Author: Rob

  • Pergola Paver Patio

    After a heavy, wet snowfall crushed our test gazebo last winter, we decided to come up with a more permanent outdoor sitting area with some protection from the late afternoon, i.e. Happy Hour sunshine. After considering (and costing out) a raised deck with screened in porch area, we settled on a pergola with some configuration of shadecloth and a paving stone floor that ended up not requiring a building permit to install.

    I designed the 12′ x 16′ pergola around standard sizes of CedarTone pressure-treated lumber from Menards, supported by four 12″ diameter concrete piers sunk below the local frost level. For the patio surface, we chose Uniblock WestPort Beechwood concrete pavers that come in a mixture of three sizes. On sailcloth advice from Emily and Lucas, we contracted with Jackson Canvas Co. to fabricate strips of Sunbrella material that would eventually be woven between the joists of the pergola to provide overhead shade and a fun shadow pattern on the barn wall. Completing the sun protection, I installed a 10′ wide Coolaroo roller shade that we picked up off the shelf from Lowe’s.

    With invaluable help from Jess, Al, Kyle and Linda that will always be more appreciated than I can ever express to these very special people, this summer-long project finally came together in the middle of October. Perfect timing, as the weather was cool but comfortable, especially for laying the pavers, which was, after all of the foundational preparations, a back-breaking and satisfying week’s worth of work.

    The photos and captions below will illustrate the steps and progression of our Pergola Paver Patio project!

  • Jess Farm Table

    When my nephew Ryan and his wife Makayla bought their farmhouse in western Michigan, a maple tree over three feet in diameter was literally pressing against the back wall of their new home. Soon, they had the old tree felled and hired a crew to mill it into thick slabs and dry them in a kiln. I love wood with a good story, so when Ryan called to ask about helping them build a big farm table with the maple from the tree, I was honored and practically jumped at the opportunity to create another piece of heirloom furniture in my workshop.

    Shortly after our conversation, Ryan arrived at the shop with a pickup truck loaded with thick, wide slabs of kiln dried maple. Due to the age and condition of the maple tree when it came down, it was soon apparent that we would have to be very strategic about how to best utilize this special wood.

    Because their new old farmhouse had a spacious dining room that would easily accommodate a large table, the target size for our project was eight feet long and forty-two inches wide. With a few photos selected for design inspiration, we came up with a SketchUp model that everyone approved. Because of the sizes involved, this project was done in two phases, the nearly two inch thick table top and a sturdy table base to support it.

    The following series of project photos will illustrate the steps take to bring this project to fruition … and to its final destination, about twenty feet from where the legacy maple tree had grown for at least over one hundred years!

  • Loft Ladders

    Two young friends have lofts in their rooms and they were in need of a permanent way to access them. After visiting to take some photos and measurements, we decided on seventy-five degree ladders with treads about six inches deep and eighteen inches wide. We also planned to use 1-1/4 inch thick poplar, to match the existing woodwork leading to the entrances of their rooms. In keeping with the existing woodwork, we chose a Bona Traffic HD anti-skid floor finish, a waterborne two-part finish that would let the beauty of the poplar show through and be very durable.

    While a seemingly straightforward project, a few factors made these ladders a bit challenging. Vertical dimensions to the lofts were 107-1/2″ and 108″ respectively, so the stringer boards were over nine feet long. For strength, the eleven 1-1/4″ thick treads per ladder were designed to be let into 1/4″ deep dadoes on each stringer, and secured with four 2-7/8″ HeadLOK timber fasteners each. Machining these dadoes, evenly spaced and at 15 degrees from the edges of the stringers, called for a custom router jig which worked well, until the stringers were compared and a small amount of cumulative error was discovered. This resulted in some adjustment cuts, some custom filler strips and a lesson (re)learned about the stackup of tolerances.

    In hindsight, one stringer should have been machined with the router jig as described above, then the dado locations should have been transferred to the matching stringer. The router jig should then have been positioned according to the transferred locations. This method would have resulted in the dadoes matching from stringer to stringer … the first time!

    The photos below will illustrate the steps in this project, including the correction of cumulative error due to the stackup of tolerances using the router jig!

    Two notes: The cumulative error mentioned above, and the resulting cosmetic fix had no impact at all on the structural integrity of these ladders. Also, handrails will be designed, fabricated and installed before my young friends are officially released to use their new loft ladders!

  • Play Kitchen Repair

    Michael and Olivia wanted to give their Uptown Expresso Play Kitchen to Elliott, but a few minor repairs were called for before the hand-off happened. The refrigerator door was missing, and the oven door had a big crack in it!

    Fortunately and surprisingly, the manufacturer, KidKraft, had some repair parts available … but not quite all the ones we needed. The photos below illustrate the steps to make this neat play kitchen ready for Elliott to enjoy.

  • Box Joint Jig

    After I enjoyed making the Box Joint Box for Jeff, I decided to make a more permanent box joint jig for the workshop. I wanted a jig that didn’t depend on clamping it to a miter gage on the tablesaw, that would accommodate different thicknesses of wood and that would be easy to make very fine adjustments with. Borrowing ideas for box joint jigs from several different sources, I designed my own jig in SketchUp.

    The most informative video I found was William Ng’s YouTube video, Make an Accurate Box Joint Jig, Simple and Fast. I’ve linked William’s video below. William runs the William Ng School of Fine Woodworking an Anaheim, California and based on his videos, I think he is an excellent instructor with a good sense of humor, too!

    I also borrowed some concepts from Phil Huber’s YouTube video, The Ultimate Adjustable Table Saw Box Joint Jig! I’ve also linked this video below. Phil is Executive Editor of the Woodsmith Shop, the video extension of the woodworking magazine, Woodsmith, which I’ve had a subscription to for many years. While William Ng used a quick box joint jig clamped to a crosscut sled, Phil Huber’s jig had it’s own integral runners that fit into the miter slots of his tablesaw.

    The photos and captions in the gallery below will give you an idea of the box joint jig I came up with!

  • JOY Yard Signs

    After almost ten years after making the first two sets of JOY yard signs, Stephen requested another joint effort to create two more sets. One of these sets would go to Andrew and Megan, and the other set would go home with Stephen, as a surprise early present to Katie. The plan was to finish them in time to present them after our family Thanksgiving dinner.

    Stephen and I worked for nearly a whole Saturday, from acquiring the plywood at Chelsea Lumber through getting the first coat of red and white paint on all of the components. This time, Stephen brought his own jigsaw, so our cutting out time was literally cut in half! The signs ended up being completed in time for the Thanksgiving day presentation!

  • Kyle’s Salt and Pepper Mills

    When I heard that Kyle could use a new pepper mill, I saw an opportunity to make a custom set of salt and pepper grinders. The hardware kits were available from Penn State Industries and I had some legacy cherry blocks that would be fun to turn.

    I created a few shape variations in SketchUp, from traditional to more sleek and modern designs. Once I decided on the design to use, I made 1:1 templates to facilitate turning two nearly identical forms. A bit of new kit was also needed for this project, so a mini step jaw chuck and a drill bit extension came along with the mill kits.

    Finished with Mahoney’s food safe Walnut Oil, the cherry wood will darken to a rich reddish brown with time and exposure to light. The photos below will illustrate some of the main steps of this project!

  • Table Saw Cabinet

    Sometimes, projects in the shop are simple and quick, often to answer an organizational need. During a major shop cleanup and re-organization, I took down the shelves on the wall to the right of the tablesaw, as they were difficult to access and accumulating scraps that were hardly ever used. One function of a small part of the lowest shelf that I lost was keeping my tablesaw pushblocks, featherboards, angle jigs, etc., within easy reach.

    Using plywood and a drawer slide reclaimed from my former office cabinetry and taking advantage of unused floorspace under the extension table, I built this small cabinet in an afternoon. Now, my most often used tablesaw accessories are back within easy reach!

  • Mary’s Mesquite Log

    Mary was saddened when a sudden Arizona storm blew down a mesquite tree in her yard. Not long ago, Mary’s husband Boyd had passed away, and that particular mesquite had always been his favorite tree. As Mary’s friend, Deb asked me if they sent me a log from Mary’s fallen tree, would I be able to make some small item from it for Mary to keep. I replied that I would certainly try and that I would be honored to help preserve a small part of Boyd’s favorite tree for Mary.

    It would be my first time working with mesquite, and I was a bit concerned that the wood, having recently fallen, would be green and require some time for drying. Once I received the log and started breaking it down into smaller pieces, I learned that mesquite is a very dry wood, even alive. This was confirmed by a bit of research, with my moisture meter and by the fact that the wood soaked up both oil and film finishes like a sponge.

    As this project turned out, I was able to make five small items out of that small mesquite log that arrived in my workshop via UPS. Deb presented Mary with a pen, a rustic bowl, a small box, a rustic bud vase and a card / photo holder. I received a lovely email from Mary, who has experienced nearly ninety trips around the Sun, expressing her appreciation for the special mesquite keepsakes.

  • Rob’s Music Studio

    With my MIDI controller keyboard at the center of a temporary recording studio in the basement and my Kawai synthesizer in the living room, I just wasn’t playing the piano as much as I would have liked. Linda and I talked about this on our trip to Jack Lake in Canada in the late summer, and we brainstormed on possible solutions. We decided that having both keyboards and all the recording equipment upstairs and in the same place would be ideal, but there was just no place we could think of that would accommodate that setup. It became apparent that my office would be the best place, but there just wasn’t room to add any more furniture.

    I think Linda said, “You really don’t use your desk very much, do you?” And the light came on. I had recently updated my computer setup with a cool standing desk, and if I repurposed some of my old desk into a music studio, there would be plenty of room to have everything neatly in my office.

    The most challenging part of this project then became designing a music studio desk to hold two full-sized keyboards, a laptop, a display screen, an audio interface and two monitor speakers and all the accompanying power and signal cabling … and still have everything organized and tidy. The 3D modeling in SketchUp started with full scale mockups of the two keyboards and I was off tho the virtual races. The photos below, along with their captions, will lead you through the execution of this project.