A Father’s Legacy, Corporate Decay, and Tool Gloats

The kind note

The kind note

Over the past three months I’ve come to possess a series of new (to me) tools. Some needing rejuvenation, some awaiting inspiration, but all of them ready for a second life.

Firstly, there was a little package waiting for me when I worked my volunteer shift at NCCW back in November. A kind note from a stranger requesting I breathe new life into her father’s tools. I was dumbstruck and humbled.

Waiting for a second life

Waiting for a second life

She’d heard of me through others and felt compelled to make a second trip to the shop to drop off her father’s well worn tools. He would’ve been 105 in September. I’m sure he was smiling down as I used his homemade miter box to trim the rolling pins I talked about a few weeks ago.

The next score speaks to what it’s like to work in Corporate America during this day and age. I constantly seek the silver lining whenever possible as you never know when your neck will be next on the chopping block. So, when this little number came up in a sale of decommissioned equipment I jumped at the opportunity to place a bid. It’s a blind auction where the goods go to the highest bidder. I bid a whopping $26.


Look closely, do you see what I see?

At first glance you might think I was crazy but this tool was used to cut small metal parts in one of our labs. If you zoom in you might see two blue thing-a-ma-bobs in the center of the contraption. If you don’t see it yet, take a look below.

Two nearly new grinders

Two nearly new Makita grinders

I’ve never used a grinder before but I’ve been inspired lately by the series of posts from Andy Brownell and the ridiculous amount of ideas spewing from Jimmy Diresta’s brain. I’ve always liked him back from his days on the DIY network and now I can’t get enough of him and the guys on the Making It podcast. I’m not sure what I’ll do or when I’ll get to it but for only $13 a piece it was hard to pass these up.

Lastly, is a mitre box I picked up on Craigslist thanks to the advice of my friend PeteT.

I’ve been on the lookout for a while and although this one needs some work, I think it’s a steal for $30. It’s hefty, seems to have all it’s parts, and should be ready for another 100 years of service.

Posted in General Philosophy, Shop Stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

From the Heart

Both my wife and I work full time. Therefore, we have to figure out who will take care of our children when we can’t. This is a deeply personal family decision. The relationships you build with your child’s caregivers are complex and occasionally fraught with moments of self-doubt or regret. But sometimes, when you’re lucky, these relationship start to resemble family. That was the case for us for the past few years. But as time churns, so do the paths we’re on. So, with much reluctance, we set out to find a new sitter. As Billy Pilgrim taught us: so it goes.

What the hell does this have to do with woodworking? Lots.

For over a year, I’ve been prodded to rejuvenate some furniture pieces by our beloved babysitter. Knowing all the changes in her life, I wanted to help make this next stage rich with the places she’s been and the places she’ll go. The two pieces were from her late mother and had been wallowing in the back of the garage for ages. One now looks like this thanks to my friend Brian. The other is described below.

The process of making the table and painting it was easy but I wanted to add something, which would remind her of the love she showed to many children over the years – especially the two little girls I tuck into bed each night. The process of putting their hand prints into the table was fun, messy, and not exactly what I’d envisioned when I started.

Sounds like family to me.

Posted in General Philosophy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

To Everything…

During Thanksgiving, my daughters made cut out cookies with my mom, which is a favorite activity for everyone. My mom mentioned the girls needing proper rolling pins. We could’ve easily went el cheapo like this:

Children's Rolling Pin

or artsy fartsy like this:

Adult Rolling Pin Only

After watching the campaign chair video from Schwarz on the flight back from Europe, I decided to ask one of my woodworking buddies (thanks Ed) for a lesson on turning. I headed to Woodcraft, purchased the Easywood Rougher and went to town. It was scarier than I’d expected, especially at first. Putting your hand into a spinning chuck of maple when it’s square was more than unnerving but you get the hang of it.

The end results were superb and the girls love them.

On xmas morning

On xmas morning

Although I don’t think I’ll be doing a lot of turning in the future, I’ll definitely be more likely to take on a project requiring a simple turning than before.

Posted in Kitchen Accessories | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

‘Tis the Season to Be Jolly


Glue spreaders

I love that my oldest is so interested in making things. She’s in kindergarten and is constantly crafting this or that in school and at home. My youngest also loves to come in the shop and play with her toys and “cook” for me food. I had to make a quick repair on something so they came down and helped me spread some glue. You’d of thought I was giving them a handful of Halloween candy. They couldn’t get enough and asked to keep gluing things together. This picture is a microcosm of my December in the shop.

We’ve been working on project for a friend and perusing Pinterest xmas craft ideas. My oldest asked if we could make something put in her room. I settled on something nice and simple like these little guys. The band saw roughed out the forms quickly. out. I drew a simple star shape (i.e. like you learn in grade school) on some thin scrap walnut.


Primitive but perfect

The finessing of the shape was done with a sanding block and an apron plane. She broke the edges and cleaned up the band saw marks on the stars. Watching my daughter use it was a thing of beauty as it fit in her little hands so nicely. She asked all kinds of questions and recalled the pictures from our Grandpa’s Workshop sessions before bedtime. We glued on the stars and waited for things to dry.

Next we turned to her favorite part: painting. Green for the triangles and glitter for the stars. I tried to convince or some Arm-R-Seal for the walnut stars but she wasn’t having it. Good for her I say. I put on a few coats of polyacrylic and turned them over to the boss.

So, if you’re looking for something quick and easy to make with the kiddos, here you go.  Merry Christmas.

Posted in Kids Furniture | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Designing with George Walker

IMG_4833Earlier this year, I was the fortunate recipient of a kick-ass Father’s Day gift from my wife, a weekend class with George Walker at Richard Grell’s Shop. When I signed up for it, I thought I’d definitely leave better off. What I didn’t anticipate was leaving with even more friendships within the craft. Firstly, I drove the hour or so with my new friend Brian. We’ve developed a budding friendship – one of those that you know is in it for the long haul.

IMG_4831Second, Richard Grell turned out to be a tremendous resource in both his time and generosity. I was also struck by his willingness to interject and hang out while the class was in session. Even though he’s in the midst of a gigantic order with an impending deadline (50 Windsor chairs by March!), he’d often leave his bench to enhance a topic or point George as making. Plus I got to sit in Richard’s chair all day long, proving wooden chairs are extremely comfortable when done right.

Then there’s George.

What I love about him is that he’s a machinist by trade but a scholar by nature.  Maybe George’s research into the craftsmen of yesterday will help change the course of the tradesmen of tomorrow. This is a concept I wrestle with from time to time. In today’s world, there is a clear divide between college bound students and everyone else. Pursing the trades is not encouraged to students who get high marks in school. It’s normally presented as an alternative to college. This is unfortunate as it changes the balance between those who shower before work and those who shower afterward. I’m the former, my father was the latter. The world needs us both and one isn’t better than the other. Period.

IMG_4822And finally, just before we started on the first day, Steve Latta walks in the door. Yes, that Steve Latta. Now, Steve has designed and built more furniture than I’ve even seen in books and online. This is a testament to the craft. Steve sat like any other student (as best he could when his pieces were actually examples in George’s lesson), listening intently to what George was saying. Steve and I hit it off as well, and while building a project we had a wonderful conversation about the state of the craft and how to get younger people involved. I hope Steve teaches a class at Richard’s shop in the future: I’ll be one of the first to sign up.

So, what did I learn: more than I can summarize here. Some of the key takeaways are as follows:

  • Symmetry doesn’t work vertically ( think file cabinets), it only works horizontally (east/west). This is not intuitive but it’s true.
  • Laying out a grid is unpleasing so avoid it
  • I finally understand Rhythm, Punctuation, and ornament, which were talked about at length in George’s book but was hard to grasp without the additional insight from the class
  • You only see ornament up close, from far away you should only see the form. It enhances the design but shouldn’t overtake the design. The form pulls you in and ornament pulls you in deeper as you get closer.

If you can take a class from George, I highly recommend it. Check out his blog for his schedule. And let this be a lesson to anyone taking a woodworking class: you just don’t know who’ll show up or what friends you’ll make.



Posted in General Philosophy, Travels | 2 Comments

Traveler’s Guide to Inspiration

Networking Break. Evian Resort. Evian, France

Networking Break. Evian Resort. Evian, France

Occasionally life has a way of pushing opportunities upon us. It’s our job to take advantage of them. Letting them go will almost surely leave us with a bit of regret and remorse. If you follow me on Instragram, you might know I was in Europe for business recently. I was connecting in Newark when the terrorist attacks in Paris occurred. It was unnerving to say the least, and my thoughts go out to the victims. I had the chance to forgo the trip but I pressed on; not because I’m an incredibly dedicated employee, but because if I’d remained in the states, those who orchestrated the despicable acts would win.

Alley way (Diagon?). Cambridge, England

Alley way (Diagon?). Cambridge, England

Although I had little down time, I was able to take advantage of a few hours here and there to walkabout and see some places both familiar and new. All of my down time was spent alone, wandering the streets of many, many before me. The reflection was inspiring and refreshing. My journey took me to Germany (Frankfurt), Norway (Oslo, Trondheim), Switzerland (Geneva), France (Evian, Cluses), and the U.K. (Cambridge, Milton-Keyes, and London).

If you ever have the chance to venture outside the familiar surroundings of your city, state, or country, please do. Watching the world in a different setting, language, and culture will change the way you see things in your own world. You’ll realize it’s a shared world will plenty of room for us all.

Cab ride through the Alps

Cab ride through the Alps. Cluses, France to Geneva, Switzerland

Here are a few shots from my iPhone during the trip. The images range from cool pieces of architecture and furniture, to inspiring vistas impossible to capture with phone. I stood next to a 250+ year old tree in France, and found some new designs to add to my sketchbook.

This post isn’t totally dedicated to woodworking but I hope you’ve left with a little something more than when you arrived. Safe travels my friends.


Posted in General Philosophy, Travels | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Milking It – Part III: Fin

I finished up the milk painted bench and I’m happy to report it’s been in use for about two weeks. My experience with “Real” milk paint wasn’t as easy as I’d thought. The acrylic stuff from General Finishes that I used here and here was definitely easier to use when coming from a paint-the-walls-with-latex background. However, I’m completely happy with the color and the new skill set I developed. My only sage piece of advice for newcomers is expect something different but it’ll work out in the end.

Here are some shots of the case construction.

This is what happens when you try to squeeze something in too quickly.


Here you can just barely see the remnants of the old domino on the outside. I was a hair off on my re-alignment but not enough to make a difference.

I had to get a little creative with the domino so here’s tip if you get into a similar pickle:

  1. Saw off the offending tenon (in my case it was in the top), and flu
    sh things up with a sander or block plane.
  2. Then setup to use the same registration method you originally used. I stood the top up on end and used the domino’s registration pins along with the fence. If you have same setting still lock in, you’re golden: the machine will eat through a domino. However, if you’re adjusted the setting, like me, move on to step 3.
  3. Unlock the fence so it can float. Now, manually insert the domino cutter into another hole in the board. Ensure the fence and machine face are aligned to 90 and lock in the fence. (see the pic on the side for the result)

Ana White’s design in fine but I thought it was a bit wobbly, even with solid joinery like dominoes. Therefore, I made some design changes. First I added a stabilizer to the back to help eliminate racking. Then I wanted to dig a little deeper and not just use straight 1×4 for the front. I tried to make some moulding using a cove bit in a hand held router but my it just didn’t look right. I don’t have the right bit. I headed back to the home center and trade in some 1×4 for some base trim. Here are details of my additions.

And here it is installed and in use for the first time. I have some coat hangers made of walnut but I need to go over design details with my wife. I’ll post some pics when that part is done.

Posted in Home Improvement, Mud Room | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment