Thursday, October 29

Too cute for words

Robots are getting more human. Humans are getting more robotic. So what else is new? Try Ropid, which is a contraction/invention using RObot and raPID, which describes the motions this little 14" wonder can perform. Watch these YouTube videos, or go to the page where there is more information.

This second video shows the abilities one by one. Check the natural motions at about 1:06 in. One of the things that works really well is the ability to rotate its upper torso. Getting up from a sitting position is pretty remarkable.

So, where do I buy one?

Wednesday, October 28

Just add water, Part III

This ol’ horse, Lil’ Babe, was one I fed all summer, along with a couple of other ol’ horses. She still gets supplemental feeding. But now that the grass is coming up all over the place, she may not need so much senior horse pellets, corn/oats/barley mix, rice bran pellets, and shredded sugar beet pulp to keep her happy. Or maybe she will. She neighs every time she sees me, just like the cat. The cat doesn’t neigh, but he still regards me primarily as the source of food, and little else. Oh well, I don’t have to be adored just for my charming personality.

Unfinished finish

The picture shows a penny for focusing (I have almost forgotten how to focus a camera manually) sitting on my tabletop with a semi-dried coat of thinned tung oil which was applied with very fine steel wool. It’s an odd way to finish a piece of wood when you’re going for a semi-shiny coating, but according to the instructions, this is what you do. Put on some oil, let it dry, then take it off. Then put it back. After the fifth or sixth time (and the fifth or sixth day) you will be surprised by a nice shiny finish that can’t be duplicated with varnish. Or at least that’s the promise. We’ll see.

On a roll

Yesterday I started another job. A dining table we had bought in 1974 has taken 35 years of being used for everything from dining to horse-building. Hilary grew up using this table for literally thousands of drawings and who knows how many hours of sculpting of equine likenesses. Spills, dings, scrapings and washings with hundreds of dishrags and only a few refinishings with oil and/or wax left a patina of life’s traces. In other words, it was beat.

With my newfound ability to actually do the right thing regarding oil finishing of wood, I took on the challenge of returning this poor little Danish creation to better-than-new condition. By doing some Internet research, I finally discovered the secret to oil finishes. And that secret has nothing to do with the instructions that come on the can of tung oil. The can’s instructions don’t go past two applications. The real instructions involve as many as six or more, with gentle sanding with the finest sandpaper or steel wool between each application. The results will be better than any other finishing technique. More later.…

Sunday, October 25

Hooray for Hubble!

When they did an overhaul on the Hubble Space Telescope, we sure got our money’s worth. And if you don’t make the Astronomy Picture of the Day site a daily part of your browsing, I feel sorry for you.

Take this picture for example—do you have any idea what this is? (No, it’s not made by a tattoo artist who fell asleep while working.) Click on either picture for a full-size view.

Back to Square One

Well, actually more like Square Seven. The table saga continues with the application of the final finish, which I botched. I had applied tung oil and rubbed it out, leaving some areas that were shiny and others that were dull. I let it set for a day or so, then re-applied more. Unfortunately I was working outside, thinking it was all right because it was cloudy. I left and came back later to find the sun had peeked through the clouds and heated up the tabletop. The finish reacted by bubbling!

I let the finish dry overnight, hoping some miracle would correct it all. Some of the table was fine, some was a mess. I tried sanding down the bubbles, but the sandpaper plugged up quickly, becoming useless. Same for steel wool. So I had to remove the entire oil finish. I tried first by scraping it with a blade which also scraped off some of the stain I had applied. That meant I had to remove the stain too, since there was no way to re-apply only patches. I slathered on some varnish remover and scraped the entire top with a little plastic tool, then sanded with both belt sanders and pad sanders. I spent a good half-day doing all this stuff. That evening I re-stained the top. I will let it dry for a couple of days before starting again with the final finish.

If learning involves making lots of mistakes, I should be the best woodworker on earth just about now, or maybe just an advanced novice. At least nobody will be fooled into thinking, when looking at this table, that it was made by machines or bought at an Ikea store. Or, for that matter, made by anyone other than an eager learner.

Tuesday, October 20

Just add water, Part II

Wow. Only five days after the last picture of this very spot of ground, the forbs and grass are tall enough for a horse to gets its teeth around. This morning, when we went over to the corral to feed the equines, only the old ones that get special feed were there. The entire rest of the herd of 18 were away stuffing themselves with all this new food.

A week ago, this hillside was the color of fallen oak leaves. Now look at it! Green as Ireland.


Karla has returned home from Death Valley, where she worked for about three weeks helping Hilary get her Furnace Creek Ranch Stables set up while Luke was still at the high ranch putting in a foundation for a new building. I asked Karla to record the process of staining the tabletop. She insists that whoever is in a picture she’s taking put on a smile.

The top is fully stained, and now I simply wait for it to dry completely before putting on the tung oil finish. Tung oil is different from varnish in that it seeps into the wood, rather than sitting on top. It won’t peel or chip; it just wears down with time. Then you apply more, rub it out, and you have a new finish.

Saturday, October 17

I was expecting this

In the back of my mind was a nagging thought: Which one will it be? We all had expected this tree to fall sometime soon, but it looks like it’s going to fall a piece at a time. The wind storm of a few days ago took maybe one-quarter of the tree out. Yesterday morning I had to drive around this heap because I had forgotten to toss a chain saw in the back of the car. It’s good to have four-wheel drive.

Our home by the sea…

…of fog. It’s a bit early in the season, but this past week’s rain triggered the onset of fog season. Every year the moisture rises from the soil, the cool air condenses it, and we get a view of the ocean. Looking down on it is interesting; driving in it stinks. One night we were driving under the fog, then rose into it. The road simply disappeared. Our only clues as to where we were going were the reflective strips on posts alongside the roadway that marked the locations of culverts. That plus the memory of where the road should be. In times like that, we question whether the trip is really necessary, then turn around and go back. We don’t really need food, we don’t really need to get the mail, I don’t really need to go to the emergency room, I’m not bleeding that bad.

Thursday, October 15

Table getting close to finished

In order to use the corner brackets I had bought for the table, I had to lengthen the screws that came with them. They have threads for wood at one end, and for a machine nut at the other. Shown between the clamps are three of the eight screws I had to modify. Since I couldn’t find my screw stretcher (joke), I had to cut some threaded portions off some other screws and weld them on.

Here is one of the corner brackets. A longer screw made it possible to use them after all. I’ll have to use a metal-cutting wheel to trim off some excess bracket metal that would be visible below the skirt.

Here the skirts and legs are put together with the corner brackets. It is a very sturdy assembly. To see how square it was, I measured diagonally from leg to leg, and found that it was off by about 1/8" (3 mm), which surprised me considering that it isn’t even “squared up” yet.

For fun, I put the top on the assembly to see how it looks. So far, so good. More sanding, staining, and other finishing needs to be done. The weather is good for a few days, but the humidity is awful. I don’t know how the finishing will go if things can’t dry. There are so many little flying insects who seem to love landing on wet woodworking projects, but at least there is little airborne dust flying around.

Just add water

That was quick! It’s barely 24 hours since the last of the rain fell, and already here are some teensy green shoots coming up. It almost makes you think the little leaves were there under the surface and all the rain did was wash off the dirt hiding them.

Wednesday, October 14

Storm is over

Well, the big storm was smaller than we all expected, but 2.15" (55 mm) of rain is plenty to get the horse feed growing. It will also make life easier by bringing an end to the tree-watering season.

But the wind! It was fierce. There will be lots of raking around the house to get rid of all the twigs and leaves that were blown off all the trees around here. When I crossed the creek to feed the horses this morning, I had to clear out a whole pile of fairly large branches that had blown off the willow trees. Not all of the horses were there to be fed, either. Maybe some of them were blown away!

Olive us love ’em

Yuk yuk. Olive puns are so cool. Olive them.

‘Tis time again for olive canning season to commence. It doesn’t happen all at once, since they ripen at different rates. The photo shows the color of “green ripe” which is ready for processing. I picked a jarful this morning with the only criterion that they should have at least a small blush of red-purple. The all-green ones will stay on the trees till they develop some color.

Tuesday, October 13

That’s it?

For a record-breaking storm that’s supposed to blow us away or wash us away, this one’s a real nothing-burger. Six hours of rain has brought us just 1/2" of rain. That’s 13 millimeters or so. I have been checking radar images of the rainfall around us, and we seem to be getting hit with holes in the clouds. We even had a brief interval of sunshine a couple of hours ago. It will take twice this amount to really get the horse feed to pop out of the ground, that and some sunshine.

If it weren’t so wet outside, I’d go out and do a rain dance. I might slip in the mud though.

Update: As of 7:30 PM, there is 1-1/2" of rain and more is expected.

That time again

Yesterday I spent all day putting things away in preparation for the big storm coming to California, with love, from Japan. It was a rip-roaring typhoon over there, and couldn’t wait to get its mitts on the Golden State and scare the pants off every emergency planner in every county north of Los Angeles. On the radio were warnings about the roads especially. A whole summer of dripping oil and tire dust was coating all the roads and the rain was going to soak in and lift all that slick stuff to the surface. Fresno’s sheriff said “act as if you’re driving on ice.” I wonder if she knows that practically nobody in California has ever driven on ice!

Last night I gingerly put a load of paper, kindling, and split firewood into the stove and set it afire. I went outside to see if any sparks were coming up the chimney. I am sure I probably burned out innumerable spiders who built their webs in the chimney over the summer. It hadn’t started raining yet, so it could be a problem if a bunch of flaming spiders riding their glowing webs started blasting out of the smokestack and landing in the dry oak trees surrounding the house. But there were none, so I relaxed and turned up the heat a bit.

It’s going to be wonderful to spend a winter slow-cooking all kinds of wonderful meals on this little gem of a stove. Free heat! Almost.

He who cuts his own firewood warms himself twice.

Sunday, October 11

Table progress

Above is a trial fit of the legs and the skirts. Nothing is nailed down at this stage, it’s just to see how things will look. In the picture are a couple of metal things on the tabletop. One is a threaded rod that will screw into the leg (there will be two per leg), the other thing is a plate that is supposed to attach to the skirt pieces and the two screws coming out of the leg. Problem: It doesn’t fit. Apparently the bracket is made for a very different arrangement of leg-to-skirt. (Note repaired mug at center bottom of pic.)

Here is how the skirt will fit to the legs. It looks like I am going to have to fashion my own brackets out of metal to attach the legs to the skirt pieces. So I have to scrounge up some metal that’s suitable. Up the hill from where I’m working is what we call the “Iron Pile.” It’s what most people would call “The Dump,” but to a maker of things, it’s treasure. I’ll see what I can find tomorrow morning before the rain comes.

“Body’s all achin’…

…and wracked with pain; lift that log, tote that bale…” to paraphrase Old Man River. In the morning I tote that bale of hay around in about a hundred-foot radius to keep the horses from bumping into each other. Several trips from the haystack are needed, and the area where I walk is just rocks and dust from being pounded by scores of hooves. I shouldn’t feed in the morning before my back heals from the night before. It usually takes about three hours before I can stand perpendicular to the planet’s surface.

Today I put just about everything away in preparation for the coming storm. It’s amazing how much stuff piles up outside when the weather is benign. I have been cleaning out an area and piling the things that will be hauled either to the dump or the recycling center in a heap outside. I moved the cardboard in to the wood shed to keep it dry. I now have a nearly unusable wood shed. It is amazing how much packaging one accumulates in a summer!

When Karla returns from Death Valley with our pickup, one of the first things I will be doing is hauling loads of stuff away!

Saturday, October 10

A day off, almost

There is supposed to be some actual weather coming to Central California on Monday. Rain, it says. I had a pile of un-split firewood out there by the shed, so I fired up the splitter (started on the first pull!) and spent a couple of hours finishing off the pile and putting it in the wood shed. So as far as the table project goes, I just put some oil finish stain on the legs and did more filling and sanding on the tabletop. I planned out the dimensions and placement of the skirt that will hold the legs to the bottom of the top, but haven’t yet decided which wood to use for those parts. I have a nice board from my lumber mill days at the high ranch, a piece of clear pine with some very nice coloring. But I would have to cut it into smaller pieces and they would be pretty much hidden by the tabletop. I have some nice red oak that was left over from the passenger seats I made for our ferry boat many years ago. I might use it. Or I might go further through the pile in the storage building for something else. Decisions, decisions! I’ll sleep on it.

Mostly Mended Mug

It won’t win any beauty contest, but I have my favorite mug back. I went to a hardware store and perused the myriad adhesives they offered. I knew from the start that super glue (cyanoacrylate), which always shows promise then fails, wouldn’t work. It had to be something that had toughness, stickiness, heatproofness, idiotproofness, and didn’t involve too much skill to use.

SILICONE! It’s tough, waterproof, heatproof, microwaveproof, dishwasherproof, and idiotproof. And the label said it works on ceramic! What more could you ask? Well, a little more skill would have helped. I didn’t get the main part of the break back on exactly right, but it’s only off a little bit. One part of the mug on the rim won’t be replaced because it pretty much shattered into dust, and I’m no arky-ologist type who’s going to spend half a lifetime with tweezers and a magnifier restoring it perfectly.

Twenty-four hours later, I trimmed off the squeezed-out glue with my pocket knife. The part of the rim where I didn’t have a part was still bright white and pretty ugly, so I did a touch-up with a green Sharpie pen. A totally serviceable repair, if I say so myself!

Thursday, October 8

150 GPM

The crawler-transporter above shuttles the shuttle (pun intended) from its barn to the launch pad, burning 150 gallons of diesel per mile. The shuttle’s engines are fed liquid hydrogen and oxygen by a combined 94,000 horsepower-worth of pumps. Each engine produces 12,000,000 horsepower, and there are three of them. Pratt & Whitney, the maker, says it is the most reliable re-usable large rocket engine ever made, with a 100% reliability record.

What an awesome amount of power! By contrast a big diesel locomotive has a 6,000-horsepower engine. The average car in America runs on 130 horsepower. An in-shape human can produce 1 horsepower for a brief period.

Which comes down to this—It would take the power produced by the entire population of California to put the shuttle into orbit, and that’s only if everyone’s in shape and can find a place to stand without smashing everyone else’s toes.

Photo: NASA

Nice legs

Four out of five ain’t bad. One of the legs had a thin spot that I discovered and rejected before it went too far. Another leg decided to split (bottom leg, above) right at the last minute. I filled the crack with wood putty, sanded it, and it came out fine. A little touch-up wood filler is seen in the picture above. They will be cut to length then fitted out with adjustable feet for leveling on an uneven floor.

Next I have to make the skirt that goes under the tabletop and holds the legs on. I have the necessary steel hardware to attach the legs to the skirt, and the necessary tool to make the holes for the screws that hold the skirt to the top. I will have to buy a hole saw to make the ends of the skirt pieces fit snugly against the legs. It’s harder to explain than to do. So tomorrow after feeding the horses (all 18 came in today—a first!) I head for the hardware store for more purchases of specialty screws and a 1-3/4" hole saw. I am surprised I don’t have that size in my extensive collection. Musta lost one.

Tuesday, October 6

Dollar down even more

Today we saw a huge jump in the price of Gold American Eagles. Fifteen years ago you could buy one of these for about $250. Most people think gold is going up. Wrong. The dollar is going down. I am wondering when to pull out of the stock market before it’s too late.

I finished reading Ron Paul’s book, End the Fed, and he made some indisputably true points about our “money.” The dollar put away 100 years ago is now worth about a nickel. That’s not good, and is getting much worse very rapidly. Just today the Saudis met with China, Japan and a few European countries and got their support to eliminate dollar pricing for oil. Maybe we can convince them to accept California IOUs in payment.


Several years ago I wandered around on the “island” at the high ranch and cut some sapling lodgepole pine trees. They literally grow like weeds there, so cutting 20 or so was hardly noticeable. I stripped off the bark while still green, which is the easiest time to do a job that, if done later, would be very difficult. They have been stood against the wall in our storage building in the foothills ever since, and are as dry as they will ever be.

I thought they would look good raw as legs on my new table, but decided that would be close to corny. Lathe time. I hadn’t turned anything on a lathe in years, but it’s almost like riding a bike—it comes back quickly. So for part of today and probably all of tomorrow I will be reducing four pieces of relatively straight saplings into table legs.

I also partially repaired my broken favorite mug. Tomorrow will tell if the repair will last.

Monday, October 5

More table stuff…

With a spatula, I filled holes and pits with some wood filler that I had resurrected yesterday. When I popped the lid off the can, I was greeted with a shrunken wad of material that had dried out because the lid wasn’t on tight after its previous use. I poured in some acetone and poked the lump with a screwdriver, breaking it up. This morning when I opened the can, the wood putty was creamy and ready to go.

Router test showed that I was ready to round the edge all around. I started with the bottom of the table.

A little hand sanding removed the ridge left by the router. Here is the top of the table after it was routed also. It has a nice edge now, and you’d never know the saw cut of a couple of days ago had gone bad.

The surface passes the mug test. I am going to have to get used to using a new mug, one that has a logo I designed a few years back. It’s bigger and heavier. It will be a while before I get over my old Australian Geographic mug, though. I have plans for it and will let you know if they work out.

Sunday, October 4

R.I.P. most favored mug

Almost 10 years ago, I returned from Australia with a mug that caught my eye at the Australian Geographic store in Brisbane, Queensland. Since that time, it has been used daily. It was my very favorite, even more so than the mugs whose logos I had designed myself for sale at our store. Tonight, as I was reading my book, I moved a little bit to get closer to the lamp I was near and knocked the mug to its death on the cold hard unyielding floor. A cat jumped. My heart stopped. The world seemed colder. A gnat flew up my nose.


An inspiring story

When he was 14 years old and had to quit school because his family couldn’t afford the $80 tuition, William Kamkwamba brought a miraculous future to his village in Malawi. This article in explains. Make sure you watch the YouTube video.


The temperature around here recently has been as high as 106°F, 41°C. But this morning the outside air was doing a pretty good impression of a refrigerator’s interior, then while I was feeding the horses it actually rained a tiny bit. That’s enough to push me over the edge and convince me that I should take the day off and read my brand new copy of End the Fed by Congressman Ron Paul. Last night I had already read half of it, so it would be good to polish off the rest of it today. It’s a real book made from dead trees. I like dead-tree books better than Amazon’s Kindle books, of which I have several on my iPod touch. The digital versions are better in one way; since the iPod is also my alarm clock for releasing the three horses that are penned up for supplemental feeding, I always have it in a shirt pocket. So if I arrive to let the horses out and see that they’re eating even slower than they did yesterday, I’ll read a chapter or two while waiting for them to finish.

Meanwhile, let’s all get behind getting rid of the bloated, self-serving big-bank mess we’re in.


By adding the “t” I hope.

You know it’s a trick

The question that accompanies this morning’s Astronomy Picture of the Day is obviously a trick: “Are square A and B the same color?” Your immediate response, after seeing the endless trick illusions like “Which stick is longer?” (obviously the one that looks shorter) or “Which circle is bigger?” (the small one, of course) is, reluctantly, Yes. What does this have to do with astronomy? Just that what appears to the eye-brain combo to be a certain way is not necessarily true. You have to use non-subjective instruments to make sure that what you’re seeing isn’t necessarily what it appears to be. Here’s the proof of a Yes answer to the above question.

Here’s my entry into the trick-illusion-question parade: Can a saw cut gone bad be overcome so the tabletop still looks round? Answer: We’ll see.

Credit: Wikipedia via Astronomy Picture of the Day

Saturday, October 3


The saber saw blade came loose! I only noticed when it got really difficult to make it go where I wanted it to. This has happened before. The design of the tool was poor; they should have used a fine-thread screw to hold the blade in place. The vibration causes the coarse-threaded screw to come loose, slowly at first, then very quickly, letting the blade flop about and messing up the cut. This is going to take some major sanding to correct!

Luckily I have a disc sander. After setting up some support rollers, I was able to run the table top around a couple of times and take out the really bad parts of the messed-up cut. I want a perfectly square edge in order to get the control I will need with my router in rounding off the sharp edge.

Got it! All the bad cut is corrected and I’m ready to go on to the next phase: rounding the edge, top and bottom. But first, I need some major sitting-down time. Standing on a concrete slab for hours on end finally gets to me. Time for blogging, I guess.

Time for rounding

The table parts are glued together. I found out that the way I cut the boards is called “CVG,” Clear Vertical Grain. Very strong and really good looking.

I flipped the tabletop over and attached a jig I made that would steer the scroll saw in a circle to cut out the finished form. Unfortunately, the saw didn’t turn the way I had expected. I found out that the way my jig was made, it wouldn’t work unless the center of the circle was lined up exactly to the leading edge of the saw blade. I could have changed everything, but didn’t think it worth the time to re-weld the parts in a new configuration and fuss with the whole mess. I drilled a hole in the end of the jig and poked a pencil in and drew a circle that I’ll follow freehand. Sandpaper will hide my mistakes (I hope).

Hot teeth

After three hours, there are still some good piles of hay here and there, and a bunch of horses standing off in the distance, eyes half shut, breathing shallowly. This happens every day. Am I overfeeding them? Later in the afternoon I return to see that just about every scrap of hay has been eaten, and not by squirrels and bunnies.

Time for a theory: Initially the horses eat so fast their teeth overheat. They’re simply letting them cool.

Friday, October 2

Coming together…

The pieces of wood being clamped in the previous blog were part of 24 pieces being glued into a single four by four foot (122 cm2) piece. In the picture, note the two dark spots in piece #20; those are nail holes. The wood I’m using is ripped out of some 150-year-old floor joists from an old demolished warehouse in Stockton. A friend of ours has a sawmill that recycles old wood and makes new lumber out of it. We did some remodeling in the house a few years back, and these old joists were left over. I cut them into 2" by 1/2" pieces and stuck them together with glue and “biscuits” using a tool called a plate joiner.

The plan, if all goes well, is to produce a round dining table. I’ll have more as the project goes forth…


I heard somewhere that a woodworker or cabinetmaker can never have too many clamps. Here is proof to the contrary—I ran out of room! But lemme tell ya—those two pieces of wood will never come apart!

(Crummy photo because bright sunlight and dark shadows don’t work together well.)

Roundness rules

Have you ever noticed that most fruit is round? Or roundish? Or at least roundish in cross-section? Or at least not square? Why?

Food for thought.

(I am not stalling for ideas for blogs by posting pictureless and thinkingless nonsense. But I am busy taking pictures of a rather lengthy process using tools and lumber. You will see what I am up to when I’m good and ready, and if the project comes out. If it ends up being a mess, you won’t hear another word about it.)