Archive: » 2022 » April

Springtime Tradition #1

The end of winter here in the Shangri-la highlands is accompanied by a number of traditions, not the least of which is the status assessment and repair/maintenance of the power system.  Sometimes this occurs as early as mid-March, but with travels back and forth to visit Li’l T and his parents and the deposition of several inches of snow as recently as last week, this year “spring” and its requisite duties is/are late in coming.

It is an undeniable truth that when you are “off grid,” a prominent blessing is that you are your own power company.  It is also an undeniable truth that when you are “off grid,” a prominent bane is that you are, well, your own power company.  Last week I split my time going over the mountains to get some service on my truck (I am old; I remember buying a complete set of new tires for my first car, a 1961 Ford Galaxy 500 with a trunk big enough to hold six feet of a 4×8 sheet of plywood, for $50 in 1970.  Now, two tires for my F150 are $500!   Sigh.) and working on the water line.

I walked the quarter-mile of water line last Sunday to gauge the level of repair needed.  Even though the winter seemed fairly ordinary judging by memory and the consumption of firewood, the condition of the hydro system penstock suggested a different history.

In six places the penstock was breached and fractured with classic helical ruptures as evidence of water freezing in the line.  This was surprising as I thought I had been pretty conscientious when mothballing (draining) the system in November, but the proof of the contrary is unavoidable.   And, this was not even the full extent of the damage to the system (more about that later).

I spent the better part of three days walking up and down the creek to make the repairs to the line itself.  I’m still sore.  I wound up grafting in about 80′ of new line, requiring 14 new joints.

As occurs every spring I spent some time refining the path of the water line to streamline it and increase its efficiency.  And still, every winter I must endure the damage that nature inflicts on it.

Is there a solution to this neverendingly onerous burden?  Sure.  All it would take is to find someone who could bury 1/4 mile of water line 48-inches deep in a mostly-solid rock substrate.  Finding that someone would be a challenge, finding someone to sign the check for maybe $125k is an even bigger problem.

Thus, I learn to embrace the responsibility of putting the system back together every “spring.”  There is a lesson there.  Whenever I face a particular challenge or hardship, I try ask, “Okay YHWH, what are you teaching me with this one?”



One of the notable absences from the studio ever since I started working there pretty much full time almost ten years ago was the physical distance from my books.  Almost all of them were located up on the library balcony on the other side of the barn.  Not far, but not close enough for the psychic comfort of 1) being part of the decor of the studio, and 2) being close enough that I could just grab one to browse or look something up whenever I was waiting for the glue to dry or something similar.

Yes, my gunsmithing books were already down in the studio on a shelf over that workbench, but even I do not browse gunsmithing books.  They are ther for instructional/informational purposes.

In the studio, I need books for inspiration and peace of mind.  It’s one of my many quirks.  So, I relocated a goodly number into my immediate work space, and once I get finished with the tool cabinet and empty the plane shelves, will probably fill them with books too.

I feel better already.

Workbench Wednesday – Ultimate Portable Workbench 4

With shop life resuming some vague semblance of normal after late winter and the presence of Li’l T on the scene, I’ve been able to return to working on the Ultimate Portable Workbench.  I’ve now reached the stage where I need to layout the holes for the vise screws, and for the holdfasts as well.   You see, I’ve decided that even though this is a portable workbench where low weight is among the highest goals, a set of holdfasts can be a much-valued addition.  Hence, my exploration of wooden holdfasts.  More about that next Wednesday.


For now my main objective was to locate the holdfast holes so that I could add some backing blocks to the insides of the top and bottom plywood skins.  This started by just arbitrarily selecting the locations and marking out the centers of grid boxes and drilling 3/4″ holes.

I then clamped the second skin to the underside of the half-constructed torsion box in order to simply use the holes in the first skin to drill the holes in the second skin.

With that step accomplished I marked the grid pattern on the underside of the second skin so I knew where to put the backing blocks.   Once again I used T3 adhesive, in part because I had a lot on hand and because I could not always be sure of the environment for the bench.

Once the blocks were secured I just used the holes in the skin to guide the drilling of the holes through the block.  This process allowed me to get perfectly aligned upper and lower collars in place so that holdfasts could be used in this feather weight bench.

Once that was finished I set the second skin aside and moved on to the threaded holes for the vises.  I had already glued backing blocks in those locations.

I drilled the holes through the apron and the grid using a combination of drill bits to accomplish the desired ends.  The hole in the apron was 7/8″, in the grid web the holes were 1″ to accommodate the 1″ vise screws.


Fortunately I have a set of extra large taps and dies, rescued from the trash eons ago, so making the matching threaded openings was a snap.

A Terrific Addition To The Tool Kit

A couple months ago for my birthday Mrs. Barn gave me this remarkable tool to keep handy.  I’ve had many headlamps over the years as my fading eyesight is always seeking more lumens, but this one is the first that I’ve tried that is actually comfortable, high performance, and long lasting.  The combination of the LED illuminator plus the 2 AA batteries being located at the rear of the unit giving it a perfect balance, I can wear it all day long with comfort.  I cannot tell the lifespan of the two ordinary batteries as I have not yet had them go dark after almost 60 hours of use.

She says she bought it at the local feed-and-seed coop, so I am guessing it may be available at Ace Hardware stores.



Basement Door Frame Replacement

One of the features of much early work (2008-2012) on the barn was the truth that I was always racing to get things done over a weekend before heading back to Mordor.  Since It was weekend-based I was pretty much limited to what materials I had on hand.  If I needed some of “X” but only had some of “Y,” well, I had to make do with “Y.”

This pretty much explains the framing around the door to the first floor.  It was a Sunday evening, so I had an hour, some scrap white pine lumber, and a tube of construction adhesive, and I had to get a door in place before heading home.  Flash forward and it should be no surprise that the doorway was needing an extreme upgrade.

This time I had as much time as I needed, an inventory of pressure treated lumber, a bag of concrete screws, and as much construction adhesive as I might need.  The starting point was un-hanging the door and removing the “framing” which took me a half-hour at most.

I ripped and crosscut the pressure treated lumber, grabbed the appropriate masonry drill bit and my Craftsman hammer drill, and got to work.  A few hours later I was fitting the final pieces.

Now the doorway is set for decades to come.

No Apples This Year

While we were away for a glorious weekend of Easter worship and fellowship, an arctic locomotive roared through Shangri-la, dumping eight inches of snow and driving down temperatures to near 20 degrees.

By the time we got home on Tuesday much of the snow had melted (this image is from Wednesday), and we are expecting almost 80-degrees over this coming weekend.  Too late for the apple blossoms, though.  I guess the weather did not realize we are more’n halfway to May.

The “Comments” Section

I’m rethinking the “Comments” function on the blog.  On one hand, several of the regular commentors, whose contributions I value highly, always have their comments dispatched to the “Trash” file for no apparent reason which means I have to review all the Trash contents regularly to retrieve them.

On the other hand the ratio of total comments to the blog are easily 500:1 spam, including recently hundreds of Russian spam-bot entries per week, along with the hundreds of submissions in Korean, Chinese, Arabic, Cambodian, etc., scores of offers for watches, sneakers, handbags, and a crap load of other stuff that I do not want occupying my space.  Yes, the WordPress spam filter catches them but since it also moves real comments into the Trash bin along with them I still have to go through the garbage anyway.

If we are unable to incorporate a bot filter I may probably discontinue “Comments” at some point.  Thus far in the years of blogging I have received 540 valid comments for almost 1600 blog posts versus I’d guess 25,000 Trash and Spam postings.  You do the math.

Stay tuned.

Second Studio Door Finis

I’m not sure I posted the final picture of the second door finished and hung.  Like the first door I am still noodlin’ the latching hardware and have not yet come to a resolution.

I gotta say, these simple insulated doors have made a tremendous difference to controlling the microclimate inside the studio, especially since I fitted them with high performance gasketing.

Empty! (flashback about 2000 years ago)

Drat, Foiled Again

For the longest time I’ve had a hankerin’ to have a small mobile sawmill.  At first I did not get one because we were living in the suburbs of Mordor and a sawmill in the land of Orcs made no sense.  Then, when we bought Shangri-la in the hinterlands, the property sorta came with “a guy,” Tony, the best friend of the previous owner who, like the previous owner, was a skilled tradesman.

Tony had been a big city construction tradesman who relocated here decades ago and was accomplished at all kinds of activity ranging from small handyman projects to restoring and building complete houses and all points in between.  He did a lot of the renovation of our cabin, with high-quality work that was so inexpensive I could not afford to work on my own house!  I learned he could do this because so much of his small work, like ours, used leftover materials from the big projects, or — and here is the part pertinent to this tale — harvesting and milling his own materials.

Once again, there was no real reason for me to get a mobile sawmill because Tony had one and would saw material for me whenever I needed it.

A couple years ago Tony retired and moved and his warehouse of materials and machines was auctioned off.  In fact he gave me several truckloads of vintage wood.

I have done precious little harvesting of furniture grade wood from our own forest, and that which I did harvest was oak to be micro-processed for making Gragg chairs.  Then last year we cleared a building lot sized area adjacent to the log barn to clear up sunshine for one of Mrs. Barn’s gardens, and among the trees being felled were some decent sized walnuts.  Most of that was cut up for firewood or turning blanks or to become hand-sawn crotch veneers, but I left a few large-ish log sections just in case I could figure out a way to get them milled.

Out of the blue came a call from my friend Sam, a talented restoration carpenter who does work all over the larger region, to tell me he had bought a mobile sawmill to enhance his business capabilities.

Drat, foiled again.

Sam recently came to saw up the walnut logs with his new machine.  I guess I still won’t be getting a sawmill.