Sunday, February 28, 2010

More from the Soup Kitchen

Local forecasters are seeing weather models as high as 60ยบ in a week or so, and bulbs are currently pushing up through the frozen tundra. Spring cannot be far behind, can it? But with snow and ice still covering the ground and roof in wide swaths, we are still decidedly in the midst of soup weather.

My new food processor arrived just in time to test out a new-to-me recipe in my go-to soup book, The Daily Soup Cookbook. This time around I tested the Chicken Pot Pie, which is dressed in 3" homemade biscuits, courtesy of my new food processor and its dough blade. My old processor didn’t have a dough blade, so this is a perk to the old one giving out before I was monetarily ready for the “dream processor.”

This recipe is another award-winner, as far as I’m concerned. Can’t wait until it cycles back through as leftovers!

Overall I’m pleased with the food processor, though I’m underwhelmed with Their shipping is not as transparent a process as I like. I received an email from Target stating that my order had been shipped a whopping five calendar days before it was transferred to UPS to ship on to my address. UPS didn’t even receive the billing information until two days after Target stated it had been shipped. Something is up. While I’m certain there’s a reasonable explanation (my guess is an actual origination point in Mexico as UPS ultimately received it in Mesquite, Texas), I find the slight of hand to be unsettling.

Worth a test, and the final outcome was positive.

BTW, during today’ stroll through the yard checking bulb and bloom progress, we found a large tuft of rabbit fur in one spot of the yard, and a big pile of scat from a meat eating predator in another. Seriously. Big and furry. My guess is bobcat. No well-fed domestic dog would eat an animal fur and all. At least none I ever care to meet.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Swatch Living

Last week I swatched a sample for my new kitchen curtain. I’m keeping the curtain that is there (a Roman shade I made when we first bought the house), but would like a second panel between it and the glass that will give me a wee bit more privacy as I stand at the sink washing dishes (or make coffee at 4 a.m.), while still letting light in.

The fiber is a cone of soft kitchen cotton, untwisted. It feels delicious in the hand, and works nicely on the size 15 antique wooden needles you see here. The needles themselves are from a larger set of mixed needles I uncovered during the move. I’d initially thought they were a family item, as I have a highly-documented bazillion of those, but have since discovered that this particular set was gifted to me many, many years ago (pre-knitting) by a relative in the antiques business. Good to get that straight. The wooden needles are labeled “Boye” 15, so they can be no older than 1904 when the Boye company appears to have been founded.

The stitch is Eye of the Lynx Pattern from The Complete Encyclopedia of Stitchery by Mildred Graves Ryan. Or rather, it is an attempt at Eye of the Lynx Pattern, because the written instructions are abysmal, and the swatch illustration laughably unhelpful/inaccurate.

My first take on this swatch is that the needle gauge is perfect, but the fiber is about 2x too thick. I’d like my curtain to be more airy. I do like the stitch complexity and the three-dimensional fabric it creates, though I’ll have to re-write the instructions so that they are consistent and make sense. For example, I am instructed to slip stitches on both the right and the wrong side of the fabric, but the instructions never specify whether the yarn is to be held in front or behind the slipped stitches. And the general knitting instructions (how to knit, how to cast on, etc.) don’t address slipped stitches, so I can’t refer to that section for a clue as to their mental state.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Charity High in the Pecking Order

I first heard about this story on an episode of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. The video is even more precious.

Friday, February 19, 2010

This and That

I’m down. Down with a cold.
And the vast majority of my knitting projects are in the long drawn-out uncooperative phase. This too shall soon pass. In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few indiscriminate observations—mostly about television entertainment.

Amazing Race Season 16 (CBS)
Oh, how I’ve missed this show. This season has just the right mix of ignorant, intolerant, and underdog. I couldn’t be happier that the Oklahoma cowboys were the first to arrive at the finish line last night.

Demons (BBC)
I would have liked to see this grow into a second season, but it was fun while it lasted.

Survivors (BBC)
Just getting warmed up to this show, but probably not the best thing to watch when one is suffering from a cold or the flu.

The Day After Tomorrow
Probably not the best thing to watch as a winter storm is closing in. It had me checking the skies to ensure that we weren’t about to be nailed by a downdraft from the upper level of the troposphere.

Caprica (SYFY)
My favorite part is that Zoe the avatar/actress sometimes performs in place of Zoe the avatar/cylon.

Millionaire Matchmaker (Bravo)
Like eating an entire bag of chips in one sitting, I know I shouldn’t enjoy these marathons, but I can-not-stop.

Housewives (Bravo)
There are no heros.

Tabatha’s Salon Takeover (Bravo)
An eye opener about the wide range of skill levels (or lack thereof) in an industry that I would have thought would have drawn people actually interested in hair. Apparently I was wrong. Makes me look at my stylist in a different way.

The Outdoor Room with Jamie Durie (HGTV)
Major disappointment. I hoped that he would lead viewers through the thought process of working with strong and weak points in an existing plan to create a new space. Turns out that all his projects are set in already-dead rectangular backyard spaces, and he doesn’t explain the design process except to note where geographically he obtained his inspiration. Also, choice of plantings is entirely inappropriate (usually lush, tropical) for the region in which his show is shot (drought-stricken Southern California), plus his clients are already people who have proven that they can’t keep anything alive. I’d be curious to see how the semi-load of Monrovia plants are doing six months later.

Top Gear
I hope they make a “Making of…” episode some day. I want to know how large the crew is that allows them to get those amazing shots. Also, I never knew there were that many luxury and performance personal cars made in the world that enables them to shoot season after season with nary a repeat. And how much insurance must they carry?

Can’t live without it. Clearly.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Permanent State Known as “Time Out”

While mumbling over my Radha shrug at knit group a few nights ago, trying to figure out how it had defied all physical laws and now had a bazillion loose ends emanating from only two skeins, a fellow knitter said, “I would just put it in time out.”

My reply: “If I put everything into time out that wasn’t cooperating, then everything would be in time out.” I knew it was true. I didn’t know just how true it would turn out to be.

Several days ago I posted an image of the fabric squares for my new winter quilt laid out in pattern on my craft room floor. I’ve been living with it for several days, and today finally decided to treat myself to actual sewing time as a reward for finishing my tax preparation.

I came very close to just picking up squares and sewing, but decided that maybe it would be a good idea to review the instructions one more time. Here’s what I discovered: From Day 1 when I made the planogram of my project in Excel that would ultimately help me to sew the correct quantity of each type of square, I had interpreted the overall pattern incorrectly. Not totally wrong. Each square of each type is correct. Just the way they are laid out to create the topper. That was wrong.

When I did my initial layout, I had alternated the two types of squares, so each type of square was surrounded by the other type. One square is cooler, so I call this “ice.” The other square is warmer. I call this “fire.”

Here is a picture of the initial layout:

The two of us have spent the last week ensuring that each version of “ice” and “fire” were randomized sufficiently to not pool. This was successful.

Today, as I reviewed the instructions, I realized that the designer had actually specified that “ice” zig zag across the field, and “fire” zig zag below that, and so on. The resulting design has a lot more energy, and makes the supposed rail fence design inspiration a lot more apparent. But it also makes pooling a much bigger issue:

Now I’m back to living with this through the weekend.

As for why I was having so much trouble with Radha a few days ago, I blame the cold that was clearly coming on, based on my current vocal quality and energy level. Given that, I guess I should give myself a lot more credit for having caught the quilt error before it was too late. Kinda surprising actually.

Caper sez, it’s a good day to curl up under a blanket and watch Judge Judy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Today I had to put my old Black & Decker Quick ’N Easy food processor to rest. I have mixed emotions about this moment. While I am happy to finally have a solid excuse to toss the sucker, the timing of its demise, well, sucks.

Mr. QNE has been a part of my home for probably 15 years. It was passed on to me by my MIL, who bought it at the prodding of a male friend/former co-worker of my FIL, who was big into gadgets and cooking (and also the reason I have such a deep hatred toward bread machines. That would be 1988, the Year of Weekly Unsolicited Cubic Loaves of Oddly Flavored Bread.), and he talked her into buying the food processor because “she couldn’t live without one.” As she described it later when she handed it to me, she tried it and decided that she could in fact live without one. Her loss = my gain.

I haven’t used this steadily over the years, but there are definite times that Mr. QNE has been called into action, and increasingly so with each passing year. He has been in charge of making my cranberry relish since Year 1, and more recently has been charged with the chopping of veggies for my beloved Bogota Four Potato Chowder with Chicken from The Daily Soup Cook Book, and should in fact be listed as required equipment for the majority of the recipes in that book. (A food processor that is, and not Mr. QNE. More on that later.) I have used him so many times, in fact, that I have slowly shaved the plastic away that connects the lid to the base—a fact I discovered the hard way yesterday when I tried to grate 2 cups of cheddar cheese, and the lid kept leaping off the machine while the grating disk was in action.

(I will admit I puffed up a bit when I realized how much actual cooking I must have accomplished to wear the latch off.)

QNE has been the only food processor I’ve ever used or owned, so I had no comparison regarding functionality. But what I liked least about it was the pouring slot and shield. Because even with the shield in place, liquids would escape out the slot. In the case of soup, we’re talking boiling-hot liquids. Both un-fun and dangerous.

Now that Mr.
QNE has passed on to the great small appliance landfill in the sky, what to do about a replacement?

Normally I buy lower-end models of items that will only be used a few times, and higher-end models of items that are used frequently. The food processor
should fall into the higher-end category. But OMG—I discovered this morning that higher-end food processors start around $150, and we’d already decided that we have to have a grain mill, which also runs around that amount.

I shopped around a bit, both in stores, and online, and finally decided on this model from, a 10-cup Black and Decker Power Pro Wide-Mouth 10-Cup Food Processor - Stainless Steel. The price is a much more reasonable $49.99. It has a large capacity. And it doesn’t have the dreaded pour slot and shield. It should, at the very least, buy me a few years of solid use before I find
the food processor of my dreams.

The food processor is only available through their online store, so now it’s my job to be patient. Not my strongest skill, so maybe a bit of practice is in order.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Pile of Warm Cats on a Pile of Warm Clothes

Left to right: T-Bone, Caper, and T-Bone’s mother Aspera-Purr

Do days get any better than this? I think not!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Rare Photographic Evidence of Ack-Chew-Ul Fibery Work Taking Place

I know. It’s been awhile. So let your eyes feast upon this vision:

I’ve completed all the squares necessary for the Quilting on Rails topper, and spent the day (while the plumber was repairing a burst water pipe - sigh...) carefully laying them out in pattern on my craft room floor.

I’ll live with this for a few days and visit it often in different light to catch any pooling of fabric design that may be taking place. Then it’ll be time to sew the squares into strips, and the strips to each other, making the large interior field of the topper.

This will be my fall/winter quilt, so the tones are seasonally inspired and seasonally appropriate.

Still much to be done before actually quilting takes place, but progress is progress is progress.
A Very Special Valentine’s Day

Long-time readers of my blog might recall that I have a non-traditional relationship with this holiday. It should, in my opinion, really be called “National Heap Bucket-Loads of Guilt Upon the People We Purport To Love while Helping the Executives of the Floral and Gift Card Industry Make their Yacht Payments Day.”

Though admittedly that’s a bit long to catch on.

Usually we hang around the grocery store and watch nervous young men attempting to compensate for their love lameness by buying picked over arrangements and the dregs of the gift card pile. This year we had other plans, which is good considering the ferocity of a snow storm that was sweeping through our area. This year we made beer.

An IPA, to be exact.

This is our first batch that we are making from scratch. That is, not a kit. Though it was a recipe from a book in our growing beer library. On the easy front, it was still a partial mash. All grain is on the horizon, but it hasn’t happened yet. On the challenging front, this was the first batch that called for the addition of agents that alter the water’s pH, and clarify the end product.

(We also had a der moment, and forgot to ask the owner of the homebrew store to crush our grain, so we had to resort to a mallet and heavy rolling pin. Next time we’ll purchase a grain mill.)

Given that it wasn’t a kit, this was an excellent opportunity to hone my skills at mise en place (MEEZ ahn plahss), which is the practice of preparing all the ingredients and equipment before cooking begins, so that everything is at hand and ready to go for each step.

Admittedly, mise en place is something I should practice with my writing and other business practices, but is sadly lacking.

Though brewing day was long, it was sweetened with the opening of the first bottles from our previous batch Peg Leg Red, named in honor of Caper, who now boasts a very expensive steel plate pinned to the fragments of his back leg. Peg Leg was our best batch yet, and rivalled the local microbrewery’s Copperhead Pale Ale in hop and malt profiles.

Caper’s doing better every day, btw. A few days ago I found him on top of the cat condo. This is the first time he’s felt strong enough to make this jump since the accident in November.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Building Bookcases, Part 6

The original instructions called for adding feet levelers to the base, but I didn’t find suitable levelers at my local stores—and frankly didn’t even try to search for the T-bolts (I think that’s what they were called) that are countersunk into the base to receive the leveler bolt.

Still, I had intended to at least add the block of wood at the base of the bookcases that are meant to receive the T-bolts and levelers, but when I set the lowest shelf in place, I saw that there wasn’t room to place the support block without ripping it. I didn’t bother ferreting out the underlying cause of the issue, because my my solution was to toss the pre-cut wood into the firewood pile, and move on.

Seven shelves later, and bookcase #1 was completed.

Here it is in its temporarily assembled state. Unfortunately I had to disassemble the entire bookcase to get it into the basement, so it didn’t stay this way for long.

I also left off the top-most shelf during final assembly, because I would not be able to use it to hold books, without adding book-ends. And the bookcase design allows for expansion simply by connecting the shelves and another end to an existing end. In other words, that extra shelf for bookcase #1 became the first shelf for bookcase #4.

I had originally planned to apply a tung oil finish to the wood, but ultimately rejected that idea after I realized that I wouldn’t be able to load the first bookcase for two more months, and it would be well into summer before the last bookcase could be loaded. If I want to finish it at some point down the road, I can do that. But if I were to begin applying finish now, I would be locked into that decision. So the bookcase was loaded naked.

And bookcase #1 ended up emptying a whopping seven book boxes. Woo-HOO!

I finished the shelves for bookcase #1 late on a Saturday afternoon, and by the following weekend had the remaining shelves made, and bookcases assembled and loaded.

We configured them such that the remaining two bookshelves were separated by one-shelf’s width, and in this otherwise vacant space we inserted the topmost 7th shelf from all three bookcases.

Doing this, enabled me to empty a jaw-dropping 28 book boxes!

If I were to make two additional shelves, I could load the bonus bookcase with even more books. And if I made only one more end, and six shelves, I would have an extra bookcase. The expansion possibilities are endless.

Would I make these again? Absolutely. But next time I make a project out of a book, I will explore the hardware options before I buy the lumber. That way I’ll have more flexibility as I progress.

I will also not set a pile of boxes and suitcases in front of the project immediately upon completion, as I did here. Because the bookcases were done and loaded over a week ago, but it’s been a slogging process to continue my sort and purge campaign. I’ll at least wait until after I’ve taken the final photo. Then I’ll make a ginormous mess.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I’ve never been good at left field. You know, those questions from friends and acquaintances that are so unexpected, that one (me, actually) only manages to stammer out a half-witted response?

It happened to me again a few days ago. Michael and a dental appointment. I dropped him off, ran a few errands, then returned with a few study materials to work on while I waited for him to finish.

Normally I would have brought a knitting project, but none of my projects are travel-appropriate at the moment. And the current crush of projects already on my plate was just enough to give me the will power to not cast on for a new travel-ready project. Barely. It was touch and go for awhile. So instead of knitting, I brought an ancient Spanish workbook with me. I’ve had the thing for probably fifteen years*, and work on it on and off. As soon as I reach the end, I’ll pitch it, thereby emptying a wee bit of bookshelf.

One of the receptionists (whom I adore—don’t get me wrong) saw that I was working on something unusual, so she inquired about my current project. It was, after all, not a baby surprise jacket, or Elinor’s magic bunting, which she saw me working on in recent months. In fact, no knitting needles or fiber was involved.

I explained that I was trying to brush up on my Spanish.

“Why?” she asked.

“Why?” I have to have a “why?” As though bettering oneself isn’t a common and logical reason for doing things?

It seemed to truly puzzle her that I wasn’t brushing up because I was about to travel to a Spanish-speaking country, or perhaps pursuing a degree, or any other number of apparently logical reasons for learning Spanish.

To me, it’s as natural as breathing. It’s a puzzle, and it takes effort. But it also comes the same reward to my brain’s pleasure centers as eating a truly great truffle. And I’ve had truly great truffles. Trust me.

I’m not a great Spanish speaker. I’m a lousy speaker and an abysmal listener. But I’m a fairly good reader. And there was a time in my college education when I would have been considered advanced intermediate. I even dreamed in Spanish during a week-long immersive opportunity during high school. So it’s all there. I just need to practice and surround myself with it enough over time that the words come easily. Which sounds easier than it is, considering how often workload and travel obligations interfere with these plans. And the fact that there aren’t many opportunities to chat with native speakers.

The receptionist’s reaction took me by surprise, but I honestly don’t know why. Many, many people only study what they have to in order to graduate, and then throw out all study ambitions as soon as they begin their lives. It becomes about the job, the spouse, the kids... I’m very aware of this because both my parents and all my siblings are the same way.

(Which sort of proves up the adoption theory, but I digress…)

Perhaps before I go out in public with my workbook again, I’ll wrap it in a fake cover. 100 Greatest Sudoku Puzzles, Search-A-Word, or A-Mazing Mazes, for example. People rarely wonder why someone would spend their time that way.

* Judging by the copyright date, I’ve had this book for a quarter of a century.

How old am I?

That’s a rhetorical question, btw. I am very aware of how old I am, and I am definitely not soliciting answers. ;-)

The book appears to still be sold on Amazon, though the latest version comes with audio CDs—a technology that had only been available for two years prior to my version’s publication. I imagine the newer version also covers technology vocabulary, like surfing the internet, etc. That’s navego por internet, in case you were wondering.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Building Bookcases, Part 5

The last post left off with me coming to the full and painful realization that I am human. I make mistakes. I am not a robot working an assembly line at GM. Therefore, it is unreasonable to expect that all my work will be precise and interchangeable, no matter how careful I think I am being.

I decided the best solution for marking the drill holes in the cleats, was to find a reasonable distance that should fit most sets of side holes. As for hardware, I opted for 2" zinc plated carriage bolts, plus washers and nuts. But the nuts I chose were end cap nuts, to help prevent marring or scratching of book covers as books are being added and removed from the shelves. By keeping the drill holes in the cleats a roomy 3/8", I was hoping that it will provide a bit of leeway when it comes to mounting and adjusting shelf heights.

I also considered shorter bolts, and countersinking its nut to keep it away from the books, but the cleat is only 3/4" in thickness as it is. Removing more wood in order to countersink the nut might destroy the structural integrity of the shelving system.

This hardware solution brought the price down from the hock-a-kidney price of $134, to around $25 total.

With that decision made, I proceeded drilling matching 3/8" holes in the cleats using a drill press, but drilling only one pair of cleats at a time. Then I rounded over the bottom inside edge of each cleat, and placed them one at a time in the vise of my old Black & Decker Workmate.

Next I needed to prep the shelf slats by rounding over all the top edges using my router. Once done, I marked and drilled pilot holes in the ends, positioned them over the cleat in the Workmate, and drilled a bit more, to mark where the drill holes would be for the cleats. Then I removed the slat and drilled more deeply into the cleat. (The bit isn’t long enough to extend very far into the cleat.) I applied glue to the top edge of the cleat, repositioned the shelf slat, and attached it to the cleat using a 2 1/2" screw. Yes, that’s a very very long screw.

During all this drilling, I discovered that every 1/8" bit in both sets of bits that I own was as dull as a butter knife. And since every other bit in all my sets are about as dull if not worse, I swung for an entire DeWalt set.

The first day I installed the screws manually with a screwdriver, but that was unbelievably arduous as tasks go, and I had many, many, many more screws in my future.

On day 2, I decided that the extra effort of swapping my drill bit for the phillips head bit and back again would actually be much more of a time and energy savings than usual. Unfortunately, I discovered the chuck key for my 20+ year old Skil drill had gone AWOL during my clean-up the previous evening. After both of us spending half an hour searching fruitlessly for it amidst the tools and detritus in the garage, we decided buy a whole new drill.

I opted for the Ryobi D41K, which has a keyless chuck. It also has bubble levels both on the top and in its ass, which makes drill holes perfectly vertical, and perfectly horizontal, all the easier. What it does not have are bits, but that’s fine, because I already bought a new set of bits the day before. And yes, I’d like to point out that I nearly paid as much for the bits as I did for the drill, which was only $29.

I was wavering between this model and the clutch Ryobi model, because the clutch would make it more difficult to strip screw heads. However, the clutch had fewer rpms than my model, and I couldn’t get a good answer from the employee about whether the clutch would prevent me from drilling into hard woods, like an occasional knot.

I didn’t even entertain the idea of buying a cordless model by any manufacturer, because this girl likes power. And no battery-powered tool is as powerful as one with a cord. Simple as that.

Of course, Michael spotted the missing chuck key for our old Skil drill within 15 minutes of putting the new one to work. But A) I’d been needing to put my Skil into semi-retirement anyway, since it has led a very long hard life at the old house, and B) how handy would it be to be able to drill and drive without changing bits? Answer: very handy indeed!

After attaching the slats to cleats for two shelves, I beveled the edges of the brace pieces, found the center point of the shelf, and attached the brace to the underside using glue and shorter screws.

Then I cut short lengths of quarter round, and glued them to the inside corners at the slat/cleat join. Clamps helped to hold them in place as the glue dried.

We’re heading toward the finish line now!

To be continued...

Friday, February 05, 2010

Snow Hilarity Ensues

To all my local peeps, you know it’s snowing, right? And pretty effing slick, right?

Michael was at the front window during rush hour, taking pictures, marveling at the snow—and an unusually heavy traffic load—when he caught a nice series of images of a silver Mazda SUV sliding sideways down our hill and crashing into the neighbor’s mailbox.

Then the a-hole took off. No note, no sorry, no nothing. Just skid marks and a mangled mailbox post left in their wake.

Unfortunately for them, we have a pristine image of their vehicle’s license plate, which the police now have.

Turns out traffic was heavy because the police had diverted traffic from the main street onto ours because the main street was impassable.

I love our new house. A constant source of entertainment.
Building Bookcases, Part 4: Where it Started to Head South

The new Skil router table arrived early Thursday morning just before I left for my mother’s Birthday Experience Day, so it wasn’t until Friday that I unboxed and assembled it. Let me tell you, this was not an easy job, nor was it a one-person job. I had fully intended to start routing the end caps that day, but after hours of messing with the table, I was happy just to have the legs on, and the router attached.

The project plans called for a 1/8" round over bit, but I don’t own anything that small, and wasn’t willing to pay $24.97 for a bit that I might never need again. Fortunately I think the 1/4" bit did a nice job, too.

Saturday I resumed work, beginning first with one side and two end caps. I sanded both sides of the side, then rounded the edges of the end caps, and sanded those. After test fitting to ensure that the stiles on the sides would drop into the groove I dadoed down the middle of the end caps, I put down a bed of carpenter’s glue, re-attached the end caps, then set bar clamps across the side stretched from end cap to end cap. A small piece of waste wood cut to length helped to keep the end cap at a 90° angle to the stile, though I eventually discovered the waste wood was more a hindrance than a help, as it prevented the end cap from seating fully.

At this point I left the piece to dry, and returned to rounding over the remaining end caps. Here’s a before and after:

I finished rounding the end caps about an hour later (after a slight delay when I realized two of the three screws holding the router to the table had come un-done). Then it was time to clean up a bit before heading to knit group. I’m sure my neighbors were grateful, because the sound of an operating router is truly obnoxious.

Saturday had been unseasonably warm, so it was in the 50s when I went to bed that night. Thanks to a cold front, Sunday’s temps stayed in the 30s range, with high winds and wind chills that brought the “feels like” temps down a decade or two. Already donned in thermals and layers, I opted to work in the garage with the doors down. It at least cut out the wind, but it also limited the available light. So I mounted a heavy duty work light to the wall, and used its light to both help me see, and warm me up a bit in the process.

Since shelves were on the approaching horizon, I stopped at Westlake Hardware to pick up a butt load of wood screws, and began sourcing the connector bolts that are supposed to hold the shelves to the sides. The screws were no problem. The store didn’t have all that I will need in stock, but I picked up 200. That was going to keep me busy for quite a while. But the connector bolts? Yes, they had a handful in stock, but they were about $1.60 each. That would be around $6.40 per shelf just to mount them, or $44.80 per bookcase , and $134.40 for all three bookcases. The price point at Home Depot was similar. I set that aside and planned to do a bit of online shopping later that day.

I began Sunday by sanding side #2, along with its pair of end caps, and repeating the process as on side 1 the previous day. With it clamped up, I turned my attention to the shelves.

Before I began assembling them, I needed to drill holes in the shelf cleats that mirrored the holes I’d previously drilled in the sides. The directions called for mounting a complex fence to my drill press to help me drill the holes accurately. But I decided that that wasn’t really practical, so I opted for making another poster board template to help me locate the drill point.

I compared the drill mark on cleat 1 against the existing holes on the sides. They should match up, no?


I measured, I remeasured. I thought. It appeared that the holes I’d drilled on one leg of the sides were about 1/4" off-set from the other side.

Which is impossible, because I was using a template to mark my holes.

I decided I’d done enough, and that I should problem solve on another day when I was fresh. Good time to source the connector bolts.

About fifteen years ago, plus or minus, I was a frequent and regular customer of a catalog company called Trend-Lines, so that was the first place I looked up. The search results came up with several stores that stated that they were a part of Trend-Lines in their meta tags, but made no mention of Trend-Lines on their web site. Suspicious! I kept looking, and finally found a few articles that said Trend-Lines had gone bankrupt and liquidated. Okay. Scratch the fake web sites off the list. A better-looking online store had connector bolts for around $.62 each, but the nut component (I’ve figured that into the price) was on back order. I could buy the bolt without the nut, and risk that the nut ever came in stock again. That would just be a dumb ass move.

  • Rip out some of the copper pipes in my house, and use the money I would make selling the scrap metal to buy the brick and mortar store’s connector bolts.
  • Instead of connector bolts, connect the shelves with short lengths of 3/8" dowels. They could be pushed out if necessary to raise or lower a shelve, but it wouldn’t be as easy or convenient. And pegs would address vertical stresses (weight of books pushing down), but would do nothing about horizontal stresses, which could result in the shelves and sides splaying/collapsing.
  • Use traditional bolts.
Realizing that my final choice could alter the size of hole I would want to drill into the cleats, I set the entire project on the back burner*.

*For anyone playing along at home, this was the same day that I had the Radha meltdown. I’ve definitely had better days.

To be continued…

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Building Bookcases, Part 3

A new day, and here’s where things started to get fun. The sides were completed to the point that I needed to drill holes for something called “knock-down fasteners” which will enable me to raise and lower the shelves in 6" increments.

Since I am making three bookcases, with six sides and twelve stiles that needed to be marked (accurately) and drilled, I first made a template out of strips of poster board. From there I was able to simply transfer the markings to the stiles. I used a drill press to drill the holes.

Yes, this took a really long time, and was really boring.

Okay. The sides were nearly complete, but part of the rigidity of the sides (which are only fabricated out of 1 x (read 1 by, as in 1" x 10', or 1" x 8', etc.) lumber, are some fancy-schmancy end caps that create a sort of I-beam effect.

For this, I took the end cap boards that I had previously ripped to width, and cut to length, and adjusted the table saw to cut a shallow groove just wide enough to receive the previously assembled sides.

The dado blade isn’t quite wide enough to cut this groove, so I did it in two passes, switching the ends of the board between each pass. Switching ends also ensures that the groove is exactly centered on the board—a trick Norm Abram uses on The New Yankee Workshop.

Slick, huh?

Now I was stuck. Before I could secure the end caps to the sides, I needed to round over the edges with a router. And for this particular situation, I really really needed a router table, which I don’t own.

I had been debating about what to do regarding the router/router table situation for several weeks. As I mentioned in Part 1, my old router was acting up during my window project last fall. I would get the bit adjusted for the correct depth, turn on the router and begin on the wood. Then—without any warning whatsoever—the bit would drop, routing out the wood to a much greater depth than I wanted. Grrrr. Could it be fixed? I didn’t know.

There are router/router table combos on the market that cost only a little more than a new low-end router. And a router table alone costs more than mid-range router. So I strongly considered buying a Ryobi router/router table combo for $99, and setting my old router aside to be dealt with on another day. But after considering all my options, I decided that I needed to find out what exactly was wrong with my original router (a Skil 1810, which is a 1/4 hp more powerful than the Ryobi), and could it be easily and inexpensively fixed?

For this, I started out the day actually reading the owner’s manual from cover to cover (unheard of), and comparing each call-out to my own router. This got me much more confident in what my router was doing, but I wanted to play with the same model at a store to see if something was adjusted incorrectly on my router. This turned out to be a fool’s errand, as three stores later I discovered that no one stocked my model.

Next I got on the internet and entered the appropriate mix of search words, like troubleshoot, depth, and router. Since routers are also a computer term, the search results were largely inapplicable. The few sites that did seem to be about fixing my router, were actually fake sites. So when I went to them, it was actually a page of links to online stores where I could buy other makes and models of routers. No useful information to be found.

My last option was to call the toll-free customer service number on the cover of my owner’s manual. I saved this for last because I envisioned being stuck in an automated telephone system where I would ultimately get transferred to a someone at a call center in Pakistan who could do nothing to help me except direct me to the nearest authorized service center.

I dialed. I cringed. Then get this: a native English-speaker came on the line! I explained the problem. She talked me through the solution.

This is worth repeating.

She talked me through the solution.

It turns out that I only needed to tighten one bolt with an Allen wrench. Which I did, and now the router works like a dream!!!

Skil, you ROCK!

So I ordered my router table to begin the next step.

To be continued...

Monday, February 01, 2010

Building Bookcases, Part 2

The next step involved switching my regular table saw blade out for the dado so I could make half lap joints with the rails and stiles.

Once I had my fence adjusted properly for the final width of the dado cut, and the blade raised to make the cut at the proper depth, the rest was easy. The rails went crazy fast—just two dado cuts at each end. And by two dado cuts, I mean that I did the shoulder cuts, or the cuts at the inner-most half lap point, then zip, zip, zip, freehanded to get the remaining wood out to the board end removed. The stiles started out fast—again, two dado cuts at both ends.

Then things got crazy.

Because there are three rails that span two stiles that make up each bookcase side: a rail at the top, a rail at the bottom, and a rail in the middle. To make the dado cut in the middle, I no longer had access to the fence to ensure my cut was to the correct width.

I ended up placing painter’s tape on the table surface, and marking on it the outside dimension of the dado blade. Then I used my miter gauge to help hold the board at a 90° angle to the blade, and push it through. It wasn’t perfect, and my precision (or lack thereof) won’t garner any awards.


Between the cold, cold, weather and my exhaustion (mental and physical), I ended up breaking dado day into two days. That allowed me to do the scarier middle dado cuts when I was freshest. Not that it showed in the results.

The third day became glue and screw day. I had to buy a lot of clamps for this step.

First I sanded the inside of the dado cuts in order to smooth and even them out. I applied carpenters glue and began assembling, using a carpenter square to ensure the stiles and rails were at a right angle to each other. Then I clamped each side rail, using bar clamps across the width at three points, and face clamps at each join.

Once secured, I drilled pilot holes and used (4) 5/8" wood screws at each join. This allowed me to remove the clamps and start the process over on the next side before the glue dried.

To be continued…