Office to Kayak

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Root Simple reader Kate alerted me to a boat building project that is both resourceful and poetic. London-based artist John Hartley figured out a way to turn some crappy office furniture and used suits, what he calls “post-industrial, post-bureacratic flotsam,” into a smart looking Greenlandic-style kayak. He has thoughtfully posted the project as an Instructable so that we can all make our own “Contingency Research Platform.”

Judging from the huge amount of post-bureacratic flotsam at my local Habitat for Humanity store, there’s a lot of potential in turning office furniture into building materials.

You should also check out his hilarious low-fi, DIY GoPro.

For more thoughts on building Greenlandic kayaks, Hartley suggests taking a look at Yostwerks.org.

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How to Build Walls with Pallets

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Adding 2x4s to the ends of a pallet.

Los Angeles is famous for its flotsam and jetsam. Mattresses, rotting couches and headboards accumulate, forming urban coral reefs under the blistering sun. It’s difficult to figure out a use for these objects other than as art. For utilitarian needs, such as building walls, we must turn to the many pallets that also litter our streets.

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Sketchup model by Ron S.

But pallets can be tough to work with. The wood splinters easily making disassembly a tricky proposition (watch the Garden Fork TV pallet breaker video if you want to go down that route). Famed internet pallet guru Michael Janzen, of Tiny Pallet House, proposes leaving your pallets whole and adding a 2×4 to the end to make them into a kind of building block. The 2x4s can be new or salvaged from broken pallets.

With the added 2×4 you can construct walls, fences, compost bins etc. It’s an elegant solution to the pallet conundrum.

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Sketchup model by Ron S.

Cutting pallets and staggering them with whole pallets adds to structural integrity in a wall.

Not all pallets are equal. Some are odd sizes and some are made out of better wood than others. For a wall building project like the one in these Sketchup illustrations, it would be best to find a stack of similar pallets.

Have you built with pallets? Tell us what you’ve made in the comments.

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Shou-sugi-ban: Charring Wood as a Preservation Method

Shou-sugi-ban 焼き杉 is a Japanese method of charring cedar boards. The method is simple. You char the surface of the wood, scrape it with a metal brush and apply a sealant. The charring creates a protective layer and also, surprisingly, makes the wood more resistant to fire. The technique extended the life of exterior cladding in a country where wood was a precious commodity.

The technique fell out of favor with the advent of modern materials but has seen a revival of late in the contemporary architecture scene. Designers, I think, are drawn to the dark color of the wood as well as the sustainability of the practice. I defy you to find a recent issue of Dwell Magazine without a Shou-sugi-ban wall.

The video above shows a modern method using a propane torch. You can see an alternate method, based on the traditional technique, here. Like most exterior wood projects, it’s a good idea to apply new oil annually. I’ve seen two recommendations: tung oil and Penofin.

I’m pondering the method for some upcoming backyard projects and am wondering if any of you have tried Shou-sugi-ban. If you have leave a comment!

Nanotecture: Tiny Built Things

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Nanotecture: Tiny Built Things is a tiny book of big ideas. It’s 336 pages of objects ranging from bird houses to sheds to temporary art installations. The unifying theme is clever design and a less than house sized scale.

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This is the kind of book to thumb through if you’ve got a creative block, are curious about materials or just looking for inspiration.

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And there’s lots of dog and cat architecture.

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And saunas, like the bike propelled mini sauna above.

I don’t know if I need to own a copy of this book (I’ve got a library copy), but I’ve spent a many evenings leafing through the pages. On a side note, many of the objects in this book are temporary outdoor art installations, something you see a lot of in Northern Europe in the summer. I don’t know why we don’t see more of these types of art and design shows in the U.S. They’re popular and a nice use of public space.

The book has inspired me this morning to cut the blogging short and head to my workshop and build something.

The Root Simple Workshop

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In honor of the national Week of Making, and Adam Savage’s call to share our maker-spaces, I’m giving you a virtual tour of the Root Simple workshop. Take note new homeowners: if I could go back in time I’d have set up the workshop and organized my tools before we began the extensive remodeling we had to do when we moved in back in 1998.

Our house is on a small hill and the garage/workshop is at street level. The garage is a partially buried concrete bunker built in 1920 and sized for two Model-Ts. We had to install a steel girder to stabilize the structure and a pitched roof and siding to waterproof our bunker. You can see the garage at the very beginning of the drone flyover that Steve Rowell shot for us. Our chariot, a Honda Fit, lives in one half of the garage. It’s hard to believe that this tiny subcompact car is 30 inches longer than a Model-T.

In the other half of the garage is my workshop. Being somewhat of an extrovert, the main thing I like about the workshop is that it sits right on the sidewalk so I get to interact with the neighbors while I work.

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For my workbench, I picked up a set of really cheap used cabinets at my local Habitat for Humanity ReStore and painted them with a homemade chalkboard paint. I topped the cabinets with some cheap pine butcher board from the Home Despot. The recipe I used for the chalkboard paint is:

1 cup latex paint
1 tablespoon cool water
2 tablespoons unsanded grout

You can use any color of latex paint that you like. The chalkboard paint allows me to label all the drawers and cabinets in the garage. Naturally, there is pegboard on every spare wall to hang all the random tools I need regular access to. Kelly came up with the striking bright orange/white/black color scheme.

Our friend Lee Conger noticed the labeling on these cabinets that point to our overly eclectic interests:

IMG_1187It’s like our heads need to be KonMaried! And fencing purists will note that the label should be “epee parts” not “swords.”

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Our three bikes and cycling accoutrements are kept locked to a pole. Always lock your bikes, kids, even when they are in the garage!

The one last touch I want to add to the workshop is a small and comfortable “thoughtstyling” chair along with a rolling whiskey cart. Half of “making” is philosophizing, after all.