Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Recipes and more glaze testing

Call me naive.

This time of year always makes me think of cooking, and I certainly miss the big family get-togethers that we used to have. Although my immediate family isn't that big, my mom is one of 14 kids, so holidays are often filled with family, food and good times.

Which started me thinking about recipes.

Years ago, I was at a picnic, and ate a wonderful dish that someone had brought. I asked for the recipe, and after several attempts at duplicating it, I could never make that dish as good as the one I tasted at the picnic.

It was for a simple pasta salad, and hard as I tried (and I'm a good cook!) there was just no duplicating it. I mentioned that to my mom one time and she looked at me like "who raised you?" Then she told me that some people actually don't like to share their recipes, so they'll sabotage your creations by leaving out an ingredient, or some other important piece of information.

So... that's why I said - call me naive.

Part of the reason I probably enjoy glaze making in my studio is because it's so similar to cooking. Add a pinch of that, or a dab of this, and you get something completely different. Which started me thinking about sharing recipes for glazes.

Now I make a ton of glazes in my studio - literally hundreds over the past few years, and since I don't have an evil bone in my body (unlike the wench who gave me the pasta salad recipe) I would never dream of leaving out an ingredient. Never.
But I sometimes hear from people who say that they made a sample batch of one of the glazes recipes I've given them, and it's nothing like my version.


Let's switch gears for a minute, and talk about clay. I use two different clay bodies in my studio - a light buff stoneware called Long Beach, and a very dark stoneware called Black Mountain. I like the grittiness of both, groggy and textural, but each clay is entirely different once it's fired.

Unless you're firing your test tile on the same glaze, in the same kiln environment, and at the same schedule, it's quite possible that you're going to get different results.

Here are some examples of the same glaze being fired on different clay bodies.

Below is one of my favorite glazes, a variation on Waterfall Brown, developed by Ron Roy and John Hesselberth. When I'm just beginning my tests of a new glaze, I cut a slab of clay the exact size of my favorite ruler. Once it's fired, I can calculate it's shrinkage very accurately. These pieces started off exactly 12" long.

When I brush the glaze, The lower half gets a coat of glaze. Then I drop down a third and give it second coat, and then the last third of the tile gets three coats. Look at these pieces, you'll see that the glaze appears thin on top, a little better in the middle, and best at the bottom. This is a good guide when I'm trying to decide how much glaze to apply on a bisqued piece.

The clay on the left is the light stoneware, Long Beach, while the one on the right is my preferred (darker) clay - Black mountain. With this particular glaze, there isn't too much of a difference.

But with the Waterfall White glaze (below), you can see a much more profound difference on the different colored clays.

The glaze applied to the darker clay actually looks much nicer than to the lighter body, wouldn't you agree? I think it looks like freshly fallen snow.

One of my favorite (and most stable) versions of Waterfall Brown is what I call Waterfall Gold, it's slightly lighter and really gorgeous on the darker clay, but not so nice on the light one.

And finally, here is Waterfall brown on three different clays that I've used - a woodfire clay, a porcelain, and a light stoneware. Of course, I forgot to put the Black Mountain clay sample tile in this picture, and it's the best of the four clays. But at least this picture shows how different Waterfall Brown looks on different clay bodies.

If you're testing a glaze and the results don't look like you think they should, perhaps thickness is an issue. Below ilustrates how thickness can really make a difference. The numbers on the test tubes indicates the number of dips of Floating Blue on these tubes.

When I travel, I often take a baggie with me, to bring home a small sample of soil, sand, ash or clay. And while the sample below isn't necessarily a suitable glaze for dinnerware, I love the crackle effect. I will probably use it on some tiles for a table someday. I made this using sand from my all time favorite beach - Little Beach, on Maui. Google it and you'll see what my idea of a perfect beach is.

Finally, sometimes when you're testing glazes, you come up wth something unexpected and pretty exciting. These next few pictures show a glaze I'm working on - it's full of texture and pools of color, yet exhibits a raw, crawl-y look that I'm starting to appreciate. I'm still testing it, but so far, it's behaving well.

It almost has a pewter look to it, with pools of gold.

Since wood is my main focus, I also have to consider what sort of wood will compliment this glaze. Right now, I'm playing with some fumed white oak, as it's smokey hue compliments these colors rather well.

That's it for now, I'll close this by wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you're surrounded by kindness, people you love and good food. We all deserve that.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Grouting and Finishing a Tiled backsplash

It took a while to complete this project, mostly due to issues beyond my control, like waiting for the right color of grout to be in stock at my supplier. I've received a few e-mails from people who were quite curious how it turned out, and I have to say - it's motivated me to make a little more tile and add it over the sink area, too. It'll tie the whole kitchen together, and I'm all about that.

Even though I really didn't like working with cement board, installing it on the area to be tiled is a must. I've seen kitchens that have had buckled backsplashes, probably due to the house sinking a bit, so the cabinets press down on the tile. I didn't want that to be an issue, so I cut the cement board slightly smaller than the area, leaving a quarter inch gap all around the perimeter.

I needed a few shims to keep the board in place, so I reached in my pocket and grabbed the first available thing - a couple of dollar chips from the Hard Rock Casino.


Once the board was propped into place, I marked the studs and screwed into them, using these screws, which are made specifically for cement board.

Their head is a little wider and flatter, and the threads are made for this type of installation. I also glued this sucker down - using a whole tube of Liquid Nails. Once this board has mastic, tile and grout on it, it's going to be fairly heavy, so I didn't want it pulling off the wall. Can you imagine?

Last thing to do before starting to glue the tile was to cut and oil some wooden strips to be used for edging. I used Cherry, as the cabinets in this kitchen are Cherry. Notice how the cabinets have darkened over time, Cherry will do that with exposure to sunlight. The strips will eventually darken to match.

The bottom strip was left off for now, as I wasn't completely sure where it would end up going. Once I started laying the tile in place, I would be able to determine the proper location of the bottom edging strip.

Here are the tiles, perfectly laid out next to my work area. You don't want to be in the middle of gluing them in place, and lose your place. I always have a layout predetermined.

I like to use mastic that's already mixed up for wall tile. Gravity can be your enemy when laying wall tile, so I like a quick setting product. There were a few tiles that had to be placed first - the corners, in this case. So I started with the corners, and worked my way down.

It's easiest to work in small areas, spreading some mastic, laying tile, and then doing it again.

That way, the mastic doesn't start setting up too quickly.

Once the bottom corners were finally in place, they determined the final location of that last piece of edging.

I marked the stud location, and pre-drilled it for a screw. I couldn't see taking any chances with splitting that piece when I was in the middle of laying the tile. Things are hectic enough without having that happen.

Just as I was getting ready to screw it into place, I noticed a huge dip in the wall. Those #$%& drywallers! So I put a small shim under the piece of edging, to keep it relatively straight. I know - if I hadn't of added the shim, I'm the only person in the world who would have known about it. I just wanted to be able to sleep at night, so I had to make it right.

Notice how I used some paper to mask off the wall? I have a huge roll of kitchen kraft paper in my studio, and take pieces of it to jobs like this. It's perfect to masking off areas that I need to keep clean. And trust me - it's easy to make a mess when doing something like this.

Here, I'm almost finished. It'll take at least a day for the mastic to cure. This isn't a good time to rush things. And - know this - before the tile is actually grouted, the area looks like crap. I kept looking at it, criticizing the layout I'd chosen, or the size of my spacing. It's easy to lose your mind at this stage. If this happens - step away from the project! Go drink a beer or do a shot or something.

Grouting is the messiest thing in the world, so it's really important to do some prep work and take some precautions. Mask the area off, and find youself some latex gloves. Working with this chocolate brown grout would have stained my hands for days, and I had a meeting with a client coming up, so I didn't want to look like a freak when I met him for the first time. It's happened before, and it's sort of weird to shake someone's hand when your hand is so odd looking.


All the precautions in the world don't prepare your for accidents, although prep work can minimize the anguish. I was in the middle of grouting this when my masking paper fell off the wall, causing a cascade of grout to cascade down the wall and onto the floor. I wish I had a video of that for you, it would have been comical, to say the least.

Cleaning the excess grout is messy, but by then, you start to get an idea of how well the area looks. Make sure you change the water in your bucket often, as the particles of sand in the water can scratch your tile. I probably changed the bucket water two or three times. Here's where you start to get excited, as the area starts looking really nice.

And finally - here's a final peek at the backsplash.

Hope you've enjoyed following this project as much as I have blogging about it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Trekking for Debbie

I have a favor to ask of you.

It's not about money (although that would be nice) and it won't require you to do anything physical. I'd just like to raise a little collective energy and good will, and send a little love to some special people in my life.

Every day for roughly the last two weeks, my phone rings at roughly six in the morning. No, it's not a prankster.

It's a call from a satellite phone, coming from the Himalayan Mountains.

Let me explain...
Back in early May, I wrote a post about my sister-in-law, Debbie, who had just been diagnosed with stage IV gastric cancer. To say that she's been on my mind since then is an understatement.

There isn't a day that passes, especially if I'm having a bad day in my woodshop, when I don't think of her and marvel at her courage and mental toughness. Being reminded of her strength usually snaps me back into shape and ends all of my complaints.

Sort of like being slapped by Cher, yelling "snap out of it!"

Back when we learned of Debbie's diagnosis, another family member (Jill) was planning a trek to Mt. Everest. Her trek had the awesome goal of reaching Mt. Everest's base camp (or EBC), a staging area for hikers who plan on making an ascent and descent to the top of Mt. Everest. With an altitude of 17,600 ft, it's an amazing feat to simply make it to base camp!

While many people have written about the EBC trek, Jill decided to dedicate her efforts toward raising funds for cancer awareness and research. She started Trekking for Debbie, a site that will hopefully (in Jill's words) - raise awareness & hopefully funds for cancer research.

Jill set a goal of raising $29,029, which is the height of Mt. Everest.

She started training for her trek more than a year ago, first by joining several local hiking groups here in Las Vegas. After she became familiar with the local hiking areas, she often hiked alone. To the top of Mt. Charleston, or Turtlehead peak, or even little Lone Mountain, a small "hill" nearby that she could tackle as a quick work-out. On her Trekking for Debbie website, she's posted her hiking log, an amazing chart of all of her work preparing for this climb.

I feel exhausted just reading it!

Along the way, Jill started receiving some amazing support for other hikers, both near and far. Jon Miller, of the video postcast site The Rest of Everest, was kind enough to loan Jill his satellite phone. Every other morning or so, Jill uses the phone to record a podcast and put it onto her Trekking for Debbie site, so that people can listen to her daily activities.

Jill's latest podcast, recorded just last night, discusses reaching her goal - Everest Base Camp. Wow.

John Miller's podcasts are nothing short of amazing, his very first podcast might get you hooked, much as it did to Jill. She stumbled upon his website, and started listing to his podcasts during her daily workout. One of the reason's she's in the Himalayan mountains right now is directly attributable to Jon's highly addictive videos, featuring his experiences while trekking.

I highly recommend checking out Jon's videos, they're amazing. They almost make a non-hiker like me want to try it.

Well, not really, but they're fascinating.

(These pictures were taken in Katmandu, just before Jill started her trek.)

Yes, that's a sacred cow being carried through the streets.

So here's the deal - I need your help.

I'd like you to visit Trekking for Debbie and send some love and energy. It might mean just a simple comment on the site, or a few dollars to Sloan Kettering or the Lance Armstrong Foundation, or some words of encouragement to Debbie.


I'd like to flood her site with love and support, if that's possible.

Here's what I'll do.

Back in May, I donated the proceeds of something that I sold on Etsy to Bri, a lovely food blogger, who was courageously fighting breast cancer. There was an amazing fundraiser for Bri, and the food blogging community really stepped up to help her out. The outpouring of love and support, from complete strangers across the planet was nothing short of amazing.

So I'd like to throw that offer out there again - this time, to help someone in my own family.

I'll donate the proceeds of the next thing that sells on Etsy to the Trekking for Debbie website.
Here's your chance to really spread some good will around, and maybe even do a little early holiday shopping. Think of how cool one of my platters might look on your dinner table.

And think of how great it would be for Debbie to beat her biggest mountain to climb - cancer.

Sort of makes climbing Everest seem like a walk in the park.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Some words of wisdom...

Never piss off someone who owns a backhoe.

(H/T to my friend Adrienne for sending me that image above.)

There are so many projects around here that I'm working on, it's hard to know if I'm making any progress on them! I'm finishing up the tile back splash and will post that when it's complete.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The power of Etsy

While surfing this morning, I happened to find this Etsy artist. Her video just makes me smile. Oh- and I love the music. I don't know about you, but I just like watching an artist make something. It connects me with them. And her work is amazing. Check out her skull mugs, or her squid teapot.

If you've never heard of Etsy, you're missing out on something special.

What is Etsy?

Etsy is an online marketplace for buying & selling all things handmade.

Their mission is to enable artists to make a living by selling their work online,
and to connect makers with buyers.

It's a pretty simple concept - if you're an artist, you can sell on their site. You can sell anything, as long as its handmade, or as long as you're selling supplies that will go into handmade items.

Look, I know times are getting a little tough out there. It's happening everywhere, we're all experiencing it. But I guarantee this - if you go shopping on Etsy, you're going to find some amazing things, at better prices than you'll find at your local shops. You can even do a search for artists in your hometown, and pick the work up from them, so you'll save on shipping fees. Most Etsy artists I've spoken to love to meet their buyers.

The Etsy banner says it all:

Now aren't you sort of craving a cup of coffee in one of those skull mugs?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Tage Frid's stools

Oh, don't start snickering... I know that sounds funny. Frid's stools. But if you know who he is, and if you know the stools we're talking about, you'd be sitting up straight and paying attention. Especially considering the fellow who's building them, and how much work he's put into this project.

I meet a lot of nice people who read this blog. By "meet", I mean I exchange e-mails with them online. They come from all over the world, all walks of life, all professions and both sexes. I can't tell you how much I like talking about woodworking. I wake up in the morning thinking about what I am going to be doing in my woodshop, and I go to sleep with thoughts of my next day in the woodshop.

So when people write to me and want to "talk wood" - I am always game.

So this fellow Lynn wrote to me a while ago, asking me a few questions about building Tage Frid's stools. I built them a long time ago, maybe 20 years ago, and with what brain cells I have left, I recall that they were A CHALLENGE.

Here are my stools.

Frid's stools have details like hand cut dovetails, compound angles, long tapers and wedged tenons. In short, if you make these, you're a hell of a woodworker.

So Lynn contacted me a while ago, telling me that he was planning on building these stools, but he was planning on changing the dimensions, making them taller. I vaguely remember thinking - hey, good luck with that!

Imagine my surprise when I heard from him this week about his progress. Not only that, he sent me some great pictures of his progress, and I'll tell you... I'm totally impressed.

He not only tackled the complicated joinery, but managed to make a new and improved version of these stools. I love the new, elongated look of his stool.

By the way, using tenon cutters is a challenge in and of itself.

I think the first time I used a tenon cutter, I took off half a knuckle.

I don't know about you, but I'm in awe of people like him. OK, maybe it's the glass of wine that I'm drinking while I'm writing this, but understand this - building these stools isn't your basic weekend project. There's a lot going on in these eight pieces of wood.

And revising the design - by making it taller and with a different footprint, is quite impressive.

Lynn was concerned about a few things - while making the chair taller, he felt the seat was too small in relationship to the legs.

I completely agree. When I built these stools many years ago, I felt the seat was too small, as well. And that was without increasing the height.

Since Lynn built a prototype of these stools first, to iron out the details, I suspect that he'll increase the size of the seat.

He's also concerned that the footprint is a little too large, so he might tweak the angles a bit.

Lynn's still working on his stools, but has promised to send some photos when they're done. He still needs to make the lower stretchers, and has some shaping to do on the legs.

And finally, after all the adjustments, he felt like the angle of the seat was "off" a bit - so he's going to experiment with (possibly) shortening the back leg. It's ambitious, but I know he'll figure it out.

If Tage was still alive, I think he would be OK with that. Nice work, Lynn.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Saturday morning flea market

When people think of Las Vegas, most envision gambling, glitzy casinos, and buffets for days. Sure, that's a huge part of this city. But on of the things I really enjoy is going to my local flea market on a Saturday morning. It's a peek into the grittier side of this city.

When we were on our way to the flea market, we drove near Nellis Air Force base, and a giant unmarked dark gray plane soared overhead. Later I heard Barack Obama was in town, at a campaign stop in Henderson. I've seen Air Force One (or is it Two or Three now?) overhead a few times, accompanied by fighter jets off each wing. It's an odd sight.

Anyway, this particular flea market has a hispanic flavor, with a hint of asian thrown in - it's like the UN, only dirty. You'll see everything under the sun - and most "for sale" signs are in Spanish, of which I am not fluent. And if I were a paranoid sort, I would almost think that some of the vendors are thinking - what does she want with that air chisel, that box of pocket knives, or that jar of rusty router bits?

I'm always searching for obscure tools and machinery parts, but there's a huge variety of everything under the sun - from clothing to car parts, furniture to fruit stands, and way more. It's not a good environment if you're a clean freak, but if you're open to tasting a different side of the city, it's very cool.

(Double click on any of these images if you'd like a larger view of it.)

Here's one of the first things you'll see walking in the gate. I think of J-Lo every time I see these.

You never know what you're going to find.

I haven't worn a bra since 1976, so I have no idea if this is a good deal or not.

Need a vest?

Who puts tires on their car for just two weeks?

A peanut vendor.

I usually go with a friend, who has a similar sense of the absurd as I do. We find ourselves looking at the same oddball items. Some of the things were just so bizarre. I had to shoot small videos for you to get the true flavor of the market.

I'm guessing the reason this item was so popular is because of Halloween...

This booth had row after row of trinkets, Buddahs, and Chinese New Year stuff - try not to notice my finger in the right side of the movie below. I was juggling a couple of bags of "must have" crap, all while trying to hold the camera steady. Oh -and at the end of this clip - tell me this....

What's a lucky money fog?

I just love these, I wish I'd have picked one up for my dashboard.

What do you think ever happened to Sadie?

I almost bought this for my cousin, Dan Sutter , because I thought that was his name written on this. (I thought - How did his mitt get here?) Then I realized it's probably Don Sutton.


My friend bought one of these handmade hats, they were actually very nice. I wish I'd have taken a photo of him wearing it.

This framed poster seemed to be getting a lot of attention. I think a few of these guys are currently doing commentary on Fox News.

I'm pretty sure I have a drawer at home that looks like this.

I don't have anything nice to say about this.

Ouch, Neil Diamond in the 25 cent bin.

The next time I need a baby shower gift, I know where I'm shopping.

This booth was actually quite fascinating, full of old clocks, watches, knives and miscellaneous junk. I was SO TEMPTED to buy this fork and knife. You never know when you might need them.

This magazine below might be the creepiest find of the day. Dated November, 1951, it's a magazine called "Stars of Tomorrow" and provides tips for entering your daughters into beauty pageants. Makes me think of Jon Benet Ramsey, and want to barf.

How did this wedding picture end up here? Am I the only person who gets a little sad when I see stuff like this?

My favorite find of the day - a 1937 photograph of Mrs. Kanner's Pajama party. I got home and realized that I should have bought this. I know someone with the last name Kanner, and I think she would have gotten a kick out it.

Another great photo.

And finally, who tries to sell a half-knit sweater?