This Present Distraction – Finis

With the two halves of the Kindle case ready, I glued on band of leather to bring the two of them together.  The gluing was only to the faces of the case with the back edges unglued so that the case could be folded open with the two halves face-to-face.

Once the two halves were put together I took some scrap felt from my rag bin and glued that into the cavity holding the Kindle.  That was a nice effect, except for where I slipped with the razor blade while trimming the felt and cut off some of the cypress veneer.  I hate when that happens, and will repair it when I get a chance.

With everything together and complete I spent a little time padding on some more shellac.  I will probably repeat this periodically to build it up a bit more, but I wanted the case to get to work.  I stuck on some velcro dots at the two corners to hold it together when not in use and called it “finished.”


Twenty-some years go I began creating a Japanese garden adjacent to the house, including planting a small crepe myrtle tree at the corner of the deck.  These photos from November 2000 are charming to me, capturing a long past moment.

Over the years the crepe myrtle has grown from a bundle of striplings into the largest crepe myrtle I’ve seen in a home garden, now taller than a two-story house.  For whatever reason I never really noticed its almost-neon fall foliage until this year.  The gold of the crepe myrtle leaves create a stunning composition with the scarlet of the Japanese maple.




Plastic “Wood” Decking

Working with plastic “wood” decking is something I’d had a little experience with but this was the first large scale project, primarily due to the exorbitant cost.  But, dottir’s friend P and I worked together for the better part of a week as he first removed all the aged and non-reusable old decking (and kept the burn pit flaming for three days) and then screwing down the new material.  He started with the platforms in front of the porch and I began cutting the “boards” for the larger section in front of the living room.

Working the plastic decking is not really dissimilar from using SYP except that there is no grain and much less binding with the circular saw.  The stuff cuts like butter because in consistency it really is like stiff butter.  The decking comes with some proprietary screws (very pricey, of course) and we went through a lot of them.

One thing I did notice is that this plastic stuff is much less stiff than SYP or even red cedar or redwood, and there is a distinct little bounce to the decking between the joists since we were applying it on the diagonal for aesthetic reasons.  Were I to build a new, heavily used deck with this decking in mind I would definitely space the joists closer that the 16″ o.c. I did for this one thirty-plus years ago.  Since this deck is really just a design feature that gets very little use (near zero, actually), the spacing and bit of bounce was not an issue.

After all the “boards” were screwed in place I used a long straightedge to guide my saw in trimming the ends and the project was finished.  My project for next year is to dismantle and replace the sagging beams and replace the open arbor that used to be there.  The beams were assembled with Japanese joinery, which requires fully seasoned/very dry wood, but the material was not dry enough so over time as the wood dried its dimensions changed and the joint sagged.

90 More Minutes…

…And I would have finished the shingling on this side of the living room.  I just ran out of time.

This is how I left the south wall a year ago.

Another hour-and-a-half of shingling and then it will be on to trimming out the upper window and the wall corners.

I resumed the work that I’d been doing last autumn and was making pretty good progress while dottir’s friend was dismantling the front decking.  It was actually nice to work on a wall that only has windows, rather than a wall that has plumbing, electrical service, a/c paraphernalia…  I was making excellent progress before I had to switch to working with him on the new decking.

Next trip back I can finish the shingling and the new trim without a hitch.  Then on to the final stretch of the new shingling on the upstairs wall above the living room.

This Present Distraction 3

In laying out the first of the parquetry patterns I was finding peace and solitude while listening to an audio book rather than news or similar podcasts.  As always I laid out the patterns on kraft paper, gluing the pieces in place with a dab of stick adhesive.  Once I had built the pattern beyond the boundaries of the field I flipped it over and glued it “face down,” this time with PVA since I needed an adverse-environment-resistant construction.  Using a foam sheet between the paper and the plywood caul assured the pieces would conform intimately with the substrate.  Their irregularities on the surface are irrelevant as the surface will be smoothed to a finished foundation.

Using a straight edge and my Japanese mortise saw I trimmed the field to the designed size.  I noted with interest the amount of curve that was introduced to the homemade epoxy/veneer plywood through the use of the water-based PVA emulsion to lay down the parquetry.  Fortunately that cupping diminished in about 72 hours.

It was then time to saw the simple banding strips from a block I made long ago, fitting the corners with a 45-degree shooting board, then glued them in place along the perimeter of the field.

I have found the best method for holding the banding in place during the gluing is essentially the same as described by Roubo — wide head pins.

The next day I laid the edge decoration, which was just thin, cross-grained pieces of the sawn veneer.  Once those were done I began the process of removing all the thickness variations and creating the perfect foundation for the finished surface.

Workbench Wednesday – Hoisting 1, Building 2

In addition to bending all the necessary parts for next August’s Build A Gragg Chair workshop John and I spent some time setting up the attic for the event as it is the only space in the barn large enough for the activity.  I already had two eight-foot workbenches up there, but in order for all the participants to have their own bench we needed three more.

One of them was a simple problem to solve, at least conceptually.  Just take one of the benches from the classroom space on the second floor and host it up with my vintage compound block-and-tackle.  We did accomplish that but we are definitely not as young and probably not as strong as we once were.  Plus John probably weighs about a buck fifty if you put bricks in his pockets.   Even with a compound hoist, a 350-pound bench weighs 350 pounds.

But hoist it up there we did.

For the other two I made two more Nicholson benches after carrying the individual boards up the stairs one at a time, definitely an easier path to glory.  At the moment they are sans vises and holdfast holes but that will be rectified soon enough.

Now my total workbench inventory for the barn is 19, an entirely appropriate number in my opinion.  This is probably the end of the run for new Nicholsons or laminated Roubos as the recent prices for lumber have definitely scared me off.  For example, I recently needed two ordinary (untreated) twelve-foot 2x8s, they were $23 apiece.  The 24-foot 2x12s I’ve been buying for workbenches used to be $54, now they are $97.  Fortunately I had just enough of my old inventory to build these two benches.

Finally The Weather Is Cool Enough…

… to wear this corduroy hat I got for my birthday this year.  It is so hefty that it makes my brain boil when the weather is too mild.  My daughter bought it at my (and her) favorite chocolate boutique.  I will carefully wear it only occasionally in order to preserve it as long as possible.

Coolest logo ever, with the ribbons of dark chocolate curling up out of the joiner’s plane!  I’ve toured their facility and they really do have cast slabs of  chocolate awaiting further processing.   And that chocolate, while a bit pricey, is to die for.

Old Decking, “Be Gone”

A couple weeks ago I spent several days working on the old house, first replacing some degraded decking on the front side of the house.  There’s is a lot of decking on this house, somewhere around 1900 s.f. which needs replacing periodically, especially that which is exposed to nature directly.  Such was the case her, as the decking in front of the living room and the platforms for potted plants across the front porch had been in place almost 3-1/2 decades, and were looking all the more shabby alongside the newly installed cedar shingle siding.

Dottir has a friend from church who is temporarily out of work due to Covid insanity so I was able to hire him for the week of work.

My plan was to replace the old SYP decking boards with synthetics so I would not have to address this problem any more in the lifetime.  The only downside to using this material was the cost, which was $4/l.f.  So, these two small sections of decking cost more than my first purchased domicile, a very nice 12×60 mobile home in 1975.

I also planned to re-use the sub-structure if it was in good enough shape, which was true for everything except one of the front platforms.  Taking the old decking off required patience and care as the original screws had become subsumed by the wood expanding and contracting innumerable times over the decades.  Two days of this and we were ready to roll with the fancy new plastic boards.


Readying for Gragg Workshop 2

I cannot deny that our spirits were vexed at the end of the second day when we had a nearly 100% failure rate bending the seat/back slats.  We re-thought our process and examined the broken elements.  It was then that I noticed ex poste all the failed bends were in kiln dried stock that I had planned for a different used and they accidentally went into the “bend” barrel.  D’oh!  We enacted a couple of minor ex ante revisions and combining these with the proper selection of wood we had perfect results and reveled in a couple days of almost 100-percent success (I think we had one failure and that might very well have been my impatience, bending the piece faster than it could stand).

I’ve had good and bad streaks of steam bending, but these were the most stark examples of the challenges inherent in taking wood to the brink of what it can be forced into doing.  We rejoiced as the inventory of chair parts grew into that which was needed for next August.

For now the chair parts are just hanging off the beam, seasoning until used by the workshop students.  I have some more Gragg projects of my own to work on so there will undoubtedly be more experience interacting with wood, steam, and forms.

Parts Is Parts

During our recent days of work preparing for next August’s “Build A Gragg Chair” workshop my  friend John and I prepped a lot of wood sticks, and bent them to the forms required to become Gragg chair parts.

We got the steam box set up, the forms set out, and set to work.

John hand planed dozens of chair pieces to get them ready for the thermodynamic adventure.


Once he had five or six pieces ready to go, he used the template board I created for this purpose and affixed the bending straps to all the pieces.  When you have to execute two 90-degree bends only twelve inches apart in a dozen seconds, bending straps are pretty much mandated.  We used flanged sheet metal screws and plumbing straps and attached them BEFORE they went into the steam box because the brief time to get the bending done after steaming does not allow for the straps to be put in place afterwards.  And since the chairs get completely painted, any staining or screw holes can be dealt with.

I placed them into the already heating box and waited for them to reach maximum temperature, which in my set-up is about 200 degrees.

Using a state-of-the-art steam box seal we set the timer and waited the requisite time, 25 minutes for the arm and serpentine pieces, 45 minutes for the bent seat/backs.

On the first day we had good success especially with the thin pieces, only one failure out of eight or ten attempts, but on the second day we had a string of failures approaching 50% when bending the continuous seat/back slats.

At that moment we could discern no reason for the degree of failure  We needed to re-think our process.