Woodworking

Russian birch plywood love © 2010 Sacha Chua – feel free to use it under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence

After Neko (our cat) joined our household, we discovered that we couldn’t leave bagels and other bread products outside without the risk of nibbles from a cat with the midnight munchies. We’d been looking for a wooden bread box for some time, but the stores we frequent have only plastic and stainless steel bread boxes. So I found a simple bread box plan and borrowed the basic ideas from it.

I modified the plan to use butt joints instead of lap joints because we haven’t figured out how to make proper joints yet. I also changed the plan to use 3/4″ plywood all around, because we might wall-mount the bread box and the back needs to be sturdy. I changed the height, width, and depth of the bread box too, so that it was as long as the microwave but shallow and short enough not to get in the way.

After drafting the plans on graphing paper, I marked the pieces on a sheet of 3/4″ Russian birch plywood, with 1/8″ gaps for the kerf removed by sawing. W- cut the pieces using the circular saw and his straight-cut jig. I glued and nailed the box top, back, bottom, and front rail. The nails gave me a bit of trouble, but I’m getting better at driving them in.

With the center assembled, it was easy to trace the outline on the two pieces of wood for the sides, adding 3/4″ near the top to account for the cover. I refined the lines with a ruler and W- cut them to size. While I attached the sides, he beveled the cover to fit.

All the bread box needs now are two hinges, a knob, and some kind of finish. It’s a substantial bread box with plenty of space for bread and other things we want to keep away from cats.

If I were to do this again, I’d probably make it out of a thinner wood. Russian birch plywood is stronger than regular birch plywood, so 1/2″ or thinner might do the trick. Russian birch is probably overkill for an everyday bread box, but (a) we had it, (b) I enjoyed working with it, and (c) the 13 layers of alternating dark and light wood look rather pretty on the front-facing edges. So maybe it would be regular plywood for the bottom and back (no exposed edges), and Russian birch for the sides, front, and top. =)

Oak bread boxes sell for ~$85 – 120 on Amazon.com. The 3/4″ sheet of Russian birch was around twenty dollars. Sure, it’s not oak, and we spent a lot of time making things, but it was a great way to learn something new, create something useful, and enjoy a holiday with someone I love.


Exercising the senses

When I started writing, I discovered that it gave me ways to look at things I was learning and see if I could share them with other people.

When I tried drawing, I started seeing the structures and forms of things.

When I stumbled into giving my first presentations, I felt the dynamism of structure and conversation.

When I started exploring photography, I found myself looking at light and pattern and tone.

When I learned to sew, I couldn’t help but be entranced by the fabrics and seams of people’s clothes and accessories.

When I got into gardening, I became more aware of the seasons, sunshine, different kinds of plants, and different types of soil.

Now that I’m starting with woodworking, things around me are treasure-troves of lessons about woods, joints, and finishes. There is surprising beauty in a door when you think about how the panels float in a gap so that the wood can expand or contract. The smoothness of our shelves makes me smile.

I don’t expect much of my hobbies—just that they change my world.

How do your interests shape your experiences?

The fruits and chairs of our labour

W- and I have graduated to making furniture. =)

From Starred Photos

He finished his chair this weekend. It’s awesome! I’m working on a chair of my own (below):

From Starred Photos

In other news, gardening rocks.

From Starred Photos

Blueberry jam, apricot syrup, and kiwi jam

From Starred Photos

The blueberries at No Frills are near-perfect and relatively inexpensive ($1.47 per pint), so I stocked up and started making blueberry jam. I also made apricot syrup, and I’ve got another batch of blueberry jam mix and kiwi jam mix ready for tomorrow’s canning session.

I like making preserves. When we discovered canning during our wonderful stay-at-home vacation last year, we made apricot syrup, blueberry jam, and jalapeno jelly. The jalapeno jelly got finished quickly, as it turned out to be totally awesome with crackers and cream cheese. The blueberry jam was perfect paired with fresh-baked biscuits. The apricot syrup went really well with pancakes and with banana bread. It’s been more than a year since we bought maple syrup, which used to be a staple in our pantry.

It’s fun giving people home-made gifts, too. There’s a Filipino tradition of pasalubong – gifts brought home after a trip. It’s similar to the Japanese custom of omiyage, almost a social obligation. With globalization, what I can buy in Toronto is probably cheaper in Manila. Home-made jams and jellies are more than just preserves, though- they’re thought and time and love all wrapped up.

It turns out to be surprisingly easy to make syrups, jams, and jellies, if you don’t mind dealing with kid-boggling quantities like seven cups of sugar for one batch. (Seriously. Even J- said, “Whoa, that’s a lot of sugar.) Prep and clean-up take the biggest blocks of time, and then each batch of seven jars takes maybe 20 minutes total. It’s tiring, though – all that time on your feet! Comfy slippers help.

I’m not sure if we’re going to be able to prepare more bottles of jalapeno jelly in time for Saturday’s tea party, but there’ll always be another excuse to get together. =) We’ll have blueberry jam and kiwi jam, though, and it might be interesting to combine them.

Two days of awesome

image I spent Saturday at Lee Valley’s Women and Power Tools seminar. In the process of building a toolbox, we got to use a circular saw, a mitre saw, a table saw, a jigsaw, a band saw, a drill press, routers (both fixed and hand-held), a belt sander, a palm sander, and a portable drill. W- and I used a circular saw, a jigsaw, and a portable drill to build our Muskoka chairs, but I wanted to try out the stationary power tools like the table saw and the drill press. We haven’t set up a permanent workshop, so all of our tools have to be portable enough to set up on the deck.

The class was lots of fun. I enjoyed meeting other women who were interested in woodworking. Our two instructors were both great role models: passionate, experienced, and engaged. I’m looking forward to seeing the list of autumn classes at Lee Valley’s and learning more.

I’m happy with the toolbox I built. The sides aren’t perfectly matched and the wood has knots, but the toolbox holds together, and the little buttons that cover the sunken screws are so cute. =)

I really liked the drill press, the belt/orbital sander, and the table saw. I think our next major tool investment might be a portable table saw, if W- and I find one that we’re happy with. But we’ll buy that only if we get into serious carpentry, like building cabinets. The folding table I’ve got on my to-build list should be doable with the tools that we have.

One of my classmates is into sewing, gardening, and woodworking too. Yay! =) Maybe she’ll come to one of my tea parties? I’d love to connect with other crafters.

imageOn Sunday, I invited Maira to come over and try batch-cooking. The kitchen at her sublet apartment is small and sparsely equipped. W- and I both enjoy cooking, and we have a decently-stocked kitchen. So Maira and I spent three hours cooking up a storm: lemon refrigerator cookies, baked chicken, and chicken with mushroom sauce. There was a lot of food. Maira took home a week or two of meals, and we stashed the rest in the chest freezer.

I’m glad I invited her to come and cook with me. It’s great to try new recipes and realize they’re not so scary, and company turns cooking into a conversation. If cooking batches works for her, then she can repeat the recipes or try new ones and manage her time more efficiently. (I spent many student days living off pans of lasagna I made for myself!) I also repotted some of my parsley for her. The large bunches of parsley in the supermarket made Maira feel bad about the potential waste, but growing parsley will let her harvest a little bit at a time.

After we dropped Maira off, we passed by Walmart to see if they had any sergers in stock. I’d like to get a serger to finish my edges more cleanly and do better rolled hems, but it’s hard to decide which one to buy. The Walmart at Dufferin Mall had two Singer 14CG74 sergers in stock. The Brother 1034D is highly recommended, but I haven’t found out where to buy it in Toronto. W- volunteered to help me do research and check out Craigslist, which is terrific because he’s really good at doing that kind of comparison shopping.

image

I offered to make him a green monster (vegetable smoothie), but I dropped the blender and the plastic shattered. It was the low-end blender I’d bought during my student days, so I wasn’t troubled by it. After some research, W- and I bought a KitchenAid blender from Home Outfitters. It turned out to be $50 cheaper to order the blender from FutureShop, so I’ll call Home Outfitters after the long weekend to find out if they’ll match the lower price.

As W- reminded me, a blender in hand might beat two in the mail. ;)

I’m starting to like these vegetable smoothies. They took some getting used to when we first made them, but the frozen strawberries and blueberries make them almost a treat, and we go through so much more spinach (and even kale!) than we do if we just have salad.

In other news: you know, this drawing thing is fun. I find it more fun than taking and posting pictures, even. Why haven’t I been doing this more often? Maybe because I’ve been writing about these abstract things that don’t suggest images, but that’s a good exercise for the imagination. Perhaps I can write these slice-of-life posts from time to time. I like playing with colour and ink when I draw on my computer… =)

Personal projects

I rein in work to about 40-44 hours a week so that it doesn’t run away with me. This gives me some time during evenings and weekends to work on personal projects. It’s a good idea to have clear personal projects in mind so that I don’t end up wasting the time mindlessly.

“Do you want to spend your time productively or unproductively?” I asked J-.

“That’s a leading question,” W- said.

“No, I’m serious about it. Unproductive time is good too, as long as you choose it consciously,” I said.

For example, I spend some time here and there playing LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean. I don’t do it just because I can’t think of anything else to do or I don’t feel like doing anything else. I play because I’m curious about how the game designers have constructed puzzles and all those little secrets that dot the LEGO world. That’s definitely not a project, though.

What are the things I’m working on? Spelling them out will make it easier to pick a task that moves me towards them when I find myself with blocks of time.

Latin: W- and I are slowly working our way through Albert Harkness’ “An Easy Method for Beginners in Latin.” We’re on lesson twenty-ish now. Most people are working off the scanned book in Google’s digitized collection, but because the scans are images instead of text, the file is a little slow and unwieldy. I bought the first edition (it’s now the oldest book I have) and we’re working on digitizing it properly, re-typing it in with all the finicky accents and footnotes. We’re less than a fifth of the way through the book, so there’s plenty of work to do on this front. Goal: Digitize the whole book and answer all the questions.

Gardening: I want to get better at planning and growing the fruits and vegetables we like. That means getting more practice at starting seeds and helping them thrive. Gardening is relaxing, too. Goal: Grow, harvest, and measure the yield this year.

Cooking: Our frozen meals get us through most of the week, but I also cook new things based on what we need to finish in the fridge. For example, today I’d like to do something with the asparagus stock so that it doesn’t go to waste. I’m also picking up the community-supported agriculture box today, so that will give me a new set of challenges. This helps me develop the eminently useful skill of preparing healthy meals. Goal: Experiment with and collect summer recipes, then put together other seasonal notes.

Writing: I enjoy writing. I like reading my archive and remembering the steps. I like practising writing every day as a way to share what I’m learning, and it’s a good way to keep learning about content and style. Goal: Review, rewrite, and compile into an e-book.

Drawing: I’d like to get even better at drawing. It’s fun, and I’m learning how to communicate through it. I want to feel more comfortable using colours and drawing shapes. It’s all about practice. Goal: Draw a graphical review each week for a month.

Photography: It’s good, and we’ve got all this equipment already, so I might as well. ;) Besides, I enjoy taking pictures of the garden. Goal: Post at least one photo a week for a month.

What are you working on?

2011-06-16 Thu 08:25