Recent Outage

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What a tangled web we weave when first we suffer to . . . blog?My site here had a rough patch the last few days. I attempted an update to the content management system, which caused problems. But then backing out of that update caused the whole site to go down. I should know, working in IT, to depend on things going well when you upgrade. Luckily, I do have good backups. And we're back up and running now. 

These shenanigans have prevented me from posting a bunch of updates recently. For a change, I'm doing a lot of work in the shop and I have lots of thoughts on topics I want to talk about here. I'm designing and building an aviary to hold finches for my wife's new bird-keeping hobby. We're in the process of hunting for a house, which frankly, has given me lots of insight into the U.S. mortgage lending industry. It's not pretty, folks.  Oh, and  my workbench project continues to make progress. I'll post updates here as I have time.  (Time is always short, but especially now as I try to stand up an asset management system at work. Fun.)

Began Work on the Aviary

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Prepping the plansAfter I went out last week to buy BORG lumber for this project, I got started this week cutting the 2-by lumber down to more useful dimensions. I had to stack all of my lumber outside on the back porch this time, since I'm out of room in the shop. Hopefully it'll stay dry for a few days until I can bring it in. (Note: It didn't, of course. We had the wettest two weeks of the year so far right after I posted this.)

The lumber for the aviary stacked outside the back window of the shopEven though I dimensioned for 2"x2" legs, I just used the dimensions of the lumber define it. So all of the members actually ended up 1½" x 1¾". (That's ripping a 2" x 8" into four pieces.) Once that was done, I started the process of chopping to length and then butt glueing and screwing into place. The little birds have hatched and I need to get this thing done quickly.

This thing is going to be modular, so if it's too large to fit through a doorway, I can take it apart into four walls, a floor, and the roof pieces. So I started by framing in the front and back walls with their long legs. Building the front wall of the aviary. Butt joints, glued and screwed.I extended the legs 10" below the bottom of the aviary so that it'll sit up higher. I've got a ton of long screws from the outdoor playset I built the boys back in Florida, so I used those with glue to hold the frames together. After the front and back, I built the side walls. The right side is a simple rectangle, but the left wall has members in the middle to support three little doors for feeding and cleaning the cage.

The back wall of the aviary leaning up against the chopsaw station. I was running out of room in the shop on this project.

Power in a Temporary Shop

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As I've mentioned recently, my workshop is a temporary construct. We've moved several times and will move again in the near future. This is the result of our evil banking industry and the fact that when they tanked the world economy, my wife and I were forced to accept a short sale on our Florida home. Rental is never stable, as we found out when our first Atlanta home was needed back by the owner last year. From a shop perspective, that was really too bad, especially since I had invested in a pair of 30Amp circuits in the basement shop in my las rental property. (You're welcome, Mr Landlord.) But the additional burden of moving a shop is that things just get lost.  I still haven't located my random-orbital sander.

Running power down the stairsBut lately, it's been getting even worse. The wiring in this house is absolutely horrendous when it comes to supporting a woodshop. The entire lower level, including our garage and my workshop, are on a single 20Amp circuit. That was bad enough, but then some time during the winter, that circuit just . . stopped. It hasn't tripped a breaker. I can't find a single problem wrong with it, other than the fact that there is no juice at the outlets or lights on the circuit. And since I'm moving soon, I refuse to invest the time and energy into tracking down the problem. Especially since we've reported a ton of fix requests with the renting company. I fear we're getting a reputation. 

Milestone: Finished leg mortises and fit stretchers

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Stretchers fitted to legs, with the table top leaning against the wall in the backgroundAfter a great pile of drilling, followed by a whole passle of chisel-poundin', I've managed to fit all eight stretcher tenons to mortises in the workbench legs. This is the quickest work on this project yet. The boys are 9 and 4 1/2 now, so I'm finally able to grab a half an hour here and there to sneak down to the basement and get some work done. (As long as I balance it with other fatherly duties.)

Natural light in the workshop is much preferred, promoting health and good humourNext up, I set aside one four inch wide strip of silver maple to serve as the front edge of the workbench top. I had originally intended to carve a message into it, but the more I think of it, the more I want that edge smooth and unblemished for better work-holding. I think I may, though, carve the message into the front of the leg vice. I'll have to see what looks right. I think I'll still stick with my original message, from 'Two Tramps in Mud Time' by Robert Frost

Completed fitting stretchers to the legs

Finch Aviary

Finch aviary built out of construction lumber and 1/4" sheet plywood
A floor-standing cage, an aviary, for my wife's pet finches. She had a single pet store cage, but once her first pair started breeding, and we realized how much she liked that part of keeping birds, we realized she was going to need more space. So I was tasked with creating an aviary of significant size, so they would have more room to fly. I asked for dimensions and we settled on an inside area of 2½' in depth, 4' wide, and 4' high. And it needed large doors in the front for access and cleaning, and smaller doors on one side for feeding and daily access.   

Original design we found on Amazon. My wife wanted something like this, but wider.We looked on Amazon for pre-built large bird cages, but didn't find exactly what we wanted. The closest we found was an attractive model from Trixie, but my wife wanted it to be wider so the finches would have more room to fly. The second consideration was that it needed to be fairly easy to build. Third, and probably most critically, it needed to be built around whatever metal cage grid I could buy in large enough format so that I didn't have to piece together smaller cage grills. And fourth, I wanted to keep the cost down, so I planned to build with plain old construction lumber that I could buy in a big box store.

After watching a bunch of Youtube videos by people who've built bird aviaries, I realized I needed a bit more specific detail. Who knew that there were so many considerations when housing birds. The Youtube bunch had built to house a variety of birds, from parakeets all the way up to giant eagles and owls. Obviously, the materials and constraints change when you're desiging for a parakeet vs. an owl. In many ways, finches are easy. Their beaks are small enough, you don't have to worry about them snapping thinner grill materials, (something you *do* have to worry about for large parrots and raptors.) But finches are also very delicate, and will quickly die if exposed to unfortunate chemicals, like the stuff used to treat pressure-treated lumber, or the zinc used to coat most wire products to prevent rust. Fencing delivered in 5 daysI found the most useful information in a pet finch discussion forum. People have used everything from plastic screen material to those wire shelving units for closets.  Someone there suggested an online fencing company out of New Jersey as a good place to find many options. For this application, the right material turned out to be 1/2" x 1/2" PVC vinyl-coated welded wire mesh. I ordered a 24" by 50' spool. Academy Fence delivered quickly and the stuff is exactly what I needed. Shipping was expensive, but I have enough material for two (or possibly three) of these giant aviaries, and the material itself was a good deal compared to other options. If I know my wife, I'll probably end up building a second one at some point.   

Grid materialOrdering and receiving the grid was the key. Once that was in-hand, I could design around the dimensions of the fencing material and the construction lumber I would buy to size parts. I broke out Sketchup and designed it from the ground up. 

Note: I update from the design in the Sketchup file. This is a large bird cage, but once I cut the legs, I realized the top would actually be just about at my eye level. I decided I wanted to be able to see the birds, too. So I lengthened the legs by 10", moving the entire structure up 10" higher off the ground. I'll probably also reinforce the legs with a shelf near the ground to strenthen them. The longer legs with lots of weight on them, particularly with casters mounted in each leg, make me nervous.

Here's the design as finished in the Sketchup file:

My design for the aviary Structure from the side, showing access doors on the right side

3/28/2016 -- Note, when building around 24" wide fencing material, it may make more sense to make the depth just a bit wider than 24". Ended up cutting one row of the grid material off for the bottom and walls. 

4/3/2016 -- The left wall, as designed, doesn't leave room for the grid to be attached to the wall and then the bottom of the structure to be installed. I ended up installing the grid on the top half and attached the bottom to the bottom half of the bottom piece of that left wall.



Thursday, February 25, 2016 to Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Finished project?: 


Workbench Stretchers

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Gluing up stretchersIn the last month, I've made some progress. I had finally picked out the pieces to function as stretchers for my bench, sifting through my dwindling supply of silver maple lumber. I don't have anything really thick, so I made each stretcher by cutting a long piece to function as the tenon on each end, and a shorter piece to thicken the center of each part.  I managed to thickness plane and joint all of this rough lumber back around the New Year, then I glued up my stretchers.

Stretchers laid out for mortisesMarking the mortises from the tenons on the legsWith all four stretchers glued and once again jointed square, I laid out the entire undercarriage of the workbench for the first time. I Used the tenons to mark the mortises on the legs. As in the original Christopher Schwarz design, I'm trying to make all of the outer surfaces of the bench fit on the same plane, so the legs and edges of the bench will all serve as bracing surfaces for work.  Having that shared plane for the outer surfaces of the stretchers and legs made it easy to layout and mark the mortises. I just placed both pieces on a flat surface and traced around the tenen end. 

Stretchers glued up and placed for mortise layout

Fixing Door Sag

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One thing I've noticed as I've used my wall hanging tool cabinet is that the doors have started to sag. The cabinet box is 3/4" birch plywood, and the doors include face moldings as decoration. That, and the fact that each door holds a full complement of tools means that the doors are very heavy. Even the full length piano hinges i used to attach each door to the frame are not enough to keep the doors vertical. Plus, I suspect that the weight may even bow out the sides of the box.

Tool cabinet door support I had counted on the magnets mounted in the top frame would hold the doors vertical, but that has turned tou to not be enough. In fact, the right door has been sagging enough lately that I can't even get the magnet to engage the steel attach plate. 

Door support block shown from above, screwed from top

Review: CAGLumber - Gainesville, Georgia

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CAGLumber is not easy to find on the Old Cornelia Highway, just outside of Gainesville, GeorgiaI realized last month that I'm short of material for both of my current active projects. I need several long thin pieces of quarter-sawn sycamore for the jewelry cabinet project, to build the doors. And I need a thick, wide piece of maple to fashion the leg vice for the workbench project. Since moving to Georgia, I haven't needed to buy any lumber. So, aside from the usual suspects in the retail woodworking stores, and their lumber selection is sparse, and expensive, I didn't really know where to go. The trick, you see, is the sycamore. Most lumber stores, even the full, professionally stocked ones, often don't carry sycamore. It's not a terribly popular wood, even among woodworkers. After a hunt at Woodfinder, I located exactly one lumber store within a hundred miles that claims to stock sycamore. CAGLumber is about 70 miles outside the Northeast perimeter of Atlanta, up on the other side of Gainesville, GA. I have no affiliation with this business, and no other knowledge about them, aside from the experience I'm about to convey. 

Map to CAGLumber relative to AtlantaTheir website made them look like a small, Mom and Pop type of operation, but they did list quarter-sawn sycamore as something they have in stock. The other part of this that was important was that it looks like the website had been updated within the last few months. That's not always the case with small lumber suppliers, and you never know until you call if they're still in business. The site listed their hours as weekday only, but they did mention that they will open on Saturdays if you call ahead. I called and spoke to a very helpful gentleman, and his attitude was basically, 'Sure, I can be here on Saturday. I live in my house right here and if you call me right before you come over, I can walk over to the shop.' And he assured me they did in fact have a nice selection of quarter-sawn sycamore in stock and some very nice thick pieces of maple. I said Thank you, and planned a trip for that Saturday. 


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