Assorted Links, 16Aug2021

  1. SuperMemo, a tool for learning and not forgetting. 2008 Wired magazine article on the founder, the other Woz. Discussion on Hacker News. Woz’s wiki/digital garden is cool, too. (h/t Hacker News)
  2. The Query Loop block introduced in WordPress 5.8 is one of the most underrated new features of WordPress Core. It opens up a lot of new possibilities with the Block Editor.
  3. Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life, a new book by Zena Hitz
  4. The Five Dimensions of Curiosity and the Four Types of Curious People (h/t Kottke)
  5. Related to #4, but found in a different place – Curiosity is not a luxury, it’s a necessity (h/t Austin Kleon)
  6. I went to make an iOS Shortcuts workflow today for Obsidian so that I could add links to a note while I’m browsing on my phone. It turns out someone already made one and there are a lot of other shortcuts community members have made, too.
    1. Obsidian for iOS is great so far, but still lacks first-class share sheet support. What I’d love is basically the same share sheet functionality that Apple Notes has (append a URL to a new note or existing note), with the added functionality of being able to append both selected text and the source URL in Markdown format.
  7. Bruno Munari’s ABC is beautiful. Zoo is, too. I’m getting both for my son.

Two wildflowers from a walk: Mullein and Ghost Pipe

I never remember the name of Mullein, Latin name Verbascum thapsus (left/first photo), so I thought I’d blog it in an attempt to remember.

Fun facts about the Mullein: It does not flower until the second year, and an individual flower is only open for a single day.

The second I saw for the first time and had to look it up when I got home: Ghost Pipe or Monotropa uniflora. They are completely white, pop up from under the leaves in small bunches, and get their nutrients from tree roots via fungi. While they look like fungi themselves, they are regular flowering plants that are non-photosynthetic.

Spoon Carving

Some spoons, scoops, and spatulas I’ve carved in the past two years:

My Process

  • Roughing: I tend to cut out most of my blanks on the bandsaw, though sometimes I axe out my blanks. Occasionally I’ll use a drawknife on my shavehorse.
  • Shaping: I shape with both a Foredom rotary tool and a standard Mora 106 sloyd knife. I remove a lot of material quickly with the Foredom, then refine with the sloyd.
  • Bowl carving: I use a Matt White hook.
  • Finishing: I use a Kunz gooseneck scraper, sometimes I sand, other times I knife finish, and I always use a broomcorn polisher and ceramic burnisher. I then coat the spoon in a mixture of jojoba oil and beeswax (2:1).

Unlike the folks who are dogmatic about only carving greenwood, I carve both greenwood and dry wood, depending on what I have around. Some are firewood, some are offcuts from other projects, and some are foraged from downed trees in the woods nearby. I prefer cherry, but have also carved oak, walnut, beech, and mahogany.

Some folks get hung up on only using hand tools for spoon carving, but I don’t. Carving is all about removing as much material as you can as quickly as you can early so that you can spend the rest of the time where it really matters: refining the shape. A bandsaw, rotary tool, and beltsander really help with that. Some folks only carve spoons and do it in a particular way, and that is fulfilling for them. I mostly carve utensils to use at my own table or give out as gifts. Carving spoons is just one kind of woodworking I do amongst many others.

Resources I’ve learned from

What I’m Currently Reading

  • Looking for a Ship by John McPhee – Reading this with my friend Jon Richer, with whom I build boats.
  • Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson – Just for fun. (By the way, Stephenson has a new book coming out this fall.)
  • Cræft by Alexander Langlands – I focused a lot in the last year on improving my craftsmanship and I’m enjoying this survey of traditional crafts. As a sidenote, Amanda and I are loving Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm, two shows that Alexander Langlands takes part in.

I’m reading these three with my friend TK Coleman to up our thinking, reasoning, and decision-making abilities. A question that has been on my mind a lot in the past six months is, “How can I make sure I’m not fooling myself?”/”how do I become less wrong in my thinking?”. I’ve read other things on this topic recently, and these are a continuation:

  • Data Detective by Tim Harford
  • You are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney
  • This Will Make You Smarter (New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking) by John Brockman

For delicious fun:

  • Snacking Cakes by Yossy Arefi

If you have any recommendations, drop me a line!

Making kitchen tools from a log

A friend gave me some nice cherry logs that I sealed the ends of and let dry for the past year. I haven’t done much of my own milling, but I decided to get one of the logs out and see how much I could make out of it.

What I ended up getting out of one log:

  • Kitchen mallet
  • 3 French rolling pins
  • 1 traditional rolling pin
  • 2 cooking spoons
  • 1 eating spoon
  • 1 eating fork
  • 1 coffee scoop

First I split it in half and then split one of the halves in half again, leaving me with a half and two quarters to work with. Look at that gorgeous red!

I milled the half down into a square blank on the bandsaw, carefully removing the pith, which always splits when it dries. I also cut off most of the sap wood (the wood around the outer edges). Sap wood is younger, more wet, and more susceptible to splitting and tearing that the heart wood, which is older. The sap wood is growing and it is where the tree’s nutrients are carried to its limbs. The heartwood is no longer growing.

Mallet/Ice crusher

Turning: First, make it round. Second, plan out the cuts. I tend to mark them with a pencil. This wood was still a bit green, so it cut easily and made large shavings. I roughed it out to its final shape, then had it let it dry for a few hours before I could smooth it out and sand it.

Once it dried, I sanded it with 80, 150, and 220 grit sandpaper. Then I cut the grooves in the handle with a skew chisel and sanded the whole thing with 400 grit sandpaper before cutting it off the lathe. I cut it off by gouging the ends down to the size of a dime or so, cutting it close with a hand saw, then sanding down the ends to match the 400 grit. After that I take it inside and finish it with a coat of mineral oil + beeswax that I heat up over a flame on the stove so it soaks in and buff the wax with a cloth.

Finished! I paired this with a Lewis Ice bag when I gave it to my friend.

Rolling Pins

All of the rolling pins started out just like the mallet, but the blanks were a little smaller. I didn’t take many photos of that process, but in essence it is the same as the mallet:

  1. Plan it out
  2. Rough it out
  3. Finishing cuts
  4. Sanding
  5. Finishing

Each rolling pin is roughly 14 inches long. The French-style can be used for all 14 inches. The traditional one can be used on the 9 inch center portion.

The three French-style rolling pins have a taper all the way across. To achieve this, I used a pair of spring-type calipers to measure the thickness at points equidistant from each end. I used the same technique on the traditional fixed-end rolling pin to cut the handles. I couldn’t resist putting the decorative bands on there to help with holding it.

Spoons and utensils

I was able to get a few spoon blanks out of this wood, too:

  • 2 cooking spoons
  • 1 eating spoon
  • 1 eating fork
  • 1 coffee scoop

I haven’t quite finished these yet. Hoping to do so this weekend. Note: Some of the things pictured are not from the log. I had three spoons already cut from a different piece of cherry I had. The butter knife, too.

Lessons Learned

  1. I need to plan out my blank cuts a little better. I cut things a little too big on the first pass, but the second cuts didn’t leave me much room to do anything with, so I wasted wood. I could have gotten at least one more rolling pin out of this, maybe two.
  2. The surface of the wood needs to dry a bit before turning to avoid tear out.
  3. I didn’t take branches and knots into account when planning out the initial cuts on the bandsaw. Thankfully it didn’t cause issues this time, but definitely could have. I need to plan better next time.
  4. I should remove the bark with a draw knife before splitting and cutting to make the sawing cleaner.
  5. Getting a split flat with the draw knife would have helped for the initial bandsaw cuts.

How my relationship to technology has changed in the past decade

  1. I used to want every new device and cool gadget. I watched keynotes, preordered things, scouted Kickstarter for the latest and greatest. Now my iPhone is 3 generations behind and I have no intention of upgrading until it dies. I’ve lost count of how many generation behind the iPad I’m writing this on is.
  2. I used to beta test tons of software, including major macOS releases. Now I wait until the official public release been out for at least a few months before I’ll even consider upgrading. Reliability is important to my workflow.
  3. I used to pirate software, music, and movies. Now I’m not even sure where to look for such things.
  4. I used to spend lots of my spare time on social media and online in general. Now I spend as much time offline as I can.
  5. I used to be dogmatic about DRM free content and open source software. I still prefer it, but I’m much more pragmatic now. I want things quickly and I want them to work reliably. For example, DRM free audiobooks require lots of extra effort to source and then load into a compatible audio player on mobile. Audible has a 25x better selection and works every time.

Why have I shifted in this direction?

  • I think technology has reached a level of sophistication where it can do everything I expect quickly. Speed improvements don’t matter as much to me anymore when everything is fast.
  • Cloud storage is ubiquitous, so I don’t run into space constraints on devices anymore.
  • I value reliability over cutting edge features. My work requires fast turnaround and disruptions due to unreliable tools are very frustrating. I want things to work whenever I need them. I no longer have patience for doing work in order to make the tools work so that I can do the original work I came to the tool for.
  • I’ve reached a level of income and workload where I’m willing to trade money for time. When I was younger, the opposite was true: I had more time than money.
  • I feel like I’m in a different stage of life now than I was a decade ago. I value spending time interacting meaningfully with the world immediately around me rather than the online world. It isn’t that I didn’t want to interact with the world around me when I was younger, but it is definitely more of a priority now than it was then.
  • Re: pirating – It used to be difficult or very expensive to get the software I use, movies I want to see, or music I want to listen to online. Pirating it was easier. Now it is so simple and relatively inexpensive to get what I want that it is easier than pirating.

Bread Lames

Like a lot of folks, I’ve been baking sourdough bread this year, and I wanted a bread lame to score the top.

While making a few other projects, namely spoons, I split two small pieces of cherry with a natural curve that I thought would be perfect for a bread lame, so I got to work shaping them and looking for hardware.

I did the rough shaping on the shavehorse with a drawknife, then did the final shaping with a Foredom flex shaft carving tool, sanded up to 400 grit, and coated them with mineral oil and beeswax.

The razor blade is held in place by 8-32 x 1/2 in knurled brass knobs that pinch the blade in a small groove cut down into the wood.

I kept one and gave the other as a gift.

Currently reading

  • Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
  • Oranges by John McPhee
  • Code of the Woosters by P. G. Wodehouse
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
  • Analogia by George Dyson

Up next:

  • The Book of Eels by Patrik Svensson
  • Looking for a Ship by John McPhee
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
  • Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin

Turning Candlesticks on the Lathe

Back in September I made a serious effort to learn how to turn wood on the lathe. I turned a few tenons on the stool legs earlier this year, but that is it. I was on the hunt for a good beginner project and Amanda asked for some candlesticks, so I got to work.

As far as beginner/learning projects go, simple candlesticks are a great option. They take more planning than just making something round, but can be as simple or as fancy as you’d like. I didn’t get very fancy. I kept these to simple curves and let the wood grain shine.

I made three sets:

  • 5 pine
  • 2 cherry, one with a live edge
  • 3 oak, all with a live edge

The Pine

I made the five pine candlesticks from a Douglas fir 4×4 post left over from making our garden boxes this spring. They were inspired by a set that Amanda saw at West Elm.

I turned two individually, then planned ahead and turned three at once:

I finished them with mineral oil and beeswax. We used them at Thanksgiving and now have them on our mantle:

The Cherry

I turned the cherry candlesticks from some beautiful black cherry wood that my friends Erin and Tyler brought to me from a tree that they had cut down on their property. I sent these candlesticks as a thank you.

Since I turned these from a small log that the bark was still on, the grain pattern is completely different than the pine. It also had some cool bug damage inside that I kept. I chose to give one of them a live edge by leaving the bark on. I also finished these with mineral oil and beeswax.

They look great on Erin and Tyler’s mantle.

The Oak

The oak candlesticks came from a limb off of a huge oak that fell in the woods at the end of our street. The trunk of the tree was pretty rotten, but the limbs I cut had some beautiful spalting. I loved the live edge I put on one of the cherry candlesticks, so I decided to make all three of these live edge.

I made a leveling jig to level the tops of these.

Finished!

What I learned about turning through this project:

  • Sharp chisels make a world of difference. I bought a jig to make sharpening on the Shopsmith faster and easier.
  • Turning green wood (the oak) is very fast in the initial stages, but then it needs to dry for a few days before final shaping and sanding.
  • How to center irregularly shaped pieces of wood.
  • How to turn multiple items at once with a little planning.
  • Never turn something without planning it out first. “Figuring it out as you go” doesn’t work very well on a lathe.
  • Sanding something to 220 grit vs 800 grit makes a big difference. 800 almost makes the piece shine.
  • Sanding is easier with long strips of sandpaper that you loop under the work piece vs pushing a piece of sandpaper against the piece with your hand.
  • I used a step drill to make the holes in the top for the candles because it ends up tapered to better hold the candles.

Turning Christmas Ornaments

We decided to change up our Christmas decor this year and go with an all natural aesthetic. Dried orange and cranberry garland, a basket instead of the tree stand, and wooden ornaments.

I’ve been learning how to do lathe work this year, so after Thanksgiving I started turning ornaments. I’m still pretty new to turning and had to throw about as many as I saved into the burn pile. Frustrating, but that is the way it goes when learning a new skill.

I first roughed them out and shaped them with a spindle gouge, then sanded them down with 80, 150, and 220 grit successively. On some of them I paused here and cut decorative grooves with a skew, then finished sanding with 400 and 800 grit. Then I cut them off the lathe, sanded the top, drilled a hole for the hook, and screwed in the hook.

I coated the ornaments with a mixture of beeswax and mineral oil that I heated up and buffed on with a rag.

Learnings

  • Green wood, especially branches of a similar diameter as the finished ornament (and thus have the heartwood in the middle) will crack every time when they dry. This is why the spalted oak doesn’t have decorative grooves.
  • Turning without a center at both ends (like with a chuck that grips the wood from the outside) is a lot more delicate than turning with two centers. The wood can flex and cause a catch!
  • Using skews is tricky. I still catch more often than I’d like.
  • If you can turn the entire piece without removing it from the chuck, you should. It is very difficult to get it positioned exactly as it was, so you’ll have to reshape the piece after you put it back in the chuck.
  • Your chisels need to be super sharp when dealing with soft wood like cedar or pine, or else it will tear out. I have no finished pine ornaments and only one finished cedar ornament, but I tried five others.

In progress shots with a piece of oak:

Here are two in-progess shots of the spalted oak ones that eventually split. I turned them both out of a single piece:

Finished ornaments. The small spoon is a hand-carved bonus!

The whole set:

Here is how they look on the tree:

Merry Christmas!

Two Staked Wooden Stools from The Anarchist’s Design Book

I love staked wooden chairs and I want to learn how to make them, so I picked up The Anarchist’s Design Book from Lost Art Press. All of their books are top-notch and I highly recommend them. Christopher Schwarz’s introduction on what he means by “anarchist” resonates deeply with me.

I figured I’d start small and work my way up: Make a low stool, then a high stool, then try one of the simpler armless chairs before going all-in on a staked arm chair.

Low Stool

First, I had to make some concessions: I used Douglas Fir instead of hardwood for the seat because it was all I had on-hand and we were in the depths of the pandemic. I had a few 2x12s sitting in the rafters of my shed. I wanted to avoid a glue up, so I made the seat a bit smaller than the plans.

Second, after I had the thing made and was flipping through the book again, a tiny slip of paper fell out. It read “Errata.” Sure enough, it was about the low stool. The angles of the legs were off, so mine looks pretty different from the plans. Oh, well. I learned a lot in the process and it made the second one easier.

Glue up!
Finished stool.

High Stool

I learned a lot while making the low stool, especially about shaping the legs and cutting the tenons on them, so I was a more confident on this one and it went faster.

Checking to see if the holes I drilled for the spreaders line up. Looks good to me!

The perils of pine: Sometimes breaks happen. Always make extra legs.

Bummer.
Dry fit pre-glue up.
Post glue-up, pre-trimming, pre-finishing.

Here are the finished stools!

I finished both with boiled linseed oil and beeswax.

The low stool lives in my office as a small side table next to my reading chair, where it is often adorned with books and coffee. The high stool lives in my shop and I use it every time I’m in there, whether while carving, working at the bench, or just taking a break. We often pull it out and use it as a s’mores station by the campfire, too.

What’s next?

I’m planning on making another low stool with a hardwood seat. I have both Cherry and Oak right now and can do a glue-up.

After that, I want to make a staked back chair without arms. Working my way up!

Wooden Joiner’s Mallets

I made three wooden joiners mallets this year, following the Paul Sellers videos (1, 2, 3).

The first has a head of laminated Beech and an Ash handle. Mostly because that is what I had around!

There are no nails or screws in these, just wooden joinery. The handle and mortise in the head are both tapered to ensure a snug fit.

The process is pretty simple: Cut the head and handle to size, find the centers, plan out your mortise, drill out the mortise, chisel the mortise the rest of the way, shape the head, shape the handle, then coat!

Drilling the mortise with a brace and auger bit

I finished it with a mixture of boiled linseed oil and beeswax.

It is rougher than the next two I made, which is to be expected for my first time cutting deep mortises like this with a chisel. I also didn’t pay as much attention to the corners as I did with the later ones. I don’t love the way this one looks, so I use it as my main mallet for chisel work and don’t mind banging it up.

After learning a few lessons on the first one, I made two more with Oak heads. One was a Father’s Day gift for my Dad with an Ash handle and the other has an Oak handle as well and is kept on the house bar for crushing ice. I didn’t take any progress pictures unfortunately. I did get to use my first mallet to make these, though!

I opted to let the heads soak up mineral oil to give them a little extra heft and to help keep them from splitting. After they soaked up oil for a few days, I let the surface dry out a little bit and then coated them with Mighty Bull’s Wax from Corey’s Bio Blends.

The ice crusher has a shorter handle and a smaller head. It works great with a Lewis bag!

Malloreddus Boards

Amanda was watching a video about different types of handmade pasta (we had a lot of time on our hands during the pandemic and finally got some flour!) and asked if I might be able to make a malloreddus board. I decided to give it a try!

I started with sawing and planing down a piece of Beech I had for the board:

I tried a bunch different methods of making the grooves:

  1. Carving by hand didn’t work. I could never get lines that straight.
  2. Using a Dremel didn’t work. Again, I couldn’t get lines that straight.
  3. Using a Japanese pull-saw was okay, but still sloppy looking.
  4. I don’t have a router, but a router table might have worked.
  5. Tablesaw!

I ended up using a tablesaw tilted at a 45 degree angle and a bunch of homemade spacers, slightly wider and longer than popsicle sticks that I cut out of an old piece of fencing that I planed down. I started with all of the spacers, then I’d cut a groove, remove a spacer, and repeat.

It worked! Took me a little while to get the blade height just right, but I’m happy with how it turned out.

They needed a little clean up with some sanding sticks, but otherwise looked good!

I made two of them and cut them out in a round shape with a handle.

After some sanding, they were ready to make Malloreddus with!

Coffee Filter Holder

Amanda and I wanted to hang our coffee filters in a little nook above our coffee grinder, and I happened to have a lot of free time on my hands back in April, so I decided to make one.

This one by Yoshitaka Nakaya that inspired me:

I didn’t really have much of a side view, but this was enough to go off of.

For the wood, I decided to use a strip of maple I had. I planed it down to the thickness I wanted, then worked on figuring out the angle and overall width of the holder.

Next I cut a walnut accent piece and transferred the size onto the wooden holder and then chiseled that out and inlayed the walnut.

Then I chiseled notches for the end pieces.

Last I glued everything up, let it dry, sanded, added the back piece for a hanger, and coated it with a clear satin wipe-on polyurethane.

It holds about 20 Chemex filters and looks great on the wall!

Here is a quick sketch with dimensions:

If I make one again. I’d probably cut the middle piece out of a single piece of wood instead of trying to join two pieces. I unfortunately didn’t have a wide enough piece of wood to use and there was a pandemic on, so I made due.

Cape Falcon F1 Kayak Builds

Over the winter of 2018/2019 and summer of 2019 I built two Cape Falcon F1 skin-on-frame style kayaks. I want to be better about documing my projects here, so I’m taking a few posts to document the backlog.

The primary benefit of a skin-on-frame style kayak is how light it is. They end up being ~30lbs, so they are easy to carry with one arm and for one person to toss it on top of a car, not something you can do with a heavy fiberglass boat.

These specific boats were designed by Brian Schulz of Cape Falcon Kayak and I used a combination of his excellent online courses to learn how to build them, plus the tutelage of Jack Gilman of YPRC Boatbuilders and Jon Richer of Hudson Boat Company.

The First Build

The first build was as a group with YPRC and took place from October 2018 to May 2019, with a two month break in the middle during the coldest part of the winter. Six of us built boats together twice a week and roughly kept pace, helping each other out as we went along.

I honed a lot of important techniques through this build:

  • chisel work
  • using transfers and offsets rather than pure measurement
  • building jigs to help build something else
  • shaping with a block plane
  • peg and lashing for connecting wood without nails or screws
  • applying polyurethane
  • steam bending
  • fixing mistakes (skin-on-frame is a forgiving medium!)

Routing the gunwales, laminating curved deck beams, chiseling straight deck beams, and assembling the frame:

Steam bending ribs, lashing the keel and stringers, shaping the stem, and finishing the frame:

Making coamings, cutting and sewing the skin, and applying polyurethane coating.

The finished boat!

The Second Build

After learning a lot on the first build, I teamed up with Jon Richer to build another alongside him at a faster pace so that Amanda could have her own kayak to go out in, too. We built two as a public demonstration at the Edward Hopper House Museum in Nyack, NY. We knocked it out in about 4 weekends with some travel in between. I was much more confident after having built the first one, which translated to a faster build time. It was a great feeling.

Things that we improved on the second build:

  1. We used red oak for the ribs, which bent a lot better than the ash we had in the first round.
  2. We cut all of the stock we needed in a single, albiet long, day, which saved us lots of setup time.
  3. We made the middle deck beams first, which means that if we mess up that one we can always use it for the small deck beam at the end, which is much shorter.
  4. We oiled the entire frame outside on a warm, sunny day, which allowed the oil to soak in better.
  5. We used a faster method for tightening and sewing the skin on, which made it a 4 hour endeavor instead of 2 day 8 hour endeavor.
  6. We were able to reuse some of the jigs we built in the first round, which sped things up.

Amanda and I absolutely love our kayaks and take them out regularly, both on the Hudson and inland lakes. I get a ton of joy every time we use them. Paddling in something that you built yourself and know every single part of just can’t be beat.