Tools that I like (Universal Bar Clamp)

Univeral Bar Clamp

If you go to a woodworking store, such as Woodcraft, you can find a plethora of bar, pipe and parallel clamps from companies such as Bessey, Jet and Jorgensen. They range in price from $30 to $45 each. If you go to a box store, such as Home Depot, you can find a pipe clamp for under $20 (plus you have to purchase an appropriate sized pipe to finish the clamp).

When I took a woodworking class at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, they had rows of aluminum bar clamps. They were “Universal Bar Clamps” by the Dubuque Clamp Works company. You can buy the clamps from several online retailers, including Woodcraft. You can also save money and purchase them directly from the manufacturer (USA Clamp Company). The main page of the company’s website is not working, but the pages for the clamps works. I called them this week, and they said that they took the front page down because they were swamped with orders, but they will ship clamps if I order directly from them.

The clamps are great. They don’t have as much clamping pressure as a traditional pipe clamp, but they have enough for most purposes. I will probably use the pipe clamps to glue up the thick top for the kitchen island, but that type of glue up is the exception. The universal bar clamps sit flat on the workbench, and the aluminum doesn’t stain the wood. To top it off, they are made in the USA.

Several years ago I split an order of 10 of the longer clamps (48” clamps I believe – I don’t have one of them in front of me right now). The only drawback is how long they are. That is a lot longer than I need for most glue-ups. So, this week I ordered 10 of the 24” clamps to split with one of the guys I work with.

Another Tuesday Night (Cleaning the Workshop)

Susanna has been working most evenings for the past two weeks.  She heads into work before I get home, and returns about when I would normally go to bed.  So, I’ve been staying up later than usual. So, I’ve been a little tired when I get home from work. The boys are at their mother’s house tonight and tomorrow night, so I was planning on taking some time to get ahead on projects in the workshop after dinner.

The back wall of the workshop - I need to rearrange and reorganize the storage on that wall this winter.

I couldn’t get motivated to actually make sawdust today; instead I spent some time cleaning and organizing the workshop. The shop is now about as clean as it ever gets – which means I’ll have to start working to make it dirty again.

I rearranged the workshop this year, and am in general very pleased with the layout. There are two problems with the shop currently.  The first is that I don’t have a good place to store the wood that I am currently using for a given project.  The  second is the back wall of the shop. I think I need to rearrange the storage on that wall a bit to make the space more useful.  I’m still not sure how I would arrange the back wall. Maybe I’ll move the lathe to the back wall, and move the storage shelves to fit where the lathe is currently.

The major improvement I made to the workshop storage this year was the hand tool storage wall.

I am still tweaking the hand tool storage wall, but overall I am very happy with it.  I’m also pretty sure I’ll continue to add small improvements to my hand tool storage as I use the workshop.  Tonight I added a second shelf on the left that holds my “guest tools” – or the loaner tools, so I don’t have to loan out my good hand tools.

The end of the summer

Today is the last day of summer break from school. At least for me. Susanna has school today, so yesterday was her last day of summer. The boys start on Wednesday, so they get one more day. But they go to their mother’s house tomorrow – so for me the school year routine starts tomorrow.

Summer break is fun. No school. The beach. Long family vacations. Yet, This summer was a little too crazy, and I’m ready for fall. I think the boys are as well. I’m guessing Susanna would be happy for a couple more weeks of summer; I don’t think she is looking forward to the cool weather (I know, crazy – a Swede that can’t stand the cold).

I took today off of work to watch the boys. We worked on scraping and painting the bottom part of the front porch. I’m very pleased at how the house colors are turning out. It is a little depressing to think that we won’t be able to finish the painting until next summer.

The trailer parts I ordered two weeks ago arrived today. I need two u-bolts to complete the structural work. They sent the wrong size. The invoice had the correct size, but the box had the wrong parts. A little frustrating, but after a quick phone call, the company is sending the right parts. Hopefully they will arrive before next weekend, but I’m not expecting it.

Will has his friend Tyler over today, so the boys are pretty occupied. The weather threatens rain, so no more painting. I took the opportunity to organize the workshop a bit.

The front porch in progress:


The Next Big Journey

The past couple of years with Susanna has been a wonderful adventure. We have traveled to Australia, England, Sweden, Denmark and up and down the east coast of the US. We have built a life here in Preston – we have learned how to make our blended family work with Will and Ben. We have made a home together; we tore down a shed and built a patio; we repainted several rooms, and are working on painting the outside of the house. We have done many trips to New York City. Susanna finished her studies in Sweden and started working on her degree here. She has helped me focus on my work in the workshop, and I have a workshop that is cleaner and more organized than I ever have (okay, maybe not right now if you walk in there – but it is still cleaner than it has been years ago).

Yesterday we decided that we wanted to take the next step in our adventure together. We are planning a wedding for next summer. I love looking back at how far our journey together has taken us, and look forward to being able to reflect on where our lives take us from here. Rarely anything worth anything in life comes easy, and we have had to work hard to get to where we are.  But I am thankful to have had her help through the difficult times as well as shared in the many joys of life. It seemed that three years ago, there was an ocean between the lives we wanted together and the lives we were living; but now it seems that we are both on the same shore, and can look back together at the long journey to this point.

Another Completed Project

Will trying his saw bench out for size - it is a little tall for him, but he will grow into it.

Over the past couple of years I have learned that I am not good at finishing projects. Looking back at my life, it is something that I have always suspected about myself. It isn’t something that is always easy to admit to oneself though.  I love the thrill of starting something new, but usually anything worth doing takes long enough to finish that it is no longer new and exciting.  Once a project is no longer new or exciting it is easy to put it aside to start a new and exciting project.

I have done that when renovating my house.  Ben’s room took years to finish, and that with help and encouragement from both my dad and Susanna.

I have done that in the workshop.  This past summer I added the last remnants of several unfinished projects to the fire pit.  They included a carcase from a storage shelf I started years ago before moving to Preston, pieces to a bed I was going to build for Will or Ben, and a section of maple butcher block I had glued up for a carving board.

I’m trying to limit the number of projects I have going on at one time.  This summer saw a few too many.  Two projects in the workshop (an island for the kitchen, and a saw bench for Will), a push to get the sailboat in the water before the water freezes, and painting the house trim.  Thankfully, Susanna has taken over the painting.  Unfortunately, I am still waiting for trailer parts to arrive in the mail – which makes it tempting to start a new project. But, I’m trying to focus on finishing projects.

The pieces from Will’s sawbench had been sitting around the workshop for a couple of months.  The boys were gone last week, and Susanna worked every night, so I had lots of evenings free.  I cut the last joinery out on the sawbench and prepared all the pieces for assembly.  I could have finished it last week, but since it was a project I started with Will, it seemed better to wait until he returned to finish it.

This morning we assembled the bench, and now I have one less uncompleted project hanging over my head.  Now to move on to finishing the other projects I have going on before I start any more.


Porch Update

The porch trim painting in progress

It has been a crazy busy summer. One of the big family projects this summer has been to paint the front porch. Susanna has been doing most of the work on the painting. Her sisters (Sofia and Rebecka) and friend (Linda) helped kick off the project, but I think it turned out to be more work than any of them expected.

The porch trim had been painted white, with the floor and ceiling (and base of the house) painted green. We decided to paint the trim to highlight the Victorian details in the house trim. I picked colors from the Sherwin-Williams historic color collection. The trim color is Rookwood Dark Green, with the accent color being Rookwood Dark Brown. Our plans are to paint the exterior of the house Concord Buff next summer, so the parts of the porch that are going to match the house color are being painted as well. So, for a couple of months the porch will standout from the rest of the house.

We have been getting comments about how nice the new paint job is turning out. Several people have stopped while driving or walking by to tell us how much better the house is looking. I can’t wait to see how the house looks when we are finished with all the painting.

The porch trim painted. The ceiling on the porch still has to be painted Concord Buff

We still have some work to do on the porch. It has only been painted down to the railings. I had talked to Will and Ben, and offered them each money to paint the bottom of the porch. Ben readily agreed. Will didn’t really want to paint, but then he decided he didn’t want Ben to get all the money, and agreed to paint.

With all the detail work on the porch, I suspect that painting the porch itself is about 1/2 of the entire house painting effort. We will attempt to finish painting as much of the trim as possible this year, and start with the walls early next year.

We have a couple house renovation projects in the wings to be started this winter – with the biggest being renovating the mud room and laundry room (which requires removing a chimney). I have also been making (slow) progress on the sailboat and in the workshop – I’ll write about that later. We also have some big events (personal) planned for next summer, but more on that later as well.

Will taking a break from scraping the porch. The walls below the railing will be Concord Buff and the floor will be painted Rookwood Dark Green.
Ben working on scraping the peeling paint from the front porch. After scraping the loose paint off, we will wash the prepared area with TSP and let dry prior to painting.

Confluence and Ohiopyle Pennsylvania (Vacation Part 2)

The boys waving to the train as it passes our house

We had a wonderful week in western PA.  I’m writing this from home – I forgot my adapter to download pictures from the camera – as well as a poor (sporadic) Internet connection prevented more posts from the trip.

The last two evenings after dark we played many rounds of “flashlight tag” with all the kids (both the young ones and the “grown up” ones).

The second day was just spent hanging around the house, playing in the water.  I took the boys and we put life-jackets on and floated down the river from the back of our house to the takeout above Ramcat Rapids.  It would have been fun to run the rapids, I’m just not sure we could have made it home from below the rapids easily.   We even saw two Northern Water Snakes while we were wading in the river.

I also headed into town to find some beer.  That was a challenge, the only package store in Confluence was several miles out of town, down a side road, attached to someone’s house.

The water playground above Ohiopyle Falls, PA

The third day was our big outing day.  We headed to Ohiopyle before lunch.  We spent an hour playing in the rapids above the falls.

Even Felix (the Rwandan graduate student that my dad and Barbara are sponsoring) swam the rapids.  He can’t swim, so he stayed in the shallows (there aren’t any lakes or big rivers near where he grew up in Rwanda).

We ate lunch at the Ohiopyle Bakery.  I would recommend the bakery for lunch to anyone visiting the town.  The prices were good, and the food was wonderful.  It was a short walk from where we had parked and played in the water.

After lunch most of the group wanted to go for a bike ride (Ben included).  Will, Felix and I stayed to play in the water.  We visited the natural waterslide  (and all went down the slide once – Will went more than once).  It was a bit rough, bouncing off the rocks on the way down, but fun.  I’m sure it would have been a lot faster if the water weren’t so low.   We even saw a huge snapping turtle in one of the natural pools in the stream.

After the slide, we went back to the rapids above the falls and spent the rest of the afternoon playing there until everyone else returned from the bike ride (Ben rode 6 miles).

The final night we walked over to the edge of the property to watch the bats fly out of the man-made bat houses on the property.  It was amazing to watch – I have never seen so many bats at once.  We stood about 20 feet from the bat house and watched them fly into the evening over our heads.

Yesterday we headed into Ohiopyle for breakfast and then drove home.

The natural water slide in Ohiopyle, PA
Will posing at the rapids above the falls in Ohiopyle, PA
Ben working his camera in Ohiopyle, PA


Trains, Trains, Trains (and a vacation from the busy summer)

Paddler's Lane Main House (image from Paddler's Lane website)

Sunday the boys and I drove to western Pennsylvania to meet my my dad and my brother and his boys.  We are staying at Paddler’s Lane Retreat near Confluence, PA.

The drive was as uneventful as can be hoped with a 7 and 9 year old in the car. We hit no real traffic (okay, a little on the way through NYC, but that is expected). We arrived late in the afternoon, beating everyone else here by several hours (it is a little longer drive from St. Louis than from Connecticut).

Yesterday was left unstructured so the cousins could all just unwind from the drive an play together.  In the afternoon we walked down to the river and spent a couple of hours playing in the river.

There are train tracks right across the driveway from the house (maybe 70m from the house) – and it is a busy track with lots of coal trains (and a periodic Amtrak passenger train). The trains have been a huge hit with the boys.  Every 30 minutes to 60 minutes a train runs by, and the boys all run outside to watch it.  At least they did yesterday, Will is getting a little bored with it today. Yesterday morning on of the trains stopped alongside the property. The boys walked over to look at the train, and the engineer came out of the train and talked to them (and gave them each a bottle of water).  The engineer said that he was stopped while they did track work, but couldn’t take the boys up in the engine to look around.

The river was fun in the afternoon.  A group of kids learning to kayak came downstream while we were playing in the water.  One of the kids flipped his/her boat on the single hole they were playing around in on the rapids near where we were playing.  This would be a great place to bring life jackets for the adults and some rafts to float the rapids.

Internet has been sporadic here.  And there is no cell coverage at all (unless I walk 10 minutes to the end of the driveway and down the road a bit).  But it nice to take a break from always checking email and the phone.  I’ve been leaving the phone inside all day.

Of course we had to find some internet… so here I am writing on the blog.  Pictures will have to follow later, I didn’t bring the cable to download pictures from my camera.

No real plans today – just hang out for a bit and let the boys play.  Maybe head down to the river if the weather warms up.