Shop Improvement

Around the age of 18, my mother work for a company that had a summer work program. As the child of an employee that was enrolled in school and in good academic standing, I could apply for one of the summer jobs offered. If you were selected, you were assigned to an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico where you shadowed a Gauger and functioned as an oil field roustabout.

I would leave on a Tuesday morning around 5:00 a.m. and drive to a heliport on the coast of Grand Isle, Louisiana. We would board a helicopter and fly 30 miles off shore for a weeks worth of work. It wasn’t the most mentally stimulating of jobs, but I had a lot of fun and it was pretty darn exciting to a 19 year old!  The best part was they paid $18.00 an hour for basically no skill or experience.

I saved most of the money for the following year of school, But used one of my paychecks to purchase my first stationary power tool. A Delta contractor saw that brought me to the hospital twice in our 20 year history.

Through the years this saw has received a lot of abuse; It still functions and I still own it. I haven’t added or improved any aspect of the machine. Up until a few weeks ago, it still had the tube style rails used to guide the rip fence. With forthcoming furniture projects for my daughters room, I decided to add an aftermarket fence and a table. The table will join both of my saws into one central saw “island”.

Prepping and Positioning Saws

The first step was to remove the stamped steel tables and place both saws in there relative positions for measurement. One criteria to pay attention to is to make sure you separate the two saws with enough room so that each saw fence can bypass the other. This avoids frustrating collisions when clearing the deck. It always seems that the saw fence opposite from the one you intend to use is in the way.

The second step was to create a weldment from 1 1/2″ angle iron. This will tie the two saws together and support the laminate top. While I certainly couldn’t pass a weld inspection, it’s petty easy to get two pieces of clean metal to stick. The trick is to take your time and tack weld the assembly before your final welds. This helps minimize thermal distortion and keeps your assembly square.


Painting the Frame

With the frame complete, I bolted the assembly to both saws and leveled the entire unit.

The MDF counter top is covered with a gray Wilsonart laminate. I also added a backer sheet on the underside for balance.

Fitting the Laminate

The Completed Top

This is an ideal project to not only increase  shop efficiency, but to also increase your available storage. While the saw island takes up a considerable amount of  real estate, it’s an indispensable part of the shop. The large surface area gives out feed support for cutting sheet goods and the under counter space is ideal for storage cabinets.

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Bigger Bacon

Bacon is getting bigger and I’m getting attached, but food is one thing and a pet is another.  Next year we’ll get two. I think this will make the pigs less endearing and more utilitarian.

Bacon at 4 Months

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The Wood Equivalent of Gold

For about five years I have owned a Big Green Egg. If your not familiar with these Kamado-type cookers, do yourself a favor and search the term. While they are quite expensive, I am sure if I added up the cost of the barrel-type smokers and $400.00 range grilles, I could have bought one ten years ago and been further ahead.

Given the initial shock of spending a grand on a grill. I opted to forgo buying the table that’s offered as an accessory. Asides from looking like a picnic table, I suffer from this illness that makes me think I have a better way or can do it cheaper; sometimes it works, some times it doesn’t. This time My Idea was better, but it certainly wasn’t cheaper.

If ebony and pink ivory are the platinum of the wood world, than teak has to be gold. Teak has qualities that exceeds those of the former , namely it’s size. Both ebony and pink ivory have positive exterior qualities, but their size and expense relegates them for use as accent material.

While there are serious social implications to its use, the true teak of legend is Burmese teak. After it’s importation ban into the United States, the market introduced various substitutes that approximate it’s look and properties, but they arguably pale in comparison to the real thing. I learned my lesson with buying cheap grills, so I decided to use the best material available for my grill table.

After a few hours of layout in AutoCAD I settled on my design. I ordered 50 board feet of 4/4 and 25 board feet of 8/4.  My take off said I needed 75 board feet with no waste, but at over $18.00 a board foot for 4/4, I decided I could squeeze everything from the 75 BF and not add the typical 15%.

My Helper Planing Stock for the Legs

Shaping Lock Miters

Lock Miters For the Legs

V-groove for the Sides Top Doors and Back.

Dry-Fitting the Carcase and Lower Shelf

Completed Dry-Fit Before Final Assembly

The Final Product

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Ladies and Gentleman, Say Hello to Bacon!!


I think I’m most proud that my seven year old named her.

After three attempts we were finally able to find a feeder pig locally. Seems every time I’d find an add they were sold out by the time I contacted the seller. She’s bigger than I originally wanted, but I took what we could get.

Bacon's New Home.

We spent the day using what ever materials I could find around the house to cobble together a shelter. All in all it turned out pretty good! I haven’t wired the electric fencing yet, so hopefully she’ll keep her rooting to a minimum. If it gets to bad, We’ll just have a smaller serving of bacon on the plate.

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Building Bee Boxes

Winter is typically the time when beekeepers get their wooden ware together for the coming spring. Whether it’s painting your existing supply or buying/building new boxes, now is the time to do so.

I currently have six  beehives that I use to supply my family and friends with honey. Each hive consists of two deeps containing 20 frames with foundation, two Illinois supers also containing 20 frames with foundation, one bottom board and one top. This year I have decided to increase my number of beehives and need to produce the wooden boxes to do so.

Commercially available hive bodies have finger or box joints holding the four sides together. I have build a few sets using this joinery, but doing so with a table saw is really a pain. I have toured a few commercial bee yards and noticed  a hodgepodge of  joinery styles in varying conditions .

One very simple joint  I have found on hives in this area is the rabbet joint;Easily cut on a table saw with a dado blade. I also like that unlike the box joint, a rabbet joint only requires machining on two of the four parts of a hive body. I typically glue and nail the boxes with galvanized spiral 8d nails. Admittedly, the box joint is a much stronger method, but for my purposes the rabbet works just fine.

Stacked Parts Ready for Machining.

Top plow to Receive Frames Once Assembled.

Assembly (Notice the rabbit joint on the edge of the parts stacked to the bottom left)

Little Helper

Stack of Asembled Hive Bodies

This Years Wooden Ware

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Building a Plucker

If you’ve ever plucked a chicken by hand it doesn’t take long to figure out that there has to be a better way. There are a limited number of commercially available small-scale units and their costs are prohibitive for a small producer or hobbyist.  I have never been afraid of throwing money at a problem, But the easy availability of the components and the simple nature of  a plucker’s design makes this a great do it yourself project.

The Tub

Most of the commercially available units consist of a stainless steel tub lined with rubber picking fingers. I have seen many home built units that use plastic barrels for this part, but I wanted something  a bit stronger.

I was raised in New Orleans Louisiana, so the first thing that came to mind for this was a crawfish boiling pot. Here in the south, boiling pots are available from just about every hardware store. I decided on a 160 quart aluminum pot. At a little over $325.00, this was the single most expensive component of the project.

Aluminum can be cut, bored and shaped with standard wood working tools. The trick is to feed slowly, use carbide tipped cutters and take light cuts. However, the chips produced are extremely sharp and very hot when first cut. I made sure to wear long sleeves and enclosed safety glasses.

The Feather Plate

I made the feather plate from the bottom of my pot.  With a small trim router, I used a 1/2″ straight carbide bit with a collar to ride a plywood template. The template was undersized 2″ smaller than the interior diameter of the pot. This leaves a 1″ space around the perimeter for evacuation of the feathers during the removal process. I also drilled a small hole in the center of the pot and the template. This allowed me to secure the template to the pot and provided a reference point when attaching the drive shaft. Once the disk was cut from the pot. I drilled the holes in this plate to receive the plucking fingers.

Completed Feather Plate

The above Picture shows the completed plate. Notice the center hole. This hole really helps when mounting the shaft. While the shaft doesn’t have to be perfectly centered, it needs to be close to avoid excessive wobbling.

Drilling the Shaft Plate

Above you can see the drill bit boring the four mounting holes for the shaft plate. I used the center hole to locate the plate while boring. The drive shaft is welded to this plate.

Rubber Fingers Installed with Shaft

With the feather plate complete, I focused my attention on drilling the outer body for the rubber fingers.

Inserting the Fingers

Completed Tub

Over 110 rubber fingers later and a very large blister on my finger (OUCH!!) the machining of the main body is complete.

Motor and Drive Shaft

Center Pillow Block

Power transmission comes from an 18″ pulley and a 1/3 H.P. motor I had laying around.

Building the Stand

I had intended to build a wheeled frame out of metal that functioned like a hand truck, but with chickens to process I ran out of design time. I hope to upgrade in the future. As a compromise, I made a wood frame from some red oak that I harvested from our property.

Complete..for now!

25 chickens later, I can honestly say this project was a success. With proper scalding, I can pluck two large chickens in under 60 seconds. Yes, there was a better way!

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2010 Summer Honey Harvest..Our First!

Building Them Up Just to Tear Them Down!

I thought the emotion of my first honey harvest would be elation or a sense of accomplishment, but I can report my primary emotion was trepidation. After spending 15 months having the bees draw out the 100 or so frames of foundation I bought, cutting and scraping the caps seemed counter-intuitive to every task and action I had taken previously.

We harvested 17 full frames from our hives which yielded about 7 gallons of an amber and mild-tasting honey. I left some supers on so I can experience the difference between a summer and fall crop. If all goes well through the winter, we plan to double our hives next year.

When I started beekeeping, I was told that it was addictive and that I would find myself expanding my honey yard sooner than I think. I can honestly say that statement is 100% true. I spent ten hours last week machining pine to make an additional 1200 frame parts in order to split next year (a post with pictures to follow).

Bees are truly amazing creatures. The more I learn about their physiology and social behaviors, the more fascinated I am.

*all photographic credit goes to my six year old daughter.



The Last Frames

7 Gallon Bucket Ready for Settling

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Ever Think…………..

We might make our pets lives a little to comfortable?

I don’t think I have ever slept with a smile on my face, but my dog has!!

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The Barn Project Part 14


Its been a very productive extended weekend. We added the fascia boards on the upper level and was actually able to install the roof panels. I’m going to spend the next couple of weekends tying up a few of the loose ends I never completed.

Last Panel

Very Steep

The upper roof is of a greater pitch then the lower. Installing the last panel was a bit tough. Since I am not a fan of heights, my inclination was to sit on my bottom and screw the sheet down from this lower position. As though being 20 feet from the ground as oppose to 26 feet really makes that much of a difference! The steep grade and smooth surface of my jeans made the roof more like a playground  slide. I ended up doing the screw driving while standing. My Muck Boot Company shoes provided good grip on the metal surface.

50% of the Roofing

I’m not entirely happy with the roof install, but this is my first large structure so my expectations aren’t that high. I look at it this way. It looks decent and it doesn’t leak…SUCCESS!!!

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The Barn Project Part 13

The Roof and Fascia

Since the last post I have been busy pre-painting the fascia boards. I figure it will be easier to get two good coats on the wood before installation. This way I’m able to use the airless sprayer and not have to worry about over spray getting on the metal roof……

Speaking of roof, I have purchased the metal PBR panel that I am going to use for roofing. I decided to go with a bronze color. I think it will compliment the trim.

First Panel

Above is the setting of the first panel. I used the 3,4,5 method to try and make sure I started square. In hind sight, this was a mistake. I know that when we set the center 20′ poles, I had a hard time locating the corners for the side structures -not due to a lack of trying. I should have followed the center posts and adjusted my sheet layout, even though they would not have been square. Unfortunately, I ended up with some “saw toothing”  or a staggering of the sheets resulting from trying to maintain a consistent overhang. I will “fix” this later.

Half Way Mark


Having never installed a metal roof, or built such a large structure for that matter, it was pretty smooth. I definitely will have an easier time with the installation of the next section. I installed this section by myself without any help.  Next time, I’ll get an extra set of hands to help with the lifting and positioning. Lastly, I now know what to expect and this should help cut down on the down time I spent TRYING to think the situation through.

All in all I am fairly happy with the outcome. I succeeded in getting 1/3 of the roof installed without ruining any of the sheets. By far this was the largest outlay of actual cash for this project. While it took a while for me to separate myself from the funds required to purchase the roofing, I’m excited to not have to patch leaks in the tarp discovered during rainstorms.

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