Category Archives: Woodworking

Display Cabinet Build #7

The display cabinet is finally (almost) finished! It’s been a long project, slowed down even further because of personal injuries, a hurricane, and multiple design changes during the construction, but we’re so happy with it.

display jennyskip

We ordered the glass for the shelves and mirror, and originally planned to pick it up ourselves with the help of our friend Ray and his truck. Then Skip wrenched his ankle, and we decided carrying glass around might not be a good idea, so we rescheduled the delivery and asked for the Glass Company professionals to install it.

Then—wouldn’t you know it—Hurricane Hermine blew in, and the delivery was postponed again.

display jennyskip

Once the mirror was epoxied in, we were able to mount the shelves on the brass rods.

display glass

We ordered the mirror backing to be 1/8 inch thick, and the glass shelves with a 1/2-inch bevel on the front edges.


We’re going to place felt dots on the undersides of the shelves at the points where they sit on the brass rods. And then Skip will add some molding to the outer perimeter of the mirror.

quilts jennyskip
displaying quilts

Shown above are some tentative display items. We’re enthused that we can vary the items we decide to display. According to proper fengshui, you shouldn’t place a mirror directly opposite a door, but I’m hoping that the friendly, creative, familial Qi of the objects we’ve chosen to feature  on the shelves will be retained in the home. Currently, nothing is on the lower shelf, because the kittens have been jumping up there and lounging on the shelf with great delight. They are able to reach their little paws up into the next shelf, so we must favor kitten-proof display items there.

display jenny skip
close up of display items

The lower shelf has two quilts my grandmother made, and an antique glass service plaque (see more about the origin of service banners and plaques here). BTW, we saw an awesome video recently  about making a wooden service banner, from Opa’s Workshop (click to watch!). As for the two quilts, the one on the bottom is chronicled here in a prior post. The top one is a Dresden Plate quilt that was probably originally made in the 1950’s or 60’s. I can see places where my mom tried to mend it with fabric that I recognize from my own stash, part of which I inherited from her stash!

The middle shelf has an antique quilt that my great grandmother made (see a prior post on this quilt here) to the left, and a woven pine needle mat that was made by my grandmother, circa 1960.

The upper shelf has several quilt mats hand-sewn by my mother during the last few years of her life, when much of her precise quilting skills and abilities were stolen by Alzheimer’s disease. But it is heart-warming to me, that she enjoyed piecing beautiful fabrics together into practical projects, even up to the end.

Here’s the You-tube composite of the whole process.




Early Morning Walking Before and After Hermine Made Landfall

Didn’t want to let a hurricane keep me from my morning walk, did I?

Yesterday morning as I walked in the neighborhood (Central Florida) it was sort of misty and drizzling–“mizzling” as they call it.

mizzle pre-Hermine
walking in the pre-Hermine mizzle September 1

We did all the usual hurricane preparedness things: (1) stocking up at the grocery store (other shoppers  were buying gallon plastic jugs of water and batteries, my cart was full of BOGO Klondike bars… #thugmormon) (2) making sure we had plenty of pop-top cans of Fancy Feast, the cats’ preferred food, and Super Clump litter, (3) located the car cell phone charger…

pre-Hermine morning sun

Usually it’s a false alarm in our area, as we are sufficiently inland. But the power went off at two-something AM, and it’s still off at almost noon Friday. Rain bands are still swirling across the state. Right now it’s sunny; two minutes ago rain was pelting our roof like a barrage of bullets.

Hermine fallout
tree debris this morning, September 2

We drove around town charging our cell phones and checking to see which McDonalds’ were open, and saw lots of tree fallout and a fallen tree blocking a side road.

The mirror and glass shelving were supposed to be delivered today to finish the display cabinet, so we don’t know if the glass company will chance it.

display cabinet
display cabinet waiting for its final accoutrements

Hoping everyone is safe and weathering the storm as it makes its way north and east.


Display Cabinet Update #5

by Skip

Another display cabinet build update!  I’ll be so glad when this thing is done!

display cabinet jenny skip
major design changes

From our last update, there have been some major design changes. First, I decided to add lights to the underside of the cabinet top. I used a combination of LED light strips and LED puck lamps. Using a remote control, the LED light strip can be turned on and off, dimmed and can change colors. The pucks are controlled by a switch but I plan to add a remote control to these.

I then installed glass keepers on the inside perimeter of the cabinet upper rails and cut and installed a plastic lens from a fluorescent light fixture.

display cabinet lighting
lighting in the top of the cabinet

Second, I added foam weatherstripping to the top edge of the cabinet so when I added the top and fastened it down, it provided a light tight joint.  Third, I decided to add additional brass trim on the top rails and add corbels at each corner of the top. Fourth, I decided against adding glass to the cabinet sides. As I mentioned before, the design of this cabinet evolved during construction, bad idea usually.  Looking at the support rods for the glass shelves, it was going to be just too tight to try to install the glass panels with keepers in the existing 5/8 inch space.  Using 1/8 inch thick glass over the vertical span with no muttons was risky, in my mind. This change was also reinforced by the fact that I have many (emphasis on many) young rambunctious grandchildren.  Not sure the glass would survive a visit. So I punted and decided to go mission style and add vertical slats to each side of the cabinet, pinning them top and bottom with brass pegs. Maybe too much brass!?!

The cabinet has been moved to its new home where I will add the slats over the next few weeks. I’m going to wait to add the glass shelves and mirror after the grandchildren visit next week.

Display Cabinet Update

by skip

It has been several weeks since the last update on the display cabinet. Lots of other projects have taken me away from this project but I’m back at it again.

Since the last post, I have finished staining and top coating the cabinet framework, trying to give it an antique distressed look.  I planed the boards for the bottom shelf and cut notches on the corner so it would sit on the bottom framework of the cabinet.  I oversized the notches a little to allow the wood in the shelf to move.  This left some gaps which I plan on filling with black foam rubber to hide the gaps but allow for expansion.  When I had this tweaked and fitting in the cabinet, I then installed the leather veneered panels. Once these panels were in place, I set about cutting the brass rods to form a sort of molding around each panel. The addition of this metal was to complement the brass rods for the shelf supports.

The brass rods used for molding were set in place using thick CA glue.  I was going to try to miter the ends of the brass rods, but life is too short for this so I set the vertical rods first and then butted the ends of the horizontal rods into the vertical rods. To hold the bottom shelf in place, I used L-brackets underneath the shelf to connect the shelf to the bottom framework. Since I was too lazy to flip the cabinet on its side to set the L brackets in place, I used thick CA glue to set the brackets in place and when the glue had cured I could reach into the bottom cabinet cavity and secure the brackets with screws. Less frustrating than trying to stand on my head and hold the brackets with one hand while trying to navigate the screw in place!

display cabinet in progress

I had originally thought of making the bottom shelf removable or on a hinge so that we could access the bottom cabinet cavity and use it for storage. But knowing our habits, I knew that whatever we stored down there we would never see again, so I scrapped that idea.

My wife would like to have a mirror back on the cabinet instead of wood, so I purchased some ¼ inch birch plywood to screw onto the back of the cabinet, to support the mirror back.

I called a local glass company to get some suggestions for the glass shelves. Looks like 3/8 inch thick glass will work for the shelves. I am going to install an extra set of brass bars next to each of the bars shown in the video just to provide a little extra strength for the shelf support.  I can also get the shelves with beveled and polished edges.  The mirror and glass sides will be cut to size.

The next step is to make the top of the cabinet, allowing for surface- mounted LED light fixtures.  I need to cut the molding for the side glass panels.  Hopefully by the next post, the cabinet will be complete!!

The Venerable Shopsmith Gets a New Home

For the last 20 plus years, I’ve had an old Shopsmith (Model ER, serial number R67374) in  my shop. I may have used it a couple of times when I first got it, but for the most part, it has sat in my shop against a wall, covered with miscellaneous stuff, basically serving as a shelf.  Two days ago my wife noticed the Shopsmith and asked me what it was.

Skip's shop smith
The Shopsmith

Now, she has had to walk by this thing every day throughout our whole married life…

I explained what it could be used for, and I shared with her its history.  This tool belonged to one of my neighbors, Mr.  Allen.  As a child (I think I was about 10), I was fascinated by his woodworking skills, especially since he had only one arm.  He had lost his arm as a soldier in WWII.  My Dad was also fascinated by woodworking: he had taken shop in high school and made this wonderful tilt top table which still finds use in our home.

Dad's table
Dad’s table

My Dad and Mr. Allen shared many woodworking experiences. When Mr. Allen passed away, he left his Shopsmith to my Dad. When my Dad passed away, I inherited the Shopsmith.

So my wife asked if we could move the Shopsmith into the dining room next to the antique Stanley workbench.  I ran to the bathroom to grab some Qtips and check my ears for ear wax interference.  But she repeated the same request!  I know my wife loves to talk to our cats, but I suspected that she had finally lost her mind.  After the idea settled down, I bought into the project. The move would free up shop space for more tools!

tools craftsbyjennskip
Space for new tools already filled!

I called two of my grandchildren into service.  We muscled the Shopsmith into the house and finally got it into place.

jenny skip Shopsmith
Shop smith in its new locale

I must admit that it creates a whole new ambiance in the dining room!  I will never question my wife’s mental condition  again!

Remember the Old NCIS episode The Namesake? The one where Gibbs finds a Shopsmith (and a Congressional Medal of Honor) in a pawn shop? For a refresher of that episode look here.

To Carve or Knit? That is the question!

by skip

After dinner, my wife and I settle down in front of the TV.  We really enjoy our companionship, so we find TV shows we like, and really find it somewhat easy to agree on the shows. Now, we have been good listeners to each other…I know Jennifer doesn’t like old Westerns, corny musicals or listening to the endless drone of cutting wood on a lathe, like you hear on some YouTube channels. We both like British murder mysteries so we tend to migrate to these shows. BUT (the eraser word) while I sit there with a glazed-over, mindless expression watching the TV screen, Jennifer is multitasking: listening to the program while knitting a beautiful creation. I NEED something to do besides totally wasting my last few minutes on this planet glued to the TV.  I could go to the shop but I like being close to my eternal companion!  Now don’t get me wrong, we do spend hours talking to each other… we love sharing ideas whether personal, working, political or hobby related. There are however (another eraser word) hours spent in our LazyBoys watching TV.   So I got the idea to try to develop a new woodworking skill, whittling or carving. I can’t drag the power carving systems into the TV room… too noisy and creates too much dust. It would have to be handwork.

So here was the plan: buy a box of basswood cutoffs and get a FlexCut starter knife and strop kit. So for under $100, I could be fully equipped to launch into wood carving. A large towel on my lap would be needed to catch the wood chips….. good light also necessary.   Artistic abilities? Whoa… where do I get that? I’m an engineer and need plans, a process, a base to build on. Thank goodness for YouTube! I found SharonMyArt!! Very talented carver of little people… step by step instructions, great results in a genre that I love. It has a historical background and with 21st century carving tools is perfect for me. Also lots of media available like books by Harley Refsal and Mike Shipley.

Now you will not only hear the clicking of knitting needles while Midsomer Murders are taking place but you will also hear the sound of that distinctive click as a V-cut terminates!


Sizing Up A Joint

I’ve been watching Rock-n H Woodshop’s YouTube channel, where he is trying out different ways of joining wood.

His recent video discussed the weakness of joining end grain in miter joints. This brought to mind a workshop I had done for some Cub Scouts where we built tool totes. In that workshop, I discussed the problem in assembling a tool box where end grain might join end grain. I mentioned a technique that I had picked up somewhere where you can glue end grain to end grain if you size the end grain with glue before your final glue-up. The object was to fill the end grain with watered-down glue and let it dry before you did your joining of the two boards. So I decided today to put together an experiment to test the strength of an end grain joint after sizing.  I used Titebond II for all the glue-ups.

For the test I cut several pieces of ¾ inch thick spruce into small rectangles. I applied the glue sizing to the end grain of two pieces and just for something different, I also applied the sizing to the side grain of two pieces.

wood samples
samples for experiment

After the samples had dried, I glued and clamped the pieces together. I took two other sets of the same wood and without sizing, glued and clamped these pieces.

end grain
sized and unsized samples, glued and clamped

After 10 hours, I attached a screw eye to each set of boards so I could hang weights from the screw eye.  The opposite end of each board would be anchored and weights added until the joint failed.  With some degree of accuracy, I could then calculate the torque in ft-lbs needed to break each joint.

Next day…… not very scientific procedure but interesting results. The long and short of the tests, I couldn’t get any of the joints to fail using this method. The video shows the “technique”.  A bucket was hung from the screw eye on each sample and weights were added to the bucket. My big concern was whether or not this flimsy bucket would withstand the tests.

I tested the two side grain samples first. I added up to 18 pounds weight to the bucket resulting in about 6 ft-lbf torque. Neither joint failed. When I pushed down on each sample, both samples failed, not at the joint but at the edge of the workbench, each sample splitting along the grain.

Next I tested the two end grain samples. This time I added 38 lbs to the bucket in each case (about 13 ft-lb torque). No failures. I even took one of the weights and struck the end of each sample and still no failure.

Without additional equipment, I wasn’t able to take the end grain glued joints to failure and measure any difference between the sized sample and the unsized sample.  So in desperation I put each of the end grain samples in a vice and attached a clamp to use as a lever (see last section of video) and pushed down on the end of the clamp until the joint broke.  I did this off camera so you’ll have to trust me but there was significant more force needed to break the sized glue joint!  Success!

sized joint
sized end grain joint, after lever action
unsized joint
unsized end grain joint, after lever (a cleaner, easier break)

For some excellent advice and glue tips take a look at YouTube videos by Jeremy Broun.

Hopefully some of the YouTube woodworkers who have used apparatus to measure joint failure will be able to duplicate this and put some numbers on the results. I’m satisfied from a pseudo-scientific observation that sizing an end grain to end grain joint adds significant strength. I guess this begs the question: is it worth the extra time and effort to use this method? I’ll leave that up to my fellow woodworking pundits!


Step-by-step Process of Making a Rollerball Pen out of a REAL Cigar


Earlier in the year, one of my students was nice enough to give me a cigar to turn into a pen for my niece’s husband.  I told my student that if he could get me another cigar, I would make him a pen, for his generosity in helping me with the earlier pen.

This was special for this student, since a friend of his has started rolling cigars. (Take a look at our earlier blog for some historical notes on cigar production on Florida.) His friend’s cigar company is Bat Brothers Cigars. I was told how it got its name but I think I’m suppose to keep it a secret.  The cigar he gave me was a nice fat cigar and looked like it would make a great pen blank.

I decided to use the PSI Classic Elite 2 pen kit with the roller ball option.  This pen kit has two barrels and looked like it would be perfect for the length of the cigar I had to work with.  So I removed the cigar’s paper ring and set off to stabilize the cigar.

cigar ready to be made into a pen blank

Before putting the cigar in the vacuum chamber, I snipped off the mouth end of the cigar so the resin would be able to easily enter the cigar from both ends. I then placed the cigar in the vacuum chamber, placed the retainer on top of the cigar to hold it in place and covered the cigar with Cactus Juice, allowing about an inch more of liquid above the cigar. I then turned on the vacuum pump and began to close down the vent valve to place a vacuum in the chamber. Then I waited for the bubbles to stop coming out of the cigar, an indication that all the voids in the cigar would be full of resin. And I waited, and waited! I was surprised to note that this cigar took an exceptionally long time to fill with resin. The previous cigar had not taken anywhere near as long. I think this was a good sign that this cigar had more voids, and might end up more stable than the last cigar I did.

After the bubbling stopped, I released the vacuum, letting the chamber return to atmospheric pressure, and removed the cigar quickly and wrapped it tightly in aluminum foil. While all this was going on, I had preheated the oven to 200 degrees F. I built a small aluminum foil dish and placed the wrapped cigar in the dish to protect the oven if any of the resin leaked from the wrapper on the cigar. I waited about three hours and removed the cigar from the oven and let it cool to room temperature. When I finally unwrapped the cigar, I found it was rock hard. I didn’t remember the other stabilized cigar being this hard. I concluded that this was consistent with the longer time it took to completely fill the voids with the Cactus Juice. This cigar was more completely filled with resin.

I went to the disk sander and sanded each end of the blank. I observed that each end of the cigar blank was filled with resin, resulting in a smooth surface after sanding. Of course during the sanding process I got to experience the smell of fresh cigar smoke! This was in spite of having on a dust mask.

I took the brass tubes from the pen kit, measured off the length of each end of the blank and used a band saw to cut the two barrels for the pen. There was just a small scrap of the cigar left. Then I set up my lathe with a pen chuck and a Jacob’s chuck to drill the 10mm hole through each blank. This created a lot of cigar dust which proved useful later on in the process.

I roughed up each brass tube to give their surfaces a little tooth for the glue-up into the blanks. I used 80 grit sandpaper for this. Using thick CA glue, I glued each tube into its appropriate cigar blank.  (I would find out later that I could have done a better job of gluing. ) Once the glue had set, I went to the disk sander to trim up the ends of the blanks down to the brass tubes. Lots more cigar smell and cigar dust!

I then inspected the ends of the blanks. The ends looked pretty solid, but as a precaution, I put some thin CA glue on the ends, hoping it would wick down into the large pores that I could see. Using the proper bushings for this pen kit, I mounted the pen blanks on the pen mandrel and prepared to turn the project.

The cigar blanks were still coated with some resin so I decided to use 80 grit sandpaper to remove this, before I started using any turning tools. To remove the majority of the blank, I desired to use a round carbide tool. I turned the blanks with very light cuts, stopping often to check the work. My previous experience with a serious blowout prompted me to work slowly and carefully as I turned the cigar. I was making great progress when my worst fears came to fruition: the smaller blank exploded in pieces!  I found all the pieces and began gluing the blank back together. There were a few voids left, which I filled with a mixture of CA glue and some of that cigar dust I had collected. Looking at the way the blank came apart, it appeared that the failure was due to insufficient glue contact between the brass tube and the cigar.

Back to the lathe! Since I was very close to the diameters of the pen bushings, I decided to finish up the turning with 80 grit sandpaper. This worked very well and allowed me to quickly complete the rough “turning” and move onto final sanding. After sanding to 500 grit dry sandpaper, I cleaned the surface of the blanks and began the application of thin CA glue. After a few coats, I checked the surface of the blanks and used thick CA glue to fill any imperfections.  I wasn’t looking for perfection since this was a cigar. After 10 coats of CA glue, I went to the wet sanding with micro-mesh to 12000 grit, cleaning the surface between grits. I followed this up with the One Coat plastic polish.

Finally I could remove the blanks and assemble the pen. All in all, I was happy with the final pen and hope my student will be happy with it also.

fine cigar pen
finished fine cigar pen

I guess the next pen will be a revisit to the ant pen in response to one of our Australian viewers.

Part 3 Display Cabinet Update

You can see why it takes me so long to get something built, if you go back and see when I started this! Between teaching, grandchildren visits, woodworking merit badge stuff, etc.,  there just doesn’t seem to be enough time to make shavings.

Thus far, I have sanded the cabinet’s framework, given it several coats of wood conditioner and added a couple of applications of Minwax red mahogany stain. There is still some blotching I have to deal with, but the distressing I applied (not a lot) really is giving me the aged look I was hoping for. I have brought it back inside to gel a little while I work on the brass and leather components.

brass rod display cabinet jennyskip
brass rod

I cut the ¼ inch brass bar stock in the lengths required to span between the front and back frames to support the glass shelves. Using the golden rule, I laid out the shelf locations and made a drilling guide to help me locate and drill the holes in the frames for the bar stock. You can see in the picture where I dry-fitted one of the brass bars in the frame. I haven’t decided yet to round off the ends of the rods and let them stand proud on the front of the frame.

I cleaned all the leather panels with Dr. Jackson’s Leather Cleaner from the Tandy Leather Company and then conditioned the leather with Dr. Jackson’s Leather Conditioner.  After the panels had dried overnight, I gathered together a tape measure, thick CA glue and some painter’s tape. I found the center of the larger panel and marked it with a pen. I measured the dragonfly applique and tried to outline the space on the leather for the applique with the painter’s tape. Bad idea… the painter’s tape would not stick to the leather! So I made a couple more dots on the leather with a pen to guide me to set the dragonfly by hand. I did get a little squeeze-out, which was hard to remove.  Not sure how to deal with this. I’m going to take a waste piece of this leather, put some CA glue on it and see if acetone will take off the glue without taking the dye out of the leather. I am considering alternatives: 1. Don’t do anything (it will be almost impossible to see the glue squeeze-out in the foyer where this will be…a sleazy alternative), 2. If the acetone removes the glue and takes out some of the dye, touch up the spots with leather dye if Tandy has some to match, or 3. Pry the appliqué off, trying not to damage it so I don’t have to go crawling on hands and knees back to the sewing room to get a new one made. Then carefully apply the dragonfly to a square piece of the same leather, tool a border on the square and then glue the square over the damaged area of the panel.

dragonfly leather panel jennyskip
panel in place

In the next post, I’ll report on how all this leather stuff worked or didn’t work. I will joint, plane and glue up the mahogany panel for the bottom shelf, finish staining and clear coating the framework and install a bottom panel for the lower compartment of the cabinet.

I still have to install the leather panels, miter the ends of the brass rods to frame the leather panels, construct the top for the cabinet, cut and ebonize the glass stops for the sides of the cabinet, and begin working on the back of the cabinet.

Display Cabinet Build Update

by Skip

Finally, a few days freed up to get back to the display cabinet build!

I finished cutting out the panels that will fit in the bottom of the cabinet. The burgundy leather was cut to fit each panel and was attached with contact cement.

display cabinet jennyskip
attaching burgundy leather to panels

My wife has prepared three beautiful dragonfly appliqués that we will apply to the center of each leather panel in keeping with our Arts and Crafts theme.  My friends at Ace Hardware contacted K&S Metals and found the 36-inch long, ¼-inch diameter brass rods that I will use to frame each of the leather panels.

brass rods for display cabinet jennyskip
brass rods

As with most of my furniture builds, the wood is set in the air-conditioned house for several weeks before it is taken into the shop where it is cut and milled to size. Then the pieces are brought back into the house for assembly. With a very good portable dust collection system, I was even able to cut the mortises for the dominos in the house. Of course I planned this activity while my wife was busy in the sewing room. No harm—no foul!

Once the display cabinet framework was assembled and glued, I began the tedious process of sanding. We set up two work stands outside the front door so I could easily take the cabinet in and out of the house between standings. I started with 100 grit and worked up to 220.  I wiped down the wood with alcohol to get off all the dust and applied a coat of wood conditioner.  I have taken a test sample of this wood and sanded and stained with a red mahogany stain. It was a little blotchy, so I decided to test another piece with a wood conditioner and this worked a lot better. I decided not to use a grain filler. This wood is very smooth and not very porous.

For the next phase of the project, I plan to drill the holes in the side frames for the brass rods that will support the glass shelves in the cabinet. I will apply the stain to the framework, apply the appliqués to the leather panels and install the panels. 

dragonfly appliqué jennyskip
dragonfly machine embroidery appliqué

I will construct a wooden bottom shelf and top for the cabinet, glue up 9-inch wide mahogany boards, sand and prep these for staining. I will also decide how I am going to deal with the back of the cabinet. An easy solution would be to install a mirror with a plywood backing but my wife is voting for mahogany panels.  I think in this election, she gets more delegates!!

I may start cutting, sanding and finishing the glass stops for the glass side panels.  My thoughts on this are to use ebonized cherry for the stops but I don’t want too many things going on with this cabinet. I already have red mahogany, brass, leather, glass and embroidery appliqués!