Simply Beautiful Furniture.

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The Show

Date added: 21-08-2008

I’m headed to Mecca, I’m going to see the Holy Grail, going to the show….. otherwise known as the International Woodworking Fair. For tool nuts, this is the pinnacle of shows. It’s something like two million square feet of tools, hardware, finishes, lumber, and pretty much everything you can imagine (and some you can’t) that has to do with woodworking. It’s crazy big, insane busy, and I love and hate it at the same time.

This is work. While it’s interesting, I will be walking around, sort of getting tugged in different directions for about 10 hours a day in Atlanta. It’s exhausting……and exciting. We have plans to pick up several machines and hand tools at this show, but you never really know what you’ll find. For Hardwood Artisans, we are sort of the biggest of the small fish in a really big pond. It is difficult to find the correct size and priced machines that work for us.

I am specifically going to the show to find a new lighting and electrical supplier. Now, this might not sound exciting to you, but for me, this is big fun. The lighting industry has gone through a lot of changes in the past few years, and in an effort to improve our product, I need better solutions. LED lights are becoming standard, power supplies with USB ports, and even very clever florescent lamps are evolving as the preferred solutions to the consumers needs.

The vendors take the time to hire all sorts of people to gain your attention. I’ve seen hired pool sharks, jugglers, impersonators, and actors at these events. Even Norm Abrams has been hired to sit and sign autographs and do picture op’s with the guests. What a freak show, not that I’m calling Norm a freak…..he’s our idol. I’ll let you know next week what happened at the show.

It’s not always green

Date added: 07-07-2008

My wife thinks that “being green” is nothing more than living life like her grandparents did. Nothing gets wasted. Things get used and reused until there’s nothing left. Recycle, reuse and reduce, right? In the past few years, our county (Fauquier) has gotten very proactive in the recycling game. They actually are trying out some cutting edge programs, like using the methane gas in the landfill to create energy, and recently buying a construction debris separater. This has made me want to try to do more in the recycling arena personally. Effort fuels interest.
I own a weed eater. Actually, I own two or three, but that’s another story. Weed eaters are something that I find to be a good idea gone badly. They have become a disposable thing. You can buy one for less than you can fix one, or so I’ve been told. I have refused to accept this disposable attitude, and have “humpty dumptied” my weed eater back together for four years in a row now. It has nothing to do with the money – it has everything to do with the fact that the motor runs perfectly, but the spool keeps breaking. I hate waste, and for about $20 and an hour of my time, I can mount a new spool on the weed eater, which lasts for about 9 months. I figure this is better than filling the land fill/scrap metal bin with four partially operational weed eaters.
I have a neighbor, Karl. He’s from Buffalo, NY, and his upbringing was absolutely nothing like mine. I grew up in Great Falls, VA in a bit of a privileged upbringing, playing tennis and football and working at the country club. Karl regales me with stories of ice hockey and his time spent working in a meat processing plant. You know, hooves and snouts and all that stuff we prefer not to think about. Somehow, however, we are very similar in that we were taught how to do and fix things by our elders and friends.
Karl is the kind of guy who will create something great out of what appears to be nothing. He made a pantry door from old 2 x 4’s and hinges he stripped off an old garage door. He is an amazing fellow, really. We share a log splitter, and the motor burned up on it. We took an old, unused lawn mower motor and retro-fit the motor to the log splitter. I think it took Karl and me two days time to fix. The question becomes “what is your time worth”. Well, it was a $1000 log splitter, and it is 500 pounds of metal that would be tossed in the scrap metal pile, verses putting a twenty pound mower frame in the pile. When I’m at work, I try to remember I’m very expensive (wink, wink). At home I try to remember I’m not. I’m not saying that I’m so crazy that I’ll straighten out and reuse old nails, like an old friend I once had (Pops). I don’t have that kind of time.
What I am saying is that I think we could solve this recycling problem if we could make things less costly to fix (expertise), or more expensive to buy (better quality), or if we could stop thinking our time is so expensive (worth of time), and just fix it ourselves. I think I will do my part to save the planet one weed eater at a time.

Smart Car

Date added: 12-06-2008

I drove a full size pick up for years. I always felt I needed to for the job. The truth is that I needed it only once in a while for the job, like once every other week.
I bought a Toyota Yaris two door hatch back a year and a half ago. We named it “the clown car”, or “clowny” for short. You know, like when it pulls up, you think 23 clowns are going to come out of this teeny weenie thing. I love this car. It has tons of space, lots of cup holders, and it rides very well. It also gets 40mpg any day of the week.
About the same time I bought clowny, I placed an order for a Smart Car. I became very interested in this vehicle, and the $99 reservation fee was fully refundable, so I thought I’ve got nothing to lose. Well, the car showed up two weeks ago, and I went to look at it. Now, it doesn’t have the room of clowny; it only has two seats and a tiny space behind them. It doesn’t have the pick up; it is a three cylinder engine that is hidden under a steel trap door behind the driver seat. It doesn’t get that much better gas mileage; about 5 mpg, or 45mpg. Top speed is about 85mph. I’ve had clowny up to 95 without even knowing it. None the less, I bought the Smart Car. I felt I needed to, like this little thing had somehow grabbed me in a way I did not understand. I think I get it now.
Today, getting from here to there is on everyone’s mind. With gas over $4.00 a gallon, the thought of alternatives is everywhere. I think the Smart Car is a stepping stone to that end. I think it’s important for me to show support for this sort of thing, instead of just talking about it. I think that I’m doing the right thing when children see me in the car and smile in a reflective way, like they are seeing their future. I think it makes me happy to see a change in attitude from the people I touch by owning this funny little car. I think this is a good thing for me to be doing. I think I’ll name it Bumble Bee……or Smarty……..or something.

How I Design

Date added: 16-05-2008

I have a gift that I didn’t know I had as a child. I always knew I looked at things a bit different, but I didn’t know what that meant. Well, here it is. I can close my eyes and dissect a cabinet stick by stick, and in reverse. Some people can play music, or perform surgery, or engineer bridges. I can’t do any of that, but I can visualize like these people do.

Design is a tricky thing. Changing one thing can alter the aesthetics of a piece considerably. When I draw, I don’t use dimensions aside from the component sizes. I prefer to place a fixed shelf where it looks best, not where some mathematical formula tells me to put it, like the golden rule for a perfect rectangle. I might move a shelf ten different times before I’m happy with its placement. This happens because I need to work within the confines of the component sizes. I can’t have four different thicknesses of shelves.

Back when I used to hand draw with a scale ruler and graph paper, I used a lot of white out, a whole lot. Now-a-days I draw rough sketches and then AutoCAD the drawing. I end up making a lot of changes as I work through the design with the customer.

I designed a couch for a customer several years ago. We liked the way it turned out, and made it a standard piece. The original drawings are below, with a variety of chicken scratch notes made on the sheet. There is a whole write up on how to build the piece in addition to these notes, but it all starts with the design.

The Church of John Deere

Date added: 07-04-2008

We have this lovely young woman from Kenya working for us. She is very interesting, very serious, and very religious. She goes to church every week. She believes. I think it’s wonderful. She asked me once if I would be going to church on Sunday. I replied that I would be in fact attending church, the church of John Deere. English being a second language for her, as well as her youth working against her, she did not understand me.
I have a 790 John Deere tractor with a model 70 loader on the front. Now, this should not be confused with a lawn or garden tractor. We call our riding lawn mower that cuts the grass the mow-mow, taken from our neighbors two year old. My “tractor” weighs about 2500 pounds, is diesel fueled, and has a 30 hp engine. Watch me roar, argh, argh, argh…………….
I find a tremendous amount of mental relief while running my tractor. After a bad day, I have been known to spend 6-8 hours running the tractor, digging holes, moving rocks, grading the driveway, hauling firewood, moving old stumps, and the like. It’s where I do my thinking, escaping, dreaming, and praying. Sometimes I just drive up the driveway and back to sort of get away for a few minutes. I will get myself re-centered, and remind myself of how fortunate I am in this life, and how grateful I should be for what I have. We all have a place like this that we go to from time to time. Where is your place?

Plant Germination Stand

Date added: 24-03-2008

Well, here is the finished plant germination stand. This photo shows the cleats and pocket screws used to construct the stand. This view is the inside area where the “tray” goes. so all the screw holes are concealed by the plastic liner in the tray.

Here I am in my home shop soing the final assembly (Erika took the picture). Notice the wood stove on the left. Keeps us nice and toasty during those long winter days working out there.

I put 10 four lamp bulbs in the shop. It’s very bright in there, as the picture shows.


Here’s a photo of the finished unit. I did some nice wire management down the back leg, so it’s very clean. The lamps are set up on a timer. See my babies…..tomatoes and peppers. As of today, the tomatoes are 10″ tall.

If you would like some information on this project, leave me a comment. Thanks. Mark

Chicken Divan

Date added: 24-03-2008

My lovely wife is the “exclusive” caterer for Hardwood Artisans. This all began several events ago when we had what I considered poor quality catering by another group. She interjected that she could do much better, more personalized, more quantity, for less. This became a perfect match for the company. We required her services for the Chantilly open house we had this past Saturday.
So, in my personal life I need to aid and support my catering wife. I do this by cooking and cleaning up for her during these events. It is, after all, the least I can do (the very least, guys). Normally, the house is all tore up and she’s in a baking frenzy. Last night, I came home to find out that all the baking was done. Most of the dishes were cleaned. Wow. All I had to do was cook. Erika left to go see the neighbors’ white calf that isn’t feeding properly, but that’s another story.
I made chicken divan for dinner. I have made this dish since we were newlyweds, back in a one bedroom apartment in Fairfax. I make three things: spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, and chicken divan. And of course I’m the grill master, but Erika doesn’t consider that cooking. The mac and cheese is marginal cooking as well.
When she came home she said she could have bet me money that I’d be making chicken divan. Well sure, since I only cook one thing with chicken, duh. For me, the chicken divan is a comfort food. I love these kinds of simple foods. Erika gets so mad at me. She’ll spend hours making some fancy dinner that is quite good, but throw together some curry in twenty minutes and I think it’s great. The time consuming stuff seldom gets the “great” comment. I think this drives her crazy, but she resists accepting that the simple things in life are often times the best.

Plant Germination Stand And The Brain

Date added: 21-03-2008

About 15 years ago, I made a seed starter station from some plans out of one of those how-to magazines. You know the kind I mean, with florescent lights and liners for the trays to hold the soil medium and seeds to start their germination. This worked out fine for our initial garden measuring 8’ x 8’. Well, since then, we have outgrown its capacity and need to make an additional one for the 80 tomato and 80 hot pepper plants, and the dozens of annuals regularly grown from seed now. The new planting station has become an easy and fun project that my wife and I have enjoyed working on together. Perhaps you need one.

Some simple tools and supplies would be needed to complete this project. A miter saw, a cordless drill with drivers and countersinks, and a pocket screw jig (like a Kreg Jig), glue, screws, some 3/8” luan, wood, and of course lights.

The entire project is just glued and screwed together. We have been working on this now for several weeks, doing bits here and there. I’ve taken some photos of the progression. I should have a finished piece, complete with lighting, done by next week.

Erika does all my cutting, the product of having built a house together, so she started out cutting the vertical parts, and then the cross members at the ends. A funny thing happened about half way through the project. She got confused about the orientation of a board. I explained to her how I wanted the placement, and she stared sort of blankly at me and asked “How do you think this stuff through like this?” I just laughed, because I have always known that my brain processes thoughts and images far differently than hers. She, for example, can visualize colors. I cannot, but I can build and de-construct a coffee table stick by stick in my head. Odd thing, that there brain.

If you would like some specifics on the actual construction, post a comment with your email address and I’d be happy to send you some mildly confusing parts lists and instructions…..some assembly required.

Spring in the Air

Date added: 10-03-2008

The daffodils are poking their little green shoots up through the leaves all around me at the house. This is a very special time for me. My wife, Erika, gets so happy when the first signs of spring arrive. So, for me, the first sign of spring means seeing the joy in my wife’s eyes. This all sounds a little overdramatized, but you need to keep in mind that we have planted several hundred bulbs each year for the last six years. There are probably over a thousand little green shoots poking up. In just a few weeks, the property will be overflowing with flowers……..

The Best And The Worst Day

Date added: 28-02-2008

The best and worst day of a man’s life. No, regardless of popular belief, it’s not when you buy and sell a boat. It’s not the day you’re married and the day you’re divorced. It’s when your television set blows up. Every man hopes this day will come, this one in particular. The only thing that makes this day bad is the fight for the money you will need to pry out of your wife’s (well manicured) hands. But you will prevail. Darwin made sure of that.

I had the blessing/misfortune of having the picture go crazy on my 52” high definition projection TV. Yes, while it’s only 6 years old, for some reason, it decide to go out on me (thanks to that ice pick – I’m kidding honey, love you).

The immediate response – buy new, and bigger. Fix this one? No way. This is a disposable society, right? I’m helping the economy. It’s good for America for me to chuck this one into the landfill and get the newest and greatest and biggest. Actually, I don’t subscribe to any of this, except the newest, greatest, and biggest idea. I am, after all, still just a man. It’s a genetic thing. You ladies wouldn’t understand.

In all seriousness, when we decided to buy this TV, I knew it wasn’t the one for us. We settled on it due to price. The plasma and LCD TV’s were still double the price. The decision was to settle. And I’ve been unhappy ever since. She wanted a cabinet around the TV, but at 27”deep, the case would be prohibitively ugly. Sure, I’ve done it before, but never really loved the end result. The slim line TV’s can lend themselves much better to case designs that don’t look like refrigerator boxes. So, we have been living with a giant TV in the room, and the stereo and assorted components stacked up on an old nightstand. Sound familiar?

I’m so excited, and not over the new TV that will be coming next week (but that doesn’t hurt), but to finally get order in my electronics life. You know, the rat’s nest of wires you try to hide behind the big black thingy over there (that you’re not sure does what). The idea of having a cabinet that will hold all this stuff, and the idea of me not only being willing, but happy to sort out the bundle of wires, is thrilling.

The point I’m trying to make I guess is that life is too short to settle for less than what you want. Sometimes, we need to be a little wasteful. Throw out that old cabinet, or donate it, even though there really is nothing wrong with it. If it fails to enrich your life, why have it? It becomes worth less than worthless because it occupies space in your life and mind that should be otherwise occupied with thoughts of ice cream and sugar plums. Okay, maybe not quite like that, but you get the idea.

I do subscribe to not being wasteful, and finding ways to re-use, recycle, and replenish all things. I will come to some clever conclusion of what to do with this beast of a TV…….later. For now, I see its demise as a mechanism for me to get my life enhanced and simplified. New TV. New cabinet. Professionally done wire management. Thank you, Lord. The end of one thing really is the beginning of another. I’ve already begun designing the case. I’ll keep you posted.

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