Monthly Archives: July 2015

A Garbage Blind

Summer time is always a fun time to have an outdoor building project. I love to build things with my hands, mostly models but sometimes more useful, full-scale items as well. This is a tale about the latter using all of the power tools I had recently obtained at the time.

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I have written in the past about the pool deck that my oldest son, an architect, designed and my wife and I built a number of years ago. It was a lot of fun (at least for me). But this project goes back even further than that and follows on the heels (pun intended) of my doormats.

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In the summer of 2000 after we had had our pool installed, we added a nice concrete walkway for pool-goers to traverse from the front yard to the backyard to access the pool.

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It just wasn’t an aesthetically pleasing walk with the pool equipment visible. Building a fence around the pool equipment was a must and happened almost as soon as the pool installation company drove off.

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But this still left us with an unsightly concrete pad next to the gate upon which the garbage cans would sit, hidden from the street but within plain view to anyone walking through the gate to the pool. Aside from adding foliage to the flower beds framed by the walkway, this was the way the walkway stayed for three years. But then thanks to our son the recent architect graduate that was about to change.

One Saturday night, my wife and I were about to go out to dinner but before we left, I must have made some comment to my son about what an eyesore it was to still walk past garbage cans on our way to the pool. Either the stars were aligned or inspiration jumped in his mind because by the time we returned, our son had not only come up with a wonderful idea, he had actually built a working model of it to physically present his idea.

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My first thought after what a cool idea he had come up with was probably, wow that architecture degree really was worth all of that money!

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As my son explained how it could be built, what materials could be used and how it would all work, all I could do was stand back and smile with pride. Since he would be heading off to graduate school soon, we had to work fast.

We came up with a bill of materials and headed off to the home improvement center to purchase everything. We only had one technical issue to still work out. In the model, the two louvered doors (front and back) slid across wooden runners. In the model, the doors moved smoothly but was simply lightweight basswood offering little frictional resistance. In the full-scale version, we didn’t know how heavy the louvered doors would be once complete which would impact the opening and closing mechanisms. Since we couldn’t figure the mechanical functioning out in advance, we only purchased the wood and screws we would need to assemble everything. We assumed we would figure that part out later.

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The first step was to build the structure that would support the doors and provide their sliding mechanism. For this framework, we used pressure treated 4 X 4 posts attaching them to the concrete pad with metal brackets. Unlike the model, we decided to stabilize the support structure by running 2 X 4 pressure treated studs to the side of the house.

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Returning to the home improvement center, the best approach we could come up with for our door mechanism was to use closet door hardware, with the metal rails seen here at top and bottom. We next built the first louvered door and when we went to lift it off the ground, found that it was in fact quite heavy. It was built from 1 X 2 boards with randomly placed interconnecting blocks (a variation on the doormat design) and was over 7 feet long and 5.5 feet tall. We probably shouldn’t have been surprised. When we attached the rollers and tried to install the door, we found the weight of the door almost crushed the bottom rollers and as a result, would not budge.

Our next step, since we were running out of time before my son would be heading off to graduate school was to make one more fast trip to the home improvement center and explore other working options. We wandered around the store for quite a while looking at garage door mechanisms, gate hardware and any other possible wheeled solution that might jump out at us. In the end, aside from having something custom designed and built for our application, we returned to our original idea of using closet door hardware but with some modifications.

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First we gave up on having the top and bottom runner idea. While this would have been the most aesthetically pleasing since the mechanism would have been hidden, it just wasn’t practical due to the size and shape of our doors. As originally envisioned, the door would cantilever out on the top and bottom runners as it closed in front of the opening. This is where the weight of the door really created a problem since about half of the door would be free floating in front of the opening, its weight unsupported in space. We decided that having one runner at the top that extended over the opening as well would provide continuous support for the door in the opened or closed position.

The second modification we made was in order to reduce the dead weight on each roller wheel; we added wheels every 10 inches for a total of eight wheels per door. The finished doors then took on this appearance.

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This provided a much-improved appearance to hiding our garbage cans but it ultimately proved short-lived.

Just a year after installation, the dead weight of the door still was too much for the little plastic wheels and several broke. Because of the broken wheels, the other wheels would jump the track and the whole door would come off of the track. It was like trying to drive an eight-wheel train down a train track with half the wheels out of alignment. It was simply a recipe for disaster.

I talked to our son who was by this time, off at graduate school. Between our discussions, the solution derived was to make two more modifications.

First, we reduced the size of the doors to just the width of the opening. This meant rather than being slightly more than 7 feet long, the door would only be about 3 ⅓ feet long thus reducing its weight by over one half. To reduce the dead weight on each wheel, we included five wheels spacing them every 8 inches.

This modification necessitated another modification, that the middle support section would be a fixed louvered section since the door would only be large enough to cover the opening in the closed position. In this photo, you can see the weathered, but shortened door to the left and the freshly installed middle section with new wood.

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Also, added was an apron board at the top to hide the wheels and to give it a cleaner finish.

Very few people can claim to have a garbage blind designed, engineered, and built by a real architect—but we can. But even this extraordinary effort could not overcome the limitation of not having pressure treated 1 X 2 boards.

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Because of this, sadly the garbage blind is in need of a refresh with new wood.

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But since I still have all of those fun power tools, a new summer time project will be rebuilding the doors and getting the whole blind looking spiffy again.

On Becoming a Granddaddy – One Year Anniversary

This week, I will be celebrating the one-year anniversary of becoming a granddaddy for the first time.

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Of course of even more significance, this means that our first grandchild, our grandson will be celebrating his first birthday. I wrote last year on how I learned that I had become a granddaddy so I won’t repeat myself. But as our grandson’s birthday approached, I realized that his birthday would always mark my anniversary of becoming a granddaddy. It is like I will be co-celebrating his birthday with him each year for the rest of our lives.

Although we won’t be able to be with our grandson on his birthday since he is our “long distance” grandchild, we were fortunate to get to celebrate his birthday about three weeks early when we were visiting my daughter’s in-laws over the 4th of July weekend.

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And with both sets of grandparents, along with his parents and one of his uncles singing “Happy Birthday”, we were able to wish him a happy one-year birthday.

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When I thought about this one-year milestone some more, I realized how appropriate it was that my daughter had her son to coincide with me becoming a granddaddy. For it is with my daughter that I have shared an anniversary of sorts each year on her birthday.

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Over three decades ago, my daughter was born five days after I started a new job. And although the company has been bought twice in my career there, I still work at the same location. So when I want to recall how long I have worked at this job, I simply have to remember how old my daughter is.

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Interestingly, my youngest son managed to perfectly match this anniversary theme.

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He became a father to his daughter, my first granddaughter exactly six months to the day after our grandson was born.

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So now that I have been a granddaddy for just about a year, what has it been like? Wonderful!

I’ve always heard that the best part about becoming a parent is becoming a grandparent and I must say my experience has validated that statement. After your kids are grown and you see small babies out in public, at least for a man, you don’t necessarily think too much about it. But when that small child is your grandchild, it makes all the difference in the world.

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You find that you make funny noises and faces to get them to smile or laugh.

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You enjoy holding them and giving them kisses.

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You enjoy playing with them, especially cars for me.

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And when it is their bedtime, you get to go home and sleep through the night knowing you won’t be woken in the night by little crying sounds.

Our grandparent situation is our grandson lives far away and so the daily interaction he has with my wife is via Face Time. But our granddaughter is local and so we see her much more frequently in person.

Recently in fact, we had the opportunity for our granddaughter, five-months old at the time, to get to spend several days with us while her parents vacationed in Florida.

It was our first sleepover for a grandchild.

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It started out early one Saturday morning with a less than easy departure for her parents, especially for her mom. We then loaded up all of the things we would need and drove to our home.

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We set up a place for our granddaughter to play and soon we were FaceTiming with our granddaughter’s aunt and her cousin.

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She got to go on two errands with me that first day, one to the farmer’s market to buy some salmon (since we planned on cooking out rather than dining out) and then a fun adventure to the “Once upon a child” store where we got some clothes and loaded up on shoes.

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And before dinner, we got to go for a stroll since the weather was so nice.

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And throughout the day, my wife and I diligently kept a log of activities so we would know when to expect she would want to eat again.

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By 7:30, we thought she was down for the night…

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…but turned out it was just a nap.

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Our son called from their vacation and told us she had been staying up until around 10:00 PM. That certainly explained the short nap. She did finally go to sleep for good at about 11:30 and slept until 5:30 in the morning, her usual wake up time.

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After a quick change of diaper, she and I were both ready for another day.

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Reflecting back over the year, I must say it has been blissful being a grandparent. It has been so much fun, it has caused me to want to accelerate my retirement plans so that I can spend even more time with our grandkids and their parents. And I look forward to the next exciting grand parenting event that will add even more to this anniversary.

The Fourth on the Farm

This past weekend, I got a chance to do something on the 4th of July I had never done before—spend it on a farm. Often times on the 4th, I am searching out a fireworks display to watch since I love this annual aspect of our country’s celebration. But this year was different, in a lot of ways.

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This year, the 4th of July happened to coincide with a visit to our daughter’s in-laws who happen to live and work on a farm. Our daughter, son-in-law, and grandson were visiting from California and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get to see them all within easy driving distance of our home. And it couldn’t have been a more pleasurable visit.

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Besides the family time together and the chance to spend some fun time with our grandson, whom it just so happens loves to play with cars just like me; the 4th was an extra special educational day for me.

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Since I had never been on a working farm before and since I am so interested in learning how things work, I asked my daughter’s father-in-law if he would be willing to show me all of his farm equipment and explain how it works. He gladly agreed.

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Our education in farm life started with a chance to look inside a grain bin where we saw a portion of last year’s corn crop. Seeing these large cylindrical structures from the road is very common but until you look inside and see how much corn they can hold, you can’t fathom the enormity of the size of a crop.

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Next I got an explanation of how a corn planter works. It was interesting to see how the planter was engineered to automatically dig a trench, drop a seed, follow it with a small amount of fertilizer to kick-start its growth and then cover it back over with dirt. And with the guide wheel at the far end of the planter, I learned how the perfectly straight cornrows we so often see are made. Being one who has an extreme fondness for perfectly straight lines, I could really appreciate this feature.

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I then got to explore a newer planter that had a slightly different seed dropping mechanism that was used for planting sow bean.

This was my education of the beginning of the farming process. After a bountiful farm lunch that would re-energize any farm hands, graciously prepared by my daughter’s mother-in-law, we then jumped ahead many months to harvest time where we learned about a corn combine.

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Climbing up the ladder and stepping into the cab, I could see that one would have a commanding view of the fields from this precipice.   And from this high perch, one could look down on the bright green teeth with their sharp cutting blades as they made quick work of the corn harvest. The teeth, exactly matched to the span of the mature corn rows, would slash each stalk about a foot above the ground and then quickly shred the towering stalk spreading it in the field while rapidly shooting the corn up and into the next operation where the kernels were efficiently stripped from the cob for transfer in bulk to a grain truck.

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Once the visual instruction portion of our training was complete, the highlight of our learning was a “hands-on” tutelage where we learned to drive a tractor. With a quick tutorial about the controls, we were off for a fun ride through the field. After a tight turn around a tree, I was encouraged to drive the tractor through very tall prairie grass, a path I never would have pursued off-road in one of my little cars. The grass easily bowed out of our way as the tractor forged its own path.

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On my return, I had to show my fellow students that it was so easy it didn’t even require hands.

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Our education in farm life concluded with a test of our marksmanship. I had not shot a rifle since high school when I was probably mistakenly selected to try out for the ROTC rifle team, a trial I failed miserably. But with the aid of an excellent teacher I must have lacked in high school, I went two for two in hitting our target, gallon milk jugs filled with water.

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In addition to not just being extremely interesting to me, I realized that there is a very nice degree of precision in farming, an aspect a chemist like me working in an exacting analytical science can most appreciate. But I would never have gained this understanding were it not for the excellent teacher we had. A more patient, kind, knowledgeable, instructor could not have been had. And not just the wonderful knowledge I garnered from my lesson that day, but I gained a whole new appreciation for the excellent education that I know my son-in-law received growing up from his dad, our farm instructor for the day. And I look forward to the next time when my wife and I are lovingly welcomed back to the farm for our next farm lesson.

Wooden Door Mats

A number of years ago, the company I was working for recognized extra efforts by employees through the awarding of recognition points. One year, after completing a particularly challenging project, I was rewarded with a large grant of these points. As I pored over the catalog searching for how I wanted to “spend” my points, I came across the hardware section.

Before my eyes were all of the wonderful power tools I had always wanted but could never justify buying for a single project. I suspect many wives have caught on to the fact that the reason most men enjoy doing projects is because it requires them to buy new tools to complete said projects. But with these points at my disposal, I could get any of the tools I had always wanted without busting a single project budget on an expensive tool.

With my points, I was able to purchase four different power tools: a table saw, a belt sander, a drill press, and a hand sander. It was like Christmas morning for a toddler when all of my new tools arrived on my doorstep. And as with any youngster with brand new toys, I was ready to play with them. So rather than a project sending me off in search of a needed tool, my new tools sent me off in a search of a project.

It has been too long to recall what planted the seed of an idea for my first project but it was to make wooden slatted doormats. Today, if you Google “diy wooden doormats,” you will get a plethora of different design styles. But for me, it was seeing one in a home and garden store that gave me that “modern art” feeling (the one you get upon seeing a modern art painting and thinking, “I could have done that”, but of course you didn’t). But with my new tools, I could do it!

I settled on a simple design of parallel slats connected by small blocks made from the same wood. Deciding to use 1 X 2 inch unfinished boards for my project, I just needed to figure out what the dimensions needed to be and how many slats would look right. This I determined empirically (as any good scientist would do) by cutting a number of boards to the desired length and simply laying them out on the floor of the garage in different patterns. I concluded that 11 slats with three columns of interconnecting blocks were what was needed to give the right proportions.

This design feature settled; I next had to figure out how to connect it all together. I knew with an electric drill press, I could accurately, consistently, and repeatedly drill holes uniformly in each board.

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Lining up all of the holes, I could then run a threaded rod through and fasten nuts on each end to secure the doormat. With the aid of my drill press, I could even counter sink the two outer slats to allow the nut to fit flush with the board being virtually hidden.

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Off I went cutting and drilling.

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Our house had four different outside doors so I made one for each.

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Since our front door had sidelights on either side of the door, I decided to make a longer version for there.

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I was having so much fun I decided to make more doormats and give them to all of my siblings and some of our friends, too.

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I even explored making them to sell at a friend’s garden store until I realized my labor, unless I was willing to work for slave wages, would make them too expensive.

Having run out of people I could give doormats to, I wanted to make one more project with my new toys. Using the same design, I decided to make a bench for our bathroom. I chose to use a nicer wood, beech wood, as I seem to recall since it would not be exposed to the elements. I also wanted a wood that would accept a stain as I wanted to finish it as well.

The only new detail I needed to work out was the base upon which the seat would rest on. After exploring several different options (e.g., Goggle “slatted bench”), I settled on a simple four-post base connected with a centered, central post for strength. In looking back through my old photos, I unfortunately did not find any photos taken as I progressed the construction. But here is the finished bench 13 years ago…

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…and here it is today.

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Seems to have held up pretty nicely.

Even my doormats, which have been exposed to the elements all of these years, have weathered quite well.

Recalling and telling this story has renewed in me a desire to pull out all of those fun toys and find another project. Maybe I could build a doormat for my grandson to put outside his dorm room when he goes away to college.

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Well, I guess considering he hasn’t even learned to walk yet, I have a while before I have to get started…