Monday, September 15, 2014

Back to School

As our kitchen update neared completion to the extent that the space could be used again, DW began to anticipate returning to work for the new school year. She had been looking at teacher easels and asked me if I could fix the remnant of an old easel that had been used by her mom

Once I saw what she wanted to use it with- a Walmart 2x3ft dry erase magnet board, it was apparent that the little easel would not be up to the task no matter how much I re-habilitated it.

I was tired of working on the house and had been thinking that it would be fun to make an artist's easel and this would be a good training exercise. I had enough leftover material from the kitchen update that no trips to the hardwood suppliers were needed. I was all set for the easel to be ready for her birthday as well as the first day of school.

DW then thought it would be great if it could hold chart paper as well. We looked for the loops at the local office supply places; the needed hardware was only available online. Thus ordered and the project placed on hold. Shortly after, I came across what would occupy both of us for the next 4 weeks and what will be the topic for the next post. I had been looking in Craigslist for hardwood flooring as the carpet in two rooms was waay overdue for removal. There it was in Woodburn in packaging and condition a little different than retail.
That project was finally completed last weekend which is why I'm on the keyboard now  In the meantime, last week the rings came in and today the easel is ready to go to school.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Plumb and Square

The last photo on the prior post showed the partially completed sink cabinet in rough placement so we could continue to use the sink and dishwasher while waiting for the granite countertops to be done and installed.
Being one's own GC does save a good chunk of change, but at the price of having to coordinate a herd of cats, one of them being the cabinet/finish carpenter (me).
I had made the frames for the cabinets that were going to be on either side of the range once the range arrived as I wanted 1/16" tolerance for the final fitting and that could not be assured until the range was in place.
I had a granite shop that was trying to fit my small order in a rather narrow window between my being able to finish the cabinets and being out of town for 10 days for CME (continuing medical education) along with visiting my family in Los Angeles.
The cabinets thankfully only needed minimal adjustment to be plumb and square in their final location. Getting the drawers to fit appropriately into a face frame construction (there is a reason why that style is the most expensive option in cabinetry) was a predictably painful chore which was made less difficult by not having the countertops in place. As I was leaving town on Saturday, the granite guys agreed to install on Monday afternoon-ish. Which was fine until I received a call on Monday morning that they needed to come in 4 hours earlier than I expected them.
I wanted a functional kitchen for DW before leaving for 10 days, so I said OK and proceeded to remove the kitchen sink plumbing and garbage disposal hookup and electrical wiring as the outlets were at least 40 years old (want to predict what happens when an electrical Fred does this in a hurry?).
The granite guys were able to do their work in a couple of hours and we were happy with how the granite sat on the cabinets. They had been concerned that any bulges or valleys on the long cabinet would lead to crack and would require correcting prior to the stone being installed.
I was fortunate in being able to have a plumber come out in two hours and hook up the sink, faucets, hot water dispenser and garbage disposal. Everything was great until he told me the wiring on the GD was faulty. Ugh. DW thankfully said no biggie as she had everything else functional while I would be away.
I was able to get the rest of the cabinets finished before I left, although getting the remaining drawers plumb and square would have been much easier had I had access from above instead of the countertops being in place.
While I was in LA, I received a call that the tiles we had ordered for the backsplash had arrived. DW and I had decided that we wanted 1/16" spacing for the grout (detect a glutton for punishment trend here). So while plumb is not a concern with this job, substitute uniform thickness to go along with square. Luckily for me, DW has a fair amount of experience with tile installation. I was placed in charge of cutting and she did most of the setting. It turned out to be a 3 day project

As we had booked a weeklong vacation way in advance, as GC's we had a conflict with ourselves as tradespeople- the workers need a vacation and the manager wants the job completed. We left it so that with a couple of more days when we return we can have the painter (DW) get to work. Vacation also provided the chance to post an update to this tale and give us time to think about the next step. As a minor detail is we're not sure of the color. Need a color that goes well with cool gray tile, walnut and cherry and a blue range.

The end of the electrical snafu was another 90 minute waste of time trying to fix the wiring relying on YouTube. Called an electrician who came in and fixed it in 20 minutes.
While on vacation, even though a purpose for said vacation is to get away from the project we are also thinking about a border for the sink area backsplash. We're vacillating between wood and tile. We found a tile border option and also this alternative use for ceramic tiles.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Five yards and a cloud of dust (not)

Five yards is the linear amount of cabinets I'm making for our kitchen update.
Three years ago our latest (and hopefully last squatter) took up residence in my shop. Since then my shop routine has been complicated by DW's having different criteria between what is an adequate work environment for me and living quarter standards for Andy. Before continuing Andy is the shop cat formerly known as Annie- our gender mistake was clarified in her first vet visit.
Aside from puncture wounds, lacerations and amputations, dust is the most significant health hazard in woodworking/carpentry. I've always worn a substantial dust mask and limited my exposure to dust by limiting the time I spend on project to weekends and the occasional week long project. When involved in projects, the shop can positively look like a war zone.

Prior to Andy I didn't take the time to clean up at the end of each day as my spare time was and is limited. All that changed when I acquired a shopmate. DW, knowing that it would be hard to get me to clean the place up to her specifications, began to clean up after me.  I felt guilty about that as her spare time is limited as well.
 The previously mentioned Festool joiner was my first major tool  purchase in more than a decade. Aside from being exceedingly useful, it introduced me to that company's attention to dust management which is on a higher level than the other major players in the field.  My chopsaw and sander are particularly unruly dust producers and were the first candidates for upgrading. The sander was my next Festool purchase after the joiner and was rapidly followed by a compound sliding saw once I saw both the improvements in performance and dust removal. The latter allowed me to safely and precisely saw a 24"x 96" plywood sheet into smaller pieces for cabinet work. Previously I used my worm drive saw for a rough cut, followed by more precise cutting to final size with the table saw. Festool's dust management is so good that I'm able to work inside the house which makes for less time spent going back and forth between the house and the shop. Thus I no longer have to deal with a cloud of dust. Happy wife, happy cat, happy life.
The upgrade in tools has also resulted in improved productivity. We've been able to  demo a wall, buy and learn to use the new tools, build 2/3rds of the new cabinetry, build up the floor to provide level hardwood flooring for the new appliances and cabinetry and provide workable sinks/plumbing while awaiting new countertops. I've used only 3 days of my vacation time and about a month overall since we began the project. As can be seen there's lots to do but we do have a functional kitchen for now.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Pewter trim vs Festool Domino

Pewter trim is an option on the Bluestar range we ordered after much hem/hawing last weekend.  The Festool Domino is a joiner (woodworking tool for those not into that sort of thing). What they have in common is that they cost about the same- both expensive.
I had considered buying the Festool in 2009 when undergoing round 2 of working on the kitchen. At that time, that seemed to be money better spent on other things (food and wine fridges ). Also, the carpentry involved in that project could readily be done with the tools I had, albeit more laboriously than with the Festool joiner.
2014 finds me 5 years older and needing to think realistically about my remaining time frame for activities I now enjoy. Kinda like a NYT article where the guy is contemplating that he won't outlive his present staple supply. Even worse, he would not be able to read all the books in his home library that he had yet read (Yeah-1st world problems).
My present woodworking tools still work well after 15-20 years of use. The main deficits are dust management and safety compared to the newer models. Will I still be a woodworker/carpenter 20 years from now? The most expensive machine to replace, and the most dangerous one as well, is my table saw.  Since I replaced the motor 2 years ago on the table saw, I'll keep using it, with the upmost respect and caution.
The Festool does not really replace any of the tools I have but it can do some of the work I now use my mortiser for. It also has a very good dust management system. When faced with a similarly expensive but completely functionally irrelevant choice in a kitchen appliance (pewter trim adding 17% to an already way expensive appliance) versus a decidedly useful tool, I decided this time to buy the Festool.  Most importantly, the little joiner was an essentially unique solution to how to make a cabinet with drawer that have a 45 degree angle portion.
The reason for such a Rube Goldberg thing-  and my wife is having adjustment difficulties with cabinets and countertops with a 45 degree portion chopped off at one end-  is that it's the only way to maximize cabinet space in a small (by US standards) kitchen and solve our bottleneck to the passage way between the kitchen and the breakfast room.  I could make the cabinets square, but that would take away 20% of our linear counter space (small kitchen by US standards). My present mortise cannot make 45 degree mortises.
So, I purchased the joiner. And what a great device it is. Here is the frame of the first of 3 new cabinets showing the angle in question.
To close to quote Mike in a Fine Woodworking post

Make sure that your next project is beyond your skill and requires tools you don't have. You won't regret it.

PS: being in a hurry I forgot to but in the photo of the frame, by the time I looked at the blog again, the cabinet was further along.

It also shows why DW is on my case about dust management. Which will bring us to the the next post.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Kitchen Rehab- round 3; it starts with a cutting board.

        It's not my lot in life to know what I want and need, get it and be satisfied with it for decades. Thus the third major  go at our kitchen. Round one with the kitchen was to address a lack of daylight and get a gas cooktop.  Next (with DW on board) was to update our fridge, provide wine storage and replace the island and countertop. This latest go is to get up to specs with DW's cooking requirements. We like stir-fry meals and our little cooktop is underpowered.  She has also complained for more than a decade about our oven's small capacity. To address these issues, a range with 22K BTU's and a large oven will replace the current cooktop and oven. In order to properly ventilate said cooktop, the range and hood will go to where the oven presently is located.  Since this all requires electrical, plumbing, and wall changes, we met with the contractor who did our library and came up with a plan and allocation of labor.  In order to not have to replace the present perfectly good island granite slab, we decided to replace the cooktop with a cutting board.
       "You're not going to make that- are you?" was DW's first question, to which I replied that CrossCut Hardwoods had cutting boards made to order.  However, when I called them, said service was no longer available. Then came, by the area's standards, a major snowstorm. With the upcoming Valentine's Day and cabin fever from being snowed in for the weekend came my decision to make the cutting board.
       I rounded up all the hardwood stock less than 4 feet, and began the project.


       My first discovery was how much glue this was going to take, then how long it was going to take to do the project.  I had been hoping to at least have the rough/pre-sanded part ready for Valentine's Day, but that wasn't going to happen. What did happen when I glued up and chopped up the first part was realizing- this is indeed doable and likely to turn out well.

       Wife was very happy with the project when I fessed up to what I was doing and said we could make Valentine's day the 17th instead.

       I did wind up having to buy more boards as I ran out of shorts and also needed maple boards to complete the pattern.  The next major surprise occurred when I has loading it up to take to WoodCrafters to get it sanded. End-grain hardwood surfaces uneven to 3/16ths variation are beyond the scope of my hand held orbital sander (even though it is half-sheet size). At 60 lbs plus, even moving the cutting board into my car, to and from the sander and then maneuvering  it around for completing the sanding and finishing at home was work.

       Here is the almost-completed slab. I'm happy (my back and arms notwithstanding) and wife is happy. As they say in infomercials - wait, there's more.  With some of the leftover wood, I was able to make a tamping stand for our espresso machine. The walnut block shown next to it was what we used previously to protect our countertop from the portafilters,

      After the Academy Awards (we're having a get-together), the kitchen will turn into a construction zone for a few weeks.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Budapest to Krakow, part 3

Wabi Sabi

Shortly before leaving for Budapest, there was a first in a short series of Ideabooks in Houzz ( a internet shelter site) on Wabi-Sabi. It very much struck a chord as Japanese culture has been an major  influence for as long as I can remember. I contributed in the comments section to the first article and checked in on further comments as they came in on our down time. It was really cool to see such a good response to such an anti-bling concept.

I had been exposed to Wabi-Sabi not as a concept but as a way of life by family friends in Mexico who were very much of traditional Japanese culture. This family was one of my aunt and uncle’s closest friends. They were pretty much family as I called them aunt and uncle as well. We saw them just about every week and I worked intermittently in their pharmacy. I was very much drawn by their discipline and formality. Once when I was doing my homework at their home, I asked if we could listen to the radio; my aunt Emy’s reply was you can pay attention to the radio or to the homework. My honorary aunt knew instinctively what Clifford Nass researched and warned about, multitasking. I also now recognize their modesty- in the context of a small city in 1960’s Mexico, I later realized that they were affluent, but that was not readily apparent in their home.
In college, I continued to learn about Japanese culture and history and became a fan of Japanese films. As a woodworker, I was introduced to their tools by a friend who mentored me in this craft. Their chisels, saws and planes rapidly became my primary hand tools. They are just as indispensable as my power tools.
Prior to  medical training and practice, I had  done remodeling and construction work with utilitarian goals- fix it and rent it out.  Once I start working on my home, my need for the place to feel like home led me to the Arts and Crafts style where once again, the Japanese influence was felt. But during all this time, while I had absorbed Wabi-Sabi,  the Houzz articles put a name to what I felt a kinship with: a reverence for the well-worn, imperfect, asymmetric and modest in the context of a culture that could produce a beautiful, razor sharp, exquisitely finished sword in the middle ages.
One of the many pleasures of Eastern Europe was seeing so much of what I at this time perceive as Wabi-Sabi in their architecture and culture. I at times felt like a peasant when in London, Paris, Munich and other Western European cities. Despite the language barrier, there was a strong feeling of  kinship with the culture of Eastern Europe. I just really loved the character of the buildings and their more analog way of life.


We also encountered Wabi-Sabi in many of our interactions with Hungarians, Slovakians and Poles- a sense of modesty and down-to-earth that is very much a part of that aesthetic.

Someone taught that temples are for fanatics only and took away the temples and promised there was no need for temples. And now there is no shelter, And no map for finding the shelter of a temple. And you all stumble in the dark, this confusion of permissions. The without-end pursuit of a happiness of which someone let you forget the old things which made happiness possible.

David Foster Wallace  Infinite Jest
Infinite Jest was the other context that colored my experience of Eastern Europe. The USA is home and no other country is preferable. But for many people and in many aspects, the United States has diminished in the qualities that made it a great country. IJ portrays much of late 20th century American dysfunction. It seems that there has not been a major American institution- government, religious, education- that has not been diminished in public esteem in the past 40 years with that trend seemingly accelerating in the past 20 years. In contrast to the irony and cynicism pervasive in America, was the role of religion in these 3 countries, especially Poland.
I was struck by the prominent role of Catholicism in Poland. They believe. The Poles also have a hero-something lacking in the US- in Karol Wojtyla/Pope John Paul II.

I cannot look past the child abuse that went on during his tenure.  I continue to practice Catholicism and admire JPII for his humanity, accomplishments and as a source of inspiration and because the Church is made of humans and thus subject to being less than exemplary at all times- as we all are.
I loved the notion of a bar named The Unexamined Life in IJ  and wish that I could believe as the Poles seem to believe. DFW in his much loved  This is Water graduation speech at Kenyon College (yes, I've become a Wallace-head)  noted that there is no such thing as atheism. We all believe in something.
The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clich├ęs, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Read more:
The speech goes on to give an alternative to the irony and cynicism prevalent in American culture or the blind belief that leads to atrocities  perpetrated in the name of God and Country. And Eastern Europe provided an alternative to the ostentation ( I swear not to buy anything described as stunning- I'm tired of that word), irony and cynicism I see so much of in my country.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Budapest to Krakow cont'd


Interestingly, literature was a major part of this bicycling trip. While we don't spend a whole lot of time reading once we reach our destination, long plane flights and waits at the airport are a great time to catch up on our reading. I have long been a fan of David Foster Wallace's non-fiction work, but his short story fiction work had not done much for me. Infinite Jest seemed to be required reading for any DFW fan, but I was frankly put off by the size of the undertaking. After nickel and dime-ing my long-suffering  wife with the concept of traveling light to the extent of leaving her camera battery charger behind (more on that later) what do I decide to take along with me?

Past vacations have been very much flavored by the book I took along, and Infinite Jest filtered much of how I absorbed this trip. While my exposure to Eastern Europe was short, I noticed that leisure time there is used differently than in the US. (IJ is about the role of entertainment and addiction in American culture) For good or bad, the region seemed to be from a different time, much less digital and more people-centered. Americans have become notorious for being screened-focused; although other nationalities seem just as afflicted by choosing to see the world through a phone or tablet screen.  I didn't see too many locals with a phone or laptop in front of them; they were hanging out with each other.

One highlight of this vacation was Litea, a bookstore in the Budapest Castle district. What attracted us were the large selection books and plentiful tables in a very large sunroom (catnip to Oregonians) together with coffee and other beverages. What made it special, though, was the generosity of one of the staff, who shared her love of her country's literature and art along with the sorrows of how the German occupation, communist rule, and the post-communist economy affected her country.

Hungary has great architecture, history and bicycling through the rural areas, but what we loved most about the country were the Hungarians- warm, generous and hospitable.

Freewheeling Adventures

As there were no other takers for our route and dates, Freewheeling Adventures gave us the opportunity for a refund or the discounted self-guided route along which included luggage transfers, hotel arrangements and 3 van transports through congested areas.  After deciding to commit to the self-guided option, we learned that we would be outsourced to another company that partners with them. 

Jan, a Slovakian gentleman, who resides in Banska Stiavnica, met us in Szentendre, where the Freewheeling directed portion of trip began. I mentioned earlier my decision to leave the Nikon's battery charger at home since we had two batteries and in past trips I had never needed to recharge my battery.  Well, I was focused on "traveling light".  Bad move- my dear wife is much more shutter-happy than I am and after just 3 days she had nearly used up the charge on one of the batteries. I asked Jan if he knew someone with a charger; he said he would ask around, but that off the top of his head he knew of no one with a Nikon DSLR. We would not meet him again until day 4 of our trip.

Luckily for us, in a low key way, Jan went out of his way to find said charger and charged our depleted battery for us. He then drove us to our next hotel, bade us farewell and informed us that one of his drivers would be taking over for him. We met Michal the following morning. Initially, he was somewhat reserved like Jan, but we quickly discovered that we had much in common- besides bicycling.  There was also carpentry, home-improvement on my part, music and teaching with Geri and quickly thanked our lucky stars for his company.  On our next to last day with Freewheeling, he pointed out Ovara Castle while driving us to our next hotel. He mentioned that was where Nosferatu had been filmed. I had seen the film many years ago. As a film buff and with one of the motivations for our trip having been a vampire-themed book, Ger and I rapidly regressed to kid flavored- Can we go there? Will that be an imposition on you?  Michal graciously and sincerely replied that he would be happy to take us there.  We arrived in the late afternoon, so our time there was shorter than optimal, but it was one of the highlights of our trip.

Our next destination was Hotel Kasper Suski, in Sucha Beskidzka, Poland, a former castle converted into a hotel and restaurant.  He met us for dinner and his company made for a wonderful evening.

As Infinite Jest was on my mind, when the topic of food came up, I brought up Consider the Lobster as one of the issues around mindful eating. Michal's account of his wife's visceral reaction to how lobsters are prepared was a more powerful deterrent against lobster dinners than DFW's essay.

Saying our goodbyes the next day in Krakow, we felt as if were we leaving behind a true friend.  We were quite grateful for the opportunity to spend time with Jan and Michal.  We hope to meet again one day. 

not done yet...