A Grand Rapids End Table

Every woodworking project I tackle seems to come along with a lesson learned through making a mistake. A previous project taught me that I should take more time deciding what to make. As a woodworker, since you can make whatever you want, you might as well make something interesting and custom sized for a particular spot in your house.

With this end table I took my time looking for the perfect piece to reproduce. While the Arts and Crafts thing is way out of style, I don’t care. For whatever reason I just happen to like this period.

In the early analysis paralysis phase of the project, I made up an end table Pinterest board and set about searching for end tables made between the years 1900 and 1910. I picked this one because of that unusual door. Auction catalogs are handy since they often include measurements and multiple views.

This small table was made by a large factory operation, the Grand Rapids Furniture Company in 1910. I was unable to find any information about it. A lot of furniture designers and makers at that time were German immigrants living in the Upper Midwest. The region had a lot of German language newspapers that featured art and design trends from the Continent. To my eyes this table looks like a mishmash of a Continental European Art Nouveau and an American Mission style. But this is just a guess.

To turn a photo off the internet into plans I use the free version of Sketchup. Sketchup has a handy photo tracing feature that adjusts for perspective. I used this tool to get a rough idea of the dimensions of all the parts of the project. From this tracing, I took some guesses and came up with a full set of plans.

I used those plans to make full sized template pieces to cut and shape the curved parts. These templates, cut from scrap pieces of plywood, are stuck to the white oak I used for the nightstand with double sided tape and run against a pattern bit in a router table to shape the final pieces. I’m holding on to the templates in case I want to make another one of these tables.

While I’m not great at drawing (I’ve worked on and off on this skill) being able to compare proportions between a photo and a drawing helped immensely. Tiny adjustments to a curve, in particular, make a big difference as to whether something looks right or looks bad. Those adjustments are made to the templates rather than the (expensive) hardwood.

If there was one lesson from this project it’s that if you have a choice between doing a particular task with a hand tool or a power tool you should probably choose the hand tool. Hand tools are safer, more accurate and, in the case of this project less likely to cause a mistake that’s hard to correct. I won’t bore you with the details but from now on I’m going to use a plane instead of a router when I can. Though, in a funny paradox, one of the tasks that I wanted to do with a hand tool had to be done with a router because of the order in which I glued the project together. While I made a mistake with a router (my least favorite power tool), in the end, a router saved the day. The original was probably made mostly with power tools, incidentally.

And I’m not entirely happy with the clear finish. The piece will darken with age, but I think it might look better in a tinted and darker finish. Finishing is an art unto itself and you could devote a lifetime to it.

Garage Philosophy

The Central Meridian (aka The Garage) by Michael C. McMillen, 1981.

In his entertaining survey, High Weirdness : Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies Erik Davis uses the phrase “garage philosopher” to describe the self-made DIY thoughtstylists of the 70s counterculture. Considering the epistemological mess we’re in right now, it would be to our benefit to re-embrace garage philosophy, to democratize and make practical the observations of the greats of the discipline. Unfortunately, my public school education, almost all the way through grad school, never exposed me to even a cursory survey of philosophy.

This might be by design. In the years of cold war paranoia I grew up in, I suspect the powers that be didn’t want people thinking too deeply about the status quo. Or maybe it’s just that our overly literal culture dismisses the liberal arts as lacking utility.

Despite my garage philosopher’s sub-undergrad understanding of $50 concepts like epistemology and ontology, for today’s blog post I want to take on a concept I’m triggered by and take it to the philosophical garage for some quick tinkering and repair.

The problem in question is in an article I wasted my time reading in Scientific American floating the perennial “are we living in a simulation” argument. First let me crankily note that when you have a plumbing problem you call a plumber. When you have a philosophy problem you call a philosopher. Please, please, please, my dear journalists, take the ever annoying Neil deGrasse Tyson out of your phone’s contacts. At the very least, only call him when you want to know things like the size of the rings of Saturn. He shouldn’t be allowed near anything that involves meaning or ambiguity.

Speaking of plumbers, let’s get back to the are-we-living-in-a-simulation problem. I suspect most plumbers don’t have this epistemological conundrum since they spend their hours in confrontation with a world that doesn’t generally bend in our interests so easily. Let me also guess that emergency room nurses, welders and gardeners also don’t have the are-we-living-in-a-simulation problem. No, the question bedevils people who spend way too many hours in front of computers and (un)smart phones. I’m looking at you Elon Musk. Put down the phone and let’s head to the philosophy garage.

How to be a garage philosopher

  • Work your way though Anthony Kenny’s A New History of Western Philosophy. I recommend this over the more popular survey by Bertrand Russell. Russell has a bias against the Medieval philosophers and that’s a shame IMHO.
  • Form a reading group. It’s more fun to read this stuff with other people and you can do it over Zoom. I formed one to work through a particularly notorious philosophical tome. A mix of genders in your reading group is good. Too many dudes talkin’ philosophy can get insufferable. I should know. Definitely serve drinks.

How to Deal With the Dreaded Pantry Moth

Pantry moths must be loving 2020, especially the early days of the pandemic, when panicked hoards (ourselves included) ran to Costco to stockpile toilet paper, flour and Tostitos.

While I’ve probably blogged about pantry moths more times than just about anything else, we just had another outbreak and I thought I’d use this post writing exercise as an excuse to re-read UC Davis’ Integrated Pest Management pantry moths fact sheet.

According to geniuses at UC Davis, management is simple and pesticide-free. All your food needs to go into jars with tight fitting lids. No shoving rubber-banded packages of couscous in the back of the shelf. If you have space in your freezer you can put dry goods in there and kill any larvae. Avoid adding new food to old food, if possible.

If you’ve got an outbreak UC Davis suggests pulling everything out and inspecting what you’ve got for the telltale signs of infestation: larvae or webbing. Get our you vacuum and suck out the larvae that hide in cracks in your cabinets. These bugs can survive for months without food. Wash cabinets with soap and water. Freeze stuff you’re in doubt about. To repeat, put everything, including pet food, in jars with tight fitting lids.

Pheromone traps can help spot an infestation as well as reduce the population, but they are not a substitute for cleaning and putting things in jars.

Incidentally, what we call “pantry moths” encompass a variety of different insects with colorful names such as the Drugstore Beetle, and the Confused Flour Beetle. All these bug-a-boos just love post-agricultural human habits of storin’ up food. Like cats, roaches and mice they’re with us until we devolve away from our agricultural ways, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.” I’ll add, of course, that even if we find a way to keep eating and stop sweating I’d like to keep the cats around.

Urban Beekeeping 101 with Paul Hekimian, Director of HoneyLove

The Hollywood Orchard, along with HoneyLove is putting on an online webinar this week:

Urban Beekeeping 101 with Paul Hekimian, Director of HoneyLove
Online Workshop/Webinar
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
6:30 PM – 8:00 PM (pacific)

Are you interested in raising honey bees and reaping the benefits of having local honey? Does having your own beehive sound intriguing? If yes, then this class is for you. Urban Beekeeping 101 will cover everything you need to know on how to get started!

We will cover local bee ordinances, what urban beekeeping is or is not, where to place a hive, what equipment is needed, choosing a type of beehive, where to get bees, how to harvest honey and how to find a mentor. Join this webinar and learn from Paul Hekimian, 2nd generation beekeeper and director of HoneyLove.org, as he walks you through how to become an urban beekeeper.

Head here to register.