Tray, Take 2

In Situ

A few months ago, I built and wrote about a cantilevered tray a colleague of mine asked me to make for his apartment balcony. I was really pleased with how it turned out, but the practicality of it ended up being less than ideal. It was too heavy, my friend said, and because the legs had to be inserted from under the tray, it would be too easy to drop a leg or the entire tray from his 13th-floor balcony to the ground — a mistake that could be quite deadly.

I felt bad that they tray wasn’t working for him; I wanted to make sure he had a something that would do the job. We discussed changes to the one I made — hollowing it out to reduce weight; changing how the legs would be inserted — but I didn’t love any of the options. Better, I thought, to just make a new one using a different design.

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Shop Furniture

Flip Tool Stand

I know my shop is pretty big compared to most hobby shops, but somehow I always seem to feel cramped. That’s probably at least partially to do with not having places for some of my tools. My workbench planer, for example, sat on the ground and always seemed to be in the way — and at the same time, never convenient for use. My oscillating sander was taking up valuable space on a shop table. My miter saw, which sat on this metal sawhorse, seemed to take up more space than it made use of. The net effect left me feeling annoyed with a shop I otherwise loved being in.

So when I came upon some shop furniture plans from Fix This, Build That, I was interested. More than interested — I was excited to see if they’d help me make better use of my space and my tools.

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Rotten Tomatoes (and moldy leaves)


One of my goals for this year is to have a garden that is so bountiful that it feeds not just my family during the summer, but also gives me produce to can and freeze for winter and for gifting.

That’s probably overly optimistic, but one way I’m trying to give myself a chance is by working to create beautiful soil. And how does one build beautiful soil? The key is compost.

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Mudroom, Chapter 1

Tools of the trade

As much as I enjoy working on projects in the shop, there’s one thing I enjoy much more: working on projects in the shop wth friends. So I was delighted when one of my long-time friends texted me to see if I’d help him build a set of built-in cabinetry for his mudroom.

“Absolutely,” I wrote back. “It’s not something I’ve done much of, but I’m sure we can figure it out,” I added. If he was game, I was game. And to my joy, he was game.

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Taking Shelter

Fully loaded

One of the ways we got lucky with this house was all the stuff that was left behind — a smoker, many planks of hardwood lumber, lawn and garden equipment, and at least eight (maybe more?) cords of seasoned firewood.

The firewood was lovingly stacked in six long rows — four on an upper field and two near our back patio. The wood is heavy oak and birch and has been drying for several years under the protection of heavy tarps.

But, as appreciative as I was for this bounty of firewood, I didn’t love where it was stacked — especially the wood by the back patio. It was a bit of an eyesore and sat right in the middle of what would otherwise have been an open area. I decided that what we needed was a true woodshed where the firewood could be properly stacked and protected. I wanted it to remain easy to access, but also not in the middle of the back yard. Project time.

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Walnut Bench

It’s both rewarding — and a little daunting — when people ask me to build them something. I’m quite honored and touched that they would ask and that they entrust me to deliver something that they’d want and would meet their standards. But it’s also a little daunting because now there are expectations I have to meet.

It’s also fun, because often what is being requested is not something I would have thought or planned to make. Such was the case when a friend asked me to make her a long bench for her indoor plants. She has more than 100, she said, and needs a place for them in the winter where they can sit under a wide array of windows.

“Send me the dimensions,” I told her, “and examples of what you like.”

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Addition by Division

Cutlery Divided and Conquered

Looking at this past year of woodworking projects (and some more coming up), I think they can be divided into three categories:

  • Outdoor furniture, which focuses more on build quality than on the finish work.
  • Indoor pieces, which demands a high-quality fit and finish.
  • Quick solutions that aren’t meant to meet high standards, but get the job done.

Adirondack chairs and planters, for example, certainly fall into the first category. Cutting boards and trays, shelves, boxes, and a walnut bench (coming soon) clearly fall into the second. And the third category includes projects like the dog feeder stand, Jenga blocks, garden boxes, and this week’s project: the cutlery dividers. Oooh, ahhh.

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Custom Project: Balcony Tray

Finished Tray

Not too long ago, I got a cryptic email from a work colleague. It read in part, “Take a look at this amateur drawing I did in 2 min. What do you think?”

The drawing was in an attached PowerPoint file. For a moment I wondered if I was being subject to a phishing scam. Or maybe this was a test of my email security practices? But after a thorough forensic analysis, I concluded the email was legit and opened the file. In it was an illustration of a tray with two sets of legs sticking down from it. My friend, it seemed, was asking me to make him a custom dining tray. I agreed and it turned out to be an engineering puzzle that was fun to solve.

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Chicken Run

Chicken Close-Up

I guess we became “chicken” people when my wife brought nine chicks home from Tractor Supply in late April. Or maybe it was when I “rescued” a baby quail (I nicknamed it Danny Quail) my dog found in the yard and I then paired with four more chicks so it could be raised in a family.

Could it have been when I spent hours and hours figuring out the best coop to build (or buy)?

It definitely wasn’t when we gave away five of our chickens when they revealed themselves to be roosters and thus had to be separated from each other. But it might have been when we brought a new rooster into the flock and named him Elvis Cluckstello.

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