Blog Books (and a vacation from posting)

Will and Ben's blog books. Available for a limited time to family at

The boys’ blog books arrived today from They are perfect – the boys immediately took them out and read them. And Will didn’t even complain about having to write in his blog tonight.

Now I feel obligated to write in my blog.  I have taken a nice 10 day vacation between posts. I think it was a combination of the cold weather, maybe being a little burned out of writing, and the stress of worrying if (thanks to congress failing to do their job) there will be a furlough of federal employees starting this April.

Susanna has started school again – her last semester. That means that she won’t be free to work on house projects during the week. And probably not much during the weekends as homework starts to pile up.

We have made some progress on Will’s room. I have most of the drywall up, and the window repaired/repainted. I’ll try to get pictures up later this week.  I hadn’t spent much time at all in the workshop – I’ve been waiting for the weekend temperatures to get above freezing. Working on the power tools when it is too cold outside sucks. Even after I get the workshop warmed up, the heavy tools are still bitter cold to the touch.

The weather today gives hope for warmer weather. I know by Sunday we will be back into winter, but hopefully not for that much longer.

An afternoon in the city

Or, a visit to Madame Tussaud’s museum. Of course that isn’t all we did. But it is most of what we did. We were a bit slow getting out of the house (we couldn’t find Targa’s invisible fence collar that had been misplaced – but don’t worry the dogs found it while we were gone and chewed it up), but made it by lunch time. Will picked Mexican for lunch.

After lunch we walked through the museum. We then walked back to the train station, stopping at the New York Library for a short break (in the kids section). We were back in New Haven by dinner time (an exciting dinner at IKEA), and home before bed time.

Having fun at lunch with Ben.
Will and Ben on top of the city
Ben getting his hand stepped on by the Hulk
Meeting Captain America
Creeping up on James Bond

Sunday in the workshop (kitchen island progress and a new jig)

New planing stop/bench hook

I was finally able to get time in the workshop today. I have been a bit sidetracked with renovations to Will’s room over the past two weeks. One thing that has helped is trying to do two hours of work a day on the room. On the week nights, that gets progress done on the room. On the weekend, that allows me to find time to do other things without feeling guilty.

I was able to complete my two hours on the room by lunch today and take some time in the afternoon to head out to the shop. The weather has been crazy – it is mid-January and 50 degrees out.

I am making progress on the kitchen island. I have all the mortises done, and half of the tenons cut.  Today I decided to build a planing stop. One of the frustrations with the workbench I have is holding the work while I hand plane. In the past I have put a board across the bench and clamped it on. That works fine if I am planing only in the direction of the grain. If I try to plane cross-grain, I need to fully clamp the work in the bench.  It is a pain in the butt to always clamp and unclamp the work.

That leads me to the planning stop/bench hook I built today. I’m not sure if it is traditional, and time will tell how well it works.  I took a 48-inch long 1×12 piece of pine and attached a board to the front (so it will register on the front of the workbench).  I then took some thin stock (or rather made thin stock – about 1/2-inch thick) and attached it to the back and left side of the top of the board.

So far it seems to be working as planned. It makes cleaning up the long pieces of wood for the kitchen island much easier.  It also gives me a nice board to chisel on and not worry about chopping up the top of the workbench.  I suppose if I need to work on any pieces longer than about 44-inches I’ll need to build a new stop.

Day trip to New Bedford, MA


Looking through doors at New England Demolition and Architectural Salvage


Yesterday, Susanna and I took a road trip to New Bedford, MA. We planned to visit the New England Demolition and Salvage company.  The plan was to look at possibly getting a new door for the kitchen. In hindsight, I should have measured for a new bedroom door. Our bedroom door is the only really crappy replacement door in the house (hollow core, flat panel).  There are tons of doors that match the style of our house, most for $50-$60. Exterior doors are closer to $150-$200.

We wound up not buying anything at the salvage store – but it is a great place to get ideas. They have an acre of claw-foot tubs. Thousands of doors and windows. And countless other treasures.

We made it a day trip, with lunch after the salvage store, and a visit to some more antique stores (and a flea market in Fall River that wasn’t worth stopping at). We aren’t really in the market for anything specific for the house, but it is nice to get out and explore.  We were home in time for dinner and a movie.

Sharpening a vintage chisel


A $5 find at the local flea market


This morning the boys and I visited the local flea market. The boys were on a search for a new toy. I wasn’t looking for anything particular, but of course stopped by the tool vendors to see if anything caught my eye. For $5 I picked up a vintage 1/2-inch socket chisel. The blade was in very good shape, and the price was right. Tonight I decided to sharpen it. I figured I would document how I took an old flea market find and turned it into a sharp chisel. Not that I’m trying to tell anyone else how to do it, but I figured it would be interesting to look back in a few years and see if what I did still makes sense. But maybe by then I’ll only purchase new chisels. Just not from the box store.  $5 (if one doesn’t count the cost of the sharpening stones) and 15 minutes on the water stones and I have a much better chisel than any crap one can pick up at a box store.

First thing I did was take a close look at the blade to see how much metal I needed to take off. In this case the blade was in good shape (no pitting or nicks):


Chisel blade before any work is done

Next I get the waterstones ready. It is too cold to work out in the workshop this time of year, so I take over the kitchen:


Set up to sharpen on the kitchen table. I'm guessing I'll have to find a new location once I build the island.


Next I flatten the back starting with the 220-grit and working my way to the 8000-grit stone. I use a thin ruler on the edge of the stone so I only have to flatten the back near the tip (it saves a lot of time flattening):


Flattening the back on the coarse stone. I use two hands for this normally (but needed my other hand to hold the camera).


Next I put the chisel in my Veritas honing guide and work my way from the coarse to 8000 grit. I will periodically turn the chisel and flatten the back as I work (to get rid of the wire that forms when aggressively removing metal). For this chisel, the process took only 5 minutes to sharpen the bevel. I sharpened this with a 30-degree bevel angle:


Sharpening the bevel. Only sharpen on the pull stroke. This is on the 220 grit stone. I have a 120 grit stone if I need to really remove metal.


When I get to the 8000 grit stone, I set the sharpening jig up to add a micro-bevel. On this chisel, I alternated with polishing the micro-bevel and the back (with the chisel in the jig) a couple of times on the 8000 grit stone. I did this until I was satisfied that the entire edge was sharp.


The final results. Nice and sharp. Now to go try it on some wood.



Will’s room progress…

Rigid insulation added between the rafters - allowing for ventilation space between the insulation and the roof.

The boys are here all weekend, so I didn’t entirely focus on working on the room.  Susanna and I have agreed to each spend two hours on the room every day before we allow ourselves to sit down and watch TV. That should be incentive to make progress.


Yesterday we got most of the lath removed from the section of wall we are replacing. I also removed the trim from one side of the window and sealed and insulated the counter-weight cavity.

Today Susanna helped Will get settled into his new (temporary) bedroom. I made the trip to Home Depot to get insulation and drywall.  I ran wires up to the attic to add outlets to the room. The trick will be to get a second 20 amp circuit to the attic so not all the bedrooms will share the same circuit.  I installed the rigid insulation into the sloped part of the wall. Tomorrow the plan is to install the outlet boxes and add start installing drywall.


Insulation added beneath the rafters. 1/2-inch rigid foam insulation. The drywall will be installed below the insulation.





Looking ahead to 2013

So, I didn’t meet all my goals for 2012. Let’s see how I do for 2013. I think I should print these out somewhere I can look at them regularly and remind myself of my goals. So here they are (in no particular order):

  • Get the sailboat in the water and go sailing
  • Build an island for the kitchen
  • Build two larger woodworking projects
  • Get garage ready for the wedding this summer
  • Ride bike into work more often than last year
  • Finish painting the outside of the house
  • Continue organizing the workshop
  • Build a wooden hand plane
  • Go camping with the boys
  • (added very recently) – finish repairs to Will’s room
  • and of course… get married to Susanna

Of course (most of) that list is subject to change. In general my overall goal is to still work on finishing projects that I start.

Kitchen Island (finally progress)

Mortise in one of the table legs... four mortises per leg for a total of 16 finished

I do kind of feel a bit silly bragging about progress on one of my woodworking projects right after a post about a house project that will keep me from the workshop for a week or so. But I’ve never really worried too much about looking silly. Or feeling silly.

I was able to get time in the workshop over the holiday break. I had parts for the kitchen island milled sitting in the workshop for a couple of months, so it seemed time to finally start working on that project. At least before I started another project (yeah, okay, Will’s room got me there).

The island will be a pretty simple. Four legs. Four aprons. And four stretchers near the bottom supporting a shelf. That means there will be four joints on each leg, each requiring a mortise.

I marked out each mortise with a marking gauge, and drilling out the waste on the drill press.  The mortises were cleaned out using a chisel.  Each mortise didn’t take too long to make once I got in the swing of things.  I could finish one of the smaller ones in about 7 minutes, and one of the larger ones in less than 15 minutes.  I’m sure that will get faster as I do more of them.

I have a couple of lessons learned:

1. If the stock has been sitting around a while, re-mill each piece to ensure it didn’t change shape over time.

2. Cut all the mortises first. Sketch out all the locations of the mortises with a pencil before marking with the gauge. I wound up starting to drill out a mortise in the wrong spot.

3. Regarding #2, patching a mortise in the wrong spot takes some skill to get so it isn’t obvious. Skill that I don’t have. So, it is sometimes better to be lucky than good (okay, probably not in this case), but at least I was lucky and the patch is in an area that shouldn’t be obvious.

4. I don’t really like my marking gauge. I think that a better marking gauge is in the future. The marking gauge I have is difficult to set up for a specific mortise thickness (at a given distance from a face of the panel.  I think a better method is to use a single marking gauge (vice a double one) and a spacer block to get the correct mortise (and tenon) thickness.

5. Do the mortises first. I don’t know what I was thinking cutting a couple of the tenons before I finished the mortises. Must be the ADHD. This is what you get if you do that:


Haunched mortise and tenon with the haunch socket being too deep for the haunch. Luckily the haunch won't be visible - it will be covered by the table top


I could definitely spend more time marking out the joinery before cutting it. I have Robert Wearing’s book, “The Essential Woodworker.” He gives what looks like a pretty good method for marking out the joinery – I think I’ll do some review before my next project.

First house project (of necessity) for 2013

Will's wall with the plaster removed

Susanna and I were hanging out in the living room last weekend when we hear a crash from the other room.  We didn’t see anything in the kitchen, so assumed it was a cat knocking something over in the basement. Of course, by the next day we had forgotten all about it.

The boys came home yesterday, and Will brought up his stuff to his room. As soon as he opened the door, he yelled, “hey, what happened in here.”  Apparently the crash wasn’t the cats in the basement.  A section of the old plaster in the ceiling had fallen down creating a mess on his bedroom floor.  Maybe aided by too much door slamming… but who knows.

This morning, Susanna spent some time pulling down the plaster on that section of wall. Tomorrow I’ll remove the lath, add an outlet or two and insulation. With help from Susanna, I’m hopeful that we can have that section of wall finished by the end of next week.

In the meantime, Will has moved to the guest room… It is good to have an extra bedroom available.