Category Archives: Woodworking

Too Hot to Handle

As the winter season starts to settle in, we were in a bit of a quandary. You see, in our happy place, we would already be gone from here and tucked nice and warm in our new home in the frozen North. However, your happy place and a buck two fifty will get you a coffee at Micky D’s. So it pays to check in with reality now and then to keep a grip on things.

Things like we had to take out our wood stove, so we could sheet rock the wood portion of the house. And the sheet rock guys just called and said they are coming Nov 30th to do the job. That means no heat in the house for a good long time. We usually get a mean streak of winter starting around December 1st. The way things are going, I will have the wood stove installed and fired up about the second week of December. While I like winter, I hate being cold and it was time to take some preventive action to keep from being hunched over and grumpy for the holidays.

I had me an idea that I would whip up a solar appliance that would keep us warm and happy until I could install a real heating system. We also ordered a gas furnace from one of the big box stores and have since learned that it ain’t gonna get here any quicker than the sheet rock guys. So, I headed out to the shop.

Solar is one of those things that sounds so good, but has a tough time scaling up to make anything big of itself. What I mean is, your house would do well with solar heat. Done right, it does not cost much and can do a good job in a single family dwelling. Where it fails is wild eyed dreamers, without too much learnin’ in the practical science end of things, tend to think they can take a good chunk of Arizona and make it provide electricity for a bunch of people. They are trying a version of that at Ivanpah, California. 3 huge solar plants, lots and lots of money, some of it yours and mine, and they can provide power for maybe 140,000 homes, oh and reduce carbon dioxide or some such nonsense. They always get into the hand wavy parts when they talk alternative energy. That is usually when they want you to pay for their dreams.

So, like I said, solar, great stuff, has trouble scaling without spending lots of money. My idea was to make a sealed insulated box, glaze it with something transparent and through the natural convection effect, pipe it into the house. We had done a similar thing a couple of years ago. I whipped up a quick green house on the south side of our house and it gave us a very nice heat throughout the winter.
It was not meant to be permanent and was taken down in the spring. I had done quite a bit of research on my solar box idea. They are called many things online, but beer can heater is a popular name for them. Since I had most of the stuff lying around, I got to work.

Alum FlashingTubes in boxFormed up a box of 3/4 inch plywood. Made it out of what I had so it was a weird size, 36 inches by 55 inches. I had a sheet of one inch styrofoam insulation and installed that in the box. Next, drink 130 beers so you can use the cans, or save your liver and make tubes out of the aluminum flashing I had. The cans or tubes are painted black and absorb heat and let it flow to the top of the box.

I had to think a bit on how to make the tubes. It turned out to be an evolution of Beer Can Comparecreation Forming Tubein making them. I needed the tube to be around beer can sized, so you find the circumference, 2 x pi x radius which came out close enough to 10 inches, I could get 2 pieces from my 20 inch aluminum flashing. Next, to get them in a tube shape, you had to form them, in stages. I had a 4 inch pvc pipe that I used to start the forming, then pushed them into a cardboard tube that I had that was a little smaller. To get it down to the size I needed, I had to use my jigsaw and Rivet Tubemake a 3 1/8 inch hole in some 3/4 inch plywood and another one at exactly 3 inches. Now that I had the tubeDrill Tube down to size, I needed to drill a hole for a rivet and, well, the first one was not real pretty and had way too many rivets, the second one looked much better and by the time I finished the 11th one, I was pumping them out like a pro.

I used a generous gob of caulking to stick them to the styrofoam backing. While I was tube making, I was sort of wondering about exposed styrofoam. I know the box is going to get hot; I was concerned that it would get too hot and melt, so I thought I would cover it with more of my left over aluminum flashing. This presented a new problem, how to bend the aluminum at a 90 degree angle. A metal brake is needed and something I have been wanting to build for quite a while, so I went back to the internet for a decent design.

Metal Brake WeldFinally, after wading though many, many complicated designs, found one that was dead simple. I had an 8 foot piece of 1 1/2 inch angle iron. I just need to cut that in half and weld a pair of 3 inch hinges to them as they are butted up to each other. I had everything but a decent hinge, so I sent the wife off to Wally World and that took care of that. I hadFirst Bend some oversized (for this job) 6011 rods for my stick welder and did an amazingly ugly, but successful weld. I added a pipe handle to my lifting side and scrounged a 1 inch angle iron for the top clamp and I was bending metal. It turned out 90 degree cornerthat if you score the metal with an awl, on the line you want to bend to, the totally butt ugly metal brake will give you a 90 degree angle you could shave with. It was awesome. I had so much fun bending metal, that I was a bit sad when the whole thing was covered in aluminum.

It was getting close now. Tubes were on, the skin was aluminum and now I had to glazeMetalled Box it. In my research, I was getting wild temperatures that people said they were getting with their beer can heater. I had some poly glazing I got from Lowes and when I read up on the specs, the dang stuff will melt over 180 degrees. I was not real sure I was going to get to that temp, but since this was a passive system, I could not cool it down and I would be a sad puppy if my solar appliance melted, so, I needed glass to cover my box.

We recently pulled a very large window out of the living room. It was a really oddball size, 54 inches by 56 inches. The glass panes were a full 24 by 50 inches and since we were replacing them, I would scarf them up for my project. Getting them out of the frames and not breaking them was more fun than I want to talk about. Finally got them out and put them on my layout table. I made a quick window frame, rabbited out Mark Glassa place for the glass and now it was time to cut me some vintage 1950 melted sand. I Break Glasshave long planned to make stained glass windows for my future job, so cutting glass is no big deal for me. Got me a slick glass scoring tool, made my mark and scored the glass, slid the glass over to the edge of my table, a quick bend downward and you’ve got cut glass. First one went like planned, the second one I thought I would video and for some reason, only used one hand and it broke just fine, but the piece I was holding broke, too. Trying to be a show off I guess. No harm, no foul.

Got the glass installed in my window frame and used some hated silicone caulk to weather proof the window. I hate silicone, because you can’t paint it and it gets everywhere. Had the Mrs come out and clean the glass. I can do pretty much everything else, not much good on cleaning glass.

Painted BoxScrewed the window onto the box, gave it a quick coat of paint and the next day, it was ready to get installed to the house. Piping it into the house was kind of a pain but I like the versatility of pvc pipe. It would have been easier with flex pipe, but I only had that in 4 or 6 inch diameters. It would not work for my 2 inch pipe. As soon as the sun hit my solar box, it started putting out heat. Got it all piped into the house and it starts warmingInstalled Solar Box up the kitchen. I got an oven digital thermometer and check the temperature. I stopped checking at 155 degrees coming into the house. I guess the YouTube people were not making up claims of big heat.

Trouble in Paradise… I noticed after about an hour of heating, we were getting some, ah, off gassing of, I don’t know, paint or something. I pulled the connection and thought I would check it again in hour or so. An hour later, It was worse, so I took my digital thermometer and Really Hotstuck it into the hot air outlet and was incredulous as to what I saw. It stopped at 236 degrees. This is a 3 by 4 and a half foot box, painted black and we are getting over 200 degrees. I am a little concerned my styrofoam may be getting light headed. Keep in mind folks, this kind of solar appliance will work in any sunlight, including the middle of winter. And it works even better with water. That will be plan B if my first box goes up in smoke. I will give it another whole day to get its act together and then, either run with it or put my thinking beanie on and come up with another way. I am quite amazed at what I have seen so far. Sunshine on my solar box makes me happy, fumes from my melting styrofoam makes me cry. I think John Denver did it better, but not by much.

Stay tuned

Update and Postmortem:

I had to pull the plug on my Box of Sunshine & Doom – Version 1. It seems I might have built my box a bit too well. I noticed the next morning that the interior of the glass was misted with something ominous. I decided that I really did not want to be breathing whatever was gumming up the glass, and cracked the seal on the box. Wow. You know how when you heat styrofoam up past its happy place, it starts to shrink and deform. I did a bit of poking around to find what temperature would do that and 300 degrees is what the guys in the know say. So, I am guessing the top on the box was in that neighborhood and the white caulking turned to crumbly white particles. All in all, it was a resounding success, as far as heating air up with just sunshine. Nothing you want to breathe in however, and that means back to the drawing board. No worries though, got a new plan.


Living here on the farm is not all mooing cows and straw hats. In fact, our place does not have a single cow or straw hat, but it is generally quiet and that’s nice. Until it isn’t.

Nature has its ups and downs and this is an up year. Our first clue would have been the owls, who have been hooting it up and hanging around since spring. That and we had plenty of moisture this year. All that adds up to lots of rats and mice. And boy howdy, do we have them.

It started when my cruise control stopped working on my truck. I told my wife about it and she was all “oh well, it’s an old truck and who uses cruise control anyway?” I gave her a long hard stare and as her usual, she did not even notice. I consider cruise control to be part of the American way of Life, not to be infringed upon. To my wife’s way of thinking, not so much. The consequences of marrying a hippy, I guess.

Since I did not get any empathy from my significant other, I went to the next best source, my mechanic. Another guy that would understand and better yet, do something about it. He told me to leave it with him for a few days and he would see what the deal was. I had several other issues that needed to be taken care of, but this cruise control thing was a line drawn in the sand.

Days later, my mechanic contacted me and said critters have been having their way with my truck. My truck was being used and abused by furry vermin. Figures, 3 years ago it was grasshoppers eating everything, but at least they left my truck alone. This was serious. He said he had to re-wire quite a few things, but now the cruise control worked, so all was well. I picked up the truck and cruised on home, letting the truck do all the work, the way it’s supposed to be.

It was about that time, we took off for a small vacation back home to Minnesota. Got to see most of the family and had a great time. Spent about 10 days gone and came back home and did not drive the truck for a few days. When I did, I noticed the truck did not like to run less than 40mph and idled fast. The cruise control still worked, so not a complete disaster, but when I got it home and popped the hood, I found more chewed wires and the start of a nest. I saw, beyond red, I saw nuclear mushroom clouds and glass parking lots and, well, I saw lots of things. I knew it was serious, because my lip started to curl, all on its own. That’s normally when the dog runs and hides.

I called my buddy the mechanic, and told him the bad news. He had counseled me earlier on how to take care of rats chewing up wires in engine compartments. He had told me to get coarse steel wool and stuff it in places that would be seen by rats. He said they would chew the steel wool and expire. When I opened my truck’s engine compartment, the first thing I saw was wads of my carefully placed steel wool being used as nesting material. I told him this and he told me that I am not dealing with normal type pack rats. I brought it to him and a couple of days later, got it back. By that time I had upped the farm’s readiness level to DEFCON 2. For all of you not up on cold war readiness levels, DEFCON 5 is Normal. DEFCON 1 Nuclear war is imminent. 2 is close to BOOM.

Told the Mrs to buy any and all types of rat poison available at Wally World. She brought home pellets Truck-Poisonand cubes. I got my hot melt gun out and glued 6 cubes in my engine compartment. Some might call that overkill, I call it just warming up. I also parked my truck in the shop and put 4 pellet packages around the truck. I then went into the house, cracked a brewsky and brooded. You do a lot of brooding at DEFCON 2.

The next morning, I saw some nibbling on my cubes and 1 packet of pellets had been messed with. No chewing on wires, and I walked out of the shop whistling a happy tune. Next day, no action, and this continued for several days, until I happened to open the wife’s engine compartment and to my horror, found chewing on the fire wall insulation and the start of a nest behind the air cleaner. I glued the rest of the poison blocks in her car and went in to order a game camera. I wanted to see how many rats and mice I was dealing with.

I had been working in the living room during this time. Due to various issues I had been dealing with, rat-nestnot all the floor was installed and the back wall was in the process of being repaired. So Mr Rat and buddies had also located in there. We came in to find leaves and wood shims and my gloves, and a load of other stuff bundled up under the stairs. I thought we had burned through all the last straws, but apparently, I had missed one or 2 of them and here they were.

Since our living room had been a construction zone, it has been isolated from the rest of the house. Had been for a while and would be for a bit more time, while I dealt with this.
I put a pellet package by the front door when I closed the room for the night. The next day it was empty. And the next day after that. And the next day. 3 days, 3 pellet packages, empty or gone. This was getting ridiculous. Finally the game camera came and I put it to work. The first night, the camera saw one rat, briefly. The next night, I glued a cube on the floor along with a pellet package and a nice little shooter of antifreeze, just in case Mr Rat was thirsty.

That night, nothing to be seen. I counted this as a good thing; dead rats can’t been seen cavorting around on camera, was my working theory. Both the truck and the wife’s SUV had seen no new activity.

RatThe next night I placed the package of pellets and the cube under the floor and Pea-Ratstarted the game camera. To my surprise, a rat shows up and feeds on the pellets and chews on the cube. Is this a new guy, somebody not associated with the dirty rat that stole 3 packages of pellets? Well, this dirty rat was dead by morning. Also, Sweet Pea started fussing under his dog house, so I stuck a hoe handle in there and out pops another dirty rat. Sweet Pea is on him like stink on, well, he got em quick.
And then, about midday, Ole Pea, starts yapping at some pile of tin roofing. The Mrs goes over and lifts the tin and boom, a huge dirty rat runs right into the dog’s mouth. What a dummy.

We finally have the back wall closed up, and the floor installed and a spiffy new front door hung, so we are tight as far as unwanted intrusions go.

Current score on us versus nature is:

Team Sweet Pea/Game Camera with 2 delicious flavors of rat poison: 3
Team Rat: 0

Our motto is go big and always escalate with an extra helping of scorched earth. That’s kinda wordy for a motto, but if you’re gonna go postal, you gotta do it right.



If it’s another day, it’s another door and this one’s a doozy. It used to be a door, and then, sometime in the 70’s I think, it wasn’t. Not that it didn’t want to be, the matriarch of the clan that lived here, decided that the welcome hole to the front of the house, was not so welcoming anymore.

She placed a call and had some newfangled plastic siding installed on the wood side of the house. When the installers got to the front door of the house, she told them to keep going, pay no attention to that opening and the front steps that went with it. The story I heard was the kids (teenagers) came home from school one day and the front door was gone. When the mother was asked about it, she told them to go outside and play, and that was that. One of the older brothers confided in me and said the mother was concerned that somebody might get hurt on the front steps, so just cover up the door. My raised eyebrows asked if this was a kinda drastic response to repairing the front steps, he just shrugged his shoulders and told me to go outside and play.

The wood portion of the house was added on to the existing stone house in 1920. We have been told that it was done in time for a wedding to be held in the parlor. From 1878 to 1919, everybody had been crowded into the stone house. It must have felt like getting a whole new place when the addition was finished. We have very few photos of the place, and nobody had the thought to get artsy with any camera they had. A very practical people. So practical that they never fixed anything, just papered, paneled or sided over whatever problems that cropped up.

I am pretty good at reading a house. I have lived in a number of them and because the wife and I are practical people too, I end up fixing them myself. This has allowed me to dig into the details of a building, see who has done what and how. You get the general feeling that a lot of alcohol was consumed during whatever repair that was done. Either that or the homeowner hired an idiot, maybe a hard drinking idiot.

My personal philosophy is to make a repair that is repairable by the next guy. Do it right, but in a way that allows the next guy to work with it and not curse a blue streak while ripping the whole deal out and starting over. I have run across a few repairs, or additions, or work, that were things of beauty. You come across it, look, ponder, smile and ponder while smiling some more. Craftsman worked here. It is fun to look under the skirt of a house that has been taken care of.

Our house is not that kind of house. The boys that put the stones in, good workers, solid work. The people that lived here first and up to the ‘20s, were decent people, hard working and handy. This is where things start to diverge from the happy narrative. Sometime after the house was added on to, hard times came home and the place was rented for awhile and then empty or even abandoned for quite a spell. The Great Depression will do that to a house. By the time we got our turn, there were a lot of deferred maintenance issues popping up.

Which brings us back on track to the front door. It is a door again, or at least a hole in the house that lines up with the front steps that still are not fixed. Back a few years ago, I decided to reclaim the front door. Cut the hated plastic siding and put in a temporary door. At the same time, I gutted the living room. The back wall had been paneled in the past and I hate paneling. I ripped it off the back wall and found some more deferred maintenance and a black snake waiting for me. The boys that installed the plastic siding, did a, shall we say, piss poor job, or just ignored the flashing that rested on the stone foundation and, well, that’s another story. We are here to talk about the front door.

Since we are hell bent to sell this place and move back home to a much colder climate, I needed to tackle the front door. We went to our favorite big box store and picked up a pre-hung door. When I got it home, I took the door off the jamb and re-squared it. Foolish, I know, because there is nothing square or level or plumb on this house.

I next looked at, really looked at, the existing structure of the front door. The more I looked at it, the more I wanted a couple of beers and a nap. When it was built, there was nothing like we have today, weather stripping, insulating foam, even caulk. Nothing. They had tar paper and paint. That was it. And it showed. A little rot here, a bizarre cant that leads to the front sill and no header for the top of the door. Also, no king studs, just some scabs that were nailed to the door frame. If none of this makes sense, that’s ok, it was messing with me too. The guys that put this front door in, did not try very hard to make sure it lasted or was easy to repair.

The more I looked at it, the more it resembled a puzzle. Puzzles are great for people that love them. My buddy Elroy, the Grand Poo Baa of the written word for the High School of USD470, has puzzles out in the Library for the kids to do and they do it with a gusto. He puts out a new puzzle and in a day or 3, it is done. Not by any one person, just anybody that passes by and has a moment. He had tried to entice me to puzzling a time or 2, but I told him I saved my best stuff for 3D life. He gave me that tilt to the head and squinted eye, and I told him that I view life as a puzzle and quite a messy one at that. You never know when you finish one and move on to a harder one. He would shake his head a little, indicating that what I said was probably baloney, and then lead off into some, “that reminds me of” story and, well, I miss you Elroy.

So, this door hole ain’t square, not plumb, no where level. A puzzle. There are no pictures on this post, I was thinking too hard to remember the camera. You will recall the old and trite saying, it takes a village to raise a child, well, sometimes you got to break something to fix something. Yeah, I know.

10:30 am was a low spot in the day. I was stuck on a hard piece, that was the same color as everything else and not on an edge or corner. I went and made me some tea. Sometime, while sipping True Blueberry herbal, it came to me what to do. I had to keep the sill plate and rim joist, fiddly bits of a house, but did not have to respect or reference them.

I hurriedly slurped my tea and went back at the job. Basically blew out the old crap and made my own puzzle pieces. By 4:30, there was a well deserved beer in my hand and I was watching the Mrs paint the new door sill. A light at the end of the tunnel, as they say. Not saying the door is in, but it’s so close it scares me. Next up, lower the back wall back onto the foundation. Another damn puzzle, but that one’s just about finished too.

Door Some More

Carpenter-DoorThe dining room door. Yeah, I know. You thought it was done. Crossed off the long list of tasks to accomplish before we move. How could it not be done, you’ve lived with it all winter and … Well, about that. While the new door was installed, there were, issues. I had scheduled it to be installed on a weekend, ’cause that was all the time I had back then. I was still working for a living, back then, not like now, just puttering about, waking up and wondering what day it is… Whoa, I think the Mrs just slapped some sense into me.

So, I put the door in, and it didn’t fit the house like the old door did. Which is why we bought the new Old Doordoor in the first place. The old door was a classic from the 1950’s. 3 small windows at eye level and some curvature of the spine which let the weather in. The door knob had seen better days and looked like it had seen a crow bar or 2 sometime in the past. The new door was metal with a huge window and was very straight. It also came with brick molding on the outer side that really did nothing much but tick me off. We have plastic siding on the house. It is somewhat flexible, and this brick mold and itself did not get along very well. Yes, you may be one of those practical types, poo pooing me for attributing sentience and feelings to inanimate objects. Anthropomorphizing, you say. Fine. I will go old school and say Murphy got his grubby little fingers involved and the door got installed, minus the brick mold. It leaned a little, too, just a little. Thanks Murph.

The very slight lean and not being able to finish the outside trim were the official reasons that I gave the wife as to why there would be a redo of the new door. The inside baseball of the deal was, the plastic siding was not letting go of the old trim. The boys that installed it did a real good job of putting 7 nails into into it. Obviously, not Union men.

I hate plastic siding. A lot. Yes, you don’t have to paint ever again, but that’s about it for its attributes. It’s bendy, especially when you don’t want it to be. And you can’t color match what you have if you need to repair something. Like Kansas hail, which takes great delight in punching holes into it. The top piece of trim was held in a death grip by the siding, while the side pieces had a very French attitude. Je ne sais quoi, which roughly translates to “a certain sort of something” and that pretty much covers it.

Spray foam is one of those amazing inventions that you love and hate at the same time. It does a great job filling in all those gaps that old houses have. We used to have to stuff fiberglass insulation in small areas, and it was always a very itchy and unsatisfactory experience. Now, you shake up the can, take aim and start spraying, which is immediately followed by cursing and jumping around when the stupid stuff expands past you and gets on everything. I’ve taken to having a spray bottle of water with me to spritz the rogue foam. It works a bit like holy water, and stops evil in its tracks.

When I put the new door in, we had some nice gaps that needed to be filled. I had the door shimmed and screwed into place and thought it was stable. Apparently, applying foam topically to the door is like giving it a few hits of Mary Jane. Before foam, it was an upright, uptight, paragon of virtue, stalwart defender of home and hearth. After foam, it gets a little bent. And likes it. So much so that now, it’s sorta straight and kinda weather tight. Who knew metal doors would have a weakness for mind altering foam.  I thought about contacting Lowes, where we bought it from, and letting them know that… the Mrs said to just let it go.

We lived with the situation over the winter. Every time I came into the room, I would glance at the door, and my lip would curl. I thought I heard a “whatever, dude” coming from the door’s direction. I made plans and finally, Door Day, The Reckoning had arrived. Queue spaghetti western music.

The theme song for the epic western The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. Music by Ennio Morrincone.

The day broke hot and humid, mist swirling around. A barred owl hoots in the background as I trundle up with my wheelbarrow full of tools. I squared off and squinted at the door, the door slouched a bit more and stared back, unrepentant. A bead of moisture slid slowly down its window, as the tension built. Suddenly, a shaft of sunlight poked through the mist and I grabbed for my screw gun. The door grabbed for, nothing, because it’s a stupid door. In just a bit more than 2 shakes of a lamb’s tail, we had a big hole in the house again.

Temp DoorKnowing me as I do, I came with a plan. Plan A was a temporary door, made out of 1 X 4’s, with some chicken wire and plastic. I am pretty sure it dropped the real estate value of everything in this end of the county. Oh well, we were leaving anyway. I figured it would take me at least a day or so to right all wrongs and get the door back in. Originally, I was going to build another complete jamb and sill. I had some 2 x 12’s that I had milled down and they did what wood always does in the summer. Warp. Today’s wood is dried rather quickly, and sometimes that, along with internal grain direction, produces some tension. The recommendation is to cut and install the retched stuff just as soon as you can, because it has a tendency to twist if left to think about things too long.

And that’s just what it did. I took it in stride, knowing that no plan survives first contact with the enemy, Jamb Extentionsso onward to option B; using what I had and making it work. I got the top trim piece off, finally, and made a new sill. Got that painted up and installed. I squared up the old jamb and painted that too. It was looking like rain, so I waited until the next morning to install the jamb. It went in smooth, too smooth; I started looking for Murphy. The plastic Paint Jobsiding was getting whiny, so I put my hearing protection on and hung the door. Everything is shimmed and screwed tight. I carefully apply the insulating foam while keeping a close eye on the door for signs of a contact high. The door knew he was screwed, and no funny business occurred. So far, so good.

Now, just a few more details to take care of. I have to add to the door jamb to bring it out to the meet the trim. Scribing fun. Go look at Norm Abrams New Yankee Workshop, or This Old House, to see how the pros do it. My band saw, wood planes and old pencil compass from I don’t know where, were the key players. I used cedar for the trim and southern yellow pine for the extensions to the door jamb. It went OK. I am a Jack of all Trades, so not perfect, but good enough.

Done Deal

Finally got all of it installed and painted. I stood back and gave it a look. It looks good, better than the old door, better, even than the new door, version one. I guess the old proverb “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” really works. And if you happen to see Murphy or his Norse punk buddy Loki hanging around, better have a plan that includes the rest of the alphabet.


Officially a double digit midget, as the saying goes. As of today, Saturday, July 25th, we have 13 days left of getting up early and punching a time clock. 10 working days and we are out the door, taking care to not let the screen door bump us on the hinder as we walk out.

Then, the work begins. Wait a minute you say, you’re done with work and… hold on there cupcake. There’s work and there’s work. The work that’s left is, oh, let’s see. I’ll make it short and say, make the house and property salable. Being the persistent, want to know type, you ask, “what does that mean?” I think I am going to pull a Nancy Pelosi and say, you’ll have to buy the place to know what I got left to do to make it worth the purchase price. Happy now?

I spent the morning sharpening my handsaws. If this had been a conversation taking place 50 years ago, the guys would nod their heads, everybody knowing what I was talking about and most everybody knowing how to do it. Nowadays, I doubt a half dozen people in the 2 towns I am close to, know how to do that. Everybody else has not looked up from their phones, or maybe even heard what you said. My lawn, you make take your leave of it.

Handsaws are handy things. I use them all the time and the coming big build is going to see these guys get used a lot. I bought a sweet little joinery saw, awhile back on the internet. I think it is well over 100 years old and probably had not been sharpened in the last 50. It’s a cute little thing that I will be using to cut tenons on the windows and doors I will be making. The Mrs dropped our digital camera and we are waiting for a replacement, so no pictures. Use your imagination. You know, that thing in your head you used to use before the internet came along. No, I am not crabbing about the internet, well, a little maybe. I have taught myself, let see… crap, I ran out of fingers. I learned just about everything from the internet. Electric wiring, plumbing, construction, robotics, woodworking, welding, making wood gas, hydrogen and the latest thing is blacksmithing. And that’s just for home use. My job, I learned html, php, mysql, unix coding, cisco and that kind of thing. It is a great tool to use to better yourself.

I have people ask me all the time, how do I know how to do this or that. I tell them I spent a lot of time researching the subject and got some hints on how to do whatever it is they are asking about and went to doing it. I used to use the library, but that’s pretty much past tense these days. But how, they ask again. At this point, I can see that I can tell them, but I cannot make them understand it.

You have to find something that interests you, and then you have to put in your time, persuing that subject, wherever you find it, and then you got to do it. Just do it. Put your damn phone down and do it. Some people don’t learn that way. I know, I was a, some people can’t learn in college, kind of guy. The internet was my dream ticket to whatever turned my crank, and my crank is really cranking these days.

Where was I, oh yah, sharpening handsaws. Well, got that done and tomorrow I am going to sharpen up my chisels. I already did my hand planes, so you don’t need to be worrying about that. Pretty much waiting to be done with my day job, so I can start my real job. I figure 60 days, and that puts us at the edge of winter in Minnesota.

The Mrs went to the Farmers Market today and picked up our hand painted shopping bag with my ole buddy, Sweet Pea, on it. It made me miss him all the more. The Sister in Law made her first sale with this bag and will probably be quite busy painting who knows what, now that the ice has been broken.


As I walk up to the house, yes it is up hill, from the shop, I used to have a dog waiting for me on the deck. Now, it’s collared lizards giving me the stink eye if I get too close. Nice, but so far, I have not been able to get these little sh*ts to fetch a stick, or even look where I threw it. Sub optimal as best friend material goes.

Woodworking Love Tools

I was the happy recipient of some new wood working tools, the other day. Harbor Freight had a killer deal on just about everything, really. I’ve been looking around for a band saw and an air compressor. Craigslist and the local for sale stuff, were just not cutting it.

Since we started on this whole long journey, it has felt, maybe, a little like the Jews wandering around in the desert. Maybe, I said. I am sure they felt a tad bit frustrated by the lack of good, used, woodworking tools in their travels. Me too. Once we left the rather chilly embrace of Minnesota, and headed into the Southwest, the ease of acquiring quality used tooling, dropped off dramatically. Sure there are deals, here and there, but they largely depend on you knowing a guy that knows a guy. We moved about so much that I never made the acquaintance of that essential guy. There is a saying that gets bandied about, when talking of such things. “You’re never far enough from Chicago, that you can’t make a deal.” Apparently, I was.

The dynamics have changed a bit, with the advent of the Information Super Highway. On the Internet, I have a guy that knows lots of guys. My man Ling can get me sweet deals on electronics and everything else. And they get delivered to my door, wherever I live. There is a drawback to those sweet deals, however. Shipping costs. I can get something shipped from Chicago, much cheaper than something from China. This keeps the Chicago guys happy. You don’t want to end up with concrete galoshes.

So a hybrid deal is worked out. Places like Harbor Freight import stuff from China by the shipload, and pass the savings on to you. And quite often that cheap stuff is cheap quality. If I had my druthers, I would pick something American made, from the early ’70s, at the latest. Anything going forward from that, the quality starts sliding. Much like you get now from China, hit or miss.

I got an e-mail coupon for 25 percent off, any item, and could not pass that up. We saddled up and headed into Wichita. The store is located in a little strip mall, about in the center of town. It looked a little shabby, as did the surrounding area. The place was jammed packed full of stuff. It was hard to see any one thing. I reached for my inner Zenair-compressor tool buyer and we found focus. I serenely glided to my first stop, the air compressor, 2.5 horse, 8 gallon, oil injected. I didn’t even notice the other people sort of avoiding me and muttering, “who let the weirdo Zen dude in?” I drifted off to the next item. People parted before me. This has a draw back, as Store help won’t help when you look focused. Oh well.

Found the band saw, and I was pleased. 14 inch, 4 speed, cast iron body and saw deck. We took our chits up to the counter and the check out was stellar. He first checked to see if they had our stuff in inventory and all was good. The Mrs, always on the lookout for a sweeter deal, started haggling with the check out. He was up to it and found us a coupon band-sawfor the 25 percent off anything. He told us that the ad was misleading. You had to come on Sunday only, and had to have the printed coupon to get that deal. And here is the classic guy that knows a guy and can get the deal for you. He went to another checkout and rummaged through their till until he found a coupon and then scanned it in for us. The original price for the band saw was $430 and they had marked it down to $339 and with the 25 percent coupon dropped it down to something like $254.  While this was happening, they had hauled our stuff out to the front.

Some really skinny guy called Doc was going to load up our sweet deals into the back of our pickup. That was the working assumption, which didn’t fly as soon as Doc laboriously horsed the cart to the back of the truck. And then stooped and started grunting, while all the heavy stuff stuck to the cart and laughed at him. I was double parked, as the saying goes, and did not have time for foolin’ around. I nudged him out of the way and put the stuff on the truck. Normally, guys get offended when you nudge them out of the way and do what they can’t. Nope, Doc just stood there, with a vacant look. Maybe he was Zenning too. As we drove away, he was still standing there. City people worry me sometimes.

Got the sweet deals home and put together the air compressor. It was basically complete out of the box, I just had to install the handle and wheels, and change the oil. Then the band saw. I had noticed on the website reviews, the install suffered from bad and vague instructions. In fact, the very first instruction was wrong and you went from there. I normally don’t do instructions. I see things in my head and hear voices. It all works out. Two and a half days later and we be cutting curvy things. I won’t talk about how I put the saw blade on backwards for the first cut and immediately thought, huh, chinese junk!

I grabbed a piece of plywood scrap I had and ran it through. Sweet. Now if I can keep my fingers out of the sharp bits, I can start building a new front door, the back door, 7 windows, several cabinets…. Only 118 days to get ‘er done. No pressure, I just wish my left eye would stop twitching.