Try Square

Made a try square based on plans from Rex Kruger. Shockingly, it’s pretty and pretty square!

Walnut and cherry from Urbanwood. Aluminum rod for the pins from Home Depot, who looked at me like I was off my rocker for wanting brass rod. Epoxy to hold in the pins. Finished with shellac.

A door, a fix, some lessons

I dislike the doors in our house. I love the knobs though.

The doors, however, have faults. They’re old and hollow, the veneer is peeling, the springs in the deadlatches don’t spring as much as they used to, and the regrettable decision by the previous owner to put carpet over the hardwood floors means that they’ve all be cut too short. However, these are the door we have.

During a lazy sunday afternoon I finally gathered the energy to address a problem with the door to my daughter’s room. This particular door would rub against the jamb whenever swung open or closed. A scratch-screech as the fibers worked their way past each other screaming protests. One of many minor annoyances of a 60s kit house that you quickly learn to live with amongst the deluge of other minor annoyances. Until you think about it and the problem grows roots and becomes The Current Fixation.

I mentally prepared to take the coward’s solution: just sand the thing down. Make a millimeter less door to impede free movement. Of course, as these things go and will always go, upon inspection the problem rested not in the door, but the hinge.

Whomever had hung it had done so half-heartedly. They chiseled enough material to roughly seat it and no more. And compounding the problem on the other side they also stopped short on the strike. It’s probable that decades ago this was enough to get it in just fine. To do it properly would have meant shaving a bit more space for the hinge, a bit more space for the strike, a bit more time and energy when it likely wasn’t needed. But, as we all know, houses flex and relax and shift and breath and smrik at our half-measures.

Once identified, the problem then became a series of small steps: the hinge pins were removed and the door placed gently elsewhere. For all its other faults it wasn’t in trouble today. Then the hinge and strike screws were unscrewed. Then the hinge and strike pried off. Then 20 minutes of inexpert work with a dull chisel and utility knife—both found in their proper place rolling around the bottom of the toolbag. 15 minutes of cleanup work with a toddler helping.

Now the door swings and closes and the only sounds the slight woompf of air pressure and the metal on metal grind of the deadlatch.

Soon the daily annoyance will evaporate into the ether replaced with a memory more and more infrequently recalled. Time will proceed as follows: its absence will be savored, then unnoticed, and finally a new annoyance to take its place.

Repeat and repeat and repeat.

Christmas Dice Recipe

Dice are one of life’s simple pleasures. For less than the cost of many other much-worse-for-you vices you can get a set of dice in just about any color. You also always need another set of dice no matter how many you have. I recently published a Christmas themed one shot adventure called, “A Christmas One Shot: Marley’s Scrooge Case” (go buy it!). That got me thinking about holiday themed dice.

A quick trip to Vault of Midnight—the earth’s finest game store—and I had my ingredients.

What follows is a simple “recipe” for Christmas Dice:

Christmas Dice


15-30 minutes


3 cheery dice sets.


Our dice ingredients

Chessex numbers for reference


Dump them all out and start making pools: your d20 determines your starting color. Then pick another color for your d12 and the third for your d10. Then start back at the top and keep going until you have three piles.
That’s it!

Pop them back in the plastic cases and hand them out the next time you play, or give them out as gifts.

Mixed sets!

Some Thoughts on Tools

Here is what I’ve been learning about tools:

  • Become enamored with taking care of your tools not buying new ones.
  • Buy the cheapest tool you need for a job. If it breaks or fails its intended purpose then buy a more expensive replacement.
  • Completing a project from start to finish is the only way to see what tools you actually need. Planning is fraught with false assumptions.
  • Youtube tutorials are a useful fiction. Watch them for techniques and explanation yet understand that the moments they don’t show are where all the laborious and detailed work is happening.
  • Avoid forums where people argue about specifications and not real world results.
  • If you are scared of the next step, practice it at a smaller scale. If you are still wary, talk it through with a friend.
  • Modify your tools to suit your purposes.
  • Be generous with your tools. Especially those that spend most of their lives sitting on a shelf.

DIY Discovery Tower for Under $50

One thing about toddlers is that they want to see whatever it is you’re doing up there. This leads to plaintive pleadings for “up, up, up, up, up” whenever we are doing anything in the kitchen.

We needed a solution to this that didn’t devolve into ignoring her until we finally caved and picked her up. I posed a question on Workantile’s slack and Andre replied to say that they’d had luck with the Ikea BEKVÄM stool.

In googling for it I stumbled across a DIY project to turn one of them into a “discovery tower”. Real Discovery Towers run in the hundreds of dollars and I’d bet they’re worth it. If you’ve ever bought good furniture you know that there’s a hundred small decisions that go into each piece that can make or break it as a useful object.

However, right now, all we needed was something to get her safely up higher than she is right now. You can buy this mod already done off of etsy, but I’m never going to turn down a chance to make something like this myself.

Which Plans?

There’s a lot of these projects out there on the internet. Everyone does it slightly differently.

Which then sent me over here to this Ikea Hackers post which is what I really used as the basis for our design.

My wife ordered the stool and it arrived a week or so later. I put it together and Scout immediately did this:

Sitting at her table

Affordances are an amazing thing. We had to put her on top of it for her to get the intended use and then she loved it.

Materials and Tools

Aside from the stool the other materials were a spare 2×3 that I had left over from another project, some scrap 1”x4” boards, a dowel, and 2” drywall screws. Paint came from a leftover testing pint we had around.

Tools were a miter saw and a drill with a bit for predrilling and a bit for drilling the dowel hole. You’ll also need a bit for your screws.

The first major step was cutting the 2×3. The 2×3 runs about 1.5” by 2.5” so I took it to the table saw and ripped off an inch to make a roughly 1.5” by 1.5” 8 foot long board. If you don’t have access to a table saw you could skip that step. The tower will just look a bit chunkier. Alternatively, buy a smaller board. That made up the majority of the tower, with some extra scrap used for the top supports and a dowel for the back support.

You can absolutely use nicer materials, but that wasn’t a priority for us for this project.

Also I’m not giving measurements, because it’s very important that you make your own. When following someone else’s plans on the internet I’ve found that what you’re really getting is the general shape of the finished project. Your tools’ tolerances and your materials are always going to be different. This goes double when you’re using scrap wood and framing lumber.

Project Overview:

I’d recommend doing this project in this order, which differs from how I did it. Learn from me!

  • Vertical Supports: measure from top of stool to counter height, cut, drill holes for dowel in back two supports, sand, attach
  • Side Supports: measure between vertical supports, cut, sand, attach
  • Dowel: cut to length and thread through with a dab of glue on each end
  • Top Supports: measure sides, cut, sand, attach. Then measure the front piece, cut, sand, attach

Note that sanding before attaching will save you so much time in the long run. I just did a rough sanding to knock down any sharp corners and clean up splinters. We want the “natural beauty” of the rough lumber to shine through (ha!).

Vertical Supports

First step was to measure from the top of the stool to the top of the counter. I was looking for an exactly even surface because that’s the sort of thing that really makes me happy. Your milage may vary on whether you care or not. If you don’t care, at least going lower than your counter height so you don’t create a lip that is going to get in the way.

The vertical supports are each attached with two screws drilled from the bottom of the top part of the stool. Predrilling with wood like this is a must or you will split it. What I did was predrill through the top board, then put the screws in so they poked through the top just a bit. That let me press the vertical supports down into them to mark them. Then predrill those, then screw it all the way through.

That’s a lot of steps, but the upshot is that nothing split and all the supports are aligned well.

Here’s the underside with a few of the holes predrilled

Side Supports

Once the vertical supports were in I marked off the position for the side supports about 10 inches up. These act mostly as additional handholds for her as she’s climbing into and out of it. They honestly might not be necessary.

Picture of the side supports and the top supports attached

Dowel Support

We originally didn’t have the dowel in place because I didn’t understand why you’d have that there. It only took about 5 minutes for her to be standing up there and lean back to realize that the dowel’s purpose is containment. She can still duck underneath it to get up and into the tower, but the dowel keeps her from flying back off into the void. Parenting is sometimes merely risk mitigation. I’d recommended putting one in, and I’d also recommend putting it in before you screw everything together and fill in the screws with wood putty.

Unpainted without dowel. This is what it looked like without the dowel. This is regret because I had to pull the top supports back off to get the dowel in

She was still happy with it, but we were not.

Happy even in its unfinished state

I used a 1/2” diameter dowel, which felt about right to me. Very little flex at this length and doesn’t require a ton of additional space. I drilled direcly through the vertical supports—trying to stay as level as possible and then threaded it through both of them. It’s tight enough to friction fit, but a dab or two of glue wouldn’t be the worst thing. Then when the top supports go on it covers up the end of the holes.

Top Supports

Finally the top supports go in a 3 wall surround. These provide structural support as well as gives her plenty of room to hold onto something when she’s up there. We could have done something similar to the side supports, but I don’t think it’d be as stable. If I ever did a version two of this I’d be tempted to try it to keep it more compact.


Finally, we painted it using a leftover paint sample pint. For a job like this that was plenty and we have some leftover for touchups later on. There are plans for additional decoration, will update this when and if that happens.

Here it is drying

She loves it. This morning I showed her how she can push it around to different “stations” in the kitchen. She happily moved it over to get a banana and then to wash her hands. Later she used it to put her plate in the sink. She will surely use it to do more nefarious things later on, but for now it’s giving her more independence and that’s a very cool thing to see.

Picture of her on top of the finished product

Refinishing Our Floors, a DIY Sanding Adventure

The past few days have been spent staring at the floor. Prepping them with the help of a friend (thanks, M!) and then so much sanding with another friend (thanks, K!).

Here’s a portion of the floors before we did anything:

What we started with

What followed was a lot of prep. The previous owners had carpet everywhere which meant staples and nails (they also had pets they didn’t take care of, but that’s a whole other issue). Even with no furniture in the house this took forever. Every time I thought we were done there’d be something else I’d overlooked (“got all the doors off, check. Oh, right, closet doors too…”).

Friday was supposed to be the first big day of sanding. The plan was to use a large orbital sander instead of a drum sander. Slower, but easier to handle for someone who didn’t know what they were doing. I got the sander got home and realized that I wasn’t nearly as ready as I thought. More prep and moving things ensued. By the time I was actually ready to start the sander it was 4 hours later than expected. Managed to do one pass just to prove I could and then left for the night.

On Saturday K came over and we clocked a twelve hour day of sanding, vacuuming, and running to the hardware store. If he hadn’t come I don’t think I would have finished this. Three cheers for K! We did stop for lunch, dinner, and ice cream. I’d rented a fancy powerful edger which proved to be more trouble than it was worth (YMMV). We returned it and bought a hand-held orbital sander that took longer, but gave more even results.

It took four solid passes with different grits to get to the finish we were looking for (36, 60, 80, 100 for future reference). In retrospect we probably didn’t go deep enough since there are still some scratches here and there. Oh well!

We wrapped up after 11pm and left exhausted. Here’s the only progress picture I have because it was a frantic day. This was my view the entire time:

Progress Sander

Here’s a few sanded pictures:

Sanded segment


My wife helped vacuum out the place on Sunday and then I put some polyurethane in a discrete location for testing. It looked not great. Here’s the test spot:

Gross. Unstained with Poly

This is admittedly the worst spot in the house, but still was deflating. If we were doing this “right” we’d be replacing the bad planks throughout the house–each room has a handful. Our goal isn’t perfect though (for a lot of reasons, but mainly cost and also because we’re trying to not be too precious about these things). We talked it over and decided to try staining.

Stains all have great names. It’s like paint colors but aimed at dudes. There was one called “Gunstock”, which is just like…come on. Here’s a few test strips. The left is Minwax’s “Early American” and the right is “Provincial” (the far right is the unstained poly test):

Stain Options

We opted for Early American with the thought that it’d blend all the wood we had in the house together well. Fingers crossed I went and bought a gallon and a quart of it.

That lead to another grueling late night of staining. Hands and knees wiping it on and wiping off the excess with cloth rags. Again finished after 11pm and just managed to shower before collapsing into bed. The result though exceeded expectations:

Just the stain

Then on Monday I put the first coat of poly down (we went with Varathane’s water-based floor finish) and it started to shine (I mean, yes, that is sort of the point of poly, but you know).

Here it is right after application:

One Coat of Poly

And here’s the second coat drying:

Two Coats of Poly

Tuesday morning I put the final coat on and now we wait for 48 hours before we can walk on it:

Three Coats of Poly

And here’s the worst corner and what it looked like with 2 coats of poly on it. It’s night and day from what it looked like when we started:

The corner stained and with a few coats of poly

Update on the thursday after: here’s a few more pictures after drying for a few days. It’s a lot glossier than I thought it’d be. Some bubbles and small bits of things here and there. We’ll sand out the egregious ones or just live with them:

Dry and Up Close

Dry in the entry room

Would I ever do this again?


If you’d asked me right after the sanding I would have said absolutely not. Now that we’re seeing the results I am appreciating the “why” behind each of the subsequent steps more.

If we were to do it again I’d be more aggressive with sanding from the start. We started with too high a grit and had to go back to a lower one which added hours to the project. I’d also split up the sanding to 2-3 days rather than trying to cram it into a short a time as possible. I’d also probably have someone show me how to use a drum sander and use it well. The orbital sanders were good enough for this project. I don’t know if I’d have the patience to use them again though.

Lessons learned!