Tag Archives: garage

Santa’s Workshop

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When you enjoy DIY or have some skills, there is no better gift than a homemade gift right? It's more personal, carries more meaning. But at what cost? It has been awhile since my last post, and that is because I have been busy in Santa's workshop. In my case, that's my garage, or to be more accurate, half my garage. The other half is storage. I've never had a car in my garage, at any house. One day when I have a separate workshop and a basement for storage, I might park cars in the garage. But until that day, the cars are relegated to the driveway. At our house, the garage is the main point of entry. It leads into the mud room/hallway where shoes, bags and jackets can be deposited. But when Santa's Workshop is open for business, the garage is closed. All traffic must go through the front door. That also means that I have to get anything that is needed from the garage. This year's present was much too large to just cover with a tarp. It required complete exclusion from garage access.

You know from my previous post that I have a whole stack of barnwood harvested from a local barn. Well, that wood won't do me any good just sitting there will it? Combine a stack of barn wood with Christmas and I have my work cut out for me. When we were first married, I made a kitchen table with a folding butterfly leaf. Our family grew quickly so we never really had the leaf closed up. The table just fit the six of us with no room to spare. It was time to grow and get a table more fitting for our family size. Also, I was never really happy with the previous table top. The table was maple and cherry and I really liked how the legs turned out, but for the top I tried to save money by layering maple on top of plywood. It just never worked out right. I refinished it a few years ago which helped some, but it still bugged me every time I sat down to eat.

Barn wood is great because it is aged and dried. You know there will be no more warping. But that also means the pieces are already warped and misshapened. If I had a planer and jointer, that wouldn't be a problem, but alas I do not. The edges were already rabbeted so using pipe clamps I glued the table top together. No matter how many clamps I used, I couldn't quite get every board to lay flush, but with some cross pieces screwed in from underneath, I could pull all of the boards securely together.

The apron required ripping the boards to width so I used the table saw as sort of a poor man's jointer. The legs are made from a 2×6 board from the barn secured to the apron with corner braces and bolts. It all went together square, but did not keep the table from rocking back and forth. I needed some angled braces for that. One end of the braces is bolted to the legs with a hex bolt going all the way through the leg. For the apron end, I chiseled out an insert for the brace so the actual apron would keep it from sliding or moving. It was then attached by a straight metal brace. It looks great and works really well.

I also decided to build a bench for one side of the table. We always seem to be pulling the piano bench in when we are feeding the neighbor kids or friends so why not just build one up front? You can cram more kids onto a bench than you can individual chairs. I used the same method for the top of the bench and then cut two pieces of a beam for the legs. A 2×6 support goes length wise down the center of the bench and rests on the legs in a cut out notch. I had to use my reciprocating saw to cut the beam for the legs, but just cut the notch on the table saw and cleaned it up with a chisel. The beam is secured to the support brace by a long hex bolt going all the way through.

 

With the table and bench built and ready for finishing I proceeded to blanket the entire garage in fine sanding dust. Every box, shoes, tools, bikes, everything had a fine coat of dust. I didn't sand everything perfectly smooth except for the top. I still want it to look a bit rough like barn wood should. I used a satin polyurethane finish sprayed onto the underside of the table top, the apron, legs, and the bench. Three coats were enough to provide a good solid finish. Then came the adventure of the tabletop.

I wanted a thick finish that filled in all holes and cracks and could also smooth out any uneven spots of the tabletop. You don't want to be sliding a glass of milk across your table just to have it crash when hitting a seam in the wood. And you don't want liquid spills drying in the cracks between boards. Using an epoxy resin, which is very expensive, I coated the table top. I had to take over one of the kid's rooms because it is too cold out in the garage for the epoxy to cure completely. I set up a tarp and a folding table in the room. Come to find out there were lots of seams in the table top not necessarily visible to the naked eye. I ended up having to buy another box of epoxy for the second coat because so much was running through the cracks and off the edges. Once the first coat dried and sealed things up, I applied the second smoothing coat and let that dry.

The following morning when I attempted to lift the new table top off the folding table, I found it was stuck, completely epoxied to the table! I tried prying it off with a pry bar, tried to saw through it, and tried a chisel. Nothing worked. The two tables had become one. I ended up having to use my Dremel to cut out holes in the folding table and then cutting down the edges to match the perpendicular supports. The epoxy and top layer of the folding table are there to stay, adding some great strength to my tabletop. The folding table on the other hand has two giant gaping holes in it and will have to be resurfaced with plywood or something. You should have seen my wife's face when she saw the folding table!

I woke up early Christmas morning as I always do and hefted the tabletop downstairs to assemble everything in the dining area. When everyone came downstairs, it took a moment for her to notice a new table just sitting there, but when she did it was a huge hit! The barn wood looks great and the table fits our family much better. However, Santa's Workshop will be closed for the foreseeable future. It's time to spend my evenings inside rather than out in the garage.

Keep checking my YouTube channel for the how to video. I am still working on editing and putting it together.

Update. Here is the video! It's a little long, but it was a big project. Enjoy!

 

 

A Place To Rest on Halloween

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It's Halloween, which closely rivals Christmas as our favorite holiday of the year. In terms of storage boxes, Christmas is still the far and away winner with Halloween as the solid second. But we don't go crazy overboard with lawn decorations like many people do and we don't do the whole chase the kids down the street with a chainsaw bit on Halloween night. The same goes for Christmas, when we have simple white lights on the house and a wreath on the door. Our decorating goes on inside where we can enjoy it for the whole month.

One of our big traditions, which is not unheard of, but certainly not common, is the Halloween tree. Many years ago a fake Christmas tree was brought into our home, much to my horror. I will never forgo a real tree, so now we celebrate with two trees. The real tree is placed in the front room where it's sparkling lights can be seen from the street, and the fake tree hides itself in shame in the family room. For Halloween, we string it with orange lights and we have spider, skeleton, and pumpkin ornaments. A witch's hat topper completes the look. During November we keep the lights and replace the ornaments with things we are thankful for and harvest related ornaments.

And every year we host a Halloween party. We invite all of the kids in the neighborhood and the kids from church along with their families. It's a simple affair with some games for the kids and great chile for the adults. The adults can sit around, talk, and get to know each other better while the kids race through the house. The attendees always help by bringing chile, sides, and sweets. Last year we decorated with a giant spider crawling up the cathedral ceiling. This year we had witch's brooms flying around the room like the picture at the top. But then I took things a step further and decided to build a casket. That's right, I took it upon myself to build a full human size coffin for the front room.

I used 3/8 inch plywood and 2x4s and started by measuring my own dimensions, then adding at least five inches to every measuement. I measured and marked the shape and started to cut. My daughter joined in and helped while I put together the base and the frame and then cut and attached the sides and the top plate. I found the shape and natural warping of the wood made things a little complicated, but it went together after a bit of wrangling. I grabbed some piano hinges and a safety hinge off of Amazon and attached the lid. To prep the plywood so it didn't show all of the knots, cracks, and screw holes. I used drywall spackling because it is much cheaper than wood filler and it was being painted over anyway. It took a lot of spackle, but after letting it dry and sanding, it turned out very smooth. With a good coat of paint, the exterior was ready to go. During a trip to the local thrift store, I found some thick red curtains that were perfect when attached to the inside of the box with staples.

Now what to do with the inside? I could lie in wait and pop out to scare party goers, but that wouldn't allow me to be much help in hosting the party. So I went into our costume boxes and found the bloodied tux from last year's corpse bride and groom costume. I stuffed the tux and added some shoes (which made the whole thing much creepier for some reason). I found a skull on clearance at the drug store to complete the body.

 

After cutting a hole in the shirt, I inserted my daughter's iPod and attached it to an external charger tucked inside the body. After activating the Digital Dudz app which shows a beating heart or maggots, it was ready to go. The coffin was a big hit at the party, but now I need to sell it on Craigslist to recoup some of the money. And where in the world would I store a full size coffin during the rest of the year?

So if you want to buy a coffin let me know, or build one yourself from the video. And tell me what you think in the comments below!

 

Craigslist and Crossfit

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There are many places for you to sell your stuff. For years, Saturday mornings were for garage sales and flea markets. People always made sure to have cash on hand for that special find. You were restricted to local fads and fashion. If a particular item you wanted wasn't available in your area you were out of luck until the whole family jumped in the station wagon and you all took off for grandma's house. You gave yourself plenty of time to chase after those cardboard signs on the side of the road. You were hunting in new territory after all.

Flea markets were the best because all of those garage sales came to one place. The vendors did all of the work for you and brought those treasures down to local drive in. The fun was in the bargaining, the back and forth. Of course, there were always antique stores if you were rolling in it. They have everything all cleaned up and presentable, and you pay for that service all the way.

All of these methods were great, but left a big hole in your heart when you couldn't find the last piece to your full set of Garbage Pail Kids cards. After searching high and low, your collection still was not presentable to the world. Enter online auctions. Yahoo and eBay started out as fierce competitors. I actually preferred Yahoo for a long time. You could get better deals hands down. But eBay grew in popularity and simply had a much greater inventory. Yahoo slowly started to fade away as eBay became more and more popular.

You started by buying all of those things you had been searching for, and when your collection was either complete, or you were out of money, whichever came first, you decided, “Hey, I could do this! In fact, I could make a ton of money selling my sock monkey collection. Then I would have enough to really buy every Matchbox car ever made!” You posted your first item for sale. The pictures were crappy, taken with a 1.5 megapixel digital camera onto a floppy disk. You charged too little for shipping and realized it was a royal pain to guess the weight of the package without knowing where you were sending it yet.

But you learned and technology got better. You verified your Paypal account and didn't even realize that when eBay bought Paypal, you were getting double charged by the same company. Ebay's rates kept slowly creeping up, so you had to find things with high margins just to make a profit. It was great that there is pretty much a buyer for everything you have to sell somewhere in the world. There's always someone who wants to pay for your junk. You no longer have to waste entire Saturdays. But man, you wished you could actually keep more of what you were making. You realized you could just charge a ton for shipping to make up for your losses, until eBay caught on to that scheme and started charging you a percentage of shipping costs as well.

The big things were the killer. High shipping costs and high auction prices drove up eBay's percentage. Enter Craigslist. So you've once again limited yourself to one geographic area. But because you are online, your customer base is everyone in that area, not just the motivated people who are willing to wake up at the crack of dawn on weekends. You are still advertising for millions of people if you live in a populated area. And there are no fees. There are no Paypal processing fees or frozen funds because of a dispute. It's back to the old days of cash and carry.

Now enter the creep factor. You have no idea who you are meeting. Are they honest? Should you tell them where you live or meet in a public place? What if the item you are selling is too big to take to a public place? Do you want to give total strangers your phone number and address? The whole system is built on trust and unfortunatley the world is full of untrustworthy people. It's amazing actually that Craigslist has flourished and grown so much. Despite the drawbacks and uncertainty, people are adamant to look for the good and trust others. That's an awesome thing in this world.

On the other hand, you have to resign yourself to the fact people have no manners. They send rude emails. They don't show up for appointments. They try to talk you down in price even after you've agreed and driven halfway to meet them. But then the next guy shows up on time, pays without complaint, and thanks you. All is right again in Craigslist land and you go ahead and do it again.

I have begun a little side business selling jump boxes for plyo metric and Crossfit workouts. Because people want different sizes, I take orders and when it is done I email them back and set up a time for pick up. Unfortunately I have found that Craigslist buyers often have cash burning a hole in their pocket when they initially contact me. They agree on a price and the time it will take, but a week later when the box is done and I text them back, suddenly they don't respond. Or they do and say they are no longer interested. That money they had last week is long gone. Well now I have an unsold jump box that cost me time and money to build and no buyer. I have to go back and try to sell that particular size, hoping someone else wants it. And with Craigslist I can't really ask them to give me a deposit up front to keep them honest. There is no rating system that gives them confidence in my honesty. People choose to trust on Craigslist, but not enough to give me money in advance. I'm stuck selling for a customer who may or may not follow through.

It's frustrating, but I don't know that there is a solution. It seems things have gone full circle. I've got something in my garage I want to get rid of and I need to find someone local willing to buy it. Maybe I should put out a garage sale sign out on the corner.

 

 

Mason Jar Lamp Shade

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I have talked about my paternal grandparents, but haven't included anything about the maternal side. That shall change starting now. My maternal grandpa was a Naval Aviator towards the end of WWII and a flight instructor during Korea. My mom was born at the Pensacola Naval Hospital while he was stationed there. He was the epitome of a Western man. He loved everything Navy, aviation, or cowboy, and he could back it up. He had a ranch, owned a service station, and fished everyday of his retired life. Unfortunately, all of his memorabilia was kept in the basement of his mountain home in Utah. One particularly wet season, the river rose to historic heights and flooded the entire basement, ruining all of his military and historic stuff. I'm talking his original WWII era bomber jacket. Gone! Ai Ai Ai!!! I was too young at the time to really appreciate the loss, although I knew at some level it was bad.

He told lots of stories when I was a kid and one involved the bomber jacket. He claimed the Navy, after the war, had everyone turn in their issued gear. OK, that makes sense. It belongs to the government after all and should be returned when you no longer work for the government. But here's the kicker: he said the Navy had no use for all of those jackets. It was peacetime after all and they were used. The Navy's numbers went down tremendously. So what did they do with all of those surplus jackets? Tossed them overboard. That's what he said. They were just thrown to the sharks, forever lost to the deep. That makes the flood so much more tragic. He didn't turn it in when he was supposed to, but it was still ruined by water in the end.

My point in telling this story is that there wasn't much left of the stuff he saved from the good old days. After he died, my mom went through some of his stuff with grandma and found a small stamp collection. They were all of the same stamp in either red or green and were all used. It wasn't a serious collection of unused originals preserved behind acid free plastic, but a stack of stamps he thought were cool and decided to keep. They were aviation stamps, which showed his love for flying. As a side note, he rarely flew anywhere after he stopped flying. If he wasn't the pilot, he wasn't interested in sitting as a passenger. I just find that interesting. My mom sent the stamps to me and for a long time they sat in a baggy in a drawer. I thought about it and decided there was no point keeping them in a drawer. I needed to use them and put them somewhere I could appreciate them.

Then came the need and the solution. The mason jar wall sconce I described in a previous post, was extremely bright. The light was amplified going through the mason jar and was way too bright for the space. Why not use the stamps to refract and diffuse the light? Indeed, why not? So that it was what I did.

The wall sconce now serves as a reminder of grandparents on both sides of the family and still cost nothing! I had all of the materials at home. Here's the video explaining the process.

 

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.