Category Archives: neither here nor there

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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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:

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

 

Wood Shop and the Move

1.13.2015 – Tuesday

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

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

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

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Four-Wheeler Cart

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

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Cart features:

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

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

The Workshop

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

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

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

Home Remodeling

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

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

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

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

Wood Shop in Action!

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

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

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

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

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This is me. Focussing very hard.

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

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

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

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

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

Ice Climbing

4.6.2014 – Sunday

Brian and Paul made the trip up from Milwaukee after Friday classes. When not in med-school they trade a place to stay and home-made breakfast for access to their ice climbing expertise and gear. We climbed the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on March 29th… on roughly 5 hours of sleep.

Stats:

8:30am – start out on foot across lake
9:45am – reached destination of hike (2 miles later)
10:45am – reached the easy ascent route
11:30am – ascended easy route
12:45pm – reached final climb
2:30pm – repelled final climb
3:15pm – began climbing
5:30pm – concluded climb
6:00pm – began trek back to car
7:30pm – reached car
8:00pm – departed for home

Flashlight Review 2014

When I depart my dwelling at the start of a weekend I spend an hour traveling several lonely roads, and it is not uncommon to encounter less than three cars the final 45 minutes of the commute. As for the last 15 minutes, it’s a pretty safe bet that I won’t encounter another soul, let alone an occupied vehicle. Winter this year has been particularly brutal. With darkness falling early in winter and more sub-zero days and nights than I can remember it would be unfortunate to have a mechanical difficulty en route to camp.

2.23.2014 – Sunday

I’d wager most cell phones have an LED capable of casting a fair quantity of lumens. None-the-less, I wouldn’t want to rely on my phone on a dark, cold night. Especially with the majority of the trip occurring in the absence of cellular reception. In addition to winter travels a good flashlight is a valuable tool for hunting, home protection, and camping. Over the past few years I’ve acquired more than a few flashlights and after some wisdom from my wife have decided to declare my flashlight collection complete (for now).

These are my primary flashlights that get use throughout the year. Left to Right (model – battery type):

  • Sunwayman T20CS – 2x CR123a / RCR123a or 1x 18650
  • Sunwayman V11R – 1x CR123a / RCR123a
  • Princeton Tec EOS – 3x AAAs
  • Armytek Wizard Pro – 1x 18650
  • Sunwayman M40A – 4x AAs

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Testing (in the real world)

All photos taken at identical exposures: f/5.6, 5.0s, ISO 200, 5150K white balance, 28mm focal length. Temperature (5.4°F) and light conditions were constant – lights were photographed within 5 seconds of turning on. Burn time is a combination of my experience, best guess (results may vary depending on batteries), and manufacturer claims. The EOS is an older light and I can’t find information on burn time and output anywhere (other than the high mode). The Center of the beam is between 130-140 feet, the corner of the garage is 40 feet. I have corrected the exposure to reflect what the relative brightness is in real life.

  • Sunwayman T20CS 648 lumen (5 min limit), 476 lumen (2.5h), 92 lumen (11h), 18 lumen (82h) – runtime for 18650 battery
  • Sunwayman V11R 570 lumen (25 min total / 5 min limit), 1 lumen (35h)
  • Princeton Tec EOS 50 lumen (1h), 25 lumen (?), 10 lumen (?)
  • Wizard Pro 1010 lumen (1.1h), 550 lumen (2.8h), 250 lumen (7.5h), 115 lumen (15h), 30 lumen (50h), 7 lumen (9d), 0.5 lumen (100d)
  • Sunwayman M40A 500 lumen (1h), 150 lumen (5h), 15 lumen (60h)

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The Sunwayman T20CS has four well-spaced output modes and will be used as the standard.

18 lumenIMG_0174  T20CS low 18lm

92 lumenIMG_0173 T20CS medium 92lm

476 lumenIMG_0172 T20CS high 476lm

658 lumenIMG_0171  T20CS turbo 658lm

I consider 500 lumen to be an adequate benchmark for a high-power LED flashlight. From my casual use I’ve noticed that for a flashlight to be an upgrade it has to either have double the brightness or double the burn time. If I were to upgrade from a 500 lumen light to a 550 lumen light it would be tough to notice a difference, but make the jump from 50 lumen to 100 lumen and the difference is immediate. The next test image is of the Princeton Tec EOS on 50 lumen (high). It is quite clear that this is weaker than the 92 lumen image above.

IMG_0177 EOS high 50lm

The next quality to consider in a flashlight is the beam pattern. The Sunwayman M40A and T20CS have deep reflectors. This translates to a long throw beam. The Sunwayman V11R has a hybrid reflector that is moderately deep for it’s size. The Wizard Pro has a shallow reflector and a 70° flood pattern. As a general rule of thumb a deeper reflector will yield a longer throw and less flood. A smooth reflector is also an advantage for long throw (T20CS) while an orange peel textured reflector disperses light for a more pleasant experience at distances less than about 20 feet (V11R, M40A). A newer development is the micro lens front element on the Wizard, which works flawlessly for a flood light pattern.

Sunwayman V11R (balanced flood/spot characteristic – 570 lumen)IMG_0175 V11R turbo 570lm

Sunwayman M4oA (biased toward spot/some flood – 500 lumen)IMG_0187 M40A high 500lm

Wizard Pro (flood – 550 lumen)IMG_0183 Wizard Pro high 550lm

Wizard Pro (flood – 1010 lumen) another example of what doubling output looks like. IMG_0184 Wizard Pro turbo 1010lm

Some side by side beam shots (screen captures)

Beam Comparison   Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 9.40.42 PM   Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 9.45.26 PM

The final quality that merits consideration is the user interface. There are two primary types of interfaces: set interval and variable output. The V11R is 1-570 lumen infinitely variable. It is a great feature on an EDC (every-day carry) light. Having a super low and super high setting is a brilliant feature. In the deer stand I can get situated discretely, yet if I drop the gate key in the snow I can flood the woods with light and retrieve my lost item. Because it is a pocket light with a huge output, burn-time isn’t paramount and I don’t need to know how much time I have left on the battery. I usually keep a soft memory card case  with two spare batteries nearby (glove box, duffle bag).

The rest of my lights have set intervals. The advantage of this second type of user interface is that I can pretty accurately gauge my burn time. With the variable power V11R I have no hope of guessing the output and the associated burn time. I wouldn’t want a variable power tactical light. The perfect light with set intervals would have exponential intervals: 1000, 500, 250, 125… etc. The newest light in my collection, the Wizard Pro, plays to this preference fairly well. It also has a super low mode – one of my favorite and most useful modes. The T20CS is a tactical light and the tail cap switch ALWAYS goes to max-output (648 lumen) when activated. Then it must be stepped down into lower output modes. The M40A has to be stepped up from the lowest output. The Wizard Pro is an interesting light and has an interface I really like (though not everyone shares my preferences). It’s too much work to explain the entire interface but here is how I use it: since it remembers the last mode it was in, I usually have it set at either 250 or 500 lumen. From this point I can click once to turn on to my previous mode or hold the button and it starts at the lowest output. A double click will go straight to 1010 lumen. Among my lights it has the fastest combined time from off to highest or lowest output.

Results

  • Flood light ranking: Wizard > V11R > T20CS > M40A
  • Long throw ranking: T20CS > M40A > V11R > Wizard
  • Most versatile user interface: V11R > Wizard > T20CS > M40A
  • Easiest user interface: V11R > M40A > T20CS > Wizard
  • Best burn time: Wizard > T20CS > M40A > V11R
  • Cost (highest to lowest): M40A > Wizard > T20CS > V11R

The Sunwayman T20CS is a superb light! – I’m starting to think that the manufacturer brightness ratings are underrated. It is a very long throw light with an intuitive user interface and some flood for walking at night without tripping on obstacles. The burn time is very good using a 18650 cell. The Sunwayman V11R is my everyday carry light (EDC). It fits comfortably in a well fitting pair of jeans and securely clips onto any piece of clothing that lacks a pocket. The output from such a tiny light is mind bending and I’m in love with the variable light output from 1 to 570 lumens. The Princeton Tec EOS has been my go-to light since 2003! The new ones have improved output and light color and it lasted me about 10 years before being claimed by obsolescence – they really last and last… but the Wizard Pro is my new go-to headlamp. It’s not much bigger than the EOS but has many more light output modes – the low moonlight mode and 550lumen high mode being my favorites. It’s also made from aluminum and feels very light and strong. The elastic headbands and silicone light holder are top quality and it is unequivocally the most comfortable headlamp I’ve ever worn! The venerable Sunwayman M40A is like a shorter more potent Mag-Lite. It is way overbuilt and over engineered, very bright, and fills the hand quite assuredly. It’s a superb AA flashlight but due to it’s high cost (probably due to generous over-engineering) and the better burn time offered by 18650 powered lights it’s hard to make an argument for this AA powered light.

Current Uses

  • The T20CS sits in a small gun vault with a Ruger P95/Crimson Trace for home/cabin defense (rarely used)
  • The V11R is always at my side – only my iPhone gets handled more on a daily basis.
  • The EOS is a camping light my wife uses from time to time – I don’t use it anymore
  • The Wizard Pro is my hunting and camping light – always in the tent, on my head, or in my pocket when in the stand or field. I can track a deer with just this light at night! Prior to this light I needed a 400 lumen Princeton Tec LED dive light (8C batteries).
  • The M40A is a backup light – stowed in a car, in the bottom of a duffle bag, or on a shelf at home (used regularly for family night time walks). Rugged and reliable.

Dad uses his T20CS all the time – it is his EDC and he uses it daily when at the cabin and always tosses it in a pocket when heading out hunting. I agree. He keeps a Panasonic NCR18650B in his and carries a spare. If I had to choose one light the T20CS would be that light… but I sure love the tiny V11R and Wizard Pro.

Batteries and Chargers

Rechargeable AA/AAA batteries should be used for best results. They far outperform alkaline in the cold and pack much more energy density. I can confidently recommend Sanyo eneloops.  For pure performance, look for flashlights powered by the energy-dense 18650 lithium ion rechargeable cell. If the flashlight packs it’s own ‘protection circuit’ then buy ‘non-protected’ batteries, otherwise look for protected cells. If you have a short, lithium ion batteries can dump a massive amount of energy in a short time which can generate a lot of heat – this is very bad (explosions, fire, etc…) I use Panasonic NCR18650B 3.7V cells, and have had good luck so far (about 4 months only – I have 4 years experience with eneloops). The 18650 is a superior battery for one simple reason: capacity! A typical rechargeable NiMH AA has about 2.5mAh and the 18650 has 12.5mAh of capacity (5x the power). Look to the T20CS and M40A for a comparison in performance. I also use RCR123a type cells from Tenergy and Ultrafire and so far have no complaints. The Ultrafire seem to perform slightly better in the V11R – likely because they are not voltage limited to 3.2V like the Tenergy cells.

A bit more on protected cells. Protected cells do three things very well: they keep the battery from exploding in the event of a short, extend the life of the battery by preventing over-discharging (cut output at 20% charge), and leave you stranded in the dark without warning. Protected cells will appear to die instantly and without warning. Unprotected cells will not do this. The Wizard Pro is designed to accommodate unprotected cells and will flicker a few times and then drop to a low output mode when the battery is low. The low ‘battery saver’ mode then allows the user to locate a back up battery or second flashlight. Know our battery and know your light.

I’ve had mixed luck with chargers. I started out with the Lacrosse BC-700 Alpha (AA/AAA). I was drawn in by the positive reviews on Amazon and bought one for me and one for the Ol’ man. It was a regrettable move. Mine failed after a minor run in with a toddler and the Ol’ man’s has been misbehaving – not registering a full charge after a day of charging. Pop the battery out and in again and it will register charged. I tried again with the Maha PowerEx MH-C9000 WizardOne charger and am much more pleased. The interface, ease of use, and performance far exceed the Lacrosse BC-700 Alpha. The Maha also has some heft to it which makes me feel better about having it in the same house as a toddler. I value durability more than ever these days. I use the Nitecore IntelliCharger i4 Battery Charger for RCR123a and 18650 batteries, and it has performed as expected. It also feels durable like the Maha (and uses the same power cord as my Canon T3i DSLR battery charger).

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Final Word

If off-grid or in the woods you have to own a headlamp. It’s pretty much a requirement. 100 lumen is more than adequate unless you plan on tracking a deer with it, then step up to 500 lumen.  After the headlamp, a 18650 battery powered tactical light with at least 600 lumen output is the next best choice. And if you are a flashlight geek like me and require a 3rd light, an EDC with a 1 to 500+ lumen range like a Sunwayman V11R is simply epic.

Hope you enjoyed the review. Buckle up and stay warm this winter!IMG_0096

 

…if you’re looking for in depth information on lights and related check out CandlePowerForums and get your geek on.

Northern Michigan Night Sky VI

An updated video of my ongoing Time-Lapse project. I reworked transitions and clip arrangement here and there a bit and added a new clip captured from a few nights ago. I’m still working on the audio component. I need to find something that doesn’t get YouTube sending me a passive-aggressive e-mail listing what countries and mobile devices my video won’t play in/on. So… click play, select HD, and skip to 1:50 for the new footage.