Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Done with one project, on to another!

With the new school year starting, the boys are now busier than ever, which means I'm even busier! But, I've still had time to complete a few minor woodworking projects. And one of them was even on my to-do list!

This past weekend I finally finished the last piece of the bookshelves in our three/four season porch. This project is two years in the making. Let me explain.

When we moved into our current house there was a metal railing around the stairwell that leads to the garage in the porch. The railing was torn out and replaced with bookshelves. Most of the bookshelves actually came from our previous house (the topic of future post). However there was the need for two additional bookshelves to complete the replacement of the rail. One bookshelf was built immediately (as it prevented the kids from falling 7 feet to a concrete floor), and the other bookshelf build was deferred.

Well, I finally quit procrastinating and built the bookshelf. Here it is installed in all its glory.

Nerdy woodworking details: The bookshelf carcass is made from 3/4 inch oak plywood, joined with dowels. The face frame is solid oak, glued and brad nailed to the carcass. The finish is golden oak stain, and three coats of shellac.

Just thought I'd let you know I'm still making sawdust. The same day I installed the bookshelf, I went out and procured the lumber for my next project. Any guess on the final shape this lumber will take on?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Oak Trundle Bed

This bed has been a long time in the making. And I guess, technically, it isn't yet complete. I still have to complete the slide out trundle to complete the entire thing. But, at least my niece is able to enjoy the bed now, as you can see in the first picture.

The bed is made from reclaimed oak flooring from a local home remodel. I've had the wood for a while, but just hadn't been able to use it up very quickly. This project definitely put a big dent in the pile.

After planing off the floor finish, the oak boards that remained were approximately 5/8" thick. To make the bed, I had to do a lot of lamination glue-ups to make the posts and rails. I also made some "balls" to mount on the top of the posts. The close up picture shown is of the prototype. The reason it became the prototype is because there was a large tear out on the other side not shown in the picture.

The next two images are of the milled up boards for the bed, as well as an image of the head board and foot board pieces dry fit together without the slats.

The rest of the pictures are of the bed prior to delivery to my niece.

The slats are 1/2" thick boards that had rabbets cut on both sides to allow the slats to overlap each other. The also have a 1/4" tenon on each end to slide into a slot mortised into the top an bottom rails. A small chamfer along the sides to give the appearance similar to beadboard.

I used some inexpensive pine boards to create the platform for the mattress. I've used plywood in the past for this feature, but I'm finding that I really like having the individual boards. This makes the transportation and assembly of the bed much easier. And I also think it gives the bed a more 'crafted' look.

I finished the bed with Minwax Golden Oak stain, and several coats of Minwax wipe-on polyurethane.

The plans for the bed were really made up as I went along at times. The reason for that was trying to make use of the wood planks I had available. Many of the flooring boards had nail holes to work around. And a large percentage of the boards had grooves cut into the back side, which caused me to have to cut the boards into three strips that were about 2" wide. These were used to make the slats. I had originally planned to put a flat top across the head and foot boards, but I ran out of flooring boards wide enough to use for this purpose. I guess you just have to be flexible!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Shamrock 2014 Projects

Shamrock is the annual fundraising event put on by the parent organization at our parish school.This year I built two items that were included in the silent auction. A big thank you to those of you who purchased the items I built.

After 1st Coat of poly
In thinking about what I wanted to build for the auction, I knew one was a cross of some sort. I've made several in the past, and thought this would be a nice item. Looking around the shop for materials, I came across a slab of walnut that had been sitting in my storage rack for a while. The figuring of the grain is definitely very interesting and beautiful, due to there being a large knot in the middle. In furniture making, that makes for firewood. For wooden 'art', it makes for a conversation piece.

Finished Product
Since the walnut was nearly an inch thick, I decided to make two crosses, using the two thin pieces of walnut as a backdrop. The re-sawing process went about as well as I could have hoped for, given that my bandsaw blade is pretty dull. Since the boards were too wide for my jointer, I just ran them through the planer. I wasn't too worried about them being perfectly flat. Remember, this is art. I have to say I really enjoy having the Byrd SHELIX carbide cutter head in my planer (and jointer). It really brought out the beauty of the walnut without any tearout! To prevent the walnut slab from falling apart, I glued a piece of 1/4 inch hardboard to the back.

For the actual cross, after consulting my wife, I ended up doing a 3D type design, with a maple 'shadow' cross, and a purple heart cross on top. Fairly simple. The crosses were mounted offset from each other, and centered on the large knot in the walnut slab.

I finished the piece with several coats of wipe-on poly. The walnut really soaked up a lot of finish. After the first coat of polyurethane, I could barely tell there was a finish applied!

If I remember correctly, the price got up to $95 during the auction. Not bad for some pieces of scrapwood!

Oak Charging Station
Charging Station
My second item to donate for the auction was more practical. The middle school students are all issued iPads, and are required to keep them fully charged. So, the suggestion was made to create a charging station. As part of the item, I included a 5 port USB charger, capable of charging to iPads, and three smart phones. I based the design on images from Pinterest, and the dimensions for the size of the iPads in the school issued protective cases.

The entire piece was made from a single piece of reclaimed oak flooring. The USB charger is housed under the 'shelf'. The USB charging cables are fed into the charger via slots in the top and sides of the compartment.

As an added design feature, I transferred a copy of the school logo to the wood. The technique I used was one I learned from Jay Bates on YouTube. After staining, I transferred the logo using a woodburner, as described in the video. The logo image has color, but since I printed it using a laser printer, I figured it would work fine, and it did. Because oak has a very open grain, the logo image had a bit of a faded, worn look when transferred. But I think it actually worked out pretty well.

To prevent the logo from smearing when adding the finish, I used a spray polyurethane. I haven't used a spray finish before, but I think it worked pretty well. I still like wipe on finishes better, but overall, it worked fine.

I believe this item fetched a price of $100 at the auction.

Friday, April 11, 2014

April 10th 2014 Weekly Recap

This week has not been the most productive week for me. We had some sad news in that Kristen's grandmother passed away late last week. And so, we were in a mode of trying to figure out the logistics of Kristen getting back to North Dakota for the funeral, and me holding down the fort while she was gone.

I did manage to get some shop time in. As I mentioned last week, I had a plan for reorganizing the garage, and I was able to get a good start on that plan. I also did some preliminary work on a project for the school fundraiser, Shamrock.

So, Monday through Thursday, I was playing Mr Mom, and trying to stay on top of things at work at the same time. Needless to say, that was a dual time job!

Till next week!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

April 3rd 2014 Weekly Recap

Due to my lack of posting lately on any specific topic, I thought I would highlight some of the things I've been up to this past week. My intention is to make this a recurring post, possibly every Thursday. So, here goes!

This past weekend, the weather was absolutely gorgeous, and that allowed me some time in the shop with the garage door open to work on projects. All went well until the kids wanted to head out to play, and asked if I would take a break to go with them. So what did I do? I went with them of course! So we proceeded to head over to the school to hit some baseballs, climb on the playground, and fly a kite! Liam had received a kite at Christmas, so we go the chance to try it out. Here are a few pictures.
The boys all really enjoyed flying the kite, and it was an extremely great day to do it.
As I said, I was working the shop a bit over the weekend. The current big project is a bed for my niece. I'm making the bed out of reclaimed flooring from a friends remodeled house, and the results so far have been very good. I'll post a more detailed report on the bed when it is finished. This week I finished the milling in the posts for the head board and foot board, side rails, and head/foot board slats. I was also able to glue up the foot board, so things are progressing nicely (albeit very much behind schedule).

With the nicer weather we also did some yard work around the house. One big job that got completed was cleaning the sand off the grass along the street. What a difference that task made to the look of the yard! Now we need a little more warm weather and some rain and Liam can start mowing again!

Another small project that was completed was creating a sandbox for the kids. While I'm not looking forward to the sand being everywhere, it is definitely one of those play areas that will get used quite a bit. The kids were very happy to help get the sandbox put together.

Along with the sandbox, the playset got an update in the form of "wear mats". These are meant to be put under the swings to prevent the mulch or rock or rubber chunks that normal people put in as landscaping for play sets from getting displaced. Our purpose was to cover the bare ground (and mud) where the kids have killed off the grass. We would rather have more grass than landscaping, and these mats seem to work quite well for the task.

If anyone remembers back, I had posted that I had created a shelving unit in the kitchen. I finally got some iron on edge banding to cover up particle board, and boy does that shelf look nice now!

Saturday evening we were part of a progressive dinner event. This is a silent auction item at our schools fundraising dinner, that we agreed to host last year. I know, this yeas Shamrock event is coming up soon. This progressive dinner just got scheduled. Anyway, Kristen and I were slated to server dessert. I make a couple of my apple pies, and Kristen made cheesecake bars. Both were a hit, even though everyone was stuffed from the appetizer and main course stops. I hope the couples that participated had a wonderful evening!

This week I decided to ask a fellow woodworking friend for advice on how to organize my garage workshop. His own shop has undergone several transformations, so I figured he would have some insight that would be quite useful. As usual, he made some suggestions that have me chomping at the bit started rearranging the garage. I'm really excited about the plan we came up with, and I'll try to make sure I capture plenty of images of the process.

That's it for this week!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Review: Unbroken

This book was suggested to me by someone who read my prior book review on "In the Shadow of His Wings". Since I didn't have anything else lined up to read, I started in on the book.

Before getting the book, I read some other reviews and story summaries, so I had an idea of what the book was going to be about. A story of an Olympian, pulled into WWII as a bombardier, and then captured by the Japanese. A story of strength and resilience, of one of the members of the greatest generation of America.

Louie Zamperini is the hero of this true story, and I would have to say he has an equally impressive supporting cast. The men who traveled with Louie through his trials and tribulations during the war are also heroes themselves, all with their own stories of strength and perseverance that only get touched upon in this book as they interweave with Louie's story.

Here is a brief overview of Louie's story. He was a trouble making adolescent in California, who found an outlet in running. He went on to go to the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, and had the skills to potentially break records for the mile. However, due to WWII, the 1940 Olympics were cancelled, and Louie would end up becoming the bombardier in a B-24 stationed in Hawaii and other Pacific islands. His plane went down at sea, and he and two others survived for 47 days on a small raft. One of the men died while they were still lost at sea. They survived only to be captured by the Japanese, and put into prison camps that made surviving in a life raft seem like a cakewalk. In these prison camps, Louie and the other prisoners experienced tortures and starvation, especially at the hands of the prison guard nicknamed the "Bird." Liberation came with the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and the initial joy of freedom, followed by the haunting memories and struggle to return to a normal life. Louie was 'liberated' again when attending a Billy Graham revival.

For me, this book was a glimpse into the happenings of WWII in the Pacific. When I think of WWII, I think of Pearl Harbor, and then immediately shift my thinking to Europe and driving back the German army. Of 'D-day', and concentration camps. I watched re-runs of "Hogan's Heroes" on TV, and other European-front based war movies. "Broken" provided a view of WWII that I rarely if ever think about. Especially some of the background on the Japanese advances and goals. This now seems somewhat ironic to me, as my grandfather was stationed in the Pacific during the war, and my mom has a picture of him in front of the "Enola Gay" B-29 bomber that carried the "little boy" to Hiroshima. But that is about all I know, as I don't remember discussions about WWII happening much when I was growing up.

I've taken three business trips to Japan, all in the Osaka/Kobe area, and have thoroughly enjoyed every single trip. The atmosphere I experienced there absolutely did not resonate with the sentiments that are talked about for nearly the entire book in regards to Japanese attitudes, at least of the leadership of the time. Near the end of the book, there was a discussion on the quick repair of US/Japan relations shortly after the war that cleared up some of my confusion. But I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised, as I don't generally think negatively about the relationship the US has with Germany given the similar history during the same time period. In my opinion, there were atrocities committed on all sides, but I have to believe that most people are not war mongering and want peaceful coexistence. Or maybe I'm just very optimistic and naive.

I've heard that there is a movie being filmed about Louie's story, and that Angelina Jolie is directing it (she directs???). The preview seems to at least show many of the highlights of the story that are in the book, and could be quite the show to see.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Rolling Out the Dough

Much of this past weekends activities revolved around food. So much for this blog being about woodworking...

And speaking of food blogs, my friend Jake is working on his own food blog, which you can find at http://jakesbbqandfood.blogspot.com/. I'm really looking forward to seeing what he's going to cook up this Summer with his new smoker/grill!

So Sunday morning, I made a large batch of waffles. This is another recipe that I use our ground wheat for, and the resulting waffles have a absolutely delicious "earthy" flavor. Since I have yet to modify this recipe and make my own version, I am willing to share this one! (Alton Brown Basic Waffle Recipe)

Sunday evening, I went forward with my plan to make homemade pasta. When going into this, I actually was pretty excited, as it always seems that freshly made pasta is the best thing since sliced bread when watching cooking shows. So with enthusiasm brimming, I set forth, again following the sage advice of Mr. Brown.

With six kids to feed, I made two batches of dough. For the first batch, I tried to use the method of mixing the egg/water mixture with the flour as I'd seen on those TV cooking shows. Where you create a 'volcano' shape with the flour, pour in the egg/water mix, and combine the two with your fingers. Well, let's just say I have a bit of practice to do on that method. My volcano erupted onto the counter, beginning my first round of frustration. I was able to take all the flour and soak up the liquids that were spreading, and created a very homely looking ball of dough-like substance. I put the ball of whatever into a plastic bag and into the fridge.

For the second batch, I decided to follow the advice my wife had given me on the first batch, by putting the ingredients in a large bowl. After my volcanic eruption, I decided to not be so stubborn in trying to mimic the professional chefs on TV. The results were much cleaner! And I think I got the dough ball to form in a much more correct way, as my fingers wound up the egg/water and flour mixture into a yellow dough. However, I did not incorporate anywhere near enough flour, which became an issue later. This dough ball also went into a plastic bag and into the refrigerator.

Later in the afternoon, I began prepping for supper. The rest of the menu included a garlic tomato sauce for the pasta, asparagus and elk steak. The steak was marinated in a balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce mixture for a couple of hours. The asparagus was snapped in preparation for being sauteed in butter. The garlic was peeled, and the onions sweated. Next, I needed to make some noodles.

Okay, so already being a bit frustrated with my dough making performance, I was hoping to make up for that with the dough rolling. We have a pasta maker, so I figured this would go pretty smoothly. Well, to make a long story a little longer, you run it through pasta rollers. Sorry, had to do it. Anyway, I started with the first batch of dough. You know, the dough like substance. Well, after sitting in the chill box for a while, the dough actually looked pretty good. And it rolled out through the pasta machine decently as well! Sweet! But I will say this. This is not a task for those in a hurry. It is a tedious, time consuming, messy task. And the noodle cutting portion of the pasta roller did not function as well as expected, making the task of creating strands of pasta dough take even longer.

After enlisting the help of my lovely wife, so we would be able to eat sometime this week, I started rolling out the second batch of dough, while she cooked the first, and kept an eye on all the other items. As we were doing this, Kristen noted that we should have thought through the menu a bit more, as the there was absolutely no room on our stove due to three sauce pans and a large pot of water all competing for space. But now on to the issues with the second batch of pasta dough.

Remember how I said I didn't incorporate nearly enough flour into the dough? Well, yeah, that was a problem. The dough may have looked prettier to begin with, but it was an absolutely sticky ball of goo later when I was trying to roll it out. So, lots of flour was brought into play, creating a huge mess, and getting me even more frustrated. Eventually, all the dough was flattened, sliced, and boiled. Ugh!

It was so good I had to eat some before taking a picture!
So how did it all taste? Well, the pasta was very good. Much more tender than your standard dry pasta in a box. I was really loving my garlic tomato sauce, but most of the kids complained about it being to 'spicy' from the garlic. I only used two whole cloves. I mean gee wiz, how else do we keep the vampires away. The steak had a great flavor to it, but for some reason was a little tough. The asparagus was very good, and with it being available is another sign that Spring is here!

I'll definitely be trying the pasta again some day. The dough making process is much more finicky than I expected, so it will take some time to figure out the texture I need to look for. But it will come to me at some point, and I may have to look into making whole wheat pasta as well.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book Review: Alton Brown's Gear for Your Kitchen

This is a book I purchased back in 2011 when Alton Brown made his way to Cedar Rapids during his "Inside Out with Alton Brown" tour. So, it is actually a signed copy. Kind of cool!

When I had him sign it, I told him how the boys and I had been watching his show "Good Eats" quite a bit. At one point, one of the boys gave Kristen a hard time as she was cooking, and said "That's not how Mr. Brown does it!" He chuckled a bit, and said I better straighten those boys out.

I already had his three books from the "Good Eats" TV show, so I had to buy something that he could sign, and I chose this one. I figured it would be good to have a book going over all the ins and outs of various cooking tools. And by golly, what man does not like having more tools!

So you might be asking, why are you reviewing this book now? Well, I started on the book waiting in line to have Alton autograph it. But then never got much further. I just finished the rest of the book today.

Me and Alton Brown, 2011
The book itself is the distillation of all the tips, tricks, philosophies, myths and favortism towards the equipment Alton uses, basically as seen on the show "Good Eats". It doesn't have the same whimsical feel as when he visits "W" on the show, and is more just about the facts. Honestly, there is so much good information, I will probably have to refer back to it often.

I haven't gotten around to going through the kitchen to purge un-needed items as he suggests in the book (for example, eliminate all uni-taskers such as a garlic press), but is it tempting. But if I really tried to follow his guidelines, I think Kristen would ban me from the kitchen. I guess I'll just keep finding ways to store more stuff via reorganizations and clever hacks.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Spring Cleaning 2014 Indoor Projects

With the warmer weather starting to finally thaw our frosty demeanor, the inevitable spring cleaning projects have begun. Since the ground still has some snow cover, hence there is still a frost line, the current projects are all indoors. Later on this spring, I should have some information on outdoor projects that will be happening. And let me tell you, there is a long list.

The first project that was tackled was prompted by yet another microwave dying on us. It is always fun to turn on the microwave and have blue light from electrical arcing light up the kitchen and hear noises normally associated from scenes in Frankenstein Monster movies. Hmmm... does that make me Dr. Frankenstein, or Igor? Moving on.

Our kitchen has a little desk as part of the design, and we originally had the microwave set there. With this new setup, as shown in the picture, we moved the microwave over, to the adjacent counter. This required Kristen cleaning up the pile of paperwork, toys, books, and other miscellaneous junk stored there. I think we ended up only keeping 1/100th of the stuff that was stored there. Okay, maybe 1/10th.

My addition to the desk was to make the shelves. I took some more of that cheap melamine particle board I picked up from the Menards discount rack, and created what you see here. I still need to put some iron-on edge banding, but so far, we are absolutely loving how this is working out. The kids school iPads are now off the breakfast bar when charging, and I have a place to put my keys/wallet/phone when I get home that is out of the way.

Another project was to remove the upright piano we had in our living room area, as we have hardly used it since we acquired it. It was a free piano that we received a few years ago, but essentially failed to use. My guess is that to have it tuned up and put back into a state of true usefulness was going to cost way more than it was worth. And so, it was dismantled, piece by piece.

Most of the teardown was actually pretty easy, which really surprised me. For a short while, I thought this was going to be one of my easier projects. Well, once I hit the soundboard, my theory fell apart. In the picture, I am working on removing some components so I can get to the screws that hold the cast iron plate that holds the strings. At this point I had already cut the piano strings out. Tristen, looking oh so manly, was tearing apart the bench.

After removing the metal, I started into tearing apart the sound board. This took a considerable amount of energy, as it was fairly well constructed. When I started thinking about this project, I was thinking I could reclaim much of the wood. However, it appears that it was made from veneered pine for the most part, so pretty much useless. The only pieces I think I may be able to salvage are the six posts that strengthened the sound board on the back. They look to be solid hardwood, and my be useful in building my next set of bunkbeds.

Once we finish our demolition, we cleaned up, moved the sofa back 6 inches, put in a storage shelf, repositioned the TV and TV stand, and moved a bookshelf. The final result was a much more open and organized living space. Hopefully the picture helps for those who have been to our house.

So those have been the major indoor Spring clean up tasks so far this year.

Monday, March 10, 2014

It's Pizza Night!

In a previous post, I talked about the Wheat Cleaner 1.0. A device to help clean wheat more efficiently so we can enjoy foods made from wheat kernels. Not berries. Berries are tart fruits that grow on trees and bushes. Just wanted to make that clear. I wonder if I have to consult a food anthropologist to figure out how this berry nonsense started. Hopefully it isn't the same kind of story that caused tomatoes to be classified as a vegetable instead of a fruit by the government. But I digress. So this post is on one of the main foods we make with our wheat: homemade pizza.

The dough recipe I started with was based on using all-purpose flour, water, oil, sugar, salt, and yeast. While the proportions worked well for those ingredients, they did not work quite as well with the whole wheat flour. So, I've had to experiment some. The main variants were the proportion of whole wheat to all-purpose flour, and the amount of water to use in the dough. As well as the rise time.

Last week I think I finally got the balance correct. The resulting dough was stretchy and easily made into a pizza crust by hand. In the past, I would have to work the dough over pretty hard to get it to stretch out, usually resigning myself to use a rolling pin. Oh the horror! While the resulting crust always had an excellent taste, it had been hard to work with. This is no longer the case!

As you can see in the picture, my el'cheapo pizza peel is in pretty sad shape. It is cracking, peeling, and is a tad too thick in my mind. So, on my list of woodworking projects is a new pizza peel. Whenever I get around to making it, I'll be sure to post it here. Just thought I'd throw this paragraph in to tie this post to woodworking! I guess all things considered, the $15 pizza peel and pizza stone combo have served me pretty well.

So what kind of pizza do we make to feed our house full of boys? Rather than try to please them all, or rather force them to be happy with one or two types of pizza, we've gone down the personal pizza route. I end up breaking the pizza dough up into individual sized pizzas, which allows each of us create our own pizza flavor. We usually try to have two sauce choices, homemade red, and a white alfredo sauce. Then, depending on what we have around the house, we may have chicken, roasted garlic, elk/venison steak and/or burger, homemade venison sausage, mushrooms, peppers, onions (raw and caramelized), fresh basil, tomatoes, black olives, sauerkraut, pineapple, bacon, pepperoni, and my sisters suggestion, chopped pickles. Oh, and yes, also anchovies on occasion. Each pizza night there is a subset of that wide variety of toppings. I am probably forgetting a few, but you get the idea. Sky's the limit!

On to the big question at hand, at least in my mind. To share my recipe or not! Do you want to make your own whole wheat pizza? Do you want the recipe? Well, I think you'll just have to come over and join us for pizza night if you want it!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Winter Memories

photo credit: Yukon White Light via photopin cc
With Winter supposedly coming to an end, I thought I would expound upon the comments/statuses/posts I made during the waning weeks of this long cold Winter. And add a few other stories that came up with conversation I had with others during this time as well.

What really started the whole thing off was sharing a story of having a car spin out in front of me one morning. School had been delayed, and I was surprised by this, as there was only a couple inches of light snow on the ground. But once I started driving to work, it made more sense. The main streets were very slippery, as the driver who spun out discovered. I was able to then brag about my new F-150 handling the snow with ease!

When discussing this story with others, I recounted that during my youth (geez, I sound old) we would walk to our neighbors house to get on the bus. On stormy mornings, we would listen to the police band radio scanner, as the school bus communications could be heard as well. What we were listening for was word that at least two buses were in the ditch. Why two? Well, there was a spare bus in the fleet, and if only one went in the ditch, the routes could still be completed with the spare bus!

With the schools being closed for cold weather, I recalled having to walk 'blind' to our neighbors house. The 'blindness' was caused by my eyes watering from the cold wind, and then immediately freezing my eyelashes together. I'd stumble into the neighbors house and pull of the ice that had formed so I could open my eyes again.

After getting some great feedback on my thoughts on Winter thus far, I made a comment about how beautiful the new fallen snow was. And I admit, I really enjoy the pristine look of new snow and everything covered by it. However, this where the cabin fever for some people started to show up. My happy notes on Winter were not enjoyed by some. And so, as more snow was falling, I snapped a short video and had this to say:

Now, who doesn't think this is a really pretty picture! Big fluffy flakes falling in a winter wonderland. You need to embrace the season. Complaining about how tough this winter is is only going to make it seem longer.
So that didn't go over too well. Guess I need to work on my compassionate side.

The weather then turned really cold. Like -20F cold. So instead of commenting on the beauty of snow, I starting mentioning the things I thought were neat about really cold days. The first is sundogs. The picture at the beginning of the post is supposed to give you an idea of what they look like. Rainbows around the sun is the best way to describe them. Whenever I look outside, if the day is sunny, clear, and a sundog is visible, I know it is bitter cold out. I also think the sound snow makes when you step on it when it is really cold is interesting. It is a very distinct crunch, that you don't get at different temperatures. Yet another aspect of the cold I've always liked, is the cleansing feeling of taking a deep breath of icy air. I find the burn to be quite refreshing and invigorating. And a final nicety of cold weather and snow is the sparkling, to the point of almost being blinding. The glint of the snow crystals in the bright sun is just as enchanting as any diamond in my opinion.

A great big smile when sledding!
The kids have been wanting to go sledding quite a bit this year, which has also been a fun throwback to my younger days. And by sledding, I mean tobogganing. Not snowmobiling. Using gravity to propel yourself down a snow covered hill. I once was in a conversation about sledding, where I was thinking tobogganing, and the other person was thinking snowmobiling. Yeah, awkward.

I guess in full disclosure I should also talk about the terms 'snocat' and 'snocatting' that we would use as kids. I believe these terms stemmed from growing up 20 or so miles from the Artic Cat snowmobile factory. When referring to the snowmobile we had, we would routinely call it 'the snocat', and the act of operating the 'snocat' was 'snocatting'. This was really ironic, as we owned a Polaris snowmobile, a 1969 Charger I believe.

Digging tunnels in the snow was always an activity we attempted as kids, but seldom ever succeeded at. We had plenty of large drifts to use, as the Northwest wind was always blowing the snow into these great big piles around buildings and machinery around the farm. That snow was always so hard due to the wind packing it that we tire very quickly and gave up. This year my kids have been doing the same thing, but trying to dig into the piles the city snowplow has left along the street. They have been doing surprisingly in that hard packed snow!

So as I am writing this, there are many more memories coming back to me. Looks like I'll have to take some notes and write up another Winter memories post another day. Till next time, stay warm and take heart in the joys that Winter can provide!

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Lent Police Force

So, Ash Wednesday is this week, and I'm kind wondering what people are doing to prepare for Lent. Last night we sat down with the kids and we each shared what we are planning to do for Lent. Part of this exercise was to have the kids think about what would be a good 'sacrifice' for each of them, given the spread in ages and maturity. And the other part was to allow us to hold each other accountable as a family. To make sure we keep on doing what we said we'd do. Hopefully the kids will also see this accountability as a way to help each other on the journey, and not just be the "Lent Police Force".

We took it another step and added a 'penance' if we have a misstep. Not everyone added this to their Lenten activities, but I think everyone saw the value of doing something extra to refocus and get back on track. Most of the 'penances' were extra prayers.

So, the big question that I am sure is burning in everyone's head. What did I pledge to do? Well, the first was to give up playing all games on my tablet. First and foremost, Candy Crush Saga. The kids just about fell over in disbelief at this one. Yes I play the game, but I'm not one to go at it for hours on end. I really haven't traversed that far into the levels, compared to other people I know. But it seems to be the "go to" thing to do to waste time or procrastinate. My intent is to then use this newly available time to do something more constructive. Like read, or get some of my to do list completed, or wrestle with the kids, or show some lovin' to my wife! But, I decided to use this extra time (at least during Lent) to share at least one positive comment on social media per day. Yep, more snow loving like status updates coming down the pipe!

Oh, and the penance side of the coin? Well, I will say a rosary every time I play a game on the tablet. And I threw in the caveat that if one of the kids 'tricks' me into playing, they get to share in my penance! And so, ever since listing out our Lenten activities, the kids have been on me like stink on poop whenever I pick up my tablet. "DAD! No Games!" is the common phrase I hear, and I am guilty until I prove my innocence. It seems the Lenten Police Force is on high alert already!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Wheat Cleaner 1.0

The Wheat Cleaner 1.0

Introducing, the Wheat Cleaner 1.0!

As some may know, we like to grind our own wheat in the Perreault household. Before grinding (or in the case of our flour making machine, impacting), the wheat kernels must be cleaned. Before going on, I know many people call them wheat berries, but for some reason, I just can't latch on to that nomenclature. Moving on...

Cleaning really just consists of separating the chaff and dried grasshoppers and beetles that are remaining in the wheat I get from my parents' farm in Minnesota. Now if that last statement grossed you out, get over it. Do you really want to know what is allowed to go into your store-bought processed food? Well, do you? Didn't think so. Besides, I told you the Wheat Cleaner 1.0 is used to remove it, so no harm done. Right? Although I'm sure the bugs would be a good source of protein!

My previous cleaning method was pretty much medieval. I would pour buckets of wheat back and forth in the breeze (or use my own hot air) to remove the undesired particulate. This worked well enough for small batches of wheat. But lately, we've been using much larger quantities (we have a lot of growing boys you know!), and a more time efficient method of cleaning was required.

So, hopping on the internet, I searched for solutions. Most grain cleaning solutions were geared towards industrial usage, and not necessarily what I was looking for. They were expensive and bulky, and not suited for my home use task. Then I started finding contraptions that were being used to sort seeds. Both for agricultural purposes, and for bird feeding purposes. I ended up building a unit based on the plans at http://www.realseeds.co.uk/seedcleaner.html. The following is an image of the open source plans they provided.

The unit uses a shop-vac to create an updraft, thereby allowing the heavier wheat kernels to pass through a vertical separation chamber, and the lighter weed seeds and chaff to be sucked out. The vertical separation chamber has a series of flow disrupters, which I'll refer to as 'plinkos'. There is a draft control on the front that allows the amount of updraft to be varied for fine tuning the separation. The current design works well if I control the inflow of raw material. If too much wheat enters the vertical chamber, the suction increases due to the decrease in the chamber cross-sectional area, and most of the wheat gets pulled into the waste collection area. So, one of my improvements is to create some sort of intake flow control.

The completed unit is about 24 inches tall, by 17 inches wide. The depth is about 3 inches. The side walls are made from pieces of melamine covered particle board. I used one 48"x11"x3/4" piece of the this material for the entire unit, which cost me $2.29 at Menard's. For the top and bottom, I used 1/4 inch hardboard, which I picked out of a dumpster at a construction site. And the clear plastic covering the separation chamber was laying around my house. So, so far, the total material cost has been $2.29 plus the cost for some screws.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Review: The Shadow of His Wings

The Shadow of His Wings: The True Story of Fr. Gereon Goldmann, OFM.

I just finished this book a few days ago, and have to say it was a very interesting read. One of the things that really struck me was seeing WWII from such a different perspective then I'm used to. There are many interesting situations that transpire as we follow Fr. Goldmann through his journey as a soldier and priest.

The main theme that is prevalent throughout the book is the power of prayer. The prayers that were offered in assuring Fr. Goldmann would become a priest. And the prayers that saved his life in numerous situations when he would clash with the Nazis'.

What may be surprising is the nearly total lack of discussion on the concentration camps, which always seems to be a central theme when discussing WWII. This may be in part because Fr. Goldmann's travels did not require him to encounter them. His duties took him to France, Russia, Italy, and Morocco. During the entire war, he did not once hurt another person, and became a medic, thereby helping many on the battlefield. Both physically and spiritually.

One of the more surprising tales is how he and a group of seminarians became SS officers. Their belief in God and adherence to a strict honor code was actually viewed as desirable to the powers that be. Later on however, they were targeted as traitors for their beliefs.

The book concludes with Fr. Goldmann's missionary efforts in Japan, which were quite the accomplishment as well.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Why I Work Wood

How much wood could a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could chuck wood?
He'd chuck what wood a wood chuck could chuck if a wood chuck could chuck wood.

I've always liked that little rhyme. But, onto the real reason for this post. Why do I work with wood. The reasons are many, and looking back in time, they are a lot different then I initially thought. Let me start with the reason I went full 'bore' into woodworking.

The event that drove me into eventually sinking investing thousands of dollars on tools was when we needed to update the beds we had for our oldest two boys. As all good consumer driven people do, my wife and I went shopping! And so, we went looking around at the various furniture stores, trying to find a set of bunk beds that appealed to us. What ensued was what essentially ended up being an exercise in futility. Maybe we had too high of expectations, or maybe we'd been conditioned to expect cheap prices for decent quality, or maybe it was something else. What we felt we were finding were overpriced pieces of shoddily built things passed off as furniture. We even tried going to an "Oak" furniture store, thinking maybe at least the structural construction would be better. The prices were even more outrageous, and there were no bunk beds to be found. So, given the can-do spirit of my upbringing, I decided to build my own. I purchased a contractor table saw, benchtop drill press, benchtop jointer, and a few router bits. With tools and a set of plans in tow, I went forward with building the beds.

This is where the looking back says my interest started earlier than this point, as I already had a few tools such as a router and other miscellaneous tools. But this project spawned a much more focused thought process. I had it in my head to never walk into a furniture store again. So, far, I've been able to completely avoid them.

One of the things I learned from that first major project is to never buy hardwood from a box store (Menards, Home Depot, Lowes, etc). Granted, the wood was fine to work with, and I probably saved a lot of time as I didn't have to mill much of it, but my goodness was it expensive. I think I spent around $800 on the lumber alone. I think I've been able to build similar beds for half that cost by milling lumber purchased from a local sawmill. But, that point doesn't really fit into this narrative. Oh well, moving on.

When I completed those beds, I have to say I was quite pleased with myself. They were sturdy, they looked great, and I couldn't help but think that for around $1500 (tools and materials) I had created two beds that would sell at a furniture store for thousands of dollars each. Although I've also come to realize that I'm using time in building furniture, so the 'savings' are somewhat debatable.

That project started a string of projects that never cease to end, as well as a spending spree on tools. I might be able to count up all the beds I've made, but I really haven't tried to keep track anymore. In fact at this time, I have three more beds I really need to get done soon. I've made a dining room table to fit our family. Numerous cabinets and shelves. Night stands, knick knacks, and quite a few toy swords and other miscellaneous toys for the boys to play with.

When I was thinking of writing this post, those beds were what I thought drove me to woodworking. They definitely catapulted the time and money invested, but I think the desire was from much further back, and from much deeper within. Looking back, I think I started down this path much earlier.

When our first son was born, I had the urge to build something for him. So, with some pre-cut pine boards, a drill, circular saw, and a router, I put together a changing table. Currently it is being used as the base for a desk for our boys.

In college, I designed and built my loft. The lumber I used went through a few transformations depending on the location and type of bed. But, between studying, chasing girls, working, and chasing girls, there wasn't much time for building stuff.

And growing up, I always seemed to be wanting to build something. A playhouse using the lumber laying around the farm. A tree house. A go-cart. With ample tools, materials, and time available during the summer, that is usually what I tried to do. Most of my creations only got half built. Most were pretty ugly. But I definitely learned how to appreciate doing something yourself. It has been very hard over the years to realize that I can indeed do anything I want, but I don't have the time to do it all. I have to be choosy and prioritize.

I'm guessing that this drive to build things was what led me to engineering. And for a while it used to surprise me at how many engineers that I work with are also woodworkers. Not so much anymore though. We engineers need to build things, and the environment for engineers at Rockwell Collins where I work is more about paperwork than design. Woodworking provides that outlet to build and create for us desk jockeys.

This has been more of a philosophical history lesson then anything else. Therapeutic in some ways. Maybe that is the point of this blog altogether.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Few Recently Completed Projects

Here are a few projects I've completed lately that I have a pictures of. Enjoy!

iPad Holder
iPad Holder
This project was completed for St Joseph Catholic School, where my kids attend. The school has been purchasing a lot of new computer equipment, and was in need of a place to hold a number of new iPads when charging. The resulting cabinet holds 16 iPads, and is constructed from 3/4 inch oak plywood, reclaimed oak flooring for the trim and edging, and 1/4 inch hardboard dividers. The piece was finished with a wipe-on polyurethane (picture is of the unfinished version).
Family Cross

Family Cross
As part of Catholic Schools Week last month, families were invited to share family crosses. My wife came up with the basic design (the puzzle pieces), and then I built it using scrap chunks of wood. Good thing I hardly throw out any wood! The backer is piece of 3/4 inch oak plywood, and the various puzzle pieces of the cross are made from purple heart, cherry, walnut, spalted maple, leopoardwood, and red oak. A wipe-on polyurethane was used to finish the project.

We put together the following as an explanation of the cross:
The Perreault Family Cross:
We are 8 individual pieces to a puzzle. Put together to form a family. Working together to follow God's path for us: to show His love to all we meet.

Handheld Crosses
Handheld Crosses
These handhold-able crosses are for a Lenten project one our boys is going to do. The request was put out by the teacher for small crosses, and of course my wife volunteered my services! They are simple lap-type joint construction, about 3 inches high, and about 2 inches wide. The wood used was reclaimed oak flooring.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Revisiting an Old Deep Dish

While planning out our meals for last week, I had the idea to make something I haven't had since college: meat pie. And so, I went about planning what I wanted to put into the pie. Well, the first thought that came to mind was to make it a bacon cheeseburger meat pie. Because everything is better with bacon! Just for the record, my meat pie is just that, a meat pie. No vegetables like a pot pie, no potato covering like shepherds pie, and made with ground meat unlike a berry/nut mixture in mincemeat pie. So, over the weekend, I was able to do a little cooking and make my meat pie.

Saturday afternoon, I began by browning the elk burger with chopped onions, mixing in an assortment of spices: salt, pepper, garlic, cumin, red pepper flakes, and paprika. Next I added the turkey bacon we cooked up the night before when we made homemade pizza (my pizza will be a blog entry another day). While I don't mind turkey bacon, it is definitely not the wonder food that cured pork belly is. So, chalk up turkey bacon as mistake number one. I finished cooking up the filling, and let it cool a bit. When I was ready to fill the pie, I added some eggs to act as a binding agent.

After cooking up the filling, I made the crust. My standard pie crust (yet another blog entry) works great in this application, and this time was no exception. Even got to make a few pieces of 'crust', or 'makins' (I think) as my mother calls them. Essentially the leftover crust dough rolled out, cut up, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and baked. Yum! I used to make batches of this in college as my main meal. It was cheap and delicious! Not very healthy though.

So, I rolled out my bottom crust, put it in the pie plate, and started filling it. And filled it some more. Then filled it some more. This was mistake number two. Too much meat filling. The end result was an overly deep pie. After filling the pie, I contemplated the cheese actually going into the concoction. Ultimately, I did not put cheese in. Mistake number three. I think a bit of cheddar would have been really good. But as I was making the pie, for some reason I had a hard time reconciling the taste of dairy with my crust. Oh well, live and learn. On went the top crust, and into the oven!

So, the pie came out, and the boys were quite excited to see what their Dad came up with this time. Especially since they were having 'dessert' for supper! They all love my apple pie, so I suppose they all figured this pie should be great too! Well, the result was definitely edible, but not my best creation.

For starters, the overly thick pie was very filling. None of the boys were able to finish a whole piece. And it was pretty dry too. Guess that happens when you use a lean protein like elk meat. So, I may have to look into making a sauce to go in the pie, maybe a thick brown gravy. But, the boys did say they liked it, so it may be something to keep working on and make again!

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Start of Another Activity I Have No Time For

Blogging. Seems like that is the thing to do these days. Well, I'm not blogging here to make money, and I have no aspirations to be famous online. My real purpose is to document the things I've done in my shop, so that family and friends across the country/world can see what I've created. Of course, I may throw in a few other topics as well. No need to create more than one blog!

And so, the name of this post implies that this is yet another activity to add to the multitude of things on my list of things to do. Hopefully, I can do these postings quickly, so it is not a complete time sucking activity. But knowing me, I'll spend far too much time on it.

Anyways, for those who actually find this blog post, and the follow on posts, enjoy. If you feel inspired by what I write, let me know!

I have plenty of past projects that I can highlight and document, so that is probably where I will start. And I'll probably start at the beginning of my journey. Of course, that may go back too many years...

Till next time!