Woodworker for President?

What qualities might a woodworker like to see in a candidate for president, the leader of our country?

  • Woodturners like to work with green wood.  Green wood is easy to work on the lathe… however, it will probably sling water at your face shield.  It also tends to change shape and crack as it  ages, usually over a term of one year.  We are generally impressed by its figure in the beginning but as the cracks form along the grain of this figure we are disappointed. So maybe we don’t want a green wood candidate for president.
  • Some woodturners and many general woodworkers like seasoned, kiln-dried wood.  This wood is about 8-9 percent moisture, very stable but more difficult to work. When you work it, it produces more dust, requiring you to wear a respirator to protect your lungs. This wood has been around for awhile and may surprise you as you cut it, to find some history buried in the fibers, that cause the wood to spring into a different shape. More experienced woodworkers may prefer air-dried wood. This wood seems to be easier to work, like green wood, but is more stable. So maybe we might like a president who is more like air-dried wood.
  • There are many ways we can join pieces of lumber  into some useful implement: loose tenons, mortise and tenon, glue and screw, glue and nail, pocket hole techniques, etc.  Some of these techniques are quick to solve the problem of joining two dissimilar shapes of wood, but the connections are weak and will not stand the test of time. Some are strong and will provide an heirloom-quality connection.  We need a president who can form strong, lasting commitments to bonding dissimilar people and ideals.
  • Woodworkers like to have a variety of tools in their arsenals: hand tools, power tools, computerized tools.  The trick is to select the right tool for the right job. Are we looking for accuracy, speed, portability or maybe some special quality or texture?  It isn’t necessarily how many tools we have, but do we have the right tools for us? Will some of these tools be able to take our mediocre ability to a new level? Can these tools be trusted to come up to full capability quickly?  Will the accuracy of these tools always be there when we need it?  Will we end up spending dollar after dollar to keep these tools operational and will we get a good cost-to-benefit ratio over the life of our tools? Are the tools designed to be forward-compatible as the tool technology changes? In other words, will the battery we buy with the tool today work with the tool we buy tomorrow? We need a president who will select advisors, cabinet members and agency heads that provide the same qualities as a good arsenal of tools; a president who looks for the best tool to do the job and is not afraid of getting rid of a tool that has outlived its usefulness.

Providing Oversight for a Safe Environment

  • Woodworkers have to deal with issues today that our forefathers and mothers didn’t directly deal with in the past, such as lack of common sense and being focused on our work flow. Woodworkers in the past had accidents, no question, but they also had a focus and method of workflow that kept them relatively safe.

The tools we work with today run at high speeds, and in many cases they produce harmful higher-frequency noises. We can now hold machines in our hands that have cutting surfaces spinning at thousands of rpms.  We turn large pieces of wood on lathes at thousands of rpms. We find that in this world of noise, speed, portability, dust, fumes, VOC’s, and flying wood particles that, like the OSHA cowboy, we can hardly get to our tools for all the safety devices we wear! Only kidding, I’m a strong proponent of safety devices, the right ones for the right applications. [See our blog on lathe safety.]  Is the respirator we are using suitable for the size of dust particles we are exposed to, or for the fumes or type of VOC’s produced?  Is our hearing protection suitable for the sound pressure levels produced at the frequency involved? Too much of the wrong hearing protection, and we may lose the ability to realize changes in our work environment that might give us insight to how our board is reacting to our cutting machine. Is our face shield rated to some safety standard and is that rating suitable for the job? A set of safety glasses won’t necessarily protect your eyes from an acetone splash occurrence.  Gas- or liquid-tight googles won’t protect you from a three pound chunk of wood flying off the lathe at 2500 rpms.

  • Safety is extremely important to the woodworker. A president of a leading power in the world has the responsibility to provide the correct level of safety for the homeland.  The homeland needs to be constantly informed on what tools our administration needs to use to provide this safety. The tools must be specific to the danger and proportional in cost and application for the danger.  We need to use our fantastic network of news and social media to inform the homeland on the basics of these without giving away the farm. Though we may be the leading power in the world, it’s a relatively small world, one to which our president has further responsibilities regarding safety and oversight. This is an awesome task for any one person or even a group of experts, and certainly should not be delegated to a group of political cronies .  The president of our great nation should take on leadership in the world. 

Commitment rather than Compliance

But a leader is not a boss.  I learned this from a very strong leader of a major corporation.

The boss drives his men; the leader coaches them.

The boss depends on authority; the leader on good will.

The boss inspires fear;  the leader inspires enthusiasm.

The boss says “I;” the leader says “we”.

The boss assigns the tasks; the leader sets the pace.

The boss says “Get here on time;” the leader gets there ahead of time.

The boss knows how it is done; the leader shows how.

The boss makes work a drudgery; the leader makes it a game.

The boss says “go;” the leader says “let’s go”.

The world needs leaders but nobody wants a boss.

The difference between a boss and a leader is that the boss gets compliance, the leader gets commitment.  If you want commitment rather than compliance, you have to earn it and you have to keep earning it every day!

Keeping an Eye on the Economy

Woodworkers must try to be cost-conscious in their tasks. Wow, that is a stretch. Given enough resources in the form of currency, we probably would blow most of these resources on tools. But a perfect woodworker would only buy the tools needed to accomplish the day-to-day projects and would only purchase the quality of wood needed for the project. This woodworker would plan out a cut list to minimize waste, maybe even look ahead to see how the waste wood for one project would fit into the cut list of a future project. But let us not forget where this money comes from.  As an economist would say, “there is no free lunch!” Someone has worked, provided a service, invested, taken risk, or borrowed to get this resource.  The question for the woodworker becomes one of understanding the margin. What opportunity is the woodworker giving up to take this money to buy this tool or wood? What is the return, the sale of the woodworking effort, or a grin on a grandchild’s face?

Woodworkers are concerned about our natural resources, especially wood.  We see projects to use pallet wood for a multitude of applications. We see woodworkers concerned about sustainability of the wood we use. 

 I found the concept of “urban forestry” a useful concept in solving a problem resulting from 21st century applications of sustainable energy. In a few words, I took advantage of a tax credit (supported by you taxpayers) and a feed-in-tariff contract from my local utility (paid for by the other utility customers) to install a photovoltaic system completely manufactured overseas except for the aluminum supports. Remember, “there is no free lunch.” If it hadn’t been for a desire to investigate this method of producing power, I couldn’t have considered this very ethical.  So what has this do with woodworking?  This environmentally-friendly solar system would only work at full capacity if several mature trees in my back yard were cut down.  I called a couple of local tree surgeons and found two companies that could work together to cut down the trees, process them into usable lumber and sticker and stack the lumber in my back yard for air drying. So I now have a stock of wood that I can will to my grandchildren.

Conservation of our Resources

  • What value should our president put on sustainability? What can we do to encourage good use of our natural resources, such as energy, air and water?  In my engineering experience, I have found that there are not many technological solutions to our problems with sustainability that are sustainable. This may sound trite, but the only tried and true solution is conservation.  This requires education at all levels of income and a change in our basic culture.  This will not be an easy task. A president must be able to value the complex relationships involved in sustainability, and communicate that technology throughout the globe. It is not easy to see how a butterfly flapping its wings in the Butterfly Museum can result in a tsunami on the other side of the world.

As a case in point, you can argue until you are blue in the face that carbon dioxide emissions are not causing global change. Who can argue that taking carbon buried in the ground for millions of years wouldn’t have some effect when reacted with the oxygen in our air?  Water vapor is a global warming vapor and we put zillions of gallons of this into the air every day.  A paradox…power plants evaporate gallons of water every minute to reject heat from burning fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide. Conservation affects both effects.

Woodworkers certainly don’t have to deal with the complexity of the problems facing our president every day but 300 million plus American patriots, including woodworkers, should respond to educated and sincere leadership.

Working with Defective and Destructive Elements

Every once in a while, defective wood finds its way into a woodworker’s shop. One type of defect in wood is a knot. There are knots that are loose and some that are firmly entrenched in the lumber. Woodworkers can generally see the knot as an enhancement to the project if it can be stabilized and used as an accent in the finished project. But when a loose knot finds its way across the workshop border, it presents a unique challenge. The woodworker may be able to isolate the knot from the rest of the lumber and then use epoxy to lock it in place. However, this may challenge the woodworker’s finishing process and may be a distraction to completing an heirloom piece of work. Another defect that finds it way into the shop is spaulted wood. This is wood on the way to becoming pulpy and rotten.  However, if the woodworker can stabilize the spaulting, it may add diversity and beauty to the final project.  This figure of controlled decay can ultimately enhance the overall project.

Focusing on the Big Picture and Long Lasting Results

  • A president must be able to provide leadership by understanding when an element may create an unstabilizing condition within what might be considered “the norm” in the global humanity. Can this element be stabilized, can it be integrated or must it be removed and discarded? What will be the butterfly effect if this element is isolated or destroyed? How does the global community support a president’s leadership in dealing with controlling these unstabilizing elements? A president must be able to comprehend the big picture, not an easy job for any human being.
  • Some woodworkers strive to create a legacy with every piece of work… an heirloom.  This work may end up in a museum, or it may be illustrated in many books. But a multitude of woodworkers are merely striving to make a functional work that can be used and enjoyed. It may end up eventually in a museum, but only because it withstood the test of time and showed the scars of everyday use.  A president should focus on leadership that produces long lasting results… results that withstand the test of time.
from your friendly neighborhood political pundits (photo taken at Oasis, St Augustine Beach FL

Function Overrides Form in the Sewing Room

I like making furniture, generally Mission style and Arts and Crafts, where form is as important as function. As a mechanical engineer, I struggle with form and the artistic aspects of woodworking.  Just give me a set of plans, and I’m happy.

For this project, I threw form out the door and focused on function. My wife generally doesn’t invite me into her sewing room. It has something to do with the electrical capacitance of my posterior and how it drives her computerized sewing machines into bird-nesting and stitch-skipping. But the other day, I was invited to come into the hallowed space and observe a woodworking request she made.

My wife has an old [but magnificent] teak desk, handed down from her grandmother, with a cutout for recessing a sewing machine. The proposed project was to enlarge the cavity to fit one of her machines.  The project was fraught with uncertainties. To cut into the desk top, it looked like I would get into some of the table’s structural elements, which could be a real problem. In addition,  she wanted to switch this table with another table sitting next to it. This other table probably weighs a zillion tons. So I made a suggestion  to come up with another approach to solving her problem.  She has been working at a pop-up plastic table which she oriented perpendicular to the aforementioned tables.  She found this to be really convenient, but she had to move a machine over to this table each time she used it. 

supplemental plastic sewing table
Before: using pop-up plastic table. Pictured: new-ish Birds’ Nest Removal Tool Kit from Nancy’s Notions

What might have been an easy project with a little bit of risk,  ended up with me committing myself to a major sewing room overhaul. Fortunately I didn’t have to pull a building permit or bring in a survey crew. I grabbed a scrap of paper and drew up a plan.

First: covering the two existing tables with a sheet of melamine would seal up the hole in the sewing machine table and hide a charred pit in the other table. [Side note explanation: when I had two snake-loving children at home, the sewing room was a snake room.  A heater under the bottom of one of the snake cages overheated and burned a fist-sized crater in the formica desk top.]

melamine desk top
First step: sheet of melamine covering the two desks to level the surfaces

Next, I would construct a table on wheels which could be moved back and forth, perpendicular to the newly-covered tables.  My wife could easily slide a machine onto it as she changed sewing functions from machine embroidery to quilting to other sewing. I also designed a trough in the rolling table, similar to the recessed cavity in the teak desk, for  a sewing machine to slide into, allowing its throat plate to be level with the table.  An insert would be made to cover the trough when a level surface was needed.  Can you now see how I moved from the prospect of enlarging a small hole to a major construction project?  Fortunately my wonderful wife was more interested in function than form, so I began visualizing how all this could be accomplished using construction lumber from a big box store,  Heaven help me if I would have to dig into my umpteen thousand board feet of wood I have stored in my shop or air drying in my back yard!  And I wasn’t even going to elevate myself to the use of domino loose tenons or pocket hole screws! This was going to be held together with a butt joint, glue and screws.

I made a materials list:

6 @8 Ft. 2×4’s,

4 @8 Ft. 1×6’s,

a 2 Ft. X 4 Ft. sheet of ½ inch plywood

2 sheets of 4 Ft. X 8 Ft. melamine particle board.

Then call a friend with a pick up truck and head out to a big box store.

Earlier I had taken my wife to Harbor Freight to pick out two furniture movers to provide the rolling base for the table. My wife was very impressed how I could walk into a store, go right to the location of the furniture movers, pay and be out the door in less than 5 minutes. Contrast this with the hour it takes her to complete the transaction of buying a zipper at Jo Ann’s.

Then the fun part of the project, chopping wood! After building the support structures and mounting them on the furniture movers, I decided to add a minute bit of form…I pulled out the rattle cans and painted the structures white to match the melamine surfaces.  You will note that the structures were built in different configurations. The reason for this was to allow a cutout on one end of the sewing table to house the box (trough) required to drop in a machine for free-motion quilting, allowing the throat plate of the machine to be level with the table top.

craftsbyjennyskip.com structures
building the structures onto furniture movers

I rolled the two structures into the sewing room prior to adding the superstructure to tie the two together. I used the 1×6 boards to construct this framework. My wife and I then horsed the table top into the sewing room and placed it on top of the structures.  I was going to fasten the top with screws so that it could be removed easily in the future. However, since I didn’t spend a lot of money on the wood, I decided to pull out the nail gun and nail the top on.

sewing table craftsbyjennyskip.com
table top mounted on the two structures at the ends

The box for recessing the machines was constructed with ½ inch Baltic plywood. I placed a ramp on one end of the box to aid in sliding the machines into the box from an adjacent table. Measuring this box was a trick, one that I couldn’t master, as it turned out. The object was to make the box deep enough that when installed in the table, the sewing machine throat plate would be even with the top of the table.

sewing machine box insert
checking the fit of the sewing machine box insert to the table top

  BUT WAIT, there were two machines of different sizes with different throat plate heights.  So the solution was to design for the machine requiring the deepest box and then use a thin insert to elevate the other machine to the proper level. The plan was to suspend this box on the cutout in the table top, to hold the choice of sewing machine. A piece of melamine could cover the opening when the box wasn’t needed, say for a non-sewing activity like pattern layout or quilt basting, or when a machine was in use but the throat plate didn’t need to be flush with the table top.

attaching sewing machine insert craftsbyjennyskip
securing the box to the table top from underneath, drilling through brackets

When all was said and done,  minor tweaking was required to level each machine in the box. Small wood inserts were made and labeled to use with each machine.

I have made a lot of furniture for the house, but this was not my finest hour.  Function definitely overcame form! But my wife was happy. She liked the new set-up, and because the rolling structures that made up the two ends of the table had places for shelves, she also acquired more storage space.

Homemade Holiday

Just a little quickie post to recognize some Christmas gifts that were given to us, that were crafty and/or homemade.

We don’t want to seem unappreciative of the not-homemade gifts that were given to us, but we are especially excited that some of our family members made things to give us, or gave us things that were crafts made by someone. Crafting is rather a new thing for us. We’ve always liked crafting in our spare time, but now we have more spare time. We can try to do crafts we never had time to do before.

candy cane ornament
Candy cane ornament on the tree from granddaughter “A”

This candy cane ornament was a hand-made gift from our granddaughter. It looks like plaster of Paris (?) or a ceramic or clay shape, painted, with a hole drilled in the top and a silver ribbon added for hanging from the tree. Lovely handiwork!

crafty watch
This is a watch from grandson “C” that he bought at his school’s Christmas craft fair

I was blown away that grandson “C” chose this crafty watch for Me! at his school’s Christmas craft fair. It’s got a red (his favorite color) leather band with beads and a burnished metal butterfly charm that matches the watch, with a snap closure. Love it!

Christmas Cornhole craftsbyjennyskip
grandsons playing a game of Christmas cornhole on the lawn

Kids and grandkids played cornhole at our family Christmas party, using the set we made in a previous blog post:


see also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qJZQr3H7Xg

(And please subscribe to our blog and You-tube channel! Thank you!)

crocheted doily
crocheted doily from daughter-in-law Olga

We were in awe at the crochet skills that went into this gift from our daughter-in-law! The intricate, perfect, and beautiful stitches make this an heirloom piece. I’ve always been fascinated by the serene symmetry of vintage crocheted doilies. The intense blue color of this one (in real life, it looks a lot more blue than in this pic) makes it modern as well as classic.

Christmas breakfast
Food gifts for Christmas

Here we are “creating” with one of our Christmas food gifts, apple cinnamon pancake mix. This couple sent us a breakfast food package and a treat basket from the oldest Candy Shoppe in America, Ye Olde Pepper Company.

Grandpa (AKA Santa) with some grandkids and their snowmen

Santa and some of the recipients of our Snow People project (see the post at: http://craftsbyjennyskip.com/snow-people-revisited/

Other crafty gifts we’ve gotten include artful photos, homemade sugared pecans, musical recordings, and gift cards at creative venues. It certainly is gratifying to see our posterity using their talents to create beautiful and useful things. And with this latest gift, we are reminded that…

happily ever after
Hope everyone had a happy Christmas!

Christmas Quilts, the Final Chapter

Actually, no, I didn’t get all ten quilts finished by Christmas, if that was your question—but I did do eight of them!

These last three varied from the previous batch in that 1) these are not made from Eleanor Burns’ Tossed Nine-patch pattern and 2) they are not as intricately pieced, and 3) I decided to add embroidery to these last ones, having practiced a little bit on the machine and determined it wouldn’t cause me to have stress-induced conniption fits.

All three were made of Moda’s French General Esprit de Noël fabric collection of red and beige.

First project includes a poinsettia machine embroidery from Embroidery Library, mostly Moda 10″ fabric squares but also includes a few stash fabrics. For the backing I used white extra-wide cotton with a rose pattern jacquard-weave, from JoAnn Fabric. Extra-wide means there was no seam on the back. I used Wright’s red quilt binding and polyester thread.

Second quilt is all French General Esprit de Noël fabric squares. The backing is a beige cotton, the thread is also a beige cotton. I machine embroidered a Steampunk Santa motif from Urban Threads on the back. Also used Wright’s quilt binding.

Third French General quilt is a whole cloth lap quilt made from an Esprit de Noël border print. The front and back are the same size panel. The quilting was done in the hoop of the embroidery machine, using a Heart-in-hand motif in the center, and something I have in my file as SWD quilt design. Sorry, I know I should name these files more precisely if I want to document where they came from. The thread is cotton Aurifil, the binding is Wright’s, and the batting is polyester.

I should mention that I used many tips and techniques for these from two quilting classes. One was a class offered at a traveling quilt expo I attended a few years ago, for making Eleanor Burns‘ Tossed Nine-patch quilts. The other was an online class from Craftsy, Free-motion Fillers Vol 1, taught by Leah Day. I learned a lot, but I can see where I made some mistakes, too. So I hope the recipients of the quilts will forgive those shortcomings, and I’ll gain more experience at this and be able to make more fun things out of fabric.

Hope you have a very merry Christmas, or whatever holiday it is you prefer to celebrate! We’re thankful for the freedom we have to be able to worship as we choose.

What (Almost) Every Entomologist Wants for Christmas: A Fire Ant Pen

red fire ant
red fire ant

The red fire ant may have originally been found in the United States in the 1930’s. Since then, it has moved into several US states. This pest has invaded my property and wreaked havoc on my family more than once. My friend Sanford Porter is a researcher and an authority on red fire ants. I decided to try to make a fire ant pen for him. I asked Sanford to give me some background information on these ants before I began the fire ant pen project.

“The fire ant Solenopsis invicta is one of the world’s 100 worst invasive alien species. Fire ants are small reddish brown ants that range from about 1/8 to 1/4 inches in length. Fire ant workers build large earthen mounds which they use as solar collectors.  Workers move the brood up and down in the mound tracking warm temperatures that allow them to grow faster.  Florida pastures contain 20-50 mounds per acre and have an average of 1,500-3,000 fire ant workers per square yard.  Mature colonies can contain >250,000 workers which get very angry if someone steps on their nest.  Young children are especially susceptible to fire ants stings until they learn to recognize the mounds.  A fire ant sting typically hurts for a few minutes leaving a red mark which develops into a white pustule by the next day.  1-2% of people are allergic or sensitive to fire ants stings and they must always be alert for fire ants because they are virtually ubiquitous where ever people live in the southeastern United States.
As is the case for most exotic species, invasive fire ants were introduced without most of their natural enemies known to occur in their native South American range. As a consequence fire ant population densities in the USA are 5-10 times higher than those in South America. Currently, imported fire ants infest over 340 million acres in the USA and cost Americans an estimated 6 billion dollars annually for control and to repair damage to agriculture, households and other economic sectors. Fire ants are serious pests because they: 1) prefer human-modified habitats, 2) are aggressive stinging insects whose venom can cause allergic reactions in people, 3) have huge reproductive potential (like weeds), and 4) can negatively affect a number of native ants and other ground-dwelling animals. However, it is important to note that negative impacts on native ants are not universal and can vary with habitat and the presence of high density polygyne fire ant populations. In the last decade, S. invicta has emerged as a global pest, with new infestations established in Australia, Taiwan, mainland China, Mexico and many Caribbean Island countries.
Fire ants have many natural enemies in South America including pathogens, parasites and predators.  Phorid flies in the genus Pseudacteon are highly specific parasitoids of fire ant workers. They strongly affect fire ant foraging behavior. Maggots of these miniature flies develop in the heads of fire ant workers, decapitating their host upon pupation. Fire ant workers are keenly aware of the presence of phorid flies. A single fly usually stops or greatly inhibits the foraging efforts of hundreds of workers. Reduced foraging facilitates competition from ants that might otherwise be excluded from food sources in fire ant territories. The impacts of decapitating flies in South America is sufficient to have caused the evolution of a number of phorid-specific defense behaviors and these behaviors could only have evolved if Pseudacteon flies impact the production of sexuals. Other studies have shown that decapitating flies potentially vector pathogens and parasitize up to 5% of colony workers. Six species of decapitating flies have been established in the USA on red imported fire ants.”

fire ant decapitating fly
fire ant decapitating fly

Wikipedia reports:

“Red imported fire ants are extremely resilient, and have adapted to contend with both flooding and drought conditions. If the ants sense increased water levels in their nests, they come together and form a ball or raft that floats, with the workers on the outside and the queen inside. Once the ball hits a tree or other stationary object, the ants swarm onto it and wait for the water levels to recede. To contend with drought conditions, their nest structure includes a network of underground foraging tunnels that extends down to the water table. Also, although they do not hibernate during the winter, colonies can survive temperatures as low as 16 °F (−9 °C).”

In addition:

“The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates more than US$5 billion are spent annually on medical treatment, damage, and control in RIFA-infested areas. Further, the ants cause about US$750 million in damage to agricultural assets, including veterinary bills and livestock loss, as well as crop loss.”

All this information (are you suffering from information overload yet?) spiked my interest in this pest. Fire ants have personally produced pustules on my body.

ant bite pustule
pustule from the bite of a red fire ant

When I asked my friend if he could get me some fire ants to cast into a pen for him, he quickly produced approximately 30,000 dead fire ants for me to experiment with. Don’t ask me how he knew there were 30,000 of the little buggers. I think he knows what a typical fire ant weighs and worked it out from there. He dried half the sample and dried and de-fatted the other sample. He thought the de-fatted ants might cast better in the acrylic. These ants are not very big, each 0.08-0.2 inches in size, so the bag of ants he had given me looked a lot like a bag of dirt!

I contacted Zac Higgins at NV Woodwerks to get some advice on how I might cast these into a pen blank. Zac seemed to think that I would have the most success gluing the ants to the brass pen tubes prior to casting. Seemed like a good approach.

I roughed up the two brass tubes in a slim line pen kit using sandpaper and then painted them with black lacquer paint. Then I coated the tubes with thick CA glue and rolled them through a pile of the dried, de-fatted fire ants. I applied additional coats of thin CA glue to try to stabilize the coating of fire ants. The two coated tubes were then installed in a silicone Resin-Saver mold for this type pen blank. Alumilite Parts A and B were weighed out in equal weights (or so I thought), mixed thoroughly and poured into the mold. BUT…I had not weighed out the parts accurately and had more A than B. This resulted in the mixture turning white. I went ahead and turned the blanks on the lathe, hoping that when I got down close to the ant layer all would be well. The resulting pen is shown below.

fire ant pen #1
first fire ant pen from Slimline kit

This shows the making of the pen, from our You-tube channel:

So I decided to try another method. This time I mixed the ants with the resin mix. Painted the brass tubes black and installed the painted tubes in the mold, then poured in the ant-resin mixture. This time the mix was correct and the resin cured as a clear acrylic. I temporarily forgot that these ants float! So that is what a bunch of them did. This resulted in pustules that were sheared off during the turning as you can see in the photo of the finished pen below.

fire ant pen #2
second fire ant pen from Roadster kit

Sanford was happy with both pens, but I want to try again. I will revisit the method of gluing the ants on the tubes with a proper resin mix. More on this later…. After Christmas!!

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 craftsbyjennyskip.com
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 craftsbyjennyskip.com
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.

Statistical Thermodynamics and My Shop

by Skip

I have noticed over the last year that more and more YouTubers are doing shop updates and shop tours. I have been reluctant to do this for several reasons: 1. I don’t see any value in the content (which will be obvious by no. 2) and 2. My shop exists in a very high entropy state.

So what does this mean? You may have heard some engineering nerds like me say “I live a very high entropy existence!” The easiest way to understand this is to look at the statistical thermodynamic definition of entropy**, which says in a nut shell that as disorder increases so does entropy. I could give you the Boltzmann’s equation at this point, but take my word for it, there is a relationship between the probability of finding something in my shop to the disorder of things in my shop. Zero entropy might mean that everything in my shop was neatly organized and the probability of finding a tool was 1. The Boltzmann equation would take the natural log of 1 and get zero. As my shop maximizes its entropy, the entropy increases…..a natural tendency of all things in the world. So my shop is just following the natural progression of all processes in the world! So no matter how hard I work at organizing my shop, entropy rules and drags me back to disorder, so why fight it?

Organizing takes time and at my age, time is valuable. But being organized up front, saves time in accomplishing projects. So to solve this problem, I invite my grandchildren over every other Saturday to help organize. This presents new problems, however. In the Universe of my shop there is limited space, so as we organize one solar system of the Universe, striving to slow down the increasing entropy, we end up maximizing the entropy of other solar systems in my shop Universe. So sometimes to help stabilize my Shop Universe, we resort to taking some items, close our eyes, and throw them in that black hole hovering outside the shop, the garbage can, thus increasing the entropy of the land fill. Or I give some of my older, more out-of-date tools to friends and relatives, thus increasing the entropy of their shops.

There are cases when somehow a battery charger in my universe disappears into the asteroid belt of dust bunnies under the work benches and I have to buy a replacement, only to return to the shop and find the other one in plain view, on a pile of turning tools.

One positive thing about your shop universe undergoing expanding entropy: the untrained observers (relatives) think you are up to your asteroids in projects!

craftsbyjennyskip.com calculator
Skip’s office calculator for big engineering projects

** note from jenny: For non-engineering nerds like me, you might want to google the definition of entropy. To get a clearer picture of Skip’s shop, look at definition #2, LOL.

Pick Your Passion: Quilting, Bluegrass, or Armchair Quarterbacking

quilt festival
“Black & White & Cats Galore” quilt on display at the festival

Offering some recognition (!) to the quilters and musicians who put on the local Quilt and Bluegrass Show at Thornebrook. What a pleasure to walk the park, shop, and look at 75 or so gorgeous examples of fabric and thread art.

Thornebrook quilt show craftsbyjennyskip.com
Thornebrook setting for quilt display
quilt festival
quilt on display at Thornebrook

Thanks to the Tree City Quilt Guild, A-1 Sewing, all the vendors, and the musicians. Patchwork was the ensemble performing while I was there. I love to listen to beautiful, pure folk singing with string accompaniment. Sublime!

Patchwork bluegrass
Patchwork singing bluegrass in the pavilion

Here’s another cat quilt featuring redwork embroidery.

redwork cats quilt
cats in redwork
Pam McIntyre quilt at 2015 festival
this one is by Pam McIntyre
thread art at Thornebrook 2015
gorgeous thread art mini-quilts
 Pele art quilt Thornebrook 2015
Goddess Pele art quilt at Thornebrook
Pele description
artist’s description

The festivities were slated to run until 5 pm or until it rains, so looks like the rain won out. Meanwhile, in another part of town, in the pouring rain, the Mighty Gators barely squeaked by with a win against unranked Florida Atlantic, in overtime. Unbelievable! Amazing day: pick your passion and run with it!

Using current technology to create 19th Century crafts