Hello World!

I love to make things.  Physical things, cyber-things, virtual things, text things. When I’m making real things, all the better if I can make them out of things that would have been thrown away otherwise. I thought It was high time I shared some of the things I’ve made, so here we are. I hope you enjoy seeing what I’ve been up to. If my work inspires you to make something of your own, that’s awesome. If you want to weigh in and tell me about what you’ve made, even better! Making things is cool.

My first cigar box guitar. March, 2016

Hatchet Woodworking

Ever since watching Roy Underhill hacking up logs with a hatchet on The Woodwright’s Shop, I’ve wanted to try my hand at it. Last summer, after two ash trees on my property succumbed to the ash borer and had to be cut down, I had plenty of wood to work with. I made this carving mallet out of one section of a limb.

Not the prettiest tool I ever made, but she does the job.
Not the prettiest tool I ever made, but she does the job.

Carving mallets are cylindrical, and made for driving chisels and gouges through wood. The idea is to allow the carver to work without constantly looking at his or her mallet, since it doesn’t matter which direction it is facing. They are usually turned on a lathe, but I don’t own one, nor did I want to pay thirty bucks for a mallet I could hack out of a log in my back yard. What I came up with won’t win and beauty contests, but it’s strong, being made from a single piece of wood.

The hatchet.
The hatchet.

I love the idea of making something with a single tool. It’s one reason I’m also attracted to whittling. In this case, truth be told, I actually used two tools. After roughing out the mallet with the hatchet, I did shape it some with a draw knife. Still, making something with just two tools isn’t too shabby either.

My drawknife.
My drawknife.

img_20170302_205915563_croppedYou can find lots of good videos on YouTube if you’re interested in carving with a hatchet. Here’s a good one on carving spoons that I drew inspiration from. It’s amazing how much control you can develop and what you can make with not much more than a hatchet.


Bottle Shelves

After coming across this project on Instructables.com, using beer bottles as supports for shelving, I wanted to build one for myself. I love beer, so it wasn’t hard to collect a few empty bottles.


The bottles provide support. The unit is held together by a system of turnbuckles attached to hooks and eyes. I cut shallow holes in the bottom of each shelf where the bottles should go in order to keep everything more or less lined up.

The author of the Instructables post used found wood for his shelving. I didn’t have large enough pieces on hand, so I bought (gasp!) pine shelving for this project. Even if you have found wood, this is probably not the cheapest way to build shelves. Buying a bunch of turnbuckles gets pricey, especially for a unit this size, but I love the industrial look they give to the piece.


Pro Tip: Different brands of beer use different adhesives on their labels. Some fall right off with a little soaking. Others don’t want to give up the ghost without solvents, a steel brush and several tactical nukes. For pure ease of use, I found bottles from the the New Belgium Brewing Company to be the best hands down. The bottles pictured here all once contained Ranger IPA, a flavor which, after a check of their website, it seems they no longer brew. They now have something called Voodoo Ranger, which I haven’t tried. In any case, hopefully their labels are still as easy to remove as they were a couple of years ago.

I’ve built two of these shelves. The one shown here is the larger one, at about six feet long by three feet, three and a half inches tall. I’m currently saving up some olive oil bottles from Aldi for my next project. They hold up plenty of weight. Obviously, if someone were to start swinging a baseball bat or a lightsaber at them, they would break pretty easily. The last set of movers I hired were a little stressed out about moving them. The thing is, though, if a bottle breaks, it’s not that hard to drink yourself a replacement!

The Fish are Jumping

A while back, I came across The Little Book of Whittling, by Chris Lubkemann. It’s a fun book if you’re interested in whittling and woodcarving. My favorite part is that the author promotes using found wood including twigs and branches, and carving green, which makes for easier, faster work. One of my favorites of the projects in the book was this jumping fish, so I made one of my own.

fish1-1The shavings suggest the splash as the fish comes out of the water. I mounted it on a cross section of ash from the same tree in my yard (now dearly departed, a victim of the ash borer).

The trickiest thing about carving with branches is dealing with the pith in the middle of the branch. When the tree is green, the pith is soft and spongy, at least it was with the ash and maple branches I’ve worked with. Fortunately I didn’t run into pith issues with this project, although the dark spot on the dorsal fin was due to a knot on the branch I used.


Green wood can crack as it dries, but fortunately if the bark is removed and the wood carved I’m usually able to avoid cracks. Finding the right piece of wood for a project like this takes a little work as well. I looked for a branch with the right amount of curvature and a smaller branch in the right spot to form the dorsal fin.

I finished this project in Danish oil after some sanding. I’d call it a paperweight, but there isn’t really so much paper in my life to hold down anymore. So I just enjoy looking at it.


My First Cigar Box Guitar

I kept a couple of cigar boxes on hand for years (please don’t ask how many) with the idea of making cigar box guitars out of them. I finally got around to it in early 2016. I used an article in Make: as my guide (available here online).

My first cigar box guitar
My first cigar box guitar

While I love to scrounge up cast-offs for my projects, I had to buy some new materials for this one, including guitar tuners, a stick of 1×2 oak, some fret wire, guitar strings, and the hinge I used for the tailpiece. Other parts, like the twig I used for a bridge, the nut (a bolt – ha ha!), and the box itself. I added a homemade piezoelectric pickup made from a buzzer element, which worked fantastically.

I had some trouble with the action being high, which is good for playing slide guitar, of course, but less good when you’re fingering. For the next iteration, I might experiment with angling the neck relative to the soundboard, kind of like a violin. But all in all, it sounds pretty good, if I do say so myself.

I donated this one to a charity auction, so I don’t have it anymore. But I do know its owner. Before I let it go, though, I had a chance to record a snippet of music. Love that edgy cigar box sound!

My DIY Cat Tree

What the heck to do with all that scrap wood? That’s been the question on my mind lately, as my garage space gradually gives way to more and more stacked wood of all sizes. Most of it is cheap plywood and dimensional pine of various sizes, so it’s not like I’m going to make any fine furniture with it. But how about a fine cat tree?


As is often the case, I credit my lovely wife with this idea. Taking her suggestion as an excuse to go out to the garage and start rummaging around (after a quick browse for design ideas on instructables.com), and I realized that along with lumber, there were enough shag carpet remnants lying around to make a fine tree. I also made use of a length of pvc that has been sitting around here for years.

I bought the manila rope to wrap around the vertical structure, but everything else came from the scrap heap. I used 150 feet of rope and it still didn’t go all the way up to the top. I decided to paint the pipe in order to avoid buying more rope.

A successful test prior to final finishing

The build went quickly, and the cats love it. If I had it to do again, I might make the base wider. The whole contraption is a little wobbly when a cat is moving on the upper steps, but it hasn’t been enough to deter them and I don’t feel there is a danger of it tipping.

Materials used included scrap half inch chipboard, a 2×4, some 1×4, a scrap pvc pipe, carpet remnants, drywall screws, and lots of staples. I bent the pipe using a heat gun. I used the 1.4s at the bottom of the pillar to stabilize. Otherwise the 2×4 had a tendency to sway a little too easily. The rope is 3/8″ manilla. I had to buy 150′ and that still wasn’t quite enough, but it makes for a great scratching post and seems durable. I painted the pipe with some paint I had on hand rather than buy more rope.

A Wind Chime made from a Floor Lamp

chimeSo the lamp died after being tripped over one too many times. I tried to fix the cracked bulb housing, but it was one of those things you can’t buy unless you buy a whole new lamp to go with it. As I unscrewed the pieces, they started clanking against one another very musically. My lovely wife suggested that they could be made into a wind chime, and that was all the prodding I needed.

I found some good info online, including this one. I also copied a smaller chime we had at the house. I found the pendulum at Goodwill and cut some hexagons out of scrapwood from the garage.


At this point I’m still playing around with the position of the pendulum, which is why you might notice a trailing end of string. This was the first really breezy day we’ve had in a while, and it made some music, but not a whole lot. I’m thinking of making the string longer to see if that will make the chime more excitable.

lampHere’s a picture of a lamp just like the one I used, except it’s a different color. I think both of these originally came from Target, though the one I just cannabalized was yet another Goodwill find.