Author Archives: offgridcabin

About offgridcabin

I'm now a full-time resident of Upper Michigan. Unlike many up here I did not grow up in the U.P. or move here from down state. I associate the U.P. as being a bit more North of Wisconsin (my home state) instead of belonging of Lower Michigan. Definitely feels like it's own state... I have a day job and visit the cabin when I can. Dad, retired, spends about 1/3 of the year at the cabin. Mom's presence has been growing as more and more of his projects reach completion. I have a wife gifted with an abundance of wisdom and patience. I'm kept busy by my two kids, love for the outdoors and insistence that we camp as a family as much as possible, hobbies of photography and woodworking, and don't do nearly enough archery hunting and target shooting.

Straight Line Wind

8.2.2017 – Wednesday

I’m back at the cabin and having a look around. It’s different now. Fewer trees for sure. I remember first walking the land and seeing the towering Balsam standing like sentinels over the lowlands. Basswood reached above the crowns of the maple trees on the high ground. Poplar trees stood shoulder to shoulder along the two-rut road leading to the cabin. Those trees are absent. Their bones litter the forest floor as reminders of what the forest used to be.

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On July 6, at about 8pm EST, a powerful storm moved through. It moved swiftly over the cabin and created powerful strait line winds. These jest of wind were irregular but uniformly oriented. While no-one was at the cabin at the time of the storm, wind speed was projected to reach 90 mph. Patches of forest were leveled and trees that shouldn’t have ben felled by wind were tore out root and stem.  Basswood trees snapped off 30 feet up as the crowns were forced toward horizontal. The point of failure on some maples was over a foot thick and over 20 feet off the ground.

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I arrived on Monday, after work. The storm passed through in the twilight hours on Thursday. The County had just opened up the main graveled road. The Ol’ man had warned me to take the long way around because the road was impassible by vehicle. While grateful for his wisdom I ignored his advice. There were heavy equipment tracks on the roadway from what looked like a large front end loader. Word was passed to me that the storm hit hardest on the other end of the graveled road. I figured they would start at that end of the road (the end of the road closest to the County garage). Seeing tracks at the North end was a sign that the road might be open again. I was also prepared. I had two Husqvarna 61 chainsaws freshly tuned up with just-sharpened chains. Over the past three years I’ve cut about 40 cord of firewood and become quite proficient with my saws and with my sharpening techniques. One saw would have done they job but there was room for two in the trunk of my 2007 Honda Civic.

As I approached the area hit hardest by the wind storm I slowed my pace. The 3 inches of ground clearance that my economy car yielded didn’t inspire enough confidence to drive swiftly as limbs and leaves began to litter the roadway. I came to an intersection and met a County truck. It was a large and fairly new Ford F-250 crew cab. I got the good news that the road was now open. Along with the good news I also got, “are you crazy driving that through here?” Not wishing to explain the merits of driving an automobile renowned for reliability, efficiency, and low maintenance costs I instead stated that I had two chainsaws and was about to get to work opening up the road to my Cabin. As I drove off I put on my Lee Vally cap and felt a little more rugged. When I reached as far as I could drive up the two rut road I changed out of my dress pants, collared shirt, and dress shoes. Now appropriately dressed in tattered blue jeans, steel toe work boots, and a stained T-shirt I prepared my saws. I fueled up, greased the bar sprocket, and filled up the oiler. I strapped on my professional kevlar chaps and chainsaw helmet. While I may be saving money with my choice in automobile I spare no expense on safety equipment. An injury would really wreck my day and it’s about a half mile walk from car to cabin at this point. Furthermore, emergency care in these parts isn’t, well, all that good frankly.

My first saw was a bit lethargic and after sitting for a year the carburetor was out of adjustment. I switched to my other saw and enjoyed quick cutting. Most of the trees in this spot were poplar, with a basswood here or there. The 3/8” chain with rakers filed just a bit deeper than the recommended 25 thousandths was the perfect combination for this job. Despite the success I was having the number of trees that lay before me was daunting. After three hours of only cutting I made it to the gate before walking back to the car to change. Wind fallen trees are a bit more than a nuisance and each one would easily cause an injury requiring a change in plans and I painful drive to the emergency room. The primary issue is that the trees were upset from their natural state. The wood is under stress and can snap violently at any point in the cut. The tops are also unsettled and can roll one way or the other as the trunk is cut. Of the nearly 40 trees cut tonight I had to carefully examine each one from root to crown and look for potential hazards.

Unscathed and a bit dehydrated I trudged back to my car to change and pack in to the cabin. The walk was hot and treacherous. I packed light but the further along I got the more I thought I could have packed lighter. Eventually I arrived. I rested up and replaced the water and calories that I spent earlier. Astounded with the damage of the storm I was eager to see what the rest of our land looked like. The ‘not-knowing’ was fueling my curiosity and I set out on foot to walk our trails. The walk usually takes about 15 minutes but this time took almost 2 hours. I even took a short video because after a while all the photos start to look the same.

Looking down the road from my parking spot.

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I was sweaty and tired after 2.5 tanks of gas.

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Setting out for the cabin I walked over my cuttings.

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Some trees were uprooted, some broke off up high, and others like this one shattered at their strongest point.

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Five poplar trees in a mess at the gate. A 6th is to my right just barely out of frame of the fisheye lens.

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The gate once again survived in tact.

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Heading away from the gate toward camp I came across one more large tree down and a few limbs. It didn’t look too bad… yet.

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Then I started hopping over trees.

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And more trees…

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Over some, under others.

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The road turned into the wind and 5 or 6 trees were uprooted right alongside the road.

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After setting foot on our property I crossed over a single basswood on the way to the cabin.

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TV reception didn’t look too good. I climbed up on the roof and straighten and repositioned the antenna after my walk.

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The cabin was just out of reach. Phew.

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On my walk down the slope on our trails I saw a few snapped spruce. The beetles did a number on the trees and the wind finished off the remaining trees.

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There was a forest here… the large food plot is straight ahead, through about 10 or more trees. Of coarse they are all matted down in a cluster.

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I made it to the plot. Looking back toward the hill now.

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Plot looks nice at least. Any grouse and deer that weren’t blown away or crushed should have food.

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A jet plowed through the center of our lowland. You can clearly see the direction of the wind.

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I crossed the plot and headed up the trail to the 6×6 stand.

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I snaked around through the woods and stepped back up on the trail and looked back the way I came.

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The stand survived! The clear cut along out Eastern border wasn’t to blame for the wind but it didn’t do any favors for our forest.

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The back trail was thinned by GMO a few years before we bought the camp.  Those trees folded right over across the trail. They are small and shouldn’t be too bad to clean up, but there are a lot of them!

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This view (1), or path, if able to walk would lead you straight across the center food plot and into the center of the pond. See the satellite image I annotated below for reference.

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(2) At the other end of the path, on the bank of the pond looking back.

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Back at the cabin I called the Ol’ man on my iPhone, setting it on the bed and using my bluetooth headset to keep the phone positioned in a location of good reception. Dad asked how they cutting went. Funny… I never said anything about that. In fact, I was advised not to start cutting until he arrived tomorrow morning. Bob, from the neighboring camp called Dad and said something along the lines of, “Some one cut a shitload of trees and made it all the way to your gate! Does you kid drive a Honda Civic?” So that’s how Dad knew what I was up to… I headed back out to the car after Bob stopped cutting, drove up to the gate and then cut for an hour around the gate.

Nightfall halted my efforts. I trekked back with my chainsaw gear this time along with one of my saws.  The next morning I got an early start.  Dad texted when he was 30 minutes out. I made it to the gate around 8am and started hiking out the trail. When I met Dad he had just got the tractor unloaded. The Ol’ man arrived around 8am EST. He appeared to have the same eagerness to open up the road that I did. Too bad he didn’t have steel toe boots though. After discussing the merits of protective gear he dropped a tree on his foot and limped about for a bit. All his toes on one foot except for the smallest toe was purple, and the front third of his foot was discoloring. He iced for a bit while I continued on with the tractor. After icing for a while he pulled the truck up to the gate and we headed up the cabin road cutting and setting the logs and tops aside with the tractor. I suppose we would have been a bit more productive had the Ol’ man not stopped to ice his foot 4 or 5 times today, but overall it went pretty well. Good thing we discussed safety gear before cutting… I suppose after this post is finished I should give him a call and see if he bought a pair of steel toe boots. Now that it’s a few weeks since the storm it’s worth mentioning that the foot was only bruised… same as his pride. Luckily both healed, leaving no lasting damage.

Rudy has also arrived this morning. His camp is the next one up from ours. He started cutting toward his camp but then broke the handle off his saw. In other words, he got it pinched in a tree and tried to pull it out. Both my saws are over 30 years old and both have their original handles. There is value in having two saws (or a separate bar and chain at the least). It guarantees that if a saw gets pinched you can free it up without damage. In this case, Rudy had to call it a day and pack up.

We made camp at 2pm EST. Not too bad. After a brief lunch break, our energy returned and we got back to work. Everything on the ground by the cabin was cleared and most of the leaners were taken down. All told, the tops of 7 trees were removed and 5 leaners were felled. A total of 13 trees fell down or were damaged to the point where removal was required within 200 feet of the cabin. By day’s end the lawn was clear and there was a lot of firewood to cut up. Eleven trees down and two to go.

We took care by the garage and used the tractor to remove logs and persuade trees to fall where we wanted.

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Bob stopped over to thank us for the work on the road. After demonstrating the versatility of a few choice words to describe the storm, work done, and work yet to do, he headed back out to the road to cut. Nice guy. Fairly hard working. After the yard was cleaned up we put in a pizza, some local sort with quality meat and a healthy quantity of fresh mozzarella cheese.

The next day I drove the two rut road and remembered what it used to look like.

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What’s next? The Ol’ man will continue to work on the trails and hopefully by the beginning of August we will have unfettered access to our stands (marking a milestone in the clean up, not the conclusion of it). The basswood will be cut over the next several years to make campfire wood and the maple will be cut in the next 18 months and either split and stacked for the cabin and maple sapping stove, or hauled out to my house for the outdoor wood burner. The lowlands will mostly be left alone. The poplar and balsam that were felled by the storm will be left as cover for whitetail deer and other animals. This is the way things go. Give and take. The lowlands were at an apex back in 2007. No longer! The ridge was thinned of basswood; good thing! had they not, many more maples would have been damaged from wind-felled basswood. The cabin was not damaged and the solar panels are still in place. Both elevated stands survived unscathed. A culvert on the cabin road was crushed by the processor that cut up wind felled trees as part of a salvage operation. Plans were already set to replace the culvert, but not until next year. The Ol’ man and I would also like to do another fly over in Spring 2018.

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Every unexpected event is an opportunity. And like an old timer up the road said standing by his truck parked at the end of the road to his cabin after the storm, “It’s bad, but at least the cabin is OK and I have my health.” I replied, “I like how you mentioned the cabin first.” He chuckled.

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Michigan Maple Syrup II

4.1.2017 – Saturday

It’s been a few years since the last time I helped with maple syrup. This go around the endeavor featured 90% less mud than the last time! As with every batch before, the Ol’ man did pretty much all the work. He placed the taps, collected the sap, and began the boil. By the time I arrived with my family, now featuring five members total, all that remained to do was the finishing.

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Sarah and I and our three kiddos arrived Friday night. My folks had already been settled in long before, and the boil was beginning to slowly come to an end as the night sky lit with stars. While my family settled in for the night and prepared for bed the Ol’ man and I discussed plans for tomorrow. The most technical step was ahead of us. This time there was plenty of help.

Saturday morning saw us rise with the morning light. Dad started the fire right away. After Sarah prepared French toast and sausage patties and we ate, work began outside. Jars were lined up and the pan was topped off with it’s final amount of sap to boil. The fire kept on at a reliable pace while some of the hoses and tools from collection were prepared for storage. The whole process went smoothly and afforded me plenty of opportunities for photographs.

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New for this year was a large tank used for sap storage. Collection remained the same as previous years. The Ol’ man is still working out a satisfactory way to pump the sap in and out of the tank. Perhaps on the next go around this will be sorted out.

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The wood burner kept on cooking and performed well. However, a lot of heat was lost from the lower portion of the stove. The ash clean out tray rotted from the heat and the thin metal failed. Heat also escaped through the walls of the stove below the fire box and above the ash tray. To combat this, plans are underway to install fire brick for heat insulation and construct a new ash clean out tray from heavier gauge metal. The firebox is 100% lined with fire brick, but when we leave the ash clean out ajar the fire burns hotter from he extra airflow, helping achieve the ideal oil. The steel that the stove is built from can take the heat but the ash tray couldn’t.

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The specific gravity was checked periodically. Once at the appropriate moisture content was achieved, the fire was quenched with snow and we began to pour off the finished syrup into bottles.

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The finished syrup was run through a strainer and then through two grease splatter screens.

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As the finished syrup was removed, the stove was adjusted with a hydraulic jack to push more syrup toward the pour off spigot.

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The big upgrade this year was the addition of a ball valve to the aluminum kettle. The smooth opening and closing and long handle meant no burnt fingers and virtually no spilling. Had the request been made, the Ol’ man could have filled shot glasses.

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Every drop counts. The pan was tilted to extract every bit of finished syrup.

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Immediately after the last jar was filled clean up began.

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This year saw the production of 12.25 gallons of finished syrup. It was a bit darker than previous years and we noted a more bolder maple flavor. The larger batch and longer period of collection meant that we didn’t get an early batch, but instead had one large batch consisting of early and mid-season sap.

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While the clean up continued Sarah began to make maple candy in the cabin with my Mom. Some syrup from a previous season was heated until it reached 34 to 36°F above boiling. After it was allowed to rest for a little it was stirred until it just began to turn lighter in color and slightly cloudy. Then it was quickly poured into molds.

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The second batch went a little better. We attempted to transfer the molten sugar from pot to a smaller container before pouring it into molds and it solidified too quickly. Batch two went straight from pot to mold. We also stirred it a little too long the first time as well. As soon as we suspected a a slight lightening in color we began to fill the molds.

It was a successful year. With such a large supply of syrup and candy it may be two years before we boil again.

Shaker Chest of Drawers

4.17.2017 – Monday

Today I finished a project long in the making. There were a few small projects this winter, but for the most part I’ve been singularly focussed on this one massive double project.

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I’ve found a lot of inspiration in the works and articles of C. H. Becksvoort and that lead me to an article in Fine Wood Working Magazine. After settling on the plans for a Cherry Chest of Drawers by Michael Pekovich I started taking inventory to see if I had the needed supplies for the build. As it turned out, I did! Enough for two chest of drawers. Upon Sarah’s request I added an additional bottom drawer, making the case a little taller and meeting the requirements of my wife’s clothing storage needs. As I got further into the project I sent an e-mail to C. H. Becksvoort and got a response with much needed encouragement that concluded with “Enjoy the drawers. They are the best part.” That marked the half way point in the build as well as the birth of my third child.

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I began by pulling wood from a stack down by the garden area just before first snow of winter 2016-2017. With a stockpile of cherry in the shop I worked to get more maple and pine for the drawers. Luckily, the Ol’ man had a supply back on the home forty. With the supplies in shop and the rocking chair nearly completed I finalized the dimensions for what would become a set of eight-drawer cherry chest of drawers. And began.

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Armed with chalk and a tape measure I dug through my lumber and sorted out what would become the case and drawer fronts. After that, smaller boards could be used for the back boards and drawer dividers. I carefully selected 10″ and larger boards for the dresser top and fronts of the larger drawers.

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Starting with thick 7/8″ boards I used the router to cut a glue joint for mating the boards together. I used Tite-Bond II for glueing up all panels. The little zig-zags where the boards come together make glue-up easier and lend to less scraping to smooth the resulting panel. Most of the time the panels didn’t need to be run through the drum sander. The few that had less-than-perfect seems were sanded within 12 hours of glue up to ensure flatness before any wood movement could occur. It’s best practice to assume that all boards will move and plan accordingly. On a large panel I flatten immediately after glue up. When building small drawers I try to cut dovetails and glue up within 24 hours of final thickness planing on the parts. If time allows I like to plane my materials 1/8″ oversize and let it sit for 48 to 72 hours before final dimension is achieved. Over time I’ve learned the humidity profile of my shop. Running a dehumidifier all times of the year and holding 40-45% RH has created a very predictable work space for wood movement. I find it preferable to work with dry wood that will expand with the seasons instead of shrink with the seasons.

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The next step was joinery. I started with the tails. with the tail boards cut I moved on to the pin-boards. Extra care was taken on the case. The pins will be visible on the top of the case and the cleaner the joint the better the top would look. I supported all my cuts to prevent tear out and took tiny bites. Everything was hand fit and shaved carefully after every test-fit. Eventually the fit was clean and snug.

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To prepare for the drawer guides I built a router guide and then cut the dados. With the dados cut I then routed the sliding dovetails deeper into the dado. Once all the joinery was completed on the case I was able to assemble it (and breath a sigh of relief – a mismatched dado from one side to the next would have been crippling to my moral). I used gorilla glue, a polyurethane based expanding glue. It has a longer set time and it is slippery, which assists in large glue ups with tight fitting joinery. The glue can also be sanded without clogging sand paper and is easily removed from the inside of the case using a cabinet maker’s plane. It’s more flexible than Tite-Bond and tends to move with the wood, preventing the phenomenon of raised glue-lines. Raised glue-lines occur when wood shrinks and the glue does not. Running your hand across a surface with raised glue lines reveals each seam between boards. The thicker the panel the greater the raised glue-line may be. However, I prefer Tite-Bond for glueing up panels using up to 1″ thick stock because of it’s fast set time of about 30 minutes compared to 2-4 hours for Gorilla Glue.

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The assembled case was then scraped and sanded. The large Veritas shoulder plane was the perfect tool for shaving end grain on the dovetailed corners. And it is quite satisfying to see perfect end grain shavings. The belt sander makes me nervous but saved a bunch of time on the large panels, as long as I stayed away from all the edges! I didn’t dare go within 3″ of the dovetailed corner. I needed perfect edges for applying the trim and fitting the base.

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Here we have the dividers. The front dividers are cherry and the back are hard maple. The plans called for soft maple but I was all out. I’m also still a year away from having basswood and poplar at the ready. Unable to find a downside to a harder wood I moved forward. The dividers have a dovetailed end and two, three, or four mortices. Dovetailing was done on the router table… very carefully standing each piece on end. Each one was hand fit to the case before any joinery. Each was also carefully labeled because sometimes one would fit better if it were a 1/16″ longer or shorter. Little variations like this are part of a hand-fit look… if you can even identify the slight variances. I also prefer to fit everything so it is un-stressed in the hopes that seasonal movement will not compromise a joint and lead to the unthinkable: a split or crack!

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I took a break from joinery for a bit to make the eight boards for the back of the case. No great feats of joinery for this step, just a simple rabbit cut with a dado-stack on the table saw to make the half-lapped boards.

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After a break from technical work I delved in to some ultra precision work on the router table. I made several dovetailed blanks that wold get shaped in to trim to attach to the top of the chest of drawers. The track was also cut carefully from hard maple with several extras being produced, providing me with a selection to choose from later on with fitting the trim to the track. The more track pieces, the better chance to find the perfect fit.

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Keeping in line with precision work the bases were constructed next. Some carefully cut dovetails were created and then followed up with a perfectly fit miter.

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On the bandsaw I cut the arches and fillets for the base. Clamping the base sides and front to a flat block of ash on the shoulder of my router table acted as a guide for my card scraper.  The jaggy bandsaw cut was tuned up perfectly straight and smooth. An old block plane that I ground down served as a cabinet maker’s plane. Don’t feel bad about for this antique plane, it was acquired for cheap and hadn’t been used in decades. Cutting off the front of block plane gave it new life, earning it a place in my tool cabinet. I like to think that this is preferable to sitting in a box somewhere rusting away.

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The cherry base received reinforcements with hard maple screw/glue blocks as well as a hard maple ledge to attach the base to the chest. A rabbit in the base supports the chest, so the maple ledge is really only there to strengthen the structure of the base (keep it straight) and attach the base to the chest while allowing for seasonal expansion and contraction.

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The dovetails were cleaned up (If you can’t tell that I love my Veritas large shoulder plane you have been looking at the pictures) and I applied finish. Throughout the project finish was applied as I went. It was nice to build in stages and helped to keep me sane, providing some satisfaction and sense of accomplishment as I moved from one stage to the next. Though it wasn’t always, finishing is now a deeply rewarding and somewhat relaxing part of any project. I favor the application of a wiping finish with a foam brush. I then wipe off the excess with a rag lightly wetted with low-odor mineral spirits. Between coats I will buff with 000 or 0000 steel wool, taking care to clean the wood with compressed air and tack-cloth before the next application.

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What a mess… but at least there is progress. You’ll notice it is dark out. I finished at least half of my work after night fall, after work, after the kiddos went to bed. Hopefully my wife will look upon her chest of drawers with fondness as she thinks of the depth of my love… or contempt for leaving her alone nearly every night this past winter.

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I batched out the tenons on the table saw with a dado stack and then cleaned them up with a shoulder plane and chisel.

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An important element for the durability of the case is seen here. The front tenon on the drawer guide is glued in to the front drawer divider. The slides rests in the dados cut in the case and supports the weight of the drawers. The back of the slide then sits loosely in the rear divider with a 3/16″ gap (the drawer slide is 3/16″ too short). That gap is there to allow for the sides of the case to shorten and lengthen in width through the seasons. That gap (where the electric screwdriver is pointing) will close and open depending on the moisture content of the wood through the seasons.

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This is the bottom of the case. The internal structure is complete and I cleaned up the dividers with a finely set hand plane, cabinet scraper, and sand paper. I probably spent about an hour just breaking all the sharp edges on the case. Take a good look at the dovetails on the bottom of the case, once the chest of drawers is fully assembled they will be hidden.

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The trim was one of my favorite parts. I had taped off the front when I applied finish and glued the trim on directly to the bare wood that had been covered with painters tape. Long grain orientation meant I didn’t need to worry about expansion and contraction. On the sides however, the top of the case was perpendicular to the trim grain orientation. Step one was to align the track. I started with a single long piece and drilled all of the screw holes. Then on the crosscut sled I trimmed it into five separate pieces. The trim was then slid over the track and glued to only the first piece of track and to the miter of the front trim piece. The rest of the track was waxed to allow for movement. As mentioned above – earlier in the build I used a straight edge and shoulder plane to create a perfectly flat top edge so there would be no gaps between the case top and the trim (and stayed clear when using the belt sander).

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Nothing like perfectly aligned trim and a silky smooth finish. The dovetails are clean and tight as well.

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It was time to begin making drawers. For the task of cutting half blind dovetails I found a chisel from my Grandpa Nicholas’s old tool box and put it in to service. Using a Dremel I carved it in to a shop-made fish tail chisel and sharpened it. It took an edge well and excelled at it’s new role.

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When I build drawers I begin with the sides. Using the saw blade angled at a 1:6 angle I used a miter gauge and stop block to batch out the sides. The blue tape on the board is there as a reference and makes sure I’m working on the correct part of the board. A goof at this point means I need to mill a new board and start over. Luckily, or perhaps due to experience, no boards were lost for the entirety of the project from a mis-cut tail board (that’s 32 tail boards!).

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Then I cleaned up the tails with chisels. I used a 1/4″ chisel to hog away the waste and then clamped the board and carefully used a bevel edge 1/4″ chisel (brown handles) to pare clean corners at the base of each tail. Other tools pictures are my 6″ rule, mechanical pencil, and dividers – all used on each drawer for layout.

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Midway through the project I picked up a Veritas Dovetail Saw Guide System from Lee Valley Tools. It was a game changer! After a little while I had learned how to use the guide to precisely cut through and half blind dovetails. Most of the time I didn’t have to pare any material away because the saw guide was so precise.

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Early on I used a small sliding T-square to check my work. The fishtail chisel was a star for getting into tight corners and cleaning up my half-blind dovetails. It sliced through end grain cherry with remarkable efficiency. After a few drawers I no longer needed the T-square; but it was very helpful for checking my work as I built up my skills.

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When gluing up the drawers, parallel clamps (orange) were a favorite of mine. Also handy were some shop-made corner squares that I used with my quick-clamps (blue). The F-clamps (green) weren’t necessary, but I used them to guarantee a tightly closed dovetail. Again, Gorilla glue was my glue of choice for dovetails.

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Cleaning up the drawers after glue up took a while. Again, my large shoulder plane was the star. One handy feature of my beam and base workbench was how easily it accommodated the drawers for sanding and planing. After sanding to 180 grit I routed the 1/4″ quarter round on the drawer front and then sanded to 320 grit. A coat of finish (except for the bottom edge of the drawers) and it was on to the next drawer. I left some wood bare because it will better except paste wax than finished wood. The wax will lubricate and provide years of smooth opening and closing.

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As I built drawers I built drawer bottoms. I needed a lot of pine. I even salvaged some small pieces from a pallet I had been holding on to out of laziness. Finding usable pine for two small drawers was motivation to finally break down the pallet. The rest of the pallet served as fuel for the wood burner. Pine was dimensioned to 3/4″ and then allowed to dry a few more days before milling to 1/2″ thickness. I added my glue joint to the edges of the boards on router table to facilitate a trouble-free glue up of the bottoms. About 20 minutes of sanding on each with a belt sander with 180 grit left a nice smooth drawer bottom. The half inch bottom needed to fit in to a 1/4″ dado in the drawer sides, so there was one more trip to the router table involved before being mated to a finished drawer. It was a bunch of extra work but I love the look (and smell) of solid pine bottoms. The bottoms are left bare without any finish applied.

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The drawer fronts got bigger… I had lumber up to 13″ wide of 5/4 cherry. My jointer only reaches 6 inches and planer 12.5″ width. To flatten such a larger board I picked a piece of MDF from the cut-off / bargain bin at a big-box store and hot glued the cherry to it. With one side flat I could pry the glue off and plane the opposing side. This technique worked flawlessly.

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Pre-Finishing the knobs allowed me to polish them up nicely and select for color and character prior to installation.

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I chose to cut off the tenon of each knob and instead attach it with a screw. The process began by camping the knobs in a shop-made holder and trimming off the tenon. Then I drilled and tapped the knobs. Two taps were needed. a standard #10-24 tap started cutting threads and then a bottom threading tap finished the job. It took a light touch and some practice with a cordless drill to get the feel for it. I stripped the threads on the first two knobs. My first failure taught me I couldn’t hand thread; I had to use a power drill. My second failure taught me that the tap had to thread in and then back out several times during the process for chip clearing and clean results. Correctly done it is very difficult to over tighten and strip the threaded wood. The knobs are attached with authority using a #10-24 stainless steel machine screw 1.5″ long and a stainless steel washer. If I get in to turning and want to make my own knobs this makes it easy to swap out these mass production knobs.

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One last look at those gorgeous half-blind dovetails. Even though they weren’t cut with the precision of the top dovetails they still look so good.

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And now the dovetail are hidden forever…

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To install the knobs I marked the position of my hole with a ruler attached to an edge guided rule with double sided tape. Then I found the center of the ruler and made a light mark.

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I checked for center using a large divider. This was only a way to double check the position. It caught an error on one drawer where I was off my 3/8″.

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I clamped a block to the inside of the drawer to prevent tear out and then used a shop-built drill guide to align my brad-point bit. The guide is a simple scrap piece with a rabbit. The wood sits flat on the drawer face and the drill bit is guided at a perfect 90° to the work surface. I used blue tap on the guide to prevent scratching on my newly finished drawers faces.

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One last look at the back before I cover it up. You can see how I routed the drawer bottom to fit the 1/4″ groove. I like this type of route because it slightly wedges the bottom in, deterring rattling, and preventing the bottom from moving around in the drawer.

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When attaching the back boards I used wedges to space the boards at the correct position to allow for seasonal expansing and shrinking. Once the boards were screwed in place the wedges were removed.

 

And that’s it. Two Shaker inspired Cherry Chest of Drawers.

 

Some of my building notes for each Chest of Drawers:

  • 134 full dovetails and 20 half dovetails
  • 123 pieces (one large panel or one knob = 1 part)
  • 30 mortices and 30 tenons
  • 8 dados
  • 14 sliding dovetails
  • 2 trim pieces attached with 10 segments of dovetailed track
  • 72 (approx.) glue joints used for panel construction

Drawers: 

  • 2.5 hours to build bottom from pine rough sawn
  • 3 hours to prepare stock for sides
  • 5 hours to cut tables and pins
  • 2 hours to sand, fit, and tune up dovetails
  • 1.5 hours to finish

Base:

  • 2 hours to prepare stock
  • 5 hours joinery
  • 3 hours to shape and route
  • 1 hour to sand
  • 2 hours to install blue blocks
  • 2 hours to finish

Back boards:

  • 3 hours to prepare stock
  • 2.5 hours to sand and half lap
  • 2.5 hours to finish

The case:

  • 12 hours to prepare the sides from rough sawn
  • 5 hours to cut the tails
  • 10 hours to cut the pins
  • 2 hours to cut dados
  • 2 hours to cut sliding dovetails

Internal frame:

  • 5 hours to prepare form rough sawn
  • 4 hours to cut matting dovetails
  • 3 hours to cut mortises
  • 8 hours to cut tenons
  • 4 hours to glue assemble
  • 2 hours to fine tune

Carcass:

  • 6 hours to flatten with hand plane
  • 4 hours to sand
  • 4 hours to build trim
  • 3 hours to fit trim
  • 4 hours to finish

Assembly:

  • 4 hours to prepare/finish/install Shaker knobs
  • 2 hours to install back boards
  • 1 hours to install base
  • 2 hours miscellaneous activities

Other:

  • 10 hours to clean shop
  • 5 hours to photograph
  • 10 hours to sharpen and set up new tools

** all times are estimates and total about 225 hours per chest. Research and practice joinery easily puts the project passed 500 hours for both chests.

 

A few other smaller projects finished this Winter:

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