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.

Little Refinements

1.12.2019 – Saturday

The cabin is a continuing work in progress. This past year there were several upgrades and refinements. The first began late Monday evening on December 4, 2017. The road was still torn up from logging and impassable without a 4×4. The Honda Civic simply wasn’t up to the task. The Ol’ man picked me up in the Honda Pioneer SxS and hauled me and my gear to the cabin. By the time I finally made it to the cabin it was 11:00pm.

The next morning my alarm sounded and by 7:10am I had a nice view of a food plot. It was a cold and windy day. In my journal I noted that it hit 22°F and wind gusts approached 45mph with sustained wind hanging right around 18mph. The morning hunt was not successful. When 9:30am rolled around I was ready to head in. Back at the cabin a project awaited. I headed to the basement and took inventory of my supplies and tools before starting. Installing the stair edging was a straightforward task. The metal chop saw made short work of the stair edging and an angle grinder with cut-off wheel was used for some of the more complex cuts. The installation went well. Immediately upon completion, the Ol’ man and I tested out the steps and were pleased with the results. The dark stair treads were no longer difficult to navigate. No more sharp edge. The metallic edging made each tread visually well defined and comfortable when traversing barefoot. With wet shoes, there was now suitable grip to prevent a catastrophic misstep.

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The next upgrade comes via Ask This Old House. It’s probably not too surprising that Ask TOH and This Old House are two shows that I enjoy. While watching one night they showcased a nifty tool for those of us who burn wood and require kindling as a fire starter. A quick search on the internet and I found it! After briefly contemplating which model to buy, I ordered The Original Kindling Cracker from Northern Tool & Equipment. This was late April 2018 and in the wood shop I had just added a lathe to my collection. If you recall, I have no shortage of basswood firewood from the windstorm of 2017. A quick walk to the woodshed was all that was required for some material. In short order I had tested out my lathe and made up a small stool for the Kindling Cracker to mount to.

The Kindling Cracker works lovely. When we run low on kindling it takes only a few minutes to make more. It actually is easy and safe to use. In an armload of firewood there are usually one or two knot free pieces; these are the best kind for splitting into kindling. A tap or two with a 3lb hammer is all it takes. Keep on splitting until the kindling is appropriately sized. The basswood base I built is light-weight and sturdy. The wood is at just the right height for splitting without bending over, and unlike mounting it to a block of wood, the unit is light easy to move around. The Ol’ man is in love with it. My kiddos are also interested and my oldest two cracked a few pieces with the help of an adult.

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Up next, the cabin’s Roman shades. Mom made sure to install high quality shades in every window suitable. The shades insulate and save energy when we are not at the cabin. Upon arrival we raise the shades, and when we depart they are lowered. While the shades fulfill their purpose to a high degree of satisfaction, the experience of raising and lowering had been fairly unpleasant. The old mechanisms were plastic and the mounting bracket was poorly constructed. With normal use, a few were broken, bent, or functioned so poorly that in order to open and close the shades a short training course was required from a senior shade operator.

After a little planning and some measuring, I drew up a plan and ordered some parts. The list was fairly short and the materials were less than $20 overall. The plastic mounting bracket was removed and appropriately placed in the trash. The brackets I built were made from soft maple, finished with a clear varnish, and featured upgraded hardware. Small screw eyes guided the string and a much higher quality cord catch was used. After the installation, the shades raised and lowered smoothly with minimal effort and the requirement of a training course in roman shade operations was removed. The Ol’ man approved heartily.

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Sometimes it’s the little things that make life better. I get great satisfaction from solving problems and making simple tasks more enjoyable.

 

 

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Bunks in the Basement

1.7.2019 – Monday

This post is a long time coming. I’ve been working on making the basement into a kiddo storage facility… err… sleeping area. We’ve had a pool table, dart board, foosball table, and TV downstairs in the game room for a while now. What we have been lacking is sleeping accommodations for the three kiddos that my wife and I take everywhere. We have William (6), Charlotte (5) and Felix (almost 2) and having two adults share two twin beds with three kiddos is just not the best way to build fond memories of the cabin. To achieve the goal of happy sleeping children and having a bed all to myself there was a daunting checklist of items to satisfy…

  • egress door to satisfy safety codes
  • beds for three
  • mattresses + linens
  • smoke alarms in the basement
  • fire extinguishers
  • night lights

I decided to start with the egress door. The current door was treated plywood and two by fours. And it was screwed shut. The extra step of finding a cordless drill and bit while attempting a hasty escape was not quite appropriate for small children. Fall 2017 saw three new additions to my wood shop: Festool Domino XL, CT26 Vac, and ETS-150EC sander. This was the perfect test project to familiarize myself with these new tools.

The first step was to build the frame for the opening. Next the door would be built to fit. The Domino XL makes mortises for loose tenons. The frame is held together with large 14mm x 75mm beech tenons. The door is made with an outside frame and panel and an inside frame and panel with foam insulation sandwiched in between the two panels.

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The door frame is almost 6″ deep and has a sill encompassing the opening with a thick foam D-seal making a nearly airtight seal when the door is closed. The two stainless steel screws are overkill. They are 4-1/2″ long and provide extra strength, because why not?

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My two older kiddos are very proficient with deadbolts and influenced the design of this door. I’ve been locked out of my own house on several occasions thanks to the deadbolts on our doors. Apparently this is funny. I disagree. Anyway, it made sense to use a deadbolt as a latch for the door. Because the door is nearly 3-1/2″ thick a deadbolt extension kit was ordered and I rekeyed the lock to match the cabin door locks removing the need for an extra key. The door handle is wrought iron and was purchased at a nearby garden center. The mating deadbolt striker plate was secured to the structure using 3″ stainless screws during final installation.

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The last step before installation was to precut interior trim to match the cabin aesthetic and prepare some exterior trim from treated lumber that would be cut to fit during installation. The install went smoothly and was finished on Nov 18, 2017. I used sturdy 3″ stainless steel screws for the entirety of the installation and sealed everything with the same caulk used to seal the cracks between logs on the rest of the cabin (it’s some durable stuff). The bare pine, uncovered when the old door was removed, was later painted grey.

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The finished installation is clean. It matches the rough shiplap siding nicely and the wrought iron handle strikes the wood rack, protecting the door from damage. In front of the egress is a small tub that makes a good step for a small child. Both older kiddos were asked to open and exit the door without any prior training or demonstration and succeeded without any issue.

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On to the bed next. I started in Late November and finished in early January 2018. I started with some gorgeous kiln dried quarter sawn 8/4 white ash sawn from the home forty. The wood was a pleasure to work with. I really had to hunt to find wood that wasn’t clear of knots and defects.

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Once again, this project relied heavily on the Festool Domino XL.

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The project went smoothly but took a bit of time. There were many measurements that were double checked along the way. Designing on the fly with this many measurements was mentally taxing. When the bed was assembled in the basement we had about 1″ of clearance between the walls.

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Can you find my apprentice mark? I cut a headboard sill  too short and spliced it back together with a decorative touch. Who says you can’t cut a board longer? If you are scratching your head at how that could possibly be a sturdy joint see the second photo. It’s reinforced with three dominos (loose tenons).

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Part of the difficulty in designing the bed was figuring out how to make it disassemble and reassemble. It’s a fairly complex set of operations. Have a look.

Just fits! I… er… planned it that way 🙂

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I supplied the mattresses and waterproof mattress covers. The mattresses are Linenspa 8″ Memory foam and innerspring hybrid mattresses. They arrived in a vacuum sealed bag. Once the bag is punctured watch out, they expand! At $84 a mattress they will get used maybe 30 times a year and are just as good as the $400 pillow-top mattresses on the kiddos’ bunk beds at home. My mom provided sheets, pillow cases, and comforter, and even a quilt for each kiddo (not pictured).

One later modification was to bolt the ladder to the guard rail (thanks Wood Whisperer Thread Taps). I learned the hard way that a good yank with the right hand on the upper guard rail will torque the support rail something fierce and put too much stress on the domino connector joinery system. No permanent damage was done in uncovering this flaw.

When it comes to fire safety there are two products I endorse without reservation: Nest Protect smoke alarms and Ansul fire extinguishers. They are each best in class products. I will only ever buy fire extinguishers with all-metal parts and smoke alarms with the ability to detect BOTH fast-flaming fires AND smoldering fires coupled with carbon monoxide detection. The Nest smoke alarms are pricey but with the ability to connect over the internet to a smart phone, remind you when to replace batteries, run system checks monthly, detect fire via combination ionization and photoelectric sensors, and wirelessly interconnect (even between buildings) I can’t find a better device.

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And finally, a night light. A double light switch at the bottom of the stairs was added. One switch controls a 12VDC 400 lumen LED bulb in front of the egress door and the other controls a 12VDC LED path light that has been adapted as a night light. The night light is temporarily mounted in the ceiling. Another suitable nightlight I just discovered is 12V accessory lighting for vehicles. There is a huge selection of brightnesses and colors available.

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I’ve slept in the basement and it’s really comfortable! The flicker from the propane fire dances on the opposite side of the room. The 12V night light casts a gentle warmth along the side of the pool table. The mattress is soft and the heavy blankets are cool and feel secure. The glass block windows along the top of the wall ripple like water in the moonlight. In the morning the sun slowly filters in and floods the basement in the warm optimism of a winter morning. It’s no wonder the kiddos love spending the night… or it could just be because we make big breakfasts.

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Cabin WiFi is here

1.5.2019 – Saturday

Since the very beginning the Ol’ man and I have dreamed of ways to add surveillance to the offgridcabin. The easiest, and first method we utilized, was to use trail cameras. Initially this system relied on cameras with a visible flash. This provided a clear photo night or day but wasn’t very covert in the low-light hours. Then invisible flash cameras hit the market and could take photos undetected. Too bad most of the black-flash cameras yielded photos that were grainy, over/under-exposed, and low resolution. The first camera to produce useful black-flash photos (with a fast trigger speed) was the Reconyx Hyperfine HC600 and we started using it shortly after its introduction in 2011. Look it up; it was at least 5 years ahead of the competition and is highly regarded for night-time image quality. Initially, the HC600 retailed around $550 for a single camera. Today I added 5 Blink XT cameras to the cabin for a total cost of $299. These cameras rely on a WiFi connection to function – that was also added today. Poor reception at the offgridcabin meant a cellular booster was also needed.

Here follows the cellular booster / wifi hotspot / wireless surveillance installation. The total project cost just under $1000 and the only recurring fee is for the Verizon Jetpack® MiFi® 8800L, which costs less than $15/month for 1GB of data.

I have used Blink cameras at my house for nearly 2 years and was an early adopter. The hardware is well designed and only recently has the software caught up with what the hardware is capable of. I’ve enjoyed the product and have eight cameras at my house and use Life360 and IFTTT on my iPhone 8 to automatically arm and disarm the cameras. First person home disarms the system, last one to leave arms it. It works really well. For now, the cabin cameras will be manually armed and disarmed. The one weakness of Blink is that the cameras require a reliable internet connection at all times in order to function properly. Solving that problem is where most of the budget was spent on this project.

The first step was to find a cellular booster that would function off of 12VDC. The Surecall Fusion4Home 3.0 met my specifications. Their customer support was responsive to my questions about power-supply requirements, and detailed specifications were listed for each booster model online. After that, the next step was to find a cellular hotspot. I have AT&T for my phones and share an unlimited plan with my parents. Unfortunately AT&T was a dead end on two fronts. Their best hotspot has a tendency to overheat and the workaround for continuous use is to plug it in to USB power and remove the battery – not good signs when I need reliability. I can’t walk over and simply restart the hotspot when it goes funny. The second shortfall was the requirement for a separate data plan in addition to a monthly line charge… $50/month total for the smallest data plan of 3GB. The only other option was Verizon. Feeling defeated I investigated and was beyond surprised that I could get 1GB data for less than $15/month after all fees and taxes. Holy wah! With all the pieces on the board I poured over fine print for a few days and then placed some orders.

As the kit began to arrive my thoughts moved on to how the installation would look. In the shop I was wrapping up the Sobotta River Table and had some free space on the workbench. A wide hickory board and two ash batons made the perfect mounting panel. Cords were securely mounted onto reverse of the board, and keyholes routed into the batons, which made for a fast and efficient mounting solution. On the front of the board I used Festool 5mm dominos painted black to cradle the Blink camera hub and Verizon MiFi hotspot. An 12V accessory/USB outlet was mounted to provide power to the three units. I’ve noticed that some of the older USB 12V chargers, when in use, cause violent fluctuations in the 12V power supply of the cabin and cause lights to flicker and pulsate. Newer chargers labeled as fast chargers do not cause this. In order for any device in the cabin to be in continuous operation (including this accessory/USB outlet) is has to have some sort of overload protection built in.

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Once the mounting board was built and all the components were tested it was time to head to the cabin for the installation. The mounting board was hung on the wall with two screws and then power was supplied from the 12VDC fuse block left of the breaker panel. That was the easy part. The hard part was running the coaxial cable across the basement and out the far wall to the TV antenna pole. An 18″ drill bit was needed and even then it was barely long enough to span the thickness of the sill.

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The yagi antenna was mounted up as high as was reasonable and aimed directly at the AT&T tower with the strongest signal. This also happened to be ideal for Verizon as well. The correct aim was very important. Trial and error revealed that the yagi is very fussy about being aimed directly at the tower. Aim wrong and the booster is essentially useless. Speed tests revealed that a reliable 5+ mb/s was achieved for both Verizon and AT&T. Not bad! In my testing 2mb/s was the minimum for the Blink cameras to work reliability.

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The rest of the installation was easy. Walk around and find a place for each of the five Blink XT cameras. Each camera mounted easily and the Ol’ man and I had fun playing with live mode and arming and disarming the system.

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The Blink XT is perfect for the offgridcabin. Each camera is wireless and uses 2x AA energizer lithium batteries. With normal use each set of batteries should last 15 to 18 months (in my experience) before needing to be replaced. Rechargeable batteries are not recommended because the camera cannot accurately determine low-battery status on NiMH batteries (LiFeS2 has 1.8V open current voltage, and NiMH is about 1.25V). Also, LiFeS2 batteries like Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA’s have about 6.3 Wh while NiMH like envelop AA’s have about 2.5 Wh capacity. In other words, the lithium AA’s last 2.5x longer than a high quality NiHM AA. Whatever battery is used, the cameras have excellent endurance and are very easy to install and to relocate.

The Sync module is also very low power. I haven’t measured the total energy use of the booster, sync module, and MiFi hotspot…yet (I have a clamp meter). Prior to installation I used a 12V/2amp power supply to test the components and it worked without issue, implying that total power consumption is less than 24 watts.

Each camera has a built in thermometer and programmable temperature alerts. One camera is in the cabin and set to send alerts if the temperature drops too low. In the event of a failure in one of our propane heaters we can respond before the pipes freeze. The Ol’ man is also interested in the weather. How much snow did the cabin get? No need to wait until a neighbor can check and text back – check the cameras. Will the rain turn to ice? – check the temperature on one of the outdoor cameras.

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Blink XT features:

  • HD Video (1280×720 @ 15fps)
    • quality settings (saver, best, enhanced)
    • options to stop clip early if motion stops
    • retrigger time (10 to 60s)
    • clip length (5 to 60s)
  • Motion Sensors
    • programable sensitivity (1 to 9)
    • 25 zones that can be active or inactivated
  • Built-in Microphone
  • Infrared Night Vision
    • illuminator has three modes (low, med, high)
    • illuminator can be set to off, on, auto
  • Temperature Sensor
    • hi/lo alerts range from 40 to 90°F
    • records to temperatures well below 0°F
    • can be manually calibrated

A 30 second clip on best quality is less than 2.5MB. With the tiny 1GB/month data plan Blink should be able to upload about 200 minutes of video each month, or about 600 clips 20 seconds long (20 clips per day).

UPDATE (1.6.2019)

Deer. Everywhere. Here are two videos captured after we departed the cabin yesterday. They don’t look too spectacular when viewed on a 5K computer display. However, pulling up a live feed on an iPhone at any time, any where is pretty cool – and it looks a lot better on a smaller screen.

 

The active zones have been updated on the porch camera. I’m hoping that this reduces the number of videos trigged by passing deer yet still records if anyone gets curious and decides to walk up on the porch and take a look.

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This is the home screen for the Blink App. If a camera is offline the thumbnail will be greyed out. Quickly opening the app and seeing that the thumbnails are normal and the little camera icon is connected with a green line to the cloud let us know everything is operating normally.

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This post was not sponsored. I can say whatever I want 🙂

 

The Woods is Healing

12.23.2018 – Sunday

I have been busy. So busy. There was this thing and this other thing and next thing I know it’s been over a year since I’ve posted an update. Of things: I departed Walgreens and started at Shopko Pharmacy. All the usual things about changing jobs could be said, but oh, here we go again. I’m departing Shopko Pharmacy (mine wasn’t one of the 69 whose files were sold and closed). I will now become a Meijer Pharmacist. They are new up here and I’m looking forward to starting.

My family is well. I have been industrious in my hobbies and we continue to take an abundance of camping trips and enjoy the outdoors of Upper Michigan. Perhaps I’ll get off track and post about some of the woodworking I’ve been doing. With wit and humor I often say I sell drugs to support my hobbies. No plans to do fine woodworking as a profession as of yet.

Last time I sat at my desk and typed out a post it was less than upbeat. I was optimistic but ultimately a bit defeated about the state of the forest. After the clean up I decided it was time for a new chainsaw. The Husqvarna 576XP was a good choice and has served me well this past year. After cutting 15 cord of hard maple here at home and slabbing several large oak logs in Wisconsin, it has proven to be a fine machine. The 42″ Panther Pro II Alaskan mill and Pferd Chain Sharp CS-X file have been fantastic additions as well. Milling logs is pretty simple – so long as you keep an eye on safety and keep up on machine maintenance.

  • Sharpen often
  • Keep the bar oiler full, and sprocket well greased
  • Run a slightly richer 40:1 fuel:oil mixture
  • Use Husqvarna Pro 2-cycle oil
  • Premium gasoline / no ethanol only
  • Run 80-90% throttle and watch for signs of a dirty air cleaner
  • find someone to help! Logs are heavy
  • Run a 10° rip chain

The new saw and the Alaskan mill were tested at the cabin on a fallen maple tree with a sizable burl. Since this log, I’ve milled oak logs up to 38″ diameter and I continue to be pleased with the performance of my equipment.

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We found Shaggy Mane mushrooms this year and learned how not to cook them, and to avoid picking any mushroom growing in a sandy/gravely area – unless the texture of sand and grit is tolerable to you.

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The clean up continued and finished up in early winter 2017. The Ol’ man made friends with the processor and skidder operator and furnished them with the occasional venison product or fermented beverage at the end of their work day. Dad’s hospitality was appreciated and our road from gate to cabin was left in a fine state.

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The machines of modern forestry are impressive, especially compared to our Honda Pioneer 1000 SxS.

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When winter arrived at the end of 2017 the logging was finished. If you look closely you’ll see the cabin off in the distance. I can still see the shadows of the tall poplar trees in my mind.

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Winter arrived and departed. With every trip to the cabin I would take a load of wood home. A few trees that had fallen near the boundary where our land borders state land were processed into logs and left in piles for us. Over summer, an honest three cord was hauled out and stacked under the woodshed roof at home.

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The leaks came in thick this year. We should be stocked for the next 12 months! The daughter loves to forage.

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The little guy loves snakes!

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One year later, the clear cut is thick with six foot tall big toothed aspen saplings. In another year or two there will an impressive 12 foot high hedge a forty deep between the  cabin and the nearest through road.

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The Oldest is up to something.

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The Mullen was abundant, springing up along with the big toothed aspen in the clear cut. It should make fine tea once the flowers have dried out.

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The forest is full of new life. The woods is healing.

 

 

 

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: