“Over And Done?” Not So Much…

When I had the adventure last summer of overturning a lawn tractor on top of myself and laying in the icy stream until the rescue crew could arrive, when it was over and done I thought it was over and done.  Recently I’ve had confirmation that the incident was not “over and done” once the rescuers tipped the tractor enough to extract me from underneath it, retrieved the tractor from the creek, and my psychedelic bruising finally migrated to my toes and then faded after a few weeks.  True enough, the bone bruise to my shin was swollen and discolored for the better part of a year since but that has subsided.  Nevertheless the incident was probably the final straw for the cartilage in my knee which now requires some surgical housekeeping next week.  Everyone who has been scoped and vacuumed assures me it is a piece of cake.  That would please me if it is true for the experience to be a piece of cake rather than a $%^& sandwich.

As to the tractor itself,  it started right up after sitting upright for a day and I was able to resume mowing once my leg felt better in a week.  However, I could not get the 48″ mower to cut evenly and I spent a fair bit of time tinkering with the levelers on the deck.  I got it better but never really was able to cut the lawn as smoothly as before.

This summer I got through one full mowing with the same problem of unevenness but on the second mowing the mower deck kept throwing off the 10-foot serpentine drive belt (the mower deck has three cutters, which I cannot recommend as it adds considerable complexity and fragility to the system).  Despite all my additional efforts to get things aligned I could not get it to work.  I wound up detaching and removing the mower deck from underneath the tractor and the problem was immediately apparent; the center drive hub had become completely broken and was no longer aligned with the other two cutters/hubs, so of course it was going to throw off the serpentine belt.  In fact I think the hub was so broken that the only thing holding it in place was all the grass mulch packed up against it.  two of the four flange ears were broken completely off, the other two were hanging by a thread.  No wonder I had been unable to get the mower to cut smoothly by simply tinkering with the levelers.

This systemic failure must be a weak point in the mower deck design because when I called our local shop the center hub was one of the parts he always keeps in stock.  I got a new one, swapped it out for the old one, and once I re-installed the deck and adjusted the levelers the mower cut like a champ.  I still have to adjust one or the other of the levelers about 1/8″ to get the cut perfect, but I was very pleased at troubleshooting the problem ad resolving it.  Not as pleased as if I had derived the answer last year and several hours of work earlier, but now it is good to go.

On top of al that I figured out how to email myself pictures from my phone.  I am walking tall today!

Workbench Wednesday – Romastonian Low Bench 6a

Between travels and other disruptions I have not had much time in the shop lately, a trend that will continue for another fortnight as I get my knee worked on next week.

This post is about a discovery of happenstance.  I would like to claim this as a brilliant strategic plan from the inception of this bench but the fact is I only noticed it ex post facto.  The discovery?

Well, it turns out that the upright carving vise I acquired a decade ago on Craigslist and which has been residing most recently on my gunsmithing bench is almost exactly the correct size to fit into my side notch!  Now all I have to do is fabricate a custom wedge to hold it in place and I can use it with impunity.  (I also have the Benchcrafted kit parts underneath another bench, so making a similar vise dedicated to the Romastonian Low Bench in is the future.)


(Something) In The Air Tonight – A Polysensory Episode

Roughly thirty five years ago when I was hiring a new assistant for the Furniture Conservation Lab the interview process was pretty anti-climatic, as Mel Wachowiak was head and shoulders above all the other candidates.  Nevertheless the process moved forward, and when Mel’s interview with me occurred there was really only one item on my agenda; were his musical tastes compatible with mine?  (Had he been hardcore C&W there would have been a problem)  I liked music in the workspace and had the very best stereo system in the building, along with scores of CDs.  Happily Mel’s music preferences were similar enough to my own that we managed to coexist in the same workspace for two decades.  Other than the character flaw of disliking the Mahavishnu Orchestra, a preference he shared with Mrs. Barn, we coexisted amicably at work for more than two decades until I departed at the end of 2012.

One of the things about a small-ish organizational unit was that according to Federal regulations there had to be someone in charge at all times.  This became an issue as the staff rose in seniority such that there was almost universal absence for the primary Federal holidays so someone on Senior Staff had to be designated as Interim Director.  The task fell to me with some frequency which I did not really mind too much as the joint was pretty much empty except for the newcomers who did not yet have enough annual leave accrued to take vacation days.

This situation was especially notable on Thanksgiving Friday, when the lab was “open for business” except that there was almost nobody there.  One Thanksgiving Friday was particularly memorable as Mel and I were among the half-dozen folks on-site, and the only ones in our section between the fire doors.  Essentially we were acoustically isolated from the rest of the world, and as a lark we decided to see how many times we could listen to Phil Collins’ tune In the Air Tonight without interruption, a song now up to 225 million (!) views.  Mel was a big Genesis fan and I recognized the iconic signature of the song’s drum riff as an identifier of the era.  So, we put the CD in the player, hit the “Repeat Song” button and let ‘er rip.  Loud.  Really, really loud.  I think we made it to 42 or 43 repeats until lunch, by which time we were ready to move on to something else.  I can tell you we had the windows pulsating with the beat, made possible by the sparse attendance that day.

And yet, this post is not about an iconic rockster song.  It is instead about cicadas.

Mrs. Barn and I were in Mordor for the past many days as Mrs. Barn and the barndottirs were hosting a baby shower for a beloved friend, a young woman whom we all call our third daughter/sister.  I did some preparing, and none of the hosting.  I was in the basement workshop during the festivities.


As we approached barndottir’s house we were almost overwhelmed with the deafening drone of the 17-year cicadas, partying hard after 17 years of underground isolation.  They had six weeks to party and find a mate, desperately looking for the boy or girl cicada who had left the graffiti, “For a good time call Cicada 867 5309” on the wall of the cicada bar.  If you have not gone though this cacophony it is almost indescribable, the closest thing being the space ship special effect from the original Orson Welles “War of the Worlds” broadcast, only cranked up to 11.   Or, the racket from vuvuzelas at a soccer game.

This racket is not the only sound effect to bombard your ears during a cicada invasion.  There is also the almost ever-present crunch of cicada carcasses underfoot with every step in the yard or across the deck.


One of the things I never really noticed before in my previous two experiences with the cicadas was the shimmer in the sunlight as they swarm in the heat of the day.  The air really does glisten as the sunlight refracts off their wings.  Almost captivatingly beautiful, actually.  Not only are there approximately eleventy bazillion of them, they are large (almost the size of my thumb).


Encountering the live cicadas is a real experience.  I encountered this while mowing the lawn as the insects actually fall on me like hail.  And it’s not just the light impact of contact, I’ve had that from the state bird of Minnesota, the mosquito (you can actually hear mosquitos thumping against your tent while camping), but rather the prickly barbs of the cicada legs.  The barbs dig into your skin on contact, and though the bug does not sting it can be unpleasant to remove them from your skin or from underneath clothing.  Extracting a big barbed crawling thing poking you underneath your shirt is a real thing.


The last of the direct sensory experience comes from the fact that each of the party insects dies in short order, and the smell of death and decay is pervasive.  Enough so that it precludes any outside gathering until they are all gone and the Circle of Life returns them to the humus.  Think of doggy-doo and rotten milk combined as a room freshener and you get the idea.

I did not eat any of the cicadas so I cannot comment on the taste, notwithstanding the urging of some of our mid-wit “elites” encouraging us to ingest insect protein to reduce the current global crisis, whatever that is today.  To them I say, “You first.”  I’ll stick to dead cow, dead pig, dead chicken, dead fish, dead lamb, etc.  They wanna eat dead bugs?  Have at it.

On top of everything else it was 10-15 degrees hotter in Mordor than Shangri-la, so while we loved seeing the barndottirs we were glad to get back home.  En route we had a doc appointment as Mrs. Barn is dealing with the consequences of extensive basking in the southern Kalifornyuh beach sunshine fifty years ago.

A Fascinating Merger Of Design And Technology

Since before I was an architecture student in the mid-70s (never finished, they changed the curriculum to something I did not like nor want) I have been fascinated with the problems of design for human consumption and beyond in the realm of architecture, space, and accessories therein.  Even my later managerial training aptitude testing identified me as an INTP in the Myers-Briggs vernacular, or as one of our instructors phrased it, “The architect of ideas.”  And things, be they furniture or houses or rockets, are the manifestation of ideas.

The video here was an eye-opener for me.  I hope you find it as fascinating as I did.  When the time comes for Mrs. Barn and me to eventually design and obtain our geezer house I wonder if this will be part of the discussion

Like Howard Roarke being consumed with the problem of efficient mass housing – he cared only for the technical problem and was indifferent to the residents or the patrons – I am fascinated by the integration of tomorrow’s technology with ongoing universal needs.  Despite being mostly concerned with historicity and historic artifacts I have no quarrel with modern technology other than its increasing encroachment to the detriment of “quality of life,” for example the telecom revolution enabling the creation of the suffocating Surveillance State.  (It might be worth noting that “quality of life” is primarily a psychological term; “standard of living” refers to the practical choices available to a person depending on their circumstantial and material assets).  Technology is morally neutral, and the only reason it is problematic is that we are fallen creatures living in an amoral, immoral, or even anti-moral culture.

That said, the idea of a robust origami house is way cool.

Kalifornyuh Dreamin’ 2

Here are more of the items sifted from the cleaning-out of my father-in-law’s house.  Some of these treasures were left behind, but many of them are now ensconced in the barn.

As I get older I gravitate more and more toward rulers rather than tape measures (especially at the bench), notwithstanding the reality that a Stanley 12-foot Powerlock tape fits perfectly and resides in my coin pocket virtually 100% of the time I am not at church or the doctor’s office.  In Dick’s menagerie was this four-foot folding cabinetmaker’s rule, and it is now nestled in my carpenter’s tote.

Many years ago my pal MikeM made a vest pin out of a Shinola brand shoe polish tin, a much loved artifact that remains in my collection.  When coming across this bottle of shoe polish how could I not bring this back home to go into the gallery in the barn?  Perhaps I can even use it to analyze the utterances of public officials to see if I can distinguish, uh, stuff, from Shinola.

Being a real guy, Dick probably went out and bought a new tool when he could not find his other one (at least I have been told that this is a tendency; hmmm, it might explain my half-dozen caulk guns), which would justify the three torque wrenches in the garage.  I brought one home and gave the other two away to good homes.  I cannot recall the last time I needed a torque wrench myself, probably when I rebuilt an industrial planer in 1982, but if I have to do it gain I am equipped.

One of the items I left behind was something that truly surprised me.  I had not known that the Zyliss company made more than the renowned vises, of which I own a half dozen and find them nearly irreplaceable when making Gragg chairs of teaching marquetry.  Lo and behold there was this NIB food chopper in the kitchen cabinet.  I almost wish I had brought it back.

The final item, and one which holds great sentimental value for me, was this can of the revered Man O’ War brand of spar varnish.  It was of an indefinable age, but nearly full and the contents were in perfect condition.  I remember using Man O’ War on some very expensive porch furniture (not mine) back around 1975, and it was sublime in both workability and performance.  I left it behind because it would have been problematic to ship it back from The Peoples Republic of Kalifornistan, for the same reason that I refuse to ship Mel’s Wax to Cali.

Though it was superb I could not justify shipping home a vintage 4-inch Wilton torpedo vise or the tool boxes full of pliers, screwdrivers, wrenches, and socket sets.

A Big Wooden Box in the Hands of A Great Dane (not woodworking)

If you have never seen someone finger-picking on a double bass, give this video a look.  Niels-Henning Orsted Pederson is perhaps the jazz bass player against whom all others are measured, sort of the double-bass version of Billy Cobham on drums, Oscar Peterson on piano or Johnny Hartman on vocals.

Even if you are not a jazz aficionado this is worth the glance.  The production quality is dreadful but the performance of one of my favorite songs is mesmerizing.

The (ahem) Beauty of Isolated Solitude

Living in a place where my nearest permanent neighbor is a mile away suits my preferences almost perfectly.  The national psychotic spasm over the past year-and-a-half has pretty much passed us over, as our population density enables “social distancing” on any day ending in “Y.”  Most days the only people Mrs. Barn and I encounter are each other.

But all is not perfect, in that while we have a clinic in town a visit to a specialist is an all day event requiring a trip over either three or four mountains, depending on which doctor is being visited.  Ditto real shopping, we have a convenience store, a feed and seed co-op, and a Dollar General but the nearest grocery store is an hour away, most general shopping is a half hour further.

Trip to the DMV?  Whole day.  Trip to the lumber yard?  All day.

Spring is always a hectic time around here with the gardens being planted, the grass needing mowing every third day, and this year we have had the calendar augmented with nuisance medical issues requiring a lot of back and forth trips out of the mountains.  I for one am very much looking forward to getting the debris inside my creaky knee vacuumed out next month.

All that to say that things are hopping here and blogging just ain’t at the very top of the daily “To Do” list.  That might make me a bad blogger, and I will give that concern all the attention it. deserves.

Workbench Wednesday – Romastonian Low Bench 5

One of the intriguing features of the low benches out and about in the woodworking blogosphere and LAP books is a notch cut into the side edge of the bench to allow workpieces to be wedged into it for cutting on the ends.  I decided to give this concept a try on my bench, if it was not to my liking I would just fill the notch back in and move on to other ideas.

The first step was to figure out where to cut the notch, which depended on my own body and working habits.  So, I sat down and held out my hands to mimic a long sawing posture, then located the notch a little closer to me than that.

I then laid out the notch to have a square rear shoulder and a tapered front shoulder into which would fit a wedge of that bevel.  The exact measurement of the taper is unimportant, it just needs to be slight.  I did not even measure mine, I just struck it where it seemed right to my eye.

As is my preference for a lot of large-ish joinery sawing I grabbed a trusty Japanese saw and set to work.

My typical procedure is to cut the shoulders of the joint first, then make several cuts in the waste to aid removal.

Then I whack the waste with a hammer to remove as much as I can, leaving the remainder for the hammer and chisel, followed by a rasp.

With the notch cut I fashioned a wedge to fit the taper and gave it a test drive.  I will no doubt make a number of similar wedges of differing thickness (or perhaps a series of spacing shims) to accommodate a great variety of workpiece thicknesses.

I worked it a few minutes and liked the concept very much.

A Pleased Uncle (not woodworking)

Recently we had the good fortune of attending the ordination service for my beloved nephew A (it is my brother-in-law with the hand on his shoulder during the dedication prayer).  We are very much delighted at his diligence in formal studies related to the life of faith he has demonstrated since he was a child.

Those living under his Biblical ministrations will flourish almost as much as he will in providing that loving care.

He is a remarkable young man, the proof of whose wisdom is that he often seeks his cranky old uncle for advice.  He also married very well, and is now the shepherd of my year old grand-nephew.

Blessings, Pastor A.

Workbench Wednesday – Romastonian Low Bench 4

With the slab established and the staked legs in place and trimmed to length the time had come to start tricking out the bench.  Needless to say I blended existing ideas with some new flavoring of my own.  In this episode the emphasis is on 3/4″ holes.  Lots of them.  My slab was over 4-inches thick so I was not too worried about weakening it.  If it were a 2-inch slab I would have been more cautious, but a 4-1/2-inch slab is inherently stronger than 2-inch by a factor of almost eight (cross sectional strength being the ratio of the two cross-sections to the third power).

The starting point was the reality that I was using a recycled planing beam for the bench slab so some holdfast holes were already in place, sort of. This was particularly relevant on the edges of the slab.  All I had to do was deepen the existing holes in order to make them amenable to holdfast use.   Edge holdfasts are not usually incorporated into low benches, but here the opportunity was too rich to pass up.

In addition to the edge holes, a low bench requires a number of vertical holes through the slab in order to use both holdfasts and aligning/wedging rods to facilitate upright edge planing.  With a spacing strategy that will become more apparent in a couple weeks, I drilled and added these devices.

I am not entirely pleased with the splay of the staked legs on the end closest to the camera so I may re-drill them.  This is the end I will be sitting on most of the time when using the bench.  I am perplexed as the angles of the far end legs are perfect.  I must’ve not had the template in the right orientation (closer examination suggests this as the most likely culprit) or was distracted by some compelling point in a podcast or a captivating riff on a CD or whatever.

Stay tuned.