Build a Sawhorse for Ripping Lumber with a Handsaw

Ripping a long board with a handsaw is no easy task. Take the amount of muscle required out of the equation and just consider the skill involved in cutting a perfectly straight line for more than a few inches, and you’ll understand why people rush to the table saw.  Yet somehow, before the days of power tools with long, straight fences woodworkers managed to make beautiful, precise masterpieces.

Enter the Ripping Sawhorse

A beautiful, precise masterpiece this project is not. It’s made out of scraps of 2×4 and plywood whereas the Fine Woodworking project on which it was modeled (and luthier who apparently had the same idea) is built from quality lumber. Personally I don’t see a point in spending a ton of money on something that is purely function, not form.

I took Tom Killen’s design and made one critical modification: I ripped the saddle down the center and reassembled it with 1/16″ filler strips at either end.  This created a top in which I could clamp my workpiece and easily saw through it lengthwise using the gap as a saw guide.

A Tip From a Tablesaw

Do you know why your table saws and circular saws all have a riving knife behind the blade (that you probably removed for convenience)? It’s to prevent the two sides of the workpiece from binding back together when they clear the back of the blade.  On a power took that binding can create a difficult situation. Binding happens using a hand saw too, but it’s more likely to just make sawing harder than it is to throw a board at your face.  To prevent binding put a nail or a shim in your saw kerf after you’ve worked far enough into the rip cut that it won’t interfere with your saw blade.

Cutting Lumber Perfectly Square with Hand Tools

Lately I’ve been getting more interested in working with hand tools.  When I first got into remodeling and then woodworking I purchased a bunch of power tools almost immediately because, with my limited knowledge, every cut seemed impossible unless I had just the right blade, on just the right tool, cutting at just the right height and angle.

Ironically just about any cut you can make with a circular saw, jigsaw, compound miter saw, table saw, band saw, planer, or jointer can also be made with just a couple of hand tools, some patience, and a little experience.

Making accurate cuts with hand saws is no exception.

Use a Knife for Marking

During my reading I came across some advice from a master woodworker named William Ng who recommended that laying be done with a marking knife for several reasons: a pencil line is thicker than a cut from a marking knife and thus less accurate, the cut separates the fibers on the outermost layer of wood which reduces tear-out, and finally because the tiny ridge made by the knife blade creates a guide for the saw blade.

I expanded on this advice and found a method for making accurate cuts.  I use a combination square and marking knife or utility knife to mark a perfectly rectangular line around my workpiece, I then cut in at an angle from the waste side of the cut, forming a wall the entire way around the work piece.  Finally I make the cut, allowing the saw to follow the path I made for it.  This method works just as well for cutting mitered angles, you’ll just need a t-bevel to mark your cut instead of the combination square.

Glue applicators cut from wood scrap.

Making Glue Applicators with Scrap Wood

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Are you a woodworker? Are you (like me) too cheep to buy high-end glue brushes but also adverse to applying glue with your fingers like some sort of filthy macaroni artist toddler?  Well do I have just the project for you: glue applicators made out of wood scrap.

What you need is a piece of scrap 6″ long or longer in the direction of the grain. Don’t make your applicators by cross-cutting (cutting perpendicular to the grain), and don’t use MDF or plywood scrap either. These materials will be too brittle at the thickness we’ll be cutting to be useful.

I cut the applicator by clamping a block of wood to my band saw about 1/8″ away from and parallel to the blade then repeatedly running the scrap through until I have a handful of 1/8″ thick strips. I suppose you could do this on a table saw too, but cutting strips this thin between the blade and the fence of a table saw is asking for either trouble or injury.

Once you’ve cut all of your pieces vacuum, air spray, or wipe them clean so you don’t get saw dust in your glue when you go to use them.

A Mounting Board for a French Fry Cutter

Backer made out of poplar.

Backer made out of poplar.

Well this was a fun little afternoon project.  My mom asked me to mount her new french fry cutter to the side of her kitchen cabinets.  They had already picked up an 8′ x 8″ dimensioned popular board for the project, which unfortunately wasn’t wide enough for the task at hand.

The easy solution was to cross-cut the board into two 4′ lengths and glue them together.  After it was dry enough to work with I created the curve on the top and bottom by measuring 1″ in from the corners and clamping a thin piece of scrap to those points and bending it to the top center. I cut the curves on the band saw, routed an edge on the whole thing, and sanded it down with whatever grit dad had sitting around.

The only part I’m not pleased about is the burn marks from the router, particularly where it had to chew through end grain.  If anyone has a solution to avoid that I’m all ears!

Tortilla Press with Homemade Tortillas

Wooden Tortilla Press

Tortilla Press with Homemade Tortillas

I used 2 x 4 scraps and some oak for the handle. The only thing I had to buy were the hinges. Total cost: $3.57

Today’s Edition of Brian Makes Crap out of Slightly Lesser Crap: A tortilla press made out of 2 x 4 scrap!t

I adapted instructions from another person’s video so I won’t bother to rewrite them here. If you want to make one, just check out his video and follow along.  All you really need to make one of these is some thick lumber and a table saw.  However I used my planer (to square up the 2×4 prior to glue-up), a router with a roundover bit to smooth the corners, a sander with 80, 120, 220, and 300 grit paper, and a band saw to curve the handle. The additional power tools certainly aren’t necessary, but they make the finished product a little nicer.

I made mine out of 2×4 scrap that I planed down to 1 1/4″ thickness and edge-glued the pieces together into 12″ wide squares.

I made the handle out of oak for extra strength, but that was made from scrap.  The only part of the project that cost me any money were the hinges, for a total cost of $3.57.

You can check out Steve Ramsey’s tortilla press video here.  Thanks for the inspiration!

Product Review: Earth-Rated Poop Bags

Some might say I take my recycling to a ridiculous extreme.  If you followed me around with a camera for a few days, you’d eventually catch me moving stuff my roommates threw away to the recycling bin or compost pile. Some may think that’s gross.  Well to them I say go suck eggs! Then compost the aforementioned eggs, because I hate to see them go to waste, you asshole.

For those of you looking to eliminate that last 5 or 6% of trash you still find yourself leaving for the garbage man, Earth Rated Poop Bags can help you get there.  They’re sturdy, environmentally friendly, and a great alternative to composting your actual dog.

The Material

Earth Rated Poop Bags are made from the same corn-based material that Coca-cola is using in their PlantBottles, but unlike PlantBottles Earth Rated Poop Bags are biodegradable and meet the ANSI standard for biodegradable plastics (ASTM D6400). The bags are thin but durable.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve put a regular plastic bag in my pocket, only to pull it back out torn up by my car keys. The Earth Rated Poop Bags feel thin but have an elasticity to them that a regular plastic bag doesn’t.

The Smell

Earth Rated Poop Bags come in scented or unscented varieties.  I bought the unscented bags because their website was unclear as to whether or not the lavender scented type are biodegradable. The unscented bags have a similar odor to regular plastic bags.  But what do you want?  If you’re carrying around a bag of pooh you’re not doing it hoping to find your soul mate.

The Price

Earth Rated Poop Bags are definitely a little more expensive.  Last I checked regular poop bags were about $0.02 cents per bag, and Earth Rated Poop Bags were about $0.04 cents per bag.  Do they cost more? Absolutely.  But unless your dingo is dropping a dozen dookies a day, the difference is hardly going to break the bank.

Do Earth-Rated Poop Bags Really Compost?

The short answer is yes. The manufacturer says they should break down in 40 days and in my experience (so long as your compost pile stays healthy) I’d say that’s very true.  In the accompanying video I dissect my compost heap, which contains several bags deposited over the last few months.  I found a piece of one bag but the rest seem to have broken down completely.

Is it safe to compost dog poop?  The Department of Agriculture says it depends, because a dog’s stomach (and thus a dog’s dookie) can contain bacteria that’s not so good for his owner. If you don’t use the compost to grow food it’s perfectly fine.  If you do plan to use the compost to grow your garden, either don’t include your dog poop in that compost or use a red worms composting method.

The One-Straw Revolution

It’s fair to say that I don’t know what Amazon was thinking when it recommended I read The One-Straw Revolution.  I bought a beginner’s book on gardening once and some biodegradable dog poop bags, and I can only assume that from those purchases the Almighty Amazon Marketing Algorithm labeled me a militant environmentalist Hell-bent on removing the influence of science from that greasy mess I shove down my gullet on a daily basis.  I am not.  But I’m glad it assumed I was.

That's what we call "breakfast" around these parts.

That’s what we call “breakfast” around these parts.


The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka is a manifesto on farming, not a guide.  Fukuoka was educated as a biologist and worked as an agricultural customs inspector for several years.  During his brief government career he witnessed one of the tragic failings of man which Mark Twain described as thus:

Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.

Fukuoka -san watched as experts kept searching for scientific solutions to problems created by other scientists, the farming industry, and the whims of consumers.  But it wasn’t until he experienced a philosophical awakening after a bout with pneumonia that he returned to the orchards from whence he came.

I suppose in the 1940’s that pneumonia was a more serious deal than it is today, and this is where Fukuoka’s story gets a bit “emo.” His hospital stay left him in a depression and facing serious metaphysical questions.  He eventually concluded that

Humanity knows nothing at all. There is no intrinsic value in anything at all, and every action is a futile, meaningless effort.

Truly inspiring words from a man who went on to write a passionate book meant to spark a food revolution, right? (He actually jokes about it in the final chapter.) This realization led him to leave his career and return to the family orange grove where he began to experiment with what he would call “Do-Nothing Farming.”

Fukuoka's little-known Nihilism and marmut-farming stage.

Fukuoka’s little-known Nihilism and marmut-farming stage.

Do-Nothing Farming

Fukuoka began to experiment with “doing less” with his trees and vegetables and more with his awesome facial hair.  This process often led to failure but what he soon discovered was that his failures were caused by the damage done to the land by modern agriculture.

He soon realized that Mother Earth, much like Daryl Hanna,  was doing just fine before science came around and thought he could improve her. Once the soil is farmed using modern methods that include chemical fertilizers and herbicides, the land becomes dependent on them.  But once the soil returns to it’s natural state crops grow just fine with very little help from mankind.

Do-Nothing Farming isn’t about being lazy:  It’s about approaching agriculture in a way that works with nature instead of relentlessly trying to tame her. He used no fertilizer, no herbicides, very little compost, yet continually produced rice yields that compared with the rest of the farms in his area.

Fukuoka gives plenty of specific advice about his farming methods: plant summer and winter crops, utilize cover crops, cover the fields with the straw leftover from your crops to protect the seeds and replenish nutrients.  His instructions are pretty specific to Japanese agriculture but I’m excited to research and adapt them to my own gardening here in Pennsylvania.

100% FDA Approved, Organically-Grown Face Forest

100% FDA Approved, Organically-Grown Face Forest

Modern Agriculture: It’s the Consumer’s Fault

Much of this book is philosophical in nature, and considerable effort is spent discussing what good food actually is. (Depending on my mood it’s either food from my garden or a #13 from McDonalds)  Fukuoka’s definition is, loosely translated,  food you can enjoy eating which keeps you healthy without having to think too hard about it.  Basically he means local, in-season, organically grown food, and if you have to obsess over nutrition too much you’re probably doing it wrong.

The problem is that this isn’t what the consumer wants.  Like Hollywood has sold a false ideal of female beauty, so we’ve also been sold a false idea of what good food looks like.

The FDA tells us we need specific amounts of specific food groups ( these amounts often vary based on which agricultural lobby is throwing the most money around).  We think our foods have to be the perfect color, the perfect size, and the perfect texture. On top of all that, we want the perfect produce even when it’s not in-season. Consumers demand these qualities that don’t occur naturally, and if farmers want to sell their produce they’ll have to use unnatural methods to attain them.

Furthermore organically-grown produce is sold at a premium whether the growing process warrants it or not, pricing it right out of the hands of working men and women who need it the most.


A Problem in Need of a Solution

I have one issue with Fukuoka’s philosophy of farming: in order for “Do-Nothing” farming to succeed on a global scale, society would have to change in a big way.  His ideas work in a world where the farmer grows for himself and sells to the local village.  On this scale the farmer can produce high yields in a natural way and still have leisure time leftover. However reality tells us that 9 out of 10 people world-wide depend on others to grow their food because they busy themselves with what Fukouka sees as meaningless human industry.  While I don’t necessarily disagree with him, those billions of people that would either starve to death or give up the convenience of modern living to pursue subsistence farming might.


What I loved most about The One-Straw Revolution is that it was philosophical in nature, but unlike so much philosophy it had energy, passion, and a goal driving every word. The author’s direct, common-sense approach to natural farming was refreshing in a world filled with the false hopes of science and technology making our lives simpler.

Use a vise grips to make quick work of peach pits.

How to Remove Seeds from Peach Pits

In the words of Nicholas Cage, I could eat a peach for hours.  But unlike that dirty pervert Nick Cage I’m talking about fruit. So it seems logical that Mr. Cheapskate Do It Yourself Caveman might want a couple of peach trees some day.  Last night after cutting up peaches at my girlfriend’s parents house I saved the pits, cleaned them, and brought them home to get them started.  Peach pits don’t crack easily with a nutcracker. A hammer certainly works but you risk breaking the seed too.  I found the easiest way to remove the seed from the peach pit is to use a s grips, and I provided a little video below.

A picture taken while my camera was allowed to know my location.

Removing Location Data from Your Pictures

So this isn’t my usual sort of post here, but a friend of mine asked me to explain this video to her and it seemed like a topic important enough to address.  The video talks about how the pictures you take with your smart phone can be used to track you or your children’s locations:

GeoLocation: Explain it to me Like I’m Five

The iPhone,  other smart phones, and many other electronic devices like tablets and some digital cameras have GPS (Global Positioning System) features built into them. If GPS is turned on your device is always aware of your location on this spinning ball of dirt we’re riding around the sun.  This adds a tremendous amount of value to your phone, but it’s also a huge privacy concern and easy to forget about when you’re taking that spur-of-the-moment picture of your kids at the park.

I can’t tell you how other devices behave, but the iPhone does ask you if you want the Camera app to use your location. But it only asks once, and many people either don’t understand the question or don’t care and just press “yes” without grasping the repercussions.

Every picture you snap has metadata attached to it (it’s called EXIF data when referring specifically to photos).  Metadata is basically just information describing a file. This can include the width and height of the picture, the camera model used to take the photo, the date it was taken, et cetera.  If your camera is aware of your location when the photo was taken, it will also include your latitude and longitude to a frightening degree of accuracy.

This means that if someone can access your picture through email, Facebook, Twitter, Imgur, Snapfish, your blog, Google Image Search, or even a thumb drive you left sitting at the library, they can easily figure out the latitude and longitude where the picture was taken. All they need to do is plug those coordinates into Google or Bing Maps and they’ll know (with accuracy up to a couple of feet) when and where you were located.

An Example

A picture taken while my camera was allowed to know my location.

A picture taken while my camera was allowed to know my location.

Before I took the picture of my eye you see here, I verified that GPS was turned on on my iPhone and verified that the camera was allowed to use my location. To find the GPS locations where a photo was taken you just need some way to look at the metadata attached to it.  On a Mac you can use iPhoto.  On a PC you can right-click the photo, go to properties, and look at the Details tab. An even simpler way is to upload your photo to a service like and it will tell you everything there is to know about a photo. Here’s the information attached to my picture:

GPS Position: 40.880667 degrees N, 76.980333 degrees W

I plugged the GPS location from my photo into Google Maps.  I was at work when I took it.

I plugged the GPS location from my photo into Google Maps. I was at work when I took it.

And now all I need to do is place that location on a map.

In the second photo you can see that i pasted the GPS coordinates into Google Maps.  It shows my location quite accurately (that green dot is in my office).  Fortunately all this picture proves is that I was screwing off at work writing this post and not really doing my job.

Removing the Location From your Photos

Now that you understand the danger here’s how to avoid it.  On an iPhone it’s easy to turn off location services.  Go to Settings, go to Privacy, then turn off Location Services or just turn it off for the Camera app and any other app you don’t want to be aware of your location.

If you have another device, just go an Internet search for “turn off GPS for X” where “X” is the name of your device.

If you have a photo you’ve already taken that you want to remove location information from, that’s easy too on Windows or a Mac.

Product Review: Scoop-Away Super Clump

Noodle gives all other cat litters "the raspberry."

Noodle gives all other cat litters “the raspberry.”

I’ve had cats for about 6 years and I’ve tried a lot of different solutions to the litter problem.  Every time something different went on sale I’d switch brands. I tried the green options like recycled newspaper litter, the basic clay litter that costs $4.00 for a 30 lb bag, and the high-end products that cost $20.00 for half the amount.

I’ve learned two important lessons: If your eco-guilt is so crippling that you’re willing to live with the smell of cat butt then cut your carbon footprint even further by not keeping pets in the first place; and in terms of cost I’ve finally admitted to myself that using low-end cat litter isn’t being frugal, it’s being cheap (also, stupid). Cat litter is definitely one product where it pays to splurge a little.

I’ve finally found my brand: Scoop Away Super Clump. This stuff is amazing.  I’m not sure what sort of demon magic this product contains but the box says “never dump your litter again” and it’s not lying.  Whenever your cat goes #1, #2, or even if she’s drank too much and finds herself compelled to do both at the same time while hanging her head over the trash can to vomit, so long as she does it in Scoop Away Super Clump cleanup will be trivial.  Everything that isn’t a clump going in will clump into a dry, scoop-able mass when it hits the litter.  So long as you scoop the solids out daily you won’t have odor and you’ll never have to dump and replace the entire box.  You’ll have to add a few scoops every few days, but you’ll be surprised with how long it lasts.