Category Archives: Projects

Revived from suspended animation

It’s definitely summer in Florida. Try as I might, the shop is always just too darned hot to get into to do a lot of woodworking. So, projects like the dresser top valet – remember when I started that project? – tend to sit in suspended animation. I was, however, able to get some time and energy this weekend to revive that project from its slumber and get it back on its feet. Kinda like the crew of the Nostromo mining ship in that movie Alien.


When last I left the project, I had pretty much gotten it to the phase where the frame was set up, ready for the top to be crafted.

The next step was to create a frame that would fit into the dados in the sides and back. This would be the outer edge of the top shelf where I could put my keys, wallet, multi tool… the works. Cut from four pieces of stock milled to one half inch thick, the frame was joined with stub tenons and grooves I had cut on the table saw.

After gluing and clamping those suckers together, I rabbeted out the bottom tongue of the groove out to capture a middle panel.  With some sanding to round over the edges, I glued it into the middle area to serve as the base of the lid.

The frame glued in

The original plan had that panel covered with some padded vinyl, but I opted instead to go with some anigre veneer. I thought that would be a cool contrast with the walnut. I stuck the veneer to the plywood substrate with hide glue and let it dry, then mounted it into the frame.

With the shelf

I dunno, but this is really starting to take shape. Now, I need to get the time out in the shop to build the drawer. Once that is done, it will be sanding and finishing… then I can declare this project done, and start thinking about batching out some of these for the nephews.

Once the weather cools down … or I am eaten by an alien. Whichever comes first.

I’m far behind, but catching up

I remember being totally caught up once. Back in 1986. It was the best 15 minutes of my life.

Ever since then, I’ve been playing an ever-maddening game of catch up at work, at home, in the shop. Yup, even there!

Remember waaaay back in March, when I started talking about building some dresser top valets for my nephews? Yeah, about that…

I got sidetracked with an important project for my coworker. And, I had the start of hurricane season. And, the little health thingy…

OK, enough of that. It is now time to get out and build my first dresser top valet, and I had a blast working on it this weekend.  I had milled up some walnut for these projects back in April, and the boards have been sitting since then, just waiting patiently for me to get off my butt and into the shop. Spread out on the bench That’s just what I did, carefully cutting the pieces to size and marking them per the plan. I have got to tell you, it was fun being out in the shop again, working at the bench making a pile of wood into a project.   One thing about the plan I am using is that it’s a router-heavy plan, allowing me a lot of time to use the router table. MicroJig Push BlockThese MicroJig Push Blocks helped to make the job a whole lot easier, and a ton safer, as I cut the rabbets and dadoes necessary to put the pieces together. The case comes together With some Bruce Springsteen on the shop stereo, I was in the groove – so to speak. I was able to get all of the pieces in place, and noticed that everything was going to plan. And, when the time came to glue the piece together, I felt that familiar nervousness – had I thought everything through?

Glued up

Well, you bet I did.  The piece came together nicely, with the base of the case already glued up and good to go.

The offcuts

I have been mothering over my supply of walnut because I am getting close to the end of what I have milled, so I will be carefully using it to ensure it can make it all the way.

Stars and Stripes … and a block?

It’s funny… the idea for the quick project I built this weekend came when I had my garage door opener installed. When the installer came in, he told me that the track that rail that opens the door shouldn’t be mounted directly to the concrete block in the wall, but instead to a wooden block that was mounted to the wall. He called it a shock block, and it supposedly prevented the concrete fasteners from rattling in the wall, expanding the size of the holes.

Well, I have this flagpole mount in front of the house that I mounted directly to the outside wall. And, over the years, the Florida breezes have moved the mount enough to loosen it. So, I wanted to put in a shock block… but I wanted it to look good.

The shield shaped block

I had this piece of pressure treated southern yellow pine that was pretty clear. I had been holding on to it for the past year or so, and I thought it would make for a good block. I clipped an 8 inch piece from the board and trimmed the bottom to roughly match the shape of the bottom of a shield. I thought it would look pretty good. It was nice, but way too blocky. That’s when I moved to the bevel.

Cutting a bevel

Using my mallet and a chisel, I was able to trim out a bevel across all five edges of the shield shape. Once I got it close to shape, I turned to a block plane, spoke shave and a sander to put in a nice, elegant bevel.

The bevel with the bracket centered

Once I had the block shaped, I placed the bracket that held the flagpole onto the block to get an idea of how large it would be. I traced the outside of the bracket, and carefully marked where I was going to drill some countersunk holes for the Tapcon fasteners that would hold it to the wall.

The boring part

On the drill press table, I used a 5/16 inch forstner bit to bore some recesses that would be filled with plugs and through holes for the shanks. Once I got to this part, I put on a coat of primer and a coat of exterior paint that matched my home’s trim. I knew I had to protect it from the elements…


Now, I painted both the front and back of the piece to protect it, and I ran a bead of silicone caulk around the top and side edges to ensure that no water could get behind the piece. I did leave the bottom uncaulked, just in case water did get behind it.

Once I got the block mounted to the wall, I filled the countersinks with some short dowels I cut to size, and trimmed off the ends with a flush cutting saw. Another coat of paint on the front of the block helped to ensure that the block would look its best and be protected.

Hung with care

Once the block was in place, I carefully mounted the flag holding bracket with stainless steel screws to prevent rust, then put our American flag into the mount to see how Old Glory looked. Not too shabby.

With Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day and Labor Day coming up, it feels good to have the flag properly mounted in front of the house. I hope my mounting system lasts for a few years.

It was my honor…

Please allow me to introduce you to someone who has helped me tremendously while doing my ‘day job’ as a public information officer for Pinellas County.

Len Ciecieznski

His name is Len Ciecieznski, and we worked side by side for the past 15 years. My first memory of Len was actually before I started at the Communications department. Back in the summer of 1996, he escorted a busload of citizens through the Property Appraiser’s office when I worked over there. And, in 1998 when I accepted my current job at Communications, he was the first staff member to come to my office to ask if I had lost my mind, giving up my office with a huge picture window to work in a place where I was going to be sitting in a tiny cubicle.

Since those early days, we have worked on all types of projects – from the serious to the downright silly. I remember the Y2K activation of the Emergency Operations Center with Len, and I can remember the long, tense six-weeks of the 2004 Hurricane Season, which saw PInellas County threatened by four hurricanes. Len and Lori Hudson on the set of Inside Pinellas Len flourished on TV. His butter-smooth voice and friendly presence led him to become the voice of the county. Whenever we planned a major event in our TV studio, Len was there, serving as the glue that held everything together.

He often lent his talents for other projects, such as this media training video we did 11 years ago. It still holds up as well now as it did when it first aired.

pinellas honors america

The event I will ever remember Len for, however, was called Pinellas Honors America. Just two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, our office orchestrated a huge event outside of the county courthouse for people to come to pay tribute to the survivors of the attacks in New York, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and to remember those who lost their lives. With Len’s leadership, the team of Public Information Officers were able to pull off a small miracle of cooperation to put on an event that people to this day remember vividly.

This past November, Len announced that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This is a very aggressive form of the disease, and as he bid his last farewells that day, no one – especially Len – knew what to expect. Chemotherapy. Operations. Radiation treatment. He has weathered the storm, going to battle every day to fight the odds and beat this disease.

A few months ago, he announced that he was retiring from the county. We all quickly decided that someone who had given so much for the county couldn’t be sent off quietly. So, we decided to dedicate the studio to him. I volunteered to build a commemorative plaque for him.

The plaque

Centering the design around the studio’s On Air light, I stuck with the golden oak used to hold that to the wall. It was made with a pair of bookmatched boards, with a cut out for the On Air light to protrude through. I used breadboard edges on the top and bottom to prevent any warping, and the shelf that the microphone rests on is attached using a sliding dovetail joint. It is glued only on the end behind the microphone to allow for wood movement.

This past Friday, Len and his family returned to the office for the first time since he left that November day. We had a big luncheon for the staff, and after that, we showed a video clip of some of his best work. Len had the energy to deliver some very funny remarks to remind us of the spirit he brought to work every day.

Then it was my turn. I got up and reminded everyone of the times we worked together. Other colleagues got up to say a few words as well. Then, we unveiled the plaque. Unveiling the plaque Both Len and I fought back the tears. As I handed it over, I read the inscription I had put on the back of the plaque. It had so much meaning, I needed for him to hear it from me directly:

To Len – My mentor. Colleague. And Friend.

After some group photos, Len and his family followed me out to the hallway to mount the plaque in its permanent location. Len and his family posing with the plaque From now on, anyone entering that studio will be able to draw from the spirit and energy Len brought to everything he did. This was, by far, the most rewarding project I have ever built.

We interrupt this project…

I have a confession to make. This past weekend, I made no progress on the projects for my nephews. I did, however, have a very important project I had to start.

But, I can’t tell you what it is or who it’s for, because it’s going to be a surprise.

For this one, my choice of woods was already made for me. It has to be oak, and it’s final finish is going to be that golden oak color you see on kitchen cabinets. Hey, it’s not my first choice, but it will certainly work for this project.

The layout

The first thing I had to do was sort through the racks of hardwood at my local home improvement center. No, I don’t relish the idea of buying expensive oak from there, but for this project, I have a very hard deadline, and I can’t quibble with the cost.

After selecting the board – a 1 x 8 flat sawn red oak board – I chose the best looking grain arrangement and matched a pair of boards. These will do the trick for what I need to do.

The file folder template

From there, I had to cut a hole in the middle of the piece. To make this happen, I first cut out a template in an old file folder to match the size that I needed. After carefully marking the size of the cutout, I stacked the two pieces together with some template tape, so I could cut both pieces at once.

Laguna makes the cut

From there, it was a short hop over to the Laguna bandsaw for the cutting. This was a simple notch that had to be made, and the blade just sliced cleanly through the two boards, making a perfectly centered hole once I pulled them apart and matched them.

I wanted some breadboard ends for the top and bottom, because this piece is going to be in a place where the humidity could be an issue. So, onto the router table with the tongue and groove bit sets, where I grooved the ends and ran a tongue on the top and bottom of the main piece. They fit together beautifully.


I cut a nice sweeping arc on the outsides of the breadboard ends, and once I had them all faired up, I attached them to the top and bottom tongues with a dab of glue smack in the middle of the piece. I like that look.

The next step was to cut a sliding dovetail for a shelf. That was a simple joint to cut, and I promise I will be showing how to cut that in a later post. Now, once I get the committee reviewing the piece, I will also shape the shelf and attach it with just a dab of glue at the end, further allowing the piece to expand and contract.


Peek a booNow, I have to bring the piece to where it will eventually end up to ensure it fits where it needs to, check out how it will work with the final accessories, and to design the final engraving.

I hope when it is unveiled, that it looks as good as possible and impresses the final recipient…

Making his mark

My friend Lawrence Wroten is a real up and coming woodworker, but his blog, Midnight Woodworking, doesn’t get much traffic.

That’s a real bummer.

Lawrence, on the left, taking in what appaers to be a woodworking rendition of the last supper

Lawrence, on the left, taking in what appears to be a woodworking rendition of the last supper

It’s a real shame, because the content he has is just so darned good. For instance, he recently told me about a little experiment he conducted on how to sign his work, and the idea was nothing short of genius.

First, the background: Lawrence is out of his mind. Seriously. Instead of signing, branding or inlaying something into his work to identify it as his, he carved – yes CARVED – his logo into the project at the end. With such an intricate logo, this carving was adding about four hours to each project.

I can understand being proud of your work and wanting it identified for years to come, but, come on… FOUR extra hours? Wow… Lawrence's carving

So, he got to thinking, why not create a stamp that he could use to apply an inked image onto the projects?

I don’t want to give away the method he went for, but I can tell you, it was inspired, and the maker’s mark came out looking good.

The Stamp! The Stamp!

Want to find out how he did it? Click here to see how well it worked out, and I guarantee you will be impressed.


And, for the nephews…

OK, I will admit, I am a sucker for my nieces. As they have been turning 16 years old, I have been building hope chests for them. So far, two down, and two to go. (Plus, a couple of friends of ours asked if they could have one for their daughter… who am I to turn down an offer like that?)

Lauren, her hope chest, and a relieved woodworker..

That has been pretty cool so far, but Rhonda has been asking me, “What about the nephews?” I mean, how could I leave them out of the action?

But, what do you build for young fellas? I mean, they can’t really use a hope chest… And something like a keepsake box isn’t really something I think they would like. Plus, I have more nephews (7) than nieces (4)… and three of them are already way past their 16th birthdays!

Inspiration came to me one night while looking at my messy side of the dresser top in my bedroom…

My dresser top

As with most males, I carry quite a bit of stuff on me in my pants pockets. A wallet. Keys. A multi-tool, My work ID. Pocket change. There are also papers on that dirty sucker, so I will need to clean those items up. But, how can I get control of the sprawl? I mean, there has to be a solution…

Wait a minute….

What about a dresser top valet? You know those things… they are a catch-all for all of the crap I carry on me during the day.

Oooh, my model of cell phone

And, you know what else? Why not a valet that also has a place for me to stash my smart phone and connect it to a power supply to charge it?  That way, I can keep the whole kit and caboodle in one location, and give it a glance over before I hit the hay for the night.

Fortunately, I’m not the first person to think of an idea this crazy. There are TONS of dresser top valets out there… with many of them made out of pleather-covered cardboard or some el-cheapo laminate that just won’t work. Others are highly-lacqured, overcomplicated behemoths that just won’t work.

What I needed was a set of plans.

Wood Magazine's Valet

Photo courtesy of Wood Magazine

Boom. My friends over at Wood Magazine were thinking the same thing back in 2005. And, they came up with this plan for a sweet looking dresser top valet that would suit my needs.

Even back in 2005 (Check out the awesome looking cell phone in that back area!), the plan designers thought about including a corralled in area for electronics, and an area on top for loose change, keys and the like.

The plan also includes a drawer under the top part for stuff you might not use all that much – maybe a dressier watch or something else.

This looks pretty darned good for my nephews. There are some things I might change. For instance, the top calls for a padded vinyl panel, but I’m afraid that might look a little cheap. So, I might go for a leather insert, or maybe a rich green felt.

Also I have to pick the right kind of wood for this. Masculine, but still striking. Maybe walnut or cherry.. not sure yet. Fortunately, the plans look fairly easy to execute.

I think I may go with one for myself first, just to make all of the mistakes on one that won’t see the light of day and perfect my technique once I start pumping them out.