Cedar Porch Side Table

When we first moved in to our house we bought some fancy wicker chairs for the back porch. They are lovely, but we weren’t wild about their side table options. “I’ll just build something!” I said. 3 years later we were still using a junky wooden folding table the previous owners had left. To be fair, it was at the right height, but was rather small.

I kept having this idea of using cedar 2x4s to make the legs, and cutting a bow in the legs to make them match the chairs. I used some junky pine to cut two rough legs and mock up an inward and outward bow. The inward concave version kind of matches how the chairs are shaped and is how I will proceed.

I picked cedar because it is available to my local hardware store, is reasonably priced and is supposed to be good for outdoor applications. I did not realize how soft it is and probably won’t build anything else nice with it again. It dents and tears out really easily.


Table Top

I knew the size I wanted the table top to be so I started there and will build the legs and aprons to follow. I mixed some darker and lighter wood to create a little contrast on the top. These were the straightest cleanest grained pieces I could find. They had a bit of a split that looked ok to start with, but got more apparent as I milled.

I hadn’t used my hand tools in a while but used this chance to flatten all the boards and check grain orientation. After glue up I picked up the top and figured out how bad those splits were. The whole top would flex around those splits like a taco. These will have to get fixed.

My quick little side table is becoming less quick. I have never done butterfly keys, but why not start now?! It took a few iterations but I made a key shape that my pattern bit would replicate and matched the corner radius a 1/4″ router bit would produce.

First you use double sticky tape to place the template. Plunge route the socket that will accept a key. Tape a template to the top of a key blank and pattern route the key. I made them tall enough to resaw and get two keys per pattern. I cleaned up the socket area, glued in the key and then planed the area flush.

The other side of the top looks much cleaner and was originally what I was going to show. After the keys turned out so well I showed it to my wife and she thought it looked better that way. Not sure if it qualifies as Wabi-Sabi or not, but it feels like it to me. With all the keys installed the table top feels really solid and doesn’t flex anymore. I trimmed up the edges and put a roundover and chamfer all the way around.


Legs

Moving on to the legs I repeated the steps used to create the initial 2×4 concept pieces only I used a pattern to speed things up. I started by roughing out each leg on the bandsaw getting as close to the line as I dared without going over. Price Is Right rules apply here.

With the legs roughed I again used the pattern bit to clean them up to the line. I just bought this fancy compression pattern bit because of how much I do pattern routing. Oops, the piece is too tall to cut it all in one go. Off goes the top bearing, I will have to take one bite, then increase the bit height to do it again.

I got all the routing done, but was still left with a pretty rough surface. Cedar is so soft it tears more than it cuts with the router. I actually got to break out my spokeshave in order to clean up the leg faces. Probably overkill considering I am going to round over all the legs, but it was still fun and good practice.


Aprons and Assembly

I am leaving the legs square until the last minute, they bruise like crazy and I want to preserve their shapes. Instead of trying to cut mortise and tenons I just used pocket hole screws. I would probably blow out a side wall trying to mortise these legs, and the pocket hole screws are outdoor rated.

To get the shape right I cut the aprons a bit long and assembled with clamps to get a feel for the size of the base. Then, I was able to cut the width and length down until the proportions looked good. Not as fancy as drawing it all out ahead of time and knowing the exact dimensions, but better than just making up round numbers and building it regardless of looks. I am no master designer, but I am getting better. Once I got the dimensions right I drilled the pocket holes and did a final test assembly.

With the dimensions all set I could do my roundover on the legs and perform final sanding on everything. Once again the cedar bit me. The roundover, which I did in multiple gentle bites totally chipped out the bottoms of the legs. I could trim them down a smidge, but I figure the rabbits will chew down there anyways, so whatever.

I finished all the parts individually with a spar polyurethane that I thinned down to make a wiping poly. It is dark to help keep UV damage down and it did make the wood take on a lovely color. To attach the top to the base I made a cleat with slotted holes so the table could move and not pull apart. I also added a hidden back shelf so we could sit things behind the table. Our son likes to pull out the tissue box and assault the fan remote. These can be stored in the back.

I attached some plastic slider feet to keep it from having direct contact with the ground. The table never sees direct sun or rain, and between the wood choice and finish it ought to last forever. The softness of the wood means that a child and two rabbits will destroy it mechanically before nature ever does. Done just in time for porch season to set in.

Height Growth Ruler

Our little guy is growing fast and I wanted a way to help document that. Kids are usually interested in seeing how big they are, so I decided to make a height ruler. I started back in July because I wanted to be done by the time his birthday hit. I got done in time, but hit a bunch of snags along the way, and still have trouble getting him to hold still for a measurement.

First up, I bought some pine boards to experiment on and 3D printed this guide to make the ruler marks. This took a few iterations, I was trying to use a pattern bit, but ultimately a bushing and plunge route was the best way to go. You can flip the template around to continue the pattern and route the whole ruler with one template. I based the marks off of an old folding wooden ruler I have.

The first big issue I ran into was inlay. I wanted to route a pattern, then mix black epoxy to pour into the cut grooves. The epoxy kept wicking into the grain. I tried poplar, it wicked too.

I tried sealing the grain with multiple rounds of shellac and still ran into some issues on the poplar samples. I should have started with a hardwood of some sort.

I eventually got enough sealing done on pine and filled another test piece. There was still some grain seepage and in trying to plane through the top surface and get to flat inlay, I kept hitting bubbles. I tried vacuuming the epoxy and still couldn’t get it to be void free. Here again, the rough pockets that are left by the routing might be allowing air pockets. Again in retrospect using maple or something would have been better.

Finally I settled on a quick clear coat to seal, and spray paint. It makes the router cuts dark and visible, and is easy to apply. The sample board turned out well enough, so I moved on to the real thing. I will work on improving my epoxy inlay techniques later.

I printed letters to make the ruler clear to read. Each letter has an alignment line underneath so you can see the foot mark line when putting it down. I had a few knots and checks that were in the way so I used clear epoxy to fill the voids so that the spray paint wouldn’t get inside. I then routed everything and sprayed the entire surface.

I planed off the top surface to reveal a decent inlay. Everything got a few coats of finish, then hung up on the wall. The hardest part now, is getting him to stand next to it. He pulls himself up to standing constantly, but always has his own agenda. This picture was the best I could get in nearly 2 months of trying. Never work with kids and animals they say.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Not that well overall. I got started in June with picking up various pepper plants, slowly adding herbs and it grew from there. I haven’t added anything in over a month as our growing season is starting to come to a close.

Herbs

The parsley oregano and basil have all taken off wonderfully! The green onions looked pretty sad for a while but are growing well and have been used in a recent soup. You can’t see the thyme because the oregano totally took over and the thyme failed. The rosemary is basically dead as well.

I have rosemary out front, and it is doing well. More sun and a better draining pot. I think the one in the back was too wet. I have heard thyme has the same issue, which would explain its failure. For some reason the lavender really didn’t last long at all. Not sure why.

My other herbs out front have been pretty happy. Purple and regular basil have hung in there while the peppermint has gone nuts and had to be trimmed repeatedly.

Peppers

My pepper harvest is pretty paltry. All of the peppers have had a very heavy infestation of white flies. I have sprayed both neem oil and insect soap regularly, but they still reign supreme. Additionally, I think the pots I used back here are too wet. I got self watering because at my last house got, a lot of western exposure and clay pots resulted in a constant dry soil problem. I over-corrected. Much more shade here and the self watering pots are incredibly effective. I think the peppers prefer things a little dryer.

My total harvest was only a few undersized peppers. I might get a few small poblanos and maybe a candy cane, but I think that is it for the year. I will be replanting in better draining pots next year, and maybe going nuclear with a pesticide if those white flies rear their ugly heads again. Farming is hard…

Sad Sauerkraut

After working on a bit of fermentation magic to create my first round of hot sauces, I was feeling pretty spiffy. I figured I could handle something that takes more time, like sauerkraut. I picked up a head of green cabbage and got started.

The process is even simpler than hot sauce. It is just shredded cabbage and 2% salt by weight. No other ingredients, including water, are needed. Mix it together and knead/massage the salt into the cabbage until it is juicy. Simple enough, but I still screwed it all up somehow. I think it comes down to mashing, but I am getting ahead of myself. The shredding and salting went well. I kneaded it until it was well reduced. Everything with into a quart jar with a bit of juice on top to keep it covered.

After 2 weeks I gave it a try. It had the right flavor, but was a little to hard and raw. I put the cap back on, and sucked it down to get the oxygen out. I figured it just needed more time, so I went ahead and made a bigger batch with red cabbage.

Same drill as last time, only a bigger staining mess. Still lots of fun. The two heads barely fit in my largest bowl at the start, but after massaging, they were much smaller. Almost all of it fit in my new 1/2 gallon mason jar.

The red cabbage bubbled like mad and pushed a lot of the fluid out leaving the cabbage a bit more exposed. I had to keep the jar in the sink for days as it seeped and spurted cabbage juice out of the top. A month later both cabbages were rather dry looking. I know they were pushing liquid out early on, but I don’t know how it could have all gone out that far down.

The green one smelled like something had gone wrong. I tossed it immediately. The red one smelled correct and looked decent. It had been in there a month, but still felt way too hard and crunchy to be right. I don’t think I kneaded either of them well enough to break them down properly. Also, next time I will try a head or head and a half in a 1/2 gallon jar, so there is plenty of room for it to push liquid around, but still stay covered. The color of the image below doesn’t do it justice, it is a pretty red color. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.

Nuka Cola Sign

I have been a fan of the Fallout video game series for a good 20 years, since I first played the original game. Sometimes called Diesel Punk, imagine a retro-futuristic world imagined in the 1950s. Everything is nuclear powdered, sleek ray guns, cute suburban homes with tv dinners and a cold war that went hot. The game has a lot of back story and atmosphere including a soda brand called Nuka Cola that looks a lot like coke.

I am also a fan of this funny Russian guy that makes signs with lots of skill and few tools. He did a few different fallout based signs, so I had to follow his lead and make my own Nuka Cola sign. His methodology is simple. Project onto a piece of plywood with a cheap projector, trace, carve those lines in with a dremel so you can see them after you paint, then paint the various layers. I still managed to mess up a little. First up, the projection.

I found a rough text/logo of what I wanted and used inkscape to make the offset for the sign outline. I hand traced it and moved on to cutting the outline. It took a little special sanding to get it all straight and clean, but I was happy with the shape.

Next came the carving and a bit of an issue. The plywood I used was pretty light and I had trouble seeing how deep I was carving. I started with a small pointy burr, and moved to a much larger, too large, ball carver. Later when I painted it all, everywhere I touched was obvious, and the deeper cuts were obviously too much. Next time I might prime with a neutral color before starting the projection. It will make the pencil line standout better, and make the dremel lines more obvious.

With it painted, the base red coat it might be a bit more obvious how uneven some of the carving is. The jigsaw guy mostly back sprays with black to form a border. I did that too, but the complex shape in a few spots means I will have to go back and do it again after putting all the red down.

With the base of red down, you fill in the letters with white. I went for house paint and did 3 coats. It built up more texture than I wanted, a good quality craft paint might have been better. In the end it didn’t matter that much. The biggest issues was my wobbly carve lines that were too big in places. It kept my edges from being very crisp. It is hard to paint to a clean line when the guide is over an 1/8″ wide. A weathering trick he uses sometimes is to hit the finished product with a wire brush on a drill. Genius, it looks great.

Overall I am really happy with the project, but I need to work on my dremel carving technique and hand painting. I have another sign idea in mind, so hopefully the lessons learned will be applied there. It looks great in my shop next to a metal fallout sign I got ages ago.

Fermented Hot Sauce

I learned about lacto-fermentation a month or two back and have been experimenting with it since. The principle is pretty simple. You cut up veggies of some sort, put them in a jar, cover with water, then add 2% salt by weight of the veggie and water. You can do sauerkraut and fermented hot sauces amongst other things.

My first attempt was with hot sauce. I owe most of my inspiration here from Ethan Chlebowski’s hot sauce adventures. He made 4 different hot sauces with the same ingredients, but different preparation methods. I am doing slightly different ingredients, and using fresh veggies to ferment.

I started with 3 poblanos(270g), 2 small jalapenos(40g) with some of the center removed and a number of garlic cloves(30g). Those all get rough chopped, thrown into a ball jar and covered with water. Weigh all that minus the glass jar weight and add 2% salt to the mix. I picked up lids that allow the mixture to burp the spare CO2, and prevent oxygen getting in. Also there are glass weights to keep the veggies submerged. It helps prevent mold. 9 Days later the jars were cloudy and smelled like pickly goodness.

I want this to be shelf stable if possible. The salt helps keep a lot of things from growing, and the fermentation part has created acid. If it is at or below 3 on the Ph scale, it should be shelf stable for a while. I picked up some test strips just for this, though I bet Ira and I can have a lot of fun with these in a few years. The strip looks to be 3 or less, so we are golden!

Next, you dump everything out into a blender and blitz like crazy. It whips some air in, but gets the mixture smooth. I strained it with a fine mesh strainer to get the chunkiest parts out.

This is where the most fatal flaw of my first batch came in. It is a really watery mixture at this point, and you want it to stick to your food. Xanthan gum is often used to add a little thickness. Check your favorite hot sauce, I bet it is in there. It can go wrong if you add too much though. I had about 500g of sauce, and it was suggested to use between 0.5 and 1g per 250g of hot sauce. Basically a 2-4% mixture. I did just under 2g, very hard to measure with a kitchen scale, and mixed it up in the blender. All set it went to the bottle.

The final grade is about a C-. It has a few major issues. I love garlic, but the raw garlic in this is really forward. The biggest problem is that it is too thick. Xanthan gum can make things kind of slimy if you use too much. I used way too much. The recommendation was not super helpful for some reason. It was ok at first, but after a day, it was a thick, but pour-able, slime. Time for a second version

Major lessons learned:

  • I used two pint jars, one quart would have been more efficient. Less room lost to the glass weight up top.
  • Use less garlic, it goes a long way in this sauce.
  • ~2% Xanthan gum solution is way too much. I need a new way to measure.

Round 2

Undeterred, I set off with a new batch and tried again. This time I altered the pepper mix used. 145g poblanos, 115g jalapenos, 16g garlic. Less garlic and more jalapenos. It all fit well into a quart jar with a little tamping to coax it all down. Fast forward 9 days of hard bubbling and things are looking cloudy and smell right. Same deal as last time, blend, strain, and measure. I was right at 500g again.

This time I was more careful about the Xanthan gum. I would prefer to have it too thin, than too thick. To get a finer measurement, I would have to go for volume. My scale doesn’t do fractions of a gram. Instead, I took a teaspoon of the gum powder and weighed that. It came out to just about 4 grams. I had to add a tiny amount to get the scale to click over. A 1/4 teaspoon should be a gram. I have 1/8, and 1/16 teaspoon measuring spoons. I used the 1/8 one as a safe start. I slowly sprinkled it in while the blender was on low, and it looks like that did the trick.

My newly minted Green Goblin sauce is spicy without slapping you down. You can taste the peppers and a good serving of garlic. It is a little thin, and I might try more gum next time, but this is a good spot to start. The first one foamed more because of the gum, and less this time prevented foaming. I gave away 3 bottles for people to test, and kept one for my own cooking. The green sauce is good, but I prefer red sauces mostly. I will have to track down more peppers and make something different next time.

Whole House Water Filter

My house had a water softener system when we first moved in. It was leaking and I felt like the city water we get is pretty decent, so I had it cut out when some other plumbing work was getting done. Before moving in I replaced every supply valve, toilet, and faucet in the house. Since then, I have had all the sink aerators clog, two valves foul, and a toilet get so slow it takes forever to fill. That is in less than 3 years. I need some kind of filter. Should have left the water softener in place and repaired it. Oh well, now I know. I am going with a simple whole house water filter instead.

Here is what I was left with. 3/4″ and 1″ pipe, PVC and CPVC, lots of elbows and adapters. At the time I made a cover to go over it so I wouldn’t bang anything.

I started by moving the top plank of wood up to give me a good anchor point for the filter. I used pex tubing between the wall and filter to give me something a little flexible in case things didn’t perfectly line up. The shark bite fittings are expensive, but quick to assemble and make future repair easier.

I installed the filter in location the weekend before and cut the plumbing when I had a full day to devote to it in case something went really wrong. I shut off the water and made the first incisions. I wasn’t left with much pipe coming out of the wall.

I used my oscillating multi-tool to cut the pipe as flush to the elbow as possible, and it came in handy again for opening up just a little drywall around the pipes. Turns out there is an elbow inside the wall on the right hand side. I have very little room to do anything here. Thankfully I measured and had enough sticking out to mate with my shark bite fitting. I don’t know that I can remove this fitting properly and will probably have to cut everything out of the wall if anything needs doing in the future. Then again, if this didn’t work I would be doing the cuts anyways.

The rest of the plumbing went quickly. I put everything in place, turned the water back on and checked for leaks. All good! I installed some shelves above and below the filter to keep my ladders from banging into anything important. They also give room for extra filter storage. I have a clear view of the filter whenever I walk in so I can see when it is getting full, and a mini white board to track the change date. Hopefully all my downstream plumbing is safe now.

Disk Sander Circle Jig

My Bandsaw Circle Jig actually started out as an idea for a disk sander jig I saw in one of my woodworking magazines. They used a sliding arm with a screw adjuster to fine tune the diameter of the circle. I thought this was neat and it slowly evolved into the arm I made for my bandsaw jig.

I already had an arm with T-slot track in it from the bandsaw project, so I figured that would get used in both jigs. You could cut on the bandsaw, then fine tune on the disk sander. The construction method I used before applies well here too. 3D print a runner to go in the miter slot, start with a base of 1/4″ MDF, then attach 3/4″ MDF on top to guide the sliding arm. I CA glued the runner in place with it all aligned, and then screwed it in from underneath.

I don’t have any features to keep the adjustment arm locked down because the disk sander’s movement should push the work piece into the table and keep it stable. Hopefully that theory continues to work out for me.


The new thing here is the adjuster. The wood magazine had something with a T-nut and bolt. It was fine, but I figured a printer could do better. The knobs were something I had designed earlier. Each holds a 1/4″-20 coupling nut. The adjustment screw is a bit of threaded rod with a coupling nut bonded to one side. The other was rounded via a drill and bench grinder. The knob will glue on to the nut and the rounded end will push up against a hard stop. Having it rounded should mean there is only point contact and will make for smoother more even adjustment.

The adjuster uses a bolt in the t-track of the adjustment arm to clamp itself down in the rough position. I added a block to the bottom of the jig and bonded a big fender washer down for the head of the adjustment screw to contact. It should be a very firm stop and won’t wear easily.

Putting it all together, and with a few coats of polyurethane to keep the MDF stable, I tested it with another sharpening wheel. My last one was a little small, so I made a new bigger thicker one. The only thing to note is that doing heavy sanding in one spot will load up the paper badly. Sliding down the table occasionally will help even out the wear.

Bandsaw Circle Jig

I have a router circle cutting jig from milescraft that works pretty well. It screws down a center and uses your router on an adjustable arm to make big circles. It does take a bit of setup though, and anything under about a foot in diameter is pretty awkward. There are loads of bandsaw jig ideas, so why not add mine to the pile? I think I have three things that are slightly unique in this design. Not revolutionary, but a bit different.

1. I started with a 3D printed miter slot runner. It is T shaped so once you slide it in the jig can’t come up off the table. Most folks make wood runners. Those are fine, but with printing it is a lot easier to dial in a T-slot so that the jig can’t lift. It comes with countersinks for #6 mounting screws.

2. The jig needs some kind of sliding arm to hold the piece being circle cut and set the circle radius. Dovetail slots and all sorts of things are employed. I took a T-track and glued it into a piece of 3/4″ MDF. Even 1/2″ screws would have been too long, so I just used epoxy. It holds well. A look from underneath shows that a bolt and knob let you lock down the circle radius arm in position.

3. To hold the work piece, most jigs use a small nail sticking up from the adjuster arm. You would drill a small hole in the part and pin it on the nail in the jig. Instead, I wanted a more flexible solution. I cut a 1-1/4″ hold in the end of my adjustment arm so I could put in 3D printed holders. One is 1/2″ in diameter so I can cut a MDF circle for my buffer. The other has a countersunk hole so I can screw a small #6 screw into the work piece. Optionally, there is enough space there to double sticky tape the puck down and use the center hole for alignment. I can print all sorts of posts or pins to suit my cutting needs.

To put that all together, a piece of 1/4″ MDF was CA glued to the runner (temporary) and pushed into the saw till it reached the middle of the jig. I glued a little stop in front so it would hit the bandsaw bed and stop in the same place every time. I then glued on 3/4″ MDF around the centered adjustment arm. That gave me enough material to screw on, from underneath, the glued runner. That all got pushed in again to the saw to cut through the new 3/4″ MDF.

I did some measuring, marked our the rough radius locations, and coated everything in a few coats of thinned polyurethane. It struggles a bit with anything under a few inches in radius, but a different blade would help. Up to 2 foot circles are possible. Above that and I will go to the router jig. To try it out, I made a sharpening wheel for my buffer out of 3/4″ MDF.

  1. Set the runner to the appropriate radius and lock the knob
  2. Install the square of material to be cut on the peg
  3. Push into the saw until you hit the stop
  4. Slowly rotate all the way through the circle
  5. Done!

Modular Buffer Stand

While I was building my Anvil Stand I was also building this buffer stand. I love my bench grinder stand to death, and want to have my other grinder setup as a buffer full time. I read about a chisel sharpening technique called unicorn sharpening, and it calls for a buffer. I tried it, and it worked well for me!

I made a basic box shape out of 2x8s (pricey these days) and attached them to a piece of 2×12 left over from the anvil stand as a base.

For the top I made a template out of hard board and labeled it with the orientation and hole info. Every tool base base that goes on top will have two T-Nuts embedded in them so 5/16″ bolts can come up from underneath to attach. That way you are always 2 bolts away from taking a tool off an installing a new one. I keep the template attached to the back of the stand so I can easily add new tools in the future.

Like the bench grinder stand I clad the cavity in plywood and filled it with sand. This shot is of it 2/3rd full, I had to go back to the store and get more sand because of all the filled projects I have been working on.

So I don’t have to go to the toolbox and remember which wrench is the right one every time, I made a palm wrench that fits the bolts. The bottom is rounded to make it easy to rotate in your hand for fast installing, and the outside hex shape lets you get good torque on it. A print like this can be surprisingly strong without any modifications and only 20% infill.

The buffer is all ready to go and looks great. It is weighty and stable while in use. I only have one tool attached now, but might get another grinder or buffer in the future. When I do, I’ll make another base and hang the unused tool off the side or back of the stand. Boiled linseed oil finished everything off.