Category Archives: Introduction

Introduction

What’s Up With The Green Workbench Dude??

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Now that's a decent question. Why in the world would I have a green workbench? Why indeed. The easy answer is because they were free. Yep, that's right. There is more than one. There are three green work benches! My father-in-law had a strawberry farm, an honest to goodness he planted, grew, picked, and sold the berries farm. The farm included a roadside fruit stand where he sold his berries as well as other fruits he got from local farmers and the Los Angeles fruit wholesale market. The stand had workbenches for the people inside to cut, package, and prepare the fruit, and also to present the fruit to hungry shoppers.

Green is simply the color one uses when trying to sell fruit. Imagine walking into the grocery store and having all of your fresh produce presented on a brown, blue or red, table. It just wouldn't work would it? I declare green to be the official color of fresh produce, starting … forever. Also, the tops were made of a plywood that really needed to have some sort of finish or sealer, especially when they were going to get wet. Green paint was the answer.

Unfortunately for my fruit cravings, but fortunate for his back, he decided to sell the farm. It was too much work and effort when he could just go to the wholesale market and then resell the produce at trendy farmers markets. So the booth had to come down, and with it the tables. I, of course, couldn't let three good tables to go to waste, especially because I was just starting out in married life and essentially had nothing but some old hand me down furniture. I graciously accepted the benches and have been using them ever since.

The green paint isn't quite as useful for wood projects as it was to sell fruit. I learned quickly to lay down something under a project when I was sanding and prepping it for finish. If I don't, I end up with green paint transfer on my nice smooth virgin wood surface. Not good. Someday I'll replace the top, but for now, I have drill holes, spots for clamps, and most importantly, an intimate knowledge of the complete surface of the table top. They were free; they are solid; they've given me years of service; and they define my garage. If my mantra to is to save, reuse, repurpose, and reinvent, what better way to be inspired than to use repurposed fruit stand tables for my workbench??!!

The Floating Brain Bulb

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That lightbulb over your head: is it a CFL, an Edison, halogen? Nah, just another crazy idea. As you learned if you read my first post, you know I had a high school teacher who let us build whatever we wanted. I believe that was a great foundation for ideas. Whenever I walk into a room, I see ideas and potential. The only limits are the tools I have at hand, but those ideas can be put in the idea vault till the time comes and the proper tools are available. So where do the ideas come from?

My head. Really there is no other way to explain it. There have been many times where I started working with just an idea and it evolved as I worked, fully formed only when it was complete. I think I have built maybe four large projects using a plan. Material lists and cut lists are formulated in my head as I stand in the aisle at the hardware store, repeatedly turning down offers of assistance, staring blankly at the lumber.

I am a fairly regular visitor on Pinterest, Houzz, and Instagram, and I do get some good ideas there, but really it is more about what we need and the materials I have on hand. I always keep scraps, especially of hard wood, and I wait until there is a need and then figure out if I have the materials to build it. A good example is the entertainment media cabinet for lack of a better term. I was sick and tired of the kids pulling out all of our DVDs trying to find the one they wanted to watch. Mind you, this was when they were younger, but it was extremely annoying and every day. I also wanted to keep the DVD player and other components away from sticky little fingers. Graham crackers don't really play well in the DVD slot. So I designed a media cabinet that included heavy duty drawer slides, a large capacity lazy susan, magnetic lock and drawer. I'll leave the details to another post, but you get the idea.

Sometimes there isn't a need, just an idea or a material I want to use. I generally leave it sitting in the garage until an idea pops into mind. I have this grey matter filing cabinet that keeps track of the materials in my head. I don't think it is a special skill or talent, just an open mind and a belief that anything can be made, designed, and built.

Where do you get your ideas?

 

The Birth of a Home Workshop

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I'm just a guy who likes to putter around in my garage, and try to build the ideas that pop into my head at unplanned, unforeseen moments. I guess the two questions most asked is where I learned how to build things and where I get my ideas. So I am going to devote my first two posts to attempt to answer those questions.

My grandpa was a carpenter and gardener by hobby and necessity. He grew up in a time and place where everyone was a farmer, even if they had a “city” job. He was the manager at the local hardware store and was often mistaken for the owner he was such a fixture at the store. His garden was a big corner lot on a fairly busy street and everyone in town could give directions by referencing his garden or his old barn in back. He grew up in the depression and never threw anything out that could be used in the future, He was recycling, repurposing, and upcycling before it was hip.

We lived next door when I was young and he was already retired from the hardware store. We loved to run through the corn and alfalfa fields, gather eggs from the chicken coop, or feed the horse. I loved to pick (translate eat) the raspberries. In the backyard he had a shop with a root cellar underneath which made a great haunted house by the way. During the winter months when nothing was growing, he could invariably be found in the shop building or fixing something. During the month of December, we kids were not allowed in the shop because he was working on wooden christmas toys. I remember grabbing apples from the root cellar and bringing them into the shop where we roasted them in the wood stove for a winter treat. Yum! At one point I took some scraps, nailed and glued them together, and colored them as Santa Claus. That Santa hung from the rafters in his shop until the day he died. I wish I had grabbed it or at least took a photo.

My dad had learned from Grandpa and when something broke in the house, you fixed it. You didn't go out and buy a new one or hire someone. My dad, grandpa, and uncle even built the house we lived in. Fixing things and working with tools was a part of everyday life, so naturally, when I hit jr. high, I signed up for wood shop. We made the tic-tac-toe board, broom holder, key ring holder, and jewelry box one would expect and I was hooked! I got special permission and built a toy chest for my baby brother during lunchtime, and asked for tools for Christmas. I still have the drill and portable workbench from that Christmas.

Wood shop continued through high school and I had an extraordinary shop teacher who devoted all of his time to the shop. His mantra was that you could build anything you wanted as long as you finished it and entered it into the county fair. And he literally meant it. We had a full size stage coach, grand piano, full wall entertainment centers, roll-top desks, a british style phone booth, and my senior project, a violin. I originally submitted plans to build an electric violin from exotic hardwoods. There were colleges and apprenticeships to learn to build an acoustic, so I figured an electric violin would be the most I could do. No, no no! “Why aren't you building an acoustic? he asked, and asked seriously! He ended up driving me an hour away after school one day so I could go talk to a violin maker and get tips and tricks to help me, all on his own time and own dime. During the last month of the year, the shop was open 24/7 so procrastinating high schoolers would have no excuse to not finish their projects. I spent more than one night picking up the papers for the family paper route on the way home from the shop, then turning around and going back to school after delivering papers and taking a shower.

Finally, in college I worked as a student carpenter. We were responsible to take care of repair tickets submitted from all of the non-academic buildings on campus and when something wasn't repairable, we built a new one. The greatest part was that all scraps were saved and could be used for personal projects. If a project required 2/3 a sheet of plywood, the ordering department paid for an entire sheet, and the rest was extra. We could clock out and stay in the shop to work on our own stuff. For a poor college student, it was the ultimate goldmine! I built the kitchen table we still use 15 years later, a gliding rocker, curio cabinet, and more.

That was quite the introduction! Over the years I have purchased tools as I have needed them, although I still don't have everything a full shop would have. I was spoiled working in a university shop and a premier high school shop. I make due and plan around what I have even if projects take twice as long. That's life. There are limits to what I can do given my tools and time constraints. I still gotta work for a living after all! But if you have a need and can think of a way to solve it, go for it! But that's a discussion for the next post.