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.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Mamachari Kombucha

I’ll admit that I was a little late to the kombucha party, but I’d like to think that I’m making up for it by being extra excited.  For those who aren’t familiar, kombucha is an old beverage with roots in Asia, and it has seen quite a resurgence over the past few years.  It has gotten so popular that even industry giants like Celestial Seasons are in the game.  This is good, in that it generates awareness and whatnot, but let's all buy Mamachari instead.

Anyway, if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, well, here’s the skinny: kombucha is made by fermenting tea using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.  If this causes you to raise an eyebrow, fear not- it is both safe and delicious.  It is also available in a number of flavors and formulations-  “concord grape", anybody?  The drink is probiotic in nature, and many health benefits are often associated with it.  Lots of people make kombucha at home these days, but for those of us who occasionally like to enjoy the fruit of someone else’s labors, Mamachari Kombucha is widely available in Salt Lake City.  I recently had the chance to sit down with Christy Jensen, the creative force behind Mamachari, and her story was inspiring.  It also made me really thirsty for more ‘booch.

Christy was introduced to kombucha in college- she attended Utah State in Logan- and she admits to always having been a bit of a tea nerd.  An expert at a health food store recommended kombucha when Christy was feeling under the weather, and she got hooked.  This happened around the time that she was apprenticing with the Crumb Brothers bakery, and the recalls that this was the time of life when she really caught the fermentation bug.  She obtained a SCOBY (the starter referenced above) and quickly had 6 gallons brewing.  About 3 years ago, she started tossing around the idea of starting her own kombucha business- one of the things she thought about was the fact that pretty much every big city has 1-3 kombucha breweries, and that seemed to point to an unfilled niche in Salt Lake City.  After a year of planning, she started up.  As a small businessman myself, I am pretty blown away with how much she’s accomplished; the list of places that carry her products is impressive, and it is still growing.

One of the biggest lessons she’s learned is that people are really supportive and eager to help; her taproom is opening in a few days, and she noted that a ton of volunteer labor has helped to get the place ship shape.  To me, this speaks to the importance of community, and Christy was quick to point out lots of other ways that collaboration adds to the business.  For example, she regularly does joint projects with Vive Juicery and has also crafted a special kombucha featuring Blue Tea from The Queen’s Tea.  Local vegan restaurant Zest offers kombucha cocktails, which I’d like to try.  She also told me about her aspiration to collaborate with a local beer brewer to create a kombucha-infused beer.  This would be a first for Salt Lake City.  I hereby nominate my good pal Kevin Ely at Uinta Brewing.  If you know him, bug him about it.

In terms of Mamachari’s presence in the community, the downtown Farmer’s Markets have provided terrific exposure and sales opportunities since day one.  Christy was shocked by the positive reception at her first market a while back: despite bringing what seemed like a lot of product, she sold out by 10:30am!  I heartily recommend checking out her spot at the Saturday markets this winter- she has a number of different brews on tap so that you can taste a bunch and find your fave.  This is really helpful, because they vary quite a bit, and it is a veritable certainty that you’ll find some to be more appealing than others.  With this in mind, Christy strives to offer a lot of different flavors.  This is directly in support of her mission, which is to create a down-to-earth, organic kombucha for everyone.

I figured there was a cool story behind the company’s name, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Turns out, Christy grew up in Japan, and in Japanese, the word “Mamachari” means “mother’s bicycle”, which is a colloquialism for a sort of everyday, utilitarian bike that is common throughout the country.  This metaphor touches on two things- Christy’s goal to make an accessible “drink for the people”, and also the fact that bikes figure pretty heavily into both the social mission and daily operations of the business.  Christy aims for a business that is as sustainable as possible, and bikes plays a big role.  She makes as many deliveries as possible that way, and she has plans for a new “kombucha bike” which will be buffed out so as to be a fully self-contained serving station that will hold 5-6 kegs and can be pedaled to farmers markets and the like.   Christy has lots of other great plans, too- the taproom has lots of space, which will provide a nice location for some classes on fermentation (sauerkraut, anybody?) in the not-too-distant future.  Her ultimate goal, when I pressed her for her “dream big” ideas was to achieve statewide distribution.  Given how much she’s already accomplished, and how focused and effective she seems to be, I don’t doubt it a bit.  I for one would love to see Mamachari in the hands of everybody that wants it—but I'll be honest: at the moment, I’m mostly glad its about to be in mine.

Also of note:

Mamachari Kombucha’s Taproom (located downtown at 445 S. and 400 W.) is opening on Friday December 5th from 12-8pm

Regular Taproom hours will be Thursday and Friday from 12-7pm

for more info about kombucha, visit

I also suggest visiting for special deals

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Clam Lynch- my favorite painter, and so much more

I met Clam Lynch at the downtown Farmer’s Market this summer when he was hawking his wares, and I was just blown away by his work.  Never before have I been so moved by a set of paintings.  And yes, I realized that’s a big claim, but it is completely true.  I’m enchanted by his bold, energetic style; it is bright and exciting and often really funny.  I haven’t yet decided on which painting to buy first, but its just a matter of time.  Anyway, I like his art so much that I wanted to take a little time to get to know him and try to introduce him to as many other folks as possible.  That’s the name of the game here with this silly little blog of mine- to celebrate the handmade and homegrown any way that I can.

Clam turned out to be quite a character with a really captivating history.  At 15, he left home and joined a performance art group that took him around the world.  At a show in New York City, a fellow from the fledgling Nickelodeon network saw him and brought him to LA.  This served as a springboard to a 12 year career as a Production Designer for film and tv.  He also did his fair share of performing- his one-man comedy show entitled “Cut the Crap” (about a dysfunctional motivational speaker) caught the attention of Rosanne Barr (yes, the Rosanne Barr).  He even went so far as to partner with her production company to develop a tv pilot.  Whew!  He’s also a children’s book author- Ruby Gloom’s Keys to Happiness hit the shelves in 2004.

But, let’s revisit his painting- for the time being, at least.  In San Francisco, he established and operated the 63 Bluxome Street Art Gallery, where he displayed and sold his paintings.  It seems like it was a sweet setup, but ultimately he relocated to Salt Lake on account of some important family ties.  That was 1 1/2 years ago.  He’s been creating art the whole time, and that is how he makes his living, but- wait for it- he has a really big vision for something even greater. 

Clam uses reclaimed materials of all kinds for his paintings and other artworks, and it is exactly the kind of waste-not-want-not value that most of us can easily get behind.  An inveterate scavenger, he has personally kept literally tons of old barnboards and the like out of the landfill.  Now let’s add in the fact that he has taught art classes to kids on and off for more than a dozen years, and voila, you have the essence of the organization that he calls Art Salvage.  He envisions a space full of great recycled materials that artists can purchase for pennies on the dollar, and where kids from the age of 6+ can come to get creative. 

The most robust iteration of his plan includes an attached gallery space so that kids and other artists can display and sell the work they make in-house.  Pretty great, right?  What’s more, this isn’t just a pipe dream- the project has momentum and he’s working side-by-side with a prestigious arts group in Salt Lake to finish up attaining non-profit status for the venture.  His next goal is lining up a space- so if anybody has any thoughts, holler.  I’ve spent plenty of time listening to people spin yarns that you can just tell aren’t going to materialize- heck, sometimes I’ve been the one doing the talking- but this wasn’t one of those bull sessions.  I fully expect to see Art Salvage materialize and do a lot of good for a lot of people in the Salt Lake valley.

So right now, Clam is one busy guy- he’s painting up a storm, and he’s spearheading what will certainly be one of the most exciting arts initiatives in the region that I can imagine.  I encourage any interested parties to visit Clam’s Facebook page for up-to-date info on his paintings and other works of art.

He’s also got a fun website at which showcases a lot of his older performance-related stuff.  If you’re interested in communicating with him about Art Salvage, his paintings, or anything else, find him on Facebook or at

Just for the fun of it, I'll add a couple of more pics below- and in case you're interested, his prices are very reasonable.  And that's coming from a confirmed tightwad.  I've seen pieces that I'd LOVE to own for under $200.  If you want to make my year, you can do it for under $400.  I just built a new fireplace mantle for our home that needs something great to go above it.  Hmmm... 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Yeah, I'm a Cheesy Guy: Where there's a Will there's a Whey

Do I love cheese?  Oh god yes.  I've actually engaged in earnest debates about just how much of one's net worth one might reasonably have tied up in cheese.  Now, I was a lot younger at the time, and my net worth was only in the double digits, but still...

Another great memory:  my wife Michele once went to Spain for work and asked what kind of souvenir I wanted.  I said "cheese," and she came home with an entire wheel of Manchego.  Just thinking back on it makes me want to renew my vows.

A few years later I saw Celia Bell make cheese at home and I was enchanted. Celia's a real inspiration in the Salt Lake grow-your-own-food scene, and  the fact that she had just milked a goat beforehand  to get the milk really sealed the deal.  JEALOUS!

It wasn't long before I had gotten a couple of inexpensive DIY cheese-making kits.  One came from my mother-in-law: nice job, Jan!  The other I purchased in Salt Lake City at the Urban Farm and Feed Store

I decided to try out on of the kits, and it was super easy to use.  It also made a delicious cheese.  Fresh mozzarella with basil, in  this case.

The kit contained everything we needed,
including good directions (whew!)
The only thing we needed was a gallon
 of whole milk.

Abigail and I got after it and it found that it was an ideal project for kids to attempt with their grown-ups: there's a few different things to add, and lots of mindless stirring.

Fresh basil?  Yes please.  It was sort of an
off-the-cuff experiment, but I was actually
surprised by huge difference that it made.  I have since made it without fresh herbs and wasn't
as enthused: I'll always jazz it up from now on.

The moment when the liquid-y milk mixture separates into curds and whey is kind of neat.
All of a sudden, you have something that almost resembles cheese.

After pouring off most of the liquid, we put the
solids into a basket lined with cheesecloth so that it could continue to drain.

The cheesecloth is invaluable in helping to form the fresh mozzarella in to a ball, and to make it easier to squeeze out the remaining moisture.

One gallon of milk made a couple of good-sized
hunks of fresh mozzarella- I didn't weigh them, but it seemed like a great value to me.  And because the kits were so reasonably priced $12-20- and because they contain enough ingredients to make numerous batches, they do make good financial sense.  Not that I was too worried about it, since cheese appropriations make up such a large part of my financial portfolio, anyway.