The start

Each project needs a start – that is the actual start of production.  After the drawings, client meetings and material procurement – then it’s finally time to get to work.

Step one :  the sorting of the materials.  On our latest job we’re building a stair with reclaimed white oak.

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spread the piles out

Sort through for grain and color to get uniform glue ups

Then start chopping and cutting – Here we have a line of matched sets for treads

 

expensive kindling

and yes – more expensive kindling!

check back next week for phase two.

 

 

Of Deadlines and Lew

What does working the woodworking industry mean to you?  Does it conjure up images of sharp chisels and a warm wood stove?  A relaxed atmosphere portrayed on TV where nothing goes wrong, and everything can be built in just a few hours?

Or does the mention bring back memories of phone calls from frantic customers, untimely mistakes, or a work load that seemed impossible?

In a recent conversation with one of the contractors we do work for he stated – ” your either working a schedule you can’t keep up with or your losing money!  There’s no in-between!!”

A number of years back we worked a large job.  The jobs super was Lew.  Lew was diminutive in size with greying hair and was approaching retirement age.  In fact this particular job would probably be his last before retirement.  He had worked for the contractor for almost 20 years, working his way up to super.

Each morning he would make his rounds through the project to check on the status of each crew.  Puffing his continual cigarette with the long, gravity defying ash on the end he’d yell “What the hell are you guy’s doing?”  followed by a surprised look on the face of the recipient. “You should have been done with this shit yesterday!!”  “Did you leave, get hurt?” His cigarette bouncing as he yelled – never leaving his mouth.   Some sort of retaliate  statement would be flung Lew’s way. “We’ve got a schedule to keep, get your shit in one bucket – or we’ll find someone who can” Lew would yell as he left.  Lew always got the last word.  He’d walk by us as we were installing the stair railings.  “Morning fella’s”  and walk to his next crew.

Lew didn’t take any grief, he kept a fire to the feet of his crew at all times.   It they couldn’t take the heat then he escorted them out of the kitchen.   He’d been in the business a long time.  Lew knew what a deadline was- what it took to meet it- and, most important, what little it took to derail it.

When I think about this business, or someone mentions how great it must be to woodwork or ‘create’  I think of Lew.  I think of a cigarette that always stays lit, an ash that never falls.  I think if there’s no one to ‘encourage’ you each morning then you better ‘encourage’ yourself.  It’s a fast paced, high stress business where mistakes and setbacks happen at the drop of an ash!

Full mortise butt hinges

Looking to set yourself apart?  Here’s a way to add professionalism and quality to your cabinets by using fully mortised in hinges on your cabinetry, and not go crazy or spend a week chopping in all those mortises.    From a profitability perspective and ease of installation it’s hard to beat the three way adjustability of todays European hinges. .  But for a true authentic and traditional look – that will last for years and years – we’ve gone back to the full mortised brass butt hinges for our cabinet door.  Yes- they’re harder to install and cost more.  But remember, nothing says professional the way that properly installed butt hinges will.

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Here’s a couple of quick pointers on how we do it.

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Start with a jig.   Pictured above- two templates – fastened with a spreader the length of the door. Clamp the jig directly to the door, then repeat the process on the face frame (center the jig in the face frame – use shims to accomplish this)

 

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Set up the router with a rub collar.

The key here is accuracy – accuracy of the template, the depth of cut, the cut itself.

After routing – square the corners with a hand chisel to accept the hinge.

repeat in the cabinet face frame.

 

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To set the depth and check the jig I always use a ‘dummy’ piece first – then when satisfied- move to the real thing(pictured above).

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It’s a look you can’t get with any other hinge.

True, authentic, durable.

 

Influences

While watching a country music show recently  a commentator asked “who were your influences for your music”  Of course the artist went into a list of some of the music he listened to, but then mentioned a guitar his grandfather had given him at a young age, and how he remembered playing together with him as a youngster.

How many times in your career as a woodworker have you been asked where you learned your trade.  (I’ve noticed that teachers, of any kind, are always the most intrigued that I received no formal education in the trades)  Where did you learn, or as with the musician – what are your influences.  After all, a lot of what goes into woodworking can be associated with art – as with the art of music.

So what are our influences?  It’s not as if we listened to tape after tape of a given woodworker giving tips and advice.  Probably didn’t think much about it at all, as a youngster.  That doesn’t mean we didn’t have any exposure or influences.  Think about the first time you were exposed to someone doing a wood work project, a carpentry project or any other project that used ones hands and minds to build or fix something.  You may have been so young that it’s hard to pinpoint any exact time or moment.

There is an accepted wisdom that the first 15 years of anyone’s life are the most influential years.  Given that, how influential and important were the experiences that came in those early years.  Likely a parent or grandparent was responsible for those experiences.  For me it was my father.  I remember him remodeling rooms in our house.  Always fixing things; wood, metal, motors, electrical.  You get the picture. I also remember a particular bathroom remodel – my parents hired my uncle to help out.  My uncle was out of work, so I’m sure my Mom pressed dad into hiring him (uncle on my mom’s side).  Well, one area of the project hadn’t been done to my dad’s standards – so the uncle was made to rip it back out and reframe the area to the ‘proper standards’.  I also learned, through observation, that if Dad asked – never give him the time of day in exact minutes, best to round those numbers off.

What are our influences?  Did we have any? Where do we learn, where do we learn to learn?  Is it nature (genetics) or nurture(experience)  I suspect a combination, but I’ve noticed those people that were exposed to doing things, building things, thinking things at an early age are those that successfully build now.

Another memory with my Dad was a conversation he had with my aunt (his sister/divorced).  Her son was having a hard time in school – an overall screw-up.  Dad’s advice was he needed less free time- he needed to be productive (he used other wording of course) -a job.  Her response- he’s young, he gets to be a kid.  My Dad finished the conversation with “What do think is going to happen when he turns 18 – POOF! now I know something!?!”

We need people and opportunities to influence the younger generation, so this week think about being an influence/mentor to someone in your life.  The younger generation are our future builders, future thinkers, future leaders.

 

 

Finalizing a crappy job

So after scraping off the crap, pulling nails, band-sawing large beams,sorting endless board footage, we had wood.  All we needed to add was time and expertise.

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the finish product as it sits in the shop- click to enlarge!

 

The time needed came in the form as endless hours of work. The planning, cutting, lugging, hauling, joining, fitting, chiseling, routing, and lest we forget the  sanding and painstaking finish process.  You get the picture.

Nothing of value comes without time and effort.

Here’s a couple of close up’s of those small touches that make a big difference

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The hand shaped beech peg.  We used some left over pieces to make a peg similar to those we pulled from the beams.

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A close up of the top.  note the round peg(sourced from the original beams) and the patched mortised.

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Here’s a photo of the edge detail.  We saved the original hand hewn sides of the beam when resawing.  I don’t care who you are – that’s just cool!

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Another shot of the trestle.  Note not only the butterfly dovetail, but also the portion of an original mortise (the peg sits on) that were incorporated into the design.

We know the pictures don’t do the finish product the justice it deserves.  But that’s OK.  A piece like this should be enjoyed in person- up close.

Not such a ‘crappy’ job after all!

 

 

 

 

The crappy job continues

First off – I need to apologize to my faithful reader for not posting over the last few weeks. But we’ve made it back.

Let’s get right to this challenging project.  A lot of thick, heavy, old timbers to build with.  What we’re faced with is a large pile of stuff.  What, for most passerby’s, would look to be an unusable pile of ‘stuff’.

Therein lies the first challenge.  Picking out some useable timbers.  Deciding how much useable timber you have and what you will use the timbers for.  For this table we decided to go with the longer wider planks that we had sawn for the top.  This wasn’t by accident as we had set out to saw the widest planks specifically for the top.  We were fortunate that all the wider beams were all the same species – beech!

Next we had some of the shorter beams cut into thicker sections.  This turned out to some beautiful cherry beams.

The next phase of this ever growing project is the actual design.  It may seem out of order that we’re just now into the design phase.  We knew we were building a large 4′ x 8′ top, with a trestle base.  But the details depending so much on what wood we ended up with, that we design on the fly to a large extent.  I have to admit that’s one of my favorite parts to these projects – it’s a little break from the usual – and even we don’t know what we’ll end up with.

We decided to go with butterfly dovetails into a trestle base, with a through mortise to accept the stretcher.

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The top was about sorting and choosing to get pieces matched together, picking pieces with enough faults- but not too many! – Oh and also to save some of the best hand hewn edges for the sides of the top.

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Get back with us next week for exciting pictures of the final project.

Until then take another five!

The latest Project – a Crappy Job

Our latest project involves using reclaimed lumber.  My relationship with reclaimed wood is love/hate.  I love the results – hate what I go through to get there.

This project added another twist.  We usually source the wood as wood. Lumber. We buy a stack of already sized boards.  In fact I have a ‘guy’, my reclaimed barn wood guy.  He tears down old barns that are on their way out, then salvages the beams and boards.  When I need some – I simply give him a call.

For this job, a neighbor had an old barn on his property torn down, and he managed to save some beams.  He then commissioned me to build a conference table.  Instead of a truck load of lumber to build with, I’m faced with a pile of crap!  A twisted, contorted, mortised, tenoned pile of crap.  Many had whitewash on them.  That’s the lead filled white coating they used to lather the interior of these old barns with.  Add to that, most of the beams were littered with nails. Nails everywhere, and you never get all of them, at least not initially.  We find all of them in the end – with a table saw blade or my favorite- the freshly sharpened planner blade.  Finish off this mess by adding a little crap – literally – as in manure – caked on some of the beams.

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I called my guy, Jason.  “Jason! Come on down, your the next contestant on the wood is wrong show.”  and I need you to find something useful in the pile!!

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“I don’t know” He said as he looked at the pile.  “It looks a little rotted – I mean a little too rotted”

 

Not what we wanted to hear!

 

Join us next week as we continue our journey on the crappy job.  Until then take another five.

Long Nights

To recap-

After months of construction, a long arduous trip, and a run in with the ‘welcome police’ we were able to enjoy a relaxing beer by the bay.

When we travel to jobs we look for accommodations that fit two main criteria.

Price: it needs to be reasonable – ok, ok, it needs to be dirt cheap.  We’re not on vacation!

Proximity to the job site:  the closer the better, but it still needs to be cheap.

The resort by the bay fit both criteria well.  We were pleasantly surprised when we drove in, it’s location on the bay was great.  The tiki bar and live entertainment were truly a bonus.  It was almost like a vacation, maybe a workcation.  At this point in the trip – the stairs delivered and in place – most of the angst and worry were behind us.

We finished off a couple of drinks, thought of having a couple more, but knew morning would come quickly and we had a full day of rail installation ahead of us.  We crawled into our beds.  Yes, beds.  A single queen or king wasn’t available so we were forced into separate singles.  A small glitch that could be overlooked. We let out a groan in perfect unison.  Then a  larger groan. “oh, my,,these beds seem firm” Cheryl spoke.  “yea” I returned.

After an hour of unrest we realized there was but sheet over firm metal springs.   These were only mattresses in the sense that they sat on top of a bed.  We could slip off to sleep for an hour or so, then had to get up to walk around.

Morning finally came, we grunted and groaned as we rose from what felt like the grave.  I walked around the bed stooped over in a giant spasm of pain.  I couldn’t stand upright! Cheryl found humor in this.  My retort was the pain that laughter brought her.

“We should have had a few more drinks” she responded.

“Won’t make that mistake again”

We finally loosened up, made our way for breakfast (not included in the price of the stay)  got through the gates of hell to arrive at the job site.  We worked briskly for the day, finishing up the install on schedule.

Just knowing we wouldn’t face the ‘welcome center’ again put a smile on our faces as we again joined the sea of workers leaving the compound (job site).  As we neared our ‘resort’  we began strategizing ways to survive the next two nights on the mattresses of steel.

“We get to enjoy a full day in Key Largo!  Let’s lighten up.”  Cheryl said in her always optimistic tone.

Good point.  It was snowing back home, it was 76 degrees where we were.

The rooms sat to the left as you drove in.   Two stories tall.  The bay sat directly in front – overlooked by the tiki bar.  On the back side of the rooms a deck and boardwalk cantilevered over the channel that led under the bridge.  The deck was a great place to relax, the boardwalk led to the tiki bar, another great place to relax.

To culminate our successful install and long trip we decided to go out to a nice local restaurant and enjoy a great meal.  I got my shower first, I’m always faster and that gave me a chance to relax while Cheryl showered.  I meandered down the boardwalk to enjoy a couple of those cold Corona’s.  After an hour or so – I figured Cheryl had plenty of time to ready herself.  I made my back through the boardwalk to the back entrance.  No sign of Cheryl out of the shower yet.  “Taking her sweet time” I thought as I closed the door and took a seat on the deck.  I watched as the neighbors fished off the boardwalk, feeding their catch to a few hungry pelicans.  Their music didn’t seem to bother the fish or the pelicans.

After another hour, I got a little impatient.  Enough is enough I thought as I entered the room.  Still no Cheryl.

“Hey!” I called out  “Let’s get a move on here,OK?  The restaurant won’t be open all night!”  “for crying out loud” I finish under my breath.

“I’m in here!”  Cheryl calls out  “I’ve been locked in the bathroom, I’ve been yelling for you” “I can’t get out” she meakly finishes.

Fortunately for me, She had already entered the fourth stage of captivity.  It’s the ‘I’m so grateful to see you stage”.  That’s the stage that immediately follows the really pissed off stage.

I grab the door knob and yank – but to no avail – it won’t budge.

“Hang tight Honey, I’ve got to go to the truck and get some tools. I’ll be right back”

Keeping the victim apprised of what’s going on – I learned that on TV.

After about another 30 mins, I tire of trying to save the trim, grab the crow bar and pry the door open releasing her from her porcelain prison.  Goodness gracious!  You would have thought that would get us a free night stay, I’m guessing it wasn’t the first time it had happened.

In the end the meal tasted great – I think better than normal for Cheryl.  We survived our final night on the mattresses of torture, left a little earlier than planned and had a nice uneventful trip home.

 

Join us next week when we start a ‘crappy job’, until then take five!

 

 

The Long Journey Part III – the not so ‘welcome center’

We follow the Garmin’s instructions, turn off the main road, and follow the smaller private paved road for another mile and a half.  We round the final bend to a line of work trucks and cheap sedans waiting to get in.  Security guards check as Mexicans make their way through.

“Henry mentioned it being gated – but I didn’t expect this much traffic.” I mused to my wife.

“Henry’s waiting for me!” I belted out to the guard when it finally came my turn.  He returned a look of total non commitment, slowly looking down to his clip board.  He gave it one of those page flip and glances where I knew he didn’t actually look.

“Who?”

They have no idea who Henry is, who I am, and clearly have no intention of ever finding out.  I finally pull forward, and call Henry on the mufflamaphone.

“Meet me at the welcome center” Henry tells me.

Long story short – the welcome center isn’t welcoming at all!  If truth in advertising had any teeth at all it would be called the bend over and take it center.  It turns out my license had expired – they couldn’t let me in!  “Seriously young lady – you’re not a real cop!” probably shouldn’t have been my response – I was still the same person on the license.  Although I did flash back to driving through Jacksonville without trailer lights, wonder what jail time that might have led to.  A full hour later and a daily $25 charge, with Henry signing his life away, I was  busted through the gate.  That’s correct, I had to pay to go to work.

Not a great start to the day.  I finally get the privilege of entering not only the grounds, but also a level of pissed off I haven’t seen in awhile.  Wonderful.

My wife reminds it’s still before noon.  “true” I think.  “I’ll roll these bad boys off, get some screws in, and be done by 5!”

I follow Henry to the site, he pulls into the driveway of a modest looking home.  It looks like a late 70’s model – somewhat contemporary, two stories with tall slender windows.  A small, narrow, circular drive led to the front door that we needed to get to.  The circular driveway might fit a small Subaru, maybe.  But not a truck- definitely not my truck with a 20′ trailer.  We need to back into the driveway on the side of the house, then carry the stairs.

As I expertly guide the trailer backward into the side lot, with the skill and precision that only comes from years of backing up hay wagons.  I caught the vision of Henry in my right mirror.  He’s fanatically waving his arms, yelling at the top of his lungs “NOT THE GRASS, NOT THE GRASS!!”

“You can’t hit even a blade of grass”  He’s gasps between breaths, exhausted from his sprint to the truck  “If you hit even a blade we have to reseed the entire lawn.”  “AGAIN!”

“I guess we’re not on the farm anymore”  I say under my breath to the wife.

The simple backup turns into a 20 point turn as well as an exercise in near futility, but we finally get backed in.

Eight large, strong Mexican’s waited as I undid the tarps. They were so large, in fact, they could have been Cubans.  ‘It doesn’t look too heavy’ one of the english speaking fellows mentioned.  Nobody said that again – an hour later we finally struggled it through the door.  Guess we could’ve used a ninth.

One initial glitch – there’s a wall under the stair that can’t be there.  A quick look at the pattern and prints leaves Henry unable to argue that it was anything but their mistake.  I vaguely remember Henry shouting “WIRES, WIRES, WIRES!!”  as I took a sawzall to the wall.

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With deft hand and years of experience with my ‘trim’ sawzall I remove the drywall to within a layer of paper.  Tearing down the wall reveals a wad of electric component wiring.  A few 2 x 4’s to cut through and the wall comes down.

The stair fits in perfectly!

We were only allowed to work until 5 pm.  God forbid anyone actually have to endured seeing the people that bids their dirty work!  We joined the quickly moving sea of cheap cars and Mexicans and we were on our way to our ‘resort’ destination.

It was less than 3 miles from the job site. it was on the water and fit into our budget.  What more could we ask for?  We pulled up to a70’s style motel,  two stories, older, but with a fresh coat of white paint with bright blue trim.  We paid the attendant, and dragged our bags to our room.

“there’s food and drink at the bar” he said as he swiped our card pointing around the corner.

After showering we headed to the west side of the resort, or what most people might call ‘around the corner’.  As we round the corner there it was, basking in the glow of the setting sun over the bay – A TIKI BAR !!! a tiki bar with a grill and live music- all within crawling distance of our room!

26 hrs on the road, thunderstorms, no lights, the not-so-welcome center a misplaced wall all with blades of grass not to be touched – but here now was an oasis in the desert!

Without a doubt, without question, the best tasting corona I’ve ever tasted!

 

Join us next week for our final installment for our long trip south. Until then take 5!

 

 

 

 

The Long Journey : Part II

Next phase – the actual trip and install.  Easy peasy!  A simple 26 hrs of hauling the open tarped trailer, followed by a quick and easy install.  It was blue skies and clear highways predicted for the two day trip.  My wife would accompany me on this trip – who could refuse a few days of sun and frolic in the middle of March?

Sure

They say every thing is clear in hindsight.

The first half of the trip went smooth.  We planned to drive into the top of Florida, about 20 hrs of driving, then lay over one day at a relative’s house.  We’d then make the final 6 hr trip and arrive on site at around 10 am.  We had almost 14 hrs into the trip, ahead of schedule, so it seemed an opportune time to look for a place to stop and eat.  That’s when the sky’s started to darken.  Hmmm, “this wasn’t in the forecast” we thought.  As we looked ahead it was a wall of black. Really black.  Armageddon black.   A  few miles to the west the lighting was arcing.  “It might be better than it looks” my wife hoped in her always-optimistic view.

Sure

The skies opened up.  Torrential rain came, then we hit the real heavy stuff.  Palm trees bent in anguish against the fierce wind, the weak ones found their way across the highway in front of us.  I think they waited until we neared, then forced themselves in front of the truck.  Cheryl was convinced we should pull over.  As she pointed out – every other vehicle had pulled to the side of the road.  But with our cargo we only became more vulnerable to leaks and damage if we pulled over.  I made an executive decision.

We trekked on.

We did manage to drive out of the rain, but dark of storm led to darkness of night.  The last four hours of the trip would be in the dark.  With about two hours left in the first leg a car drove by honking it’s horn. Hmmm, strange.  These  folks down in the south really are friendly.  They give you a honk right on the highway.  As we continued to drive, a number of those friendly folk honked as they passed.  Sensing a potential problem and needing gas anyhow, we decided to pull over and check things out.  Not a single running light on the trailer!  We were running dark.  Maybe not so friendly.

We were too close to stop now.  I tuned on the flashers and we screamed through Jacksonville.  Maybe the flashers worked, maybe no cops were working that night, maybe they just laughed “stupid Yankee” as I drove by.

We made it to our layover.  The next day we were able to fix the wiring problem.

The last 6 hr leg did go smooth.  We arrived at our destination at 10am!  Just as planned.  Giddy up

 

Join us next week for the ‘Not so welcome, welcome center!’

until then take another five!