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Old College Rocker

12.1.2016 – Thursday

The gun deer season wrapped up with warm weather and no accumulated snowfall. Things just didn’t work out for handgun hunting. Despite the lack of success in the field, there was some fun to be had with left over pumpkins from Halloween. When filled with water and shot with a .44 magnum hollow point the concussion ripped them apart in dramatic fashion. It was quite a sight and an impressive demonstration of the power of magnum handgun cartridges. It was also very satisfying to see evidence of a well-placed shot at 75 yards. Another range favorite was shooting gourds with VMAX .223 Remington ballistic tipped bullets. After a successful hit, the only sign of the gourd was a momentary cloud of water vapor and the sound of tiny fragments landing in the woods.

A busy work schedule and the low deer population meant that by best chances for a successful hunt was at home instead of at the cabin. This set of circumstances lead to more time in close proximity to the wood shop. I love a good project, and lately I seem to be more involved with restoration projects than fresh wood and clean sheet designs. That will change this month when I start construction on a Shaker inspired chest of drawers. The rough sawn cherry lumber is already in the shop. But anyway, the latest project and the title of this post has to do with an old cherry rocking chair. I suspect many folks who find themselves with a particular object of sentimental or monetary value do so as a consequence of circumstance instead of intent. An old safe may be bought for the sole purpose of being hidden in a coat closet and protecting money or jewelry, then get resold and then passed on once, and then twice down through family members until one day it is recognized as having a family history, a sturdy quality, and a classic design worthy of preservation. I don’t know the complete story of the Old College Rocker, but I can piece together some of the history.

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It arrived to me in fairly poor shape. OK… it was one degree away from kindling. Generally, when the value of a piece of furniture is measured in BTU‘s there has to be a reason to save it other than simply it’s monetary value or potential return on investment. The first step I had was simply to figure out what needed to be repaired and replaced. I started a list:

  • replace seat leather, batting, cotton under seat covering
  • redo all joinery with modern glue and hardwood dowels
  • repair ~10 cracks
  • fabricate some pieces for chipped areas
  • sand, stain, and refinish
  • replace felt on runners (to project hardwood floor at cabin)

I began by repairing several split seat parts. Most cracks were repaired by spreading the wood apart with a wedge and then applying glue to one side. If the crack was large enough I would use a glue spatula to push glue into the crack. For smaller cracks I built up a puddle of glue and then used a shop vac to pull the glue through the crack.

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Blue tape and clamps!

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More clamps and blue tape. What happened to this chair?

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The Ol’Man acquired this chair sometime during college at Steven’s Point. Somewhere along the line the chair was repaired. I found evidence that the legs have come loose previously. Loose legs was the primary reason the rocker found it’s way to my shop. When I investigated further, I found several joints overflowing with extra glue and an oak spindle that should have been cherry. Admittedly, I tried to repair the loose legs two years ago but my fix didn’t hold. One problem with repairing old furniture is that all the old glue often needs to be removed first – that is why my quick repair failed. When modern glue is applied it needs to thoroughly penetrate the wood fibers to form a strong bond to both pieces. For the seat of the chair I was able to drill the dowel holes slightly larger and cut new hardwood (white ash) dowels for a snug fit.

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At the bottom of the legs sit the runners. They take a lot of abuse from multiple surfaces and shifting weight. A table chair sits flat on the floor in a single position. Weight is evenly and consistently distributed on it for the duration of it’s useful life. A rocking chair endures shifting weight through a range of motion. Somewhere along the line one runner got damaged and needed repair. The chipped runner was smoothed with a hand plane before glueing on a replacement piece of cherry. Once it was smoothed out to match the contour of the runner the tenon hole was re-drilled.

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And then there was scraping and sanding… lots and lots of scraping and sanding. It took forever. I walked away for a while because it was so slow and tedious. I’ll do two spindles a day and be done in no time I thought. I procrastinated a week and then sanded them all in two days.

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Thankfully, after sanding I could reassemble the chair. Assembly is a very satisfying part of any project. It is even more satisfying on a restoration. The seat was glued up first, then the arm rests and back, followed by the legs.

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I used wedged tenons for the arm rests and chair back. One way to make sure a joint doesn’t loosen up is to make it a mechanical joint. A wedged tenon joint is a mechanical joint that physically expands the tenon until it is tight in the mortise. As long as the wedge is in place there is no wiggle and the joint cannot come apart. A little glue locks it all in place.

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The legs were the biggest challenge. They had loosened before. I cleaned up the tenons and holes, removing the old glue. The joints were not as snug as newly constructed joints. I had to abandon Gorilla Glue in favor of epoxy. I’m relying on the space filling properties and strength of epoxy to hold the chair together for the next several decades. Using a generous amount of epoxy I massaged the joints until all the airspaces were filled. Apply some strategically placed clamps and it was finally starting to look like a rocking chair again.

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The project was gaining momentum. the excitement of a chair taking shape kept me motivated and the project moving along.  It didn’t take long to apply gel stain to the chair.

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The color was starting to look nice. A few coats of a wiping finish and the chair really took on a rich antique shine.

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I was entering uncharted territory: upholstery. I referenced the photos I took earlier when taking the chair apart and started to work in reverse. The wire and coils weren’t too difficult. For the seat I salvaged a memory foam pad destined for the curb and the Ol’Man tracked down some leather. It took two tries to get the tack strip on so the leather was smooth and uniform.

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This was about the time the Ol’Man arrived with Mother for Thanksgiving. It looked done but it wasn’t. I had on order some material to put under the runners and needed some fabric to cover the exposed springs underneath the seat. A few days later the rocking chair was finally complete. I trimmed and tacked on the cotton cloth to cover the springs and applied 3/4″ VELCRO strips to the runners. The soft side of self-adhesive VELCRO was used because of it’s touted durability and high-quality adhesive backing. Time will tell, but initial impressions suggest that using the loop side of VELCRO strips is a substantial improvement over felt pads. It looks good too and spans the entire length of a runner.

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It’s done. Finally. It took nearly a year to complete… mostly because I was busy building bunk beds, camping, cutting wood, and of coarse; working. Total shop time was around 60 hours and materials ran about $80. For the effort and money it might not have been worth saving. But I saved it anyway. I learned some new techniques and tricks and will get to enjoy it for years to come. I know there is a certain cabin-goer eager to take a seat next the window by the wood burner and check trail-cam SD cards on a laptop while birds eat just outside at the feeder. I also know someone, who in February, might like to try it out at the cabin to test out it’s capabilities at putting a newborn to sleep (now if we could just pick out a name).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marksman in Training

7.10.2016 – Sunday

I’ve been building. It started last year with a prototype shooting bench. I included a photo in last year’s post Cabin :: changing forest. The Ol’ man had cut some cedar a little over a year earlier and the large rough sawn 2″ thick planks ranged from 6″ to 12″ in width; ideal for a outdoor bench top. The wood was dry and stable and mid-October 2015 it was delivered to the wood shop. The delivery also included some rough sawn 1.5″ old-growth 6″ white pine. Old-growth pine is lovely wood. It is stronger than the sapwood you typically get as construction lumber at home centers and machines cleaner. The home-center lumber has a tendency to be softer and every now and again when cutting it you’ll hit a sap pocket and gunk up your blades.

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I began construction of the cedar top November 26, 2015. The prototype bench taught me a few things about ergonomics and sizing. My original bench was a little tall so I dropped the seat an inch and closed the gap between the seat and the top another two inches. The design was unconstrained by size and grew into an ambidextrous design. So far we only need to accommodate right-handed shooters but with kiddos getting bigger and fond memories of a .22 Buckaroo in the back of my mind, I know the bench will get used by more than just Dad and I.

On to the construction! I began with the top. I milled thick cedar planks to 7/4 and then began to glue up the top. Nine boards were glued up into 3 planks, then the 3 planks were glued together to make the top. I flattened it with a hand plane and then smoothed it with a cabinet scraper.

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A straight board acted as a guide and I trimmed the top to length. A little more work with a reciprocating saw and I had a fully shaped top.

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With things going so smoothly, I decided to try my hand at constructing a breadboard end. This is a useful technique since I have long-planned to build a large kitchen table some day and this technique is proven and durable. Basically, a breadboard is a series of tenons that are pinned into a series or mortises in an end-board. The end-board prevents the table-top from cupping and shifting. Because the end-board needs to float as the width of the top expands and contracts with humidity, only the center tenon is glued.

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The outer tenons have elongated holes for expansion and contraction. The pinned tenons ensure that the breadboard end maintains a tight joint while allowing for some seasonal changes.

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Next was the frame. The frame was then built using oversized mortise and tenon joinery. Each joint is hand fit and locked in place with Gorilla Glue and two large SPAX lag bolts. Each mortise and tenon is labeled below.

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A beam then secures the front legs to the rear legs and allowed me to disassemble the bench in to three frame pieces and the top.

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I chose Defthane polyurethane and applied one quart to the entire bench. Once finish was applied it was sent away to storage.

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Winter came and went. I burned 12.5 cord of wood at my house and created several heirlooms in the wood shop. Soon spring was upon us and everyone was anxious to get outdoors. When we finally got back to the cabin to enjoy the outdoors the kiddos insisted that we fish and catch frogs.

Catching and releasing amphibians and fish seemed like a good idea, and a good excuse to get back to work on the bench. I assembled it in the back of my 5×10′ trailer and hauled it to camp. The Ol’ man had worked in the months prior to assemble the needed materials to complete the project. For strength and simplicity the bench sits atop a sheet of 3/4″ treated plywood that is attached with SPAX to two 4×6″ treated beams. Proving that attention to detail runs in the family, the Ol’ man cut a 45° on the skids and even rounded over the sharp edges with a rasp. On April 30, 2016 the bench was completed.

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I’ve been working on a target/coyote gun over winter and its completion matches up pretty well with the bench and shooting range. I’ve never been much for firearms that deviate from traditional designs and wood grips/stocks. I love Ruger firearms, especially the earlier models like my revolvers and No. 1B single shot rifle. It took a while but eventually I decided to get a sporting rifle (as Ruger calls it) and see what all the fuss was about. I ended up with an SR-556VT before it was discontinued (The ‘VT’ model is no longer available but other SR-556 models are still in production). Piston guns tend to be a bit heavier and I wanted a bench/hunting gun so the varmint model was a good fit. The accuracy is fantastic and it has a great target trigger straight from the factory. Prior to this project, and this firearm, I had never reached out to 200 yards and a .22LR was the largest semi-auto I had owned and shot. I had no idea what I was missing out on.

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I’ve tested out a few different bullet types and manufacturers and found that Fiocchi 50gr. V-MAX Tip Bow Tail bullets and my gun get along great. The bench aids in reducing shooter error, making it easier to evaluate the performance of different ammo. It feels really good to push the gun and ammo to its limit.

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The shooting rest and sandbag combination has been refined as well. After some trial and error the set up is pretty solid now. Wood risers/shims with a durable rubber floor mat material glued to one side grip the bench and provide a good foundation. Leather sand bags also have a good feel and an adjustable front rest simplifies adjustments.

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I’ve already seen measurable improvements in my marksmanship skills. There are lengthy article on how to shoot well. I’ve read a number of them, and while I find the content valuable, it’s no substitute for practice. Currently we have a target at 100 yards that I’m getting some time on. I would like to hand-gun hunt this deer season and part of the decision to take a handgun in to the field is to be proficient at 100 yards. I have equipped a Ruger Super Redhawk chambered in .44 Rem Mag with a Leupold 2x scope and am already starting to shrink my groups. It’s a fairly expensive endeavor since a decent hunting round costs a little over $1 per round for the .44 mag . While I save up for more .44 mag ammo I’ve been practicing on a .22 LR revolver. After all, 100 rounds of .22 LR costs the same as 6 rounds of .44 mag. The Ol’ man donated a few hand loaded .44 mags but they lasted just long enough to sight.

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The bench was a project that started out with a few simple objectives:

  • Provide an ideal platform for sighting in firearms by minimizing shooter error
  • Accommodate shooters of multiple body sizes
  • Suit the needs of left and right handed/eye dominant shooters
  • Last at least 30 years
  • Test out breadboard end joinery/durability

It will take a while for the last two on this list, but the first three can be checked off with confidence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off Grid Update

7.27.2016 – Wednesday

Things at the cabin have become routine. Everything just works and I’m not aware of any lingering bugs with the system. The battery monitor used to go on the fritz under just the right circumstances but that was remedied by removing the solar charger input from the shunt. The meter automatically resets to full when the batteries are fully charged. The batteries are also watered roughly every three months.

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June 10, 2016 – lightning near Lena, WI

Here is a quick glimpse of the current settings on the system (I’ve been tweaking them for years and have settled on these inputs for the past two years now):

 Xantrex C60 (PV Charger)

  • 13.8V FLOAT (CHG)
  • 14.7V BULK (CHG)

Xantrex RS3000 (Inverter/Generator Charger)

  • 20A Power Share
  • 100% Max Charge Rate
  • 10.5V Lo DC Volt
  • FLA Batt Type
  • 1540Ah Batt Size
  • 55W Sense Below
  • 8s Sense Interval
  • 3 # Chg Stages
  • 15.5V Egz Volts
  • On Force Charge
  • 85V Lo AC Volt
  • 45Hz Lo AC Freq
  • 135V Hi AC Volt
  • 65Hz Hi AC Freq

Victron BMV-600s (Battery Monitor) 

  • 85% CEF (charge efficiency factor)
  • 1.20A Ith (current threshold)
  • 1.25 PC (Peukert exponent)
  • 14.4V Vc (charged voltage)
  • 1500Ah Cb (battery capacity)
  • 50% DF (discharge floor)
  • 2.5% It (tail current)
  • 1 min Tcd (charged detection time)
  • 1 Tdt (ime to go)

 

The only area left to perfect is the battery monitor. Since it no longer keeps track of the solar charging it needs to reset when the batteries reach 95-100% SOC. Getting these settings just right takes a little persistence and some trial and error. Currently, the Battery Monitor will reset to 100% SOC (full charge) when the following conditions are met: 14.4V Vc or greater with 2.5% It or less (38.5 amps) for 1 minute Tcd. It resets most of the time when the Solar Charge Controller’s green light comes on indicating full charge. Because the battery monitor doesn’t track amps from the solar charger the only two variables that come in to play are Vc and Tcd. I may try lowering the Vc at some point. Currently, the system has been resetting to full-charge when left alone for a day or two between visits.

The system is now going on 7 years old! So far everything is working great and there are no signs of wear and tear. With the cabin only occupied 120 days per year I continue to hope for longevity of components and batteries.

 

An Unlikely Heirloom

2.2.2016 – Tuesday

I recently completed the restoration of an antique Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe. The goal of the restoration was preservation. I wanted to take it completely apart, clean it, and then put it back together. Along the way I decided to completely strip and repaint it as well as build an entirely new wood interior.

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Here is what it looked like. It appears that it was originally sold by Herman Heinrichs from Menominee, Michigan. and belonged to a J. W. Hermansen. After that it likely came in to the possession of my Great Grandfather. I never met my Great Grandfather, but I know his name was Jake Nelson. I first learned that this safe existed from my Great Aunt, Violet Nelson – my Grandmother’s Sister on my Dad’s side. Lineage aside, it’s fitting that my Great Aunt had an old safe, because she was a woman of distinct personality as well as some secrets and intrigue. She gave me more than one gun as a birthday present through the years; one is supremely accurate and remains a personal favorite to this day. She was independent and never married. Other tales recall that she had little sympathy for frogs and was quite talented with a whip, cracking a few frogs here and there… I can’t confirm that, but I don’t doubt it.

I don’t know the weight of the safe, but I estimate it to be in the neighborhood of 500 lbs. The dimensions are 18-7/8″ deep, 21-1/4″ wide, and 27-3/8″ tall. The height is 33-1/4″ from floor to top. Interior dimensions are 13-7/8″ x 16-1/2″ x 22-1/4″. It is concrete and steel. There is an ample supply of 1/4″ plate steel and the door frame has some cast iron. The restoration officially began on January 12, 2016. It concluded after 3 weeks of hard work and roughly 60 hours.

Disassembly

The beginning of the project was the most tedious. I delayed beginning the restoration as long as I could. After a few months of a large, barely movable, object sitting in my shop I had had enough. It was time to begin. From the pictures, you’ll notice that my work on the safe did not take place on the floor. I soon discovered that solving the puzzle of how to lift a 500 lb object onto a table roughly 30″ tall is a good way to pass the time. Utilizing a low-profile hydraulic car jack, some blocks, a salvaged coffee table, and some brute force it can be done. Only the coffee table was harmed. Luckily it was made out of wood, which burns – so I still got one more use out of it.

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While taking apart the safe and taking off the paint, I generated a lot of dust and debris. The wall vent fan above my head has never worked since we moved in. It now works perfectly. I got accustomed to wearing safety glasses, hearing protection, and a respirator. It was my least favorite task for the whole of the project – but there was no avoiding it. This first step set the tone for the next three weeks and I discovered everything in need of maintenance and repair. I also found 66¢ in Mercury dimes and wheat pennies that were lost in the nooks and crannies.

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A torque wrench was required to remove the nuts holding the castors to the safe body. All of the hardware was in good shape but the wheels wobbled. The washers and nuts needed a good cleaning with a degreaser and a scrub with some dish soap.

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Using my new Bosch angle-grinder and Dremel I cleaned up the castors (funny how sometimes one of my projects requires me to purchase new tools). The wobbly wheels bothered me so I looked in to it. After some research I determined the only way to rid myself of the wobble would be to knock out the axle pins and then find new axle pins. The caster would need to be rebored for the pins and the wheel would need to be rebored to fit a new bushing. That required a lathe and a Bridgeport milling machine. After thinking about how often I would leisurely wheel the safe from one end of the house to the next I decided that this repair was exempt from my restoration.

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Once the wheels were off I took the bottom off the safe and found a large crack in the firebrick. The patina on the bottom plate was gorgeous.

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The next several hours were spent removing old paint from the safe. My favorite tools for this were a flapped sanding disc for the large flat areas, a twisted wire-wheel for the edges and recessed areas, and a spun-fiber paint-eater disk for everything else. I found out that a $10-15 angle grinder disc is worth at minimum about 6 of the $4 discs. Cheap wire-wheels are also extremely hazardous and shed wires like crazy. I had to pull out more than one wire from my hands and thighs on this part of the project. Between my hands and upper legs I had at least 20 small red dots from high-velocity wires.

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The interior was showing its age. The solid red-oak boards were removed along with the locking deposit box and locking drawer.

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The door took just as long to break down into its parts and to clean up. I began with the removal of the inner door panel.

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The firebrick was cracked pretty badly and a pound or two had fallen out when I opened up the panel.

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Using a small 1/2″ rock chisel and a ball peen hammer I knocked out the concrete and began to disassemble the lock mechanism.

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The shroud covering the lock mechanism was sealed to the door with grout. Once the grout was removed the shroud came out and I could see the locking mechanism and the lock housing.

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The lock was removed and the door was then cleaned up with the angle grinder.

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At this point the project was divided into three smaller projects: the door, safe body, and wood interior.

The Door

Sans firebrick, inner panel, and all the mechanisms, the door was now approaching a petite 45 lbs of plate steel and cast iron.

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Where grout was used originally, I settled on using sanded siliconized acrylic latex caulk; the same stuff I used to seal the seam between the floor and wall in my tiled showers. Two spring clips were used to wedge the shroud into the door before caulking. A good seal was important because when the concrete was poured I didn’t want any of it getting near the lock mechanisms or between the plate steel door front and cast iron door frame.

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While the caulk dried over 48 hours I cleaned up the inner door panel and prepared it for paint.

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The concrete pour totaled close to 45 pounds. I chose a special fire-brick concrete designed with an operational temperature of 2700°F to line the door. While this doesn’t necessarily give the safe an improved fire rating, it is in keeping with the original intent of the safe-builder. The relative humidity in the shop was about 30% at 65°F. To extend drying time, I sprayed the concrete with water after it initially dried and then covered it with plastic while it cured over the next 24 hours. After curing I took the Bosch angle-grinder with a flapped sanding disc and cleaned up the surface so the inner door panel would have a nice flat fit.

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The squeeze-out from the caulk reveals the gap between the shroud and the door front. Looks like my water-tight seal held for the concrete pour.

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The door bolt group was installed prior to the concrete pour. I used a corrosion inhibiter designed for firearms called PrOlix on the internal bare metal parts and greased the contact points where parts slide past one another.

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I taped the handle stud and then primed the door with two coats of spray on primer. Due to availability, I used Rustoleum products. After two coats of primer I sanded the door and inner panel and prepared it for paint.

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The first coat didn’t go so well, but I knew that I would have to build up a base through thin coats and sanding.

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Sanding frequently cut through the paint and exposed the primer.  The door front was not flat and there were deep scratches and some pitting that the original primer hid. These defects were from manufacturing and not from neglect.

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At this point I had applied two coats of primer and four coats of black enamel paint. I used an orbital sander with 320 grit sand paper and vacuum connection to dry sand lightly after the paint was allowed to dry for at least 10 hours. Then I used 600 grit emery paper to wet sand until I had a uniform finish. The water was lubricated with a few drops of dish soap. The sanded paint hardened over the next 8 hours before the application of another coat of paint. This process was repeated and repeated and repeated until the 6th and final coat of black paint.

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The final coat went on smooth! After 45 minutes of dry time I lightly dusted the door from about 20″ with the spray can and left a semi-gloss slightly textured surface that is appealing to the touch and somewhat resistant to showing smudges. The inner door panel received similar treatment but ended up with a high gloss finish after about 4 coats of black paint.

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While I spent day after day painting and sanding the door, over at the work bench I cleaned up the dial. The black enamel was chipping off of the dial. I was faced with repairing the black enamel or polishing the metal underneath. I decided to go all in and use a woven paint stripper wheel on the Dremel and take the black off. As things progressed I really liked the look of the dial and decided not to repaint it.

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The handle got similar treatment. I’m not sure how it was plated or even what metals were used in the construction, but the rust mostly came off with a fine wire wheel spun on a Dremel.

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I mounted the handle in a vertical position instead of the horizontal position that it was in when I started.

The Safe Body

When the dust settled from cleaning up the safe body I began with the bottom. The first order of business was to patch the crack.

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While it’s not the prettiest patch job it did the trick. The inside of the bottom panel was never painted from the factory. I painted it and then prepared the bottom for the panel. The castors were also partially painted in preparation for assembly.

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The bottom panel was sealed on with sanded siliconized acrylic latex caulk and then secured with two machine screws and held in place under the pressure of a pile of wood blocks until the caulk dried. I then ran a thin bead along the front and rear of the safe. This should prevent rust, especially in summer if we get a wide temperature swing from night to day and the exterior of the safe sweats. The planned location of the safe in the house should guard against this; but it usually doesn’t hurt to over-engineer.

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Some paint was then applied to the metal that would be covered up by the castors.

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The portion of the castors that mounted against the safe were pre-painted prior to assembly.

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The bottom and wheels were then painted in two coats. With the bottom done I could now upright the safe and start painting for remaining sides.

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Just like the door I began with primer and sanding before applying two coats of black enamel paint.

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The Wood Interior

My skills are biased toward woodworking. I originally planned to leave the interior alone, but I should have known I wouldn’t be able to resist. The old interior was a bit wobbly, showing signs of deterioration, and just not as functional as it could be. The shelves didn’t extend all the way to the door, leaving about 2 to 3″ of wasted space from shelf front to inside door panel. There was also only one large shelf. I sketched up plans for a stronger and more functional interior. Two additional large shelves were planned.

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I had available white ash, hard maple, black walnut, yellow birch, cedar, and white pine. I quickly ruled out the use of soft woods and then narrowed it down to white ash or yellow birch. Eventually yellow birch won out because I had experimented with it a few weeks earlier and was impressed by its hardness and the color of the heartwood. The heartwood looks stunningly similar to cherry but the hardness approaches white ash.

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I milled it down and used a router-cut glue joint for the 1/2″ panels (doubles the surface area of a regular glue joint). The 1/2″ panels are not shown. Above are some 5/16″ panels for the removable shelves.

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For the finish I used a tried and trusted recipe:

  • sand to 220 grit on the orbital sander; following a sanding progression of 120 – 150 – 180 – 220 and candling the wood to look for scratches or defects prior to finishing
  • brush on and wipe off two coats of Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil, using 000 steal wool between coats, allowing 24 hours to dry each time
  • level the finish with 320 grit sand paper prior to final coat of Defthane gloss polyurethane

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The back was wedged in to place and secured with a dab of no-clamp siliconized adhesive at each corner.

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The next few pieces are where the real engineering comes in. The top went in next, followed by each of the sides. Again, I used siliconized adhesive. There is a 3/32″ rabbit on the ceiling board that the side boards fit in to. The bottom board was then shimmed to be parallel to the ceiling board before hammering in a snug fitting center shelf support. Everything is locked in by the previous board. Since the inside of the safe wasn’t perfectly square, I used some small wood screws in the shelf dados to apply pressure to the wood interior and get the fit just right. Because the screws are in the dados they are hidden from sight.

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The locking deposit box was the next item to install and fit.

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The scaled rust sure cleaned up nice! I made some stepped shims for the box. It used to sit proud of the shelf originally, but would now fit flush. I applied the shims with siliconized no-clamp adhesive and massaged a perfect fit. Four small screws driven from inside the box, securing it to the interior.

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I deliberately left the front of the deposit box in its original condition. I wanted at least one thing left untouched by the restoration.

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The locking drawer was really fun to build. I copied the same construction as the original, but sized it to the new shelving.

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The original lock mechanism was in fine condition so I cleaned it up with the Dremel and fit it to the drawer.

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I even polished the screws. One screw was driven in crooked and bent by the original makers and needed to be gently straightened before re-using.

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A look at the neat locking rabbit that holds the drawer front on.

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Two thin leather strips were glued to the back of the drawer so it shuts softly. The strips also perfectly position the lock slide to match up with the mortise in the shelf above.

The Move

The safe was finished! Only took 3 weeks of hard work (60 hours of shop time). I constructed a pallet and then nearly sprained a pectoral trying to get it under the safe. Funny how when you use a muscle in a new way it can retaliate for a few minutes with a sharp pain. Once built, the safe was protected with a packing blanket and strapped to the pallet. A few more blankets and a few more straps and a heavy duty hand truck later it was ready to move. Thankfully, the idea of being included in moving a incredibly heavy object appealed to my neighbor Todd and my coworker’s husband Don – for reasons I am still pondering.

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My custom pallet featured handlebars for easy stair ascent, and was made out of oak. Rather serendipitously, the handlebars on the pallet made the corner on the stairs – just barely.

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Despite all the preparations, it was still a brute to move up the 20 steps and around one corner. I’m glad we moved it without the door attached.

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The Future

The safe is tuned up and happy but could use some decoration. I would like to find a local artists to paint a picture on the inner door panel and then do the door front. On the door front I’d like to have a small 5×7″ photo painted above the dial. Keeping with tradition I would like the door to have S. Wiltzius and Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Co. on it somewhere. A classic pin-stripe around the edges and perhaps a decal of some sort in each corner. This safe also originally had finials on the hinges. I have three of them. Due to their condition and construction I am still looking to commission a machinist to make four finials out of solid brass.

 

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This post is in loving memory of Violet Nelson, Nov 4, 1933 – December 13, 2011

 

Cabin :: lean-to

10.28.2015 – Wednesday

The lean-to at the cabin has either been in planning or construction since the end of 2012. It began when a suitable site was selected near the location of the old cabin. In order for work to begin on the lean-to a visual inspection of surrounding trees was undertaken. The basswoods were cleared out some time earlier and work continued to remove any trees susceptible to falling from the influences of strong winds. This photo is from September 29, 2012 and shows the clearing where the old cabin used to sit. The apple trees remain and the lawn had come in strong.

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The concrete slab was added in May 2014. The concrete is a six bag mix and has re-rod throughout, measuring approximately 24′ x 12′. This mix was indicated as the best in terms of strength and durability for our application. The extra Portland cement added a little cost, but compared to the cost of the entire project and the planned lifespan of the structure, the cost was easily justified.

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Also in May 2014, the final trees that could threaten the lean-to where fell. there were two near the lean-to site that had dead tops. Once fell, we could see the true damage to the internal structure of the tree. From this and a wind storm from a previous winter, I learned two simple rules for deciding which trees should be removed to protect personal property.

  1. If the center/top of the tree is dead up to a maximum thickness of 3″ the tree should come down in the next two years
  2. If there is a spot of exposed wood (no bark) on one side of the tree too large for bark to heal over, it will eventually fall in that direction.

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The next major step was the construction of the lean-to. This happened in June 2015. The Ol’ man received help on this one from someone with experience in building construction. Due to my work schedule not aligning with the construction days, I was unable to contribute much on this project. Taken July 18, 2015, here is a photo of the nearly constructed lean-to.

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The Ol’ man was already hard at work filling the lean-to. The horizontal boards were installed and the back 1/3 of the lean-to had verticals for piling wood against. By mid-August the pine rough-sawn had been added to the sides. A shelf had also been added above each bay for lumber storage. Again, the Ol’ man took on the task when I was unavailable – actually, while he put up the walls I was busy at work building a woodshed of my own very much like the cabin lean-to.

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The last step in the project was to add some color to the siding. This is the finished lean-to, picture taken October 10, 2015.

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Some information on the lean-to:

  • slab size: 12′ x 24′
  • concrete thickness: 4″ & thicker on edges
  • concrete reinforcements: 1/2″ re-rod throughout
  • height: 9′ front, 7′ back
  • roof size: 14′ 6″ x 26′ (1′ overhangs)
  • siding: 1″ thick rough sawn pine
  • exterior treatment: Sickens SRD
  • headers: two 2″ x 10″ glued and screwed together
  • headers secured to posts with SPAX washer-head lag screws
  • posts: 6″ x 6″ treated posts
  • trusses: 2″ x 6″ spaced 16″ on center

Even though my contributions didn’t go beyond site selection and photography I learned a lot from the cabin lean-to project. My own lean-to project shamelessly stole the design principles from the cabin lean-to and I used my fine-woodworking background to figure out the rest. My own lean-to ended up being 32′ x 12′ with a roof measuring 14′ x 34′ 8″ with a 2/12 pitch. A technique I used to notch my beams involved a simple circular saw crosscut jig and a 3/4″ screw-tip auger bit. The remaining material was then easily removed with a large framing chisel. It was much easier to accurately align the notches once the posts were in place than to try to dig my hole to the exact depth needed for pre-notched posts (especially since I found a large immovable object 32″ deep in what was supposed to be a 48″ deep hole).

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One additional technique I employed was to use a plunge router and a dado jig to cut the notches in all of my trusses at the same time. Hows that for uniformity? The notches made it very easy to set and align the trusses.

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To wrap up and make this a two lean-to post; here is the wood shed I built. The smaller lean-to pictured below was constructed in Fall 2014 and tested the waters for the larger wood shed. The wood shed is designed to store 15 to 16 cord and leave an ally open for the shooting bench (full capacity is 19 cord).

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I don’t have a price list for the cabin lean-to but I do have an inventory from the construction of my woodshed. If you are looking for numbers and an exact part list here it is: Wood Shed Supply List. Whenever a new project is started it always seems to follow the rule: spend a little extra, get a lot more. The lean-to at the cabin didn’t need to have a concrete slab, colored tin, and solid-wood siding. But all those extras sure look nice, and give this project the ability to endure long in to the future. The concrete keeps the contents of the lean-to high and dry and the level surface makes it easy to stack and store items. The tin is mostly for aesthetics, but the extra cost was very little given the limited amount of tin required by a project of this size. The wood siding was a bargain – again proving sometimes it’s who you know and not what you know.

Cabin :: changing forest

10.23.2015 – Friday

Forestry management and the cyclical occurrence of the spruce budworm have changed the landscape near the cabin. The cabin is still tucked away in the forest surrounded by trees. There is little risk of having a cabin in the middle of a field as a consequence of logging or infestation. None-the-less, we miss the trees. Take a look back at May 2009 and the 6×6 stand had a lush food plot bordered by some mature balsam fir… skip forward to present day and all that remains are the bones of once thriving giants.

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From the stand, there was a hint that something might be wrong with the balsam fir. The tops were starting to die. I did some light research and downloaded a PDF from the www.michigan.gov/foresthealth website titled 2012 Michigan Forest Highlights. It is a 40 page document, easy to read, and especially helpful to landowners. 2010 was mentioned as having an alarmingly widespread infestation which resulted in defoliation in 2012. Thinking back on it, the Ol’ man and I had an amazingly successful grouse hunting year in 2012 – I wonder where this little worm fits in the food chain. Either way, we should hopefully witness a 30 to 50 year period of re-growth. There will be plenty of space for new trees; we previously had enough balsam fir on our land to construct a log cabin and garage and have left over timber for paneling. Now the bare branches of mature balsam tower overhead draped in mosses and lichens.

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At the other corner of the 40 acres is the 4×4 stand. The view from this stand changed in the matter of a few months. This summer, logging took place, which resulted in the clear cutting of a soft-wood stand surrounding the field overlooked by the 4×4 stand. Any hardwoods within the cutting boundaries were also clear cut. The maples that remain in the second photo were marked when the timber was surveyed and must remain after all the cutting is complete.

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Walking out in to the field and looking over the horizon the cutting extends almost to the nearest road – about half a mile. Clear cutting is quite efficient. Only a few lone stumps stand as sentries over an expanse that was once a forest.

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Turning back toward the stand, it’s a bit lonelier than before. The stand used to sit back a few yards from the edge of the field under the canopy of mature hard maples. It was tucked away under branch and leaf in summer. In the fall and winter the stand stood quietly while the creeks and rattles of maple branches talked to each other with every cool breeze or change in temperature.

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Unlike the spruce budworm, the logging has provided a few immediate benefits. The side window on the 4×4 stand now has a clear view of the cedar swamp and looking out the front of the stand a 300+ yard shot is now an option. A few trees were taken out near the gate to the cabin as well. The logging is not very noticeable along our road, and as a consequence of having to accommodate logging trucks the gated two-rut was greatly improved. The width stayed the same, but the hills were leveled out a bit. After the last log was hauled out some gravel was brought in. Unlike years passed, a trip to the cabin during the snow melt will be uneventful and a lot less muddy. While I may reminisce about how difficult the drive used to be back in the day, it will be thought of with pride as an difficult task accomplished, rather than a time I’d like to revisit. Take a look back to a previous post on Maple Syrup for a refresher of what Michigan mud looks like.

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The loss of nearly all of the mature balsam fir was a bit disheartening. On the one hand, the spruce budworm is a native species that has evolved alongside the balsam fir. Like most animal populations it will thrive and decline, and when viewed over the coarse of several lifetimes I have little doubt that somehow this little worm fits into the maintenance of a healthy ecosystem. After all, something has to eat the worm. Still… I miss the trees. I don’t quite have the same fondness for clear cutting. While man has been felling trees since before recorded history, our efficiency at the task has increased exponentially, and there is realistically nothing that can deter a modern logging operation. Hopefully as the machines advance so will logging practices. While I have a stronger-than-most background in science, my disagreement with clear-cutting is more a personal opinion than a sound forestry management plan. Simply stated, I like hardwood forests and mixed evergreen stands. As long as poplar stands keep getting clear cut the forest will always be poplar stands and will not undergo the usual process of regenerating. Maples for example, can survive to well past 50 years old and never grow taller than 30 feet or reach a diameter of greater than 2″. But as soon as the opportunity presents, then can tower to 70 feet and swell to a diameter of 18″ or greater. When these dormant maples are cleared out when a mature poplar stand is harvested, they never get the opportunity to mature, and the poplar stand remains a poplar stand until the next cutting.

I am certainly not opposed to logging. I have had a hand in felling several dozen mature trees, both for lumber and for firewood. Unless I pointed out the stumps you might not notice these trees are missing. That’s a benefit of selective cutting. I’ve been building up a reserve of elm, white ash, and hard maple just a few trees at a time. It can be hard watching as a mature tree falls before the chainsaw and becomes lumber. When I get the boards in to my shop I do my best to create something worthy of the sacrifice and effort of felling that tree. These large, old trees, conceal some truly wonderful lumber under their bark. It takes a lot of effort to go from tree to log, log to board, board to finished furniture. I’ve had that privilege for many of my projects, and am looking forward to someday saying that my dinning room table was once a towering elm tree that stood on my parents’ forty. Knowing the source of my lumber offers a bit of legacy to a project.

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I unexpectedly have a little free-time coming up that I’ll use to assemble another post soon. In other words, I have all my firewood piled for the winter and I’m not ready to start a new project in the shop. In the meantime, here is a preview of what’s to come. This is the prototype shooting-bench. I’ll be constructing an ambidextrous version out of 2″ thick cedar timbers for the cabin in the months to come. This one is white pine. Look for hi-res photos and a detailed write up after completion of the final version. And yeah, the Ol’ man cut the cedar himself.

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A brief update

8.22.2015 – Saturday

I’ve been chewing on a few ideas for a new post. House and Family have been the focus this summer and the landscaping projects at home have included trail improvement, removal of the rusted out Ford across the road, constructing three raised beds, lawn re-do, perennial garden one & two, adding a culvert to the driveway, prepping for firewood (including building a deluxe lean-to), clearing some brush for a garden, taking down some trouble-trees near the house and shop, and a whole bunch of other things I’ll think of later… oh, and a bit of camping and swimming here and there.

Meanwhile, some interesting things have been happening at camp in terms of logging. While I haven’t been much of a presence this summer, I have a bunch of pictures and will be collecting some more shortly. Also, Dad had help from a pro-builder and a lean-to was constructed this summer – a design I shamelessly copied for my own use at home. Good design. We continue to have battery monitor issues and I’ve been investigating alternative ways to wire it in. Currently the shunt is at one end connected to the batteries and at the other connected to 1) inverter/charger, 2) solar charger, 3) 12V DC fuse panel. My most recent idea is to only measure current out from the batteries (removing no. 2 in my list above). I’ll set the meter to reset to zero when a full charge is detected to compensate. I may be spending a few days at the cabin coming up and the off-grid time may provide the opportunity to author a proper update of happenings this summer.

Until then I’ll be tinkering with a new firearm (ever heard of .22 TCM Micro-Mag?) and finishing up the shooting bench – that could be a post of it’s own actually. The shooting bench is a prototype I’ll be basing the one I plan to build for the cabin on. Now that I think about it, judging by the interest in my Wife’s grandfather’s talent on a Bridgeport, and the interest in sporting-firearms in general, I suppose it’s almost mandatory that I gather up some hi-res photos and put a post together. Additionally, the camp cook-box I posted had some people interested in ordering one, so as a disclaimer: the shooting bench is not for sale or order, but I’ll do my best to provide rough measurements in the post (it might not be a camp cook box but it’s still really cool).

Well… until September or October.

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