Category Archives: Family History blogging

Snow-People Revisited

In the previous blog, Snowman 2, we covered the design and production of a prototype snowman ornament for our 18 grandchildren. The next phase of this project involved the mass production of the 18 snow-people (politically correct for snow women and snowmen). Looking at the calendar, I realized that there was no way I was going to be able to reproduce the prototype snowman without some 21st century help. I had purchased a Vega lathe duplicator for my large lathe and my midi-lathe some years ago. So I pulled out the smaller duplicator and attached it to my Jet midi-lathe, worked up a template for the snowman profile and got to work.
Taking several 4 foot long pieces of southern magnolia of the proper dimensions (about 2 ½ inches by 2 ½ inches ), I cut 18 blanks, each 6 inches long. Then, sitting in front of the TV watching some old episodes of MASH, I marked the centers on each end of the blocks. A 5 gallon bucket worked well for transporting all the blanks around while I was processing them. Then off to the lathe. I have my midi-lathe on a roller stand, so I rolled it outside to take advantage of the wonderful Florida weather and natural daylight! Each blank was then turned into a 2 inch diameter cylinder using a roughing gouge. This went a lot faster than starting with the square block and using the duplicator to round off to a cylinder.
Once I had 18 cylinders turned, I then remounted each blank and with the duplicator, cut the profile of the snowperson. I then sanded from 80 to 400 grit using Abernet. There was a small base remaining on each of the turned profiles that I decided to leave. It actually looked okay when the snowpersons were finally painted. I sprayed each of the turned profiles with a white high gloss, lacquer sealer and then turned them over to my wife to add the final touches. She had gotten some snow acrylic paint that gave the snow-people a snow-textured look. My wife went with pink accents for the snow-women.
The next step was to add our name medallions with date to the bottom with the name of the grandchild. Then off to the mailbox.

Four of 10 Quilts for Christmas

Wow, that’s a tall order. I’m starting to realize that someone may have to wait til next Christmas to get their quilt.

I decided a few months back to get some precut fabric packages from Craftsy, in the form of Charm Packs. A Charm Pack is a package of 5″ fabric squares in coordinating colors. There was a sale of Christmas fabrics going on near the end of the summer, and I got Moda and Robert Kaufman packs in the Evergreen, Under the Mistletoe, Holiday Flourish, 3 Sisters Favorites, and French General Favorites collections. I also had a few packs I’d snagged at Cary Quilt shop a couple of years ago. Sorry I can’t remember the collection name just now, but here is a picture of the top I’ve been working on from that set.

Christmas quilt craftsbyjennyskip
Christmas Quilt #3

I’ve found that the average Charm Pack has about 42 squares, which is not exactly enough to make a very big quilt. The quilts I want to make are mostly intended to be lap quilts, something you’d pull over you as you were lying on the couch watching TV or reading. And the ones I’ve made seem to end up a little smaller than most instructions I’ve seen for making lap quilts. If I use nine 5-inch squares for a block, and then sew together nine of those blocks, and then add a border strip around the outer edge, that’s about the size I want to make.

I used a pattern that I’d made once before, Eleanor Burns’ Tossed Nine Patch. I took a class on this pattern at a traveling Quilt Expo, and each of the students practically made an entire quilt top in the class, as Burns’ catch-phrase and company name says: Quilt in a Day. It really was a magnificent experience, an investment, because I knew I would try to reuse this pattern again and again.

Here it is again, using a charm pack of red and white squares.

quilt craftsbyjennyskip
Tossed Nine-patch top in red and white

And again, this one has charm squares of traditional Christmas colors, embellished with gold accents.

quilt top
Tossed Nine-patch lap quilt top

This is the one I’m about to square up and bind. Like the first one, it is made of reds and blues, along with the traditional pairings of red and green. But I’m loving the addition of light blue and turquoise as Christmas colors.

lap quilt
Tossed Nine-patch almost ready for binding

To do the free-motion machine quilting, I had two options on my machine: spring-action or not spring-action. I had used the non-spring-action before when I finished up the quilt I made in the aforementioned class. I was pretty happy with it, but actually I have a slightly different machine than I had back then. I chose the other option, the spring-action one. Both options had specific presser feet to use. The non-spring-action free motion foot was just a small, clear, snap-on foot that looked like a regular embroidery foot except it had an open front. The spring-action foot was a complex item. I had to unscrew and remove the shank that was on the post, and screw on the spring-action foot to the post from the left side. At the top of the right side of the post is another screw that keeps the needle tightened up and ready to sew the fabric. The spring-action foot had a metal bar, kind of like a stretched-out heavy paper clip, that rested on top of the bolt that keeps the needle tightened up. Within the shank of the foot was a spring. So while you are free-motion quilting, the fabric gets moved about by your hands rather than by the feed dogs, because on this setting, the feed dogs are down. And this foot rolls with the punches, skimming over the fabric. After a quilt and a half, the little metal bar suddenly broke off, and I had to do something else.

broken sewing machine foot
broken spring-action presser foot

Of course, the sewing shop didn’t have another one in stock. And they had never seen a foot part break like that. It wasn’t a clean break, if you look at the break closely, it looks like the metal fibers just pulled apart, if such a thing could happen. Anyway, I tried to finish using the other option, but my results really sucked doing it that way. Thread breaking, needle breaking, birds’ nests, ugh. Some days, sewing can be a real disaster.

The one that I finished, I bound using store-bought quilt binding tape that had been in the clearance bin. Since it is now December 8, I’m open to using short-cuts like that. Our foremothers in the 19th century couldn’t get store-bought short-cuts like that, and they did all the sewing by hand. I’ll close with possible reasons for not finishing a quilt project by a self-imposed deadline, then vs now:

Why didn’t you get your Christmas quilt finished (in 1850)?

1) Frostbite
2) We had to use the dining-room table for skinning a deer
3) Wanted to conserve the candle supply, so we slept instead of working by candlelight

Why didn’t you get your 10 Christmas quilts finished (in 2015)?

1) Ran out of backing fabric and wanted to wait until I got a new Joann’s coupon before I bought more
2) Sewing machine malfunction on orders from one to five, one being a broken part, five being a broken motor (in which there is no workaround)
3) Husband had to use the dining-room table to assemble a frame for a new display cabinet he’s making

These are just possible examples. I may actually finish this project…

Tooth Fairy Lidded Box


Several years have passed since I took on the parental role of the Tooth Fairy, but now, with 18 grandchildren, my thoughts have turned back to this custom as I watch my children turn into Tooth Fairy proxies. I must say, I was a very clever Tooth Fairy protégé.  I won’t share the details of the deception I practiced on this blog site in case some of my more tech-savvy grandchildren read this blog. I have sent my underhanded Tooth Fairy techniques to some of my children via secured server (the one in my laundry closet).

The history of children being paid for their lost teeth goes back to early written records of the Norsemen and Northern Europeans. In Northern Europe this tradition was called ftand-fé or tooth fee.

Wikipedia  on dealing with the use of baby teeth:

“During the Middle Ages, other superstitions arose surrounding children’s teeth. In England, for example, children were instructed to burn their baby teeth in order to save the child from hardship in the afterlife. Children who didn’t consign their baby teeth to the fire would spend eternity searching for them in the afterlife. The Vikings, it is said, paid children for their teeth. In the Norse culture, children’s teeth and other articles belonging to children, were said to bring good luck in battle, and Scandinavian warriors hung children’s teeth on a string around their necks. Fear of witches was another reason to bury or burn teeth. In medieval Europe, it was thought that if a witch were to get hold of one of your teeth, it could lead to them having total power over you.

The modern incarnation of these traditions into an actual tooth fairy has been dated to 1927, 1962, or even 1977 However, there is an earlier reference to the tooth fairy in a 1908 “Household Hints” item in the Chicago Daily Tribune:

“Tooth Fairy.

Many a refractory child will allow a loose tooth to be removed if he knows about the tooth fairy. If he takes his little tooth and puts it under the pillow when he goes to bed the tooth fairy will come in the night and take it away, and in its place will leave some little gift. It is a nice plan for mothers to visit the 5 cent counter and lay in a supply of articles to be used on such occasions. Lillian Brown.”

There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on what the Tooth Fairy looks like.  Images range from dragons to little fat men, to little winged girls.  The general view is that the Tooth Fairy is more like the little winged girl.  This was the image that came to my mind when, as a child, I put my tooth under the pillow. Practically, this could have worked since the average tooth payout was a dime and I could see how a little winged girl might be able to sneak under my pillow, take my baby tooth and leave a dime. But with the 2013 survey by Visa Inc. reporting the average US payout as $3.70 for a baby tooth, I’m not sure a little Tooth Fairy could carry around this much cash. It may still be a bargain for the Tooth Fairy since  adults probably paid the dentist several hundred dollars for the care of this tooth that ultimately fell out!

A few  months ago I turned a small lidded box for one of my grandchildren to use as a tooth fairy box. I used pyrography to place her name on the lid of the box and some decorative piercing around the side. It was an ugly prototype but my son loved it and took it home to his daughter. The moral of this story is to never bad mouth one of your creations, no matter how ugly it may be, because in the eye of the beholder (my son), the pig’s ear evidently had a silk lining.

So, on to prototype two.  I took a piece of southern magnolia, my favorite prototype wood, and turned a 4-inch long, 2 ¼-inch diameter cylinder between centers and then cut a ¼-inch long  tenon on one end.  I mounted the blank in a scroll chuck and used a 1 ½-inch Forstner bit to drill out the bottom to a 1 ¼-inch depth to accommodate an electric tea light with a fake flame. Originally I was only going to drill to one inch because I had some of the tea lights that light up on the inside and are flat with a little fake wick. The flame would cast more light above the tea light, which would better suit the purpose of my design.

I then sanded the bottom inside and outside of the box.  I turned the box around on the lathe, setting the bottom of the box in the scroll chuck. I didn’t worry about chuck marks on the box because I had plans for dealing with that later. I then used a parting tool to form a 1 3/4-inch diameter tenon about a ¼-inch down from the end of the blank.  This tenon would provide the socket fit for the lid. I then sanded and applied several coats of sanding sealer and parted off the lid.

Using a 1 5/8-inch Forstner bit, I drilled down to about ¼-inch above the hole drilled into the bottom of the box for the tea light.  The  ledge this formed would be used later to support a clear plastic disk. Then, using the tenon on the lid as a guide, I opened up the sides of the 1 5/8-inch hole for the lid tenon to fit. I used a parting tool to cut three decorative grooves  in the side of the box just below the lid opening. Later I would drill holes around the box in the grooves to let the light through.  I sanded and finished the top portion of the box.

Wrapping the top section of the box in paper towel to protect it from the scroll jaws, I turned the box around and secured it in the chuck. I didn’t worry too much about the scroll making marks on the sides of the box since the jaws sat in the grooves I had cut.  I then turned grooves in the bottom section of the box where there were scroll marks, did some light sanding and applied another coat of sanding sealer to blend in with the top portion of the box.

I was going to laser engrave a cartoon figure of a tooth holding a toothbrush, with the child’s name on a contrasting piece of wood, and glue this to the top.  This is why I only made the top ¼-inch thick on the prototype.  However it was easier to just laser engrave directly on the lid, so in the final versions of this box, I made the lid ½-inch thick to begin with. Since I had originally thought of gluing on the engraved cap to the lid, I had used a pointed live center which left a divot on the top of the lid. This would have been covered up by the engraved cap. On the final versions, I used a cup center.

The laser engraving worked well on the sanding sealer surface. I didn’t fuss about centering the image on the prototype so it came out a little off center with the divot in one of the eyes!

tooth fairy box craftsbyjennyskip
prototype 2

I cut a plastic disk out of the side of a clear plastic container that rice came in. After drilling all the holes in the grooves, I placed the plastic disk on a bed of thick super glue applied to the ledge in the box. This let the light through to the upper part of the box where the holes had been drilled and acted as a bottom for the upper compartment holding the tooth and cash!!  I must mention here that when the Tooth Fairy visited my house when I was a child, I received a dime for each tooth. This dime wouldn’t have much effect on the amount of light getting into the upper compartment of the tooth box. In testing the final version of the box, a paper bill was folded and inserted into the box and the tea light was turned on. The light seemed to still shine through the holes. If the Tooth Fairy decides in the future to use debit or gift cards, I’ll have to revisit the design!

If you were to use the other flameless type tea light, you could drill holes around the bottom set of grooves in the box to let the light through.

The most recent version of the fairy tooth box is shown below.  I’m not satisfied with the proportions of this box. The height-to-diameter ratio is about 1.77 which should be pleasing to the eye,  but to me, the box seems to be too tall.  Maybe if the box was tapered with a larger diameter base it might be more esthetic. The location and the spacing of the grooves needs to be investigated also. I plan to work on the design and will provide a post in the future to describe these efforts.

lidded box, orange and blue
most recent prototype


A special thanks to my friend Adam and one of his relatives for the wood.

Daryl Aukeman, Hudsonville, MI

616-322-2232 cell

616-896-0157 home

Daryl has an unbelievable supply of wood which he will be selling to us wood-starved Florida woodworkers.

Thanksgiving Food, Fun and Games

We love the holidays! Some of our recent holiday get-togethers sported a theme: Mexican Food Christmas, one Thanksgiving dinner featured barbecue from a local take-out restaurant, one time we had a British Christmas lunch with a standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding and mince tarts. One time we made our own turducken, stuffing a chicken inside a duck, then stuffing that inside a turkey. Fun, but labor-intensive! We like to have food for vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, diabetics, gluten-intolerants, appetizers to hold off appetites until late-comers arrive, buffet service, and of course, desserts. Some of the kids like whatever we offer for dinner, but some desire Thanksgiving fare to be traditional: turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pies.

Although Thanksgiving was celebrated in America in various states prior to the 19th century, it wasn’t an official holiday until President Lincoln declared it so in 1863. A Native American Iroquois traditional feast was observed at the end of the harvest season, with cornbread and giving thanks; corn being the chief crop for which they were thankful.

This year, we’re not only going to have dinner, we’re going to play with food as well. We’re gearing up for an afternoon game of Cornhole, hopefully sitting around a fire pit and making roasted marshmallow S’mores for an evening snack.

First, the Cornhole game boards.  There are several plans available on the web but generally they can be made with a 2 ft. by 4 ft. piece of 1/2 inch thick, pressure treated plywood, a couple of 8 ft. lengths of 2×4’s and some carriage bolts.

corn hole game board
assembling and clamping the corn hole board
drilling holes for deck screws to reenforce the corners
adding pin nails to aid in fastening the plywood to the frame
pieces that will become legs of the game boards
board legs
board legs rounded to make them retractable
bolt holes
drilling the bolt holes for the legs
board with primer layer
corn hole board with Kilz primer
game board
painting the board
game board
masking the board for painting
finishing the blue part
painted Cornhole game board

Now for the bags. I’d seen a set of 8 corn hole bags, with the UF gator logo on them, at the Book Store, but they were about $50. I found this set at Wal-Mart for only about $15 so I snapped them up, thinking what a bargain I got. When Skip saw them, he asked “Where’s the rest of them?” I didn’t realize I’d only gotten one set; you need to have 8, not just 4 bags.

gator cornhole bags
the store-bought bags

But not to worry, I had some duck canvas remnants in the stash to make corn hole bags, so I thought I’d give them a try. Corn hole game components must adhere to strict regulations. The bags must conform to size and weight specifications, and the type of fabric for the bags is also specified.

bean bag filling, from beans dry-pack canned in 1996
filling for the bags
15 ounces of dried beans

According to specs, they can be filled with dried corn, beans or some other approved substance. My store-bought bags are filled with plastic pellets. After filling and sewing the edges of my home-made bags, they weighed 15.7 ounces, the same weight as each store-bought bag.

The bag seams are sewn at the bottom and sides, then the bags turned inside-out and filled. The remaining opening edges are turned under, and pinned, leaving a wide enough edge for the seam to be sewn. I used a narrow zipper foot, a versatile attachment I’ve found useful for many sewing tasks. It’s reversible, so you can clip it on so that it flattens either the left edge or the right edge of the seam as you’re sewing.

seam using narrow zipper foot
corn hole
ready to play? Three woodies and one throw to go…


Just found this web site that show what a store-bought corn hole set might cost: Oh, and this is on sale, with a set of bags included, which are a $50 value (it says.)

As opposed to our set for about $20 apiece.  I bought half the bags. The ones I made may have cost about $5.00.

Christmas Tree Puzzle

By now you bloggers and YouTubers are probably growing weary of the Christmas ornament challenge. We did our share by turning a snowperson on the lathe. After looking at all the YouTube entries up to now, I am totally impressed by the creativity and talent that has gone into these. From Sam the Wyoming Wood Turner’s beautiful inlaid globe with magnetic attachments to Mitch Peacock’s Incense smoking snowman to Mike Waldt’s snowman or Christmas man, as he called it for a while, with a red proboscis!

By the way, some woodturners across the pond are cranking up a wood turning symposium! This is fantastic! I know how much trouble it is for my wife and me to host our 10 kids, spouses and 17 grandchildren for Christmas…. But a symposium for the British Isles and Irish ……..

promot 2016
UK-Irish Woodturning Symposium 2016

I regress…. Anyway we wanted to make another project for the holiday season, so I proceeded to draw (my 1 year grandson could have probably done better) a Christmas tree flanked by candles, with a star topper and a banner at the bottom to date the drawing, using Microsoft Word. You can see from the photos below that this was crude at best, but after all, Grandma Moses got away with primitive art work! I saved the “artwork” with Word in an XPS document format, loaded it into the Retina Full Spectrum software and cut out what was to be a tray puzzle featuring the tree. I used 1/8 inch Baltic birch plywood with a laser power setting of 100% and a speed of 100. My laser is a 40 watt laser.

laser cut tray puzzle
tree puzzle cutting lines

As a side note, someone on the laser forum asked if this laser could cut paper. Ummmmm…I could see an experiment formulating! I took a stack of 8 sheets of standard weight copy machine paper and placed it in the laser. I grabbed my fire extinguisher, and with the laser still set at 100%, “fired” off the laser. I let it cut out the flame over one of the puzzle candles (an interesting choice for the graphic) before turning the laser off. The top sheet of paper was cut neatly with a little brown around the edges, but by the time I got to sheet eight there was nothing but ash. So I set the power at 20% and left the speed at 100. This time I let it cut out more of the puzzle image. When I stopped the laser, I wasn’t even sure it had cut the paper. There was a faint black line outlining the image. On close inspection, I found that the laser had cut through the top sheet of paper as if it had been cut with a razor! The second sheet was partly cut, and the third sheet only had what appeared to be a printed image. None of the other pages were affected.

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Once the puzzle was cut and sanded, my wife applied her artistic skills and turned a disaster into a beautiful Christmas tree scene with presents and all!

Christmas tree puzzle
Finished puzzle

The tree that my wife depicted on the tray puzzle represents a modern-day American Christmas tree. The history of the tree as a symbol goes back to the time of the Egyptians, but the evergreen tree really only became a Christmas symbol in the 15th or 16th century. It was introduced into American culture in the 18th century. Google history of the Christmas tree for some very interesting history of this tradition. What does the use of a tree symbolize? Why an evergreen tree? What does the triangular shape of the tree symbolize? What does the star tree topper symbolize? Why put presents under the tree? What are the symbols of other winter holidays, such as the menorah of Hanukkah and the kinara of Kwanzaa?

Christmas Projects: Wooden Tic-tac-toe Game

Looking for CNC projects to do for Christmas, I came across the Vectric Labs Blog where several ideas for Christmas projects were posted. One of the projects that caught my attention was a Tic-tac-toe game by Beki Jeremy in a 2014 blog post. This looked like something I could handle. I could use some ½ inch Baltic birch plywood and a couple of bit changes on the CNC machine and produce one, maybe even two or three.
Tic-tac-toe has always been a fun and often spontaneous game for children and adults alike. Children want to challenge adults to a game; that is, adults who can figure out how to lose, to make the children look good!

According to Wikipedia, a form of Tic-tac-toe may have been played during the time of the Roman Empire, first century BC. The game played at this time went by the name of Terni Lapilli. It is reported that the grid for this game were found chalked all over Rome.
In Claudia Zaslavsky’s book Tic Tac Toe: And Other Three-In-A Row Games from Ancient Egypt to the Modern Computer it is indicated that Tic-tac-toe may have had its origins in ancient Egypt. More recently, the game has taken on several different names including Noughts and Crosses, of British fame (1864) and Tick-tack-toe (1884). The American name of Tic-tac-toe didn’t come about until the 20th century. Wikipedia also reports that “In 1952, OXO (or Noughts and Crosses) for the EDSAC computer became one of the first known video games. The computer player could play perfect games of Tic-tac-toe against a human opponent.” By 1975, MIT students used Tic-tac-toe to demonstrate how a computer made almost entirely out of Tinkertoys could play the game.

Often the best outcome for two good players is a draw. If you really want your head to spin on your shoulders, delve into the combinatorial of Tic-tac-toe, the possible board layouts and game combinations. Look at the strategy of winning or obtaining a draw by choosing the first available move from a list in Newell and Simon’s 1972 Tic-tac-toe program. See more Newell and Simon here. But if advanced calculus is not your thing, get Newell and Simon’s list and challenge some unsuspecting five year old to a game of Tic-tac-toe. Or if you want to engage in an experiment to use Tic-tac-toe as a pedagogical tool to teach this five year old good sportsmanship, you could just cheat and beat the five year old.

For this project, I mounted a 2 foot by 2 foot piece of ½ inch Baltic birch plywood on the CNC machine’s sacrificial board. I pulled up the Tic-tac-toe file and checked the various tool paths to make sure it would work with my plywood. I did have to change the cutting depths to 0.51 inches to insure that I could cut all the way through the plywood. As it turned out, it would have been better to set this at 0.53 inches for my set up since the 0.51 inch setting was a hair short of cutting completely through my plywood sample. Other than this change, I used the original settings.

I loaded up the g-code for the profile cuts first and used a 1/4 inch shank 90 degree engraving router bit to make these cuts. Following all the profile cuts, I changed the bit to a ¼ inch shank 0.25 inch spiral up cut end mill to make the pocket cuts. Following the pocket cuts, I loaded up the various g-codes for cutting out the game board and X’s and O’s. These cuts provided tabs to keep the parts together until the parts could be separated with a sharp chisel.

All that remained then was to sand, seal and paint. Oh, and then to challenge my wife to a Tic-tac-toe game. Of course I would go first. 


Snowman Ornaments of Wood, for Christmas

Christmas tree ornaments are favorites for lathe turning projects. Carl Jacobson and Alan Stratton are sponsoring their fourth annual Christmas ornament contest for wood turners. See their You Tube channels for details. Over the 15 years I have been turning wood projects, I have only turned Christmas ornaments once. That was after watching a video on how to turn a “fly house” from a branch out of the yard. This mini-birdhouse was a favorite with the grandchildren. Carl’s challenge reminds me that making Christmas ornaments for the grandchildren would be a good project this year. With 18 grandchildren, it may be a monumental project! To keep it simple and do-able in the time I have, I’ve decided to turn snowmen. This won’t win any competitions but hopefully it will be a winner with the grandchildren, especially if I put their names on the ornaments.
In preparation for this project, I referred to the “no-fooling-around” resource on the web, the Wikipedia site, to learn more about snowpeople.

“A snowman (or snowperson) is an anthropomorphic snow sculpture often built by children in regions with sufficient snowfall. In North America, typical snowmen consist of three large snowballs of different sizes with some additional accoutrements for facial and other features. Common accessories include branches for arms and a rudimentary smiley face, with a carrot standing in for a nose. Human clothing, such as a hat or scarf, may be included. Low-cost and availability are the common issues, since snowmen are usually abandoned to the elements once completed.”
One of the first photographic records of a snowman was taken in about 1853 and is shown below.

snowman Wikipedia
Snowman 2

“The Snowman No. 2 (4095825226)” by Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales from Wales/Cymru – The Snowman No. 2. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons –

Evidently there is no clear record of when the first snowman was made. Maybe it happened when a Neanderthal decided to make one to attract and trap a wooly mammoth. Bob Eckstein, author of a book entitled The History of the Snowman, documented snowmen constructed during medieval times by studying artistic work found in European museums, art galleries and libraries. One of the earliest illustrations he found was dated 1380.

Snowmen have been thrust into the competitive genre of “who is the biggest?” A record was established in 2008 in Bethel, Maine with a 122 foot, 1 inch snow-woman. Prior to this in 1999, Bechtel, Maine produced a snowman named Angus, 113 feet, 7 inches tall weighing 9,000,000 tons!

Okay, way too much information on snowmen. Because making a snowman is a fun winter activity, and decorating for Christmas is also a fun winter activity, it seems logical that our next project will be a snowman ornament.

The Hallmark Information web site offered some historical insight into Christmas decorating. Christmas trees have evidently been a holiday practice as far back as the 15th century in Germany, appearing in the Americas in the 1700’s. Evergreen trees showed up in religious plays adorned with apples and were referred to as Paradise trees. Later they were used in homes, and ornaments of small pastries in the shapes of stars, angels, hearts and flowers were hung on the trees. The custom of having Christmas trees spread through Europe and eventually was brought to America by German mercenaries fighting in the Revolutionary War. By the 1800’s Christmas trees were very popular in the United States. Many of the commercially available ornaments came from Germany. F. W. Woolworth brought the ornaments from Germany into the Five and Dime Era, selling $25 million worth of Christmas ornaments by 1890. At this time the German-made ornaments were cast lead and hand-blown glass. Over time, ornaments became more elaborate and more expensive. By 1925 Japan had entered the market and was shipping large quantities of ornaments to the US. Czechoslovakia entered the market and by 1935 over 250 million ornaments were finding their way onto US Christmas trees. By the beginning of World War II, American companies entered the ornament market. In 1973 Hallmark introduced ornamental glass balls.

I couldn’t find many historical notes on when hand-made wooden ornaments originated but they must have been used on early Christmas trees. Christ-Kindl Markt mentions “shaved wood” ornaments created by farmers, in their essay on German Christmas ornaments history.

A wooden snowman seems to be an appropriate historical object to adorn a Christmas tree or a holiday table. But one last concern, since these are going to my grandchildren, who range in age from about one year to 17 years: safety. I don’t mean safety at the lathe, that’s a topic for another discussion, but safety associated with the ornament.
The ANSI/ASTM approved ornament would probably have to be made of surgical grade stainless steel, one foot in diameter and equipped with seat belts! It would have to comply with mechanical/physical testing (choking hazard), flammability testing (oops maybe I’ll need to soak the wooden snowmen in a flame retardant such as boric acid), chemical testing (oops again, the boric acid may be toxic and I guess lead based paint is out of question), electrical testing (check, we got this covered) and labeling (guess it will have to be 12 inches in diameter to accommodate all the labels or I could use the trick like they use on TV: ultra fine print to list all the side effects that can result from use of this ornament).

I think I’ll play it safe and make some wooden table snowmen ornaments and paint them with child-proof paint in case the grandchildren gnaw on them. I’ll provide a lengthy Christmas letter with the ornament gift, that enumerates in great detail everything our family has done over the past year and sum it up with a three page, ultra fine print disclaimer associated with the use of the ornament.

I chose Southern Magnolia, AKA poplar, to make these snowmen, primarily because I had tons of it and secondly, I was going to paint them. Maple would have probably been a better choice but all of my maple is 4/4. I cut 2 1/2 inch square blanks 6 inches long and mounted them on a midi Jet lathe between centers. I mounted a Stebcenter drive in my scroll chuck and used this to turn the blank into a cylinder with a tenon. The blank was then mounted in the scroll chuck with the tenon and I let the chips fly. I used a combination of carbide tipped tools, a bedan and thin parting tool.
I did do some planning before I started turning. I tried to adhere to the 1/3 – 2/3 proportions. I do have plans to make a Fibonacci gauge but in this case I relied on the good ol’ 1/3 – 2/3 rule.

Once the snowman was parted off the lathe, my wife took over and turned this lifeless chunk of wood into a lively snowman.

I also wanted to provide my grandchildren with another memorable gift for the Christmas holidays, so in spite of my wife’s advice, I decided to add my Annual Christmas Satire to this blog. I must add a disclaimer that all figures in this essay are fictitious and any resemblance to anyone alive or dead is coincidental. It does answer the question….

Does Snowman 2 have a sibling and if so, what does he or she do?

By Solaroller (my pen name to protect me from the CIA, NSA, IRS, SPCA etc.)

Yes, Snowman 2 has a brother by the name of Shaved Ice, who is a gangsta’ rapper. They are actually step brothers, having been adopted by the same parents, Elmer and Madge Goldberg, both activists in the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The boys’ parents owned a large produce distribution company which gave them access to several large walk-in freezers, necessary to provide a comfortable environment for Snowman 2 during the spring and summer seasons. Their produce business also gave them a constant supply of carrots necessary to maintain Snowman 2’s proboscis (not to be confused with a worm’s proboscis, a long tubular sucking organ.)
Snowman 2’s birth parents had long disappeared sometime during the 1950’s while extensive above ground testing of the hydrogen bomb was taking place in New Mexico, Snowman 2’s birthplace. All that remains of Snowman 2’s parents is the Hot Mud Spa at the New Mexico Talladega Spa and Resort.
Snowman 2’s brother Shaved Ice was adopted by Elmer and Madge while they were on a trip to Havana, Cuba for their annual attempt to smuggle Cuban cigars into Miami, Florida. The cigars were painted yellow and shipped out of Cuba in crates of bananas in keeping with their produce business. Shaved Ice was found living in a dumpster behind a Cuban tattoo parlor, where, as a 10 year-old child, he would perform customized raps for tattoo parlor patrons. When they heard him sing “Elmer and Madge done outfoxed the Badge” to the tune of the Tiny Tim favorite “Tiptoe through the Tulips”, they knew that they had to have this little boy as part of their family.
Shaved Ice grew up to become a famous rapper at night while running the cigar smuggling business for Elmer and Madge during the day. All this went on year after year without Snowman 2’s knowledge. Snowman 2 did follow Shaved Ice’s climb to success as a rapper but was not aware of his nefarious cigar smuggling activities. It was only many years later that a series of events drove a wedge between these two loving brothers.
While on a gig at a Walmart parking lot in Carson City, Nevada, Snowman 2 encountered a young undisciplined boy by the name of Sheldon Wanarski, who grabbed three of Snowman 2’s buttons, typically made of lumps of coal, and ran off to a waiting car. Later it was learned that this little fellow was actually from a very disadvantaged home where the family barely had enough money to eat, much less pay to heat their home in the bitter Nevada winters. The little boy had taken the buttons to burn in their stove for space heating and to warm their porridge for dinner. Regardless, Snowman 2 was left buttonless, standing in the Walmart parking lot surrounded by hundreds of laughing, unsympathetic children.
Elmer and Madge were infuriated and spirited Snowman 2 off to their walk-in freezer while they figured out what to do. They contacted Santa to see if he could supply new buttons of coal, but were disappointed to hear that Santa had moved over to penguin poo as a substitute for coal. Elmer and Madge could not bring themselves to a decision to make this substitution for Snowman 2’s buttons. Upon hearing of this tragedy, Shaved Ice had a suggestion. He knew that Cuba still had connections with Russia. After the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 60’s Russia had begun to smuggle pin ball machines into Cuba. The Castros did not support any activity that brought joy to the Cuban people, so pin ball machines were outlawed. Over time, the unlawful entertainment machines advanced from pinball machines to Play Stations. As energy supplies in Cuba were strictly controlled by the government, the Cuban people had to pay exorbitant prices for energy. A black market developed, with the Russians smuggling lumps of coal into the country disguised as power supplies for Play Station games. Shaved Ice contacted his Russian customers for Cuban cigars and struck a deal. Russia would skim off some of the coal disguised as power supplies and divert these to Shaved Ice where he would paint them yellow and ship them into the US as bananas. All of this worked very efficiently until Snowman 2 happened to look more closely at one of his buttons and saw it was marked “made in Russia at forced labor camps”. He immediately went to Elmer and Madge and demanded to know what this meant. Elmer was never one to keep a secret and spilled the beans, telling Snowman 2 the whole history of his step brother and their smuggling business. Snowman 2 and Shaved Ice have since made peace with one another and now Snowman 2 uses penguin poo for buttons.

Halloween Woodworking

An inspiration from one of the You Tube woodworkers: Mitch Peacock’s Hallowood 15 challenge. We haven’t risen to the level where we are confident to take on You Tube challenges yet; maybe next year. But perhaps we can participate through a blog post.
We are still learning how to use some of this new technology, so we set out to see if we could make another tray puzzle, this time with a Halloween theme.

My wife drew a jack-o-lantern outline for me to vectorize and input to the laser software, so I could try cutting out a puzzle with a Full Spectrum laser. My ineptitude in dealing with all the software left me high and dry. I could get the drawing scanned and saved in an XPS format, but when I pulled it into the software all I could do was get a raster file, which I could use to burn an image on the wood but not cut the wood. Evidently you need to use drawing software that lets you save your file in a vector format. So I used the drawing software that came with the laser, albeit pretty simple, and I was able to hammer out what looks like a jack-o-lantern outline with lines added for the puzzle cutouts. My wife can then add embellishments to make it look like a real jack-o-lantern.

A little history to equate this project to the past:
According to the website

“The practice of decorating jack-o’-lanterns [the name comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack] originated in Ireland, where large turnips and potatoes served as an early canvas. Irish immigrants brought the tradition to America, home of the pumpkin, and it became an integral part of Halloween festivities.”

The website has the story of “Stingy Jack” and many other great current and historical content related to Halloween including a video by a master pumpkin carver. The carving of these jack-o-lanterns thus finds its beginnings in Ireland and Britain in the early 19th century. Lighted gourds may date back over 700 years, but not as a Halloween practice.

So here was the procedure for making the Hallowood puzzle:

• Produce a drawing using a vector format. I used the drawing software that came with the laser engraver. It didn’t give us a lot of avenues for creativity, so the pumpkin is pretty simple. My wife embellished it, which made up for the simplicity.

pumpkin drawing

• Laser cut the pattern. I used 7 passes for a laser setting which was perfect for cutting through the 1/8 inch hobby plywood piece. The pattern was about 8 inches by 8 inches. If I had a better grasp of drawing this pattern I would not have cut out each tooth separately. The teeth were too small to be effective puzzle pieces. We left out the teeth and my wife ultimately painted a yellow background on the tray surface. The laser produces such a fine cut that the puzzle pieces fit very tightly in the tray. I had to do some sanding to loosen them up a little.

• Remove the puzzle pieces from the frame and lightly sand the pieces. Cut the frame to size and cut another piece of 1/8 inch plywood to form the back of the tray. Glue the tray back on the frame. Round over the corners, sand and apply a sanding sealer, in this case spray lacquer. Apply a sanding sealer to the puzzle pieces.

• Put the puzzle together and paint. This was the tricky part. The triangles for the eyes and nose were not exactly the same; another result of not knowing what I was doing when I drew the puzzle in the vector format. So once the pieces were arranged properly, my wife came up with a way to paint the pieces so their orientation would be obvious.

• Sign, date and apply a clear coat and give it to some deserving child of appropriate age.

tray puzzle Hallowood 15
tray puzzle ready to put together
wooden puzzle Hallowood 15 Challenge
painted puzzle

Fitness From One Century to Another

We’ve had some interesting discussions lately about how to avoid getting cancer. One way is to quit smoking if you’ve been a smoker, or to never start if you haven’t been. But, living in the 21st Century, we can benefit from LOTS of prior research that tells us things we can do to avoid getting cancer. The older we get, the more I realize that none of us is immune to it.

While surfing the list of online courses offered by University of Florida, I happened upon this one you can take for just $20: TAKE CONTROL TO REDUCE YOUR CANCER RISK. You don’t need a college degree to guess that some things you can do to head off cancer include proper diet, exercise, using sunblock, and staying away from chemical exposure, right?

Googling cancer’s history brings up a wealth of horrific lore about how the disease was looked upon in the 19th century. Apart from the various forms of gender-specific cancers, cancer overall was thought to afflict mostly women. Men were encouraged to ramp up diet and exercise so as not to be “subject to women’s diseases.” [from The Emergence of Cancer as a Public Health Concern by Ornella Moscucci, Phil, BSc ].

So diet and exercise were emphasized in the 19th century, but perhaps not to the extent they are now.  Our ancestors probably did lots more walking from place to place than we do, and had physically intense jobs to do, unless they were on the wealthy end of the scale. I’ve had ancestors from both the wealthy side and the poor side. The upscale ancestors may have entertained the notion of Physical Culture, in which exercise with light apparatus such as dumbbells, bar bells, ropes, and other props may have been employed.

Our affluence and  abundance of leisure time may have added to our risk of ill health, by allowing us to overeat and under-exert.  I just finished a 6-week class at the local gym called “Tighten Your Tummy” in which light apparatus, of the sort I’ve never encountered before, was employed. We used foam rollers, a BOSU, a Pilates ring, mushy balls, and exercise mats for two 30-minute intense workouts per week, in addition to a 30-minute minimal workout (like walking or yoga) per day.

BOSU crunches
crunches on the BOSU (note AAW 2013 t-shirt, now part of my workout clothes)
yoga mat and wedge
yoga mat and wedge apparatus






I go to a one-hour yoga class every morning, and I’ve been toting some light apparatus with me in the form of a yoga mat. More and more, my fellow yoginis (I go to the Women’s Gym) have added to their caches of apparatus: blocks, straps, wedges, towels, light dumbbells and gripper things. Which is kind of funny, when you think about it, since one of the 8 limbs of yoga is Pratyhara, the withdrawal of the mind from sense objects. But we don’t get far into the metaphysical aspects of yoga, it’s more of a fitness regime for us.

It was time to sew a new and upgraded light apparatus carrier, since the mat bag I made a while back is barely big enough for the mat and nothing additional. While the Gaiam online store had a nice selection of bags and totes at fairly decent prices, of course I decided to make my own. I found a piece of beige pleather in the remnant stash, some purse magnets I ordered a while back from Nancy Zieman, and a length of funky, fringe-y woven trim in the ribbon, ruffle and trim stash. That’s all it took! Easy-peasy.

pleather remnant
pleather remnant
purse magnets jenny skip
purse magnets
pleather gym bag
finished gym bag
gym bag jennyskip
carrier for light apparatus


I’ve been making jigsaw puzzles for over 20 years, first for my children and now for grandchildren. The tools I use include scroll saws and bandsaws. The first puzzles I made were tray puzzles. Sometimes I traced my children’s hands on a piece of 1/8 inch thick Baltic plywood. I would then cut out the traced hands and separate the fingers from the palms. The hand shapes were cut from a square piece of the plywood, which then became a fitted frame for the hands. This frame was subsequently glued onto another square piece of 1/8 inch thick plywood to back up the frame and produce a tray to hold the puzzle pieces. I would then paint each finger a different color, as well as the palm pieces. I would then pick out a lighter color to paint the parts of the tray. Then using rub-on or vinyl letters, I would put numbers 1 thru 10 in each tray opening for the fingers. On the corresponding finger puzzle piece I spelled out the numbers: one, two, etc.
The pieces were then top coated with lacquer. All the paints were toy grade and non-toxic. However, note that the size of these pieces would pose a choking hazard for small children. ASTM F963 gives the standards governing children’s toys. As an example, a toy part must not be of a size to pass through a 1.68-inch diameter hole in a jig that is 1.18 inches thick. 

Now when I first made these puzzles, I had no knowledge of these standards and after all, the puzzles were for my children, and not for sale! But I don’t think the children’s mother would look favorably toward having my toys choke the children. As luck would have it, my children were old enough at the time to safely handle the puzzles I made. Another popular tray puzzle I made was a segmented, multicolored caterpillar. The caterpillar was divided into 26 pieces. Each piece was labeled with a capital alphabet letter. Under the corresponding piece the tray was labeled with the lower case letter. Since then, many other puzzles have found their way from my scroll saw to the hands of my grandchildren: free standing puzzles, interlocking puzzles and more tray puzzles. My wife has provided the artwork in many cases, while I cut it into irregular interlocking pieces, to confuse the innocent.
I found over time that not only was the size of the puzzle piece a function of the child’s age but the number of puzzle parts was also a function of age. The table below is a general recommendation for the number of puzzle parts.

• Ages 2 – 3          4 to 12 Pieces
• Ages 3 – 5          12 to 50 Pieces
• Ages 5 – 6          50 to 100 Pieces
• Ages 6 – 7          100 to 200 Pieces
• Ages 7 – 8          200 Pieces
• Ages 8 – 10        300 Pieces
• Ages 12+           500+ Pieces

Wikipedia describes the history of puzzles:

“A jigsaw puzzle is a tiling puzzle that requires the assembly of often oddly shaped interlocking and tessellating pieces. Each piece usually has a small part of a picture on it; when complete, a jigsaw puzzle produces a complete picture. In some cases more advanced types have appeared on the market, such as spherical jigsaws and puzzles showing optical illusions.”

In addition, newer puzzles can be spherical and 3-dimensional. Wikipedia continues…

“Jigsaw puzzles were originally created by painting a picture on a flat, rectangular piece of wood, and then cutting that picture into small pieces with a jigsaw, hence the name. Alternatively, it has been believed that the name of the puzzle may have given the tool its name. The origin of the name Jigsaw is not entirely known. Some speculate that upon completion of some difficult puzzles, the player would then perform a victory jig upon the puzzle. Performing this jig on the puzzle would check the structural integrity of the puzzle. Once the jig was observed upon the puzzle, the person who saw the jig would confirm that the structure was sound, hence jigsaw. This origin has little evidence to back its story and is based merely on interesting hearsay. The John Spilsbury, a London cartographer and engraver, is credited with commercializing jigsaw puzzles around 1760.[1] Jigsaw puzzles have since come to be made primarily of cardboard.”

I’ve been specifically inspired by Hans Meier who is a member of the Gwinnett Woodworkers Association and who has several You Tube videos on scroll saw puzzles. I highly recommend his videos for detailed techniques on making a variety of puzzle types.

The project chosen for this blog post is a tray puzzle for one of our 5 year old grandchildren. He loves birds, fish and animals, so we chose a parrot. And even though he has worked puzzles we have made with 48 pieces, this picture lends itself to 12 pieces which is on the lower end of the recommended number for a 5 year old.
My wife, the artistic one of our blog team, sketched a parrot which I was able to divide into 12 puzzle pieces. This sketch was subsequently mounted on a 1/8 inch thick piece of Baltic plywood.

The parrot tray puzzle was a 13 step process:
1 Select a puzzle subject. In this case the grandchild dictated the subject matter.
2 Sketch an outline of the puzzle subject, a parrot. My wife sketched the parrot and selected the colors. The sketch is then divided up into the required number of puzzle pieces attempting to select areas of the figures that will either make it easy or difficult to solve the puzzle. It’s important to consider the size of the pieces.

puzzle sketch jenny skip
prepping the sketch
3 Use contact spray cement to attach the sketch to a suitably sized piece of 1/8inch thick plywood.

puzzle jenny
sketch mounted on plywood
4 Drill a starter hole in the sketch with a 1/16 inch diameter drill bit. Think about this location. The object is to be able to completely cut out the whole figure from the board, leaving the remainder of the board as the frame for the puzzle.
5 Using a number 0 46 TPI spiral scroll saw blade, the outline of the subject (in this case the outline of the parrot) is cut out.

scroll saw blade jenny
scroll saw blade
6 Once the subject has been removed from the frame portion of the board, the subject is cut into pieces. For the parrot puzzle, 12 pieces were selected. The body parts of the parrot were selected to be parts of the puzzle. Several miscellaneous cuts were included to add some challenge to solving the puzzle.

cutting out the puzzle pieces
7 Use mineral spirits or a heat gun to remove the paper sketched pattern from the frame and puzzle pieces.
8 Lightly sand the frame and puzzle pieces.
9 Cut another 1/8 inch thick piece of plywood that will form the back of the puzzle (i.e. the bottom of the tray). Lightly sand this board.
10 Glue the tray bottom to the bottom of the frame.
11 Apply a sanding sealer to all the puzzle and tray parts and lightly sand with 320 grit sandpaper.
12 Paint the puzzle with toy safe acrylic paint and apply a clear top coat of lacquer.

13 Mail puzzle to subject grandchild and wait for kudos!! parrot puzzle
parrot puzzle (with Grayzie the cat in background)