Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Grass Knows, The Hills Know

Had an amazing weekend. Friends from Texas came to visit. Friends from Seattle came to visit. Had some great food. Had some great adventures.Nearly drove off a snowy mountain.

But it appears Spring is here! As great as this weekend was and as much as I miss my friends in the South, I couldn't be more excited about being right where I am and alive at this very moment at the turn of the seasons.

The world seemed to change overnight. Portland went from cold and gray to sunny, warm, and everything in sight budding into new life.

So my attention has quickly turned away from woodworking, reading, and cooking indoors to gardening, biking, and JUST GETTING THE FUCK OUTSIDE.

With the help of my new friend which I purchased for $30 at a pawn shop (see above, Darcy helped too), I was able to throw together these two garden beds in no time at all.

I got the wood from the lumber yard down the street. The beds are each made out of one 8' long 2x4 and three 8' long 2x6 boards which I got out of the "economy pile" for around three dollars a piece. They did have some beautiful 2x12 cedar boards in stock, however I'm not building these to last a lifetime so these fir boards will do just fine for a few years. Using the cheap stuff, I was able to build two 16" deep 5'x3' raised beds for less than $30. This stuff is easy. I made no plan, made no measurements, didn't drill a single pilot hole or make a single cut (well that's not exactly true.) I got the boards cut to length for free at the lumber yard and screwed them to the 2x4 uprights. Easy. I plan on building some more beds and other structures as soon as the lumber yard adds to their pile of "scrap wood."

Now I just need to get some dirt to fill my beds because my seedlings are getting BIG.

I'm growing my seedlings in a generic finely-sifted seed starter soil mix. The seedling trays I am currently using are actually some "trash" that I brought home from work; they are the styrofoam containers in which we receive shipments of fresh salmon packed in ice. They make perfect seedling trays! They are much deeper than commercial seed trays, so they can hold more soil. Also, the styrofoam helps to retain the heat which seeds such as tomatoes and peppers need to sprout. I do keep a small $13 Wal-Mart radiant heater underneath the seed flats which I turn on at night for extra warmth. The lights I am using are generic 4' fluorescents with basic daylight T8 bulbs that I got at Home Depot. T5 fixtures would be better but these seem to get the job done and at about half the price. I spent a total of $24 dollars on the light fixtures and bulbs. The lights are on a $7 dollar timer which turns on 16 hours and off for 8 hours.

The only bad thing about the great weather we've been having is that now I'm getting out of the house more. (Wait, what?) Getting out of the house more means I'm spending money. In fact I'm bleeding money lately. On top of my new (used) drill, wood for garden beds, soil, lights, seeds, eating out with friends, gasoline for road trips, etc. I have splurged on a few other items, including:

$29.95 - Sepp Holzer's Permaculture Book which was recently released in English by Chelsea Green Publishing

And most exciting is my new bike. It's a Cannondale T600 (who cares!) that I got used for $300. Is that a good deal? I think so. I rode it to work yesterday (a TOTALLY beautiful day!) and took the Springwood Corridor Trail along Johnson Creek. It was so fantastic.

But at least some things in life are still free...

I found this reel mower on the side of the road on my way to work! Totally free! Now I can mow our backyard, clean up all the dog poop, and maybe start building a chicken coop...we'll see! I have had this Murray McMurray rare breed poultry catalog that I've been looking at ever since November...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lie Nielsen Hand Tool Event! This Friday and Saturday!

A little back story:

Late one Texas winter night, I was browsing the internet. While I was obsessing over every woodworking/bushcraft/sustainability/permaculture article and youtube video I could get my hands on, I visited the Lie Nielsen website to drool over the various instruments of wood, brass, and iron. As I tortured myself with their catalog - dreaming of one day deciding between A-2 or 0-1 steel, fantasizing about wrapping my mitts around hornbeam handles or grazing my pinky finger across a curly maple lamb's-tongue - I stumbled upon their "upcoming shows" link on the homepage.

I can still feel the joy I felt as I realized that a troupe of woodworkers and some of the finest modern toolmakers from Warren, Maine and across the country would be somewhere in Texas the following day! Not only would they be in Texas but Austin! And not only would the event be held in Austin but at Fine Lumber and Plywood, the very same lumberyard where I had recently taken a field trip with my cabinetmaking instructor! What a miraculous moment of fateful coincidence it was to realize that had I not been eye-fucking some hand tools on the internet that night, I may never have held a Lie Nielsen plane in my hand.

If I hadn't attended, I may never have met Frank Strazza, a woodworker from Homestead Heritage in Elm Mott, TX. It is one of my largest regrets that I never attended any woodworking courses at Homestead Heritage during my time in Texas. I only lived two hours away during my years in Denton or Austin! I plan to return one day. Actually, I have had thoughts of moving to the craft village in Elm Mott to start a simpler life but I'm not exactly sure if there is land for sale or if they are accepting new residents. I'm not sure how that works...

Frank Strazza at the 2010 Lie Nielsen Hand Tool Event In Austin, TX.

When I went to the Lie Nielsen Hand Tool Event in Austin, TX last year, I barely knew who or what Lie Nielsen was - Not to mention that I had never held a real plane or saw in my hand. Ever. I actually bought my first saw there from Dowd's Tools, an antique tool dealer from Garland, TX who had set up a booth at the event. It was the Disston backsaw that I recently attempted to sharpen (with little success).

This year, I plan on buying another saw, or two...or three. My woodworking is currently on hold because I do not have a proper saw/set of saws. I cannot rip! I cannot crosscut! I currently only have the ability to cut tenons (poorly) with my medium-sized back saw and I have a cheapo Kona razor saw that I've been using to practice dovetails. Two of the finest saw makers in the world will be attending the event this weekend in Portland and will undoubtedly be hocking their wares.

Speaking of "hock", Ron Hock, sharpening guru will be at the event, as well as Glen Drake Tools the creator of the tite mark marking gauge.

One of the things I'm most excited about is seeing what Bridge City Toolworks has to offer. They have come out with some amazing new tool innovations such as:
The Jointmaker Pro Saw by Bridge City Toolworks (Portland, OR)

It's going to be a really cool show.

And just for fun...

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Sharper the Tools, the Darker the Times

I tried my hand at sharpening my own saw for the first time this weekend. It's something I'll have to work on. I'm not really sure if I know what I'm doing and the saw isn't cutting as well as I would like it to even after filing and setting the teeth.

I'm also trying to get back into film, so I shot this simple little video just to become reacquainted with my camera. The soundtrack is from David Lynch's audiobook, Catching the Big Fish, which Daniel Zeigler shared with me yesterday. It's really excellent. his ideas about living "the art life" and expanding your consciousness are really ringing true to me.

The title of this blog post is a quote taken from the record label of Teenage Cool Kid's album, Denton After Sunset. It sounds like Sun Tzu but a google search reveals nothing.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Three Artifacts, Part. 3: The Album

The last item I received in the mail was less utilitarian and more of a memento; a time capsule (more like a gravestone; memento mori.)

Teenage Cool Kids as a band may be all but dead. The members have all gone on to bigger better different things. However, with the final release of this album comes hope that they will return for good; for a tour; for even one show. One can hope...

I was there on the very first tour. Across the western United States, traveling in a rented van with seven other "dudes", we all became more aware of the world around us. I had never ventured further west than White Sands, New Mexico until our Ford Econoline took us North from Santa Fe and turned left towards Salt Lake City. I think it's only appropriate that the furthest I had ever been from home was one of the more eye opening moments I can recall of my early twenties.

The anarchist co-op house in SLC where we spent the night was like any other stop on the tour; By that I mean it was a dirty, old house littered with bicycle parts, zines, and too many young people to hygienically inhabit one space. We were more than grateful to be offered a few couches and a spot of floor to lay down for the night.

In the morning the snow was beautiful outside but I spent most of breakfast editing video to upload to the internet. This was part of an (frantic) attempt to keep up with the goal I set for myself which was to upload a daily tour montage so that our friends back in Texas and fans of the band could keep up with our travels.

When I went downstairs that morning, I saw a group of old women rooting through a pile of scavenged fruit, vegetables, and bread that the residents had placed on their porch for that purpose. It never brought a bad taste to my mouth. It immediately seemed correct and inherently good that food which would otherwise be wasted could be given to those in need (or just wanting) by means of a group share system. This was my first real-world interaction with DIY, Food Not Bombs, anarchism, or co-ops. This was the moment that I decided to become vegetarian, to be more efficient, and to be more loving of all creatures. It sounds corny but it's true.

The previous days had been mostly bizarre and included: kids on drugs (Amarillo), human snowblowers (Amarillo), girls jumping through urine-filled dixie cup pyramids (Amarillo). [Thanks, Jordan]. Not that there weren't some strange moments in the coming days, but overall the rest of the two week tour was total PMA and nothing short of life-changing.

Beyond the time I have spent with the band and without neglecting my impartial viewpoint, Teenage Cool Kids are one of my, if not my single most, favorite bands. I listen to all of their albums pretty regularly except for the cassette which I listened to recently; i made it through side A and could not bring myself to flip the tape, I was in such an emotional state.

HOWEVER, this album is very different from previous TCK records.

Instead of being recorded here:

(Daniel's bedroom. Photo by Bradley Kerl)

Denton After Sunset was recorded here:

(Sad faces at Nubby's funeral pyre. The band's garage studio is in the background. Photo by Bradley Kerl)

Whereas the self-titled cassette, "Queer Salutations" and "Foreign Lands" were recorded in Daniel's enormous bedroom-turned-recording-studio/warcraft dungeon, "Denton After Sunset" was recorded in a dilapidated, old garage. 715 Panhandle was a large, two-story house that became one of the best music venues Denton, TX had to offer. It was home to party after show after touring bands and even a two-year run of a music fest called PHAT CAMP masterminded by Andrew Savage (I think. I actually missed the first year of PHAT Camp because I was on a road trip with Darcy) and things rarely seemed to calm down.

However, the Westway house where DAS was recorded was far removed from the sense of community that permeated the cinder block walls of 715. Westway was more like an old wooden ship traversing new and increasingly frightening waters. The philosophies of the residents seemed to have changed and without Bradley and Daniel living in the same house as Andrew, the tone became more serious. Whether it was an outbreak of scabies, accusations of backstabbing, or the death of a beloved stray cat, the house seemed to embark upon tragedy where before stood one of the strongest, most loving groups of friends I have ever known.

(Nubby's death. Watercolor painting by Andrew Savage)

There was also the problem with a neighbor who kept making noise complaints during the entire writing/recording process; they eventually (somewhat) sound-proofed the shed with a few bats of fiberglass insulation. It was setbacks like these, the fact that Bradley had moved to Austin with Whitney, and Andrew's divided attention to his new project Fergus and Geronimo that put a great strain on the boys. Shortly after the album was finished, Andrew Savage would move to New York City with friend and F&G bandmate Jason Kelly to focus on their music. I love both bands. In fact, I love every band and every project that my friends involve themselves in, they are some of the most creative people I have encountered. You would like them.

The album was recorded and mixed by my oldest friend and TCK guitarist Daniel Zeigler, and mastered by Josh Bonati of Bonati Mastering NYC. Bonati also worked on Fergus & Geronimo's "Unlearn" as well as, Meneguar's "The In Hour", Blues Control's "Local Flavor", Woods "Songs of Shame", etc. The lyrics, songwriting, instrumentation, recording, mastering, and artwork are all fantastic, and ingrained with deeper meaning. This album should be a part of every twenty-something's rotation until that title is no longer applicable - and beyond.

You can listen to the whole album here. If you're interested in purchasing the album, it is available from Andrew and Chris at their new label, Dull Tools.

As you have probably guessed by now, this is not an album review. I could not possibly separate myself from my personal involvement in the goings-on during the recording of this album and I am obviously not capable of impartial opinion related to this band. This is simply an exercise to document the importance of an artifact that is of great significance to my life story.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Three Artifacts, Part 2: The Book

The second item I received was another artifact of craftsmanship; a tome of modern woodworking.

The Anarchist's Tool Chest was self-published by the author, Christopher Schwarz, through Lost Art Press, LLC. Schwarz is not only the author of the book, he is also a co-owner of the small publishing company he helped create in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky with Lucy May and John Hoffman. He is also the former editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine where he worked for fifteen years.

Schwarz was forced to leave the magazine, not by a power grab or some corporate conspiracy but by his own convictions. He decided it was better to live on a four figure income than to slave away his days working at a corporate job where he was expected to make a profit rather than produce the highest quality of work; an idea that we can all relate to.

I first read about Chris Schwarz and this book while I was living on eighty acres of farm land in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas. I moved to Arkansas from Austin, TX with my girlfriend Darcy, our dog Charlie, and our two cats in an attempt to get "back to the land" for an undetermined amount of time.

So when I read about Schwarz sticking it to the man (politely) and writing a book sticking it to mass-produced particle board furniture garbage, I knew that it would be something worth reading. I was and currently am the key audience for this book.

I began collecting antique tools about two and a half years ago. The first real tools that I ever bought were a 1 1/4" ship auger and a drawknife from an antique dealer in Denton, TX. I was obsessed with Dick Proenneke's Alone In The Wilderness at the time and was looking to recreate the tool set that he took with him into the wild country of Alaska to build his cabin. I wanted to be able to build my own home (or at a least a rustic stool) out of wood using simple tools.

This path lead me to rediscover The Woodwright's Shop and I then began to discover modern toolmakers who were still concerned with craftsmanship and quality. I don't think I knew what quality was until I ventured down this path.

I think this episode of Roy's show perfectly sums up well...everything. Watch the episode The Spirit of Woodcraft from The Woodwright's Shop.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Three Artifacts, Pt. 1: The Tool

I received three items in the mail yesterday. All of them carefully planned, doted over, essential; hand crafted.

The first item came in a large box sealed with packing tape embellished with green text which spelled out the words, "Lee Valley Tools, Ltd."

I have spent hours upon hours over the last 2-3 years navigating websites and browsing catalogs from fine toolmakers such as Lee Valley/Veritas, Lie Nielsen, Tools For Working Wood, Highland Woodworking, etc. So when I saw the packing tape with the toolmaker's insignia, I was so overwhelmed and unbelieving that I could barely recall what the item might be.

The item: a router plane from Veritas, the Canadian manufacturing arm of Lee Valley Tools, Ltd.

I had spent hours debating between the large router plane from Lie Nielsen versus Veritas's version. While Lie Nielsen stays more true to the original pre-WWII Stanley's, I decided on Veritas's unique design. I was nervous about my decision when I placed the order (or rather, wrote it on my Christmas wish list to my father;) nervous that it might be "too fiddly" and have too many pieces to get lost. However, the opposite is true. It fits the hand perfectly and all the pieces fall right into place. Whereas with Lie Nielsen's version it seems you have to remove the depth stop and depth adjuster when changing or reversing blades, the Veritas router has a brilliant spring-loaded collar that allows for removal of the blade without any further action.

I immediately set to work cutting dadoes for a chisel rack I've been planning to attach to my bench. I'm smitten.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Picking Up Shop

While it may turn out to be a terrible idea, over the holiday break I moved my workbench from the basement to what used to be our bedroom and is now our shared upstairs workspace.




The shavings are begging to fly in my new workspace; they are also becoming scattered throughout the entire house (sorry, Darcy). Did I mention we have carpet? (ugh...)

I know it's not THAT great of a view but compared to the white drywall I had been staring at in the basement, it's pretty damn good. It's just too bad that the window doesn't face the east so that I can see Mount Hood.