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 History.com 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The History.com website has the story of “Stingy Jack” and many other great current and historical content related to Halloween including a video by a master pumpkin carver.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 craftsbyjennyskip.com
tray puzzle ready to put together
wooden puzzle Hallowood 15 Challenge craftsbyjennyskip.com
painted puzzle

Lathe Safety

Some Thoughts on Wood Lathe Safety
After watching Sam’s video at Wyoming Wood Turner on lathe safety and watching Martin’s Turner’s Journey sharing of his recent accident, I decided to put out a copy of a report my undergraduate students produced on face shields. My interest developed after reading of a horrible accident in the AAW journal that a woodturner experienced even though she was wearing a face shield. The students came to my house, took a few lessons on wood turning and tried out some of the face shields I use. They then set out to study this further. What follows is their report. I edited out the equations because of the problems in translating the original PDF file into the blog. If anyone wants a copy of the complete PDF, please send me your email address.

I would welcome your comments on this study and will pass your comments on to the students. Of course there is a lot more to lathe safety besides the size and speed of the turning but maybe this will inspire turners to look for other means of protection or encourage manufacturers of face shields for wood turners to come up with new designs. Regardless of the type face shield we wear, there is no substitution for common sense. Stay out of the line of fire when possible. Turn under those cages that are sometimes provided with lathes in lieu of using them for tool racks. Use the best practice in mounting your blank to the lathe. Inspect your blank carefully for defects. Use your ears. If it doesn’t sound right, it may be wrong. Stop your lathe often and check for potential failures. Don’t wear rings or long sleeve shirts. I guess the list could go on and on.



The process of shaping wood on a lathe, “turning”, involves applying significant forces by hand to material often of irregular surface profile and cross-section rotating at high velocity, and as such, precautions against accidents must be taken to avoid serious injury. In addition to wood shavings and debris common to all wood turning projects, imperfections throughout the wood can cause hand tools to shift unexpectedly and cause failure within the workpiece, presenting a risk for injury to the operator.

Faults within the wood including grooves, burrs, and rotted sections can cause a hand tool to break off significant segments from the material, and improper mounting of the workpiece on the machine can cause the workpiece to release from the chuck and collide with the operator. Even with the use of a guard or shield which can be fixed to the base of the lathe, there is a danger of large wood fragments being thrown from the lathe toward the lathe operator, and it is at the discretion of the operator what the degree of protection is required for a project.

Lathe operators typically wear eye or face protection while working on a piece to protect from reduced visibility and injury from airborne detritus. The aim of this report is to detail the results of a study of the ability of a commercially available face shield to absorb the impact energy from wood of various species and sizes at different spindle rotational velocities in the scenario of turning a bowl blank. This study was conducted in response to videos on the internet in which experienced woodworkers were wearing the recommended safety equipment but were still injured when struck by a sizeable fragment. Fragments from a workpiece can be propelled with sufficient energy to cause bruising, concussion, and even fatal damage to the head, even when the operator is wearing head protection which meets nationally-accepted safety standards.

It is posited that the majority of face shields available commercially are not adequately designed to absorb the energy of impact of a larger projectile. The ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standards which must be met by commercially available polycarbonate face shields state that the shield must be able to absorb 0.84 J of impact energy, while a “high-impact” shield must absorb 4.41 J [2]. The ANSI standard is documented in ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2010 [10]. An experiment was devised to simulate the impact of a projectile from a wood lathe failure and determine the adequacy of the shield to absorb the impact, and further theoretical study was conducted to estimate the effectiveness of commercially-available face protection against wood lathe failures which could not be replicated in the previous experiment.


When researching the different types of face shields available for woodworking it was determined that there is two basic styles. The first involves just a headband that holds a plastic shield that covers the wearer’s face. The second, more common, shield combines a helmet and face shield, or provides some rigid structure or protection for the wearer’s forehead or around the sides of the plastic . This second style also comes with the option for a pressurized respirator to keep the wearer cool while working [5]. Examples of both types of face shields are shown in Figure 1.

face shields craftsbyjennyskip.com
face shields

Fig. 1: Examples of both basic types of face shields used in woodworking [11] [12].

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) provides a rating scale for each face shield. Under ANSI ratings, there are two protection levels; the lower level or basic impact, which must be achieved by all face shields sold commercially, tests the strength of the shield by dropping a 1 in diameter steel ball weighing 68 g from 50 inches onto the shield at the point which corresponds approximately to either of the wearer’s eyes [10]. These hold an ANSI rating of Z87, which means the shield can withstand 0.87 Joules of energy during an impact.

The upper level or high impact rating utilizes a high velocity test where a ¼ inch-diameter steel ball bearing weighing 1.06 g is shot at 300 ft/s towards the face shield. An example of the recommended apparatus for consistently reproducing the high velocity test is shown in Figure 2. The Z87.1-2010 standard specifies that the 300 ft/s speed must be achieved no further than 25 cm from the point of impact. A high mass test is also used for rating for Z87+, in which a 500 g pointed projectile, the geometry of which is shown in Figure 3, is dropped from a height of 50 inches. If the face shield does not dent, crack, or displace from the frame, it earns the Z87+ rating [10].

craftsbyjennyskip.com recommended apparatus
recommended apparatus

Fig 2: The recommended apparatus for the high velocity impact test.

geometry craftsbyjennyskip.com
geometry of the high-mass impact missile

Fig. 3: The geometry of the high-mass test impact missile [10].

Corroborating the kinetic energy calculations for both the high mass and high velocity tests with other sources, it is known that shields that can withstand an impact of at least 4.41 Joules of energy hold an ANSI rating of Z87+, and must pass both the high velocity and high impact tests. However, it should be noted that the powered respirators may carry the Z87+ rating but can have a thinner piece of plastic than most face shields [1].

Further investigation into the background of the Z87.1 standard revealed that the parameters set by ANSI/ISEA to establish the safety ratings are largely arbitrary and that the organization itself is self-regulating, so examination is needed to ascertain whether a safety rating for “high impact” has any practical meaning for wood turners.


The initial approach to this experiment was to build a pendulum that would generate the same angular momentum as a that of the rotating pieces of wood that could possibly break off while woodworking on a lathe. Three different wood types were chosen with four different diameter/length combinations to create cylinders, or dowels, which would form the impact head of the pendulum. The maximum angular momentums (tables seen below) were then calculated for those twelve combinations. The results of the calculations for each wood species/diameter/length/spindle speed combination are shown in Tables 1-3.

table 1 craftsbyjennyskip,.com
table 1
table 2 craftsbyjennyskip.com
table 2
table 3 craftsbyjennyskip.com
table 3

Upon further research, it was determined that using a pendulum would not sufficiently translate the energy generated from the pieces of wood into the face shield. The pendulum could not store enough energy to deliver the impact force at the desired magnitude, so an alternate experimental setup was devised. Rather than creating separate pendulums with different impact heads, an air cannon could be constructed using an air compressor, a butterfly valve, and a length of Schedule 40 steel pipe. Pressure from the compressed air is released when the valve is opened, pushing the projectile, a wooden dowel, down and out the length of the barrel.

Initially, a similar approach to the pendulum-based experiment was taken for dowel geometry relating to mass: each dowel would be the same length, and the radius of each dowel would be scaled from 0.5” to 2” in steps of 0.5”. The airflow would be restricted for the smaller sized dowels using an O-ring or rubber stopper. Initial mass and calculations were conducted with these parameters in mind . However, it was determined to be more efficient to have dowels of the same diameter to minimize pressure loss down the length of the barrel, so the dowels would be scaled by length to achieve the same mass as their diameter-based counterparts with a 2” diameter.

table 4 craftsbyjennyskip.com
table 4

The revised experiment utilized a compressed air cannon launching wooden dowels at a target, measuring the exit velocity of the dowel from the cannon and calculating the force of impact. The equation to calculate the cannon exit velocity was derived by researchers from Wabash College assuming adiabatic expansion to obtain the following, where m is the mass, Po is the initial pressure at the valve, Vo is the volume of the cannon reservoir, A is the cross-sectional area of the barrel cavity, L is the length of the barrel, Patm is atmospheric pressure, gamma = 1.4 for air, f and is the friction factor [9]:

Exit velocity =

exit velocity equation craftsbyjennyskip.com
exit velocity

Because each dowel had the same diameter, only one cannon needed to be constructed to accommodate all of the different dowel lengths, so all of the parameters listed above are the same for the exit velocity calculation except for the mass of the dowel. Equation (4) was used to determine the size of a piece of wood needed to generate 4 Joules of energy at the instant of exit from the barrel. Only wooden dowels were considered for these calculations and ultimately tested.

The final set up for the air cannon used an air compressor with a 100 psig capacity connected to a 2 ft length of pipe with a 1 ¼” diameter. Several adapters were applied in series to allow the ¼” fitting of the air compressor hose to connect to the 1 ¼” pipe. To measure the velocity of the projectile, the cannon was set at a 45 degree angle from the ground on a ramp approximately three feet from the ground and secured as shown in the picture below. At this angle, an equation can be used to approximate the velocity of the projectile, where Vo is the exit velocity, d is the horizontal distance traveled by the dowel while airborne, and g is acceleration due to gravity.

dowels craftsbyjennyskip.com

Fig. 4: The unweighted 1 oz dowel (left) and the same dowel with the 2 oz weight added (right).

testing config craftsbyjennyskip.com
testing set up

Fig. 5: The testing setup configuration for the air cannon during data collection.

The same dowel was fired from the cannon several times for data collection. The first tests utilized an oak dowel weighing one ounce, but due to the lightness of the dowel and the clearance between the dowel and the walls of the cannon, too much pressure was lost along the length of the cannon, and the exit velocity was considerably less than predicted as a result. The next series of tests used a 1 oz dowel with a 2 oz metal bolt inserted along the length of the dowel. The same 3 oz projectile was fired from the cannon five times, and each distance was recorded.


When testing the 1 oz. dowel, the average distance when shot at 45 degrees was 37 feet. Plugging those variables into the energy equation, we determined the 1 oz. dowel generated 1 Joule of energy. The 3 oz. dowel was then loaded into the air cannon and again shot at 45 degrees, the average distance was 47 feet and generated roughly 4 joules of energy.

To get a better understanding of what that 4 J of energy translates to, the air cannon was laid flat on the table and the 3 oz. dowel was shot at a sheet of cardboard that was held roughly 18 inches away. The picture below shows the results of that test. It should be noted that the hole in the center of the impact was due to the metal weight that was inserted into the center of the dowel to increase its mass, however the indented ring around that center hole was caused by the impact of the dowel.

damage craftsbyjennyskip.com

Fig. 6: A photograph of the damage dealt to the cardboard sheet by the dowel. The dented, unpunctured section highlighted by the arrow is the impact of the dowel itself.

After reviewing the results of the experiment, it became known that there were scenarios within the scope of the study for which even faceshields rated for Z87+ impact would not adequately absorb the energy from an impact. Rather than replicate these impacts with further tests from the air cannon, a theoretical study was conducted to determine maximum safe conditions for turning operations in a variety of circumstances. Because the high velocity impact test described earlier is conducted with a horizontally-moving projectile, the impact energy is equated to the kinetic energy of the projectile. The impact energy is calculated at five rotational velocities for three species of wood and three blank diameters from which failures can eject. The volume of the projectiles being evaluated are rough approximations of the volumes of the two-inch diameter dowels used in the air cannon experiment which are detailed in Table 4.

The table cells colored blue in Tables 5-13 are those containing impact energy values for which a basic-level rated shield is sufficiently safe, those colored green are safe for Z87+ rated shields, and the red cells denote scenarios for which there is a risk for injury even when wearing a “high impact” face shield. The bottom row of each table contains the calculated RPM value for which it is safe to turn a workpiece on a lathe to be completely protected from the force of impact by a projectile of the specified volume. To provide some illustration of the volumetric dimensions, a cube of volume 2.5 in3 would have an edge length of approximately 1.35 inches, a 10 in3 cube has edge length of about 2.15 in (about 1.5x the size of the 2.5 in3 cube), a 20 in3 cube has edge length 2.71 in (2x the size of the 2.5 in3 cube), and a 40 in3 cube has edge length 3.42 in (2.5x the size of the 2.5 in3 cube).

table 5 craftsbyjennyskip.com
table 5
table 6 craftsbyjennyskip.com
table 6
table 7
table 8 craftsbyjennyskip.com
table 8
table 9 craftsbyjennyskip.com
table 9
table 10
table 11
table 12
table 13

The results of this study show that shields rated to only basic Z87 impact standards protect against wood lathe failures of small size and should be used only when turning at low spindle speeds. Shields rated to Z87+ will protect against impact from some larger failures at higher spindle speeds, but the range of safety coverage is still greater at low speeds for all woods. It is uncommon for wood turning operations occurring at spindle speeds like 2500 RPM to be much more than surface finishing, so the likelihood of encountering dangerous failures at such speeds is low as long as good woodworking discipline and general common sense are employed when working at the lathe. It can be seen from the tables that even a Z87+ shield will not protect the wearer from injury against especially large failure impacts.

With this information in hand, it is desirable to develop a face shield which will guarantee the safety of the wearer. Improvements can be made to current designs to increase the suitability of commercial face shields to withstand impact forces such as those delivered by the previously described wood lathe failures. For example, adding thickness to the polycarbonate shield itself will increase the rigidity of the shield, preventing it from deforming under the pressure of the impact. A riot helmet containing a face shield is subject to a separate safety standard set by the National Institute of Justice. In their standard NIJ-0104.02, the criteria for face shield impact testing is similar in process to that of ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2010, but the impactor used to verify that the shield meets the standard is a 45-mm diameter cylinder with a weight of 1 kg being dropped from a height of 80 cm [13]. This would suggest that the shield on a riot helmet must be able to absorb approximately 7.85 J of energy. Using this value in accordance with Tables 5-13 shows a significant increase in the range of the conditions deemed safe or minimally hazardous for lathe failure impacts. The thickness of riot helmet face shields is on average about 3/16”, while the polycarbonate on the face shields tested in the experiment ranged from 0.1-0.15 inches [14].

An alternative solution to increasing the ability of the face shield to protect the wearer is to incorporate existing methods of head and face protection used in other types of helmets, particularly those used in contact sports. Football and hockey helmets contain a lattice of thick wire bars which are used to distribute the force from impacts from objects such as hockey pucks, which are of approximately the same dimensions as some of the lathe failures analyzed in this report, which would be equally effective, if properly arranged, in protecting against impacts encountered in wood turning. These can be secured to the polycarbonate face shield to prevent the full contact area of the projectile from impacting the shield itself, and the remaining energy can be absorbed by the shield without significantly reducing the wearer’s field of vision. This would also reduce the risk of large wood projectiles denting or cracking the shield.

Sports helmets also include padding in the helmet itself so that when impact forces are encountered, the rigid plastic does not transfer the full force of the impact to the wearer’s head. Similar cushioning can be implemented into wood turning-appropriate face shields, particularly the forehead and potentially the chin, to mitigate the effects of a collision with a lathe failure projectile.


In this study, the ability of a face shield which was deemed able to protect its wearer from injury when impacted was tested against actual workpiece failure scenarios for wood turning operations on a lathe. Tests were conducted using an air cannon to determine the impact force of a wood projectile delivered to a shield and to set a basis for further theoretical analysis to better define the boundaries of safe operation for real-world wood lathe use. It was discovered that the application of the “Z87+” label to rated shields does not necessarily protect the wearer from highmass and/or high-velocity impacts, and data was tabulated to provide a clearer picture to wood turners to what degree they are protected by their headgear. Face shields rated for basic impact were found to be almost entirely inadequate for protection against all but the lowest-intensity evaluated conditions, and even those rated for higher impact did not cover the majority of scenarios. Further expansion of this study should include an analysis of how the energy calculations translate to degree of danger posed by the impacts to the health of the wearer at each condition, particularly which scenarios can prove excessively harmful or fatal, even when proper head protection is in use.


[1] A. Chen, “Are You Wearing the Right Faceshield, American Woodturner”, vol. 25:2, pp.
14, April 2013.
[2] A. Jackson, D. Day and S. Jennings, The Complete Manual of Woodworking, 13th ed., NY, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 2012.
[3] A. Rao, Dynamics of Particles and Rigid Bodies: A Systematic Approach, 2nd ed., Cambridge U.K., Cambridge University Press, April 2011.
[4] H. Carpenter, “Safety for Woodturners: On the Edge of Disaster, American Woodturner”, vol. 27:4, 2013, pp.16.
[5] J. English, “Wood Dust Solutions, American Woodturner”, vol. 25:2, pp. 20, April 2010.
[6] R.G. Chandavale and T. Dutta, “Correction of Charpy Impact Values for Kinetic Energy of Test Specimen” in Pendulum Impact Machines: Procedures and Specimens for Verification, T.A.
Siewert and A.K. Schmider Eds., Philadelphia PA, American Society for Testing and Materials, 1995, pp. 221-231.
[7] Time-Life Books, The Art of Woodworking: Woodturning, Alexandria VA, St. Remy Press, 1994.
[8] W.H. Wagner and C.E. Kicklighter, Modern Woodworking: Tools, Materials, and Processes, 6th ed., South Holland IL, The Goodheart-Wilcox Company Inc., 1986.
[9] Z.J. Rohrbach, T.R. Buresh, M.J. Madsen, ” Modeling the exit velocity of a compressed air cannon,” Am. J. Phys., vol. 80, no. 1, pp. 24-26, January 2012.
[10] International Safety Equipment Association, “American National Standard for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection Devices ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2010,” International Safety Equipment Association, Arlington, 2010.
[11] “Adjustable Face Shield,” Harbor Freight Tools, [Online]. Available: http://www.harborfreight.com/adjustable-face-shield-46526.html.
[12] “Face-shield high temperature,” Direct Industry, [Online]. Available: http://www.directindustry.com/prod/jsp/face-shield-high-temperature-15890-591308.html. [13] U.S. Department of Justice National Institute of Justice, “NIJ Standard for Riot Helmets and
Face Shields,” October 1984. [Online]. Available: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/097212.pdf. [14] “Riot Face Shield,” Gentex, [Online]. Available: http://www.gentexcorp.com/shopaviationhelmets/ground-accessories/eye-face-protection/faceshields/riot-face-shield.

Do not use any information in these posts without permission.

Modern Hemming

I always thought that blind-hemming was the only hemming that was acceptable for clothes that would be worn out in public. Blind-hemming, to me, was done by hand. Imagine my surprise, and skepticism, when I found out blind-hemming can be done on a sewing machine! Some machines have a designated blind-hem stitch, some have attachments for blind-hemming.

Sewing machines became popular in the 19th Century, but lots of sewing was still done by hand. Hand-sewing is rather an art, wouldn’t you say? I love beautiful hand-embroidery, trapunto, appliqué, quilting. Those fancy stitches make plain old blind-hemming look like a country cousin. We are a couple that is also fascinated by what machines can do. So I decided to give blind-hemming on the sewing machine a try. As luck would have it, Skip had 4 or 5 new pairs of pants that mysteriously came in with no hems at all, and each pant leg was about 5 inches too long.

pants to hem craftsbyjennyskip.com

The first step was to get Skip to try them on and say where he wanted the length to be terminated. About a year and a half later, we were ready to go to Step 2: measuring the inseam.

pants inseam
measuring the inseam

Next, cut off the excess. You have to leave some length to make a cuff or turn under. I think a pants hem should be about 3/4 inch to 1 inch. My grandmother taught me that the 2nd joint of my index finger is about an inch long, so I can eyeball that distance as a rough measure.

cutting off excess
yikes, the cut-off. It’s a little scary.

What if I cut it off too short? Oops, I have done that before! To be safer, wash and dry the pants before hemming (if the label says you can do so; don’t wash them if it says: “dry clean only”), and make the inseam a little longer than you think it should be.

pants hem
fold up a hem, fold it up twice, and press

To sew the blind-hem by machine, you take the folded-over-twice hem and fold the outermost fold back in. My machine has a blind-hem foot and a blind-hem stitch that does about 4 straight stitches, then a side stitch, which is the blind-tack. If I were sewing the blind-hem stitch by hand, I would knot the thread, push the needle through the folded hem edge, then attach the thread to the pants with a tiny little stitch that can be barely seen from the outside of the pants, then grab a big stitch from the folded edge of the hem, and again, attach the thread to the pants with a tiny little stitch, grabbing only a thread’s breadth of the pants fabric with the needle.

blind hem foot
sewing machine’s blind-hem foot
Husqvarna Viking Diamond blind-hem setting
machine set up for blind-hemming
blind hemming by machine
Placement on throat plate for sewing the blind-hem

Sometimes people like to forget the pressing. But pressing is important; it makes the difference between shabby and sharp.

unpressed pants hem
These are the hemmed pants before pressing
pants hem
pressed pants hem

If you click on the last photo, and zoom up, you’ll be able to see the blind-tack stitches. They are more noticeable than if sewn by hand, but they look ok. They look good enough.

Birdhouse Build

The recent Summers Woodworking Birdhouse Challenge encouraged me to get into the shop and resurrect my birdhouse plans. Although I didn’t create a fancy birdhouse and I didn’t finish it in time to enter the contest, I enjoy making bird houses.

Some 10 years ago I had the honor to coach a scout for his Eagle project.  It was hard to contain my excitement when the scout asked if he could do a woodworking project. Another member of our scout group suggested that we build birdhouses and contact a local Audubon Society member to get guidance and to be the project sponsor.  The project developed from that point on, and soon a group of young men, young women and several adults began the construction of 150 kestrel nesting boxes. The kestrels were struggling in Florida at that time due to destruction of their habitat by fires. At the completion of the project, many of the youth were able to see the boxes they made mounted some 30 to 40 feet above the ground on power poles. The following year, the sponsor reported that many of the boxes had been used by nesting kestrels and that the project had been a major success.  A year or so later, we found ourselves working on another project for our sponsor: blue bird boxes.

Currently, we’ve decided to build a blue bird box for a blog project. I hope the information we share here will encourage woodworkers to seek out their area’s local needs for bird nesting boxes, and will participate when possible.

On the Cranmer Earth Design Information website you can find an interesting history of birdhouses.  The use of man-made birdhouses goes back as far as the 15th century. Materials used for birdhouses ranged from baskets to bark to pottery.  When English immigrants reached the eastern coast in the 18th century they found that Native Americans were making bird houses out of birch bark.  The Native Americans saw a need to bring birds to their area, and recognized that birdhouses could help accomplish this goal.  Europeans built birdhouses to collect eggs or trap birds. Early American settlers wanted to attract birds for insect control.

So why do we build birdhouses today? Birdhouses can help offset habitat destruction by either natural or man-made means. It’s interesting to note that we build birdhouses for birds who do not naturally build freely supported nests in trees or structures, but look for cavities to nest in.

The birdhouse construction for our blog project follows the recommendation of the Audubon sponsor we used on earlier projects. It also follows fairly closely the recommendations outlined in the website www.nabluebirdsociety.com .  This website provides the dimensions used in this project, specifically the size recommended for an Eastern blue bird.

blue bird house plan www.nabluebirdsociety.com
Blue bird house plan from www.nabluebirdsociety.com

The hole size and location accommodates the habit of the blue bird to fly directly into the birdhouse.  There is no perch, because one is not needed, and a perch would provide predators a platform for entering the birdhouse. The wood used is untreated cedar (treated lumber should never be used).  It was also our impression that, for at least these bird types, the house should not be painted. One side of the box is hinged, to open for periodic cleaning. 

hinged bird house
hinged side, to open for cleaning

In many cases other animals may use the box when the birds are not nesting and their nesting material needs to be removed.  A removable nail is used to lock this side in a closed position. This side is also designed to leave a gap just under the roof’s edge for ventilation.

bird house craftsbyjennyskip.com
sides have gap for ventilation

Another side is also cut to assist ventilation.  The floor of the box is notched for drainage, and slightly elevated from the sides of the box to help keep the interior dry.

birdhouse floor craftsbyjennyskip.com
Notches in the floor for drainage

It is also recommended that a ¼ inch groove be cut underneath the three exposed edges of the roof to prevent rainwater runoff from following the edge of the roof and curling back on the nesting box walls.  The diagrams do not show it here, but it is also a good idea to cut a series of grooves on the inside face of the front side of the box. This is better illustrated in the construction photographs.  The grooves provide a “toe hold” for the bird fledglings to climb out of the box.

birdhouse toe holds
grooves serve as “toe holds”

When the nesting box is completed, it can be mounted on a pole or fence post four feet above the ground, in an open area.  The website above gives specific positioning guidance for various types of bird houses.  Our Audubon consultant suggested mounting the blue bird boxes on a post in a location with bushes about 10 feet in front of the box. This provides an opportunity for the fledglings to practice flying back and forth from the bushes to the box.

blue bird house www.nabluebirdsociety.com
blue bird box sketch from www.nabluebirdsociety.com

It isn’t always easy to insure that the location you pick will be free from predators such as cats, snakes or raccoons.  The website above provides some guidelines for adding structures to the birdhouse or support to protect against predators.

For our project, we selected cedar as the construction material, specifically nominal 1×6 cedar planks.  A four foot length will provide enough wood to make all but the roof.  A 1×10 board is needed for the roof, but if you are only going to make one birdhouse, you can purchase some extra 1×6 and glue up a panel for the roof. This is what we did, since we had extra 1×6 boards and no 1×10’s. We used Titebond 3 glue since this joint would be exposed to the weather.

You’ll find that for some other box types, the back board for the box not only extends below the bottom of the box but also above the roof.  This expedites attaching the box to a pole or other structure.  This was the case for the kestrel boxes we built.  In the case of the kestrel boxes, the roof butts up against the back board, leaving a seam where water could leak in. To prevent this, a sealant was run along this seam.

The construction of the box calls for galvanized nails. We found during the assembly of the 100 plus birdhouses that it was quicker to apply Titebond 3 glue to the joints and then use a pneumatic crown stapler to hold the joints together while the glue dried. This method seemed to hold up as well as using galvanized nails. The main reason we chose the method we did, was because we had several young people doing the construction and driving galvanized nails into the cedar with a hammer proved to be a challenge, unless we predrilled the holes.  The cedar was very prone to splintering.

Here’s a little you-tube of the nesting blue bird box build:

The cedar boards from the big box stores could be easily cut to size with a chop saw.  It would be recommended to use some kind of jig to nip the corners off the floor piece, to keep your hands well away from the chop saw blade. The hole for the entrance was drilled with a Forstner bit. A jig was also used to cut the grooves on the back side of the front wall. The depth of cut was set on the chop saw to 1/8 inch, and the board was fed by hand as the chop saw was repeatedly lowered onto the board.

If you’d like to provide some housing for our feathered friends, get into your shop and chop some wood! And as always, focus on what you are doing, and be safe!

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

puzzle craftsbyjennyskip.com
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!!

craftsbyjennyskip.com parrot puzzle
parrot puzzle (with Grayzie the cat in background)


One last post for Selfish Sewing Week

Funny how one must proclaim it a special “selfish” holiday in order to justify making something for oneself…

I like making things for others but…

1) I don’t have a lot of confidence about my talents and abilities, and

2) It’s risky to spend a lot of time and money on something that the other person might not like or appreciate.

However, if I make something for myself,

1) If it looks crummy or I just don’t like it, my feelings aren’t hurt, and

2) I don’t worry about sending my gift off to Goodwill or the Island of Unloved Toys, Etc.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I did cut out an additional top: finished, and ok, but nothing spectacular. And I had cut out some pieces for a purse, tote, whatever you want to call it.

This item I made from scratch. No pattern, just knew sort of what I wanted it to look like, and went from there.

The body is an old denim remnant I got anciently at a yard sale.

purse making jenny skip.com
assembling the various parts and pieces

The liner is Willow Bend Bandana from the Alexander Henry Fabrics Collection c 2006 (ahem, yes, it has been in the stash that long).

bandana fabric craftsbyjennyskip.com
Willow Bend fabric for liner

The knit portion on the outside is half Picasso’s Moon art yarn and half red Mei Mei Bamboo in a circular stockinette.

denim and knitted tote craftsbyjennyskip.com
finished tote

The straps are from Cindy’s Button Company. I found a 1/2 yard remnant of Pellon Flexible Foam Stabilizer in the interfacing stash that was just the right dimensions to line the body, and used some plastic needlepoint canvas to line the bottom and top rim.

plastic needlepoint canvas as stabilizer
stabilizing the bottom

A small red zipper showed up in the zipper stash, and a packet of red bias binding provided the edging for an inner purse pocket and 4 loops to attach the leather straps.

purse lining craftsbyjennyskip
lining has a zipper pocket and a bound-edge pocket
tote bag bottom view craftsbyjennyskip.com
bottoms-up view

Had this idea in my head for years, but it took a designated Selfish Sewing Week to bring it into the real world. Thank you Rachael at imagine gnats for your inspiration!

Selfish Sewing

Um, yes…I do recall posting late last week that Selfish Sewing Week was coming up…now it’s almost over and I still haven’t done any sewing for myself. Pretty lame!

In my defense, I have been planning some projects…but haven’t carried out those plans to fruition yet (as of Thursday morning). We’ll have to remedy that.

Here’s what I planned:

1) Camel Ponte Roma & microsuede skirt

2) rayon blouse to match

3) black & gold boucle knit sweater

4) white embroidered cotton shirt

5) brown stretch jacquard lace skirt

6) white crushed voile top lined with white Posh polyester

7) denim & knitted art yarn purse with red leather handles

8) either a skirt or top in a leopard print

9) something out of that teal and gold plaid-printed jersey

10) rayon slip-dress

Have you stopped laughing yet? Looks like a tall order!

sketches craftsbyjenny skip.com
sketching the plan

But since I wrote down this list yesterday morning, I’ve already made the first two items and cut out the fabric for 2 other items. Each little project is economical in that I used fabric remnants. Sometimes it’s a challenge to come up with something wearable from a piece of fabric that is less than a yard.

#1: Camel Ponte Roma/microsuede skirt. The pattern for this is one I made, using an old skirt I bought at Beall’s Outlet, and tracing around it. I found two remnant bundles at JoAnn’s that were the same color: Camel, Cornstalk, or beige. Ponte Roma is always awesome, and to pair it with a faux Suede, seems timely!

#2: Rayon 1-yard top. This pattern was a freebie from Runway Sewing; I scoped it out on Pinterest. I didn’t have any 1/4″ bias binding around to apply to the neckline, so I used some 1/2″, and I didn’t like it all that much. And the neckline itself was way too big, resulting in a very sloppy look. I took a great big tuck in the front, making it look a bit like the Colette Sorbetto top, also a freebie pattern. You might wonder, “Why didn’t she just use the Sorbetto then?” The sleeveless Sorbetto is a little skimpy for me. I like my shoulders to be covered.

skirt & top jenny skip
Selfish Sewing Week skirt & top

So I wasn’t a total no-show for Selfish Sewing Week. I’ll be relieved to get back to non-apparel sewing, though.

a Wooden Root Beer Tote

As we experiment with 21st century technology, we find that unless we put a lot of our 50-year plus brain cells to work, this new technology will often move us backward, in lieu of forward, with our craft. In keeping with our blog’s theme, we decided to take a 19th century brew and apply a 21st century twist to it.

We love root beer. One of our children really loves root beer (at one time he actually placed 99 bottles of root beer on a ledge in our kitchen). Another son spent 2 years in the UK, where there’s not much root beer for sale. We bought some 2-liter plastic bottles of Mug Root Beer from Wal-Mart and spent about 10 times the price of the soda to ship it over to him. While my wife set out to explore the history of our favorite root beer, IBC root beer, I set out to construct a beer-of-the-root tote.

Many of my favorite You Tube woodworkers have designed and produced beer totes on their channels. Not being a beer drinker, in the purist sense, I’m not sure why you really need a beer tote. From what I have seen, beer bottles usually come from the store in a nice cardboard tote. In fact, even our IBC root beer comes in a nice cardboard tote. But I digress… on to the application of 21st technology to construct a wooden root beer tote.

As luck would have it, I found a CNC model of a beer tote on the Vectic web site. The model was complete and provided the g-code to run our Shark 3.0HD CNC machine. The model called for a 24-inch x 24-inch board, in my case a piece of 0.45 inch thick Baltic plywood. I anchored the board to a sacrificial board on the CNC machine, loaded the g-code and pressed go.

Shark CNC making beer tote jenny skip
ready to be cut out

As a side note, I did check out the tool paths to make sure I had the correct router bit installed, a ¼-inch end mill, and that I had the right cutting depth set for the plywood used. When the CNC machine had done its job, I separated the pieces and performed a dry fit.

beer tote parts cut out by CNC
parts and pieces cut out

This is where my lack of close attention to details caught up with me. First, I had somehow neglected to include the cutouts for the wedges that were designed to hold the tote together. This problem could be overcome with some strategically placed glue. So after a dry fit , I added a little glue, sanded the tote and applied a coat of white primer in preparation for my wife’s 19th century enhancements.

parts of beer tote
parts prepped for assembly

However (the eraser word) another synapse short-circuit became apparent when I tested the fit of the IBC root beer bottles. They didn’t fit!!! Evidently they are larger in diameter than an average beer bottle. After some serious hammer applications and some significant trial and error with the oscillating spindle sander, the bottles fit. The tote was reassembled and a coat of red, white and blue paint was applied. My wife added the finishing touches.

CVC root beer tote jenny skip
the tote

Root beer was popular in 19th Century North America. A tourist back then could find root beer throughout the country, but it wouldn’t necessarily be the same drink from town to town. The root used to make the concoction might be sarsaparilla, burdock, dandelion, or sassafras (real sassafras roots and bark were banned by the FDA in 1960 so now artificial sassafras flavoring is used). A foaming agent could be added, along with spices such as hops, anise, ginger, or many other choices or combinations (see Wikipedia’s article for the whole story).

We remember having homemade root beer at Halloween parties in the days of our youth, made memorable with the addition of dry ice, so it looked like a smoky, spooky potion! If you’re feeling adventurous, you might want to try Dr. Fankhouser’s Homemade Root Beer tutorial. It’s powerful stuff, so take care!

Root beer? Check. Root beer tote? Check. Now we have to figure out where to tote the root beer.

It’s Fall, Y’all

So we’ve been thinking about Fall home decor and Halloween hi-jinks. If you want to see some fascinating history about how modern-day Halloween celebrations have evolved since medieval times, check out this History Channel page.

Meanwhile, one of our two cats, Grayzie, had to go back to the Vet Specialist to get a second radiation treatment to burn out his thyroid, because apparently the first treatment didn’t work. Like before, he went and stayed at the vet hospital for about 5 days, until his radioactivity levels lowered enough for us to take him home. When he got home, the other cat, Pauly, hissed at him and treated him like–well, like a dog. Like he was a total stranger. We worked with them on that, rubbed Pauly, then Grayzie, down with a pair of dad’s dirty old socks (which they love to snog) and got that hissing back down to a minimum. But for a joke, we found this prop at the hardware store and put it out for Pauly, to see how she reacted.

cat skeleton jennyskip
“Grayzie, is that you?”

We had a lot of laughs with this photo; if you can come up with a funny caption you’d like to submit, please leave a comment!

Using current technology to create 19th Century crafts