Monday, August 24, 2015

Blogging days are here again AND a backyard chickens update

Ever start a blog?  Get real excited and post a bunch of thoughtful, interesting stuff?  Maybe you too have made lists for future posts, and found yourself scribbling down notes about common threads that link them all together and create Profound and Valuable Insights?  I hope so, because those are some good times, for sure.  If you’re like me, however, you’ve also hit patches where you look up and suddenly realize that its been weeks or months since the last time you posted anything, even though you can't actually come up with much of a reason for the lapse.  Having been through it a few times in the three or four years that I’ve had a blog, I’ve come to view it as a cycle, with peaks and valleys and seasons and all those other great metaphors from nature, rather than a narrative that just cruises forward in the kind of straight, unbroken line that I might've originally imagined.  The good news is that, this time around, I’m happy to say that I’ve finally stopped beating myself up about it; I’ve stopped feeling guilty, stopped identifying as a slacker, stopped being sure that I’ve failed at what has to be the lowest stakes game out there.  In other words, I’ve just gone ahead and embraced the fact that its completely fine for a blog to have a life of their own.  The tide comes in and the tide goes out.  This time around, no worries; I readily admit that I’ve just been farting around with lots of other things in the non-digital sphere instead of pontificating in front of a partly real and largely imagined audience, and I’m cool with it, and now, as of August 24, 2015, I’m ready to squeeze the bellows and fire things up again.  I’ve always had Things to Say; I’m simply recommitting to getting back in the harness and doing it again.  Until my next lapse, at least. 

photo credit: Austen Diamond
A while back I added a teaser post about the upcoming relaunch of our adventures in chicken-keeping, and I promised to add details for the fun of it.  So I’ll do that now, and I also want to add a plug for my good buddy Austen Diamond, as he was kind enough to interview me during the summer and do a nice profile on Chris Gleason, coop builder in the October issue of Salt Lake Magazine.  It isn’t the largest hat that I wear, if you’ll forgive a lousy allusion, but it is definitely in the mix, and I take a lot of pride in trying to build coops with 100% reclaimed materials and helping to keep things local.  I also like to come up with unique, creative designs, and after more than 30 coops, I’ve never built the same one twice. 

Our new flock is a small one- just 4 birds (in the past we’ve had up to 25, which is admittedly way too many).  We've got 4 different breeds, including a bantam silkie.  Silkies have smooth, fur-like feathers and they're the only kind of chicken that my wife Michele has ever really warmed up to.  Unfortunately, the last one turned out to be a rooster, in spite of being named Veronica, and his tenure was thus short-lived. We've got our fingers crossed for the new recruit (Petunia), and so far it hasn't displayed any overt male behavior (aka bossiness, strutting about, or crowing) so I have to say that I like our odds.

They get so shy when you try to photograph them

Petunia is the smaller bird on the left

This is the "sidecar" where we'll
collect eggs starting in about a month

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Wood Pallet Projects: A Live Demonstration at Weller Book Works Saturday May 2nd at 2pm

Writing has been a huge passion of mine for many years. One of my most popular books has been Wood Pallet Projects.  I'm proud that it provides a lot of information on how to transform old shipping pallets into a whole range of different items that you'd actually want to own.  It details a number of fun projects that span a range of ability levels, and I'm pleased to be doing a book Signing and live public demonstration on Saturday May 2nd at 2pm. I think I'll tackle a retro-looking, mid-century modern birdhouse.  Heck, Mother's Day is just around the corner, and what Mom wouldn't want a birdhouse?  It also just so happens that the book shows a complete plan for a birdhouse.

May 2nd is national Independent Bookstore Day, and I'll be doing the event in conjunction with Weller Book Works in downtown Salt Lake City.  They've got a full day of events planned, starting at 11am and running through 9pm.  

There'll be free bagels from The Bagel Project and free coffee from Coffee Connection as long as it lasts.  Whoo hoo!

For more information, here's their site:

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

From Outdated to Timeless: a Mantle Renovation with Barnwood & Painted Brick

I've recently been working with some new clients, and they've just purchased a great 1980's home.  The only trouble is that some of it is, well, still stuck in the 80's.  So I'm helping them to design some key features that are currently clashing with their own style, and here's one of them.  The before pic pretty much says it all.


The rest of this post will illustrate how I did it, beginning with a scale drawing.  At first we considered just using the brick on the lower half, but quickly decided to take it all the way up and around.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Backyard Chickens 2.0

Our family used to raise chickens in our backyard, and it was a hoot for about five years.  Then we decided to take a break.  The reason?  Well, as my wife Michele likes to put it, its a lot easier to buy eggs than raise chickens.  Eventually the fun sort of wore off and it just felt like work.  Not that work is such a bad thing- we were just ready for a break.  That said, I quietly harbored hopes of getting back into the poultry game one day.  Fast forward a couple of years, and our next-door neighbors brought home some baby chicks.  A while later, Michele announced, pretty much out of the blue, that she wouldn't mind getting a few birds of our own, as long as our setup was as neat and tidy as the neighbors'.  Well, I was so excited about her announcement that I didn't even mind being busted for having had a messy coop in the past.  So, it is with great pleasure that I am now approaching the experience that I can only entitle "Backyard Chickens 2.0"  We haven't rushed out and bought the little guys (gals,                                                                                    hopefully!) yet but we'll get after it sometime in the next couple                                                                       of months.

Here's a blast-from-the-past of an earlier batch of chicks.
To put it in perspective, Abigail is now almost 7 years old.

This does mean that we'll need to build another coop and run- fortunately that's right up my alley.  Not to brag, but I kinda wrote the book on the subject.  Well, a book, anyway, and I think its a pretty good one.  A couple of months ago, this hit the shelves, and it has been really popular.

But enough about me- anybody else out there doing the chicken thing?  How's it working out?  What's good about it?  Anything not so good to report?  I'm always curious to hear other peoples' take on these things.

Another throwback pic: happy halloween!
And here's our dear friend Ann-Marie holding
our fine feathered friend.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Reclaimed Barn Wood Projects

Not much life left in this thing, right?  Au contraire, I'd guess that just about every bit of the
materials in yonder barn could be given a new home.  I know I'd  happily pitch in and help
tear it down in exchange for some of that lumber.  And the rusty tin looks sweet, too.
News flash: barn wood is a hot trend these days.  Ok, I bet you already know that. The question is: where can you get the stuff? Sometimes a random somebody-who-knows-somebody connection pops up, or watching the classifieds pays off, but its also nice to have a reliable source that offers a consistent inventory.  That way you can get what you need any old time. I'm pleased as punch to mention here that Salt Lake City has a great new supplier that meets this need quite nicely.

Most woodworkers in our area are familiar with MacBeath Hardwoods, as they're a premier supplier to both the trade and the general public. Their wide selection and fine service are no secret, but what's new is the fact that they're now carrying reclaimed barn wood.  I was actually there this morning picking out a bunch of boards for a credenza that I'm building.  Its really nice stuff, and believe me, I've used a lot of it in psat projects so I'm happy to give it a thumbs up. And this isn't just a local-interest kind of announcement; MacBeath also operates stores in Berkeley, San Francisco, San Jose, and Edinbugh, Indiana.  So if you happen to live near one of those spots, you're in luck.  And, lest this sound like some sort of commercial, it isn't:  I just like to shine a light on some good folks doing something good when I get the chance.  Here's the details:

MacBeath Hardwoods
1576 S. 300 W.
Salt Lake City, UT 84115

(801) 484-7616

    Monday- Friday: 8am-5pm
    Saturday: 9am-3pm

The rest of this post will showcase a collection of designs that I happen to love- none of them are my own, but I think they show off what barn wood 2.0 can do. Click on the image to see the gallery.

Follow Chris Gleason's board recycled/reclaimed design on Pinterest.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Adventures in chair-making using reclaimed lumber

I've been a full-time woodworker for almost 20 years, and I've been writing about it professionally for about 11 years.  I began by writing a couple of articles for Popular Woodworking magazine, and then I wrote my first book.  It was a huge milestone, and I set the pie-in-the-sky goal of writing a book per year for 10 years.  It was a goal that sounded completely out of reach, but worth striving for nonetheless.  A few months ago, I submitted the manuscript for my 11th book.  It took 11 years.  The new goal is 20 books.

One of the reasons I like to write about woodworking is that books and magazines were the only resource I had when I was starting out.  The internet didn't exist as we know it today, and I didn't know a lot of people to talk to. So I read.  And now that I've learned a few things and enjoyed some measure of success, almost 20 years later, I love to feel like I am contributing to the body of literature that helped me get my start.  Does the world need it?  Not really.  But do I need to do it?  Yes, yes I do. 

And so, without further ado, here is the first in an occasional series of how-to articles geared toward a range of skill levels.  I'll be using a lot of reclaimed materials, and I'll present original projects with a variety of aesthetic sensibilities.  My goal is to show how I design and build the projects, and I don't necessarily expect that people will follow the steps exactly; I'm more interested in show-casing approaches and ideas that can be adapted and transferred to your own projects.

Step 1

I began by cutting out the front leg, which has a straight taper on its lower section and a curved cut-out above the seat.  Standard seat height for chairs is around 18", so you can use that as a rule of thumb when you lay out the leg.
Step 2

I used a bandsaw to cut out the leg profile, although a jigsaw with a sharp blade would be a good option too.

Step 3

Once the first leg was cut out and cleaned up with a sander (a belt sander works well to smooth out the straight sections) I used it as a pattern for the second leg.  If you're making multiple copies of the same chair, it doesn't hurt to make dedicated patterns, but in the case of a one-off, I don't worry about it.
Step 4

Here's a great shortcut for milling the flat section in the middle of the front leg: since the flat section is parallel to the front face of the leg, you can just use the tablesaw.

Step 5

I always think of chair-making as an art that begins by designing the sides first.  I liked the front leg, and I then clamped together some scraps to get a sense for how a side might look.  You can see that I used the second front leg as the rear leg- that wasn't necessary, and I just grabbed it because it was handy.  I also spent some time sketching at this point as well.
Step 6

The horizontal piece that connects the front and back legs is called the side stretcher; once I had decided on its dimensions and placement, I glued and screwed it to the front leg.  This isn't the most refined kind of joinery possible, but it is acceptable to me in this case.  I suggest pre-drilling the screw holes.

Step 7

I ended up making a back leg that was similar to the front but a bit chunkier; I used a clamp to hold it in place temporarily while I worked out an angle and position that I liked aesthetically.  When I was done, I screwed it down as I did at the front of the stretcher.

Step 8

I knew that the tops of the legs would need to be properly aligned (and flat) so that they could hold the chair's arms later on; I took a minute to use a straight edge to mark the spot where the arm would run.  I trimmed off the excess with a jigsaw.
Step 9

The second chair side is just a mirror-image of the first, with the stretchers on the inside of the legs.  This will keep the screws hidden.

Step 10

The reclaimed wood that I used for this project came from a range of sources- mostly it was just the odd board that I found laying around, with some pallet wood mixed in.  I wanted the overall look of the chair to be kind of rough, with a bit of variation in color and weathering.  I used the planer to "skip plane" some of the boards and expose some variations a few of the boards.
Step 11

The two sides were connected by a front stretcher.  This step is kind of exciting because it started to actually feel three-dimensional.
Step 12

I used a 3/8" drill bit to bore some holes about 1/2" in the legs where the stretcher would be attached.  I then used glue and 2 1/2" screws to make a very firm connection.  The holes are easy to plug with solid wood plugs.
Step 13

After installing a rear stretcher in the same way I installed the front one, I went across the seat with a series of pallet wood slats. I glued them down and secured them with brad nails.
Step 14

The back assembly is simple- there are two strips of wood that run upward at an angle, and a series of slats are glued and nailed (or screwed) to them at a right angle.  I built the assembly on my bench then brought it over to the chair base, using clamps to hold it in place.
Step 15

Using clamps allows you to adjust the angle until you feel that it is most comfortable.  This is, in my experience, a pretty subjective exercise- one person's favorite chair may be another's torture device, so you may want to experiment a bit.
Step 16

Once the back has been positioned, I secured it with long screws set into 3/8" diameter holes.
Step 17

I began with a rectangular blank for the arm, but I quickly decided it needed to be a bit more refined, so I used a straight edge to taper it from front to back.
Step 18

I fastened the arm to the top of the legs with recessed (plugged) screws.
Step 19

If the chair wobbles, or you'd like to shave a bit off of its height, you can use a strip of wood of the desired thickness and tracing it onto each leg. You can then trim off the waste with a jigsaw.