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Monday, November 29, 2010

Trey makes Jenna a bookstand

Mere Mortal Bill Akins sent me a video his son made. Trey not only made a book stand for his girlfriend, but made this cool video to go along with it. What a nice boyfirend.

And I love The Cars!

Friday, November 26, 2010

The ABCs of woodworking. Yep, it's a hoedown!

Some fun in the shop. I wanted to see if I could produce a woodworking video in one take. Well, it took a lot of takes.

If you would like to sing along, here are the lyrics I wrote and was trying to sing:

A is for adhesive
Bandsaw starts with B.
Its blades are tipped with carbide
And that begins with C.

D is for my dovetail jig
I thought it was a must,
But mostly what it does
Is gather lots of dust.

End grain and face grain,
There’s your E and F.
Good god Gorilla Glue
It really makes a mess

H is for my hacksaw
Hanging on my hutch
Having it is handy
But I don’t use it very much

Should I attempt intarsia
‘cause it begins with I?
If I get some fancy wood
I may give it a try.

J is for my jointer
Its knives begin with K
But so does kerf and kickback
And they’re more fun to say

Linseed oil begins with L
And don’t leave out the lacquer
Both of them dry super fast
Perfect for this slacker.

Now I’m halfway through this song
My miter saw’s an M
Maybe I can mercifully
Make this madness end.

N is for my nail gun
It sure beats pounding nails
Often times I overlook
Outfitting it with oil

Poplar, pine and purpleheart
And plywood start with P.
Q is for the question,
What’s it gonna cost to me?

R is for my router
Sandpaper starts with S.
And I use my ShopVac
To sweep up all the mess.

Tuning up my tablesaw
Takes a lot of time
And U is for the underside
I think I’ll let it slide

My vice is good for holding things
It lets my hands be free.
But Velcro is my favorite
Vord that starts with V.

Naturally W
Is for my scraps of wood
I could make a xylophone
X it ain’t no good.

Y is for my yellow glue
I use it constantly.
Not only does it stick to wood
But it sticks to me.

Now it’s time to end this song
And it’s really plain to me...
I seem to have no tools
That begin with letter Z.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Creativity in woodworking, food and life.

We are all creative.

It's one of the traits that elevates us above other species. A beaver builds structurally sound dams because that ability is hard-wired into its brain. No beaver will ever shatter the dam-building community by devising a new, innovative method of construction. The same holds true for the spider that spins beautiful geometric webs, yet cannot deviate from the design plan that she has been working with throughout eons of evolution. Each of these creatures create, but they are not creative.

As you know, I love to cook, and I think I understand why: it's not so different from woodworking. Each require a simple understanding of the basics, but from there, it's all about creativity. No two dishes will taste alike, and no two woodworking projects will look alike. We challenge ourselves by combining an infinite number of ingredients and techniques to to produce a finished product that we have envisioned. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But we gain knowledge and experience from our mistakes and apply them to our next project.

Design precedent 

Recently, an anonymous poster implied that you can't call a project your own if you follow an existing design. This is not only nonsense, but historically ignorant. All designs are influenced by the designs that preceded them. The unique thing about being human is that we can modify and even enhance precedent. The ancient Greeks created beautiful Doric columns in their architecture and that led to an Ionian style. The Romans were able to take these established designs and create ornate Corinthian columns.

Master chefs are building on centuries of experience. There are a finite number of edible products available on this planet: it's how they combine them that makes their dishes original. Woodworkers do not live in vacuums: we create based upon a body of human experience. How we choose to combine our materials and techniques is how we claim our projects. If we were beavers, all our bandsaw boxes would look alike. Well, that's a silly metaphor, but you get the idea.

Are you creative?

The most ridiculous statement I sometimes hear people say is, "I'm not a very creative person". Of course you are! Creativity is in your DNA. We are too quick to assume that creativity lies only in artistic pursuits. Issac Newton crushed the establishment with scientific creativity. Martin Luther shook the medieval religious establishment.

Never let anyone tell you he isn't creative. That's like telling people they have no opposable thumbs. If you envision something to make, pick up a board and sever it with a saw, you are not just creating; you are being creative. If you download a turkey recipe, you are following centuries of tradition by making it work for you. If you download a woodworking plan or try to duplicate something someone else made, it will be yours. Perhaps you will select different woods or joinery techniques. Maybe you will employ the structure from one project and the finish from another. No two projects will ever look alike.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner everyone and rest assured that it was unique.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Race car toddler bed

Laney Shaughnessy sent me some photos of an amazing race car bed he made for his toddler. I would have loved to have had something like this when I was a kid, although I think I would be too excited to sleep.

The inspiring part is that Laney is a new woodworker and had the drive to make something like this. I asked him if he followed any plans. Nope, he just studied examples of what he liked and went from there. That's all I ever do, too. Google pictures of what you would like to make and figure out how to reverse engineer it. It's really a lot of fun and makes the project totally unique. 

He's also got a great approach to woodworking. Never look at anything as a setback. Acknowledge a problem and figure out a way to correct it. It's all part of the creative process.

Now this would be an awesome Christmas gift! Here's Laney's story. It's a detailed insight into the woodworking and learning processes that we can all relate to.


Creating an idea.

Well it’s that time of year again, only this year is different. I have a new family to share the holiday’s with. A beautiful woman, and three very amazing kids, the oldest being 7 and the youngest being 4 months; the one that this year’s project gift is for is the 2 year old. He is at that age where it’s time to transition from the crib to a toddler bed. Now Joshua is all about cars and trucks. So I decided to venture into the unknown for me and make him his very own race car bed. Here is how the story goes.

Where to start? I decided the best place to start was the internet. I was sure I’d find some kind of plan or design out there to help me with the task I set for myself. Little did I know the real task was going to be finding the design or coming up with a layout.. I came across a few places that sold a full size blue print for a car bed but the plans were around $50.00 and I just couldn’t see myself buying a plan that I'm sure I wouldn’t quite be able to understand. I told myself  I just need an idea of where to start, so I found some pictures of car beds that were close to what I was looking for. I sat at the computer and studied the pictures of the components and how the car was designed and any other information I could take away from the photos.

And so it begins.

I needed to make some kind of template for myself so I made a quick sketch of the car's shape on a piece of paper and headed out the door to the big L box store for some materials and supplies. I knew I needed some ¾ inch MDF for the car's body because of its shape ability and sturdiness. I knew I wanted a red race car for the color, so I picked up some Valspar Interior/exterior High Gloss enamel (gloss red and Gloss black), Valspar tintable primer tinted to grey. and a few 2x4 pieces of lumber for the supports for the mattress platform . I ended buying some inexspensive ¼ inch luan plywood to make the template. After loading everything up, I headed home to jump right into the project.

Draw out the template and cut it.

There are six basic components to the car’s frame. The body — which has two parts to give the sides depth — the two wheel wells, and the two tires. Once you cut out the components you just simply repeat the process for the other side of the car.

I drew in the windows and windshield so I could get a better idea of what the final product would look like. One problem I came across was the wheel wells. My cuts were rough and my arches were not perfect. I would correct this during the actual process to make sure I had a nice clean look. Once I had the template done, it was time to cut the MDF and the components for both sides of the bed.

I cut the tires on the table saw using a technique I found on the internet for circle cutting on a table saw, which worked very well. All of the edges of the MDF should be rounded over except the bottom edge because it will sit flat on the floor. This brings me to another problem I encountered. Well, more like an error then a problem: the main side of the body does not need to be routed on the back edge. This way when it is put together the outer side frame will round over into it to give it a flowing look, instead of a double rounded over edge. I ended up filling this edge in with a wood filler to build it back out. That’s the thing about wood. Once you cut it, route it or whatever you do to it, you can’t put it back so you have to improvise and fix the error. Ok, back to the build…all the sides are cut, routed, and sanded smooth, it’s time to assemble them.

Notice the 2x4’s and the back board. The 2x4’s serve two purposes: a way to attach the sides to the back board to give it some sturdiness, and as added support for the headboard shelf. The same goes for the front.

Making sure you have a level work surface is very important, so that there is no wobble when the bed sits on the floor. Notice the open area in the front of the car. The grill and hood still need to be put on. An option here is to extend the nose out during the initial cuts and use this space under the hood for a toy box with a hinged hood. I decided against the toy box because I wanted a snubbed nose sports car.

Attach the sides to the 2x4 by lumber using wood screws recessed so when the outer sides are attached there is a tight fit. And don’t worry about the screws; they will be hidden by the outer sides.

It’s really starting to take shape I have attached the headboard shelf and the spoiler and now ready to attach the outer sides. But first I wanted to attach the back of the headboard self which I used my new Kreg jig to attach the back to the sides and the spoiler using pocket holes.

The front grill and the hood was next.

I routed out the headlights and the grill area about 3/8 inches deep. An alternative here is cutting out the grill area and putting in a plastic insert to give it a realistic look. Once again, I decided to take the simpler route. As you may notice, there is an awful lot of filler on the front. Poor planning and a crooked cut was the culprit there. After all, as Steve would say, "I’m only mortal". This whole venture was a learning process for me; I was learning as I went. After all was said and done, there are some things I’m sure I would have done differently for better results.

I routed out the tires to make the rim’s shape and painted it with Chrome paint and the gloss black enamel. Only mistake here was painting the tires too soon. I decided I wanted to rout all the way through the MDF so that the tires looked more realistic.

It’s getting late in the day, but I attached the sides and the wheel wells so I could get a coat of primer on to set up overnight. Time to call it a day and get some rest.

Day two.

The paint is ready to be applied. Now is the time to tape off the window, windshield, grill and headlight areas to protect them from the red paint. They will be painted later in the day. Blue painters tape works well for this, but you can use any masking tape of your choice.

Once the first coat dries, apply a second coat and remove the taped off areas to reveal the primer colored areas to be painted next. Once everything is painted install the tires and this bed is ready to ROLL!

Once last personal touch. My stepson’s name is Joshua, so I added the grill emblem to personalize this racing bed.

Idea to reality.

And that is the story of how my car bed went from idea to reality. A lot of trial and error, I learned a lot about paints, materials, as well as some of my weaknesses and strengths. It was a fun project and I know one little boy who can’t wait to go to bed at night! That was an added bonus for his mom and me.

Laney Shaughnessy
Ocala, Florida


Laney, thanks again for taking the time to share your project with the world. I hereby dub thee, Sir Mortal, and more importantly, Awesome Dad

If you feel the urge to write about your project or life itself, I'd be happy to give you space as a guest blogger. Drop me a line at zrammedia (at) gmail (dot) com. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Gift time! Here's a decorative swing you can make for Christmas.

Well, Christmas is just about a month away. You better get started making those gifts! Here's a little swing I made this weekend that holds two small flower pots. It's something that is easily customizable: I didn't measure anything. Just grab some scrap wood and get started.

I have to tell you, making the little ladybug was a kick. Explore your inner artist and do something fun with the painting.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Nick's jewelry box

Nick Cavanaugh sent over some pictures of his jewelry box based on one of my earliest videos. He used birch, walnut and maple for his. Cutting those coved sides on a table saw is a real trick. Basically, you feed the wood at an angle across the blade. It's kind of scary, but not too bad if you plan the cut carefully and get yourself in the zone.

The real fun part is sanding those coves. Anyway, nice work Nick. Beautiful finish too. I think a jewelry box is the ultimate woodworking gift for any woman. 

But wait! Do you realize it is November 15th? Holy cow, Christmas is just a little over a month away! Anyone started any gift projects yet? Any good ideas?  I started building a little decorative swing this weekend. Should have a video posted by Saturday or Sunday. What else, what else. I may try some turned ornaments, but that's in the air. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The trees

I am blown away by the response I received from my last post. I wish I could have responded to each of you personally. Suffice to say, thank you. All of you. The woodworking community is a tight-knit one, as evident from your support.

This is a woodworking blog (well, sort of) and I will not dwell on the matter any more.

Are any of you fans of Rush? Well, I'll admit, they are a geek band that always been dear to my heart. They were the ones who exposed me to Ayn Rand and Objectivism. If you haven't read Atlas Shrugged, check it out.

Here are the lyrics to The Trees, my absolute favorite Rush song and probably one of my most favorite songs ever written. It speaks not only to trees, but the nature of Americans. Are the oaks just too lofty? Can we all be kept equal by the saw?

"The Trees"

There is unrest in the forest
There is trouble with the trees
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas

The trouble with the maples
(And they're quite convinced they're right)
They say the oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light
But the oaks can't help their feelings
If they like the way they're made
And they wonder why the maples
Can't be happy in their shade

There is trouble in the forest
And the creatures all have fled
As the maples scream 'Oppression!'
And the oaks just shake their heads

So the maples formed a union
And demanded equal rights
'The oaks are just too greedy
We will make them give us light'
Now there's no more oak oppression
For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe and saw 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Life, Dremel tool, and my left ear

Last week I was delivered the news that I have Melanoma: skin cancer. I can tell you that it was a quite unpleasant way to begin a weekend, and one that I had planned in the shop.

On Sunday, I decided to get out a couple of chisels (I don't have any proper carving chisels) then my Dremel tool and start carving. Do you have a Dremel?  I've never used it for much beyond cutting off screw heads and such, but carving with it was a lot of fun. I think I'll have to explore this more in the future.

Today I tacked on an introduction to this video, after having almost a week to think about it. I really wasn't sure if I wanted to post it or not, because it is not a how-to video. In fact, it's probably nothing that will be of any use to you whatsoever.

Any regular reader of my blog knows that we have talked about life, woodworking and art before. Art is a subject that has always fascinated me. How do we define it? Woodworking begins with a destructive act: the killing of a tree. I believe woodworking can be an act of renewal by giving the wood newfound life in a different form. In many cases, the project — if executed properly, and to our full potential — will outlive us.

But where does art fit into this? Is the artistry inherent in the creator of a given project? Can one be an artist without creating? How long does the "art" need to last to be considered art? Christo has built a career on creating art that is meant to be temporary. Perhaps his art really lies in the photographic record of his work.

I'll let you watch my video and draw your own conclusions.

Most importantly, I am helping out Marc Spagnuolo (The Wood Whisperer) in spreading the word about Woodworkers Fighting Cancer, his campaign to help in the fight against cancer. I'll be mentioning this more in the months ahead and encouraging you to get involved. You don't have to donate anything to get started, okay?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The day off

When I began posting videos to my YouTube channel a few years ago, it was a mishmash of woodworking, personal stuff, and roller coasters. Of course, I have refined that system to include only woodworking stuff now, but I am still an avid coaster enthusiast. My son and I have ridden every coaster in California and many in other states. It's a quest. This year, making a coaster tour was simply not feasible due to the economy. Well, at least our economy.

It was fun to visit Discovery Kingdom today for Homeschool Day and get in some coaster time. So I thought I would divert a bit from woodworking in today's post, just to take you on a quick tour of some fun stuff.

It was an absolutely beautiful day and signs of Christmas were all around.
The tree is much smaller this year than it usually is. Still no lights or ornaments on it yet.

This is V2: Vertical Velocity.
It's an awesome coaster that launches you  forward, then backward up this hill. 

Well, it's not THAT big.

The dolphin show is always fun.
Here's an interesting fact: dolphins are not fish. They just taste like it.

Speaking of food, Wyatt was drawn to the ribs being grilled.
Eating is one of his favorite hobbies.

I got to dance with Speedy Gonzales...

...and get a picture with Marvin the Martian.
Wait a second...Marvin has boobs!

Woodworking blog. Okay, well,  here's a lot of wood. Roar.

Yep. That's a lot of wood. 

I didn't shoot a video this time, but here we are on Roar last year. Keep your arms inside the car at all times and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kid woodworker and man without a tripod

Obviously I love woodworking. What I like even more are the reactions I get from people for whom I have made gifts. But what inspires me the most are kids who have decided to pick up some tools and try projects I have made. It's quite humbling.

You've gotta check out Jalen Waggoner's web site and the projects he has made. He sold some of his projects at a school fund raiser and earned $42 for the school. I think he should have raised the prices. But 42 is good. It is the answer to life, the universe and everything, you know.

I got a kick out of the way he refers to me as "the man without a tripod". Epic! I have gotta get that printed on a t-shirt or something. Anyway, go check it out now and leave him a comment. He's even made my magic disappearing box and posted a video. Great stuff, Jalen. I kinda want to make that Pinocchio. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

First time band saw boxes

Aron, from Perth in Western Australia sent me these delightful examples of band saw boxes he just completed. What's more, these are the first ones he has ever made. Whoa. That's some pretty cool work.

The gorgeous wood is called sheoak, found only Down Under. Aron had a similar reaction as I do to band saw boxes: "...the sanding, Oh God the sanding." 

Anyway, some unique examples to fire your imagination on a Tuesday.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Build a table saw sled

My old behemoth 
A table saw sled is one of the most useful jigs to have in your shop.

Over the past couple of years I have had a number of people ask me to make a video showing how to make a sled. You've probably seen me use mine many times.

I decided to make a new sled to address some of the problems I have experienced with my old one. The main problem with my old sled is that it is just too big for my table saw. It's got a whopping two feet of space in its bed and is too heavy. I made the mistake of using half inch plywood for its base, causing a little bit of flexing. Three-quarter ply will be much more stable. Almost every time I use the sled, I need to also use a stop block. It has always been a pain to find a chunk of wood and clamp it to the fence, so my new sled features a built-in, sliding stop block.

I will still use my old table saw sled from time to time, but this smaller, streamlined version will rule.

New, streamlined sled

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Giants parade in San Francisco

I will come right out and admit it. I am not a baseball fan. But finally having a winning San Francisco team is pretty exciting. Not since Joe Montana and the 49ers, has this town been so electrified!

Today, San Francisco held an enormous parade for the World Series champs. My wife is lucky enough to have had a ringside seat. Her office is right on Montgomery Street in the Financial District which allowed her unobstructed views of the entire parade...and without having to deal with throngs of people!

Here are some pictures she shot and a video giving you an idea of the spectacle.

Early morning. The parade didn't begin until 11:00.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Old Ways of Working Wood: a review.

I'd like to recommend a fascinating book I picked up at the library last week: Old Ways of Working Woodby Alex W. Bealer. The author clearly states his position on modern woodworking in the opening chapter:

"The machine, not the craftsman, dominates woodworking today. The result has been an artistic tragedy."

Those are some pretty strong statements. Are we, as power tool enthusiasts fooling ourselves into believing that we are actually creative, let alone artistic? Are we merely button pushers and no longer craftsmen? Sadly, as a confirmed power tool user, I agree with  Bealer — to a point.

Push-button woodworking

It takes no particular skill to rip a board on a table saw. I'm pretty sure monkeys could be trained to do it. My miter saw hacks out 45 degree angled cuts with a positive click stop on its table. I push a button and it cuts with relative precision. My benchtop planer is the ultimate example of push button technology in my shop. I stick a board in one end and it comes out flat and thinner on the other end. I don't even have to push the wood through: rollers pull it through at a constant speed. Its produces a loud, almost frightening scream letting me know who's really the boss. Most of the finesse required to use these machines involves continually tweaking them so that they run straight and keep doing what they are supposed to do.

In today's shop, we solve woodworking problems by making jigs and figuring out countless ways to best exploit the machine. In a sense, we are slaves to the capabilities and limitations of our machines. Moreover, if a certain power tool doesn't provide the results we desire, we go shopping for a bigger or better machine that will. If we want to create a certain router profile, we buy a pre-made bit that will suffice. Or settle for one that's close enough to what we envision. Want to make mortises? There are machines that bore perfectly square holes. At what point are we no longer working the wood, and just cutting out dough with cookie cutters?

Woodworking once required working wood

Bealer points out that all of this has, for the most part, come about within the past hundred years or so. Before the 20th century, a man literally worked wood, starting with the tree itself. He understood the growth of trees and had knowledge of the ones surrounding him. Building with wood began by felling the tree. From there the woodworker would hew and split the wood. Saw it, plane, bore it, chisel it, turn it, and cut joints. A craftsman's imagination wasn't limited to the tools he had on hand or could buy. If he needed, say, a specialized plane for something he dreamed up, he made his own. Woodworkers viewed their tools as highly personal objects and saw them as extensions of their own hands. Each project was unique because the craftsman was intimately involved with the wood.

Each chapter of Old Ways of Working Wood describes in great detail each of these traditional woodworking techniques. It is educational and at times, awe inspiring. Would you know how to correctly fell a tree with a single ax? Ever used an adz? Bealer has learned these methods from people who actually use them and manages to share it all in a lively, easy to read manner.

So where does this leave us?

Using power tools doesn't diminish my joy of building woodworking projects. In fact, power tools increase my pleasure, because I don't have to spend years as an apprentice honing skills that can only be learned through repetition. Power tools enable anyone to become a hobbyist and create things. In the past, I suspect woodworking wan't much of a hobby. People devoted their lives to it because they needed to. But are we artists? Most of us probably aren't. But neither were most traditional woodworkers. They built things they required.

Old Ways of Working Wood makes me want to learn to use hand tools and really get in touch with the materials I use. It's inspiring. But the reality is, I don't have the time to start from scratch. I am a product of the 20th century. And here is where I find disagreement with Alex Bealer. My table saw may not be an extension of my hands, but it is an extension of my imagination. And I'm perfectly cool with that.