How to Make an End Grain Cutting Board

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As some of you may have seen, I made a few cutting boards as Christmas gifts for family and friends this year. The boards were certainly not perfect, which irks me, but they at least came out well enough that I didn’t have to scramble at the last minute and swap in alternate gifts. This was actually the second batch of cutting boards I’ve made. I made two for my parents and my in-laws last year as well, and they were serviceable.

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Because woodworking is not the most common hobby, people are maybe a little more impressed than they should be that boards like these are homemade. That being said, if you’re starting from rough sawn lumber as pictured above and you lack real, full size power tools some of the steps involved in making these can be a little tricky.

For anyone that’s interested but might lack some of the fancy tools common in other How To videos, then, here’s how I make cutting boards like these using the more basic tools I have in my shop. The tl;dr: if I can build one of these,
you can too.

The Type

First, it’s important to understand what kind of cutting board you’re making. The boards above are what are called end grain cutting boards. This means exactly what it sounds like: the surface of the cutting board is the end grains of the wood. This is in contrast to most wooden cutting boards, which are edge grain.

In theory, the advantage to end grain boards is that they don’t cut across the grain, which is hard on both the board and the knife. Instead, each cut lands between individual wood fibers which naturally reseal themselves post-cut, in a manner which is impossible for severed edge grains. End grain is also supposed to provide less surface area for bacteria and other contaminants.

Whatever their functional advantages, however, end grain boards are, in my opinion at least, aesthetically superior. Exposing and contrasting the varied grain patterns of different sections of wood gives each board a unique and visually interesting appearance.

The process below will work for either type of board, however. If you prefer edge grain boards, you simply skip a few steps at the end.

What Actual Experts Can Do

If you really want to see what’s possible with these boards, check out this Instagram account. This guy’s boards are legitimate works of art, and while some of the more complicated designs are rendered via a CNC machine, he’s able to make incredibly complex pieces using nothing more than basic power tools.

YouTube Can Help

Like everything else I build, when making cutting boards I started with YouTube. You’ll probably want to too. My playlist of cutting board videos, which includes one from the Instagram account mentioned above, is here. The best balance between depth of content and accessibility, however, is probably this one from the Wood Whisperer.

Notes on Wood Choice

There are dozens of types of wood that make for good cutting boards, so while I prefer walnut because it’s distinct from more traditional maple boards, you can certainly get creative and use different woods and even different combinations of wood to achieve your desired look. Three quick caveats.

  1. Hardwoods are preferable. There are some manufacturers that produce cutting boards using softwoods like larch, but in general you’ll get much better life out of a hardwood.
  2. Certain hardwood species are no no’s for cutting boards, either because they have large pores like oak or because they have potentially toxic oil and resin issues like teak. Do your research if you’re using something exotic.
  3. You may see videos on making cutting boards out of scrap wood such as wood that came from pallets. Personally, while I use pallet wood for a variety of projects, I wouldn’t use it for anything that touches food because I don’t know what the pallet wood’s been exposed to.

What You’ll Need

In a perfect world, you have a full size cabinet saw for rips, a compound miter saw for crosscuts, jointers and planers wide enough for the boards, and an industrial drum sander. If you have access to all of that, skip the below and just go watch one of the videos. You don’t need this.

My shop, however, has none of those things. The following is what I used, and just FYI therse are Amazon referral links.

  • Cuts: SawStop Jobsite Saw
    I saved up for a SawStop mostly because I like having all of my fingers. If you haven’t seen it, their safety technology is like a magic trick. But it’s not just the safety; these are well designed saws, period. SawStop’s thoughtful about how the saw is put together, how accessories are attached and made available, etc. And while the included miter gauge is terrible, the fence is great. I would love to have one SawStop’s big cabinet saws, but even if my budget would have accommodated it my space wouldn’t: I just don’t have the room. Plus, there’s nothing better than working outside in the summer, and the jobsite saw lets me do that.The only question for this project was whether the smaller jobsite saw would have the horsepower to rip the thick, heavy 8/4 (2″) walnut stock I was working with. Turned out to not be an issue, the saw cut it up just fine.All of that being said, most tablesaws will be fine for this. They just might lop off a finger or two.
  • Flattening: Bosch Colt Router with included Edge Guide and not included Plunge Base
    Like my jobsite saw, this router was in part a budget driven purchase as I was just getting into woodworking when I bought it and I couldn’t justify a full size router so I picked up this cheaper trim router. The shocking thing is that for a tiny little trim router, it’s incredibly powerful. I used it to cut dadoes with a 3/4″ bit this summer – which the guy at Rockler bet me I couldn’t do – and it was used to do all of the actual board flattening. I might have been able to go a bit faster if I had something with a bit more juice under the hood, but I’m not sure that would have been advisable in any event.
  • Glueing:
    Most important, make sure your glue is food safe. I use Titebond III for my boards; this is pretty standard. As for clamps, I’ve got a mix of bar and pipe clamps, and for the jointer sled (see below) I used these toggle clamps.
  • Sanding:
    I have an old hand me down random orbit sander, so you don’t need anything particularly sophisticated for this job.

How to Build the Boards

1. If you’re lucky enough to get your lumber dressed on four sides (i.e. flat on the sides, bottom and top, skip all this nonsense and go to Step #3). More likely, you’re picking it up from the lumber store rough sawn, which means you have to joint and plane it. Step one for me was jointing or flattening the sides. Normally, you’d do this on a jointer but I don’t have one. So instead I made a sled for my table saw that pinned the wood down so I could cut one clean edge that I could then place against the tablesaw fence to give me two clean sides. Here’s a YouTube describing this process. And here’s the sled.

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As you can see, this is exceedingly primitive, and like the other sleds I used on this project it’s made from melamine plywood scrap I had left over from this summer’s closet organizer build. Basically, it’s a board wide enough for your lumber, with toggles on it to make sure it doesn’t move while being cut. 

2. With the sides addressed, next up was flattening the boards top and bottom. Luckily for me, I have a small 10″ benchtop Ryobi planer. This worked, because my stock was between 7″ and 8″ wide. The only issue was that the infeed and outfeed supports for my small planer were nowhere near long enough, so I had to make a planer sled.

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This was even more basic than the jointer sled. It’s literally a long piece of flat material, which a lip on to keep the material from sliding off the back. Here’s a useful YouTube on building one of those.

The end result of the “jointing” and planing of these boards looked like this.

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3
. Next up is ripping these into strips using the tablesaw. This should be uncomplicated: you simply rip the individual boards into strips – 1″ strips in the case of my design. Note that this is not related to the ultimate thickness of the board.

The ripped strips will look like this.

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You might notice the pencil marks on the above. This is because I personally prefer to try and keep the stock matched with the strips it came from, so this lets me reassemble them in exactly the correct order. You may prefer a completely random assortment, in which case don’t bother marking the ripped stock.

4. At this point, you’re probably left with strips that are much longer than your board requires. Which means that they must be cut down to length – 15.5″ in my case. In this case, you’re cross cutting the wood, which means that you either need a compound miter saw to crosscut your material, or as in my case, a crosscut sled for your table saw. To build my crosscut sled, I mostly followed the design here, though my materials differed significantly. This allows you to use a table saw to make consistent cuts across the grain of the wood, and cut your lengths down to what you need.

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On the sled, the process is simple. You measure out your required length, clamp down a stop block and start cutting.

5. Eventually, you’ll be left with a bunch of strips. These are then laid out for the first glue up. In my case, I select 12 strips that are 1″ wide and 15.5″ long, and come from the same stock. I then rotate every other strip 90 degrees, so that the grain patterns now run against each other for visual contrast.

The primary rules for a successful glue up, from what I’ve learned, are a) make sure to use plenty of glue and b) make sure to use plenty of clamps.

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Glue everything up, and let it drive overnight.

6. When you wake up the next day, your boards will look weird and ugly like this.

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After you’ve chiseled or scraped off the excess glue residue, you need to clean up the edges with your crosscut sled. That done, it’s time to flatten the boards.

Unfortunately for me, these boards were now much too wide for my small planer, so I needed an alternate way to flatten them. Enter the router sled.

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Basically, this is a flat surface with a non-skid pad (some people actually glue the boards down, but that seems like a major hassle) and two edges of exactly equal height. On top of that, you have a flat base for your router which allows the router to travel over the surface of the boards removing material until the surface is flat. Use the biggest straight bit you have and/or your router will drive. That was 3/4″ in my case.

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At first, I followed the advice in this video, but this left me with the grooved surface you see above. I eventually figured out that the uneven, looping clockwise circles left me with a smooth, flat surface.

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The good news is that this router sled approach works: it will flatten your boards effectively. The bad news is that it generates a shitload of dust. So be prepared for that.

7. Once you have your boards edged and flattened, it’s time to cut them up to expose the end grain. Throw them back in your crosscut sled and cut to a thickness slightly larger than what you intend for the board. I typically go for 1 1/2″ to 1 5/8″ to allow for a nice thick board even after losing material to planing and sanding.

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Once you’ve cut up your strips, rotate them 90 degrees to expose the end grain. Then flip every other strip lengthwise to further break up the pattern on the board and introduce visual contrast.

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Glue up the result.

8. Now you’re on the home stretch. Re-flatten the newly glued board using the same process from Step #6.

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You should have something that looks like this.

9. The board should be big enough to be somewhat difficult to handle, so you’ll want to carve out some hand holds. Pull your router out of the plunge base on its sled, and drop it into an edge guide set to a depth of 1/2″. I use the same 3/4″ bit as from the planing. The size of the hand holds isn’t terribly important, so I just cut two stop blocks that will give me a reasonable enough size, clamp them on, and route out my hand holds.

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Get ready for a lot more dust.

10. With a flat board with hand holds cut, it’s time for the first sand. Assuming you don’t have a large drum sander, use a random orbital sander. Start with 80 grit, then work your way to 120 grit.

11. Now it’s time to swap out the straight bit on your router for a roundover bit. Pick your preferred size; personally, I like a minimal look so I stick to 1/8″, but 1/4″ is also common. Important note: be sure to test out your bit placement on a piece of scrap first. It has to be seated exactly right or you can carve out too much material. Once that’s down, roundover all edges on the board to make it more comfortable to handle.

12. Time for the final sand. Hit the board with 180, then 220 until it’s perfectly smooth. This will take longer with end grain than edge grain.

13. Now comes the fun part. You’ve put all this labor into a piece of wood that looks dusty and unimpressive. Like so.

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But then you hit it with a coat of food grade mineral oil – commonly sold as “butcher’s block oil” or “cutting board oil” – and the grain pops and the board looks like an entirely different animal.

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This is always my favorite part of the process. Anyway, you basically have three choices as far as finishes.

  1. Food grade varnish, e.g. salad bowl finish
  2. Mineral oil
  3. Wax and oil combination

I’ve done all three, but generally go with mineral oil because it’s the simplest and easiest for those receiving the board to maintain.

For a mineral oil finish, I hit the board four days in a row, and allow it to dry overnight in between.

14. After the fourth day’s oil has dried, I rub the board down with microfiber cloth to remove excess oil and dust, then screw on feet to keep the board off the counter and make it easier to pick up. These feet specifically.

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And you’re done. Enjoy your new cutting board!

 

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My 2017 in Pictures

As with last year’s edition, this year’s annual year in pictures post is arriving late. Due to a combination of daycare germs, furnace outages and bomb cyclones this year’s “holiday” break was busy. But given how much I look forward to the exercise of looking back on the year past, I’m happy to be getting to it, delays notwithstanding.

For most of the world, 2017 was a year of unfortunate development after unfortunate development. Every time it seemed like rock bottom had been hit, the show reached a new low. Rinse, lather, repeat.

But rather than focus on the trainwreck of world events, my purpose here is to revisit and capture for posterity the personal highs and lows. If you want in the moment reactions, the newsletter archive is available at your leisure. This post is the pictures that captured moments that made up my year, large and small. Mostly small.

Before we get to the pictures, however: a couple of statistics from 2017.

Travel

Travel in 2017 was a bit of a good news / bad news situation. On the positive side, thanks in large part to a travel schedule that featured a large number of events on the east coast, my mileage was down significantly from 2016, which was in turn down from 2015. This was the fewest miles I’ve flown since I’ve been on TripIt, in fact. As with last year, I didn’t qualify for JetBlue’s loyalty program until my last trip of December. Most years, I’ve cleared that bar by June.

The bad news was that the low mileage was largely an artifact of geography and not reflective of my overall travel load. A trip to New York, for example, adds thousands of less miles to my ledger than one to San Francisco, but it’s still time away from home. At one point this fall, in fact, due to a series of unrelated factors, I was on the road eight weeks in a row. Typically, I try not to exceed three.

That kind of stretch I would rather not repeat, but here’s hoping I can keep the mileage down again in 2018.

In the meantime, a few other tidbits courtesy of Cemre’s TripIt Year in Review tool and Openflights.org.

  • Distance: I flew 56,447 miles, down 18% or so from 2016.
  • 100K: This was the fourth time in seven years I failed to reach 100,000 miles. Will try to keep it up.
  • Carrier: After a couple of years of trying to make it work with Virgin America (who got bought by Alaska) because their loyalty program is much better than JetBlue’s, the former’s lack of routes finally killed off that experiment. With the exception of routes to London and one hop on Virgin, effectively all of my travel was on JetBlue. I still think their loyalty program is non-competitive and light on benefits, but that aside it’s a pretty good airline.
  • Airport: Because I wasn’t flying on Virgin anymore, I spent more time this year in Portland than Boston in a reverse of 2016.
  • First Time: Didn’t travel to any cities for the first time this year, though I did return to Richmond for the first time in almost twenty years.
  • Where To: For the first time in a few years, New York narrowly tipped San Francisco as my most popular destination. Fingers crossed that repeats in 2018. Nothing against San Francisco, which I enjoy visiting, but a 45 minute flight is a hell of a lot more palatable than a six and a half hour one.

Personal Stats

  • My Top 5 non search-engine referrers to the work blog were 1) Twitter, 2) Reddit, 3) Android Apps (new category?) 4) Hacker News, 5) Facebook.
  • For the first year in a while, I don’t have meaningful stats regarding my step count. The first problem was that my Fitbit Charge broke for the second time – they’d replaced it once already – and this time it was out of warranty. On the Wirecutter’s recommendation, I replaced it with a Garmin Vivosmart HR+ which includes heartrate – which I’ve found you have to take with a grain of salt. The bad news is that for two important use cases for me: 1) walking with a stroller and 2) working on a treadmill desk, it substantially underreported steps for me relative to the Fitbit hardware. So not only did I not have device continuity, there are significant observable differences in capture. Which means no step counts this year, alas.

With that, on to the pictures.

January 5

Started off the New Year on a down note, with my faithful ten year old Volvo S40 picked up at the crack of dawn and donated to charity due to a mechanical issue more costly than the car was worth. It was a fantastic car, and I still have no idea why Volvo killed the model.

thank you for ten great years of memories, my friend. you were loved.

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January 26

Over in London for Monki Gras. Epic and bar-raising, yet again.
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February 9

Ran out of our initial drop of wood. We’re on track to run out even earlier this year thanks to the weather.

before, after

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February 15

Preferring to not have our roof caved in with snow, reluctantly brought out the roof rake.

about as fun as it looks

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February 22

I’m not entirely sure, but I believe this was the first political protest I’ve attended.
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February 25

Continuing the baseball education.

pretty nice little saturday

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March 11

Courtesy of an event, I and a few thousand other people had the run of the Giants park in San Francisco. It’s gorgeous.

pretty nice little park you have there, san francisco

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March 29

Last time I was at this PATH station, I was in high school, working for my Dad. They’ve done an amazing job with the rebuild.

haven't been here since high school

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April 15

Love having this park ten minutes from the house.

five minutes from home

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April 29

And this lobster pound even closer.

it's nice to live within walking distance of a lobster pound

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May 3

First appearance at Fenway this season.

very few complaints

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May 6

Continuing the baseball education.

pretty nice little saturday

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May 16

Having been located on Newbury Street in Portland for the better part of eight years, RedMonk HQ officially moved across town to High Street. There were a number of reasons for the change: construction in the old neighborhood, crowds from the nearby cruise ships, an overall upgrade in aesthetics and function (new office has a shower). The best part of the move, however? Pai Men is now three blocks away.

happy moving day, @redmonk HQ

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May 22

Having realized a while back that a) I needed a table saw and b) my track record of injuries suggested that I invest in safety, I’d been saving up for a while to get a SawStop. Fortunately, the only one that would fit in my tiny shop was the cheapest model, their jobsite saw. It’s been a fantastic purchase, one I wish I’d saved up for years ago.

June 10

For the first time since my fifth reunion, maybe, a group of friends and I went back to our college reunion. It was a great time, particularly since we made the decision to get a house of our own rather than stay in the dorms. The Purple Pub that I once knew so well, however, has been replaced by something a lot more corporate.

this place was a lot different before it burned down

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June 29

This was the first speakeasy I’ve ever seen on a client site. The bartender within was competent to the point of being intimidating; I was glad I wasn’t the woman in front of me who asked what cocktails they had and was bluntly told, “everything.”

i enjoy clients with a speakeasy in their offices

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July 1

On a visit to my wife’s Uncle, we hopped the St John’s ferry.

found a bigger boat

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July 4

Spent the fourth of July in Nova Scotia – Chester, to be precise. Great little town.
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July 11

One of the folks in our local tech community had an excess of downed trees that I tried to assist him with.

lunch hour

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August 19

I didn’t make it down in time for them, but I was heartened by the response of the city of Boston to the Nazi “free speech” demonstrators. The Nazis were outnumbered by something close to 1000 to 1, and yet no violence ensued. These news trucks lined every side of the commons in the aftermath.
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August 20

Everybody deserves to retire at some point.

circle of life

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August 21

Worked outside throughout the eclipse, though I did get to view it quickly thanks to glasses from another member of the tech community.
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August 22

This closet organizer wasn’t any better than the one I made last summer, but at least it didn’t almost amputate the tip of my finger.

no fingertips lost building the closet organizer. this year.

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August 26

Knocked out a couple of quick and easy chairs made from nothing more than dimensional lumber.

next up, pickling

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August 26

We weren’t there for very long because it turns out toddlers – or at least, our toddler – doesn’t like to wear hearing protection, but during a visit of the Blue Angels I got to see my favorite plane of all time, the Cadillac of the Skies.

p-51, cadillac of the skies

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August 31

The weather wasn’t ideal, but I managed to sneak in my annual pilgrimmage to the Houston Brook Falls.

twenty degrees colder than usual, still worth it

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September 1

Four or five years after creating the holes by ripping out a closet, I finally got around to patching the floor. Before you say it looks like crap, which it does, let me just say in my defense that that whole section of floor is likely to be ripped out so trying to match it wasn’t worth the effort.

September 4

Continuing the baseball education.

solo parenting at its finest

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September 7

Toured the new Monktoberfest venue that Kate found. William Allen farm has a gorgeous barn and great people.
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September 12

Over in London for our annual ThingMonk conference. Excellent experience.
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September 20

Three cords of wood – which we are burning through both literally and figuratively – was dropped off.

this weekend's beers will be earned

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September 23

Made it up to the Common Ground Fair for my favorite part, the sheepdog demonstration. These dogs are crazy smart. They can identify twenty plus different verbal commands, and can parse their individual names as part of the command. You can tell one dog to walk clockwise, in other words, and another to counter.
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September 30

It’s not pretty, but the homemade cider press I made for Kate did in fact produce cider.

not pretty, makes cider

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October 3

Finally got the woodshed loaded.
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October 5

Made it through yet another Monktoberfest. Humbled by the experience, as always.

it begins

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October 12

Stopped by Atlantic Hardwoods to pick up some rough 8/4 walnut stock. This will become relevant shortly.

there's just something about walnut

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October 21

One of my favorite beer festivals anywhere. Tough to beat drinking great and funky craft beers outside on a beatiful fall day.

the goods were good

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October 21

Leaf peeping, from Kate’s parent’s house.

tough to beat fall

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October 23

Had never been to an Alamo Drafthouse, but a dinner cancellation in NYC left me with just the opening I needed to pop over to Brooklyn to take in It. Both the venue and movie were worth every penny.
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November 3

A huge windstorm unexpectedly hammered Maine, and in our neighborhood alone four or five houses were hit by downed trees. Took CMP five full days to restore our power, in fact.

half a dozen reasons our power was out for five days

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November 11

First Williams homecoming win of her lifetime.

the biggest little game in america's tiniest fan

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December 1

We’d never bought anything on Black Friday before, but my brother talked us into a $399 50″ 4K Samsung model. I didn’t think our 2005 Sharp was that bad until I set up the Samsung.
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December 4

I flew out to San Francisco for my last work trip of the year only to spend most of it throwing up in my hotel with a stomach bug, then having to hop an early flight home while weak as a kitten because the same bug was wiping out the family at home. On the good news front, I confirmed that you can have nothing but bottled water and Gatorade delivered to you in San Francisco.
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December 11

Remember that walnut lumber?

filters just don't do this gorgeous wood justice

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December 24

Eventually, I’m sure it will be assembling bikes or something, but this year, we spent Christmas Eve furiously trying to put the finishing touches on a dollhouse for the little one.

December 25

The pictures are dated this week, but these were all done before Christmas. Those two slabs of walnut were milled down and then cut up to make end-grain cutting boards. I’ll document that process later because it was weird and unorthodox, but I was almost pleased with how they came out. Mistakes were made, but at the very least, the folks on the receiving end were unlikely to get another one of these in their stockings for Christmas.

remember that secret walnut project?

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So You’re Going to Have a Kid

dad-elno

One of the things that happens when your wife is pregnant is that people give you advice, whether you want it or not. Parents of one kid, parents of lots of kids or parents of zero kids, pretty much everyone has something for you. This sounds overwhelming, and it is at times, but I actually appreciated it. Not all of the advice, of course, but a lot of it. Which is why, because one of RedMonk’s own is expecting, I feel obligated to share a few lessons learned about parenting in spite of the fact that I’ve been doing this job for less than two years.

I have nothing close to wisdom to offer, but I promise two things:

  1. I will not say “your life is over” or “see you in twenty years,” because I found that flavor of “advice” spectacularly unhelpful.
  2. This will be a lot longer than it needs to be.

With that said, here are ten things I’ve figured out about having a kid.

  1. The Good News/Bad News About Sleep Deprivation
    After my daughter was born, one of my friends whose wife was expecting asked what the fatigue is really like. I told him that there was good news and bad news about that. I asked him whether he remembered what it was like to get up at three something to catch a flight out at five in the morning – that disorientating and debilitating fatigue that makes you feel hollowed out. He said that he did. The bad news, I told him, was that it’s essentially like that all day every day for the first few months. He took a moment, then asked about the good news. The good news, I said, is that after a day or two, that will seem totally normal. You’ll only dimly recall a time in which you slept like a normal person. The human body is an amazingly adaptable thing, and while sleep deprivation is not its favorite condition, it will do what it must.

    Even better, a few months after the baby sleeps through the night, you won’t even remember how awful that initial sleep deprivation was. Until the baby has a sleep regression, that is, but best not to worry about that now. In fact, forget I mentioned that.

  2. Trust the People in Your Life To Cut You Some Slack
    One of Kate’s childhood friends Lucy is a nurse at the hospital my daughter was born at. So she was in to see us the day after the delivery. At this point we were all sleeping at the hospital, which is another way of saying that none of us were actually sleeping. While I enjoy Lucy’s company, then, when she showed up, I guessed that my presence was less essential than baby or mother, and so after saying a weary “Hi Lucy!,” I curled up and slept in a chair for the duration of her visit. Under other circumstances, this is massively rude. But this time I believed that Lucy, both a nurse and a mother herself, would understand our situation. She did, and couldn’t have been sweeter about it later.

    This understanding is important, because the baby will have very unpredictable impacts on your life. I, for example, was raised to believe that early was on time and on time was late. I’ve had to (temporarily) lower my standards, however, because post-kid we are basically always late. We apologize, of course, and try not to be, but trust our friends and family to understand.

  3. Routine is Everything
    One of the pieces of advice I didn’t receive but wish I had was around routine. Specifically, that routine is the most important single tool in managing your life post-kid. Everything you can reduce down to a simple, repeatable set of steps should be. When my daughter was a newborn, for example, I had what I called “evening chores.” This meant bringing in firewood, tending our fire, doing the dishes, cleaning bottles and prepping the next set of bottles. Bottle cleaning and prep, in fact, was its own set of subroutines. I washed the pieces in groups because it was faster, and laid them out to dry in exactly the pattern that you would assemble them in.

    The routines evolve, of course. These days it’s about making sure that while my daughter is running around playing in the early evening, I’m getting her covers pulled down, her stuffed animals in the places she expects them, her PJs laid out on the changing table and her blankee laid out on the chair we rock in before bedtime.

    Basically, the more you can operate on autopilot the better, particularly when you’re likely to be down a cylinder or three mentally.

  4. You Will Fight
    From a family member who shall go unnamed came the warning that, due to sleep deprivation, even the closest of couples will argue. The story he told me was of a fight that began because his wife asked him if he “wanted” to get up and check on the baby at 2:30 in the morning.

    Turns out the answer to whether someone “wants” to do that is a very emphatic no.

    Even in a best case scenario, where you have help from family or otherwise, and you’re managing to sleep for reasonable stretches of time, tensions will run higher. The good news is that because most of the fights are over stupid shit, they’ll blow over quickly and the baby has the power to make all of that go away quickly. But in general, always do your best to be empathetic and give the benefit of the doubt. Even if you don’t “want” to get up at 2:30 in the morning.

  5. Baby Germs Are No Joke
    Generally speaking, I’ve been pretty lucky with my health. It’s pretty rare that I get the flu, stomach bugs or anything worse than a minor cold. Or more accurately it was rare, until my daughter started at daycare and our house became a Hot Zone.

    In the short span since my daughter arrived I feel pretty confident in saying that I’ve been sick more than I was in my entire life up to that point. I spent Christmas Day vomiting up anything that wasn’t Gatorade. I had a miserable fever and my sinuses were a brick for two weeks in February. I even had to cancel a client video call two months back because I got pink eye. However good you think your immune system is, it’s no match for daycare. Trust me. If you’re the kind of person who never uses their sick time, you’re going to get a lot better at it.

  6. Get Out of the House
    One of the things that several different friends with kids recommended we do – and they had always done themselves – is to take the baby out early. The sooner they can acclimate to different types of environments, with people and sounds and weather, the better.

    Our daughter has been going to a friendly local restaurant since she was a month old, and while she’s too high energy at the moment to sit still for an entire meal, she at least has been introduced to the concept and has some idea of how to conduct herself in a public setting. The sooner you start this the better, in fact, because when they’re really little they’ll just sleep through dinner if you time it right. Once they’re older, they’ll want you to walk them up and down stairs a hundred times.

  7. It’s Fucking Terrifying
    There’s no way around this: having a kid is legitimately, and regularly, terrifying. As Tim Bray said in a post he pointed me to the day my daughter was born, “I’m sure every parent has stroked a sleeping baby’s face, or tickled its finger, just to make sure it’s breathing.” This is true, and literally every parent ever has done this.

    But it’s not just the breathing. The first time they run a fever is scary. Same with a bad cough. The first time they vomit up a full feed on you. The first time they tip over and smack their face on their little red Radio Flyer wagon. All scary.

    But the thing to remember, and that your doctors and nurses will remind you of if they’re good (and ours is excellent), is that kids are generally pretty resilient little creatures. Experience also makes things easier; the first time your kid can’t keep any food down, for example, it’s paralyzing. Once you learn how to handle it with Pedialyte, the BRAT diet and popsicles, things aren’t good, exactly, but they’re more manageable.

  8. You Can Do It
    One of the things that I think most prospective parents struggle with on some level is the question of whether or not they’re up for it. The short answer is: it’ll be fine. All of the things you don’t know how you’ll manage – from something as basic as changing a diaper to the ultimate responsibility for a tiny human – you’ll manage. A week after having a kid you’ll doing things you had no idea you could do, which is great, but more importantly you’ll take these new abilities for granted. You’ll wonder why you ever wondered whether you could do them, in fact. So when you ask yourself “can I do this?” the answer is yes.

  9. It Gets Better
    One of the most accurate pieces of advice I was given was simple: “it gets better.” Having a baby is an incredible, indescribable experience. But as my Mom told me when she came down to the hospital to meet her grandaughter for the first time, what you’re working towards when they’re a newborn is the first real, purposeful smile. I didn’t really understand this, because babies have a tendency to rocket through a wide variety of facial expressions with zero connection to any actual internal emotional state. When I got my first actual smile, though, I remember thinking, “Damn, Mom was right.” Babies are great. Babies that can smile at you are even better.

    Now imagine what it’s like the first time the previously helpless little baby can give you a high five. Take a few wobbly steps. Learn the sign language for shark. Say “I love Red Sox.” Give you a tiny cheer from the back seat after a Pearl Jam song.

    The point is that while babies are great, they get even better. So when you’ve slept for ten hours in two days and you’re rocking the baby wondering if it will ever go back to sleep, know that it will. And that it gets better.

  10. The Days Are Long, The Years Are Short
    The most counter-intuitive observation I heard after my daughter’s birth, and I can’t for the life of me remember who it was who relayed it to me (see #1), was that the days are long but the years are short. Kids are fun and amazing and rewarding, but the days can be very long indeed. From an early start in the morning to bedtime if you’re lucky, and much later if you’re not, kids are basically operating at full speed. They have no throttle like adults; there’s no notion of energy conservation, no concept of pacing oneself. Everything is all out, all the time. Which means that sometimes it takes everything you have just to get through a day. And the next day. And the one after that.

    Then one day you look around, and – impossibly – a year’s gone, and all you can think is, “how did that happen so fast?”

    The answer, of course, is kids.

Bonus Takeaways

  1. Do whatever it takes to find yourself a good pediatrician: they’ll make your kid feel better, and you as well.
  2. The Moro Reflex is the best reflex. Enjoy it while it lasts.

I Have Squandered My Days With Plans of Many Things

This summer’s vacation was unpredictable, as could have been predicted. Rather than the usual three week stretch to close out the summer, it was one off at a cottage up north, a week back in the office, than two more of staycation, where staycation means working as a general contractor on our house. And as with most best laid plans, things didn’t quite go according to schedule thanks to some fun daycare viruses.

For all that, however, it was a great break, one that allowed me to recharge the batteries with the Monktoberfest looming and the usual fall travel slate right on its heels. I didn’t get to about half of my to do’s, and the world beyond the great state of Maine had a rough few weeks as is typical, but any vacation that ends without a trip to the ER is a good one in my book.

Here’s how things went.

For week one, we rented a cottage just around the corner from where our wedding reception was and across the street from the Atlantic.

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Just across the water on the other side of the peninsula from us was Coveside, one of our favorite restaurants on the water. And by on the water, I mean that while sitting at the bar you get to hear the hostess scrambling to find out a new mooring for an incoming vessel over marine radio because someone was parked in the wrong place.

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One peninsula over is Pemaquid Beach, which reminds me a bit of the beaches I grew up going to on the Cape, just with thousands fewer people.

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While, unlike the cape, there are no white sharks at Pemaquid (yet), we weren’t completely lacking in sharks.

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If you’re up that way, visiting places like Fort William Henry is a nice combo of colonial history with a lot of room for kids to run around.

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And as long as you’re there, might as well eat out on the dock at the Contented Sole which is less than half a mile away.

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After a week up north that went too fast, as it always does, it was back to work for a week. Though to be fair, some of that work involved visiting breweries, so it wasn’t all bad. Either way, the following Saturday I headed down to Fenway to see the Red Sox play the Yankees. It was the first time I’ve seen Chris Sale throw live.

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The game was the same day as the massive anti-Nazi counter-protests in Boston, which if I’d had time I would have come down early for. As it was, however, the TV trucks were out in force wrapping things up when I walked over to Fenway from South Station along the south side of the Commons.

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While at Fenway, I secured my annual replacement hat. Fun bit of SOG Trivia: any Red Sox hat you see on my head was bought at the park. There has never been an exception to this rule.

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Bright and early Monday morning, I made the first of several trips to Home Depot to pick up lumber.

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First up was ripping out the crappy wire shelves in our kitchen pantry and replacing them with slightly less crappy melamine coated alternatives. Because a kitchen remodel is on the table at some point, we didn’t go nuts with anything terribly fancy (though the sliding shelves I looked at were cool), just something basic that would be better than what we had originally.

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Next up was a closet organizer for the bedroom. As with the kitchen, the bedroom is likely to get torn up at some point so we kept the plans simple. The good news is that I learned from last year’s disaster which nearly cost me the tip of a finger, and things went much more smoothly this time around.

Not least because I finally saved up enough to buy a very pricy, but safe, SawStop tablesaw a few months ago. The larger cabinet models have a lot of advantages over the jobsite model I got, but there’s not much that beats working outside in the summer, so portability is huge.

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While I didn’t injure myself this year, assuming a minor burn with an iron doesn’t count, my execution was not without incident. While cutting the dadoes (read: grooves) for the closet organizer shelves, an enormous wasp landed on my arm. I jerked the arm, the arm knocked the guide for the router and, well, it didn’t end well. Except that I didn’t get stung, which was nice.

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But as these shelves are not intended to be permanent, I didn’t sweat it and just put a shelf right above it. Note that after last year’s debacle, I have a far more reasonable number of clamps for assembly.

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The final product is not going to win any awards, but makes far better use of the tiny closet than the single bar and shelf that were in there previously.

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In the market for some new deck chairs but short on time, I turned to a simple design based on regular old dimensional lumber. These are dead simple to build, to the point that you could knock several out in an afternoon pretty easily. We’ll see how the pine holds up outdoors, but the plan is to pickle and then seal them with poly and epoxy feet. Worst case and they don’t hold up, I’m out less than fifty bucks worth of lumber and an afternoon. Best case is that I have two new roomy deck chairs for less than a hundred bucks.

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The last home improvement project I was able to get to was one that has been planned for years. One of the first things we did when we bought our house was rip out an unfortunately located closet that was smack in the middle of the living room. With the help of our friend Corey, we demoed the closet and later sealed it up with sheetrock. We’d ignored the strips of missing flooring, however, punting on that and leaving holes like this one.

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The first problem with patching the floor was finding someone who would sell me less than dozens of square feet of flooring. I eventually ended up at Lumber Liquidators, where they had a lot of oak flooring in the right size for $8 or so. After purchase, however, they apparently discovered that they didn’t actually have a lot that small, so shipped me four times as much as I ordered. The good news is that it was still $8. The bad news is that I have a shitload of 3/4″ x 2 1/4″ oak flooring left over that I don’t need.

But either way, I was relieved to finally, years after ripping out the closet, be able to cross “patch flooring” off of my house projects to do list. And before someone says “why didn’t you try and match the existing flooring, that looks ugly AF,” note that a) the majority of these patches are covered by carpeting and b) if we relocate the stairs as we expect to this is all going to get torn up anyway.

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Lest you think it was staycation was all DIY all the time, I did manage to get out and about. My brother and his kids were up the first week, which was awesome. My parents have saved literally everything everything Nick and I played with as kids.

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Along with her cousins, Eleanor got to pick fresh blueberries from my parents garden. Not too many actually made it back to the house, but she enjoyed it.

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The day before my brother and his family headed home, we all went over to the former naval airbase in Brunswick because the Blue Angels were in town.

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But while I got to see my favorite aircraft of all time, it turns out that toddlers that refuse to wear their hearing protection are not super excited about jets that roar past a hundred feet off the deck. Our time there, then, was regrettably brief.

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We also got the chance to visit Five Islands while my brother was up. It’s always rated as one of the best lobster pounds in Maine, and is picturesque enough that it’s been featured in a couple of national commercials. It’s also a couple of miles from where my parents live.

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One of the days Eleanor was out from daycare, we got to visit her happy place.

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On the second to last day of my vacation, I got to visit mine. Temps were in the mid-sixties rather than the eighties that characterize my visits usually, but as an O’Grady I’m obligated to swim regardless of what the air or water temps are. Cold or not, there’s nothing like closing out the summer by drying yourself on a rock next to a waterfall drinking a nice craft beer.

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Time to start planning for Summer 2018.

Everything You Need to Know About Firewood: The Q&A

Four years ago, my wife and I bought a house. In a first for us, the house included a fireplace. This was how I got started down the path that ended with me reading books about how Norwegians stack wood and watching YouTube videos on everything from A/B testing fire building methods to chainsaw bloopers.

Also, I’ve covered half of the front lawn with piles of air drying lumber.

The fireplace has long since given way to a fireplace insert – essentially a woodstove that fits in a fireplace. After debating at length about a variety of heating options, we decided to double down on wood due to the economics, the vastly improved efficiency of modern EPA-approved stoves, its independence from the power grid and a family affinity for sitting around a roaring fire on cold nights.

While it’s a relatively cheap fuel in the economic sense, however, wood comes with other costs. Wood requires a lot of preparation and physical effort, while other fuels typical to the Northeast like oil, natural gas or propane are never touched by human hands (unless something has gone terribly, terribly wrong). The learning curve can also be steep.

Which is why, while I’m no expert, I wanted to capture a few of the things I wish someone had told me when we first started down the path with wood. Queue the firewood Q&A:

Where’s the best place to learn about this stuff?

Two recommendations. First, read Norwegian Wood. Easily the best resource I’ve found, and a surprisingly entertaining read. Second, as always, YouTube is your friend. This channel in particular has a ton of useful information, and the production quality is unexpectedly impressive.

Where do I get firewood?

Obviously, wood is either going to come from your property or someone else’s. Most of us don’t have enough property to provide us with free fuel, which means that we have to buy it from someone else. Your best bet in sourcing wood is to ask around or check lists of the Angie’s or Craig’s varieties. If you live somewhere cold enough to have a fireplace or woodstove, there will be someone selling wood.

What am I looking for in firewood?

You want to know about the quality of the wood delivered (is it largely intact or a bunch of kindling?), whether they’re accurately reporting the level of moisture (is it seasoned or kiln-dried as ordered?), whether you’re getting the species promised (did you expect hardwoods but get soft?) and whether or not you’re getting the number of cords agreed upon.

When do I get firewood?

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The short answer: as early as possible. The longer answer is that it depends on what kind of wood you’re getting. There are three types:

  • Green: The cheapest option, this is wood that has just been cut, and should not be burned until it’s been dried. If you can, get this early in the spring and dry it all summer and fall and it will be ready by winter (unless it’s Oak, which can take two full years to season).
  • Seasoned: This is wood that’s been left outside to dry – seasoned, in other words – to a moisture content of 20% or less (we’ll get to how to test that). Should be burnable as soon as you get it.
  • Kiln-Dried (KD): The most expensive option, this is wood that’s been baked in a kiln to reduce the moisture content quickly, with the side benefit of killing insects. This is burnable right away.

If it’s green wood and it’s not oak then, it needs to be drying by early spring. If it’s properly seasoned, summer or even fall/winter is fine. Same with KD.

How do I measure the moisture content of wood?

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Ideally, with a moisture meter like this one.

If you don’t have one, or if the cursed thing’s nine volt battery has died on you (again), you can take two splits and knock them together. If they crack, the wood’s dry-ish. If they thud, it’s too wet to use.

What kind of wood am I getting?

There are two kinds of wood to burn: hardwoods (e.g. ash, oak, elm, etc) and softwoods (e.g. fir, pine, spruce, etc). The former are generally preferred because they offer more energy on a per unit basis, but either will work. You’ll read from time to time that you should only burn hardwoods, but according to most stove manufacturers, you can burn all of the above.

Here in the Northeast we’re generally burning hardwoods, but in other areas of the country pine and other softwoods are used exclusively.

In Scandinavia, stove owners will often use softwoods to start a fire because they light more quickly and then transition to slower, longer burning hardwoods to keep the house warm overnight.

How much wood do I need?

This is an impossible question to answer precisely, but here are a few of the variables you’ll need to consider.

  • Is wood your primary heat source, or a supplementary system?
  • How efficient is your stove or fireplace?
  • What type of wood are you burning?
  • How cold do the winters get where you live, and how long do they last?
  • How warm do you want to keep your house?

For a rule of thumb, however, this is pretty reasonable:

So, if you just use your fireplace for romance and relaxation, buy a half cord of firewood each spring and let it season until fall. If you supplement a heating system with a woodstove or fireplace insert, buy two cords. If you heat exclusively with firewood, you’ll need about 4 to 5 cords, depending on the severity of your winters.

We go through between three and four cords per season with our fireplace insert, however.

What the hell is a “cord” of wood?

Firewood is generally ordered in units called cords. A cord is 128 cubic feet of wood, or a stack around 4 feet tall by 8 feet wide by 4 feet deep. The weight varies depending on wood species and moisture content, but is generally well over a ton ranging from 3,500 to over 5,000 pounds. It’s not going to fit in a pickup bed, in other words – it’s usually delivered by a large dump truck.

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This wasn’t even close to a cord, for example.

How to process the wood?


For those purchasing firewood, it most commonly comes already split. In this case, your only job is to store the wood, which admittedly is the worst part of dealing with wood heat.

If you get your hands on unprocessed trees, however, you need to cut them down to size and split them. That process is actually pretty simple.

  1. Determine what the maximum length of log is for your fireplace or stove. Our Jötul, for example, can accept 24″ inch lengths. Not everything needs to be 24″, and it can actually be beneficial to have different lengths, but nothing can be longer than that.
  2. Cut the tree into the segment lengths you need.
  3. Split those segments using an axe, splitting maul or wedge and sledgehammer.

What should I know about splitting wood?

Many things. Here are five specifics, however.

  1. Do not aim for the center of the log. The wood is strongest in the center, aim for an edge.
  2. The safest approach is to aim for the edge directly opposite you. The bad news is that if you miss you’re going to impact the log with the handle, which hurts like hell. The good news is that the axe cannot continue its arc towards your feet.
  3. Don’t overswing, but if you snap your wrists on the downswing you can get some extra acceleration and a better angle for the blade strike. See the video here for a demonstration.
  4. Have a stump or chopping block that’s the correct height. According to Lars Mytting, assuming logs between 12-16″, axe manufacturers recommend that “your chopping block should be no higher than your knees, and probably even lower.”
  5. It’s fun. There is no domestic task more enjoyable than splitting wood.

What are these splitting mauls and wedges and so on?

You’ll need a couple of things. Here’s my setup, and for full disclosure most are Amazon affiliate links, simply because I’m curious which recommendations are most useful.

  • Splitting Maul: Fiskars 7884 X27 Super Splitting Axe, 36-Inch
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    This thing is basically Thor’s hammer. The combination of its axe blade and wedge shape simply destroys wood. If you have relatively straight wood without a lot of knots and branches, this will make short work of it. Even without swinging at full strength, I’ve had logs literally explode with large pieces ending up ten feet away (so make sure no one else is around, and/or use the bungee cord or tire methods). Really can’t recommend this thing highly enough. It’s so good that even traditional axe fans reluctantly acknowledge its effectiveness.
  • Chainsaw: Husqvarna 141
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    You can spend a lot of money on chainsaws, but for most homeowners, you want something that’s light and will start easily. I’ve generally used a Husqvarna of my Dad’s, a model 141, but they don’t make this one anymore. If I was buying a saw today, I’d get another Husqvarna for three reasons. One, Scandinavians know a few things about chainsaws. Two, Husqvarna dealers are everywhere which makes service and getting parts trivial (the case bolts are $0.94 per, in case you were curious). And last, because this one’s been great. I’d probably get the model 440E.
  • Sledge Hammer: Truper 10 lb sledge
    IMG_20170717_160901Nothing fancy about this sledge. It’s the same length as the axe, so moving from one to the other is easy. Mine’s a 10 pounder, but lighter would be fine for splitting wood: mine has to do double duty as a demo tool.  Again, nothing fancy about the wedge. I picked this one up mostly because I like my Estwing hammer.
  • Gloves: Carharrt Flex Tough:
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    I go through a lot of gloves, and for winter you’ll want an insulated pair, but these Carharrts have been good to me. They breathe, the padding in the palm is useful if you mis-strike a log, and I’ve discovered the cowhide fingertips will work a smartphone touchscreen.

What about kindling?

If you’re interested, there are literally hundreds of videos on YouTube about how to split kindling. Personally, I’ve never needed to split much. First, because I save all the scraps from the cords dropped off or the wood I’ve split myself. And second, because I strip each log of smaller splits or pieces before tossing them onto the fire and collect them in a bucket.

What’s the most important thing to remember?

In a presumably apocryphal story, triumphant returning Roman generals would have servants whisper memento mori – remember that you have to die – in their ear to keep them grounded and remind them of their own mortality.

Similarly, it’s useful to remind yourself every time you pick up an axe or chainsaw that these are tools that can kill you. And death would hurt badly and probably not come quickly.

So be careful.

Where to store the wood?

If the wood is green, it’s best off being stacked in loose piles like the ones at the top of this piece to provide better airflow for drying.

If your wood is seasoned or KD, it can be put up immediately wherever you plan to store it during the winter. Generally, storage inside the house is not recommended for reasons that vary from allergens to insects. There are a myriad of options for outdoor storage, from basic 2×4-and-bracket setups like the one pictured here:

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to woodsheds:

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to artistically crafted woodpiles. We opted to build a shed, your mileage may vary.

Do I store my wood bark up or bark down?

Before we moved into our house and became a wood burning family, I would have assumed the following quote from Norwegian Wood was a joke.

In Norway, discussions on the vexed question of whether logs should be stacked with the bark facing up or down have marred many a christening and spoiled many a wedding when wood enthusiasts are among the guests.

I understand now. If you store bark-down, you are dead to me.

How do I build a fire with my firewood?

If you’re starting fresh, my preferred method is top down. As a national campaign from Norway in 2010 argued, this is reliable and reduces emissions. It works like this:

  • Bottom layer: logs
  • Middle layer: large kindling or wood strips
  • Top layer: newspaper and/or small kindling/shavings

You light the top and it burns its way down.

If you have coals from a previous fire, the easiest way to relight them is to rake them forward and put a piece of kindling behind it and then larger logs behind that. That way, the fire will burn from front to back, improving the aesthetics if you have a fireplace or your stove or insert has a glass door, and it burns more slowly than if all of the wood is exposed at once.

You said this would be everything I wanted to know about firewood, but I have other questions.

Then fire away in the comments and I’ll update the post accordingly.

Books: Summer 2017

A couple of years back, I took some time to write up some quick and unambitious reviews of books that I’d read – the good, the bad and the ugly. To be honest, I mostly did it because I hated the Southern Reach trilogy with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. A year later, I repeated that process. Nothing fancy, just quick thoughts on some of what I’d been reading for people that might be looking for something new to read.

A month after that last post we had a kid and time to read – let alone write – came at something of a premium.

Fast forward a little less than two years and time is still very much at a premium, but I’m now able to sleep in more than three hour increments. Which means that I’m able to read again, if not at the pace I was familiar with. Which in turn means that I’m once more capable of having conversations with other friends who read, and with whom I trade book recommendations.

In an effort to scale that process, I’ve repeated the exercise of reviewing the last few books I’ve run through. This time, just for the record, I’ve added Amazon links not for the pennies I’d earn but to see whether any of the recommendations work, and if so which ones. With that, here are the reviews.

The Modern Entertainment

 

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

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One of a growing set of “literary” fiction set in post-apocalyptic environments, Station Eleven has been compared in some quarters to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It’s not in that class of novel for me, but then there are few that are. Station Eleven is, however, a brilliantly executed and well written account of the world after the end of the world. It avoids nearly all of the pitfalls of the genre, it’s strikingly original and the quality is well above average. Recommended.

If you like this, try: The Last Ship (William Brinkley), The Stand (Stephen King)

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, Laird Barron

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Originally described as a better written Lovecraft without the racism, this pretty much lived up to the billing. It’s a set of short stories that is best classified as “weird fiction,” which is another way of saying that if you like Lovecraft or the first season of True Detective, chances are pretty good you’ll like these. What’s distinctive about this collection beyond the relative quality of the prose is the diversity of settings and characters: from loggers to hunters to Prohibition gangsters, you’re not reading slightly different versions of the same story again and again. Barron also understands well what so many modern horror directors forget, that what can’t be seen is more frightening than what can be.

If you like this, try: The Complete Collection of H.P. Lovecraft (Lovecraft) or Between Here and the Yellow Sea (Nic Pizzolato)

The Hike, Drew Magary

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The fact that I’m recommending this in spite of Drew Magary’s hatred for my beloved Maine (which outdoes even Lev Grossman’s) tells you something about the quality of The Hike. It’s difficult to describe this book. It’s not quite magical realism, not quite surreal, but it’s got elements of both. It’s dark at times, but has a heart and the prose makes for a quick read as it’s not terribly ambitious. It’s a perfect beach read, in other words, and the end delivers.

If you like this, try: Angelmaker (Nick Harkaway) or The Book of Lost Things (John Connolly).

The Classics

Right Ho, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse

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Inexplicably, I somehow made it to adulthood without reading any of the Jeeves’ novels by P.G. Wodehouse. I wish I’d found them years ago, however, because they’re incredibly enjoyable. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, it’s the story of a British valet trying to keep his dim employer out of trouble. The latter ignores the former’s advice, hilarity ensues. If you enjoy Dilbert’s “The Boss is an Idiot” brand of humor but can’t deal with Scott Adams’ obvious and growing insanity, the Jeeves’ novels are for you.

Trouble is My Business, Raymond Chandler

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There’s a funny story about Bacall/Bogart’s 1946 film The Big Sleep based on the novel of the same name by Raymond Chandler. During filming, neither the director nor the screenwriter could figure out who killed Bacall’s chauffeur in the novel, so they asked Chandler. Problem is, he didn’t know either.

The point is that Chandler isn’t considered a master of the hardboiled crime genre for his plotting skills. The stories are interesting, to be sure, and include the requisite action and drama. But what distinguishes Chandler from hundreds of others in the genre is that he can write. In a characteristic clipped style with sparse but stylish dialogue, Chandler has Marlowe, the private detective that is literally the prototype, weave his way through what we’d today refer to as a noir landscape.

Trouble is My Business isn’t the equal of The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye, but it’s an accessible set of short stories that will give you an idea of whether Chandler’s for you.

If you like this, try: The Big Sleep (Chandler) or Red Harvest (Dashiell Hammet).

The (Auto)Biographies

The Stranger in the Woods, Michael Finkel

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Many of us idly contemplate leaving everything behind at some point, but almost no one does it. And certainly no one does it the way that Christopher Knight did, who parked his truck and simply walked into the Maine woods and lived as a hermit without human contact for 27 years. If you read Michael Finkel’s profile of Knight in GQ when it came out, you already have the gist of the story, but this full length treatment affords the author and his (very reluctant) subject more room to explore the details of just how one goes about surviving in the Maine woods without ever seeing anyone or making a fire. Whatever one thinks about Knight, his adaptability to incomprehensibly harsh conditions is without ready comparison. Don’t expect any mystical revelations or real confessions from The North Pond Hermit, but if the story interests you this will more than flesh it out.

The Road, Jack London

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If you’re like me, you read Jack London in school, probably at an early age. Call of the Wild, White Fang, To Build a Fire – one of those. If you’re like me, you didn’t know that London spent years of his life as an itinerant, rail-riding hobo and later documented his experiences criss-crossing North America by hopping trains in a decidedly unstandard autobiograhy. As someone who enjoys learning more about other times and places, this was interesting, but the culture, methodology and art of riding the rails made this a particularly fascinating read. My only warning: because this was published in 1907, like many historical works, some of the descriptions and language are offensive to modern ears. If you can get by that, however, it’s a look at a bygone world that most of us knew nothing about.

If you like this, try: The Amateur Emigrant (Robert Louis Stevenson)

The One on Firewood (Seriously)

Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way, Lars Mytting

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To be fair, while this was a best seller throughout Scandinavia, as a book about chopping, stacking and drying wood, it’s less likely to be a page turner for those of you without woodstoves or at least a fireplace. Which is, presumably, most of you reading this. Even so, it’s well written and anything but a textbook. The prose has a bit of a lighthearted “The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared“-quality to it, and is surprisingly enjoyable. It’s informative and well researched, but as surprising as it might be to say that a book about firewood was a great read, it really was. There’s a reason it had basically a five star rating with north of a hundred reviews when I bought it. If you have a stove or fireplace, it’s a must buy, and even for the rest of you, you’ll learn something and be entertained in the process.

The Histories(ish)

Kon Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl

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This was my second reading of Kon-Tiki, as I’d read a copy as a very young child at my grandfather’s place on the Cape. Besides refreshing myself on the actual details of the journey of a handful of young men on a Balsa raft all the way across the Pacific, my adult self was curious as to how some of the historical theories of Heyerdahl had aged. The answer is: not particularly well. Heyerdahl’s theory of a lost white race that taught the Incas everything they knew being the ancestors of today’s Polynesian populations is not only largely disproven by modern genetic research, it’s also implicitly racist when viewed from a modern perspective.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that, shaky historical theories notwithstanding, Kon-Tiki is still a fascinating read. While Heyerdahl may have been wrong about the idea that Polynesia was populated by South Americans traveling west on the Pacific’s Humboldt current to Polynesia, he risked his life and proved that it could be done. If nothing else, Kon-Tiki is a remarkable story of human achievement and drive and worth a read for that alone.

Atlantic, Simon Winchester

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I read this at my parents’ recommendation and while I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, it wasn’t what I got. Atlantic is essentially a series of personal or historical anecdotes upon which are hung a stupefying amount of detail and research from geology to climatology. The good news is that if pure science isn’t your thing, you don’t have to wait long before the author’s talking about the time he spent in Greenland or the Falkland Islands or visiting a remote shipwreck on the coast of Africa. If you enjoy history, geology, oceanography, local cultures or a thousand other areas of study, you’ll find something to love about this book.

An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears

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If you enjoy historical fiction generally and historical mysteries such as The Name of the Rose specifically, you’re likely to enjoy An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears. I don’t mean to imply that it’s in the class of Eco’s masterpiece, but set in late seventeenth century England, Pears’ novel is an account of the same series of events told from four different perspectives – all of which are unreliable, some more than others. The varying perspectives affords the novel greater breadth than it would have had access to if restricted to a single narrator, both in terms of their socio-cultural standing as well as their geographic access. It doesn’t have the blinding erudition or strict attention to period language that characterizes other novels of this type, but what it lacks in rigid adherence it more than makes up for in accessibility. Which means that you don’t need to be a scholar of English history of the period to enjoy the novel, which traverses ground from the royal court to academia. It’s on the longer side, but it’s time well spent in my opinion. Recommended.

If you like this, try: The Name of the Rose (Eco) or Q (Luther Blissett).

The Meh

Fer-Da-Lance / The League of Frightened Men, Rex Stout


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Before the hard boiled detective fiction of Raymond Chandler, there was the so-called “cosy” school of which Agatha Christie is probably the best known practitioner. The former, in many respects, can be viewed as a response to the latter. Nero Wolfe, the protagonist of Rex Stout’s series, doesn’t properly belong to either category, which might be one of the reasons these novels didn’t do much for me. Unlike Chandler, who hated Christie, I can read both styles and enjoy them. But the Wolfe novels, for me, embodied the weaknesses of both categories with few of the strengths. I read the first two of the series largely because Stout is an acclaimed writer and Wolfe is a celebrity fictional detective up there with Marlowe, but frankly the plots were ill-constructed and the writing wasn’t enough to make up for it. I will say that the depression era setting and descriptions were interesting from a historical perspective.

If there are Wolfe fans reading this who can persuade me otherwise regarding the merits of these books, I’m willing to listen, but at present I have no plans to read the remaining 31 novels.

My 2016 in Pictures

I’m a bit behind this year as my Christmas and New Year’s week holidays were erased by a variety of illnesses – none major, fortunately – that swept our household. But late being preferable to never, it’s time for my annual year in pictures post. It’s always a useful exercise for me, as I can revisit a year easily and quickly. And by doing it in pictures, I’m not required to invest time I don’t have.

On balance, 2016 was a fine year for me personally, and a year of many, many firsts (kid-related, mostly). The fact that it was an abject disaster from a macro, geopolitical perspective takes some of that shine off, however. Election or no, however, I’m still here, my family and friends are still here and we’re all committed to soldiering on. So I’m grateful for that.

Before we get to the pictures, however: a couple of statistics from 2016.

Travel

2016 was a second consecutive year of improvement, travel-wise. My mileage was way down, as I flew less this year than I have since 2008. Only 2013 is close. Most years I qualify for JetBlue’s Mosaic program in May or June. This year, it was during my last trip in December (though admittedly some of that delay is that Virgin has poached most of my travel to and from San Francisco from JetBlue thanks to a better loyalty program). I’m unlikely to sustain quite this slow a pace of travel as a fair bit of the downturn was due to one time events like missing the Monki Gras due to paternity leave. Some of it, however, is attributable to having another analyst on board, changes in where conferences are hosted (Austin being closer than Portland, as one example) and so on. Which implies that I should be able to maintain a slightly reduced travel schedule at a minimum.

In the meantime, a few other tidbits courtesy of Cemre’s TripIt Year in Review tool and Openflights.org.

  • Distance: I flew 68,365 miles, down 25% or so from 2016.
  • 100K: This was the third time in six years I failed to reach 100,000 miles. Love it.
  • Carrier: 41 segments were on JetBlue. Virgin was up to 12 this year thanks to the aforementioned loyalty program. Thanks to some client engagements in non-standard locations as well, I flew Delta a dozen times as well for the first time in years.
  • Airport: Thanks in part to Virgin, I ended up flying out of Boston (35) more than Portland (21) again this year.
  • First Time: Had never been to Tahoe before, but I can cross that off the list. Reno as well.
  • Where To: Was San Francisco, most frequently. I spent more than twice as many miles headed there as to the second most popular destination, Las Vegas, where I found myself (again) far more than I’d like to be.

Personal Stats

  • My Top 5 non search-engine referrers to the work blog were 1) Hacker News 2) Twitter, 3) Reddit, 4) Wired, 5) Facebook.
  • Looks like I drove between 500 and a thousand refererrals over to Amazon for specifically referenced items. It’s too bad that Amazon and Maine don’t get along so I can’t get referral commissions on that traffic.
  • Per FitBit, I took 3.2 million steps in 2016, up over 500,000 from last year. My daily average was up ~1800 per day to 8710. This was largely a function of Eleanor getting older, and our enjoyment of taking her for walks around the neighborhood, but after two consecutive down years of steps it was also something I was paying attention to. Love to get that number up again next year.

With that, on to the pictures.

January 1

good morning 2016

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Got an early start on the year, as the Graveyard Shift after the baby came home was mine. I’d stay up until 5 or 6 AM, then Kate would clock back in and I’d sleep until 9 or 10. I don’t miss that sleep schedule.

January 2

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One of the pieces of advice we got as new parents was to take the baby out as early as possible, the theory being that they get used to be in public spaces and will therefore learn how to behave while out. We’ve tried to practice this, and pretty much the entire staff at our local place, the Broad Arrow Tavern, has known Eleanor since this first trip out.

January 9

baby's first brewery

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Baby’s first brewery? Allagash, naturally.

January 14

finally

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Our first time leaving the baby in the care of someone other than ourselves or the hospital staff, Kate and I popped out to the theater to take in Star Wars while my parents babysat for us. All the nostalgia.

January 15

Baby’s first trip to Oxbow. Unfortunately, she fell asleep and missed a visit from the brewery cat.

February 21

For my birthday this year, Kate commissioned a painting of my grandmother’s house. This was the scene of some of my happiest childhood memories, and a house that had been in our family for well over a hundred years. Just this picture brought a few family members to tears.

March 11

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Got out for a little stroll at Winslow State Park.

March 21

second day of spring

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Second day of spring. Not joking.

April 2

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Finished building a (cheap) workbench. Nothing but 2x4s, 4x4s and some birch ply. I took it from this side because the lumber on the back side was so warped it looks like a pretzel.

May 9

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Filed under things I wish I hadn’t had to learn, but it turns out that you can get a passport turned around in Boston in around 90 minutes as long as you’re willing to live with a passport photo taken by CVS up around the road. How long ago had my old passport expired? Six days.

June 7

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Courtesy the gentleman and scholar known as Brady Murray, made my first trip ever – I know, I’m as surprised as you are – to AT&T park to see the Giants play the Sox. Beautiful venue.

June 10

call me marty mcfly

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About a month prior to this, I got the devastating news that my beloved Volvo S40 – my friend and companion on many adventures – was living on borrowed time,  with a head gasket that was ruptured. This began the search for a potential replacement, and while I would have happily bought the exact same car, Volvo killed off the model and no longer sells cars with manual transmissions. I ended up with a truck.

July 8

how it begins

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I don’t remember my first trip to Fenway as well as I’d like, and Eleanor won’t either because she spent most of it in her stroller asleep. But she’ll have pictures.

July 12

it may have been 84 today, but winter is coming

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Winter is coming.

July 14

working hard for our @monktoberfest attendees

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Some “work trips” are easier than others.

July 29

easternmost point in the us

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Way up north in Lubec for a wedding, got to visit the easternmost point in the US.

July 30

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This was the scene from said wedding. Not too shabby.

August 12

this wasn't exactly what i had planned for friday night, poseidon

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Turns out that when it’s hot and humid it’s hard to run the white noise machine and fan that help your baby sleep. The good news is that my annual preventative maintenance on the generator worked and it fired up immediately.

August 17

THE LONG NATIONAL NIGHTMARE IS ENDED: THE FLIP-FLOPS HAVE COME HOME

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The long national nightmare that began when one of the other dads at daycare inexplicably walked off in my flip-flops – which looked literally nothing like his – was over 24 hours later when he returned them.

August 24

My first effort at building furniture was…uneven. Literally.

August 26

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Great seats, courtesy my brother-in-law. Even better? The other two in our section didn’t show up.

August 30

this is what happens when you have leftover pallet wood

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With the leftover wood from the table, I built a bench. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of showing Kate one of the fancier YouTube builds which she preferred to the simpler one I had in mind.

August 31

was always just a matter of time

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It would seem impossible to nearly lose the tip of a finger due to plywood, but I nearly managed it. Four plus months later my nail is mostly grown back.

September 1

annual pilgrimage to my happy place: complete

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Annual pilgrimage to my happy place.

September 3

what's out the window for the next week

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After a year’s hiatus, made it back to Chamberlain for our summer vacation.

September 8

it's a hard knock life

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Where life was hard.

September 9

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Never miss a chance to visit Monhegan Island.

September 14

interesting skies tonight

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We do sunsets ok in this state.

September 20

This project, as you might be able to see from the picture, was a tire fire. First, it almost cost me a fingertip. Then, it was setback after setback. Eventually I got the thing built, however, and while it’s terrible to look at, it mostly works.

September 24

first fire of the season

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Winter wasn’t here, fired up the stove anyway.

October 1

even my brother got into the monktoberfest spirit

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Everyone loves the Monktoberfest.

October 2

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I was very happy that Eleanor was awake and mostly willing to sit and watch the celebration of Big Papi’s career. He was the author of more happy Red Sox memories for me than anyone, and one of the best hitters I ever saw wear a Red Sox uniform. It was an honor and a privilege to watch him play, and I’m pleased that my daughter can (technically) say the same thing.

October 6

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Survived the Monktoberfest yet again. No biblical flooding this year definitely helped.

October 20

if i'm lucky, the most important ballot i'll ever cast

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It wasn’t. Unfortunately.

October 31

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Best Halloween costume ever.

November 3

Aside from the years the Red Sox were in it and won it, which I prefer for obvious reasons, this was the best World Series of my lifetime. I had a very difficult time choosing a favorite, as either outcome had its positives. In the end, it had been longer for Chicago so I was content. The best part about this series, however, was the fact that I happened to be in Denver and got to watch it with my BFF and his family.

November 6

sundays are for getting outside

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We try to get outside and hike as a family regularly. Feedback varies.

November 12

eleanor's first biggest little game in america

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The outcome wasn’t ideal, but Eleanor enjoyed her first Biggest Little Game in America.

November 23

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With this big oak dead and dropping branches everywhere, we were forced to have it felled. I’ve still got a ton of log splitting to do.

November 25

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Until I had a child, I’d never heard of the Polar Express. But at least we learned that Santa is her worst enemy.

November 28

by popular request: proof of beard

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Today’s PSA: if you hate beards and don’t want to have one, do not under any circumstances let your significant other see you in one. Because you may have to keep it. Who would have thought that a Halloween costume of Benny from Stranger Things could have backfired so badly?

December 19

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Popped down to Atlantic Hardwoods in Portland and picked up some rough 8/4 walnut stock.

December 28

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And turned it into a pair of end grain cutting boards, Christmas gifts for both sets of parents. Cutting boards, as it turns out, are sort of a Woodworking 101 project, but learning how to mill raw lumber as part of this process led to some, ah, imperfections. As always.

December 28

ah, vacation

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A short bed pickup can hold more than you think.

December 29

no animals or me were injured in the making of these shelves

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Enough to build these storage shelves, at least.

December 30

it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood

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The day before New Year’s Eve, we were expected to get a mere dusting.

December 30

I spent it swapping out a garbage disposal. For once, I didn’t get electrocuted or cut, nothing got broken or flooded, and everything more or less went according to plan.

If Destruction Be Our Lot

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Today our country is being psychologically divided by the confusion and the suspicions that are bred in the United States Senate to spread like cancerous tentacles of ‘know nothing, suspect everything’ attitudes.

Those words could have been written yesterday, but they were actually spoken by Maine Senator (R) Margaret Chase Smith on June 1st, 1950. Her famous address, The Declaration of Conscience, was a response to the tactics of Wisconsin Senator (R) Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Although Senators McCarthy and Smith were members of the same party, Smith’s conscience compelled her to reject the behavior and tactics of her colleague, even should it should cost her party the election.

I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.

Though her stand was ultimately ineffectual, as it took this country another four years to master its fear and repudiate McCarthyism (thanks in large part to Joseph Welch), it was no less brave for this. It is, in these dark times, sadly incredible to see a politician willing to put her country before her party.

Everyone reading this knows why I bring this up. Since founding RedMonk fourteen years ago, with the exception of my advocacy for same sex marriage in my home state, I have never publicly commented on political matters before. Ever. This is, however, the most important election of my lifetime. This country is at the kind of crossroads it has not known since 1860, and if you think comparisons to the Civil War are mere hyperbole, I would respectfully suggest that you have not been paying close enough attention.

Much of this fraught election has been driven by fear. Fear of immigrants, fear of minorities, fear of terrorists, fear of people that are different. There are always, in every era, legitimate reasons for the United States to be concerned. There is, at this moment, no reason for this country to be afraid from external threats.

Twenty-two years before he assumed the presidency in that similarly troubled year of 1860, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois on January 27, 1838. Although it has come to be known as the Lyceum Address, it was in fact titled “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.” In it, the man who would become the greatest President this country has ever known said the following:

Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.

I sincerely hope that this nation of free men and women shall live through all time.

If you are reading this and you are a US citizen, please vote.

Things To Know About Closet Organizers

 

I’d never really thought much about closets, to be honest. Whether that’s because I don’t generally wear things that need to be hung up, or that even if I did I wouldn’t, isn’t important right now. What happened was that I ran across a closet organizer product and showed it to Kate. In my defense, recreating one didn’t look that hard at the time. And probably isn’t, actually, if you have the right tools and know what you’re doing. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The basic idea of a closet organizer is that most closets don’t use their space efficiently. Hangers, for example, are typically at a height to accommodate longer garments. Have mostly shirts? Too bad, it’s wasted space.

If you have a lot of closets, or if you don’t have much worth hanging up, this isn’t a particular concern. In our case, the fact that we were wasting maybe a third of the available space in our closets was less than ideal.

Most people, if they care about their closet space at all, will just buy a solution.

We had a complicating factor in our testbed, otherwise known as the second bedroom, however. The entrance to the attic happens to be in that closet’s ceiling. Which meant that a closet organizer either needed to be designed with that in mind, or be entirely removable. Neither of which described most of the commercial closet organization products, so we were doomed to a custom job whether we liked it or not.

Rather than starting from scratch, I borrowed ideas from other closet organizer systems – hanging two rows of dress shirts, one on top of another, for example. I didn’t think building one of these would be that hard, which is almost funny in retrospect. I won’t go into detail on how to build one, because anyone who’s handy can figure that out. Basically you build a narrower bookshelf with fewer shelves, then hang things off its side. No big deal, right?

Well, there are a number of things I wish I had known ahead of the project.

  1. Melamine Plywood is Heavy. Also, Sharp.
    Some people build closet organizers out of expensive hardwoods, but given the fact that we didn’t know how long it’d be in there as we are planning on remodeling, we were going with plywood from day one. Given that, we opted for melamine – a white plasticky material – coated plywood. The good news is that it looks clean, is easy to maintain and you don’t have to paint it. The bad news is that a 3/4” 4×8 sheet of melamine plywood is heavy. Heavy and unwieldy enough that if you’re working by yourself, as I usually am, it’s a pain to even get a full sheet up on to sawhorses for the initial cuts. As for the sharpness, let’s talk about clamps.

  2. You Need a Lot of Clamps

    I have a fair number of clamps, but most of them are smaller and of no use in clamping bigger projects. In total, I had three 36” clamps that I could use to build the center console which was six or so feet high and had seven shelves. Ideally, each shelf would be clamped front and back during the glue in – 14 clamps in my case. When you have three clamps total, you’re looking at two to three days minimum just to glue in the shelves with three clamps – time which I did not have. Instead I tried using my three clamps to glue up the completed console – twice. The first time, the lack of clamps holding everything in place meant that it collapsed, knocked over a sawhorse and snapped one half of the console in half (which was the cause of much later woe). The second time, it was still unstable and collapsed again. This time I couldn’t get my hand out in time and four shelves and half of the console fell on the tip of my index finger, with the sharp melamine edge slicing the nail on my right index finger in half. I was fortunate to not lose the tip of my finger entirely, though I still don’t have much feeling in it. Melamine is sharp. The third time, I bought a few more clamps and was successful. Depending on your definition of “successful.” Basically, have all the clamps.

  3. Check Your Router Bit Width

    While I initially considered using a jig to drill holes for pins to make the shelving movable, given the requirement that the shelving system be removable in case of a need to access the attic, I decided on a fixed central console for the closet organizer. To accomplish this, I decided to cut dados (“a groove cut in the face of a board, into which the edge of another board is fixed”) and glue the structure together. Given that the melamine plywood was 3/4” thick, this meant I’d need a 3/4” router bit, which I ordered from Amazon. It showed up, and I cut a few dados with no issue. Trouble was, it was actually 11/16” – a sixteenth shy of what I needed. Generally when people have issues with router bit sizes for dados, it’s that the bit is larger because the plywood is actually smaller than claimed. This was the opposite. I ended up having to drive down to Rockler to get another 3/4” router bit, and recutting the dados. Sometimes this worked. Other times, the second pass cut was slightly too big as you can see in the picture above.

  4. A Table Saw is Helpful

    The workroom in our basement is tiny, which is why I haven’t prioritized a tablesaw. For this project, that would have been much simpler. I have a homemade cutting guide that I can use, but making straight eight foot cuts into plywood with a circular saw is a pain even with a guide. Add in all of the repetitive smaller cuts you have to make for things like shelves and it’s would have been a lot easier and faster if I had a table saw. You can make it work with just a circular saw, at least to my level of dubious competence, but I don’t recommend it.

  5. Glue Goes Through Drop Cloths
    One of the few things I did correctly on this project was realize before I started that if I’d assembled the bulk of the closet organizer in my tiny basement shop, I would never be able to get it out of there. Between its small size and the fact that it’s at the end of a long narrow hall, anything large built in there stays in there. Instead, I did the glue up in our upstairs hall. Which has a nice carpet in it. A carpet that I responsibly protected with two layers of our painting dropcloth. Which wasn’t enough, as it turns out, because – surprise! – glue goes right through dropcloths. This is where I’m at with that issue. If anyone has suggestions for removing glue from a carpet that don’t involve cutting it (that’s been forbidden), I’m all ears.

The bad news is that the resulting project is charitably described as a mess. More than usual, I mean. Two of the dados were cut too wide thanks to the router bit issue, so the shelves don’t fit tightly. Two other shelves seated improperly thanks to a lack of clamps and aren’t flush, which looks weird. The good news is that, functionally speaking, none of that matters particularly. The shelves will still work fine, as will the clothing rods. Also, the closet has doors – which we took the opportunity to paint – which help conceal my shame. All of which in turn means that our closet will be much more efficient at utilizing the available space, and if you don’t look at it too closely you might not notice how poor the implementation was.

The big question now is the master bedroom closet. Was the lesson a) building this is dumb and a waste of time, just buy one or b) building the first one gives me the experience to get it right the second time around? The answer? TBD.

I Have Squandered My Days With Plans of Many Things

All good things must come to an end, and in spite of another home improvement injury (no hospital this time), a multi-day storm without historical precedent, and the fact that I spent the majority of my time off from work working with my hands, it was a good vacation.I may have negatively impacted my ability to make fun of my parents for being the world’s worst retired people based on their inability to stop actually working, however.

As is usual, the world spun on without me. Also as is usual, things in the technology world went bonkers in ways large and small. Sooner or later, those craving stability are going to relent and pay me to never go on vacation. Though admittedly my weather-blackmail scheme shows more immediate promise.

The plan going in to my mutiple weeks off was to take the downtime and leverage the bulk of it on projects in and around the house. The good news is that I completed 13 of my vacation To Do’s. The bad news is that the original list had 28 items on it. Part of the poor completion rate was project setbacks, part of it was injury, but mostly it was the fact that a bunch of the work consisted of doing things I’d never had the opportunity to do before. Which made for a great learning experience, but terrible efficiency.

Lest all work and no play make me a dull boy, I took a day off from hurting myself for a road trip, then closed out my vacation with a week in a cottage up north with the family. And by up north, I mean within an easy driving distance. The best part about living in Maine is that I don’t have to get on a plane to visit amazing places, which is fortunate because I spend so much time on planes for work that literally the last thing I want to do in my free time is fly.

Anyway, the following is my report on what I did on my summer vacation.

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With a bunch of construction projects looming, we tested the hearing protection for my shop assistant. She wasn’t terribly enthused, but we’ll work on that.

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After watching dozens of YouTube videos to look at how other people did it and optimize my technique, I used everything from a simple prybar to a sawzall to deconstruct six or eight pallets I found in Portland on Craiglist for free.

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This yielded a fair amount of “reclaimable” wood, which is another way of saying wood with a shitload of nails in it.

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The first project with the pallet wood was building a patio table to replace the glass one that was shattered by a freak gust of wind. If you’re interested, here’s more on how to do that.

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Building the table was the first of many days spent wearing a respirator.

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Though it turns out that a shop-vac makes a reasonable dust collection system for a random orbital sander.

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For this and my follow up project, I bought a used but perfectly functional lunchbox planer off Craigslist. The seller’s story was interesting: a former master electrician, he and his wife were headed out to California to work for the National Park Service. His first post? Death Valley.

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With the wood left over from the table, I built a companion bench. This would have been a somewhat easier task, but I made the mistake of showing Kate a video of a substantially more complicated model than the one I had planned on building which she preferred.

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Thanks to a very kind brother-in-law, made my first second appearance at Fenway this season. The knuckleball giveth, but it also taketh away.

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Next up after the bench was building a closet organizer, which was going swimmingly until a saw horse collapsed and snapped one of my two center panels. This required some in project adjustments and compromises that resulted in a center portion that is, well, let’s just say mistakes were made.

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To be fair, if someone had given me a choice between being injured by one of the many power tools I used over my vacation or plywood, I would have taken the latter. That being said, it’s amazing how much damage several thick and heavy sheets of melamine coated plywood can do if they drop suddenly. If you’re not squeamish, this is my finger eight days after the initial injury.

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Taking advantage of a break in the weather, I picked a good day to take a road trip through some beautiful country.

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My destination was a place I try and visit every summer, one of the few swimming holes with a waterfall I have a shot at having to myself.

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A day after that, the whole family packed up and headed up north to one of our favorite towns in Maine. Town being a somewhat generous term in this instance.

We took up a full size station wagon and a midsize pickup truck. Both were absolutely packed. Traveling with kids is no joke.

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The view out of our cottage was not too bad.

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The view from the deck of the cottage was also better than average.

Eventually, I more or less gave up taking pictures because Kate was getting shots like this one.

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Because Poseidon hates me, the better part of the week was characterized by truly massive surf, the ancillary effects from Hermine, a truly unique storm system. The swells were big enough, in fact, that when they impacted the granite ledge the cottage sat on, you could feel it.

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When we weren’t at the beach, out on a seal watch, or walking the neighborhood, life was hard.

Exhibit A: Wednesday, we had a family outing to Oxbow.

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On Friday, we returned to Monhegan Island. Two things made this trip stand out. First, it was by far the roughest crossing I’ve ever had out to the island thanks to Hermine. I didn’t get seasick, thankfully, but it’s the first time in a long time where it seemed like a possibility.

Daddy & Sophie & E ❤️ Island trekking. #BabyEOG

A post shared by MK Lynch O'Grady (@girltuesday) on

The other first for this trip was that I’d never visited the island as a dad before.

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Importantly, we also verified that the Monhegan Brewery is a) still there and b) still delicious.

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While the weather was both colder and foggier over our week than was originally forecast – thanks again, Poseidon – it was, as ever, a great and relaxing week. We were also gifted with a very nice sunset to close out our time up in Chamberlain.

Now it’s time to get back to work, but I’m already looking forward to next year.