A top-down view of the secret compartment book with pop-our compartment.

Postmortem Analysis: Making the Most of Mistakes

A great man once said,

Dude… sucking at something is the first step toward being sort of good at something. – Jake the Dog, AdventureTime

I live by this philosophy. As a maker, the excitement of creating something I’ve never made before is what drives me. But how often do any of us get something right on the first try?

Not very often.

Sometimes I take commissions to make something completely unique for a client. In these cases I’ll only build that thing one time, and this can pose a real challenge. When you’re making a one-off creation you may not have the chance to build new skills or fix design flaws through repetition. And lets face it: mistakes happen.

I locked horns with this challenge during the month of December.

A client commissioned a secret compartment book as a bespoke Christmas gift for a friend.  He had a specific vision. I had a head full of ideas to step up both the quality and awesomeness factor by integrating some woodwork and spring-loaded hardware.  I had limited time to complete it and no room for error. It would either ship on time and perfect, or not at all.

The end result was a Picasso interpretation of the vision I had in my head. The workmanship was rushed and sloppy, and it turns out the end result wasn’t quite what the client described in our conversations.

Cool concept.  Poor execution. But I’m not one to get discouraged.

In order to get from sucking at something to being kind of good at something you need to take time to reflect on what went wrong. This is called a postmortem analysis and that’s precicely what I’ll be doing in the remainder of this blog post.

The term post-mortem is latin for “after death”, and originally referred to a medical examination of a corpse to determine the cause of death. The term has, more colloquially come to refer to any “after the fact” analysis and discussion of a recently completed process or event, to see what lessons we can learn from it. – Mark Kampe, Pomona College

This process can be as formal or relaxed as you want. The important part is that you take the time to review your process and it’s output objectively in order to figure out what you did right, what you did wrong, and what you can change to maximize your chances of success in the future.

A Postmortem Analysis of my Secret Compartment Book 2.0

A top-down view of the secret compartment book with pop-our compartment.

A top-down view of the secret compartment book with pop-our compartment.

Accepting an Unrealistic Deadline

Some people thrive on the artificial pressure that deadlines inspire.  I’m one of those people. After all, constraints can drive creativity. But accepting a deadline you know to be impossible is a terrific way to set yourself up for failure.

The Problem: I Accepted a Deadline I Knew Would be Hard to Meet

The client ordered this secret compartment book as a Christmas gift on December 1. This meant that I had to ship to California in time for the holidays. This gave me four weeks to plan, order parts, and complete the book.

On December 3 we had a baby.

This project was setup to fail from the beginning.  RC Creative is not my full time job.  In fact the time that I scrape together to be a maker is largely time robbed from my web development business or family. Furthermore, this project was accepted two days before our daughter was born. By the time the raw materials arrived I was already running out of time to build this project. I did very little planning and rushed the actual construction.

The Result: Poor Quality, Failure to Meet Client Expectations

Accepting the deadline for this project during the first three weeks of my newborn’s life was a poor choice.  This decision resulted in an end product that didn’t meet my quality expectations. Even though I had gone through a brief process of sending sketches and getting approval from the customer, the end result was actually not the design he expected. I wasn’t satisfied enough with my work to let the customer give me money.

Solution: Work with Clients to Set Realistic Goals

I had two facts at my disposal which should have been enough information to turn down or revise this commission:

  • I had a newborn daughter to adjust to and care for
  • Christmas was four weeks away and I didn’t have a plan or materials.

I was excited to build something new, and in that excitement I never bothered to ask if I could deliver the project after Christmas. As it turns out, that would not have been a problem. Sometimes aggressive deadlines can make miracles happen.  Sometimes they sink a project before it leaves the port. This situation was the latter.

In the future, I plan to factor in the realities of my work and family schedule. I will not accept a commission with a short deadline that I could fail to meet given the slightest setback.  I will work with customers to adjust expectations in order to set myself up for success before I pick up my tools.

Poor Communication

This project was essentially an email inspired from one of my YouTube videos, and a follow-up napkin sketch.  More planning was necessary.

The Problem: Poor Communication with the Client

Even though the client and I talked several times throughout the project, we failed to have the same vision for the end product. As a result, we were aiming for different goals.

The client described what he wanted in specific detail. He wanted a secret compartment book specifically designed to hold a Samsung Galaxy S7 phone. I should use a softcover book, preferably a law book, that’s thick enough that you could leave pages loose at the front and back to give the appearance of a normal book upon very casual inspection. He wanted the compartment as close to the spine as possible.

I drew what he described and sent him the sketch.  He approved. Unfortunately there were critical details I either failed to document in the sketch or he failed to point out as being contrary to his needs.

The Result: I Built the Wrong Thing

In the end I built what I thought the customer wanted. Or maybe I even built what I thought the customer should want. My interpretation of his description missed the mark enough to cause problems. I had actually designed the compartment perpendicular to what the client had envisioned.

The Solution: Better Communication, Better Illustrations

We talked on the phone several times but words were insufficient. It’s ridiculous that we relied on them so heavily when the client had contacted me by email in the first place. I sent the client a very rough sketch of my plan in a text message.  While I thought it was sufficient to capture what my interpretation of his description, he was unable to point out any discrepancies. I should have asked for specific feedback. I should have made a more formal, more detailed illustration that showed actual dimensions, and was more clear on the orientation of all of the components.

What would have been great is to let him sketch what it was that he wanted that we were unable to describe to each other in words.

An important part of this postmortem analysis was to figure out why the compartment binds up when you slide in the wallet, and how to avoide it in the future.

An important part of this postmortem analysis was to figure out why the compartment binds up when you slide in the wallet, and how to avoide it in the future.

Failure to Plan

Given that I had already accepted a deadline I was unlikely to meet, I neglected to take steps between napkin sketch and putting tools to material that might have helped us discover flaws in the plan ahead of time.

The Problem: Failing to Plan Failed to Illuminate Avoidable Problems

I already pointed out that the client’s request was very specified. It sounds like the client did all the planning for me, right? He knew what he wanted. That much is a given. Unfortunately some of the specific details he hoped for me to achieve were what led to problems later.

Unfortunately I didn’t have the time or the spare materials to practice or test any of the design details before building the final product.

The Results: Poor Workmanship, Less than Perfect Functionality.

Because I didn’t test the design and ideas that the client and I had agreed upon before I started building the project, it resulted in a few errors in craftsmanship that could have been avoided.

Carving out so much space in the center of a softcover book leaves the remaining material feeling flaccid. After I build the wallet and installed it in the compartment, I discovered there was so much flexibility in the remaining pages that they would droop down and act as a barrier to the graceful ejection of the wallet from the compartment.

When I cut the pages of the book (an activity that’s both destructive and non-reversible) I used a tool I designed specifically to cut through books quickly. Unfortunately during the cut the pages “splayed-out” as I plunged the tool, resulting in an angled cut with too much material removed towards the bottom. The result is a very ugly and noticeable gap in the ends of the pages where the wallet slides into the book.  This was the most important detail of the project to get right, poor planning and rushing resulted in getting it very wrong.

The Solution: Plan Ahead, Make a Prototype, Think Through Destructive Operations, Use Delicate Tools for Delicate Work

Obviously, more planning was required. Having extra time and materials available to make a prototype first would had led to the discovery of the design decisions that made this project fail.  Besides, if the prototype had been successful, it would have been sellable too.

My worst failure in building this secret compartment book was in the way that I cut the pages. I love my book-cutting tool and I’ll continue to use it in the future for simpler projects. But the hidden compartment in this version extends to the end of the page. This means the cut is visible, and needs to be straight and exact to minimize visibility. This project called for finesse and patience that I just didn’t bring to the table this time. When you need a thin cut in paper an X-Acto Knife is always the way to go, and instead I used the crafting equivalent of a chainsaw.

Cutting out the center was the only truly destructive step in making this book. I had only one book. After cutting it apart, it could not be un-cut. Dedicating the time to cut the compartment with the more delicate tool would have been best. Using an aggressive tool often amplifies errors.

In our postmortem analysis we find that the we used the wrong tool for the job when cutting out the compartment.

In our postmortem analysis we find that the we used the wrong tool for the job when cutting out the compartment.

What I Did Right

The greatest success that I had in this project was a result of good planning. The client wanted this secret compartment book to fit a Samsung Galaxy S7. Finding the dimensions of the phone was easy, and I used those dimensions to craft a template. The phone template determined the size and shape of the wallet. The wallet determined the size and shape of the compartment. As a woodworker I understand that measuring is the enemy of accuracy. The wallet, made from veneer-thin cherry and faced with the remnants of the cut paper, is truly gorgeous and a detail I’ll be sure to repeat in the future.

The awesome phone template and finished wallet. Whoops, I forgot to clear the history!

The awesome phone template and finished wallet. Whoops, I forgot to clear the history!

Summary

This postmortem analysis resulted in a number of lessons I’ll be sure to carry with me in the future. Some were general: don’t accept deadlines you can’t realistically meet.  Plan. Make a prototype out of cheaper materials to discover design flaws before you commit them to the final product. For custom projects ensure that I’m building what the customer wants.

Other lessons were more specific.  Use fine tools for fine work.  Use hardcover books and books with thicker pages that won’t droop and affect the mechanism. Move the compartment closer to the edge of the pages rather than the spine to avoid drooping. Keep the cutting tool perpendicular to the book to ensure a straight, even cut.  I plan to build this project again, and I think I have a good game plan to move ahead and find success in the next iteration.

Handmade Gifts in the Susquehanna Valley

Handmade Gift Ideas from the Susquehanna Valley

Shop small, shop local! 2016 holiday gift ideas from the Susquehanna Valley.

The Restored and Refinished Leg Vice

Reprioritization

It turns there aren’t any laws preventing me from procreating. How about that! I’m going to be a dad in about two weeks, and that’s changed some things for me.

Over the past nine months my priorities have shifted. I was plugging away with my new web marketing business and making slow, steady progress with RC Creative when we found out my wife was pregnant (good news). At the time I was really hoping I could turn this into something serious a little sooner.  Unfortunately getting my house ready for the baby has been more important.  I’ve been working hard building projects and finishing the remodeling on the house. I’ve finished the living room, remodeled a room upstairs to replace my office which will now be our nursery, finished the dining room, and even built a kitchen with cherry cabinets and counter tops from scratch.  But getting done was more important than doing it with the camera on.

So for those of you who like my content? Sorry I’ve managed to produce nothing aside from a one-off “vlog” episode in months. Unfortunately I don’t forsee that changing right now.  As I adjust to family life I’m hoping I can incorporate the maker part of me into it.  Maybe the web work that currently pays the bills will slow down and I can get on some of the projects folks as asked me to build.  That’d be nice.  But for now my focus is on building a good life for little baby Name To Be Determined.

How to Prevent Fruit Flies in Your Worm Bins

Preventing Fruit Flies in Your Worm Bins

Well howdy, fellow worm farmers! I’ve been a worm rancher for a few years now. They’re great for fishing. They’re good for your garden. And they tear into kitchen scraps like a pack of wild hogs.  Very tiny, very numerous, wild hogs. But worm bins can develop problems.

One problem that creeps up from time-to-time in the life of a worm farmer is fruit flies. If you keep your bins outdoors flies are no big deal, but if you keep them inside they can beproblematic. Here’s how to prevent and eliminate fruit fly infestation in your work bins.

Add a digestible bedding material to the top of your bins! I like to use sawdust or shredded paper, as I have both in abundance. You can use pieces of cardboard to the same affect. What I do is fill a five-gallon bucket halfway with bedding material. Then I start adding water, and mix until the material is soft and fully saturated.  I cover the top of the bin with about a half inch of bedding material.  Fruit flies won’t dig for their food, so this layer will discourage them from making your worm farm their forever-home, laying eggs, and making your worm bins the family estate. Over time your worms will eat the bedding, turning more trash into black gold for your garden.

Bonus Tip: Already have flies in your worm bins?  Not to worry! Grab your Shop-Vac and go to town.  You can easily suck up the majority of your fruit flies by popping open the kid of your bin and sucking them up in mid-air.

Cutting Bottles with a Tile Saw

How to Cut Bottles with a Tile Saw

In a previous video I demonstrated how to cut bottles using the Kinkajou bottle cutter. The Kinkajou works well: it usually produces a nice straight cut that doesn’t require a lot of smoothing after the fact.  But I’ve stumbled across another way to cut bottles: you can cut bottles with a tile saw.

Materials

My sister gifted me a tile saw a few years ago when I was remodeling a bathroom.  It’s a cheap saw and there are many just like it on Amazon or at Harbor Freight. You can get away with one of the $70-80 models.  In addition, don’t forget to have hand and eye protection, as well as a dust mask or other breathing protection. The saw produces a lot of glass dust, and it’s probably a bad idea to suck it into your lungs!

You also need bottles. The cool thing about using a tile saw is that you’re not limited to round bottles as you are with most speciality bottle cutting tools.

There’s very little to it and no “secret techniques” to show you. If you’re making a straight cut perpendicular to the bottle you can use the saw’s fence as a guide. But I like using the tile saw because you can make angled cuts across the neck of the bottle, as well as other non-perpendicular cuts that you can’t produce with the Kinkajou.

Take your time. If you try to force the bottle through the blade it’s a recipe for disaster. Take it slow. Gently push the bottle into the blade until it fully penetrates the glass. Then rotate the bottle slowly into the blade, until there’s not much material left. Then remove the bottle and plunge into the remaining material until it’s fully separated. In my experience this is the best way to prevent the two side from splitting unevenly and leaving a jagged edge.

Is a tile saw a better or worse method than using a Kinkajou ? Well it depends. The Kinkajou makes a more reliable and smoother cut. But it’s not perfect. Sometimes your bottle will still separate with a jagged edge. In addition, the Kinkajou isn’t designed to cut through the neck, and can only make cuts perpendicular to the length of the bottle. The Kinkajou also requires a time-intensive process of scoring the bottle, and then separating it using hot and cold water.

Cutting bottles with a tile saw is much faster. You can completely cut a bottle in about a minute. You have more flexibility in the cuts you can make. The downside is that your bottles are more likely to break unevenly (so make sure you have extras), and you’ll spend more time sanding and polishing the finished product.

How to Make a Doweling Jig for a Bit and Brace

Today I’m responding to my first viewer email! Michael sent the following message:

PROJECT SUGGESTION: I wonder could you make cheap but effective doweling jig all the ones i see online are for use with electric drills etc. Could you come up with one that I can use with a BIT/BRACE? as you need two hands to use the brace. It would need kept in place somehow? without the need for clamps.

Well Michael, I can try. If I understand the problem, Michael doesn’t think he can use a standard doweling jig with a bit and brace because you need to hold the drill and the jig, and a bit and brace requires both hands to use. Clamping the jig is an option, but the clamp can interfere with rotation of the brace. I think we can come up with a solution, But first, some terminology!

What Is Doweling?

Doweling is a woodworking technique that joins two boards without a lot of skill or expensive tools. You drill matching holes in the mating pieces, and then glue pieces of dowel rod or dowel pins into the holes to connect them.  Doweling is a low-tech way of producing a loose tenon similar to systems like the Festool Domino. Unlike the Domino and its massive price tag, all you need to carry out doweling joinery is some dowel rod, a drill, and a drill bit that matches the size of your dowel.

An image of dowel pins being used to attach shelves to their case.

Some random craftsman uses dowel pins to attach some Walmart-quality shelves.

What is a Doweling Jig?

A doweling jig is a tool that keeps your drill bit perpendicular to the work piece. Doweling is difficult without one: even a small error in your drilling angle can ruin the fit of your joint. Use a doweling jig to keep your drill at 90 degrees to the wood and a uniform distance from the edge.

Using a Doweling Jig with a Bit and Brace

Michael’s difficulty with using a doweling jig with a bit and brace stems from the fact that a brace requires two hands for operation, and so you can’t use one to secure the jig. Clamping is difficult because the clamp can interfere with the brace. Personally I have a hard time coming up with a scenario where I can’t clamp the jig in such a way that the clamp doesn’t interfere with the brace. As long as the long end of the brace is below the work, I don’t see a problem.

But Michael asked, so I delivered.

I first experimented with how the doweling jig that I own worked with a bit and brace.  It has a built-in clamp and it’s profile didn’t interfere with the brace. Unfortunately the jig itself is flimsy and inaccurate. The guide is plastic and wobbly. If you’re not holding your brace at 90 degrees, the guide conforms to your angle and not the other way around. That defeats the purpose of using a jig, so I ended up throwing it out.

Make a Doweling Jig for a Bit and Brace

I started sketching ideas on the whiteboard.  Michael specifically asked for a jig that didn’t require clamping.  As I started designing I realized something. I was drawing the doweling jig I had just thrown out. I liked some features of that jig: it had a low profile and integral clamp. But a home-brew version would be complicated to build and just as useless as the original. I tossed that idea and started from a clean slate.

There was no way of getting around a clamp’s necessity. Making a clamp part of the solution felt like over-engineering. A jig with a lot of surface area to use a quick clamp solves that problem.

I tossed a couple of scraps together with pocket screws. The base of the jig is about a foot long which leaves clamping space away from the brace.  The guide itself is an “F” shaped structure. Your bit must pass through two guides to drill through the work piece. The guides keep the bit straight. I marked the center points on all sides of the jig so it’s easy to align the holes.

A Postmortem Look at My Doweling Jig

Is my doweling jig functional?  Sure.  It it big and ugly and totally unnecessary? You betcha. It’s massive, and awkward, and solves a very specific problem I’ll never run into (I get no joy from using a brace). At the very least I hope I’ve solved Michael’s problem, provided some direction towards a solution.

For me the best solution is to buy a doweling jig. A quick search of Amazon returns pages of high-quality and affordable solutions. Many doweling jigs are self-centering and have a clamp integrated into them. See a highly rated jig without a built-in clamp? You can still secure it with a quick clamp from below as to not interfere with your brace. If you’re unsure, ask a question on Amazon and see if owners of the doweling jig have the answer.

So at the end of the day I have to say, sorry Michael! While I didn’t fail to deliver, I think there are better (and fairly cheap) solutions available.

Exercise Matts

On the latest episode of Wood Talk the guys were discussing using exercise mats positioned  in front of their power tools to prevent back pain.  It inevitably turned into a play on words involving Matt Cremona and Matt Vanderlist, and the hosts asked for someone to photoshop “Exercise Matts.” Ask, and ye shall receive!
exersize matts

The Restored and Refinished Leg Vice

Restoring an Antique Leg Vice

 

A workbench without vices is just an ugly buffet table.

But quality vice hardware is expensive, as you can see by visiting Benchcrafted and checking their prices. Woodcraft sells a more traditional set of hardware that will still set you back the cost of a few good chisels. I lucked out. I stopped at a local shop called Conny’s Constant Clutter and my eye caught an old leg vice rotting in the elements amidst a pile of ahem… “reclaimed” wood in front of the store.  I left with everything I needed to install a leg vice on my workbench including the metal hardware, oak jaw and horizontal guide, for ten dollars.

Of course, now I had to restore it. 

Restoring an Antique Leg Vice

Before I could do anything else I had to disassemble thevice and decide what could be salvaged. Once again I got very lucky and felt like I had struck gold, or at least struck cast iron with a little surface rust. All of the metal components were rusty but in good condition. The two wooden components, the jaw and wooden horizontal guide, were weather worn and had pretty significant twist.

I decided to scrap the wood and make something new. This gave me a chance to at a little foreign flare to my domestic hardwood bench by making the jaw out of bubinga.

I loosened and disassembled all the pieces with a little help from my good friend, WD-40.  Then it was time to clean up the screw components.

The original leg vice as I found it.

The original leg vice as I found it.

I Remember the Days When Screwing was Dirty!

How’s that for a click-bait-title?

Next I had to clean up all of the metal screw components. When I’ve got large pieces of rusted metal to clean, I use a process called electrolysis. The short explanation is that you submerge the metal in an electrolyte solution and apply electricity to the piece to be cleaned and a sacrificial piece of metal.  Through the magic of science that I really don’t understand, the rust moves from the metal to be cleaned to the metal to be sacrificed.  Yay, science! I have a video explaining electrolysis, so check that out if you’re curious.

This is what the screw looked like after going through electrolysis

This is what the screw looked like after going through electrolysis

Final Cleanup

After I removed all of the metal components from the electrolysis bath I dried them up and gave them a good polish with a wire wheel chucked onto my angle grinder.  Yeah, I know, in the video I’m not wearing gloves. What’s not seen in the video is how bad I regretted it later. Always wear hand and eye protection when using an angle grinder if you value your delicate skin and eyeballs.

I did the final cleanup of the screw with an angle grinder and wire wheel.

I did the final cleanup of the screw with an angle grinder and wire wheel.

Designing the New Jaw

I might have been able to salvage the original oak jaw on the vice, but I used this as an opportunity to add a little flair to my workbench.

I decided to make a new jaw by laminating douglas fir and bubinga, but doing so meant I needed to design and mill the new piece. The new jaw needed holes bored for the hardware as well as a mortise to accept the horizontal guide. The decision to use douglas fir on the inside and bubinga on the outside was intentional.  Bubinga is foreign, interesting, and incredibly hard. It’s a great show piece. But my concern was that bubinga is so hard that it could leave impressions in the work I lock into the vice. For that reason I laminated it along with a piece of douglas fir fitted to the inside of the jaw.

When I was restoring the vice it was still too cold outside for wood glue, so I brought the jaw pieces inside for the glue-up. A little Titebond 3, six quick clamps, and a few hours later the new jaw was ready to be cut to it’s final form.

 

Shaping the Jaw

In my design, the jaw is the same width as the workbench’s leg at the bottom and flares out to about twice the width towards the top. The easiest way I found to make that cut was to draw it out with a pencil and follow the line with my circular saw.

After cutting the jaw to the final shape I used my low angle jack plane to remove the saw marks and smooth the sides, then added a roundover to the edges the whole way around the jaw using a block plane.

Cutting the taper on the jaw of the leg vice

Cutting the taper on the jaw of the leg vice

Modifying the Leg

Because the workbench’s leg becomes the back half of the vice, it needed some modifications. First it needed a hole to accept the screw. The tricky part is that the hole must be larger at the back of the leg where a metal piece gets inserted to catch and lock the screw in place.

The way I solved this problem was to trace a line around the leg that represents the center of the hole. At the back of the leg I begin by drilling with a 2” Forstner bit to the depth of the hardware I need to install. Then I finish at the back using a 1” Forstner bit drilled to about half of the leg’s thickness.  Then I started from the front of the leg and drilled until the holes met in the middle.

By drilling only halfway from either side I limited the amount of error in my angle, and I prevent any blowout from my bit exiting the surface of the wood.

Next I needed to chop a mortise at the bottom of the leg to accept the horizontal guide. This was by far the most difficult part of the whole process and could have been made easier by dismantling the bench and working from an easier angle. I started by drilling out a rough opening for the mortise my making several holes with a ¾” forstner bit. Then I squared up the hole with chisels, rasps, and a metric crap-ton of test-fits and patience.

Modifying the leg to accept the vice hardware.

Modifying the leg to accept the vice hardware.

Installing the Hardware

It was finally time to install the hardware that connected the leg to the jaw.  I pounded the metal piece into the back of the leg that caught the screw.

I had a few more modifications to make to the leg. I drilled a hole in the front for the screw and fastened the front hardware with the original wood screws. I chopped a mortise the the bottom of the inside of the jaw which accepted the horizontal guide. I flared the mortise out at the bottom and added wedge to the end of the guide. For a better understanding of wedged mortise and tenon joints check out this Popular Woodworking article.  I thought this was a more elegant solution than doweling it into place like the designer of the original hardware had done.

After I installed the hardware into the jaw I installed the assembly into the workbench’s leg. I slipped the screw into the hole in the leg and the horizontal guide into the mortise at the bottom. It everything was cut correctly the screw would turn freely and the horizontal guide would glide through the mortise.

It didn’t. But about a half hour of fine adjustment later, the vice glided as gingerly as a young Brian Boitano. Or maybe even an old Brian Boitano. I can honestly say I don’t know what that guy is up to.

Test-fitting the leg vice

Test-fitting the leg vice

Sanding and Finish

Now that the leg vice was functional it was time to tweak the form. I removed it from the bench and sanded it to 220 grit with my random orbit sander. I used a belt sander to delicately trim down the top of the jaw to match the top of the bench, and then I used the sander to trim down the bottom of the jaw so it didn’t scrape the floor. I wiped up the dust and then I applied a few coats of teak oil, which is the same finish I used on the rest of the bench.

Final Thoughts

Like I said at the beginning: a workbench without a vice is just an ugly buffet table. It’s a workbench’s ability to hold your work in place that makes it useful, and for that you need things like vices, dog holes, and holdfasts. Installing the leg vice has literally changed the way that I woodwork. I spend far less time figuring how how to secure lumber to my work surface and far more time actually working with it.

Whether you buy a top of the line BenchCrafted vice kit, the economical version from Woodcraft, or you luck out and find a great hand-me-down vice that you can retrofit to your bench, the important thing is that you have one. And before you settle on a particular vice, I really recommend reading Workbenches by Christopher Schwarz. This is a great book on designing traditional workbenches and has a long section discussing the various types of bench vices, the pros and cons of each type of vice, and plans on how to integrate them into your workbench.

The Restored and Refinished Leg Vice

The Restored and Refinished Leg Vice

Cutting in Corners with a Paint Brush

Cutting in corners: it’s a term that means painting one side of a sharp corner without painting the other.

There are many ways to cut in corners when you’re painting a room. During my remodel I tried several specialty tools that claim to make the task dummy proof. In the end I found that none of those gimmicks and gadgets were superior to familiarizing myself with an angled paintbrush and learning to cut in corners the old-fashioned way.

Cutting in corners with an angled paintbrush isn’t a skill I can really explain in words or even in still pictures. You really need to see it happen to understand just how simple it actually is. So watch the video that I’ve provided.

The key is in the angle of attack and paying attention to the feedback the brush will give you. I’m sure that sounds like some straight up Mr. Miyagi jibberish, but you’ll understand the moment you hold the brush to a corner and feel what I mean. Present the brush to the corner with the longer end to the back of the stroke and the shorter bristles at the front. Hold the brush at an angle that pushes the bristles at the top of the brush into the corner and the bristles at the bottom of the brush into the surface that’s being painted. Then slowly pull the brush toward you.

Remember: you only want the bristles making contact on the side of the corner you intend to paint. If your paint line begins to stray to the other side then stop and adjust your angle.

Cutting in a ceiling is pretty difficult, so paint the ceiling first and then cut in the walls that butt against it.

Try the motions without paint on the brush a few times just to get comfortable.  You’re going to make mistakes at first. That’s fine. Just keep a damp cloth handy to wipe up the mistake before it dries. Before you know it you’ll be cutting in corners like a pro!

How to Make a Wine Bottle Pendant Light

Wine bottle pendant lights are one of those Pinterest projects that every wife seems to love and every husband insists he can make, but doesn’t. Trust me, I know! I heard that conversation play out a dozen times when I tried to sell some at a local event. But don’t worry–I’m here to help. This post will teach you how to make your own wine bottle pendant light. If you don’t have the time or inclination to make ir yourself, that’s no problem! We sell wine bottle pendant lights in our store as well.

Tools

Materials

  • Wine bottle (one per light)
  • Keyless Lamp Socket (one per light)
  • Rayon Retro Wire (a few feet per light)
  • 0000 Steel Wool for removing adhesive
  • Goo Gone for removing adhesive
  • 50/50 Vinegar water for bottle cleaning
  • Newspaper for bottle cleaning
  • Pot for boiling water
  • Sink or tub for soaking bottles

How to Make a Wine Bottle Pendant Light

Follow along to learn how to make your own wine bottle pendant light. If you find the process to daunting or the materials too expensive, you can always buy a wine bottle pendant light from our store.

Step 1: Get Wine Bottles

Before you can start making wine bottle pendant lights, you need to round up some wine bottles. You’ll want standard (750ml) or magnum (1.5L) bottles. Anything smaller won’t accept a light bulb. Anything larger is heavy, looks silly, and is difficult to cut.

Get Extra Bottles

You’ll want to have extra bottles available. particularly the first time you try this project. When you get to the glass cutting step you’ll find that, no matter how hard you try to score a perfect line, every so often the glass will break crooked, so having some backups available is important.

Where to Get Wine Bottles

Where can you find wine bottles? Try your recycling bin. Let’s face it: if you’re cool with having wine bottles hanging from your ceilings, there’s a good chance you like to imbibe.

If you don’t have any just ask around: we’ve all got friends who’ve discovered the wine loophole (it’s perfectly acceptable to get hammered at home alone. So long as it’s wine. Anything else and you’re a sad, pathetic drunk!) A quick Facebook message usually yields more bottles than you need.

If all else fails, go dumpster diving. Find out when your township’s recycling center is open, dawn some gloves and boots, and hop in.

Selecting a Bottle Color

What color bottles do you want? It’s up to you. I’ve found that clear glass just looks dull and brown glass is too dark.  Green bottles look great as do blue when you can find them.

Step 2: Clean the Bottles

Bottles aren’t hard to clean if you have the right  materials, and prepare them ahead of time. I created an article and video previously about how to clean wine bottles previously. The only update to that information I have is to get a bottle of Goo Gone to clean up the adhesive backing left from the stickers.

Step 3: Cut the Bottles

There several ways to cut glass bottles and they all suck to varying degrees. If bottle cutting is something you plan on doing more than once, I recommend you pick up a Kinkajou Bottle Cutter from Bottle Cutting, Inc. It eliminates much of the trial and error from the process, and they sell a bundle that has all the stuff you need to cut and smooth bottle glass. If you decide to save money and cut your bottles a different way that’s fine. Catch up with me in step 4.

I created a separate article and video on Cutting Bottles with the Kinkajou bottle cutter. Check that out here.

 Step 4: Smooth the Glass

After you cut the glass it will leave incredibly sharp edges that risk cutting your hands when you handle the bottle. The company that sells the Kinkajou also sells a kit including the Kinkajou, several flexible diamond sanding pads, and a bunch of wet/dry sandpaper. This is what I use to smooth the glass, but it does cost some money. Several grits of wet-dry sandpaper from 180 up through 220 will work just as well. Make sure you sand both the inner and outer lip of the bottle.

Step 5: The Final Cleaning

Now that the edges have been sanded smooth you’ll notice glass dust all over the bottle. This is why we didn’t give the bottle a “final cleaning” any earler. I clean glass bottles the same way I clean windows: using newspaper and warm vinegar water.

Step 6: Install the Electrical Components

To turn your bottle into a pendant lamp you’ll need two things: a keyless lamp socket (a lamp socket without an on/off switch), and a length of lamp wire that will position the lamp where you want it verticall y below the ceiling.

I like to use Rayon Antique Wire for my bottle lamps: it gives them a retro feel that looks great with the bottle. Modern Rayon Antique Wire looks like the old nylon-covered wire you can run into in old house remodels with knob-and-tube wiring, but don’t worry: under the Rayon covering it’s safe, modern, insulated copper wire.

You can order keyless lamp socket online or pick one up at your local hardware store. I use brass lamp sockets but they come in a variety of finishes. Just make sure you buy the type that fully encloses the wiring.

Cutting the Wire

Measure and cut the wire using a pair of wire cutters. Measure an extra foot to accommodate the extra wire you’ll need to wire into the electrical circuit at the ceiling and on the other end to run down the neck of the bottle and wire into the lamp socket.  I like my lamps to hang about 12” from the ceiling, so I measure 24” of wire.

Untwist about an inch of wire on either end, and strip about ¾” of copper wire using a wire cutter. The Rayon Retro Wire that I use use 18 gauge. Make sure you use the appropriate gauge when stripping your own wire.  Once stripped, choose an end of the wire to be the lamp end. You’ll take each bunch of stranded copper and twist the bunch together and then bend it into a hook to go around the terminals on the lamp socket.

Attach the wire to the Lamp Socket

Attach the copper wire to the terminals. The neutral wire (usually the one with white insulation, but not always) attaches to the silver terminal. The hot wire (usually the one with black insulation, but not always) attaches to the brass terminal. The hook should go around the terminal in the direction that pulls the wire towards the terminal when you tighten it. If that’s not the case, loosen the terminal and reverse the direction of the wire.  Ensure that both terminals are hand-tightened with a screw driver.

Knot the Wire

Next we need to tie a knot in the wire just above the lamp socket. This knot needs to be tight to the socket, and not so big that you can’t hide it beneath the lamp socket’s cap.  This knot basically prevents the wires from being pulled away from their terminals by gravity.

Finally, pass the other end of the lamp wire through the lamp socket’s cap and push the cap tight onto the lamp socket.

Install the Lamp Hardware in the Bottle

Installing your assembled lamp socket is easy. Just pass the loose end of the wire through the bottom of the bottle and up through the neck. Pull the wire out the other side and pull it tight so the lamp socket pulls tight against the inside of the bottle’s neck.

Step 7: Installation

Install your wine bottle pendant light light like any other pendant light.  Your mileage may vary! A pendant light requires a canopy to cover the overhead lighting box. If you don’t already have one you can pick one up online or at your local hardware store.

First, ensure that the lighting circuit doesn’t have power by switching off it’s breaker at the breaker box. Now you can safely install the light.

If you already have a canopy on the ceiling go ahead and remove it. Now pass the loose end of your pendant light through the hole in the center of the canopy. Make another knot in the wire above the canopy, which will prevent gravity from pulling the wire out of the connections you’re about to make.

Install the light into the circuit by connecting the neutral (usually white) wires and hot (usually black) wires with appropriately-sized wire nuts. If your wire has a ground wire, attach that too.

Re-attach the canopy to the wiring box and flip the breaker back to an on position.