Friday, May 28, 2010


A few exciting things (for me, anyway) happened in my garage last month. Building a japanese hand plane has always been a fun project that I wanted to attempt, but I never really had a reason to make one,  and so worked on other, more important things. I finally got my chance, though, when I realized that my workbench top had cupped pretty severely from humidity changes. If I was going to flatten it, I would need a giant hand plane. I finally had my excuse!

Here is the end result. Technically, this is called a jointer plane.... The plane has a 2" iron that I stole from my jack plane, and is pretty close to 2 feet long. I made the whole body from purple heart, so this thing should last me a lifetime! It cuts like a charm, and before I knew it, I had an entire trash barrel full of thin wood shavings, and a very flat workbench. This tool could easily cost over 200 dollars in a store, and I was able to make it from things I already had in my garage, free of charge :)


Here is a side view. The metal iron is held in place by a wedge. The plane body, which is perfectly flat,  rides across the humps and bumps in wood, and shaves a thin slice off the high spots, leaving a flat surface behind after a few passes. If you've ever used a mandolin in the kitchen, then you've pretty much used a very crude, upside down hand plane....

Once I was done with my hand plane and workbench, my pile of drill bits started to irritate me, so I made this drill bit organizer. I drilled a hole with every single bit, and now they all fit perfectly in their own spot. This only took a couple hours to make, and has already saved me from lots of frustration, and also made my work a little better, since I can easily find the exact bit that I need.

And finally, the most exciting thing to happen to my garage in a long, long time... here's my new band saw. After using it for a few weeks, I couldn't be happier with it. It makes my life much much easier and allows me to easily do things that would be impossible or dangerous on the table saw.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Sometimes, when I cook, things seem to get a little bit out of control. It happened again last night.

I was given a meat grinder attachment for our Kitchenaid mixer for my birthday, and I decided that a good test for the grinder would be some burgers. I got a two pound piece of top round beef, cut it into 1 inch cubes, seasoned it, and froze it for about 30 minutes until it was semi soft frozen (which I've read makes a much better grind, as the meat gets "cut" more than "smeared". The first thing I noticed was that the meat looked much richer and brighter than the ground beef from the store. It had more of a red color than the pink I am used to seeing.

I didn't get any pictures during the grinding process, but here's what the packaged leftover patties looked like:

We had just bought a nice block of sharp cheddar at the market, and I decided that I wanted to try cheese stuffed burgers... So I cut some nice hunks of cheese and wrapped about 1/2 pound of meat around each piece. Then I thought that I'd just throw a few onions in a pan so we could have some grilled onions on our burgers... and then a scary thing happened... we realized that we had just bought some pastrami at the market. I have a sickness... I had to do it... So the burgers, topped with more cheese and the pastrami all went into a cast iron pan to get acquainted.

At this point, it would have been foolish to exclude any other toppings, so spinach, tomato, pickles, mustard, mayo, and ketchup all found their way onto potato buns along with the meat, grilled onions, and cheese. (FYI - I started steaming my buns in the microwave by wrapping them in wet paper towels, and slightly over microwaving them - about 1 minute for two buns - which gives them the perfect soft, chewy texture)

And that's how I ended up with this monstrosity of a burger... I really didn't mean to... this sort of thing just seems to happen to me all too often... 

In case you're wondering, this was almost the perfect burger. The meat needed a little bit more seasoning, but the pastrami was incredible. You couldn't quite taste it on its own, but it just added a depth of flavor to the burger that took the whole thing to the next level.  And the patty stuffed with cheese? Uuh, yeah... that worked out pretty well. Next time, a thinner, larger area of cheese... but the cheese melts into the meat in a way it just can't when placed on top.....

 Sorry arteries... we'll just have to learn to put up with each other!

Saturday, May 22, 2010


My wife and I have wanted to grow tomatoes and herbs for years, but we either never had a place to do it, or failed miserably and killed everything off. This year, we have a little yard and we decided to give it a go again. Thanks to the generosity of my Aunt and my parents, we started off with a pretty good collection of plants, then we bought a few more plants and we were off and running.

My Aunt also told us about something called a "Global Bucket", which is supposed to be a foolproof way of growing plants in a self watering bucket system. Given our previous history of killing every plan we've ever owned, (except for a cactus, which just barely held on), we decided to build three global buckets as a backup in case all the plants in the ground died.

In the ground, we planted Zucchini, Poblano Peppers, Jalapenos, Nordello Peppers, Amish Paste Tomatoes, Four Strawberries, Chives, Cilantro, and Dill. 

In the buckets, we planted a Nordello Pepper and two Mortgage Lifters.

Peat Moss seemed to be the perfect addition to the soil in the ground. It made the dirt much fluffier, and just seemed right. 

Also, I have to come clean... when I was younger, my grandparents always had an incredible garden, which they attributed to buried fish heads.... Since I had some full lobster traps from last season, I buried a total of about 10 pounds of fish heads in four 2 foot deep holes. Contrary to our fears, there was absolutely no rotting stink and no crazed cats prowling in our garden. I think it was the right thing to do.

Here are some pictures:

The global bucket, ready for dirt... The plant is watered through the pipe, and water will be wicked up from a lower bucket through the green cup and into the upper bucket.

Here I am mixing the dirt for the buckets... We used about 70% Peat Moss, 20% Vermiculite, and 10% Perlite. We also added some dolomite, and a ring of organic fertilizer.

And here are the buckets as of today... The mortgage lifter is thriving... mysteriously, the other tomato plant is really struggling, and the Nordello pepper in the global bucket is actually quite a bit smaller than the one we planted in the ground, but doing well.
Here's about half of what we planted in the ground....

And we're already getting some nice green strawberries coming in...

We can't wait for the first harvest.... If nothing goes wrong, this could be the first time we ever get to eat a meal made from ingredients we grew ourselves!

Monday, May 3, 2010


Its an exciting time for my wife and I.... Our baby girl is 1 week overdue today, and we are going insane with anticipation. I took a couple days off work so that we could go to doctor's appointments together, but I also managed to squeeze in quite a bit of time working on projects. I think two of the coolest things ever to happen in my garage actually took place last week. I bought a serious band saw on clearance, and I made my first japanese hand plane. I will absolutely have to post pictures, but as usual, don't have any at the moment.

The band saw is a 14" Delta 3/4 HP model, which isn't quite the ultimate band saw I'd like to one day own, but, nonetheless, it can cut a super thin slice of a 6X6 without too much effort. It is already my go to tool in the garage, and I find myself using it for just about every cutting operation I do.

The hand plane is really cool. I've always wanted to make one, but never really had a reason to. I recently realized that my workbench top had cupped over time and was far from flat. I needed a good way to flatten it, and so decided to make my first plane a 24" jointer plane with a 2" iron. I built it out of a huge chunk of purple heart that I had in my wood pile, and made the cross pin and wedge out of bubinga. It came out much better than I thought it would, and after a whole lot of planing, I have a nice flat table to work on.

My next task is going to be building a couple saw horses and a plywood table top for a portable table. I relaized that I didn't have a place to set things when I was done with them... (I don't want to store things on my workbench, which is my main working surface, and a lot of things started to pile up on the table saw,  which was a huge hassle when I needed to cut something).

Once I have my new table, I'm going to build a toy chest/bench....