Queen Ester

My parents were in town to spend some time with us and watch as the smoke and bees fly during our routine inspection.  Everything looks good, and we had a special discovery.  We finally got to see Queen Ester!  Special thanks to mom for being on the spot with her phone camera.  The queen is the longish looking one at the very tip of my finger.  Hard to see even with a photo.

FullSizeRender (1)There was some rain and a touch of cold this week, so the girls only gathered an additional 13 ounces of weight.  Still a good haul for a week with some wild weather.







Wedding Present Table

Some good friends of mine are getting married and I couldn’t be happier for them.  I am trying to start a tradition where I make a nice wedding present for friends that get married.  A majority of my friends are already married, but better to start late than never!

I asked them what they wanted and got 3 answers:  A table to put keys and stuff on near their front door, a shoe rack, or a wine rack.  I chose to combine the first two and drop the 3rd.  My initial plan was done in sketch-up.  Other than a shortening of the legs due to an unfortunate accident I went with all my original dimensions.

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I don’t model every mortise and round over in sketch-up, instead using it as a way to get the general look and feel of the project and to get a rough cut list.  A trip to the local cabinet store turned up some nice looking red oak, but only 4/4 thick.  It was enough to get started with, but I eventually had to go to Orlando to get the 8/4 (thats 2 inches).  Luckily it was combined with a trip to do a suit fitting for said couple’s wedding!

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I cut everything out and ripped it to rough width using my table and chop saw.  Other than a router for the top edging, and a CNC mill for the “G” everything was done by hand.  I started this project in early January and managed to lose a number of pictures in that time.  I am missing quite a bit of my mortise and tenon work and the beading process.  Still, there are enough pictures to get the idea of how it all went together.


I got to use my shiny new Woodriver number 7 my parents got me for Christmas.  It did a fantastic job of jointing the edges for glue up.  The rubbed glue joint held really well and is completely invisible except for grain changes.  Power jointer eat your heart out!  A run with the router gave a really nice multi-curve edge.  I don’t have enough molding planes or experience to try this part out by hand


I was quite proud of the bead along the bottom apron edges.  It was done with a beading iron in my No 45 combo plane.  Planing off the bottom flat bit makes it look better.  One shot has two beads, one before and one after planing off the flat.

Mortise and Tenon

I am missing a lot of the photos of cutting the mortises, but I made a lot of mistakes and they are rather rough.  I used a rabbet plane and cleaned them up from the picture, but they still weren’t great.  My little rip dovetail saw wasn’t quite up to the task of cutting those cheeks.  Hopefully a full tenon saw is in my future.

I squared the legs up well enough that they could be mortised.  I initially tried using pencil mark my parts to keep the organized, but ran across a really good idea by John over at Woodworks by John.  Mark the joining parts with letter stamps.  After much trimming and swearing the table stands!


I had already cut out the legs and squared them to do the mortises.  Next I cut them to length and did a taper on the outer two surfaces.  It starts about 24″ up and drops down to make the bottom of the foot about 1″ square.  Tapering is a lot of work!

Once I got the tapering complete I was able to cut the grooves for the bottom shelves.  I assembled each side with apron and laid out each cut with a long ruler so I could get both legs.  The sides were cut down with a saw, then removed most of the waste with a chisel.  The final depth was handled with a router plane.  What a great looking job, I did something like this over a year ago before I had a router and this turned out 10 times better!  Next time I will taper last.  Everything had to be shimmed up to hold still because of the leg taper.

This is where a huge issue came in.  I cut the left side and it turned out pretty well.  Next I moved on to the right half and cut the left half again.  Lighting makes the grooves a bit hard to see.

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Two left sides… crap.  I set down my tools and went inside to do something else.  I had invested hours into each leg.  I was able to turn lemons into lemonade though.  The table was set to be just over 40″ tall, which after assembling feels too tall.  Two sets of shoe shelves would be useful, but looked a bit more cluttered than one.  I decided to cut the bottom set of shelf grooves off, and re-taper the legs.  Work work.  Here is the new shortened version along with one of a few piles I had to sweep up while making this thing.

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Bottom Shelf

I assembled the bottom shelf along with the top in a similar manor.  I really wanted to bring in some decorative accents here.  Carving is out of my skill set, but the mill can do wonders.  How about a nice scripty G in the center of the shelf?  Done!  Their last name starts with G.

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With all the parts cutout and shaped properly I went about finish planing every surface smooth and clean.  Some of the oak got squrley and left me with tear out.  I don’t have a high angle plane, and I am crap with a cabinet scraper so they will have to remain as a finishing “feature”.

To keep the top on I am using small clips that fit into slots on the apron and screw into the top.  They will allow the large top to have moisture movement without trying to pull the base apart.

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There are a lot of surfaces that needed gluing and seconds matter when glue is drying.  I did a number of test fits and got all my clamps at the ready.  The glue up went smoothly!  A short rounded over piece glued to the bottom shelf will keep shoes from sliding off.

Doweled Shelf

The bottom shelf sits in a groove.  The weight will be held well by the groove, but few glue surfaces means it could break free.  I went ahead and drilled out the legs/shelf and glued a 3/8″ dowel in to help improve the hold.  A small block plane got the dowels down as smooth as a baby’s bottom!


A dark finish was requested and I have had some great results with minwax’s stain on oak.  I think the grain pops really well, and I had a lot of the stain around.  Once completely dry I sprayed the top and base with multiple coats of general finish’s high performance water based coating.  What a great product.  That stuff goes on like silk and dries smooth.  Spraying can be a pain, but the results are worth it.

Over all, there were mistakes made, lessons learned, and a lot of sweat.  I was able to finish a few days before the wedding and delivered it to the happy couple.  May the table last for a century, and may your love last longer.

Did I mention it comes with a lifetime repair warrantee?


I don’t think I had ever had limoncello before a friend’s wife gifted me some for christmas.  She is a bartender and did some fine drink related gifts this past year.  It was really good stuff, and I wanted to try my hand at making some.  She makes it in huge batches so I was worried about a recipe scale issue.  Instead I read 5 different online recipes that don’t seem to agree at all.

The lemon to vodka ratio was pretty stable at around 8-10ish zested lemons per 750ml of vodka.  The wait time ranged between 3 days and well over a month.  Time to improvise.  I went with 10 lemons into 750ml, and taste tested it along the way. Zesting worked, and I did that to some, but it was slow.  Peeling went much faster, and my peeler didn’t get much of the bitter white stuff under the rind.

With the jar filled and looking pretty yellow right off the bat I waited.  Every other day or so I would do a tiny taste test.  It was harsh, being basically pure vodka, but the lemon flavor started coming out quickly.  I found it to be a good flavor after about a week, so I poured it into a larger bottle through a coffee filter.  The result was a tansparent yellow liquid.  Kind of looks like pee, but tastes nice and lemony.

Most recipes have you adding a lot of simple syrup.  I didn’t want this to be very sweet.  I made a batch of 2:1 sugar to water syrup and added it in small splashes with tastes in between.  The pictures below show before and after adding the syrup.  It is a 1 liter bottle and was probably right around 750ml full before.  I would guess about 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup when in, but that is a guess.  I wanted to take the edge off vodka, but not turn it into some super sickly sweet mess.  I think the balance was good.

I enjoy it warm, but having a small glass straight from the freezer is awesome!  Don’t forget that it is still mostly vodka!  Next will be coming a version with limes and another with oranges.  I can hardly wait!

Final Recipe

  • 10 Lemons
  • 750ml Vodka
  • ~1 C simple syrup to taste (2:1 sugar to water)

Zest or peel lemons being careful not to remove white stuff under rind.  Leave in vodka for around a week, tasting will help guide you.  Filter through a coffee filter into a second container.  Add simple syrup to taste.


First Hive Inspection

Our hive has been with us a week and Ester appears to be going strong.  We have been nervously peeking in the front entrance and trying to count the number of pollen carriers every day after work.  We were so excited to crack it open and look inside we could hardly contain ourselves.  Once again the trusty gopro was in action taking video of our first inspection experience.

If the video didn’t give it away, we think things are going well.  There is a lot of brood being laid, honey is obviously being stocked where there was none last week, and they are expanding out to the new frames.  I couldn’t find the queen, but new brood means she must be in there somewhere.

It is a big weight off our shoulders that they are setting up shop.  Speaking of weight, I employed my new hive scale.  The brood chamber is 27 pounds right now.  I will take weight measurements every few weeks and keep a graph of the results under my bee log.  Until something major happens I will probably not post again about inspections.  No one wants to see a million videos of us gushing over insects.

Strawberry Madness!

The sun is out, the weather is warm, and we are in peak season of strawberries.  I went to my favorite food market and got a little unhinged with the strawberries.  20 pounds came home with me that day!

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I have been waiting for this day for a while.  My first canning experience was with strawberries many years ago.  We didn’t have most of the right tools, but we picked and canned a load and made the best strawberry jam I had ever tasted.  Now it is time to recreate the experience.

I gave them a wash and pulled the stem end off using a strawberry huller.  I would high recommend this tool for doing any amount of strawberries.  So quick!  The directions called for smashing with a potato masher, but I went for a quick few pulses in the food processor.  12 pounds did a good job filling up the bowl.

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After I had enough strawberries I began processing and canning batches.  You are supposed to do it in small sizes because the pectin can overcook.  The first group was full sugar, while all the rest were some variation of low sugar jam.  This is what it looks like with everything going in the pot.

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Many hours later and dinner time rapidly approaching I had 35 jars full, but still a lot of strawberries.  I had jammed 13 pounds at this point.  Well minus all the ones I ate.  Still, what to do with the remaining 7 pounds?  Three got sliced up and tossed with a small amount of sugar.  Dessert for a week!  The last 4 pounds got hulled and stuck on a cookie sheet bound for the freezer.  I make smoothies for breakfast, and my primary fruit ingredient is typically strawberries.  No reason these can’t go in.

All the jars eventually cooled, so I lined them up and gave them a spiffy label.  25 are a low sugar variety, and 10 are a regular full sugar.  7 cups went into those ten jars.  Kind of hard to imagine 3/4 of a cup of sugar getting wedged into each one of those little jars with all that fruit.  Toast anyone?

How Much Does a Bee Weigh?

Being an engineer I can’t help but over analyze and try to gather data on everything I do.  Part of starting my blog was to keep a record, for myself, of my projects.  I think the bees should be no different.  Thus I built a bee scale to help measure the weight of each body and super as they are filled.  Beyond the pure joy that is data collection, keeping track of their weight can help predict when supers will fill, and alert me to reductions in population.

I bought a package scale and took it apart.  The scale can hold up to 100 pounds which ought to support even the fullest deep.  I made a top board that the bodies will rest on while being weighed.  The back edges are wider than they need to be and have tall guides.  This should keep me from falling off any edges when moving the supers onto the scale.  Using only 4 small areas of contact at the corners helps reduce the chance for bee casualties.  The top of the scale is a plastic part that is easily removed.  I screwed it to the bottom of the top board to take advantage of its alignment pins.

Next I made a base board that would hold the guts of the scale and its controller.  I screwed the scale down at the far end of this bottom board so that when the top board is on you can still read the screen.  The controller simply zip tied to the base board.

Both top and bottom board got a quick hand hold roughed into them.  The top of the scale had alignment pins so it would sit snugly on the base.  They are tricky to align, but once in, the top board is very stable.  I can disassemble and carry both halves easily.  The true test comes tomorrow when I perform my first hive inspection.

I could use the scale to answer a question I get a lot “How many bees do you have?”  I find that as kind of an odd question.  I would think most people know that bees are small and go in large groups.  My typical response to the question is: “Thousands???” with a big shrug of the shoulders.  If I weigh the deep with bees, then shake them off and weigh again, I could get a good estimate of total bee weight.  Not worth the effort and disturbance to the hive.  I will choose a new answer of “Enough to KILL!!!!” from now on instead.

My co-worker had an excellent suggestion of building an IR trip sensor at the hive entrance.  That way I could track the number of crossings.  I like it, but it would require power and electronics far away from an outlet.  Solar cells on top of my hive?  Maybe someday.