Friday, October 23, 2015

That'll Get Your Attention!!

OK, I think my hands have stopped shaking enough to handle the keyboard with some degree of accuracy, so here goes:

Here it is, the waning days of October. We're getting ready for Samhain (Pronounced sa-win, an ancient harvest celebration that most of us nowadays call Halloween) and, with a short reprieve due to the spring rains after years of being featured on the official drought list, we've been re-classified back to Sever Drought around here. Our average rainfall for October is about 4.5 inches, but it's been 33 days since the last measurable rainfall.

4 inches in 5 hours

Or at least it was until the wee hours of this morning.

It started storming, and storming hard, around 3 this morning, with near constant winds slapping the trees around, lightning burning through the closed blinds and thunder rattling the windows,  but by 8 it was finally showing signs of letting up.

In fact it let up enough for the DirectTV signal to get through in time for the last forecast of the morning news out of Austin.

But in hind sight I think we could have done without that since it wasn't very encouraging.

Seems today's rain was just a warm up and the main event is coming tomorrow. In fact they say we have the remnants of the strongest hurricane ever recorded pointed right at us. Patricia will come ashore on the west coast of Mexico today and tomorrow, before it dies off, will suck that tropical moisture right up into our area. (I knew a Patricia once. She was a little scary but I didn't think she was all that bad!)

But a few inches of rain aren't what had my hands shaking. I mean I've been out here for 12 inches in 6 hours before, so today's rain wasn't earth shattering. But it was tree shattering. . .


The rain had let up and I was out under the awning on the side of the travel trailer minding my own business, just doing normal things like transferring a few buckets of rainwater into a storage tank and smugly listening to the occasional faint, way-off, rumble of thunder heading the other way, when a dead cedar about 65 feet from where I was standing exploded!

It has been dead about a year and a half and had about 6 months more of draining and drying out to do before we took it down and turned it into slabs for counter tops and blanks for turning projects. But I guess there's not much lumber left in there now since the tree is cracked almost all the way through the full length of the main trunk and what's not cracked is splintered and fried. . .

As lightning strikes go, I suppose those in the know would classify this one as a really small one, a baby strike, but I have to wonder just how many of those in-the-know experts have ever been standing 65 feet from a lightning strike, baby or not.Though they would have had to tell me by sign language since my ears didn't appreciate that whole thunder-clap thing at all and went on strike.

Baby or not, it was impressive and sent splinters flying everywhere.

Even the deer were impressed and had to come take a look. The one above is more interested in checking out what ended up in the pond than worrying about me wandering around with my camera.

But more impressive than the scattering of hand and arm sized chunks of tree or the foot wide crack that goes down through the roots deeper than my arm can reach, was the 6 and 7 foot splinters that ended up over near the tractor barn.

If you look out into the distance in this photo you can see a diagonal line at the base of one of the trees.

That's a 6 foot-plus splinter that ended up about 95 feet from ground zero.

I think it's going to take more than a sterilized needle and a pair of tweezers to take care of that!

But even more impressive is this long-range weapon of mass destruction that ended up about 120 feet away. (You can see the scared lightning-struck tree in the distance there.)

It measured out at 7 foot 5 inches and with the 'feathered' butt it just might have flown there very spear-like. Scary!

I'm glad nothing, especially me, was in the way!

So the big question is, did I see it happen???

Well - Maybe??. . .

OK OK, you caught me. I'm lying. 

Truth is I didn't see a damn thing because I was too busy curling up into a little ball under the trailer and kissing my ass goodbye. . .

Now, some 8 hours later, my hands have stopped shaking, but I wonder when I'll get my hearing back. . .

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Joys of a Simple Tray

Warning, long post with way too many images!

For me a big part of camping is living outdoors, something I think all of us, including me, don't do near enough of anymore, walling ourselves up with our central heat & air-conditioning and gadgets and WIFI and cable-TV packages instead. (I recently saw a house on some acreage in Hawaii that was basically an open-air pavilion with an enclosed bedroom tucked up into dormers in the roof. What a great way to live!! A roof overhead but not walled off from the world yet with a nice sheltered place to hole up and sleep!)

Anyway, when I'm out and about in the van I like to spend as much time as possible living outside it. Reading, writing, drawing, cooking, eating, stargazing, (We don't do near enough stargazing anymore!) etc. but in all the years I've been doing this I've always had to make multiple trips  in order to carry all my crap back and forth. I would stack my 'stuff', book, drink, plate, silverware, all the crap of comfortable and well-fed living, on a corner of the counter, then climb down from the van, reach back up and grab what I could carry in my two hands, go set it down, and come back for more. (Often leaving my unattended snack to be sampled by the local fauna.)

Well I finally pushed through my natural laziness (Hey! It's an evolutionary thing, not my fault!! Look it up!) and got out into the shop to do something about that. Clearly what I needed was a tray! With a simple tray I could cut my back-and-forth trips; and pilfered snacks; down considerably. I mean, after all, trays have been in use for - well - I'm sure that it didn't take long for some nomadic hunter to come up with the idea of using a large leaf to convey Mastodon steaks from carcass to fire to mouth, and I've seen images of Hettite and Egyptian Kings having their fruits and exotic nuts brought to them on trays pounded out of precious metals, and I know from Upstairs Downstairs that Victorians took their tea in the garden on lacquered trays with hand-painted floral motifs. So why was I still living in ignorance??

Sure, I could have gone to Walmart and picked up a $3 plastic tray which would serve the same function, but where's the fun in that??! Instead I followed my usual inclination and made a big production out of a simple tray.

First I had to figure out where this tray would live in the van when it wasn't tray'ing. When you live small this is always the first consideration. Once I found a spot, that gave me a pretty good idea of the size I would be working with.

To make sure that size would be sufficient for the tray's most important function, dinner, I taped off the dimensions I came up with on my bench then populated the area with dinner stuff. I had already decided I didn't want just a shoe-box-lid kind of tray with squared off vertical sides, (After all, why make things easy on myself!) so I did some adjusting to account for angled sides and ultimately came up with a tray bottom of approximately 10" X 17" 

The winning sketch!!
I made a couple rough, really rough, sketches of what I envisioned, selected one, and from here I was pretty much winging it.

I had some Teak to make the tray sides from, but my slab is only 2" high. That's not enough realestate for the arching tray ends with their finger slots unless I have really tiny fingers, which I don't.. In order to get reasonably sized finger slots I was going to have to turn my slab, of which there was less of since building the jewelry box, on end to cut my tray sides out of it.

But first, after doing some measuring across my knuckles to make sure it would be enough, I shortened the slab down to 3.5" so that I could re-saw it on the table saw in a single pass. I'm sure I'll find something to use that off-cut for sometime in the future.

The next step was to re-saw the Teak into the thickness of the tray sides, about 3/8th of an inch.

Since I was foolish enough to saddle myself with slanted tray sides, I then went to the scrap pile, found a thick piece of pine that was pretty straight, and cut a couple of 20 degree wedges out of it, in a single pass since the exact angle wasn't as important as making sure both wedges had the same angle.

With my miter gauge set to 45 degrees, the 20 degree wedge held against that, and the future tray side held firmly against the wedge, I cut a compound miter on one end.

I then had to reverse my miter gauge as well as the wedge, using the other half of the wedge to keep things stable, in order to make the cut on the other end of the piece.

The most important thing at this point was to ensure that the pair of tray ends as well as both the tray sides were cut to exactly the same length so that when assembled things would be square.

After giving the bottom edge of each piece a 20 degree angle and cutting a rabit that would eventually take the tray bottom, I free-handed the final shape. In this photo I've drawn the curved top of one of the tray ends as well as the finger slot. Then I used double sided tape to attach the other end piece to it before cutting the curve for both in a single pass on the bandsaw.

Then, with the two ends still taped together, it was over to the drill press to form the ends of the finger slots,

And back to the bench to connect the dots and finish cutting the finger slots.

I did the same procedure with the tray sides, sketching the curve freehand into one, taping them together and cutting the curve on the bandsaw.

At this point I had all four parts that would form the sides of the tray roughed out.

This was a good point to refine the finger slots. I used a rasp and sandpaper to blend the cuts and round the edges over so they would feel good on my sensitive fingers.

Clamping compound miters might seem complicated and intimidating, but in smaller sizes like this it's really quite simple as long as you keep track of where each piece goes. Just turn them face down, carefully butt adjoining ends, tape tightly across them,

then fold the whole thing together and tape the final joint.

Acetone to clean the oily wood for a good grip, a little glue, and some light assistance from the band clamp, and the assembly is ready to go. If cut carefully the miters are self aligning but measuring from corner to corner across both diagonals of the assembly ensures that it has come out square.

With the sides assembled I could start refining the top edges. Starting with rasps then working down through the sandpaper grits, I shaped the top edges so that they flowed into each other at the corners and the edge was rounded off nicely.

I smoothed them out down to 220 grit paper but was careful not to remove all the irregularities (If you look close here you can see a 'bump' in about the middle third of the curve of the side. I was going for refined but didn't want to completely eliminate the hand-made aspect.

With the sides assembled I was then able to cut and fit the 1/4" birch ply that would form the bottom of the tray.

At this point all I had to do was glue the bottom into place and I would be done, but nooo! That would be too easy!

The place I had selected to store the tray was on the wall at the end of the kitchen counter, so rather than have just a plain wood bottom looking out at me I wanted something with more interest.

After quite a bit of farting around I decided I wanted the image of an old truck, abandoned out in the woods, sort of appearing out of the fog, all done in pyrography, which is a fancy word for woodburning.

I messed around with drawings until I came up with one I liked, then I did that one over several times to refine it down a bit and make sure I understood it. Because of the steps I knew were coming next, I made sure to do my drawing in a mirror image of how I wanted the finished product to come out.

Because I haven't done much woodburning, I took a scrap left over from cutting the bottom to size and did some experimenting. And boy did I need the practice!! Those blacks are jarringly black, the 'shadows' messy and distracting, and along the way I managed to burn random divots right into the wood surface.

Once I had a drawing I could live with I transferred it onto a piece of tracing paper then taped the tracing paper face down to the tray bottom. (This flipped the image so the truck will appear to be headed out into the van instead of back into the backsplash.)

With the penciled side of the tracing paper down against the wood I was able to lightly burnish the lines

 and transfer the image to the wood.  (I've pushed the contrast of this photo so the image will show up. In reality at this point it's pretty faint.

Then I began to carefully burn the image with a cheap little 30 watt burner, making sure to start at the 'front' of the image and work back, since woodburning is essentially a transparent media just like watercolor.

One of my biggest challenges at this point is knowing when to stop. I have a tendency to continue to 'refine' artwork until all the life has been worked right out of it. I've learned that if I think an image is complete then I've already gone too far. So I worked on this slowly, over the course of a week. Doing a little then putting burner down and walking away.

I've still got the urge to go back in and do some more on this, but experience has taught me that's rarely a good idea and less is almost always better than too much.

With a lacquer finish on the sides and a good clear-coat on the bottom (Clear-coat doesn't stick well to Teak but lacquer doesn't hold up well to sweating highball glasses.) it was finally time to assemble the thing!

After sitting in the clamps overnight it was all over except for the finishing touches.

Which consisted of sticking on some Command Strips. Four pieces in the corners will act as feet when the tray is in use and will also mate with matching pieces on the wall for secure storage. The trick here is to not use too much Command Strip (You don't want to rip the wall down when trying to remove the tray!) and to lightly stick the wall half of each strip-pair to the tray half before gently pressing the tray into place against the wall.

That way the wall pieces will end up right where they are supposed to be, but you can still gently detach the tray in order to press the wall pieces firmly in place so they bond well and stay put for the long haul.

And there you have it! A tray that stores out of the way and looks good (If I'm allowed to say so.)

yet can be quickly removed and used for the purpose it was born to.
(Now all I need is dinner to fill those dishes with!)