Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bon Appetit!

Are you hungry? Most of the time I am. Or perhaps I'm just used to believing that I'm perpetually hungry…either way, anyone in their right mind will get hungry after looking at the toy kitchen set I FINALLY finished for my two-year-old nephew Simon. Who wouldn’t want to whip up some fried green tomatoes on those sweet black burners, wipe some crumbs off that black walnut and oak countertop, and wash those dishes under such a wickedly vintage faucet? Too bad none of it is real. So the short story on the kitchen set is this: about a year ago, my sister-in-law Kate mentioned that Simon loved playing cook and that she was hoping to buy a mini-kitchen playset for him. I immediately (aka naively) jumped at the chance to construct a simple piece while I was still living at Nazareth Farm in West Virginia with access to a pretty extensive woodshop. Fast forward about eight months, to the day I’m departing from the Farm, as I try to shove a dozen 10 to 12 foot-long planed roughcut boards into my Nissan Sentra, reassuring myself that two weeks was plenty of time to construct a Christmas present masterpiece at my parents’ house in Virginia. I can see you shaking your head right now, which means that you have neither my extravagantly optimistic nature nor my acute sense of denial. Many, many weeks after Christmas, I delivered a massive piece of furniture to Simon’s home, very happy with the result, as presented here for the first time ever on the world wide web:

Now for the shop details, for those of us who enjoy that stuff: The tools of the trade were limited but sufficient: electric jig saw, electric circular saw, two electric drills, hand-held belt sander and vibrating sander. Thank goodness for the resourceful tricks learned to pull while at the Farm—I was able to create a jig system for ripping boards and I jerry-rigged the hand-held sander so that it sat stationery, allowing me both hands on each board as I rounded all edges. Muchas gracias go to Mikey Herr who taught me the joy of clamps—they saved the day many a time. I’m also guessing his workspace would have looked as meticulously tidy and focused as mine did.

On to construction strategies: As you can see in the pic on the right, I chose to use drywall screws (since they’re cheap and since I’ve had very little experience with glues, biscuits, clamps and the like) to attach the side and top boards to poplar bracing boards. I was able to do this all from the inside/underside of the structure (no toenailing!), which makes for the cool effect of having no screws visible on the sides or top of the base structure. To cover for edge-ripping errors that would show had I butted the longsides of the boards against one another, I simply left between 1/8 to ¼ inch space between each board.

I’m really happy with the “hardware” of the base structure: Tina
Bo Bina picked out the perfect “sink” for me one day at Stout’s kitchen supply company in Clarksburg; I created a stencil for the burners and painted them on with layers of polyurethane under and above; and the ridiculously perfect faucet came from a Habitat Re-Store. Incidentally, except for one brass hook purchased at Home Depot, I was psyched to have bought all items from locally owned stores—mainly Fisher’s Hardware in Springfield.

The top shelf worked out real easily thanks to some good luck with my saw blades being set at an accurate 90 degree angle. I couldn’t avoid visible screws for this part, so on my dad’s advice, I bought brass colored screws rather than just using nails. Good thing: on delivery morning, dad and I accidentally pushed the fully constructed top shelf completely off the base. It flew off the slick, polyurethaned base surface, hit the hard concrete basement floor, bounced a couple times, and was perfectly in tact (other than one or two inaugural dents) when the dust settled. Speaking of durability, oak and black walnut make for a structure so heavy that should a tornado, hurricane or nuclear bomb hit Kate and Pat’s townhouse community, the kitchen set will surely be the one beacon of hope left standing.

This last picture shows the cool slidy-shelf feature that was another good dad-idea. You can also see the neat-o spice rack, which ended up both different and better than I originally planned. As for my final comments, I gotta say, building this “damn kitchen set,” as my friends got used to hearing it referred to, was like running a marathon—something that seems cool to me as an idea, but in actuality is a tedious lesson in persistence. I discovered that I’d rather spend a full day’s work outside throwing together the beams, joists and decking of a wheelchair ramp than inside sanding and shellacing the same five boards over and over…and over…again. But it truly was a valuable learning experience and an accomplishment that only my adorable nephew and his fantastic parents could have motivated me to do. Thanks to all who helped!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Booger is Back

After a 2 ½ year hiatus, I’ve decided to begin blogging again. My last foray in this niche of the world wide web was in 2005 as I updated family and friends of my cycling across the country adventures. I’ve been doing lots of seeking, soaking in, belly laughing, journeying and growing since those Bike and Build entries, from two intensely rich and challenging years doing home repair in West Virginia, to more recent adventures ranging from playing with straw in Mexico to hanging with my nephew in Virginia. I think the “blog medium” will be a good way to share visual and verbal bits of past adventures as well as future ones. But I’d like to get the disclaimer out of the way from the start: I have no expectations (frequency, eloquency, etc) of myself with this, so you might as well chuck yours in the compost bucket too!