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 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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Wood Shop and the Move

1.13.2015 – Tuesday

Seven months have elapsed since my last writings here, and Winter has arrived. With the cabin existing happily and no major projects under way, I wanted to provide some sort of update to show that things are going well. The batteries are in good health. The Ol’ man has been checking on them and watering every 4 months or so. There has been no slow-down in use and my folks are spending many days and nights off the grid. Both kiddos have enjoyed, to a surprising extent, riding in the back seat of the Honda Pioneer (in child seats of coarse). We have also taken a few days and nights to do some camping on the big lake. Our oldest enjoys sunsets and provided his silhouette for this photograph.

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My absence can, for the most part, be explained by the purchase of a house. The house resides a little over an hour’s drive from the cabin. It’s likely little surprise to learn that our house is on a dead end road without any other houses in sight. We love the contrast of living in the woods while having a reasonable size city (Marquette, population ~21,000) just a short drive away. I could go on at length about the house – there was a lot of thought that went into the purchase, and it’s still fresh in my mind – but I rather fill this post with a collection of projects I’ve been working on. The projects I’m not discussing are all the little things that go into making a house a home. I’ve done too many small projects to count (gigabit ethernet in every room, replaced light fixtures, LED conversion of whole house, dimmer switches, new kitchen faucet, replacing ice makers, installing a utility sink in the laundry room, and a few dozen other small handyman things that I’d categorize as scheduled maintenance… which somehow eluded the previous occupants for several year – there was some catching up to do and I’d rather not go in to any detail regarding the dismal state of the rain gutters on the East side of the house).

OK… a quick word on the house. It is a cozy 2-story house with plenty of room (2700 sq. ft) and has in floor heating on every floor (the workshop and apartment above the workshop included). Our heat and hot water is provided by an outdoor wood furnace in the colder months and propane in the warmer months. With the LED conversion and only heat pumps to run, our electric bill is surprisingly low. We have 13 acres on a dead end road, and it’s just over a half mile to our mailbox (I was notified by the postal worker that they won’t deliver packages if it’s over half a mile). We can’t see any of our neighbors from the house or yard. The topography of our property and surrounding forest (as well as the neighbors’ willingness to share cost and buy up vacant land if it becomes available to prevent future development) makes it a safe bet that it will stay this way. The land is very well timbered, and has this woodworker excited about future prospects of selective cutting and management. That’s all for now. On to some projects!

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Four-Wheeler Cart

The first project worth a mention actually was a collaboration. I needed a wheeler and a cart for the new house and land. A wheel barrow wasn’t going to cut it, neither was your run-of-the-mill store bought cart for lawn mowers or small highway worthy utility trailers. Having had use of four different wheeler carts (five if you count the ingenious modification of a Prime Mover M15B Concrete Buggy for use behind a wheeler) I know the value of “the right tool for the job.” With an outdoor wood burner and a drop site for firewood (via logging truck) over 200 feet away, my heavily forested property needed a wheeler and cart. No way around it. Even a small tractor would be inadequate due to the rather challenging topography of the land. I’ve never tipped one, but my new property would be a good place to try. Luckily, one of my high school friends and neighbor growing up is handy with a welder, knowledgeable for where to get metal, and happens to have designed and assembled a few carts prior to my request. I received the cart welded up with tires and rims. I then prepared and painted the cart before adding the wood. One look at the underside and you’ll see it is well reinforced and should have no problem overcoming the occasional rock or stump impact.

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Cart features:

  • All steel construction, 16 gauge 1.25 in. square tube & 0.25 in. steel plate
  • Floor in 18 gauge steel plate (one piece)
  • Hitch is salvaged and overbuilt from .25 in. thick 2 in square tube
  • Hubs actually sleeve inside the axle and are pinned with bolts – replaceable in minutes
  • Hitch is welded to cart
  • 3/8″ in flat stock braces added to hitch and axles
  • Entire chassis wiped down and sanded prior to paint application
  • Black hammer-finish Rustoleum spray paint used (one coat + touch up)
  • Wood is pressure treated 6″ pine decking
  • 5/16 in. galvanized bolts, washers and lock nuts used for wood installation
  • 24 in. tall sides
  • box is 4 ft wide, 5 ft long
  • 7/8″ plywood was salvaged and cut to fit floor of cart to take abuse of hauling wood
  • Easily carries face cord of hard maple (at least 1200 lbs)
  • Tires have added tubes for durability
  • $1050 for all materials and labor (welding)
  • Lifetime warranty on all welding!

The cart was completed mid-August. Since then it has lost about 20 pounds and the boards have shrunk a quarter of an inch, leaving gaps in the sides and tailgate. The decking was wet and heavy from pressure treating when I picked it up. I could have stacked it an let it air dry over 2 months but I needed to put the cart in service and shrinkage really wasn’t a concern.

The Workshop

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The days of basement wood working and poor air quality have passed. Tall ceilings, in floor heat, bright shop lights, central dust collection through metal ductwork, and real lumber racks are the new standard. Heck of an upgrade. I spent about a month putting the shop together before even turning a tool on. The garage was pretty bare-bones upon arrival. The seller left two tired-out workbenches for me and a lot of burned out light bulbs (who does that?). Here’s a quick list of the upgrades added to make a garage a shop:

  • Shop lights installed. Each fixture uses four 33 watt T8 daylight bulbs (2500 lumen). Two fixtures in finishing room, 8 in the main shop area, and 1 over the non-woodworking workbench. Three light sockets were upgraded to a socket + grounded outlet to accept the plug from the fluorescent fixtures. One switch turns on the finishing room, one switch does the non-woodworking bench, and one does the 8-fixture main shop area. A total of 110,000 lumens and 1452 watts of lighting was added. The quality of light is superb. I stashed a number of 13 watt 6500K CFLs (about 6) to keep swapping out in the three remaining standard fixtures that get use in the garage.
  • A 4 strap and 3 strap lumber rack that was prebuilt prior to the move was installed and loaded up with lumber. They are power lagged to studs with seven SPAX  1/4” lag bolts 6″ in length. The racks are incredibly robust, being built from Douglas fir 4×4’s and 1.25″ angle iron.
  • The non-woodworking bench was refurbished and reinforced with 5/16” carriage bolts and received a new Bessey bench vise.
  • The other workbench was a mess. I replaced one leg and added 18 or more carriage bolts for reinforcement.The top was two sheets of 1/2” exterior plywood screwed together with an abrasive paint coating. I removed about 30 staples that were stuck in every which way before fitting homasote to the top and screwing it down. I flush trimmed the top with a router so that all three layers have the same edge.
  • The dust collector was wall mounted and the ductwork was hung using the shop-made plywood hangers I prebuilt in the previous basement wood shop.
  • An overhead electrical cord spool was removed from the ceiling, bolted to a new ash board, and then power lagged back to the ceiling. A new heavy duty female end was then added, replacing the old corroded original plug.
  • Multiple clamp racks were made for Quick-Grip clamps, pipe clamps and F-clamps.
  • Half inch baltic birch plywood was hung over the non-woodworking bench and tool hooks were made out of wood screws and some clear rubber tubing found in Lowe’s plumbing department.
  • A garage door opener was also added to allow for quick entry and exits with cars or four wheelers (I run a dehumidifier year round and also heat the garage to 63° F in the winter.
  • And while not pictured, I have a box fan mounted on the ceiling with a furnace filter. This acts as an air filter for the shop and is directly wired into the main shop light switch so it is always on when I’m in the shop.

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The modern beam and base workbench I constructed prior to the move is also finally set up. The base is mortise and tenon 4×4 Douglas fir with a 3/4″ epoxy treated plywood top. The beams are made from a plywood ladder frame with a hemasote side and a melamine side. Each beam can be F-clamped to the base for extra stability. The bench has proven remarkable versatile and incredibly solid.

Home Remodeling

I enjoy a good shower from time to time. With our house we got a great shower… with a bad window. You read right, there was a window in our tiled shower. One day I noticed some black mold on the sill. I poked it with my finger and the sill abruptly ate my finger up to the second knuckle. Two weeks later the window was torn out and the first home-renovation was under way. Not much to this project. I gutted all the rotten wood, let it dry out, then rebuilt it and started installing glass block. I simply followed the instructions on the Pittsburg Corning glass block installation manual and purchased all the items I was told to in the instructions. Except for ordering two fewer blocks than needed and grouting at the top of a 24 foot ladder at night in 15 mph winds, it went relatively smoothly.

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A benefit of the glass block is more light! The absence of a window frame and screen results in about 30% more light. After removing the window, the width of the opening was already sized for the glass block. For a perfect fit, a small piece of Black walnut was installed at the top of the opening.

The outdoor wood burner also got some attention. Aside from scheduled maintenance and my insistence on replacing some worn out fire-rope, I figured adding a roof was a good bet. There is some debate as to whether I built a lean-to, pergola, or pavilion. Either way it keeps me dry. I made a trip to Menards, spent $300, and in two evenings after I was done with work ended up with this:

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The posts are buried 48″ below grade and all told there are only 42 fasteners (SPAX lag-bolts) in the whole structure (not counting the sheet metal screws). The ugly orange cord strung up is the temporary cable for our internet, it is supposed to be buried summer 2015. The building to the right is the workshop.

Wood Shop in Action!

I had some very high expectations of the shop. I was a little nervous to test it out and feared that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations or that it was simply too nice for a mere hobby woodworker. When the snow fell I headed to the shop and got to work. My fears have abated and now I have some projects to share. It’s a fine workshop.

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Seven beer caddies were designed and built as Christmas gifts. I kept two. Woods used were Butternut (background) and Black Cherry (foreground). The Cherry caddy also received a stainless steel bottle opener.

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The project that received the most attention so far has been the Black Walnut TV stand. I experimented with sapwood, shaker doors, and through tenons and it paid off big. This cabinet also comes pre-installed with magnetic child safety latches. The story behind the cabinet’s design was born out of necessity. William, our very energetic 2 year old, didn’t like the way a cartoon character was being treated by his peers so he launched a high velocity sippy cup at them. That was the end of our 42″ Panasonic plasma TV and an expensive “teachable moment”. This stand is nearly three feet high, raising it out of the sippy cup danger zone.

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A simple birds eye maple & black walnut bathroom knick-knack shelf.

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This is me. Focussing very hard.

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The board that I’m using to set my scribe is a neat bit of bent lamination. The strips go all the way through the board (unlike inlay which is just a shallow strip).

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This is another wood working project that my two year old helped me come up with. I have a number of Lego models that have up to 2200 or so pieces in them and all sorts of moving parts (air cylinders, model engines, gears, electric motors, etc…). This is super amazing to a two year old. I wanted to place out of reach and out of danger. Actually, all the projects except for the beer caddy, have been inspired by children. Thanks kiddos. If you are wondering about the bathroom shelf, that is where the toilet paper has to be stored.

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Speaking of kiddos, this step stool (18″ high) was designed for the bathroom sink. The heavy White Oak the stool is constructed from, as well as rubber grippers on the feet, intentionally make the stool difficult for tiny hands to tip over or push/carry around the house.

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This tea candle holder was designed with my wife’s assistance (sort of). There may have been some minor heat damage to a certain window sill in a certain bathroom… After scraping and repainting, I set out to increase the candle safety of my household. Throwing away the offending candles seemed like the simplest, but least popular, solution. So I sought the wisdom of the wood shop and consulted my figured wood scrap pile. After about 2.5 hours I had a black walnut tea candle holder.

That is about it for this update. Hopefully I’ll get back to some more cabin related posts in 2015. There are a few projects on the drawing board that the wood shop will be called upon to construct. Hopefully I’ll get them – if I do you can count of photos and commentary.