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

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Monday, January 31, 2011

Chair time

Wow, I want to thank everyone who has sent in a donation to Mere Mortals. I am just overwhelmed by your generous support of woodworking "for the rest of us". I plan on taking a trip to the lumberyard and getting some nice wood: something other than pine for a change.


It's the time of year when I need to start thinking about my fair entries this summer. Even though the fair doesn't start until July, I like to get a head start. You may recall that I won Best in Show last year for my miniature chair. It was truly one of the most difficult projects I had ever attempted.

I want to enter the same category this year. The only rule is that miniature chairs need to be under 12" in size. I'm not sure I would be able to build full sized versions, so this category is perfect for me.

Here's an ad my Dad sent me a while ago. I think I'm going to give it a shot. I'm not exactly sure how to pull it together. Mainly, the key is going to be making smooth curves. Anyway, I'll keep you posted on the progress.


You also may remember that there is also a "Decorated Chair" category, in which you simply deck out an existing chair. The fair's theme this year is Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. Special prizes are awarded for themed projects, so I'd like to do something fun with this too. Last year, I did a "Glowing Gobel" chair because the theme was "Going Global". I'm not even sure what that means.

Let me know if you have any clever ideas to decorate a chair in a Golden Gate theme. Hmmm... Maybe a chair depicting huge rush-hour traffic snarls caused by protesters marching for the cause du jour.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Make a paper towel holder

Before I get on to the project, I want to make a quick appeal for donations to Woodworking for Mere Mortals. What started out as a lark, has grown way beyond anything I imagined. I am continually astonished by the number of people who watch my videos and read this blog.

With that said, it takes me quite a bit of time to make the videos and of course, the projects themselves. I hope you have picked up a few useful tips or learned to appreciate woodworking a bit more. Perhaps a few people have been inspired to pick up some tools and feel less intimidated by the craft. And at the very least, I hope you have been entertained. So, I'd like for you to think about what my videos and this site are worth to you and donate accordingly. I absolutely love woodworking and making videos: combining the two is a blast.

If you are not in a position to make a donation, I completely understand. If you just simply don't care to donate, that's cool too. I assure you, I am going to keep offering my video projects free of charge with my compliments. But if you can help me out, I assure you I will greatly appreciate it.

On the sidebar is a Donate button that allows you to send whatever you like via Paypal. For those of you who might be so inclined to use snail mail, my address is:

Steve Ramsey
432 Calle Arboleda
Novato CA 94949


Now, on to the paper towel holder. 

You'll probably remember that I was toying with this idea a few weeks ago. Last weekend it all came together. In fact, I was kind of surprised: this is one of the few things I have ever made that went completely without problems! The trickiest part was figuring out how to make the spring-loaded roller, but it turned out to be very simple. Finally, I was able to haul out my Dremel Tool and add a decoration to the front face. Again, surprisingly easy to accomplish.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Zany toys

I picked up a super book this week at the library: Zany Wooden Toys That Whiz, Spin, Pop, and Fly: 28 Top-Secret Projects You Can Build from the Toy Inventor's Workshop by Bob Gilsdorf.

Most toy-building books for woodworkers showcase highly detailed and complicated projects: model trucks that look like heirloom pieces and would take a pretty high level of skill to build. I doubt many of them are ever actually played with by children.

Bob Gilsdorf has created wonderfully clever projects that any kid would absolutely love. Not only that, but they are perfectly simply to build, even without power tools. In fact, older kids could make these toys themselves. Ingenious devices that, well, literally whiz, spin, pop and fly: marble shooters, coin flippers, launchers, gumball machines, and a lot more.

The book is colorful and the projects are nicely detailed and explained. I went to Bob's web site and sent him an email asking if I could make a video of one of his projects, but I haven't heard back. There's not much on the web site, basically it's just an ad, but I'll let you know if I hear back. I don't usually make someone else's projects, and I suspect it wouldn't be a problem if I plugged the book in the video, but I'd prefer his consent. This is fun stuff!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hell's Kitchen's Workshop

The Tostonera episode!

I love Latin food and Latin cooking. Tostones (it just means "to toast" in Spanish) are twice-fried plantain chips. Often, they are just smashed flat and served like chips. But if you have a tostonera, you can press them into little cups and fill them with anything you like. They are really fun to make and quite tasty.

Making a tostonera is ultra-simple. Anyone can slap one together in a few minutes, even with the most basic tools. This video actually has some educational value. So there. Any my apologies to my favorite hothead celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay, for this dreadful impression.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Valentine's Day is nearing

I was going to wait a while longer before posting this, but I figured now is probably a good time to get a head start on anything you might be making for Valentine's Day. Here's a free scrollsaw pattern designed by Karl Taylor at ScrollsawVideo.com. You could do all sorts of things with it. Maybe a box lid? Or how about setting it in a frame with colored plastic behind it and hang it in the window? Click here to download the PDF version.

Thanks Karl! Now fire up the scroll saw guys.


Oh, here's a quick shot of Gordon Ramsay who, strangely, you will see in my video tomorrow. Weird.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cribbage anyone? Tostones?

I made a tostanera a few days ago. If you don't know what a tostanera is, it's a press that makes tostones: little fried plantain cups which can be filled with whatever fillings you want. Totally simple project using just two boards, two hinges and a dowel. So how is it that I have been editing a seven minute video of it all week? Well, let's just say for now that it took a bit of padding. I should have the video ready to post by Friday.


I'll have to admit that I don't know how to play cribbage, but a number of people have asked me to build a cribbage board. Well, Ken Hockenberry not only made one, but shot a video. He says it's his first project since high school, nearly 45 years ago. Nice job Ken. It's hand tool madness! Oh, and if you would like to make your own, Ken was kind enough to share his template.  Download and try it out!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Make a mystical fortune telling box

I'm getting off to a slow start this new year. The first weekend was a bust in the shop because it was so cold. I began this project the second weekend, but ran into problems that had to be worked out.

I spent a lot of time New Year's Eve weekend watching the Twilight Zone marathon on T.V. which gave me the idea to make a fortune-telling box. You remember: the episode where William Shatner and his new bride get caught up feeding pennies into a fortune telling machine in a diner. It's answers to questions were accurate enough in Shatner's mind to begin to run his life.

This started out at a simple idea: create a pressure plate and a couple rollers and cards would spit out. It turned out for more difficult. That's not to say that the concept of this box is complicated. I suspect there are many of you who can devise a much better system, but in the end it actually works.

I like projects like this because they remind me that woodworking is a never-ending learning process. Come up with an idea and figure out how to pull it off. Along the way you will encounter problems, but if you just think them through, you will find solutions.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Rustic woodworking and some updates

I've posted some of  Krzysztof Kleszcz's projects here before. Not only do I stay up late at night wondering how to pronounce his name and marveling at its uncanny lack of vowels, but I am inspired by the way he looks at wood.

I think this is a totally cool idea. Have a unique chunk of wood with an interesting grain pattern? Wondering what to make with it? Why not let the wood itself be the star. Kyzysztof took this piece of European bird cherry, finished it and hung it on the wall. Simply beautiful. His wife calls it "a holy wood of Krzysztof". What a great conversation starter for guests.

In sticking with the rustic theme, he also made this frame using "raw" maple and ash. I love the look of it.

Seeing this reminded me of a frame I made a number of years ago for a picture my son painted. I used scrap, reclaimed-wood for it, cut a few lap joints, and lashed it together with some rope. I've made a ton of picture frames, but this is one of my favorites.


I should have the fortune telling box done and post a video Friday. We had fun tonight coming up with mystical answers to put on the cards. Here's a sneak peak:


Finally, Laney is holding a silent auction to raise money for Woodworkers Fighting Cancer. If you would like to place a bid on this piece, here's more information. All donations will go directly to the LiveStrong Foundation. Nice scroll work!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I predict a fortune telling box

Wow, everyone came up with great guesses about my mystery box. Truth is, Jan, who was first to post a comment, actually nailed it: it's going to be a magic fortune telling box. It's completely different from the one that bewitched William Shatner, but the idea is the same. It has lots of note cards containing answers to questions. You ask a question, turn the crank, and out pops a surprisingly mystical and dangerously accurate answer.

"Will this project ever turn out the way I planned?"

"That is for you to decide."


Well, getting the little wheel to churn out only one card at a time has been quite a challenge. It's sort of working now. After a bunch of trials of various materials, it turns out that 60 grit sandpaper seems to grip the cards fairly well.

I plan on finishing it up and painting it tomorrow. It's been an interesting exercise.


On another note, I was most impressed to receive this picture from Suzanne Cronin in New Hampshire who tells me her son surprised her with a heart-in-a-heart picture frame for Christmas. I love to hear about kids who get the bug to do some woodworking. And I have to say, this is kind of tricky to make.

If you'd like to make your own heart-in-heart frame, here's my video with a template you can download. (Hey, Valentine's Day is coming up soon!)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The mystery box

This has been a trying weekend in the shop. Last weekend was a complete wash because it was so cold, but I managed to get out this weekend (despite the cold temperatures) and attempt to build something that turned out to be fraught with problems. Anyone care to take a guess at what this is going to be? Hint: I was inspired by a Twilight Zone episode starring William Shatner.

It has a lid  that I haven't glued on yet:

I can tell you that this is an example where my vision was far clearer than my execution. I hope to get a video posted next week. Rats. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Making more music

Don Trust sent over this photo of his slit drum. Now that's sweet. Looks like six tone arms, but there are also four thin strips separating them. He's also added a series of holes in the side. I'll bet it sounds great. Strangely, he hasn't made the mallets yet! Thanks Don. 

I don't often revisit projects I've made, but I am becoming more and more fascinated with my thumb piano, or Kalimba. It's actually very addicting to sit down with it and make up some tunes. I think I'd like to make another one, this time with a smaller hole that would be set down further from the tines.

And speaking of kalimbas, Adam Reed made one as a Christmas gift for his son. He had the inspired idea to use the tines from a rake.

Here's something really interesting. There is a web site that specializes in all things Kalimba. In fact, they even sell special spring steel just for making them. Who knew?

And if that ain't enough to cause you to run out to the shop and make a thumb piano, Curtis Ruster sent me this picture of Kalimbas on display at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Holy cow, these things are everywhere. A couple months ago I barely even heard of them.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

47 degrees and cold and rainy. It's really nasty. And rainy.
And cold. Did I mention that this sucks?
I can't help but thinking nostalgically about the
county fair back in July. Oh GOD I want heat!
I promise to never complain about it again!
Did I mention it's cold here?
Wow. It's 2011. When I was a kid I thought we would all be driving around in hovercrafts and wearing matching jumpsuits by now. 2011 doesn't seem that much different than 1976 when I was 10. Except for the internet. Well, that and disco died.

I kicked off the new year by doing absolutely nothing in the shop. I wanted to, but it is just too damn cold. I go outside, freeze for a few minutes and come back into my nice warm house.

Right now it is rainy and 47 degrees. Yep. It sucks. Granted, I grew up in Colorado, and fully understand what cold really is, but in California, 47  feels like 17 in the Midwest. I'm serious. We need some sort of new index. You know, like the "heat index" or the "wind chill factor". I'd like to call it the "California Reality Atmospheric Precision" indicator. I leave it to you to deduce your own acronym.

I spent a lot of time trying to get "inspired" by going through my old issues of woodworking magazines:

On the plus side, my ancient fridge that was struggling so much in July has no trouble keeping my beer cold. It's a strange time of year. I just plucked my final tomato last week which is noteworthy because they are usually history by Thanksgiving:

I'd like to make that Fibonacci Gauge, but I'm not sure how to stretch an entire video out of it. At least one that hasn't already been done. So I had the notion to make a new paper towel holder. At least one that's a little different than all the others. I sketched a crude design:

Now we're getting somewhere! Here's my idea. I discovered that rolls of foil, waxed paper, plastic wrap, etc. are all the same size, and the same length as a roll of paper towels. Why not a paper towel holder that has a box on top to hold all those other rolls?  Yeah man, if it is halfway warm tomorrow, I'm making this sucker!

Are you guys doing anything in the shop this weekend? Let's hear some good cold weather ideas! Want to post your project here? Send it to me at zrammedia (at) gmail (dot) com. (In case you are wondering, I am trying to cut down on the spambots by spelling it all out.) Or better yet, log onto the Mere Mortals Facebook page and upload pictures of your project!