to the south that night, and needed to cross the Ozette River at low tide … which would happen at around 10:30AM. To get there on time, we needed to break camp around 8AM. It was 6AM and I wanted to roll over.

But, I got up (grudgingly) and got going.

Breakfast for me is a Costco muffin … these little darlings are around 700 calories and it’s hard to have what is essentially cake for breakfast and still be annoyed. I managed, but only because the rain was continuing to come down. As we cleared our gear, packed our pack, and made the tent ready, I asked Tim if he wanted to put the tent body (his share for this leg), into a bag. He declined, later stating that he thought the rain would break soon, and so when we got to camp (and it was still raining), we had a fairly soaked sleeping quarters.

I’m getting ahead of myself, but not by much.

The trip south was quick, as are most hikes on the beach, as the sand just above the wave-line tends to be firmly packed and gives you a dead flat, cushioned trail each step. Tim’s sandals were where we thought they’d be, the headwalls were passed over without incident, and we soon arrived at Cape Alava … I believe it was about 10:30AM.DSCF1272

I was still grumpy and after we setup the tent, I tossed a small emergency blanket (it’s a tarp with a reflective surface) inside the tent, dumped my stuff on it, and took a nap for a few hours.

Upon waking up, the world was a nicer place. My mood had dissipated, the rain had ceased, and we had a clean supply of water to refill our bottles. I strung a couple of lines between trees and we quickly filled them with wet gear, hoping to catch the last of the westering sun. As with the other days, we ate our separate dinners together and then got in a game of Hearts to finish the day. DSCF1286_stitch

Unfortunately, I celebrated the clean water a bit more than I should have, and had to arise a couple of times in the evening to relieve myself. Upon exiting the tent around 3AM, I started what I imagine was a large crane. Ron later reported hearing it and he chuckled a bit … I absolutely was not chuckling. That bird has a terrifying scream and to hear it in the dark when one scarcely has his senses … well, it certainly had my attention.

DSCF1322Sunday – continue south, camp at Yellow Banks

Sunday was the sort of day one comes to the beach to enjoy; it was marvelous. As Ron would say: blue skies, sunshine. And it had both of those in spades.

The march to camp would be about 7 miles this day, following the beach from Cape Alava, past Sandy Point, and on around a few headwalls to Yellow Banks. We bumped into a few people but far fewer than you would think you’d see given the phenomenal sights and beautiful crashing surf.DSCF1319

DSCF1344While the seaweed beds were thickly piled on these beaches, and the sand fleas particularly plentiful, the rhythmic crash of waves, the lapping water, and that gently yielding, dead flat “trail” to hike on made the miles zip by. Upon several beaches we crossed rich troves of rocks of a myriad color and patterns. They were so beautiful, upon the return trip, I filled one of my water bottles full of agates, jasper, jet black and pure white stones. A wonder of beauty.

But, as with the other days, our day started early to accommodate the tides and before noon we arrived at the eponymous Yellow Banks. Vegetation has overgrown much of the bluff but it was a very fine sight and we were excited to be there as the tide rose and we were the only ones on the beach. While it wouldn’t hold, we had the entire expanse to ourselves for the afternoon.

DSCF1367After looking over most of the sites, we returned to the camp at the head of the beach and called that home. The camp was pretty cool: another 15’ climb up a bluffy face, but at the top were two balconies made from various drift woods (one balcony complete with a hammock!), and room for our tent amongst the trees to the rear. If we could have spent another night, that would have been the place.

But, rather than setup shop right away, we all spread out our gear in the sun and set it to drying. And while it was doing that, Ron found a few floats lost from various ships and set us all onto a game of bocce ball. In this game, the leader (typically the person who won the last round) would toss a smaller float out several yards; thereafter, all participants would take turns tossing their floats after it. The person closest to the small float won a point … unless his toss ended up touching the small float, and then he would get two points. No one in our games would ever win the two points.DSCF1412

It was a very fun event and I’m pretty happy Ron suggested it and found the floats\bocce balls. At one time I gave my ball toss a bit too much arc and the float cracked upon landing. After a few more tosses it broke in two. No problems, says Ron … and off he ran past the high tide mark and returned a short time later with another whole float. “They’re all over here,” he reported. Amazing.

After dinner we returned to the beach for another game and then our nightly ritual of Hearts. As we played, several other groups entered the beach, taking advantage of the lowering tide. No matters … we had the best camp on the beach.DSCF1439_stitch

DSCF1373Monday – pack up and head home

While our day was driven by the tide, we had great grips to go, needing to drive the many hours back to Seattle this day. And again, arise, eat breakfast, pull down the tent, and pack up. Our practiced routine was made efficient by the now, our fifth packing this trip, and the dry weather helped. I’d taken a small “cave” (a man-made opening in the wall that allowed one to avoid crossing on seaweed-slickened rocks) on the way into the Banks and did so again on the way out, and then trudged north across the wonderfully pebbled beaches to the south part of Sand Point.

Here we stopped, snapped a few final shots, enjoyed a light lunch of whatever we each had left, and then marched along the boardwalk to Lake Ozette. The three miles went quickly and, as usual, I was glad to see the car and enjoy the dry, clean clothing. This was the end of our twenty-fourth Test Lab Hike, and it was a beauty.

Thanks for reading all this. As usual, it got long and reminiscing as I typed this made it longer. May your trails be under blue skies and full of sunshine.

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

Posted by joeabbott on September 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thanks for reading.

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Lotta planning, little hike

Posted by joeabbott on September 4, 2017

2017-08-18_100846Over the course of the summer I’ve been itching to hike from Steven’s Pass to Snoqualmie Pass. The original plan was to use the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) the entire way but when we calculated the time and distance for some old bones like ours to make the trip, we agreed to use the Trail 1060 cut-off, allowing us to still hike Pass to Pass, but cut off about 8.5 miles from the route … exchanging that for about 2000’ of elevation gain!

The image to the right shows a couple of early trail options we considered … one for Trail 1061 cut off a bit less distance but commensurately started us 1000’ higher. Ultimately we chose Trail 1060, the Surprise Lake trail and were happy for the savings in distance, which we deemed to be our worst enemy.

The “we” in the prior sentence were two of my hiking buddies from the summer; the three of us are desk jockeys and going five-days of 12-15 mile days would be a challenge. We convinced ourselves of the lie that elevation would be challenging, but at a slow pace we could make it happen without too much problem. I say “lie” because the elevation was going to hurt a bunch, but it comes with hiking this part of the PCT so we would just have to find a way.

In preparation for the trip we reviewed books, web resources, and chatted with friends and coworkers who’d been on this part of the trail. We watched the weather, picked up gear that would be lightweight, and mentally (and physically) prepared for the outing. While more time would always be helpful, I felt ready.

While I note we prepared lightweight packs, we clearly don’t know how to do it very well. In spite of all of us prepping our 5-day packs (with emergency sixth day rations) independently, we all showed up at the trailhead with roughly the same weight packs: about 40#. Which is a startlingly heavy pack to carry for 70 miles. I carried a few items I wouldn’t consider “required” but would very much miss over 5 days without … including reading materials and some down\fleece gear that would be sorely wanted if the weather turned for the worse.

In all, my gear weight was just over half the overall weight and included the items in the following list.

imageKnowing what I do now about the weather and the trail conditions, I could have saved probably 5# in weight or more … I would have left home glasses and reading, fleece and my puffy jacket, tarp and knife. It would feel foolish to start paring back my first aid kit more but I could. Same with leaving home the map … but it was less for finding our way and more for knowing what it was that was around us. Admittedly, it was duplicative of the GPS. Still, weather in the Pacific Northwest turns quickly so having the right emergency gear is both smart and will keep you alive.

Other “luxuries” include my “camp cotton”, which is an extra shirt and briefs I only wear in camp. It’s nice to get out of the sweaty clothing and for ten ounces, I’m OK with bringing it. Still, I acknowledge it as a luxury. Same with my second set of clothing … while I’d accepted I’d be stinky (and my “vital pack” included a packet of scent-free wet wipes for toweling off at the end of day), I could have gone uber-stinky and saved about a pound and a quarter by omitting the extra shirt, Lycra shorts, and liner\outer socks. But I can’t recall ever going 5 days without bathing, much less wearing the same clothing … and especially with as much sweating as we’d be doing. Calling this a luxury feels odd.

Finally, there are things like “shoes”, which were actually skelly\neoprene toe-shoes for fording rivers that were less luxuries than “smart gear”. Yes, I could ford barefooted, but it seems stupid given my tender little feets. And so, this is my list. While I was happy that it was about 20#, that was just the half of it.

The other half was the backpack itself (a bit over 3#), food (about 14#), water (about 4#) and group gear … not to mention the stray carabiner attached to the outside and whatnot. I’ve had friends comment surprisingly at my food weight, but at roughly 2.5# per day, I didn’t feel I was going overboard. I could start to shave weight here and, in future efforts might, but this was not a place I wanted to start with saving on the load. Additionally, each day I’d be losing a couple pounds and reasoned that by the start of the last day, my pack would be over 10# lighter! I liked the sound of that!

As I noted in the title, we’d put a lotta planning into this trip. I’d come home from work, busy myself at the computer to continue research, run to the garage where I was prepping gear to weigh out options, and swing into REI with Suzy after errands to consider one or two other options for gear. I eventually bought myself the lighter sleeping bag noted in the weights above (it saved about 2# in weight in my pack and was only about $70 … still a lot of money, but not bad for a sleeping bag), and some carbon-fiber poles. I’m embarrassed at the cost of those so I won’t share that here, but they saved about the same sort of weight as the sleeping bag … and considering I’d be carrying that weight, I called it an easy decision.

DSCF1129And then the trip itself … spoilers: we turned back after the first day, about 14 miles in.

As we headed out of the car, my pack was biting into the top of my butt. Not just an annoyance, but a deeply aching, brutal pressure that threatened to immobilize me by the end of the first day. It was mean. I’m not sure what adjustment I made to get it sorted out, but I was finding myself reaching back to lift and support the pack with my hands at some points. It was really painful and so, I was surprised to find that, at some point, it just worked itself out and I was moving a lot more comfortably, albeit slowly.

DSCF1180One of my friends, however, was just struggling from the get-go. At every stop we’d wait longer and longer for him to catch up, eventually waiting about 15 minutes by the time we hit the 4.5 mile mark, Surprise Lake. While we’d done over 2000’ of elevation gain, he showed up with shaking legs and a pained expression; it was clear he was hurting. We found a place to sit by the lake and after about 10 minutes he confided that his legs were shot, he’d vomited on the way in, and he just didn’t see a way for him to make it without jeopardizing the outing. He was turning back.

While we cajoled and talked about options and generally stalled another half hour, it was clear something wasn’t right when he went to the water’s edge to pump some water and, upon scampering the 8’ up to the rocks we were sitting on, showed his legs were quivering and he’d lost his breath. He was mad, frustrated, and contrite … shaking his head and asking aloud what could be going on. I’ve felt like he has in the past, and I’m not sure what causes it, but I hoped he’d struggle on to camp, rest it up, and have a better day two. He, however, was done.

So, I gave him my bivy so he could sleep out alone, and I took his place in the tent and we parted. It was hard but he felt it was the right call.

My other friend and I continued to the end of the day, making it to the camp we’d targeted and were happy with the distance we made. That said, upon arriving he noted that his foot was taking on an aching that suggested he had a serious problem and he wasn’t sure he should continue.

Earlier in the summer he was in a walking cast and felt he’d made a full recovery, but upon getting up the next morning, he didn’t believe going on was the right call. I didn’t cajole this time, as a serious physical problem isn’t something you should just ignore, and as we left camp, he headed back toward the trailhead we’d left from the day before.

It was an early and disappointing end to a long-planned outing, but it was the right call. Had I not handed off my solo-bivy , I wonder if I’d have continued south. I might, but I also think it could have caused my partner to continue on, and later doctors’ reports suggest turning back was ultimately the right call. The one thing that gets me through is a oft-repeated phrase that has always been true: there’ll be another time, another year.

Thanks for looking in and here’s hoping your outings have been more successful.

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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 »