Friday, June 27, 2014

In the studio: A little scroll work

Sometimes the space where I keep all my tools is my shop, like when I'm fixing busted washing machines or building furniture, but other times, when I'm feeling a little more artsy-fartsy, it's my studio. That's what it was the past couple days, my studio.

I had an idea peculating in my head for a while, as ideas tend to do, (Yes Dad! Sometimes I do use my head for more than holding my hat up!!!) and yesterday I pulled the scroll saw out from deep in the back corner of a high shelf.

Now I haven't used the scroll-saw in - well - forever, and the first order of business, before I could get down to the artsy parts, was to find my stash of scroll-saw blades. You know, those teeny tiny little things that break just from being looked at crossways.

Well I tore the shop studio apart, checking all the sensible places you would expect scroll-saw blades to be hiding, then I tore it apart some more, checking all the not so sensible places. And I never did find those dang things! (And why do we always say 'I found [insert your lost item here] in the last place I looked.'? It would be pretty dumb if we found it somewhere other than the last place we looked, don't you think??)

So there I was, with an idea in my head ready to go, a scroll-saw with my one and only blade mounted in it, and the nearest possible source of additional blades at least a 60 mile round trip away.

I don't know about you but when I've got an idea ready to go it's best to get the dang thing out of my head like right now, otherwise I'm likely to loose it somewhere there deep inside the grey-matter, so I went to work anyway, knowing full well that I was going to break the blade at some point and that would be that.

Well somehow I made it through the entire project on that one single blade! Maybe my skill level has improved since the last time I used the saw, back when all I had to do was lay some wood on the saw's platform, still inches away from the blade, and it would break on me; but I don't know how that's possible unless I've been sleep-scrolling.

Anyway, whatever it was, skill (Unlikely), luck (Damn! I should have bought a lottery ticket instead) or karma (I did live-trap a field mouse in the barn and release it to the wilds on the other side of the pond the other week.), I managed to get all the pieces for the project cut out on that one lone blade.

It looks a lot like a pile of scrap in this photo, like maybe I did bust the blade and just don't know it yet

but after picking through the pieces, sanding some of them thinner to add a 3D element to the composition, and putting them where they belong, the project starts to take shape.

But what kind of shape? This was OK, but it wasn't really popping for me

so, emboldened by my unprecedented success to this point, I decided to push my luck and add another element, which meant going back to the drawing board, and then the saw.

The grain was kept vertical for the body portion and slightly angled for the hair, but here on the skirt section I was careful to lay the grain horizontal to enhance the flying quality of the twirling skirt.

After piecing everything together once again with the new elements and looking at it with a critical eye rather than the eye of the guy who just spent so much time and effort on all the parts, I decided that the composition was better if I removed her left arm. The surgery was painless for her, not so much for me. . .

After a little more '3D' sanding I put about a dozen drops of a red dye into a little water and let the skirt parts soak for a while.

While that, and the follow-up drying was happening I turned my attention to the background.

Cutting a piece of 9-ply half inch birch plywood to size, I sanded and stained it on all 6 sides.

 I didn't want the background to be lifeless and flat, but I didn't want the grain to compete with the subject either so, instead of paint, I used a heavy application of dark walnut stain which left some subtle movement in the background to give it life but not so much it draws attention from the main subject.

A session of careful layout, followed by even more carefully done piece-by-piece gluing, then three coats of a satin polly, and I finished up the project. I like to use water-based polly in cases like this where tough protection is not the key goal because the water based stays crystal clear and doesn't take on an amber tint like the oil based polly will.

Now, where can I hang her???? Where ever it is I better do it fast. That photo of Dad over the workbench has an extra gleam in the eyes right now!!!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Addition to the birding station

I have a friend (Yeah, what a shocker, I have a friend! Of course in this case 'a' is literal. I have exactly one friend. . .) that lives about 20 miles away and he has a birding station outside his back door too. His includes a couple of suet cages and I see Jays and Woodpeckers on them from time to time.

We have Jays and Woodpeckers around here too, but apparently our birding station isn't classy enough for them since they don't hang out there, so I too added a suet cage.

So far it hasn't classed the joint up at all. Our feeder pole only has two hooks on it and they are currently occupied by one-each seed and hummingbird feeders so the suet cage was just kind of hanging there up against the pole between them.

Even I didn't find that very classy and a week later there were still zero beak-marks in the suet,
so I decided it was time to add another feeder pole.

 Since the theme of the existing pole is rebar & T-post, and I just happened to have some rebar and T-post laying around, that's what I built the new feeder post from.

The first job was to turn the end of the rebar into a little hook, but even my lightweight #3 rebar won't bend that sharp without hydraulics or some serious persuasion. Not having any hydraulics of the proper kind laying around I had to resort to the serious persuasion method, but I'm limited in even that since I don't have a proper oxyacetylene torch. (I'm still trying to maintain the illusion that I'm a wood man and not a steel worker and since cutting dovetails with an oxy-torch doesn't work too well I've never managed to convince myself it's something I just have to have! Except sometimes it might be nice to. . . oh never mind. . .)

What I can do is manage a little can of MAP gas, but no matter how long I hold the pathetic little flame against the rebar the best I can do is get just the faintest tinge of red, but then I'm not so sure that's not just wishful thinking.

With the bar as hot as I'm going to get it with my limited tools, I run outside to my bending station.

I'm not sure why, but when the parking slab was poured next to the barn slab they left this big steel spike embedded into it.

With that and a length of pipe I can get most of the hook bent into the end of the rebar.

And finish it off in the steel jawed bench vice.

In the process I did manage to crack one of the three bends. Don't know if I didn't get it hot enough or maybe bent it too fast, but it's just barely hanging on there and I will have to do a little welding to put things back together again.

Now that the end hooks were bent the easy bends were next. A clamp across the end of the end-hook to hold it in the proper orientation, and a little work with a pipe-bender

and I have three Shepard's crook looking bits for my new feeder pole.

Then it's out to the gravel drive where I can't set anything important on fire.

After a bit of welding to fix that broken hook, I clamp two of the crooks together at roughly a 120 degree angle and tack them in place.

I turned the first two crooks over and clamped the third crook into place.

After a couple tacks to make sure it stayed about where I wanted it, I added a few bead-welds to the whole assembly.

My brother the welder would point out that I've over-welded here, but with my (lack of) welding skills, overdoing it is not really a bad thing. besides, I could use the practice.

The area up near the barn is pretty gravelly under there and it takes more than a few whacks with the post-driver to get a T-post settled in and stable. Then some steel wire ties to attach the crook assembly to the T-post followed by some paint and we're good to go.

The suet, as well as a spare feeder and a garden ornament are hung with care,

but it's been a couple weeks now and still no takers on the suet (That will teach me to buy the cheap stuff!), though it only took a few minutes for a newly fledged Cardinal, of which we have loads of this time of year, to come check things out

and be the first to try the new feeder.

This is actually slightly unusual behavior. Usually the juvenile Cardinals will stand on the ground begging with little chirps and wing flutters while the parents pick seed off the ground from between the little one's feet and hand beak feed them. The greedy little buggers!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Close enough to count the ticks

This girl was wandering around just outside the shop several times today. She didn't seem to mind me moving around in plain sight, not even when I crunched across the gravel to get closer.

In addition to the traditional green browse, she was chomping down on the summer wildflowers growing on the downhill side of the drive where rain run-off tends to flow through on the way to the pond.

What?! A photo op?

You sure this is my good side??

You know what? I'd rather just eat instead.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Reality kicks me in the - tender place

It's my personal policy to keep reality at arm's length, and the longer the arm the better.

I mean this is the same policy that kept my childhood filled with fun fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, The Wizard of Oz; and playground games like Ring Around the Rosy. Never mind that we're talking some pretty dark stuff here; stuff like cannibalism, child predators, terrifying storms & lost children; or that we were dancing around the playground reenacting a killer disease and laughing about it. No, I didn't have to worry about all that stuff because reality was safely tucked away over there on the sidelines.

Good times! And I see no real advantage in giving that up now that I'm 'grown'. In fact I think an abundance of reality should make the American Medical Association's list of things that are really bad for you. After all, if I let in too much reality the flaws in the stuff coming out of my shop would be downright depressing; my enjoyment of a TV show purported to take place in Austin Texas but with California hills in the background of most every exterior shot would be shattered; and when I looked at myself naked in the mirror - well, actually, best not to look at yourself naked in the mirror after a certain age, best to just close your eyes and remember what you used to look like naked in the mirror before you were a certain age. . .

But this morning reality reached out and grabbed me by the balls and hasn't let go yet!

Yesterday, as I was signing for a loaner car to use as my van was serviced, (Mercedes service might be expensive but they do serve it well lubed with plush waiting rooms stocked with snacks and drinks, personalized service and readily handed out $50,000 loaner cars.) it was pointed out that my driver's license had expired last month.

Being the law-abiding citizen I am, first thing this morning I drove into town to correct that oversight. Of course if I really was all that law-abiding I guess I would have had someone else sitting behind the wheel rather than driving myself in on an expired license, so I guess I would have to remove all that 'law-abiding' crap; if I didn't keep reality at a distance that is. . .

Anyway - being a small town office, the process of renewing my license was pretty simple and quick and friendly. (When I was working and I, and all my co-workers, needed to maintain valid passports because of all the travel we did, we would regularly drive 50 miles outside the city to a small town passport office where we weren't treated with disdain, disrespect and (Insert the 'dis' word of your choice here.)) But this morning, when the clerk handed me my temporary license, complete with grainy, black & white photo, reality sunk it's pointy little claws deep into my gonads!

Holy Crap!

You know those mug shots of the week the local paper publishes in order to shame it's citizens into goodness? I'm one of those mug shots!!! Where the hell did I get all those chins! And when did I get so jowley? (Not jolly, jowley; you know, all those extra saggy bits hanging off my face.) My ears stick out, my eyes are beady, my nose is crooked! Hell, if I ran into myself in a dark parking lot I'd piss my pants!

You know that 'only a mother could love' line?? I just found out they were talking about me!!!

I let my guard down, reality snuck in, and now it's going to take weeks to repair the damage and regain my non-reality vision of myself. In the mean-time I guess I'll have to wear my hat low and limit the public's exposure to the hideousness as much as possible.

Reality sucks!!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Gardening: long overdue update

OK, just because I've been silent on the garden front doesn't mean nothings happening out there, just that I've been lazy remiss about recording the goings on.

It's well into summer heat here with morning lows in the mid 70's and daily highs in the low to mid 90's. That's normal climate for us but it still seems pretty mild this year compared to last year at this time when much of the country was stuck under a persistent high and regularly hitting the 100's. (Of course this mass oppression was happening just as I started off on another trip.) This means the cool weather crops are done and none highlighted this more so than the spinach and two different leaf lettuces.

In general I think my 'crops' got a late start, even those started inside under the grow lamp, because of a very cool spring which had us seeing night time temps well below 50 weeks after last frost. At least that's what I'm blaming for the mediocre results from several of the plants. I think maybe my results would have been a little better is I had reversed the day cycle on the grow light and kept it on overnight, turning it off for a few hours of rest during the day. This would probably have kept the plants warmer during the nights which were dropping into the 40's and even high 30's once in a while.

As it was, the spinach never had a chance to mature to the point of good firm leaves before the heat caused it to bolt. I got several harvests of spinachy tasting though floppy leaves but was never able to get beyond the floppy stage before they bolted and I cut them off at the knees as lost causes.

The Bronze Mignonette lettuce also stayed very floppy with some harvests of very thin, almost tasteless leaves. It never bolted in the heat but more-or-less just faded away. I have seeds left but I don't think I'm going to try this variety next season. There's so many others out there to try.

The Buttercrunch lettuce also never really firmed up and it bolted big time once the heat set in. Though it was susceptible to insect pests it grew well enough and I harvested a fair amount of it. This one might make it into the next season's lineup but probably under row-cover to cut back on the number of insects harvesting it before I can get there. The stems were about 3/4 of an inch in diameter at the base when I cut them off and one has stubornly decided to send up a new plant. Since I don't have anything else going in this slot I'm going to just leave it alone and see what happens.

I keep thinking the onion leaves are going to fall over and brown off any day, but they keep going. Once they do give up I'll pull the bulbs, dry them and see what we ended up with. This is Texas Sweet which is supposed to be a good, and unregulated, substitute for the highly publicized Vadail that comes out of Georgia. To prove the sweetness I harvested one bulb and ate it like an apple. Pretty good!

The Chard, being one of those heat lovers, is doing well though the leaves have grown past the 'eating raw' stage and must now undergo a little cooking to knock down the bitterness. This variety is Bright Lights which is supposed to have bright red stems and veins but we have only seen a hint of that so far.

The carrots have done better than I expected. The Danvers, over on the left, are seriously browned off now but the carrots below aren't bad. The Little Fingers on the right are doing better but still showing signs of stress. I pull one or two of each, rinse them under the hose, bite off the pointy tap root and nibble on them as I check the garden in the morning. (Don't tell the wife who would freak out if she knew I wasn't scrubbing them down with soap before eating!)

The potato experiment, where on a whim I planted a sprouting potato from the grocery store, continues but I won't know how well it's going until the top browns off and I dig in to see what's been happening below.

I did throw the rest of the sprouting potatoes, a batch of organics we bought that had been out of the ground just a little too long, out into the compost pile and there are now a half dozen, completely neglected but still decent looking plants growing out there as well.

Next summer, assuming I don't end up with plans that will take me away for much of it, unlike this summer, we are going to try sweet potatoes, of which we eat a lot. They are a tropical plant and like the heat so should help fill in the summer garden.

Just because I had empty space where the lettuces and spinach was, I threw down a few bean and squash seeds. Both seem to be doing pretty well but only time will tell if they produce anything.

So far the zucchini has been a bust. It has been producing fruits but they just end up rotting away before they grow as you can see. (The large one is only about an inch in diameter.) As some rot others start growing farther down the stem so I'm just leaving it alone to see if there is any change in attitude here.

The cucumber on the other hand can't seem to get going. it has set a lot of very tiny little fruits but they never grow more than an inch long before drying up and falling off. The dang thing continues to send out tentacles so this is another one I'm just leaving alone.

The yellow pepper has been setting and growing lots of peppers but none have matured beyond the green stage yet. As green peppers are not very welcome at our table I'm leaving these go in the hopes of yellow in the future.

The tomatoes have been a mixed bag.

The Flordade, which has supposedly been bred for a climate like ours, has produced one stunted plant that has set a single fruit which is still very green. This is a red variety so it will get left on the vine to see what happens.

The Beefsteak is almost as tall as the greenhouse will let it grow and has had lots of blossoms, but has yet to set a single fruit. I think this one is a bust.

The yellow pear is doing pretty well. So far the fruits, about the size of a ping-pong ball, have had a very mild tomatoey taste so I'm letting the rest go until they fall off into my hand to see if the taste gets stronger. If it doesn't, good grower or not, it probably won't make next year's garden.

 The Cherokee Purple has also been doing well with lots of fruits though none of them have matured to harvest yet.

So there you have the latest from the garden. Mixed results but, if nothing else, we have been providing habitat and both web building and hunting spiders are among those taking advantage.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Curtain rod mounting blocks: a quick project

I won't go into all the details, but we need to hang curtain rods around the 4 sides of some free-standing shelving. There's a wood platform sitting on top of the shelving that extends several inches over on each side. These overhangs are where we will  mount some rod holders. What follows is the recipe for some simple block curtain-rod holders.

Set up the table saw with the rip fence and a stop-block. Take one 4x4, (Treated because that's what I had.) using the stop-block as a length guide, run the 4x4 through the saw, flip 180 degrees and make a second pass to finish the cut.

Repeat until you have 4 blocks measuring  approximately 3.5 inches on each side.

 Orient all the blocks with end-grain up then pick two adjacent sides on each block. It is important that these be adjacent sides so the curtain rod ends, two to a block, will meet at 90 degree angles. Find the center of each of these sides by drawing diagonal lines from corner to corner.

 At the drill press mount a 1 inch bit, spade or forstner, then set the tip on the surface of a block then set the drill stop for a 1 1/4" deep hole. Drill two holes in each block using the center marks as guides. Hang onto the block firmly to keep it from spinning. Better yet grab it with a clamp

One of these holes will capture one end of each curtain rod. The other will be the cradle part of a slot into which the other end of the rod can be slipped.

To lay out this slot orient all 4 blocks with the top (End-grain) facing away from you with one hole facing up and the second hole on the left side

With a square draw guidelines as shown. Vertical intersecting left edge of drilled hole. Horizontal 1/16 - 1/8 above the centerline of the hole and a second horizontal 1 to 1 1/8" above the first horizontal. Then, using the same drill-press setup, remove most of the waste by drilling three more, overlapping holes taking care to stay inside the lines.

Once the holes are drilled use a sharp chisel to remove the rest of the waste. The idea here is that one end of the curtain rod will slide in the horizontal slot then drop down and rest in the cradle formed by the remains of the original hole.

Take a break to partially dismantle the table saw cabinet because you heard a whine-clunk-whine instead of the usual whine when you tilted the blade to 45 degrees and started it up.

Figure out that the belt between the motor and the arbor has jumped ship. Crank the trundle back to 90 degrees so you can reach the critical parts. Use a pry-bar to compress the motor spring. Reach up underneath and blindly slip the belt back onto the arbor. Hide behind a handy piece of plywood and flip the switch to see if everything stays were it's supposed to or if things are going to go flying in all directions.

Because everything stayed in place, reassemble the saw cabinet. Re-tilt the blade to 45 degrees. Re-set the fence to slice just a little bit more than a 1/4" off the corner of a block. And now we're back where we started before we were so rudely interrupted. . .

Run all 4 bottom corners of each block through the setup to get rid of them - the corners, not the blocks! (The block nearest to you in the photo is sitting upside down and you are looking at what will be the bottom once it's mounted in place.)

Decide that worked pretty well so take all 4 blocks back to the table saw, fortunately still set up for the corner cuts, and run all 4 vertical corners of each block through the saw.

Clamp the belt sander upside down in the bench vice. Take a block with all 8 corners knocked off (Like the one on the left) and give it a good sanding, making sure to ease all the edges. (Like the block on the right.) Repeat three more times.

Again, the blocks are shown here sitting upside down.
Give the blocks two good coats of your paint of choice.

And now they're ready to be mounted to the cover over top of the shelving units.

Once mounted measure and cut 3/4" EMT to the correct length, which is about 2" longer than the inside distance between block faces.

Turn the whole thing over to your resident interior designer who has already chosen the curtains, help her get everything hung. Stand back and enjoy. (Even though you know you should already be moving on to the next project. . .)