2×4 Bench, Rustic Strength

Finally finished this bench I’d been slowly working on. This was the second attempt at a similar design. Both found homes with friends. The first one will live near a firepit and this one will end up inside as a bench near an entrance. Final size is about 33″ wide by 16″ tall.

The wood came from scrap 2x4s and the box joint configuration created a surprisingly strong bench!

Started by milling the 2x4s on the thickness planer and table saw to get square edges and flat faces. None of them were acceptable without this step for the finish quality I was going for.

After milling, I cut the top and sides to slightly longer than needed. Then I attacked worst part of this project: the glue up. I didn’t want to have any screws or nails involved so gluing involved a lot of clamps and annoyances. Once it dried I evened out the legs and top ends with a circular saw, chiseled and hand planed everything reasonably flat and then sanded (a lot). Finished with a few coats of clear shellac.

I’d been wanting to try this technique for a while. After trying it? It’s neat, but oh-so-fiddly to get right. What I learned is that I never want to use 2x4s for “fine” furniture again if it can be avoided.

Cutting Boards, Racing Stripes Edition

Made two cutting boards yesterday! I have the week off from work and so naturally spent a few hours in the shop. One is spoken for, but another is still available as of yet ($40). Edit: Both are sold! Talk to me if you want one though since I’ll do another batch later this month!

Dimensions are around 9″x12″ with rounded edges. Pattern is: red oak, oak, walnut, red oak. The walnut came from a friend who had it in his basement and the rest is from Urbanwood. Finished with Howards Butcher Block Conditioner.

A Cutting Board, A Cut

A Cutting Board

Finished this cutting board yesterday. Made from oak and walnut. I love the grain on this, it’s wild and varied and unexpected. Measures about 8″x12″ with rounded corners and two usable sides.

The knot at the top is filled in with clear epoxy, which worked well and is a nice detail. I’m curious to see how it will wear over time.

Finish is a beeswax+mineral oil blend from Howard called Butcher Block Conditioner. Wood is from Urbanwood.

If you like the look of the above and would like one of your own, I’m open for commissions. Contact me and we can figure out a price and delivery date!

A Cut

About halfway through making this I did something very dumb and ended up with four stitches in the side of my index finger. I’ll spare you the details, but will tell you the lesson I learned:

Your hand is not a clamp. Never use it as one, even if it seems convenient.

It was nice to confirm that my chisel sharpening technique is good. The wonderful person who stitched me up said it was a clean cut. Something I do after I hurt myself is google for similar injuries. It’s comforting knowing you’re not alone and a great relief when you don’t pull up any obits.

Due to the circumstances, I’m going to keep this cutting board because you should always keep your enemies close.

Charcuterie Board

For Thanksgiving we volunteered to bring a charcuterie board. Naturally that meant I needed to make the actual board itself in addition to us bringing the things that went on it.

Here’s the front and back of the finished board. Determining which is the front and which is the back is left as an exercise to the reader:

I made this out of walnut and red oak. The contrast in color and grain texture between the two woods ended up looking really nice. Here it is just after glue up:

After the glue was dry I planed it down. Cut the ends to length and rounded over the edges. Sanded up to about 220, raised the grain with water, then sanded again.

Finished it with Howard Butcher Block Conditioner (essentially just a mixture of mineral oil and beeswax).

My wife put it all together on Thanksgiving. Here’s the board loaded up with meat, cheeses, olives, and fruit. The bowl on the right is filled with cranberries and lactaid pills:

Live Edge Table

Glamor shots of a table’s natural habitat: outside in the leaves

My friend, Kyle, needed a table for an upcoming performance art show related to playing and running tabletop games. He wanted a table that could act as a physical document of play. The table as a sort of participant in the games. After his shows he’ll be using it for running other games over the years, and likely it will also become a dining room table.

Beyond that the thought was to make something that looked natural and would also show its scars visibly. Over time, and with use, the table will pick up scratches, dings, and nicks. If someone spills something on it, the finish might run or dissolve and that is okay (and desirable!). The hope is that over time the table itself has a clear and readable history.

Here’s some additional shots of the table:

Wood Selection

I source as much of my wood from Urbanwood as possible including everything for this project:

A Gnarly Slab

After a lot of searching I found the perfect slab of pine for the top of the table. Plenty of knots “ugly” spalting and damage from bugs. The price for it had been reduced and reduced again. Under many other circumstances it would be a terrible piece of wood to use for a tabletop. However, for this the gnarlier the slab of wood the better!

To get the right length and width for the top it needed to be subdivided and glued back together.

Here are some shots of dividing the slab up so I could get the right width and length from it and then planing it down to the right thickness:

Apron and Legs

For the apron and the legs I went with oak. It’s hard and stable and matches the pine top well. Similar to the top, we wanted legs with interesting details. The knots here don’t have much of an effect on the strength of the table, but they make the legs far more interesting to look at and give it a tactile feel. Here’s some progress shots just before glue up matching the boards together, and then after the hanger bolts were installed.

Finish

The table is finished with an amber shellac. Shellac should probably never be used for the top of a table. It’s not terribly durable and can dissolve in alcohol. At a minimum if you want to use shellac you should do a final coat of wax. Again though, it’s perfect for this: provides a nice finish that will degrade over time as people use it.

Here’s a before picture alongside a detail shot of it after the shellac was applied:

Conclusion

This was a really fun project! I can’t wait to check back in on the table in a year or two or ten to see what has happened with it. Woodworkers can often get obsessed with making our pieces as permanently perfect as possible. It was a refreshing challenge to make something that was intended to be used and show its scars proudly.

If you’re interested in collaborating on a project, or commissioning a table like this of your own, please reach out!

Williams Street Bikeway

Today was my first use of the new protected bike lanes on Williams Street. I picked it up at Thompson and took it all the way to Main Street and it was wonderful!

I generally feel safe riding my bike in Ann Arbor and do so almost every weekday of the year (except for February, which is the worst). Despite this I wasn’t prepared for just how much safer I felt in the protected bike lanes. When you bike you get used to the idea that all cars can be weaponized against you. After a while a defensive posture becomes part of riding. Like, you learn pretty quickly to make direct eye contact with drivers just to remind them you’re there before they turn into you.

But in the bikeway? It felt safe! I was biking and smiling and felt relaxed. Unless a driver is being willfully dangerous you are actually protected.

My conclusion after using this bikeway just once is that we need a lot more bikeways around town. The more protected lanes we have the more we can recommend biking as a primary mode of transportation. And if we’re serious about the climate emergency that city council just declared we need more as quickly as we can get them.

Success metrics

Arguably the single most important part of any project that everyone skips is defining what makes a project successful.

The Traps to Avoid

Doing so focuses the project and, more importantly, will help you ignore three big traps:

  • Taking on other people’s definitions of success.
  • Never finishing.
  • Grabbing onto tantalizing data that don’t actually support your goals.

Other People’s Ideas of Success

Often–always, actually-–when working on a project people will offer opinions and ideas on what you should do with it. This is human nature and is a lovely thing. If you’re not sure in what you want though, well, it’s easy to take on their thoughts as your own. Feedback is good, taking it all in means that you’re not secure in why you’re doing what you’re doing.

A lot of what people will suggest means success is going to have to do with capitalism. Always remember that you are not required to monetize your joy.

Never Finishing

Finishing anything is hard. It’s so hard.

The last 10% of even the best scoped projects is always 1000% of the work. Nothing will kill your momentum during that difficult phase more than not knowing what you’re actually shooting for.

You get lost, flail about for a bit, and put it down forever. It’ll make you feel guilty for a long time too whenever you think about it.

Tantalizing Data

Social Media figured out years ago that people like having numbers attached to their posts. Engagement metrics are, frankly, super fun because it’s a nice dopamine hit to see strangers interact with your posts! My guess is that with any interrogation though you’ll find that your reasons for posting are not to see analytics numbers tick up.

You’re probably, at a minimum, more interested in a specific audience liking and retweeting your work. Or, the actual reason you’re posting on social media might be to sell your project, generate commissions, share it with a group, keep a diary for yourself, OR any number of totally valid reasons to use social media.

A large number of favs, shares, and/or retweets is rarely going to be your project’s actual goal. If it is, you can go and buy those likes and retweets from many numerous shady websites with a minimum amount of fuss.

A Personal Example

To personalize this: the primary goal of the posts on this blog are to help me organize my thoughts and to reference them later on. A secondary goal is to share posts with my social circles. A tertiary goal is for random folks on the internet to find the posts when they’re looking for specific information.

This post was written as a reminder to myself to avoid mistakes I’ve made in the past. I’ve walked directly into all of the three traps above and will likely continue to do so. If anyone else reads this post hopefully they’ll be able to use it as ammunition against me the next time I dive in headfirst into a project without a goal.

If my primary goal was to achieve some sort of Elite Blogger Status I’d have to do things a lot differently. Probably there would be no cryptic posts about goal setting! Not going after that particular goal frees me up do what I actually want with this little corner of the internet and not obsess too much over analytics numbers.

Tiny candle holders

This past week at the farmer’s market Cobblestone Farm was teaching kids traditional candle making. My daughter happily jumped in line and made two candles. Today I put together a few candle holders out of scrap wood in the shop:

Walnut and Cherry from Urbanwood.

Pizza Taxonomy, Ann Arbor Edition

A question was asked in Workantile’s recommendation channel that resulted in slack telling notifying us that several people are typing:

What’s your favorite Ann Arbor pizza?

I was one of them because, dear reader, I have pizza opinions.

Pizza Contains Multitudes

There is no one Pizza. Instead, we have many many subclasses of food that look similar, yet are quite different, and can all be broadly defined (and recognized!) as pizza.

If you ask a child to draw a pizza they will draw you a shape that more or less looks like what the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles eat. Something that is circular, cheesy, and maybe some pepperoni on top. The child’s drawing won’t be able to capture a lot of, what I’d argue, are essential properties of the pizza though: speed of delivery to your mouth, toppings, crust, thickness, greasiness, price, etc.

No artist could, really, pizza is complicated and comes in many forms! And, because of it, pizza places cannot excel at all kinds of pizza. They will naturally do one (maybe two!) kinds of pizza well. Expecting them to do everything outlined below would result in them doing nothing correctly. Recognition that the rubric for “good pizza” is vast and circumstantial has the effect of reducing the stress of picking a pizza place. Rather than having only one favorite pizza place you can expand your palette and have many favorite places each tailored to what you are actually craving.

The Taxonomy of Pizza Places

Since we agree that pizza places suit different needs you can first choose the kind of pizza you are craving and then pick your place from there.

I contend that the categories below are more or less comprehensive of restaurant pizza options (we’re not getting into making your own or frozen). I’ve provided my favorite places in Ann Arbor for each category with the understanding that there will be quibbles. That is fine by me. You are always welcome to submit your own blog post to the internet:

Pizza! Now!

Hot and Ready from Little Caesar’s. You may optionally hate yourself later, but you will at least be full.

Greasy/Cheap/Delivered

Domino’s. It’s “local” and defines this category. Maybe Cottage Inn if you want exotic ingredients like “chicken”. I’m told that Marco’s Pizza is also good in this category.

“Fast” Casual

Blaze pizza. Although “fast” in this sense is highly dependent on how busy it is. Blaze is a nightmare if you are hungry because you feel like you’re very close to getting your pizza, but any line whatsoever is going to make it feel like an eternity. That said you get a ton of choices and can piece together a pretty good pizza. Neopapalis is another option here, although I haven’t been in years.

Not Your Daddy’s Pizza

Bigalora or Mani. If you crave interesting ingredients like brussel sprouts OR potatoes go to these places. Mani is loud though.

Sit Down and Wait a While

Anthony’s. Pizza House has a better ambiance. Anthony’s has much better pizza.

Regional Styles

Was told after publishing that I should really include a section on a few specific regional styles:

Chicago (read: Deep Dish)

Anthony’s. Although maybe just wait until the next time you’re in Chicago.

Detroit

I’m least familiar with this but am told that Buddy’s and/or Jet’s are where to go. As someone who grew up in Chicagoland Detroit style is scary and different.

New York

New York Pizza Depot. I’m unaware of any runner-ups here. Again, probably best to just wait until you’re in NY.

Notes

Thanks to Workantile for helping me take this from that thing I rant about from time to time to a written blog post I can now link to whenever someone mentions pizza.

Referencing directories in WordPress themes

I needed to enqueue a handful of scripts and stylesheets in a WordPress theme and ran into much confusion between which functions to use to return what paths from the parent theme vs. the child theme. To save myself later here is the breakdown of when to use what. Basic gist is that “stylesheet” will get the child theme. “template” will get the parent.

If you don’t have a child theme any of these will get the current theme.

Absolute Path

These functions get the absolute path on the server’s file system. Mostly useful for referencing other PHP files within your theme’s PHP files:

get_stylesheet_directory() – absolute path to the current theme. If you’re using a child theme it’ll get it. Documentation.

get_template_directory() – absolute path to the parent theme. Even if you’re using a child theme it’ll get the parent. Documentation.

Directory

These functions get the public URI for the theme directory. Useful when you’re trying to publicly display something on the site through your theme files:

get_stylesheet_directory_uri() – returns a properly formatted URI for the current theme. Use if you have a child theme that you want to return. Documentation.

get_template_directory_uri() – returns a properly formatted URI for the parent theme. Even if you’re using a child theme it’ll get the parent theme. Documentation.