Welcome to Woodworking for Mere Mortals.

Free woodworking plans. Easy woodworking projects. Fun woodworking videos. Woodworking for Mere Mortals.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Happy Memorial Day?

Years ago when I was a designer working at an exhibit company in San Francisco we had a Memorial Day party, complete with beer and barbeque…my favorite things. The wife of the shop foreman brought in a cake that she had decorated.

A beautiful flowery design in icing on top of the cake read, “Happy Memorial Day!”

Major faux pas on my part: I looked at the cake and said, “Happy Memorial Day? That seems kind of weird, considering the holiday.”

Not knowing where the cake came from (I thought the boss ordered it), the shop foreman snapped out, “Dude, my wife made that cake”. Both he and his wife, obviously offended, glared at me and my indiscretion. I calmly apologized and shrank away. But it got me thinking and I have related this story every year since it happened.

Memorial Day was enacted as Decoration Day after the Civil War to commemorate U.S. men who have died while in military service. Died. Dead and gone. These were guys who joined — or were drafted into — the armed forces with the knowledge that they may be killed. But they took on that charge; that’s more than I can admit to.

Over the years I have pretty much become apolitical: I choose to tune in, turn on, and drop out: and let everyone else hash it out. I live in a radically political part of the U.S.A. and just want to simply build stuff with wood in my shop. No matter your political persuesion — or whether we should be involved in any particular conflict dejour — the fact of the matter is, people have died following orders. There is nothing happy about that.

So while you are enjoying your barbeque or going to a mattress sale — and I’ll enjoy the day off as much as the next guy — stop for a moment and think about what it is this day is about. And for heaven’s sake, think before you wish someone a “Happy Memorial Day”.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

How to make bandsaw boxes

It's really funny: I've had a bandsaw for a long time, but have never made a bandsaw box. I've seen a gazillion examples of them at LumberJocks.com, but I always kind of thought they looked complicated. So when I began searching for a simple step-by-step tutorial, I couldn't find anything good.

Here's the third one I've made:

The neat thing about bandsaw boxes is that if you give them away as gifts, people will be amazed and wonder about your woodworking prowess. They will think you are a woodworking god! Little will they know that you are a mere mortal and these boxes are totally easy to crank out! You can build one in under two hours. If you glue it up with super glue, you can have one completed in 3o minutes!

Here's my very basic design, if you would like to print it out.

So here is my basic, super-straightforward video tutorial on
How to make bandsaw boxes:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Chair pictures

Yea! I got my camera back. Here are some pictures of the chair from hell. If I never have to cut another triangle/bevel combination the rest of my life, I will be happy!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Another chair?

In addition to my "real" chair I made for the fair this year, I have also entered into the "decorate a chair" category. In this competition, you take an existing chair and decorate it however you like. Believe it or not, it's one of the most popular competitions in the Marin County Fair.

Although I have already entered, I haven't actually started on the chair yet. The actual chair is due in two weeks.

I've been searching Craigslist for free chairs and haven't been lucky. I have a couple of old outdoor chairs I may have to use.

The fair's theme this year is "Going Global". Yeah, all right, I live in a weird place; this is par for the course.

So here's my idea: "Glowing Gobel". You remember George Gobel? Well, I figured I would take a chair and plaster it all over with glowing images of George. I don't expect to actually win, but I thought at least someone in Northern California might have a sense of humor!
My problem is that I can't find a high-resolution image of George Gobel. I've found a bunch on Google Images, but they are all really tiny. Any ideas?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The chair is done!

I managed to complete my miniature chair. Unfortunately, this happened on the same week that my camera is out of town, so I finished the video using my son's old "Small Wonder" camera. Yeah, it's a small wonder that it works at all. So...SORRY ABOUT THE VIDEO QUALITY!  The middle section is okay, because I shot that last weekend.

Once my camera gets home I'll post some good pictures of the project. Anyway, this was a really tricky undertaking and one that ate up my time over three weekends. Dealing with really small stuff is hard because there is not much room for error. So while I wouldn't recommend actually making this particular project, it was a good exercise to challenge myself and my tools.

Next week: bandsaw boxes. You can't screw them up!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Stuck in the middle: part 2. And a shout-out to Pini Ace Hardware.

Maybe it’s just me, but the flipside to the big box stores is sometimes the independent lumber yard/construction/hardware store. The ones who cater primarily to professionals and contractors. Granted, the guys who work at these places are far more knowledgeable than the ones at McHomecenter, but they seem to expect their customers to have the same level of knowledge.

I recently walked into a local lumber yard on a Saturday not properly dressed, i.e., wearing shorts and sandals. Immediately, I was assumed to be a woodworking hack (well, maybe I am a bit) and not really worth their time. Two guys were working behind the counter —no check-out lanes here — assisting a couple of guys who were obviously contractors and probably frequent customers. That’s cool, I understand the importance of regular, repeat business. But why shun occasional customers who don’t spend a lot?

After wrapping up the big purchase from the guy ahead of me, the guy behind the counter turned to me and asked what I wanted. I needed one sheet of half-inch plywood. Heavy sigh. Before I even had a chance to describe what type of plywood he snaped out, “we have all kinds of plywood, do you know what you want?” Like, duh…no…the pretty kind?

He then pointed to the enormous menu board overhead and told me, “that’s what we carry”.

Okay, so I admit it: I don’t remember all the letter grade designations for plywood. It’s just not something I have room for in my brain. A, B, D, X, etc. Yeah, yeah, yeah…whatever. Naturally, the menu board listed all the plywood in code. So I said, “Well, half-inch plywood…the kind that is smooth, maybe an oak veneer. Do you carry something like that?”

The guy literally huffed at me. “Yeah, I told you we have all kinds, didn’t I?”

“Okay, well that’s what I want.”

“How many sheets? Do you have a way to load it?”

Yeah right. I drove in my Prius.

The conversation went back and forth like this for a while. I have a feeling the guy was trying to toy with me since I didn’t have on steel toed boots and the rest of the contractors’ “uniform”. Like, “I’m gonna ride this weekend weenie and tell the boys about it later.”

Never mind the fact that I have worked with wood for years and pretty much know what I’m talking about, these kind of stores can be intimidating to the uninitiated. I just gotta remember to always go there looking like I am a member of the club. It’s like walking into a Ferrari dealership dressed in rags.

There is redemption!

All of this has a happy ending. It’s Pini Ace Hardware store here in Novato, California. Pini’s has been a staple in Novato for nearly 100 years. This store knows how to do things right. Everyone shops there: from professional builders to housewives, and they are all treated with respect and attention. Pini’s is an old-style hardware store where you can buy housewares, garden supplies, a complete kitchen, or a single screw. The guys who work the floor (and there are a lot of them) are incredibly knowledgeable about everything they carry. Additionally, each guy specializes in something: there’s a plumbing expert, an electrical expert, a hardware expert and so on. If one guy doesn’t have an answer to a question, he calls the right guy on his headset and gets the answer immediately.

When you walk into Pini’s, the floor staff is everywhere and always asking if you need help. You never have to find someone. And the strange thing? They actually have the answers and get to know you by name. Most of these old guys have worked there for years. You get to know them.

I once needed to replace my kitchen faucet. To get to the washer that holds it into the sink requires a special tool …some sort of escutcheon wrench thingy. What? I need to buy a tool that I’ll probably use twice in my life? No, Pini’s lets you borrow tools. No, not rent: borrow! Sign your name and you are good to go. Keep it as long as you like. Let’s see a BigBox do that!

I have had hardware questions, electrical questions, plumbing questions, and always get answers, no matter how arcane. Often times they actually dissuade me from buying stuff because I can do it a better way cheaper. One time, the plumbing guy spent 20 minutes to actually teach me how to sweat and solder copper pipes. I followed his instructions and it worked out great.

When I was building my clipboard box, I struggled with how I would make the clip mechanism. They didn’t have specialized spring hinges, but Rob — he knows everything about everything — had the idea to modify one of those paper clamps…you know the metal kind that swings open to hold a stack of paper. He went into the office and just gave me some from his desk. I didn’t end up using that system, but what kind of store gives you stuff? Pretty damn cool.

And this is why Pini’s has been around so long. They treat everyone like a guest and are sincerely helpful. They don’t ignore you and they don’t talk down to you. Pini Hardware became an Ace Hardware franchise a long time ago, but retained its independence. And I have noticed this at other Ace outlets. Yeah, their prices might be a bit higher on some items, but it’s worth it. So here’s to Ace Hardware! They get it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wood and hardware retailers: stuck in the middle again.

Most of us have “Big Box” horror stories. I parted ways with a big orange-colored retailer a number of years ago when I tried to buy a bandsaw. They had one for at least $50 cheaper than I could get anywhere else. I spent at least 20 minutes trying to find someone who cold help me; or rather, simply get it down from atop a 20-foot high shelf. Eventually, a kid with attitude came by, I told him what I wanted, and he disappeared in a huff because he had to get a forklift to retrieve the saw. I waited. And waited. And waited. After another 20 minutes I asked the service desk girl to find out what happened to they guy. More, “I-don’t-give-a-crap-I work-for-minimum-wage” attitude. I went back to the tool department. After another 15 minutes, I went back to the service desk and told the girl and her commanding officer that I was disappointed in this service (it certainly wasn’t the first time) and would never step foot in this store again. I simply got an apathetic sneer.

And here’s where the story really sucks and makes me look bad. I couldn’t justify paying a lot more elsewhere, bit the bullet and went back the next day to try again. The bandsaw was sitting on the floor in its box. The tool-boy (boy tool?) snapped at me about trying to find me after he went through all the effort to get the saw down from its perch. Yeah, I swallowed my pride and walked out with the saw.

I spent several years refusing to ever patronize the orange god. I would just have to pay more elsewhere. Eventually, I ended up going back for certain purchases simply because I couldn’t justify the expense elsewhere. I felt so dirty. I now only go in if I need very specific items at a cut rate and can get in and out quickly. And without expecting human interaction.

My story isn’t unique. You pay extra for service. It’s up to us as individuals to weigh the difference between low prices and good service. But my story doesn’t end here. Tomorrow I will get to an equal concern, but one that most of us guys don’t want to acknowledge: the independent retailers who cater to contractors and professionals and seem to disdain guys who aren’t part of their old-boy network. Guys like me who know exactly what we want, but show up without steel-toed boots or resale certificates.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mini chair begins

This weekend I plan to really get rolling on the funky traingles chair. Yesterday I resawed half of that chunk of walnut:

I was delighted to discover a really nice grain figure when the two halves were bookmatched:

And I finished up with a really weird-ass glue-up. I have the oddest assortment of clamps and as the cliche goes, you can never have enough. But I just mix and match.

Out to cut some triangles!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cool cubes

You've probably seen my cube-in-a-cube video. A great little project that seems to amaze folks.

Well, Jason Scheese just sent me these incredible pictures of his versions he made out of aluminum. Yeah, that's right: a cube in a cube in a cube in a cube! Click on these pics to see them in full size to really appreciate them.

Thanks Jason!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wood be expensive

I finally decided upon walnut for my mini-chair project. And now I must officially follow through on it: I turned in my fair entry form this afternoon, along with the $5.00 entry fee. I think I'll see if I can add some faux splines along each of the bends. Thought about fingerjoints but quickly talked myself out of that madness.

Here's what a $34 chunk of walnut looks like:

Wow. That's why I use scrap wood whenever I can and save all sorts of cut-offs. I'm not sure what the going rate is for walnut, but this is a 4' x 1" x 6" board. Does that seem high? I had a fleeting thought about some really exotic wood, but came to my senses at the prices for purpleheart, wenge, and others. Thankfully, my lumberyard will sell you wood at any length you want.

Ah well. I'm certain I can squeeze several projects out of this. First, I'll resaw it in two. Kind of like getting twice as much wood!

I'll keep you updated on the progress. I want to get this done this weekend.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Red Cedar in the house!

Just got a load of red cedar in the mail today. All sorts of beautiful pieces. It's the kind of thing that makes Mondays not so bad after all.

It even smells great. Now I've just gotta decide what I want to make with it. I'm thinking some sort of gift box to start with. Check out the figure on this grain:

Oh yeah, the best part: this was sent to me from fellow Mere Mortal Mike T. in Texas. Seems he had some extra on hand and simply wanted me to have some. Wow. A guy I don't even know goes out of his way to send me wood. That's pretty darn cool in my book. Thanks a bunch, Mike! I'll keep you and everyone else posted on its outcome.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Art chair

Okay, so the Marin County Fair is in July and I am entering a piece into a chair design competition. There is a "miniature" category (under 12") in which I will participate.

I found this actual, full-sized chair in a design book and am trying to duplicate it using solid wood:

This one was built with aluminum. So I've been fooling around with making a prototype out of 1/4" plywood this whole weekend. Oh my god! I can't believe how tricky this is! It's just five pieces of wood! Well, all of the pieces are weird angles and each edge needs to be beveled to hold together. My biggest problem today was making the two triangles for the rear legs. Didn't realise that the bevels joining them to the back need to be opposite on each leg. Aw well, here's the plywood prototype:

Obviously, I need to make the back higher. And I was greatly surprised to learn that I can glue this up with super glue. Anyway, this is a serious challenge. I'll keep you posted. Oh, and here's a forum thread on LumberJocks about this project. If you aren't already a LJ member, check it out. What an amazing resource for woodworking help.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The puzzle cube

Here's a quickie project you can make in an hour. I found myself really humbled by the difficulty of making extremely accurate straight cuts with my less-than-Norm tools.

And if I could rant for a moment, I hate dealing with my bandsaw! It is such a pain in the ass to change blades. I practically have to disassemble the whole thing, then get it all aligned on the wheels, then tension it. I never really know if I got the tension correct. The whole process easily takes 20 minutes to half an hour. There has got to be an easier way. Plus, I hate making straight cuts on it. I'm sure most of the problem lies in my technique. The blade always seems to drift. It's never as easy as setting up a fence on the table saw.

That said, this is a fun puzzle. And I swear, I must be really dumb because I always have to really think about it for a while to put it together!

Oh, and I got the inspiration last summer at the Marin County Fair:


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Magic Disappearing Box, Redux

Many of you may have seen this project on my YouTube channel. After looking at it again, I decided to re-edit it into a shorter version. It's a cool project, but I think it was too long. Posting two-part videos doesn't seem to work on YouTube, as was the case with this. I can look at the stats and most people drop out after the first half. It's taken me a while to figure out that people can cut to the chase and don't need a lot of me yammering. So here's a shorter version of the magic box. Well, that and I've been having a busy weekend and haven't had much time to work on a new project in the shop!

But wait! Here's a bonus video!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Sweepstakes Winner!

Congratulations Allen Knoblauch! (Sorry: I'm certain I mispronounced your name in the video.) Allen gets his choice of the MM Tshirt, mug or shop apron.
Thank you all for supporting Mere Mortals and entering the sweepstakes. And also, thanks to everyone who has already ordered Mere Mortal stuff!