Saturday, April 28, 2012

My 2012 Gardening update

It is amazing how quickly things start growing here in the desert, especially after a little rain.

The roma and cherry tomatoes are going to ripen any day now. Last summer, the tomato crop was poor - this year? Wow.

These peppers went from this

to this

to (finally) this.

My buddy AJ loaned me a book on desert gardening, and it recommended that I thin out the nectarine tree. So I picked 50% of the fruit from the tree - which still left a lot of jewels on the branches.

This is the first time I've tried growing lettuce - and these three plants did so well,

I planted three more varieties.

Grow your own spring mix? Totally awesome!

Come July, I may be sorry I put in several zucchini plants.

But the bitter sweet story of the season is about the artichokes. They're growing like weeds, almost too many to count -

but are infested with aphids. I spray the plants with Neem every other day, but the aphids are winning.

The tip about spraying your aphids with soapy water is a joke - they just hop right back onto the leaves when you turn your back.


I am not sure what is worse - letting the aphids have their way with the plants, or eating an insecticide laden artichoke.

Ever had success with Safer soap? Me, neither.

I'm close to chopping them all down; aphids are just disgusting. Way worse than hornworms, and you know how nasty those bad boys are.

Finally - speaking of growing like a weed - check out Stella's summer cut. She went wearing from this mop

to this.

I love our groomer, MJ.

Hard to believe this is the same girl!

Here is a little classic Stella moment for you...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sure I can fix that...

Did you wonder where I've been? It's been nearly a week since I posted, and damn! - the shop has been humming with activity. I've been teaching some private session in Intermediate Woodworking, and yesterday, we concentrated on box joints. They're not too difficult, once you get the jig set up correctly. The key is - lots of testing.

Once we made some small boxes,

we fooled around with a new different type of inlay,

using one of those small inlay kits you've probably seen in various woodworking catalogs. This was just a simple "heart" template we made, but imagine what you could come up with if you really spent some time designing something.

In the middle of the class, a woman walked in with a broken sculpture and a plea - please fix this! She explained that she'd been housesitting for a friend, and knocked the sculpture (of a bird) off a countertop. The beak fell off, and a small dowel supporting the bird snapped. Ouch.

The dowel wasn't a difficult repair, I just cut a new one and drilled out the old bits. I made sure I used a very dense wood, so that it wouldn't snap again.

But the beak repair was troublesome. There wasn't any way to clamp the two pieces together - which is why it probably broke in the first place! I had to figure out a way to insert something into those two pieces, to strengthen that joint.

That's when a light went off in my head! Using the Festool Domino would be perfect - only this sculpture didn't have any flat areas which with to reference the plate of the Domino. I'd have to wing it.

Cutting the slot into the beak went fine - I just had to ensure that I held the tool as flat as I could to that rounded beak surface. Here's the first slot, cut more or less into the center of the beak.

The body of the bird was shaped like a small football - this was going to be the tough part! Figuring out a way to place the Domino on the rounded area was the real dilemma, and the first time I cut the slot - I was off center.

There were a few choice words thrown around the room, but then I quit crying about it and plugged the slot. And tried again.

There was no way I could make a mistake on the second attempt - I needed a better way to gauge the height of the cut, as well as a square surface with which to rest the Domino platform. After all, if the mortise wasn't square to the surface, the beak would be crooked.

What's that line about the mother of invention?

I taped a "fence" on the bird, to give myself a square reference point. It took a lot of trial and error - the fence had to be just perfect, or everything would be off. I probably sat and stared at the piece for 15 minutes, deciding if it would work or not.

This is the stressful side of wood repair - you have to wing it, with the hope that what you're doing will work out. I call it "seat of the pants" woodworking, and it can be a little frightening. I mean... you don't want to ruin someone's piece, so you better damn well know what you're doing.

Two words -


Yup - it worked! I glued it together (no clamps needed!) and started to clean the shop from a long day of cutting and sanding and routing and stressing.

Days like today wipe me out, but there is always that exhilaration of accomplishment. Even sweeping the floor at the end of the night, feeling exhausted, feels great!

Hope everyone else out there is having productive shop days, too. Be safe!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hug your dog today...

Meet my two friends - oil and wax. These two are my go-to products - a couple of coats of oil, wet sanded into the wood, followed by a coat of wax. The wax adds some protection and just a bit of sheen. If you want a glossier finish on your pieces, then these two probably aren't going to be your friends.

But for me, they're perfect.

So - the casket is finished. I get very somber and feel quite emotional when building pieces like this. Sure, it is an honor, but with that comes a heavy heart.

The last few flag cases I've made for soldiers that have died have also made me very blue.
This case made me particularly sad while I built it.

This casket is actually going to be buried in a pet cemetery up in northern California.

It will be filled with the cremains of two beloved dogs, as well as some of their toys, their collars, and more trinkets.

Weeping yet?

You know I was thinking about Stella the whole time I was building this. And Lily. And Bubinga. And Ipo. And Rennie. (All my beloved dogs)

These corner boxes will hold the cremains tins.

Notice the two small rare earth magnets - those hold the lid in place.

The lid was quite heavy, so a simple lid support keeps it from tipping all the way back.

And this casket lid lock secures the top in place.

After posting this blog, I think I'll go and play with Stella a little longer than usual.

RIP Spike and Jezebel.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Slow Woodworking Wednesday

Here is a little mid-week silliness for you.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Four words...

You know how I bragged about what a bad-ass-hardware-biatch I was in my last blog? I have four words to say to myself about about that:


Yup, just as everything was going so well, just as I was in the homestretch of finishing up this project - I screwed up. Not a huge screw up, but certainly one that made me scream at the top of my lungs for ten seconds straight.

If you were standing outside of my shop, I'm sure you would have heard it.

Lupe was working in the shop; she definitely heard it.

Luckily - it was fixable.

It started off so well - I made a small form, just slightly larger than the cremains tins that are going to be placed inside this casket. This made it easier to build the small area where the tins will be held.

The tins will be placed in the corners

and I decided to make some diagonal boxes to hold the tins. It's a slick design.

Instead of hinging the tops of these small areas, the plan was to use small magnets, to hold the lid in place.

The magnet holes were drilled in the wood,

and then the magnets were pressed into the wood

with a dab of gorilla glue holding them in place. I marked the polarity on each magnet, so that I could install them properly in each mated surface. If I screwed this up, the two pieces of wood would actually repel each other. Every magnet has a north and a south pole, so it was important to place the correct side up on each piece.

I measured the lid for each corner box

and because I only had one piece of this wood left for the lids, I cut a sample lid out of scrap. No room for errors here!

It was a good fit, so I cut the mahogany, using the tablesaw

and routed a nice profile in the front edge.

Remember when I said that every magnet has a north and a south pole? Well, you guessed it - somehow I put two of the magnets in backwards. Every time I put the lid in place, it hovered above the surface, instead of being pulled down into place.

Ever try pulling out a small magnet glued into a snug hole? (I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere.)

The good news? This project is finally done, except for the finish. Hopefully, I'll get a few coats of oil on it this week, and post some photos. It's a shame to think this box will be buried, but what a beautiful tribute to two beloved pets.