Ever since my age was in the single digits, I’ve enjoyed taking things apart and putting them back together. I always end up with extra pieces (who doesn’t?) but rather than throw them away, I keep them. My ever-loving wife, “Patience” (not her real name), has made peace with my stock piling habits, although I’m pretty sure she rolls her eyes when she thinks I am not watching. The key is to find uses for those oddball parts–double credit if I’m making or fixing something for Patience.
My Craftsman table saw excels at widely distributing sawdust. It is a contractor-style saw, which means it is a motor mounted on four legs and wide open to the world. I tried installing a bottom cobbled together from pieces of thin aluminum with a shop vac connected to a roof boot (PVC pipes go up through them) re-purposed as a dust port in the center. That helped contain the dust but most of it just piled up on the inside rather than being sucked out. What I needed was a cabinet table saw. Or at least a table saw in a cabinet. Continue reading Table saw workbench using stuff I keep→
A few decades ago the car phone was invented and the car phone antenna held by a magnet to the hood quickly became a status symbol. Not everyone could afford these expensive new phones–but many people wanted to give the impression they could. Some smart entrepreneurs took advantage of the situation and invented the Car Phoney, which was a dummy antenna with a wire that lead nowhere. For a few bucks you could slap an antenna on the hood and draw envious glances from the Joneses.
A decade or so before that it was all the rage to have exposed ceiling beams in the living room. The beams were typically dark-colored against a white ceiling. Real ceiling beams rested on top of the outer walls and held up the rafters of the second floor when there weren’t dividing walls to support the weight.
Again, many people wanted the look–even though the house didn’t need the support. So builders built these long beam-shaped boxes and attached them to the ceiling so that it looked like you had big rugged beams. The key phrase here is “attached them to the ceiling,” which means they were suspended from the ceiling rather than holding it up.
My parents’ living room ceiling had a pair of these pseudo-beams. They (the beams, not my parents) were clad in that rough sawn wood that was popular back in the 70s.
Picture what is going on. You’ve got two heavy beams, whose ends are not supported, hanging from a bunch of heavy rafters. Take a wild guess what is going to happen.
Old heavy things sag. That is just the way it is. For confirmation we need look no farther than my ever-loving wife, “Maggie” (not her real name), of 40-ish years. By that I mean of course that the bed and couch and stuffed chairs we got when we were first married have all started sagging over time. Age and gravity conspire to bring everything down–like the ceiling beams in my parents’ old house.
Fortunately only one end of the beams separated from the ceiling joists they were nailed to. There was a 2″ gap between the ends of the beams and the ceiling.
I put a landscape timber between a hydraulic jack and a wood plate at the end of the beam and started pumping. The ceiling creaked and groaned as it went up but it didn’t crack. After propping that beam up with another landscape timber I jacked up the other beam.
My first attempt to fix the problem was to go in the attic above the ceiling and mount some large angle brackets to the end joist (or so I thought) and some framing around the fireplace. When I released the jack, the beams sank right back down. Apparently the joist I needed to support was the next one over and there was nothing to attach the angle bracket to on that one. Strike one.
For the second try I bought some sturdy-looking metal bookshelf brackets. After jacking up the beams again I drilled some holes into the brick of the fireplace and screwed the brackets into the brick. This time when I released the jacks, the beams … wait for it … sank down again. The very attractive rough sawn boards cladding the pseudo beam weren’t attached to anything solid and the shelf brackets pushed up the middle of the board when the weight of the ceiling pushed the pseudo beam down. Strike two.
I clearly needed a support as wide as the pseudo beam (unlike the narrow shelf bracket) so that it could distribute the weight evenly. The local Big Box store had some pre-cut pieces of oak called “plinth blocks.” They are used to join two large pieces of molding without miter joints.
For my third (and as it turned out final) attempt I bought a couple of plinth blocks I could screw to the brick wall that would hold up the beams. Since I didn’t want the screws to show, I also bought a pair of rosettes to cover them. Before drilling, I positioned the rosette on the block and marked three holes it would cover up. I used flat-head screws and countersunk the holes so that the rosette would fit tight to the block.
To hide the fastener that would hold the rosette to the plinth block I drilled a hole for a small finish nail from the back of the block and halfway into the rosette. This would allow the rosette to hang on the (invisible) nail after the block was screwed to the wall.
After jacking up the beams yet again, I marked the holes for each plinth block on the brick and used a masonry bit to drill holes in the brick for the plastic screw anchors.
With the nail pushed through the back of the block so that the point stuck out about 1/2″ I screwed the block to the wall.
Mounting the rosette was simply a matter of aligning the nail hole on its back with the point sticking out of the block. I considered using some double-sided tape to hold the rosette to the block or to keep it centered but it wasn’t needed in this case.
I might or might not admit to holding my breath as I released the jack to lower the beam onto the block to see if it would hold. But it did. And I exhaled.
Some dark stain on the new wood made it all blend together with the other wood in the room. The blocks are both functional and aesthetic. The Joneses are going to have a hard time keeping up. But it won’t be nearly as hard as the time I accidentally called my ever-loving wife “Saggie.” Trust me, you need more than a hydraulic jack to get up from the floor after a slip like that.
With my ever-loving wife, “Anne” (not her real name), on sabbatical, I get to see her working on her laptop at home. Not many people actually put their laptop on their lap and Anne is no exception. She had been complaining about royal pains in her back and neck and arm. One look at her sitting at the desk explained everything.
Her laptop was resting on top of her Queen Anne (no relation) cherry desk, which meant that her arms were angled upward against the edge of the desk so her hands could reach the keyboard. That’s a fine recipe for pain in all sorts of places right there. I tell you what.
The large center drawer was at just the right height for the laptop so I set about figuring out how to cut off the drawer front so the laptop could sit in the drawer.
We had built that desk from a kit that we bought in a (literal) fire sale many years ago. The insurance company was selling everything from a warehouse that had caught on fire and the prices were pretty good. Putting the desk together ages ago somehow gave me the impression it was OK for me to take a saw to it now.
I used the table saw and the miter saw to cut off the drawer front. I pulled out the little cutoff piece of the bottom from the slot in the drawer front and glued in a new piece of hardwood to fill the slot.
My plan was to use a brass piano hinge to join the front to the bottom so that you could tip the front down and back up. The bottom of the drawer, however, was a thin piece of plywood so I glued Continue reading Drop Down Desk Drawer Delight→
The park benches in our church courtyard were in sad shape. Sad probably isn’t the best word. More like sobbing-your-eyes-out shape. The wood slats were crumbling or missing entirely and only the rusted bolts and layers of black paint were holding them together.
When my ever-loving wife, “Queenie” (not her real name), saw the benches she tipped her head back ever so slightly and pronounced, “We are not amused.” She let it be known that they should be tossed in the rubbish heap, which for park benches is the equivalent of “Off with their heads!”
But one of them had a nameplate reading, “In Memory of Elizabeth” and the deteriorating benches were threatening to take that memory with them.
Since the benches were sitting on an ipe (pronounced “ee-pay“) deck, I decided to rebuild them using ipe slats so they would look like they belonged there. Ipe is a Brazilian walnut hardwood. Very hard. Very dense. Very heavy. This makes it an excellent wood for outdoor furniture and it requires very little maintenance. It is so dense it doesn’t absorb much moisture and most sealers just sit on the surface because they can’t penetrate into the wood grain. A very, very thin layer of hardwood oil is the only thing they will take.
Since you can’t just walk in to your local Lowe’s or Home Depot to buy a few feet of ipe, I found an excellent source for it online at AdvantageLumber.com. They manufacture “sustainably harvested” exotic hardwood, which is important when using wood from Brazil (or anywhere). The salesman was helpful and knowledgeable. Highly recommended.
Most of the bench slats were 2″ wide with another three that were 1″ wide at the top and bottom. AdvantageLumber had 1 x 6 ipe deck boards on sale in 4′ lengths so I ripped them into a pair of 2″ slats and a single 1″ slat. The math worked out pretty well for the number I needed of each size. Ipe sawdust is a very fine yellow powder that looks like pine pollen and gets everywhere. I should have hooked up the Shop Vac for dust collection while I was using the table saw. I also should have worn gloves because unfinished ipe makes for hard, sharp slivers. Don’t ask me how I know.
Then I ran the new slats through the router to round over the sharp corners. (This time I remembered to hook up the vac and wear gloves.)
I chose type 316 stainless steel carriage bolts to attach the slats to the wrought iron bench sides because I like the look of the round caps and they will last forever. Every slat needed two holes drilled for the bolts so I set up a jig on the drill press to position each slat at the right distance from the end and centered width-wise.
I bought a new cobalt drill bit for this project because the web said ipe can dull ordinary bits.
There is some debate as to whether you should sand ipe because sanding will make the surface even harder and less able to absorb the protective oil finish. Since people were going to be sitting on these benches I decided it would be more important to sand them so as not to snag Grandma’s bloomers. Continue reading Park bench resurrection→
Where did all of the home workshops go? It used to be that every home had a little woodworking shop for fixing a broken chair or building a cradle. Not anymore. I assumed the reason was modern technology and Walmart made them obsolete. After trying to set up a workshop myself, I now know the real reason: It is impossible!
It isn’t easy finding space for a workshop. The garage and the basement are the usual candidates but I don’t have either one. My ever-loving wife, “Woody” (not her real name), didn’t seem to catch the vision when I proposed using the guest room for my woodworking even though I assured her I would close the door to keep the dust out of the rest of the house. It’s not like we use that room on a daily basis but the idea went over like a lead balloon. She proposed using the storage room. So we compromised and I’m using the storage room. Continue reading Workshop Catch-22→