The Student(s) and the Teacher(s)

Last Christmas my daughter received a Youtube gift package from me. Well, me and her two favorite Youtubers: Bob Claggett and April Wilkerson. It had stickers and pencils along with a really cool note from Bob. This meant she needed a place to put the stickers. Coincidentally, she also needed a place to store some of her tools. I knew just the project: a modified version of this Japanese toolbox built by Chris Schwarz a few years ago.

I longed for connections on multiple levels. On one level, I wanted my daughter to do most of the building. On another, I elected to use scrap wood to instill the need to be thrifty and thoughtful in our selections. The first source of wood my daughter found on a walk back from the bus stop; a neighbor had tossed out some nice poplar from a built in bookcase. She asked why someone would throw out perfectly good wood [my heart grew three sizes]. The second source came from dismantling one of my first woodworking projects: an ill-fitted toolbox I made for my mom shortly after my dad passed. With my mom moving out of the home she’d raised us in after 50 years, I knew she no longer needed this functional, sentimental item. The layers were brooding nicely.


The starting point

The plans were straight forward but I didn’t want the finickiness of finger joints so I went with rabbets and cut nails. This way I could do the joinery quickly and then have my daughter bang things together. I have little experience with the router table so it was great to use the one at my community shop. It made the joints easy and accurate.

I milled up the rest of the parts and then sanded them to 150 grit. This was perfect prep for the Gypsy Pink milk paint from Real Milk Paint Co. With things painted, we started doing the joinery. We used a practice box to get the feel of driving in nails and then went on to the real thing. We even got to bust out an egg beater drill I found in my grandfather’s basement before we moved him out of his house (read: layers, baby).

The box was built and ready for the lid. I wanted to impart a lesson on design and asked if she would like to make the lid a bit flashier. I had some extra maple from the drawer sides of her dresser and knew they’d add pizzaz. Unfortunately, the board was juuuust a bit small to cover the entire opening. I explained we only needed about ¼” of material to fit the lid and use this as another design opportunity. She really likes purpleheart so I glued up a panel with a racing stripe.

And there the box sat for a while. She lost interest and I didn’t want to push things. Inspiration struck while we were out at Sherwin Williams. She saw this display and wanted to know if we could buy some stain. I didn’t know this but they can mix up any color on the display using a base formula. Plus, it was only $8 for a quart. Score.

Again, the project sat for a few weeks and she didn’t want to work on it. I finally asked her if she just wanted me to finish it and she said yes. Her sister offered to help with the stain and I put everything together on my own one afternoon.

When it was all done she immediately got out her stickers and started putting her tools in it. She also gave me a big hug. The box has been completed for two months and she asks to go into the shop constantly. I’m glad I let her dictate the pace and I’m also glad I finished it for her. At the time I was a little disappointed she didn’t do more of the “work” herself. But upon reflection, I realized she was teaching me a lesson in patience and restraint. You gotta love the layers.

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Winds of Change

I know. It’s been a while…

Since my last post, I’ve made two trips to Florida, quit my job, started another one, and finished a few woodworking projects – including this one that made it’s way to the PopWood blog. Obviously, there’s been a lot more but I’m just hitting the high notes. This new job puts me on the road a bit more, which could be good for the blog (because I’ll have more time to post), or bad for the blog (because I’ll have less time to build). I’m not sure yet.  We’ll just have to see.

To get the juices flowing, and in keeping with the season, here are pictures of the pumpkins I started last fall but never got around to painting. They’ve been adorning the front yard for about an month and look much better than they would not decomposing in a landfill. I’ve been trying to up my game in the milk paint/finishing department. I scoured Pinterest and found this helpful article.  I know some thumb their noses at projects like this because they are not “fine” woodworking. Whatevs. I like color, I like painting, and I actually like the shabby chic look. Plus my daughters wanted decorations in the front yard so this was way better than buying something.

The pumpkins sat in the basement for about a week as I tried to rig up some complicated contraption (like a folding triangular stand using butt hinges and stakes) to stand them up and make sure they didn’t topple over. Then I recalled Occam’s Razor:

The small pumpkins are simply leaning against their larger brethren. We had heavy winds a few days ago and the small ones fell over. To combat this issue I simply picked them up and lean them up again; problem solved.

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Wildflower Seed on the Sand and Stone

This summer has been filled with mental breaks as I gear up for my next big project: The Dining Room table. I spent some time with the girls and knocked out some stuff for the house and garden. This project started with a trip to Kencraft in Toledo, OH for a Make Something event; it ended with a sassafras plant stand and many lessons along the way.


Sassafras shorts

During this build, I was lucky enough to have my 13 year old niece visiting from Florida. She stayed with us for six weeks and I experienced what it’s like to have an intelligent, funny, eager-to-learn teenager in the house. She required little more than a nod toward the basement, and the occasional long sleeve shirt (it’s much colder here after all), to get her interested in woodworking. She’s had a tougher go at it than most, but I trust she found a much needed respite both living with us and learning to build things. She was eager to complete various tasks and wasn’t afraid to ask questions when she needed.

Unlike most of my builds, this was straight from a Wood magazine plan . My subscription lapsed many, many years ago but this was a fun thing to crank out without too much struggle or design skills (hing: I’m saving those for the dining room table). I wanted something we could accomplish given her short time here. Here are some of the highlights.

One of my favorite aspects was getting a tiny glimpse into my future; or least I hope so. I had a work trip in the middle of this build. I left instructions for my niece to sand and paint the parts with my girls while I was gone. I was hoping to return from my trip ready to put things together, in the nice blue tone she’d chosen, but they were only half done. Oh well, it’s better than having to do all the work myself. This must be what it’s like to have teenage apprentices in the shop.

My niece wasn’t able to see the final construction but she has followed on Instagram. On my own, I drilled more holes, installed more screws, plugged more holes, and added a few coats of touch up after it was all together.

I top coated the milk paint with a new-to-me product: General Finishes 450. It works wonderfully and goes on easy. I installed the stand in the garden with some pots my wife made years ago. I’ve always loved the way they look but we missed the northern window for planting herbs. Next year. The finish has been holding up nice over the past few weeks in the sun and rain.

As I reflect on this project many things come to mind. The universe launched the Workshop of Our Own campaign while this build took place. Megan Fitzpatrick wrote these words of wisdom describing her thoughts regarding “separate nouns.” And outside our woodworking world, the political and social struggles continued to rage. These issues ring true to me. Few things hit home more than acknowledgement of my own privileges afforded me by the color of my skin and the bits swaying below my navel instead of above. Alas, I can only change the things around me. So to that end, I’m leaving for Florida soon to help my brother work on his new house and while I’m there, I’ll plant the seeds of a workshop for my niece.

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Two Each. Her Own.

In my brief tenure as a father, I’ve learned many lessons. One of the most crucial came shortly after our second daughter was born. I was concerned I would never love a second child as much as I loved the first. Even while being the very distant third (cough…11 years) in a three-child family, I never experienced this feeling first hand. My parents were, and mom still is, good at loving us without favoritism or inequality. But as month eight turned into nine I couldn’t rationalize the data: how did my parents do this? How could I pour the same amount of attention and love into a second child? The answers came the moment I saw her and during the first hours of her life: attention is finite and we’d have to manage it, but love is infinite and grows without effort or control. It’s one of my favorite lessons.

Shifting gears, I’ll let you in on another lesson: sometimes siblings need their own stuff. And when there is only one of something, like a cool outdoor chair, the results aren’t pretty. I fixed the chair problem just as the summer outdoor seating season started. You may recall a post about this last year regarding building a second Ana White kid’s adirondack chair.

I didn’t take any progress pictures after that post but I completed the build effort during the fall. I even had enough pine from the recycled shelves to make two chairs. I opted to experiment with General Finishes while chalk paint for one and Real Milk Paint (in Gypsy Pink) for my daughter – her choice obviously.  It’s hard to express into words how apropos “gypsy” is to my always-barefoot, free-spirited second child. But you’ll get the idea when you see the stencil she chose for decoration. We even got mommy in the shop to help us put on the finishing touches.

I wasn’t too impressed with the GF chalk paint as it acted more like latex and less like milk paint; especially in terms of running down vertical services. I say this in comparison to milk paint which doesn’t run (at least not much). But the real pain came with the top coat. In previous milk paint projects I’ve used GF polyacrylic as a top coat. I made a sample board and tested it with the same stuff I’d used before and got positive results. Unfortunately, after applying a coat to the real project the results looked awful. There was a milky white haze throughout.

I quickly jumped on the Wood Whisperer Guild facebook page and posted my dilemma. After some digging, I realized GF stopped making that version of polycrylic a few years ago even though my can was only about 18 months old to me. I was burned by really, really, old finish. I sanded with 320 grit as best I could and picked up a can of spray on Minwax polycrylic from the big box store. It’s not perfect but it’ll do. The lesson here is to get new finish more regularly and definitely pre finish parts as best as you can – especially on this type of build. With the plants and container garden flourishing I took these shots of the chairs.

I was thinking of selling the white chair but decided it’s best to just give it to my neighbor, who I mentioned in my last post.


Here my girls are playing in the chairs with our neighbors during a Fourth of July get together

You’ll be happy to know it’s been a favorite of his two kids, which brings us full circle: he just bought the wood to build a second chair on his own. I hope he’ll ask for help at least once. I’ve been thinking it might be time to purchase him a copy of Nick Offerman’s latest book followed up by Schwarz’s seminal ATC if he takes the bait.

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Love Thy Neighbor

With the dresser safely in the rear view mirror, I’m ready to move on.  Today’s post is a first in a series of catching you up on few side projects I cooked up and some I still have cooking. I always wanted to participate in Get Woodworking. It’s one of the things in our community that suits me well. I’ve just never really had an opportunity to partake. This February that changed.

My neighbor brought me a sketch of this table layout he was kicking around for his daughter. She had a dollhouse he wanted to get off the floor and the entire table had to fit in specific spot in her room. He drew a rough concept based on the dimensions of the available space and the dollhouse size. He and his wife had been searching for the right table but they needed something custom. What I liked about his request was that he didn’t ask me to build it; he asked if I’d help him build it.

Sign. Me. Up.

I immediately began thinking about using up some old cherry and/or maple I had lying around. As the day went on I started dreaming about tapering the legs, fancy profiles for the tabletop, and various unnecessary accoutrements. Then reality set in and while I nursed back my cracked ribs I reflected on the original request: a table for a little girl to play with her dolls. My little physical mishap helped me gain focus.

About two weeks after the injury, we were hanging out (kids, wives, and everything). I brought the topic up and said we could use pocket holes, off-the-shelf home center lumber, and probably bang this out before dinner (it was 1 PM). We both cleared it with our wives and started making a shopping list. Then we headed to the home center and found some nice 1x and 2x poplar for the apron and the legs. We decided on a finger-jointed 24″ x 48″ panel, like this, for the top. This method avoided the glue up and allowed for the small cut out needed to accommodate the dollhouse.

By 5 PM we had whole thing together. It just needed to be sanded and later painted. My neighbor isn’t a complete noob when it comes to making stuff so he had the ability to sand and finalize things on his own. Later that week he sent these pictures over to me. He eventually painted it white but I don’t think I have a picture of the final piece.

Over the course of four hours, and a few follow up texts, we had created one happy little girl. I was impressed we got it all done, including sourcing material, in such a short time. There’s something to be said for the ease of home center lumber and it’s ability to complete a project with minimal effort. But more importantly, I gave back to my neighborhood community and potentially ignited a spark in a budding woodworker. Stay tuned.


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The Seven Year Itch…

…is scratched.

I specifically remember borrowing my friend’s truck, driving to Paxton Lumber and loading up the cherry lumber and cherry plywood. Seven years later, nearly to the day, I screwed down the top, stood back and admired my handwork for the first time. The design evolved, life evolved, and more importantly, I evolved.


Photo Credit: Blue Teapot Photography

I wouldn’t have gotten here without my social media friends, my Cincinnati friends, or my woodworking peeps in Cleveland. Thank you all for your help and encouragement. To best capture the beauty of this piece, I solicited a photographer neighbor who takes great family portraits and knows her stuff. She gave me some lessons and took many of the shots in the gallery below. If you’re in the area and need a photographer, please check out Rachael from Blue Teapot Photography.

This marks my proudest woodworking moment. We’ve been living with dresser for a few weeks now. I revel in pride each time I read bedtime stories or put away my daughter’s clothes. I couldn’t be happier.


The look of a satisfied customer

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The Final First

The finishing regime evolved from the time my, then pregnant, wife peered over my shoulder in the pre-Pinterest/Instagram days of searching the internet. I had saved a bunch of Google image searches to a Word document and we both agreed upon this seven drawer design (you could cut the naivete with a knife). The convertible crib we’d bought for the nursery was that espresso stain all the kids were using those days. Our plan was to buy some nice wood, say cherry, and then stain it to closely match the crib.

I reached out to Marc Spagnuolo for some advice on how to stain cherry. Looking back, I can faintly hear Marc chuckling as he read my question. It must’ve been the 100th time he’d seen it by then. He encouraged me to not stain the cherry and explained that staining nearly any wood is equally difficult. Looking back, I can now faintly hear the woodworking angels rejoicing in the hallelujah chorus.

As other projects came and went I started falling in love with the ease and comfort of the simple wiping varnish described in this video by Marc. I’m still quite fond of this technique and regularly employ General Finishes Arm-R-Seal. However, I started really digging into the tenets of what Chris Schwarz teaches in the Anarchist Tool Chest and through the Lost Art Press blog. The underlying philosophy is to seek knowledge yourself and ensure your work falls in line the with the things you believe.

Fast forward to April 2017. I posted on Instagram that I was thinking of using amber shellac and then topcoating with Arm-R-Seal. I got some encouragement to simply use shellac with a top coat of homemade wax since the dresser doesn’t take the same beating as dining room table. I was torn because I wanted this project done and the last thing I wanted to do was get the supplies for homemade wax and figure out that process. Conversely, the other things bugging me was that April in Ohio is not yet the month to start finishing furniture outside or in the garage. I didn’t really want to let the fumes from the wiping varnish flash off in the basement right next to my actively running furnace. Fortunately, my friend Brian had some lying around and invited me over for a lesson. I’d come this far with so many firsts: what was one more? I started with the amber shellac thin 50% from the can.

Like many other first, this one was not without it’s trials and tribulations. I applied the wax per the instructions I’d read and what Brian had taught me. However, there was a subtle, leftover “waxiness” to the finish even after a full day of curing. I’d see smudges and fingerprints on all the surfaces.

I’m normally a “finish the finish” guy and buff out the final coat of Arm-R-Seal with a high grit Festool Platin pad using 50/50 mix of mineral oil and mineral spirits. In my head, this is finish should be: a plastic, smooth finish. I was disappointed and did some digging by posing a question to Chris about what to expect. He reassured me that a wax finish was supposed to be smooth. I took matters into my own hands and tried to remove some of the wax with mineral spirits and a good buffing with the Platin.

This process did tone down the waxiness but the feel was still a bit different; a first if you will. At this point, I let myself go and figured I’d live with this finish and see how it holds up. My next first might be removing wax from a piece and starting anew. With my mind at ease, I installed the top, signed one of the drawers, and admired the dresser for awhile.

The next morning before school, I took my daughter downstairs show it off. Her excitement was intoxicating; proving once and for all, this long, drawn-out, series of firsts was worth every venturing into places unknown.

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