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    Cutting open a log or thick board is one of the most rewarding feelings a DIYer or woodworker can experience. Who knows what the grain will look like? Who knows if you'll find a burl, a beautiful sapwood/heartwood transition, or a knot you'll be proud to feature, not hide? Beneath all that bark lies a world to be discovered, a geode of cellulose waiting to be explored.

    Right? Well...sometimes. Or, you can split something open only to find punky, foamy wood, damage from bugs, or just boring, boring grain.  

    Either way - traveling through the length of a tree is always an adventure. And no one knows that better than filmmaker and animator Brett Foxwell. Here, he's created a stop-motion journey through a branches, burls, and logs,  cutting the wood into slices, photographing them, and animating them back in mesmerizing sequence. 

    The results feel both abstract and concrete at the same time, and a certainly worth a watch. Take a look at the video below:


    WoodSwimmer from bfophoto on Vimeo.

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    Newsflash, amigos. Sometimes we mess up, and sometimes we need to say we're sorry. But if offering an apology starts with the line "I'm sorry if you," then you're not actually apologizing; you're simply expressing your own regret that you and the other party are not on the same page....namely, that they don't agree with you. In fact, we're deeming the word "if" inappropriate for apologies altogether. The other person can never be the subject of an apology.

     If you're apologizing, you're the subject not just of the opening clause, but the whole paragraph: it is you that is sorry, you who owns the responsibility for the conflict in the first place, and therefore you who needs to put things back together again. An apology is not an opportunity for you to move past the other person's offense in an argument so you can return to making your same point as before. The apology is a pivot point that changes the nature of the conversation altogether.     

    Because here's the thing: Apologizing should make you feel uncomfortable. If it doesn't, then it's missing the mark, and not doing what it's supposed to do. Real apologies require accepting that you did something wrong. And if that's not hard for you, it's probably because you don't actually mean it. When you apologize, you acknowledge that you didn't live up to the "you" you think you are; that's cognitive dissonance, and cognitive dissonance feels bad. It hurts. 

    Dr. Beth Polin, co-author of The Art of the Apologysuggests that the best apologies should contain all six of the following elements: 

    • An expression of regret — this, usually, is the actual “I’m sorry.”
    • An explanation (but, importantly, not a justification).
    • An acknowledgment of responsibility.
    • A declaration of repentance. 
    • An offer of repair.
    • A request for forgiveness.

    (Accessed via, "The Apology Critics Who Want to Teach You How to Say You’re Sorry," by Katie Heaney)

    Polin's research is focused on the efficacy of public apology, say from Lance Armstrong or Paula Deen, or more recently, United Airlines or Bill Maher. But the elements are valid, and strong, and worth keeping in mind the next time you're in the vulnerable position with someone you care about.

    Most importantly, an apology, more than nearly anything else, needs to contain the ever-referenced "I language." Do not say "mistakes were made," in the passive voice; say "I made a mistake," and specifically, "I made this mistake, and I'm going to outline exactly what happened for you so you know that I know exactly where I messed up."

    If you're not sure where to start, try “I was wrong.” It carries a lot of weight, and, frankly, it's 99% guaranteed that's what the other person is saying in their head already. And, if you're in an argument between you and someone close to you, when you're done, hug it out. Literally. Even if you don't feel like it. If they're willing (and when they're ready), grab the other person and don't let go until you both get that flood of oxytocin and are reminded why this relationship matters enough in the first place to fight about it.

    Then you can choose to grow together.









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    Field DeskI've had a generally mobile office for years. What this looks like to me is a laptop, random notebooks, and a mass of cables. While I've set up my "office for the day" in a variety of spectacular locations,  I've always lusted after the campaign desks of old, which adventurers carried along to pen notes, history changing letters, and likely stash a bit of liquid courage.     In today's world I will likely never justify carrying around a large wooden office in a box, but I can't help but love these designs that conjure up dreams of sailing, safari, and military campaign. NY Civil War Field Desk

    1. NY Civil War Field Desk -  This civil war desk has a few simple drawers, a nice writing surface, and cubbies for letters, or other small pieces. The ring handles are clean and fit flush for a tight folding fit when closed up. The worn green felt writing surface of this table is great, with a few clean touches, like the locking flush-mount latch to keep it secured out there when it's time to break camp and head back into the field. This desk was owned by Charles W. Kennedy during the civil war is can be purchased today for about $5500.Kayser Field Desk

    2.Captain John G. Kayser Field Desk - This field desk is far more primitive than the example above, mostly because of the man who bought it. This box was used by a field staff member to organize the mountain of paperwork that comes with any battle. Reinforced with metal edges, and sporting solid side handles meant this case was expected to see some abuse. While I like the robust design of the outside, I'm inclined to prefer a few more drawers to keep the contents organized in transit. The hinges also don't allow for it to be laid on a flat surface very efficiently, so crafting a flush hinge was a well thought-out upgrade for the gentleman's version. This desk is safely in the Missouri civil war museum and not for sale (for now).WWII Field desk

    3. World War II Field Desk - A much more recent desk compared to the others, this one was upgraded with more metal, lighter materials, and the simplicity that indicates many things. First, there was much less of a need for so many paper cubbies thanks to radio communication and typists, second, the fact that all equipment and supplies traveled by vehicle instead of mule-train meant a full campaign didn't have to be stuffed into the little space. This small desk was likely used by an officer to organize personal information, correspondence, and also to make a space feel a bit more familiar in a foreign land. The simple wood frame and drawers contrast nicely with the metal box design. Although it's no longer found at the auction house, it was listed for about $1500 at the time.

    While I'm not sure if a DIY version of this type is in my shop's future, I think a solid camp kitchen project may be gleaned from this type of design. Solid necessity and a need for exceptional organization seem like the perfect match for a campaign-style field box.

    Do you work out in the field? We'd love to see a picture of your "office for the day"!

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    Around here, we've moved past the short glass - the whiskey in a tumbler, the shaken 3 oz. cocktails of spring -and opting for the long and tall. With sunshine comes all-day drinks: those mixed with plenty of ice and fresh ingredients to keep you cool.

    How to make flavoured ice cubes

    Of course, it's ice that keeps 'em cool, and when your glass sits around in the heat...well, ice melts. So, this summer, make that a good thing. We're sharing our technique and recipes to allow the ice to actually contribute to the flavor of a drink or cocktail, not just its temperature or dilution. Check it out!   

    How to make flavoured ice cubes

    The Basics:

    First off, making flavored ice cubes is super easy. It's like making regular ice, but, you know, with not just water. The process is simple: flavor a liquid, and freeze it. Good to go. 

    For tools you'll need:

    • Measuring cups and/or spoons
    • Sauce pan
    • Ice cube trays (we recommend silicon trays as they are easier to handle and won't break your ice cubes to pieces). These are our favorites. 

    For ingredients:

    • Liquid (e.g. juice, water, wine)
    • Flavoring/infusing agents (spices, tea, aromatics)
    • Sweetener (agave syrup, rice syrup, honey) 

    how to make flavoured ice cubes


    The Method:

    1. Infuse: heat or boil liquid with add-ins, or let them sit together in the fridge overnight for 24 hours.

    2. Cool liquid, strain, and place in ice trays.

    3. Enjoy!

    So... easy, right? Now here are a few extra tips:

    • Ice is only good as the water it came from. Consider using filtered water, spring water, or boiled water to remove cloudiness. Don't go crazy - the 80¢ gallon jugs from the grocery store work perfectly.
    • For ice cubes you want to infuse the liquid as much as you can. The cold makes the flavors harder to detect, so if you're gonna do it, go big. 
    • Taste the liquid before freezing and make sure it's strong, and we mean STRONG. Since it's going to slowly melt you want the flavour to really come through. So don't be shy!
    • If using spirits, heat them up for to remove most of the alcohol so it can freeze. Spirits with high levels of alcohol should simmer longer. And, of course, choose something with flavor...Vodka-flavored "ice" is really only cold vodka. If you're gonna reduce the liquid, make sure there's something besides ethanol and water. 
    • Always strain your mix before freezing, as sediments could settle at the bottom of the cubes making them gritty.



    Dark Chocolate Ice Cubes

    How to make flavoured ice cubes

    These cubes are the perfect companion for a cold-brew coffee, a white russian cocktail, or even with plain cold milk! Super tasty, and all homemade.


    • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
    • 2 cups water
    • 1/4 cup agave syrup


    1. Place all ingredients in a heavy-bottom pan and whisk until combined. Bring to a simmer and remove from heat.
    2. Let mix cool completely and place in ice cube trays.
    3. Remove from trays and serve with your favorite drink (or even munch on them!)

    How to make dark chocolate flavoured ice cubes


    Cinnamon, Anise, and Cardamon Ice Cubes 

    How to make cinnamon, anise, cardamon infused ice cubesThese flavourings are perfect for straight up cocktails like an Old Fashioned, a manhattan, or even a whiskey on the rocks. You can also add them to your favourite iced tea to spice it up.


    • 2 Cinnamon sticks
    • 1 Star anise
    • 8 Cardamon pods
    • 2 cups of water
    • 3 tablespoons of agave syrup


    1. Brew all ingredients for about 5-10 minutes, until fragrant.
    2. Strain, let brew cool down, and place in ice trays. You can add a cardamon pod in each cube as garnish.
    3. When ready, remove from tray and immediately place in your drink.

    Angostura, Black Tea, and Thyme Ice Cubes

    Use in everything. 


    • 2 cups water
    • 2 black tea bags
    • 20 dashes Angostura bitters
    • 5-6 sprigs thyme, leaves picked 



    1. Heat water to a boil, turn off the heat, then add tea and bitters. Allow to cool a bit, to 150-160° or so, then add thyme leaves. Cool to room temperature. 
    2. Remove tea bags, and pour into ice trays to freeze. 


    ManMade Recommended: 



    If you're a fan of this idea, please help us out by sharing the image below on Pinterest (thanks!):

    Make flavored ice cubes



    There you have it. Let us know your ideas for flavor combos in the comments below. Enjoy!


    This ManMade post was originally published on June 17, 2o14. We're sharing it again because it's summer! 

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    created at: 05/07/2015

    There are those basic, essential tools that everyone needs to cook awesome food at home. ManMade thinks there are a solid fifteen, and we've shared them here - The Essential Kitchen: The 15 Tools Every Man Needs to Cook Like a Pro

    But then, there are those less obvious tools... The ones that make cooking a real pleasure, and allow you to turn out restaurant-quality food with the charm of homemade.   So, we've selected ten of our favorites to expand your arsenal and perfect your technique. Let's do it. 


    created at: 05/07/2015

    1. Bamboo steamer - Want to reheat food without drying it out? Steam it, man. Want to cook fresh vegetables without robbing them of their nutrients and crunch? Steam it, man. You want to... Well, you get where we're going.

    Steaming food is an essential cooking technique, and one that's not usually part of the arsenal in U.S. kitchens, which is a real shame. Perhaps it's become too associated with healthy cooking...meaning it doesn't add any flavor. But 1) that's not true, and 2) sometimes you just need to partially cook something before grilling, searing, or sautéing. And steaming kicks boilings butt.

    An Asian-style (horizontal) steamer often beats those little folding insert things, cause you can stack up the layers and cook more food with the same amount of energy. Plus, how you gonna make something like this with a little basket?

    Recommended: Norpro Deluxe 3-Piece Bamboo Steamer Set

    Of course, to use one of these, you've got to have....

    2. A Carbon Steel Flat-Bottomed Wok - Lots of cookbooks and resources will tell you that Western stoves aren't designed for woks, and that they don't get as hot , and you might as well use a 12" nonstick skillet. While the first two are true, the latter is most certainly not. A steel wok is much bigger than a standard skillet, which allows you to push up the cooked food to the cooler sides, and focus the new ingredients near the heat. Also, the size is essential. There's no way you can make fried rice for four in a non-stick skillet. 

    created at: 05/07/2015

    Plus, there's that mysterious wok hay - the flavor compounds that form when fresh ingredients hit a hot steel wok, and make a great stir fry taste like a great stir fry. They're pretty inexpensive for their versatility, and couple with a lid and bamboo steamer (see above) you can make a whole, whole bunch of dishes in a whole new way. (It's still my favorite way to pop popcorn). 

    Recommended: Joyce Chen Uncoated Carbon Steel 14-Inch Flat Bottom Wok 

    3. Large restaurant-style food storage container: These things require a bit of cabinet space, but they make themselves worth it in the first few uses. Need to brine a bunch of chickens before grilling or smoking? Cool down a batch of stock or broth right fast? Store a large amount of soup? Ferment a big batch of pickles, kimchi, or sauerkraut? 

    This is your guy. A six-quart model is a good option for general use, and will fit on the shelves of most refrigerators. You'll love it come Thanksgiving. Just made sure to get the accompanying lid. 


      created at: 05/07/2015

    4. Stone mortar and pestle - Science: food tastes better and more flavorful when the cells are crushed rather than just cut and separated.

    Answer: use a big old mortar and pestle. Garlic, spices, herbs, seasoning pastes, salsa... anytime you can. There are two styles I'd recommend: the Mexican molcajete, made of volcanic basalt, and the Thai-style krokhin (pictured), made from granite. The molcajete is designed for grinding and smashing, and the krokhin more for pounding. The latter is a bit more versatile if you're only going to own one, as the surface is smooth and little bits of spices won't get stuck in the coarser cracks. But I have, and use, both on at least a weekly basis, and won't make guacamole or a curry without them. 

    Whichever you get, get a big one. 


    5. Boning knife - You can break down meat and fish with a chef's knife or even a paring knife, but it'll be much easier with a tool designed for the job. These have flexible blades that will ease around bones and other solid bits, allowing you to get the most meat from the carcass. The blades are also slightly offset and curved to allow the most access while keeping your hand out of the way. 

    This is $20 well spent. 

    Recommended: Victorinox Cutlery 6-Inch Curved Boning Knife, Black Fibrox Handle


    6. Digital Scale - Good for baking, good for foodcrafts like canning and pickling and making beer, and many modern chef-y cookbooks list ingredients by weight. Be sure you get one with a nice broad plate, a standard and metric switch, and use it often.

    Recommended: OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale with Pull-Out Display

    created at: 05/07/2015

    7. Rice cooker - Yes, you can cook rice in a saucepan on the stove, or in the oven. No, it won't be as easy as a rice cooker. The real benefit here is: with one of these guys, you'll be willing to try to cook more Asian and Southeastern Asian dishes. With the rice aspect handled, you can focus on the other, less-familiar components and ingredients of the dish. Knowing you can pull off a perfect jasmine to accompany that Thai curry, or some Chinese long-grain to match those new pantry staples you snagged at the international market means you get to learn more about cooking, and not have to worry about not burning the side dish. And I wouldn't cook brown rice any other way. 

    Look for an Asian-style model in the four-six cup range, with both a cook and warm function.

     Recommended: Zojirushi NHS-10 6-Cup (Uncooked) Rice Cooker

    8. Cast iron grill pan + griddle: Turns your stove top into a griddle and a grill, and your grill into a stovetop (and a griddle). Not just for pancakes and bacon, this will make quick work of a batch of fajita veggies, cooking 3-4 steaks a la plancha, or to even out the heat on a charcoal grill to use a saucepan. 

    Recommended: Lodge LPGI3 Cast-Iron Reversible Grill/Griddle, 20-inch x 10.44-inch


    created at: 05/07/2015

    9. High End Instant Read Thermometer: Can I really recommend spending a hundred dollars on a thermometer? Yep, for two reasons:

    • It's really fast, and really accurate, and really well-built. That means you'll use it. 
    • It's bigger than just a tiny metal probe, which means it's easy to find. That means you'll use it.

    I've owned my fair share of digital thermometers. They'd last a year or two, and I'd use them maybe six or seven times when grilling chicken thighs and the like. Then they'd get misplaced, or break, or stop working, and I'd buy another one.

    Then, I bit the bullet and bought the (hopefully) last one I ever need. It's so fast, I'm willing to grab it to check everything from the water temp of my morning tea to my homebrew mash to the ambient temperature of my garage. And I know I've spent more than $100 total on those $30 jobs that break after a year or so. 

    I wish I'd done it years ago. I didn't buy it because I had a million needs for a high end digital thermometer; I found those needs because this thing works, and makes me a better cook.  It'll help you, too. 

    Recommended: ThermoWorks Thermapen

    10. Electric Kettle: Makes quick work of coffee, tea, and noodles. The gooseneck design is essential for pourover techniques, and helps you keep the scalding hot water where you want it to go, not on your hands. 

    Recommended: Bonavita 1.0L Electric Kettle BV3825B


    What next-level kitchen tools would you recommend? Share your picks in the comments below!


    Just starting out? Be sure to check out The Essential Kitchen: The 15 Tools Every Man Needs to Cook Like a Pro





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    These are thoughts, the artwork, the news stories, the tools, the food, the conversations, and whatever else we just can't get out of our heads this month.  


    The Song: "Another Girl, Another Planet" by The Only Ones

    This tune is forty-years old, and I've known it for at least twenty. But, my goodness, in the last two weeks I've probably listened to it seventy-five times. 

    I actually don't know why it started. I must have stumbled across something as I tripped down the internet rabbit hole, and I was reminded that I sorta knew it/sorta liked it, but had previously always thought it was a little more generic than many of its contemporaneous new wave, power pop-y songs from the likes of The Buzzcocks or The Jam or Wreckless Eric.

    But, I was wrong. This one's a true gem, and a great reminder of tight musicianship of some of this late 70s punk rock-influenced music that we think of as scrappy, messy, and snotty. I spent at least an hour last week on my birthday drinking a beer trying to nail that intro riff and the guitar solo that happens around 1:45. I got 90% of the way. 

    The song is almost certainly about heroin. Lyrics like "you get under my skin" and "space travels in my blood" and "I won't need rehabilitating," make it pretty obvious. Perhaps knowing that makes the experience richer, but, like Lou Reed's "Perfect Day," I think it still works as a particularly nice love song rather than an ode to the morphine molecule. 

    And, damn, is it catchy. 


    The Make-Yourself-Feel-Better Aid: The Tiger Tail Massage Stick - $29.95

    My preferred form of exercise, other than an epic weekend hike in the mountains, is to ride 40-70 (or 100, when I can carve out the time) miles on a road bike. And, as I'm getting a little older, I'm finding it a bit harder to recover from sitting on an unforgiving carbon fiber frame and a tiny little seat for a hours at a time. Particularly, as last season started to slow in October and November, I found myself starting to become quite stiff off the bike: my hamstrings, my calves, and the bottoms of my feet. Over the winter, it never really went away, and continued to get worse this spring. Not a deal breaker, but certainly slowed me down in everything from waking up to walking to the mailbox.

    I tried stretching, a large foam roller, learning some yoga poses, and standing on and rubbing my legs against tennis balls. And then I stumbled across a Tiger Tail in the REI impulse buy section, and...for some reason, it just spoke to me. I asked the guy if I could return it, and he said "It's REI. You can return anything." So, I took it home.

    And literally, after one eight-minute session of lying on my back and working this thing hard on myself, all that drama and soreness I'd been dealing with for half a year just went away. I'm totally sold.

    I actually keep going back to it and thinking I need to use it daily to care for it, but I find I'm still loose. Five minutes, two-three times a week, and my legs and feet feel ten years younger. It's fantastic. 


    The TV Show: "Better Call Saul"

    I know I'm not the first person to say this, but I suspect this one will end up being better than "Breaking Bad" Probably my favorite show on TV right now.

    Als0 - shoutouts to both "Big Little Lies" and "The Handmaid's Tale," which both having perfected the mini-series format. (Though I just learned there will apparently be a second season of Handmaid's. I'm glad I didn't know until I finished it.)


    The "Treat": Sparkling Water

    I know it's silly, but I literally look forward to that time of day when I get to drink club soda. When you work from home, it's important to have a way to transition out of the work day and into the rest of the evening without changing locations. 

    I could do that with a beer, but some cold water with bubbles in it works almost as well, without any calories or fuzziness in the brain. I've stopped drinking sugar-y sodas altogether (save for a rare Mexican Coke with some tacos), and I've realized that what I liked about soft drinks in the first place wasn't the sugar, but the fizziness. And now that it's hot out, nothing cools me down as well.

    I know all the cool Instagram kids are into flavored La Croix, but for me, just regular water+CO2 seltzer works just fine. I'm already getting excited for 5:30. 


    The Idea That: The MP3 is Officially Dead

    According to its creators, the format that revolutionized music during our lifetime is over. According to this piece on NPR, 

    The Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits, a division of the state-funded German research institution that bankrolled the MP3's development in the late '80s, recently announced that its "licensing program for certain MP3 related patents and software of Technicolor and Fraunhofer IIS has been terminated." Bernhard Grill, director of that Fraunhofer division and one of the principals in the development of the MP3, told NPR over email that another audio format, AAC — or "Advanced Audio Coding," which his organization also helped create — is now the "de facto standard for music download and videos on mobile phones." He said AAC is "more efficient than MP3 and offers a lot more functionality."

     I suspect we'll continue to call an audio file that lives on our computer an MP3 regardless of its format, at least for a while. It just makes more sense than saying "I have that song as a download." 


    The Book: "Here I Am" by Jonathan Safran Foer

    This came out in the fall, and I received as a Christmas gift, but just recently got around to reading it. It's one of those books where I actually don't resonate with any of the characters on a personal level, and that possibly makes it better:but I'm so utterly compelled and drawn-in by the craft of the writing that I'm completely hooked. 

    I actually haven't even finished this year (currently about 70%) of the way through, but I find myself wanting to get up earlier so I have time to read it before I have to get started working. However it ends up, I won't forget having spent time with it. 


    The Flashback: A Man Chats with His Parents About the "Parental Advisory: Explicit Content Label

    I'm sure everyone of us who came of age in the 90s has a memory just like this one. For me, it was a comedy record by Dennis Leary and some Jay and Silent Bob comic books. But I loved the idea of Rick Paulas revisiting their household experience around the Nine Inch Nails album "The Downward Spiral" (I had this album too, but I recall it coming as an actual sticker attached to a cardboard sleeve rather than being printed on the CD booklet itself. Rick must have not been so lucky, because, c'mon - like the rest of us reasonable twelve-year-olds, he would have removed it.)

    Mostly, it's a thoughtful testament about  how differently parents and their children relate when 13 and then at 33. I never actually liked that NIN album when I was younger - though I certainly pretended to and soaked up all the 90s adolescent social cache that came along with having it. I have very distinct memories of recording it to cassette so I could listen to it  on Walkman in the summer of 1995 while mowing my neighbors lawn for $8 as I saved up for my first electric guitar. I'm going to track it down and listen as I cut my own grass. Because even though I can now buy whatever I want and have a lawn to call my own, I still feel as excited about summer (and perhaps about buying a new electric guitar) as that 13-year-old kid.


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    created at: 09/10/2015

    This is my kind of woodworking project. It solves a practical problem (it's a monitor stand and desk storage unit), and it's built with solid technique and classic materials, treated minimally to show off their natural beauty.   

    created at: 09/10/2015

    My pal Evan from Mr. Lentz came up with this solution to elevate his sweetheart's computer monitor and provide some desktop storage and lots of style. It uses rabbet joints on the top and base, which add strength to the construction under the weight of the monitor. A sliding drawer and leather pull adds a spot for goodies.

    Here, Evan uses a router and fence system to cut a mortise for the drawer bottom and sides. If you want a simpler version, you can build a simple drawer box using the same rabbet joints, and just add the drawer face to the front. 

    created at: 09/10/2015

    Check out the full build process filled with lots of great photos at Mr. Lentz (and be sure to visit the store while you're there): How to Make a Small Drawer


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    In wintertime, I'll gladly take a complicated cocktail. Something made with rich spirits, amber brown from barrel aging, made more tasty with fortified syrups, flavorful modifiers, and just-so preparation. These drinks are imbibe-abble equivalent of a long simmered soup or stew, designed to make you feel warm inside when the weather is not.

    But summer is a whole different beast. It's already warm — too warm — and your drink's job is to cool you down while keeping everything easygoing. You need something that works while standing next to the grill, or for sipping on the deck with your feet up.

    Enter the vodka soda. It's deceptively simple, and done well, incredibly satisfying. It contains no sugar and no brown or aged spirits (and therefore no impurities), so, if you drink wisely, it's headache and hangover-free. And as long as you keep the proper ingredients on hand (and ready to go), it'll come together in under 30 seconds.

    Here's how to do it right.    



    1. The glass. No reason for anything other than a standard 8 oz. rocks glass. Don't try to make these "tall" on a hot day; that's too much ice and diltution. If you can't taste the vodka at all, you'll likely start gulping, and drink it like water. Keep a separate glass around for hydration. 


    2. The ice. Add as much as your glass can possibly fit. The whole point of a vodka soda is to be crisp and refreshing. Keeping it as chilled as you can allows your cocktail to remain in that cold, fizzy state as long as possible. 


    3. The vodka. Remember: you're not mixing this with anything that will add actual flavor; what you'll be tasting is the product itself.  So use a vodka you actually like, and perhaps this is a chance to spring for the $17 bottle over the $11 one. 

    Whatever you do, when it comes to mixing with soda, keep the vodka in the freezer. I used to be against this method, claiming that stirring or shaking room temperature spirits with ice was essential for a proper dilution rate, but the truth is: I don't mix vodka in any real cocktails. If I want a martini, I'm using gin. If you have other plans for your bottle that might require more chemistry, just pour a bit in a mason jar and keep that bit in the freezer.

    The point here is: cold. 


    4. The soda: Same rule as the vodka - you want it as chilled as possible. Unlike alcohol, the water will actually freeze,  so you'll want to store these in the fridge. Cold water actually holds carbonation better, so the cooler you can get it, the more effervescent your drink will remain throughout the sipping process. 


    5. The garnish: Totally optional. Use what you can find: a lime, a lemon, a grape, whatever's around. (Don't use a grape.) If you're looking for a bit more flavor, toss in a dash or two of lemon or orange bitters. This might technically make it something other than a vodka soda, but you DGAF. It's summer. 


    That's it. Assemble in that order: grab a glass — fill with ice — add 1.5 oz of chilled vodka — fill to the top with chilled club soda — add garnish if desired. Sip and enjoy, outside whenever possible. 

    Have a great weekend.



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    The solar calendar has finally acknowledged what we've all know for a few weeks: it's summer. And with that most blessed of seasons comes the opportunity to get out of town and see the world in all its sun-soaked splendor.

    The trick for making all this happen as easily and frequently as possible. Pack lightly, my brothers and sisters.     Or, at least - pack efficiently, so you can have everything you need, plus some backups, in the smallest, easiest-to-move container possible.

    Perhaps no one knows how to best fit a whole slog of gear and clothing into a tiny bag than service women and men whose job requires them to be ready at a moment's notice, and as streamlined as possible.

    Recently, Thrillist interviewed a group of military professionals for their take on packing as efficiently as possible. They say, 

    But you know who are taught to pack, and who treat it like a high art? Marines, soldiers, airmen, and sailors, that’s who. US military servicemembers can probably shoot better than you, stand at attention longer, and almost assuredly pack a tighter, smaller, better-balanced suitcase or backpack than anyone else in your boarding zone. So we’ve interviewed a bunch of them to compile their best packing tips and tricks -- none of which involve sitting on your bag until it barely zips. 

    We're totally in. Check out their tips, and use as frequently as you can all summer long. How to Pack a Suitcase (Army Backpack Packing Tips)



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    Editor's Note: This project is an excerpt from the new bookThe Art and Craft of Wood: A Practical Guide to Harvesting, Choosing, Reclaiming, Preparing, Crafting, and Building with Raw Wood by Silas J Kyler and David Hildren. The book is available now at your favorite local bookstore, Powell's, or Amazon. Thanks to Quarry Books for sharing this project with us. 

    Building furniture is what first drew me to woodworking. The first coffee table I ever made was for my mom. It was a surprise gift, and I worked tirelessly, hour upon hour, to create something I was proud of. I remember the unveiling well, and the joy it gave her was well worth all the hard work.

    The projects to this point have been small and technically much easier than building a piece of fine furniture. Going from making a serving tray or lamp to a coffee table may feel like a big step, and in many ways it is, but practicing with small projects gives you all the skills you need to approach a simple piece of furniture. Remember: with a good dose of patience, you will be well on your way to creating beautiful furniture.

    I had a particular set of mesquite slabs in mind when envisioning this coffee table. The tree came from my neighbor’s front yard. When it was removed, they simply asked the crew to leave the trunk behind for me to gather. As I was giving this tree a new life, I could step outside my shop, look across the alley, and see where it lived and died. I could also see where the logs sat and seasoned for two years, driving my wife crazy.     


    Tools and Materials

    • 4 or 5 seasoned wood slabs, approximately 18" wide, 48" long, and 1 1/2 to 2" (4 to 5 cm) thick (MM note: you could also buy less wide boards from a lumber yard, and glue up the pieces as necessary)
    • Wood glue
    • Sandpaper (80, 120, and 220)
    • Finish (tung oil, polyurethane, or similar)
    • Router and router table
    • Flat bottom router bit
    • Flattening jig for router
    • Thickness planer
    • Miter saw
    • Circular saw with straightedge
    • Fine-tooth pull saw
    • Chisels
    • Hand drill
    • Clamps
    • Handheld belt sander
    • Random orbit sander


    Step 1: Make a plan

    Having a plan when building a piece of furniture is essential. The plan for this mid-century influenced coffee table is fairly basic: a top, four legs, and a shelf. The curveball here is that the legs are set at an angle rather than being straight up and down. It’s easy to come up with a concept in your head, but the details of each joint, the angle you need to cut each piece, and a multitude of other details are precisely why it’s so important to have plans. Once the plans have been created, keep them handy in the shop and refer to them frequently. This isn’t to say that I always adhere strictly to the plan. As the build progresses, you may need to adapt due to material constraints or unforeseen issues. Make simple notes on the design of any changes as you go and move along. Our plans were for a table 24 inches (61 cm) wide, 42 inches (106.5 cm) long, and 18 inches (45.5 cm) high.


    Step 2: Prepare the raw wood

    The steps to preparing your raw wood are no different than for smaller projects, just larger. The slabs you’ll be working with need to be relatively flat. Flattening multiple larger pieces of raw wood by hand will have you questioning our choice in hobbies. Use this trick for flattening slabs. Create a sled for your plunge router that rests upon flat boards on both sides of the slab. The result is a track of sorts that allows your router, equipped with a wide, flat bottomed bit, to glide back and forth across the slab as you push the sled from one end to the other. Perpendicular side guides keep the router under control as you make pass after pass. Depending on the amount of warping present, you may have to do two passes: one for the highest spots and another to equalize the whole surface. Remember that multiple passes removing smaller amounts of material are better than single deep passes. 


    Once one side is flat, flip the slab over and repeat on the other side. Make sure that when you set your slab in place, you average out any twists by shimming opposite corners equal amounts, minimizing the material you need to remove. If your planer is large enough, trim the slabs and send them through the thickness planer, using the side you just flattened as your flat-reference. Remember, you have to have one side flat for a thickness planer to get a
    board square.


    Step 3: Cut rough pieces

    Choose the two best pieces for the tabletop and the rest for the base. The pieces that make up the base will need to have some structural strength, so cut around major defects. Use a paper template to mark each leg and avoid those problem areas. Use a circular saw with a straight edge to make these straight cuts that aren’t parallel to the edge of the board. A bandsaw could be used here, but the cut will need more sanding later on to smooth all the
    saw marks.

    These book-matched slabs will eventually be joined together and become the tabletop.


    The pieces making up the legs and base of the table have very specific angles that they need cut at so everything fits together nicely at the end. Use a miter saw for this, carefully reviewing every cut with your plans. This table has legs that splay out in both directions: 9.5 degrees toward the end and 6.5 degrees to the side. The top of the legs are cut at a 35.5 degree angle and 45 degrees on the upper support.

    A paper template being used to lay out tapered leg. 


    When rough trimming the slabs for the top, leave plenty of extra space to allow for some flexibility later when
    it is time finish the table. It’s best to leave those decisions till later, after you can see the table coming together and visualize the proportions of the top next to the base.


    Step 4: Joinery

    In this table, the cross supports on either end have traditional mortise and tenons. The mortise is a hollow, and the tenon is a matching protrusion which, when fit together, form a strong joint—even without gluing . When fit together, they form a very strong joint, even without gluing. Where the legs meet the long upper supports, an interlocking miter joint is used.


    Because the miter joint isn’t always very strong, and in this case is such a critical structural point in the table, some large screws add an extra layer of strength. When reinforcing with screws, drill a larger relief hole to hide the head of the screw. This is what’s known as countersinking.


    Make the mortise and tenons with a router and a straight cut bit. Use the plunge router to create the hollow for the mortise and the router on a table to cut the tenons. Traditionally, this joint has square edges, but since the router naturally creates a hole with rounded corners, it can be easier to round the tenons than to square the mortises. You can use a handsaw and chisel to create this joint if you don’t have a router.


    The legs of this table are angled out slightly not only toward the end of the table but also toward the side, which creates compound miters. Every time a joint is cut, careful attention needs to be given to cut at the appropriate angle. Thankfully, a miter saw makes this much more practical than if cutting by hand.


    The cross support is clamped in place below the jig, with the router running above it. The result is a recess that allows the shelf pieces to rest parallel with the ground. 


    The other major joint in this table is where the shelf pieces meet the cross support. The inside edge of each cross support has a supporting ledge so the shelf pieces can rest flush with the support. Later, these will be glued and pinned into place with dowels drilled in from the bottom. This will provide decent lateral support, which is the structural function of the shelf. Having a long support piece running the length of the table midway down the legs keeps everything more stable when kids are pushing on it, adults are sitting on it, and during all manner of abuse that a coffee table receives.


    Silas ponders how to glue up the table base


    Step 5: Dry fit

    Before permanently gluing anything, make sure you do a dry fit, piecing everything together without adhesive. This dry fit will tell you if you’ve made any inadvertent errors or if you need to fine tune any of your joints. Plus, it’s just great to be able to see the progress you’ve made. Identify each piece with a light pencil mark, to keep track of where each goes and to make sure you don’t make some irreversible error later.

    A very important part of the rough fit is to plan for how you will clamp the pieces up when gluing. It’s a bad idea to start gluing without having any notion of where to place your clamps. Time suddenly moves faster when you start gluing, and before you know it, you’ll have spent all your time fiddling with clamps and your glue will be set before everything is put together.


    Step 6: Join the tabletop pieces

    Make sure the two pieces have straight and square edges so the joint will be nice and tight. Use a biscuit joiner to give some extra strength and to keep the two pieces aligned when clamping together. Or cut a channel down the center of both slabs using a router bit and cut splines to fit as shown here. Make sure that you don’t cut the groove anywhere near the end of the slabs, especially if you plan on trimming more later, or else you could end up with a hole in the end of your tabletop.

    Make some marks where the two pieces should meet or find a landmark to serve as your matching point and apply your glue. Remember to alternate clamps up and down to evenly distribute the clamp’s force and to keep everything nice and flat.


    Step 7: Fill Voids

    This step will only be necessary if your wood has voids. Mesquite is full of odd holes, dark cracks, and other anomalies, so there are plenty of places that need filling on the table top. For the base, there should not be anything to fill since defects were avoided for structural integrity. The epoxy is tinted here to match the look of the wood.


    The form, which is coated with a release agent, intended to hold the epoxy is taped into place. Add modeling clay around the edges to make the crack watertight.


    Pouring epoxy into the bottom of the slab



    The result of all the  hardwork on the base joinery. These pieces are ready to be glued together. 

    Step 8: Initial Sanding

    Sanding before you glue the base together will greatly improve the aesthetic quality of your final furniture. The idea is to take individual pieces and sand them before the final project has been assembled, reducing the number of hidden and impossible to reach places you’ll have to sand. There’s no way you can sand little nooks and crannies well, and more often than not, you’ll end up scratching the surface of an adjacent piece. Since the miter joints between the legs and top supports are supposed to be flush, I treated those assemblies as a single piece and sanded after they were glued up. At the end of the initial sanding, you should have a nice tidy group of components, ready
    for assembly.


    Rough sanding a completed leg piece. After sanding, any irregularities in the joint are sanded flush for a clean miter joint. All the reinforcements will be hidden in the final table.


    Step 9: Glue and Assemble

    Drill countersunk screw holes from the top of the cross supports into the legs. Apply glue to the miter joints of the legs and screw together.

    Use a small brush to apply glue to the inside of the mortises and the surfaces of the tenons. Assemble the legs and crosspieces and clamp in place. Use scrap wood to protect the legs from clamp indentations.


    Drilling the hole for a dowel which will secure the shelf piece in place


    The last piece to glue involves a dowel joint, securing the shelf slats to the cross-supports. Drill the dowel joints last because things have shifted a small amount from the dry fit, and even a miniscule change makes it next to impossible to drive that dowel into place. Drill the dowel holes from the underside of the crosspiece into the shelf slats. Mark the drill bit for the correct depth so you do not drill through the shelf. Apply glue to the dowels and assemble.


    Step 10: Final sanding

    After all the epoxy has cured on the tabletop, the final sanding step begins. Touch up any spots that need attention on the base, and if you hadn’t already in the first sanding step, round the corners over a bit. Sand the table top, beginning with a handheld belt sander to remove material quickly. Once the rougher sanding has been done, any final trimming necessary can be done on the tabletop followed by the fine sanding with the orbital sander.

    Sanding a table top is a time-consuming task, but as tedious as sanding is, the time and attention in this step will make itself apparent in the finished piece.


    Step 11: Finish Base and Top

    Before connecting the tabletop to the base, apply the finish. To bring out the contrast in the wood, two coats of dewaxed shellac were applied before finishing with a polyurethane on the table top to protect against moisture. Polyurethane is more resilient than oil, so for table tops, it is a good choice.


    Step 12: Attach Table Top to Base

    Last, but not least, attach the table top to the base using screws: one screw on each corner of the base. To allow for expansion and contraction that naturally occurs with every piece of wood, drill the holes in the base larger than the width of the screw. This will allow you to tighten the top down while allowing the small amount of side-to-side movement. It shouldn’t be able to be easily shifted side to side by pushing on it, but the massive amount of force behind wood movement will easily shift the screws when it’s needed.

    Drill the holes in the base and then set the base upside down on the bottom of the tabletop, position in the proper place, and mark and drill pilot holes for each screw. Pilot holes should be smaller than the screw by a small margin, allowing the threads to dig into solid wood.


    Step 13: Put your feet up on a fine piece of furniture

    Upon completion of your first piece of fine furniture, you will probably feel a unique mixture of relief and gratification. If you made any mistakes along the way (and let’s be honest—you did), you will always remember where they are, but at the same time feel a sense of pride for the work you did and for what it became. No one else will notice the mistakes, or if they do, they will be too polite to tell you. Doubtless, in a few days, you will start to feel the need to begin a new piece of furniture, so in the meantime, sit back and kick your feet up on your awesome new coffee table.


    Thanks to Silas and David for sharing this awesome DIY mid-century coffee table with us, and to Quarry Books for connecting us. Pick up your copy of The Art and Craft of Wood today. 

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    created at: 05/07/2014

    Starting a fire is an essential life skill, for sure, and most of us have our preferred technique: the lean-to, the tepee, the log cabin. But, even though most fires aren't started in emergency, or even in one-match situations, that's part of the fun. Once you've learned how to do it without turning a gas knob or lighting one of those Duralast logs, lighting a fire with one match (or spark from a starter) becomes part of the game, even if you have a whole box at your side.    

    This video from Backpacker magazine has the most thorough explanation I can find, so I'll let them do the talking. 

    As expected, success lies in the prep work. Here's to a whole new season of campfires, friends. 

    Top photo: Steven Leonti cc 2.0



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    Apron No. 2 in Chambray

    Men wearing aprons seem to be more of a novelty than a practical household item. In popular culture the apron on men seems to only show up on tacky backyard cooks (think Kiss the Cook) and wisecracking chefs and their hyperbolic reality shows, or the hapless dad in the movies putting on a pink ruffled thing when he's stuck with the kids. But it's time to ignore all of those stereotypes and get yourself an apron. Here are a few reasons you need to consider one for yourself. 

    Aprons keep your hands dirty but your clothes clean.
    It’s certainly much easier to go straight from work to your workshop without having to stop and change out of your office clothes and into that old t-shirt when you can just throw on an apron.

    Aprons have valuable hand-wiping real estate.
    No more accidentally wiping your hands on your jeans! Aprons give you one less reason to have to wash your raw denim.

    Aprons protect your body.
    A well-made apron can keep flying hot liquids, shards of glass, paint splatter, saw dust, and more from damaging your clothing or your body.

    Aprons make you look like a pro.
    There’s a reason everyone from baristas to welders don these fabric shields. Serious working professionals wear aprons, and so should you. Get an apron and be prepared for your neighbors to ask you for advice on how to rebuild their transmission.

    Aprons help you hold your tools.
    The integrated pockets helps keep your often used tools at hand: a pencil, a pair of tongs, a tape measure, shears, etc. Many aprons are designed for particular kinds of tasks and will feature appropriately sized pockets for common tools and equipment. 


     American Native's Selvedge Denim & Leather Apron

    There are a few things to consider when looking for an apron:

    You want a durable fabric like denim or duck canvas with thick straps around the neck and waist. Leather or synthetic materials are great options if you’re interested in welding, crafts that involve caustic chemicals, or other things that may harm your skin. If it's just about the way it looks for you, which is ok too, check out these denim and leather ones from American Native.

    Pockets keep commonly used items within reach. Look for one with a pencil holder like these from LC King in Tennessee. Some aprons are so decked out they practically have tool belts built right in, like this one from Duluth Trading.

    Consider the work you love to do and how it relates to the length of the apron. If you love to paint, you may want a longer apron to keep things off of your pants. If you are a woodworker you may want something that rests at your knees so you can stay mobile.

    Whether you’re new to the DIY thing or you’ve been an amateur crafter for some time, you need to stop getting crap on your good clothing and get yourself apron. Your clothing budget will thank you.

    ManMade Recommended: 


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    In my neighborhood, we have an excellent urban bike trail that runs along the a fairly large river that divides my city in half. Often, while cycling, I'll see folks, mostly elderly men, pop out onto the trail with their large canoes and kayaks.

    "How fun," I always think, but there's no liveries or rentable canoe places until you drive an hour or so out of the city. Of course, I wouldn't need to rent one if I could get my hands on a piece of softwood plywood and a saw.

    Which I can.


      It's modeled after a South American dugout pipante, and, thankfully, Hannu has done all the math and measuring and good boat physics, and offers free building plans and a step-by-step how-to.


    The Dug: 18 Foot One Sheet Canoe

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    Proper and accurate measuring and layout are key to a great looking project. When you're dealing in whole numbers, that's easy enough. But the smaller you divide those inches or millimeters, math becomes more complicated, and the likelihood of making a mistake increases. While we can't always avoid finding common denominators and doing sophisticated shop calculations, when you're trying to lay out evenly spaced marks, you actually don't need math at all.      

    Let's say you're drilling a row of twelve evenly spaced holes. You want those 1 1/8" apart from each other. Of course, counting in your head works for a simple number like 1/8", but can become difficult when those holes become 11/16" or 25/32" apart.  You could grab a tape measure and start working your way up: 1 1/8", 2 1/4", 3 3/8, but by the time you're on the tenth or eleventh one, things get a little murky. 

    So, don't use math. Use your eyes instead, and two rulers, instead. 


    Begin by drawing a long line to determine your placement along the wood's length or width. 


    Then, grab a ruler that's the larger than your dimension. A 6" steel rule is nice, but you could use the blade from your 12" combo square, or a 2' aluminum ruler for particularly large projects. Mark your spacing right on the ruler with a fine pencil, highlighting the gradient mark and making it easy to distinguish.


    Then, place your ruler on your baseline and transfer your mark to the work piece. Be sure you use the original machined line, not your pencil highlight, for the most accuracy.  


    Then, move the ruler down the line and repeat the process until you're done. This row of twelve marks took me less than ten seconds to complete, and I barely had to use my brain. 


    When you're done, just wipe the graphite off with your thumb or a rag. It's ready for next time. 


    Math is great. But sometimes, it just makes things more complicated than they need to be. Keep the head scratching to a minimum whenever you can.


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    I wasn't always a bedmaker. It wasn't until I was living in the dorms in college, and my bed also had to serve as the sofa, chair, desk, laundry-folding area, and dining table that I got in the habit of the daily bedclothes readjusting. And my bed needs it, cause I sleep like a freaking tornado and things end up in impossible places.

    It's a habit I'm glad I've held onto. Research shows that people who make their bed are actually happier. And because my bed isn't fussy, it only takes me about twenty seconds to put it back together, and it really does affect the entire day, especially because I work from home and see it all day long.

    GQ has a great short piece about making the bed in only thirty seconds. You have an extra thirty seconds to make the bed. Go learn the technique, and master it daily. Your life will improve, as weird as that sounds. Truth. Do it.

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    Mounting odd-shaped posters on plywood

    In my hometown there's a poster shop that makes letterpress posters for every band that plays at The Ryman Auditorium. The fun part is you never know what size the poster will be and you can count on the size being something that could only be framed in a custom size.     Custom framing is expensive! Here's a simple way to mount gig posters or any oddly-sized art you might want to hang. 

    What You'll need:

    • A poster (read on to see what kind you can actually use)
    • A container of Mod Podge (matte finish)
    • Paint Brush
    • Craft Paper
    • Ink Roller (like what you'd use for block printing)
    • 1/2 sheet of birch plywood cut to the dimensions of your poster
    • Frame mounting hardware

    Before you begin, it's very important that your poster is able to withstand water-based Mod Podge. The poster I'm using is about 100# (thick) paper and the ink is an oil-based ink that will not bleed when wet. If your piece is acrylic, water-based or washable you need to research methods for applying a polyurethane glaze.

    Before you begin gluing, measure and cut some birch ply to the exact size of your poster. I used the high-end birch because the edging of the board is more consistent and clean, whereas cheaper ply can have dark gaps and cracks that won't look as nice around the edges.

    Mount an odd-sized poster on plywood


    First, I put down some craft paper to keep my workspace clean. Then, I applied Mod Podge to the back of the poster. This will wet the poster and keep it from bubbling up when you place it on top of the plywood. Work quickly, this stuff dries fast.

    Mount an odd-shaped poster to plywood

    Quickly pour some Mod Podge on the face of your plywood and spread it evenly. 

    Mound an odd-shaped poster to plywood

    Place the poster onto the plywood surface. If you put enough Mod Podge, you will be able to shift and slide it around to line up with the edges of the poster. 

    Mount an odd-shaped poster to Plywood

    Next, smooth out the poster and get as many bubbles out as you can. I used an ink roller to smooth everything down. Any kind of roller would work just fine.

    Mound an odd-shaped poster to plywood

    Now, cover the top of the poster with a liberal amount of Mod Podge. You'll likely have to use your finger to smooth out some of the edges where the paper bubbles up, just hold it down for a few seconds to let the paper soak in the glue.

    When everything is covered, go back over with your brush and make uniform vertical strokes. Allow everything to dry for about an hour. You can add more coats and sand to a smooth finish if you'd like. I personally love the textured look after it dries.

    After everything dries, add some mounting hardware like hooks and wire or route a keyhole in the back. 

    Mound an odd-shaped poster to plywood

    And you're golden! I really love the modern look of the plywood edge and how it offsets from the wall like a decent frame does. Sure beats the college days with thumb tacks! 

    Mound an odd-shaped poster to plywood


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    Okay, friends. This is one of my all-time favorite DIY hacks. I learned it more than fifteen years ago from a book I got from the library, and committed it to memory. I only need it about once or twice a year, but it works every. single. time. I'm always super grateful to have it on hand, and so today, I'm sharing so you too can stop busting your hand and banging your knuckles every time you need to install a hook somewhere.    

    The trick with inserting large hardware like this is, you need quite a bit of rotational force, or torque. Your arms and pliers might work with smaller hardware in extremely soft wood, but otherwise, most of us can't just spin one of these in.

    Most hardware has a drive-able head, like a bolt or a screw, and we've developed tools to apply torque to them: a wrench, a socket, a screwdriver, a drill, etc And while there may be a tool out there called a hook driver, I don't have one. And, to be honest, with this hack, I don't need one. So here's how to install a hook screw or screw eye, or even an eye bolt: use them against each other. 


    First, determine your desired location, and if you can, drill an appropriately sized pilot hole. This isn't always necessary, but it makes your work way, way easier. In this case, I'm in my garage working in 90-year-old vertical grain fir, which after the years, is so dry and so hard, it's nearly impossible to get into. 


    Then, chuck the opposite hardware into your drill. If you're installing a hook eye, use a screw hook; if you're inserting a hook, use an eye. 


    Insert the hardware into the pilot hole and spin it a few times until the threads start to catch.


    Then, just interconnect the hardware, and pull the trigger slowly until they get in sync. 


    Then, just keep going at the mininum amount of speed it takes to sink it home. (Going slow will reduce the likelihood that you'll bend the metal.)


    And, done. Onto the next one. 


    Do you have any favorite DIY hacks like this one? Please share in the comments below. 


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    When I finished my basement workshop makeover earlier this year, I couldn't have been more excited, or proud, about how far it'd had come. What was once two dark, dingy rooms full of plumbing pipes, exposed studs, and our family's household junk, was now a bright, clean, inspiring single workspace full of tools and materials. But to get it to that condition was a ton of work, and the truth is, my house still hasn't totally recovered. Examples include, but not limited to, the plywood sheets stored in the guest bathroom, the dust collector in the hallway, and the piles of clamps in our home office.

    Oh, those clamps. They've been all over the lower level of our house for nearly six months. I used them for projects, of course, but mostly, they just stood against the wall or inefficiently piled on the floor, falling down every so often, scraping the paint as they went and startling all of us in the process.    

    I'd had enough. It was time to stop dreaming about what my shop was going to be and time to start making it a functional workspace. First up, a DIY parallel jaw clamp rack. 



    I built my rack out of 3/4" Baltic birch plywood. Plywood is important here since the plys alternate grain direction, making it strong in across both its length and width. When coming up with the size, I worried less about overall length and more about how to organize the parallel clamps as efficiently as possible, which meant determining the spacing between the clamps. 


    So, after some test cuts, I came up with this design. There's a 1" buffer on the end (which represents half a clamp head) and then a slot for the steel bar. The bars on my Bessey clamps are 3/8" thick, so I made this slot 7/16" wide to include a little wiggle room. Then, there's 2 3/16" space between the center points of these slots. That makes the tongues in between the slots about 1 3/4". If you design your own, it's less important to figure out how much wood will be in between your slots (the 1 3/4") and more about how the center of your slots will get spaced out. Although it might sound complicated to explain, it makes the lay out of your project much, much easier.

    One other essential for the clamp rack: a solid shelf on top to store my clamp pads, cauls, and accessories. 

    Building the Slotted Rack

    I cut the rack shelf at a 4" long. At this point, my plywood was still 36" wide; I'll trim to to size once all the slots are in. I drew a baseline 1 3/4" from the edge (to leave room for the upcoming dado and the space behind the bar on the clamp jaws), and then made sixteen marks (one for each clamp) 2 3/16" apart. I used this trick to simplify layout. 

    Then, I used a 7/16" drill bit and drilled out each hole. 


    Next, I extended the sides of the whole down to the front edge of the rack shelf...

    ... and completed the slots with the band saw and jig saw. 

    Once the last slot was complete, I added 1" and then cut my shelf to final length, 35 1/8".


    Finishing the Shelf

    I cut the back to be 5 x 35". Because I was crosscutting the plywood, I scored my line first with a craft knife to prevent tearout.


    I then cut a 3/4" wide dado, 3/8" deep to help support the shelf. I have no idea if this was really necessary, but it only took me 5 minutes and provides extra insurance. Rather than loading up a dado blade, I simply established the outsides of the cut, then took repeated passes to clear out the waste.

    To provide extra support for all the weight of the clamps, I cut an extra 1 1/4" plywood strip to sit under the shelf. 

    I spread my glue then clamped the whole thing together. After the glue set up, I drove in lots of screws from behind, making sure to place them so they didn't poke through the slots.

    Then I cut a top shelf and the sides out of the remaining scrap. I simply tacked the top on, and then traced the outline onto the sides. Then I turned them into curves and cut them out at the bandsaw. 


    Lastly, I reinforced all the butt joints with countersunk screws...


    ... and then secured the rack into the studs with 3 1/2" long screws, two in each stud. 



    I placed my clamps in the slots, and added the accessories. 


    You'll see that I sized my rack so that the shelf sits in between the jaws of the clamps. I did that intentionally. One, I like the neat, arranged look, and two, I want the clamps to be secured into this fixture. This sits at the end of my workbench, and I'm regularly moving around them. In case I bump into them, I don't want them to fall out and hit me. This only takes a second or two more to insert them; worth it to me. If I'm the middle of a project and don't want to clamp and unclamp them, they still hang by their heads with the jaw/handle assembly anywhere along their length. 

    If you'd like, you can simply size the back and sides so that both clamp jaws sit above the shelf. 

    If you're still building your collection, makes sure you add a few extra slots for future clamps. For me, eight 24" and eight 50" clamps are more than enough for the one-off work that I do, and I hope to never have to spend money on long bar clamps again. 


    Next week, I'll share the rest of my clamp rack design for smaller F-style clamps. Stay tuned!


    Next week, I'll share the rest of my clamp rack design for smaller F-style clamps. Stay tuned!


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    Earlier this week, for the Fourth of July holiday, some friends and I decided to try our hands at roasting a whole pig. We were cooking for 60-80 people, and wanted to do something more special than hamburgers and hot dogs, and figured: well, if we're going to try it, now is as good of a time as any. 

    We wanted to go with a Southern United States-style "pig picking," meaning lots of wood smoke, and cooking over low and slow temperatures. In order to get the whole animal ready to eat with such a gentle heat, we needed to start the night before. And that's where this story begins.    

    We weren't cooking at my house, so I'd taken whatever tools I thought would be helpful: thermometers, blowtorch, butchery books, ash bucket, and my knives and meat cleaver. All of which we used - in the dark, at 1 am. By the time we got the animal prepped and fire temperature stabilized, it was 6:00 am, and the second shift team came in to relieve us. 

    Exhausted, I returned home smelling of smoke and ready to get a few hours of sleep. When I woke up again, I'd realized that I hadn't done my best to clean up after the process. Among other things, I hadn't washed my knives and tools after prepping the pig. I didn't want to wake the host family at three AM by splashing around in their kitchen, and then, without sleep, I'd just forgotten. That's 1) unsanitary and 2) in the case of my cleaver, bad for the tool itself. Like a chisel or plane blade or carving knife, my clever is made of high carbon steel, not stainless, and, once it sat wet with meat juices for six hours, went from shiny and bright to dull and spotted with dark grey - the early signs guessed it: 


    The truth is: that's not the end of the world for something like a meat cleaver. But it's a good reminder that high carbon steel, which allows our tools to get sharp, stay sharp, and stand up to years of abuse can develop rust from time to time. And when that happens - you gotta erase it. 

    For the task, I love these little Sandflex Rust Erasers. They're basically a bunch of grit (like sandpaper) embedded into a friable rubber block (like an eraser). Unlike a sanding block from the hardware store, as the Sandflex block wears, more grit is exposed, and a fresh surface available. 


    They come in a coarse, medium, and fine grit, and could be easier to use. I especially love that they can be carved, rounded, or shaped to get inside corners, grooves, etc, like a carving gouge or other concave/convex surfaces. You can use them on cookware, your steel sink, leather and suede, ceramic, and tons of other spots. 


    It's not only a cool idea; the truth is: these products actually work. It takes very little effort to get the results you're after, and uses very little material, making these things last for years. 


    I spent about three minutes with the medium block, going over the whole surface to the discoloration, and then came back with the fine block to smooth the scratch marks. It's helpful if you can go in the direction of the grain, but not totally necessary. You won't damage the steel, it's just more likely to show the scratch pattern. 


    Once you're done, add a thin coat of oil to protect the steel. I have camellia oil that I use on my woodworking tools, but mineral or butcher block oil works just fine. 


    Seriously, these things are legit, and you can get a pack of all three grits for around $16 on Amazon right now. They'll last forever, so for only ~$5 a piece, that makes them a seriously good DIY best buy. Pick some up!


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    I'm a huge fan of having a few rows of dog holes in my workbench top. And, more than anything else, I use them to secure a holdfast - an ancient and genius piece of design that secures your work to the work surface with a simple tap from a hammer or mallet. When your ready to release it, just hit the back and it's free. Seriously - it's ten times fast than clamping, and you can fasten your work anywhere across the bench top. Brilliant.

    To speed up the process even more, I wanted to come up with a permanent way to protect the wood from the force of the steel being banged into it. You can use a hardwood scrap between the holdfast and the workpiece, but I figured there's reason to spend twenty minutes once and protect my work forever. No digging around for scraps required. 


    Tools and Materials: 

    • Small piece of 8, 10, or 12 oz leather (at least 1/8" thick. Raid the scrap bin)
    • Craft knife
    • 60- and 150-grit sandpaper
    • wood glue
    • Scrap wood
    • Optional: self-healing cutting mat or plastic cutting board


    Step One: The design of the holdfast makes this super easy to pull off. You simply place a piece of leather on top of a cutting mat or piece of scrap wood, then use the holdfast to secure it down. It not only works as a clamp, but provides it's own template for cutting out the shape.

    I'm using 10 oz veg tanned leather here. I got a 4x9"-ish random shape in the scrap bin of my local Tandy leather store for about $3. There's enough there to make a dozen of these. Whatever you find, just make sure its thick enough to stand up to abuse and absorb a mallet whack. 

    Step Two: Use the craft knife to slowly trace the head of the hold fast. You'll need to make multiple passes to cut through the thickness.


    It's always easy to cut on the pull stroke with a craft knife, so make sure you approach the holdfast head so that you're always starting at the top of a side. Be sure to keep your knife at 90° — it will have a tendency to undercut and push in as you cut downwards. 


    Step Three: The edges of fresh cut leather can be quite sharp, so use a bit of 150-grit sandpaper to smooth them over. This will also help round over your cut shape.


    Step Four: Now, prep the surfaces for the glue. Grab some extra coarse sandpaper, like 40 or 60 grit, and scratch up the bottom face of the holdfast.


    Do the same on the smooth side of the leather. You want to glue this so that the rough/shaggy side of the leather, the inside/suede of the hide, touches the wood for a better grip. So, smooth side gets glued to the steel. 


    Step Five: Apply a thin layer of wood glue to both the roughed up leather and the holdfast. You could get fancy with two-part epoxies or other adhesives here, but wood glue works just fine. Plus, it's easy enough to remove and glue back in case you ever need to. 


    Again, use the design of the holdfast to your advantage: place it in a dog hole and put the rough side of the leather down on some scrap. Align the pad and the holdfast, and once you like the placement, give it a whack to secure it while it dries. 


    After the glue has set up, use the 150-grit paper to smooth up the edges and round over any irregularities. You can also bevel the bottom edges of the leather just a bit to guarantee they won't cut into softer wood. 


    Then, just use them to hold whatever you need to the benchtop. No cauls or scraps required!


    If you don't have a pair already, I really recommend the Gramercy holdfasts from They're priced right, look great, and work perfectly. 

    And if you're ready to start drilling dog holes in your workbench, here's our guide for getting the process just right. 


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