The Return of the Portière?

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We live in a house with a glass front door that looks straight into the bathroom. Add to this problem two cats who love to bang open the bathroom door and you’ve got a recipe for an embarrassing encounter with the UPS man. Could a portière be in our future?

A portière is a curtain that hangs in a doorway. It has a dual function: privacy and heat conservation. It stands in where a door would be clunky and inconvenient. Unfortunately, other than the beaded curtain fad of the 1960s, the portière seems to have disappeared. Was it because those beaded curtains messed up your big hair?

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Though, it should be noted, the beaded curtain predates Ann-Margaret:

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But I digress.

Image: Amagase.

Image: Amagase.

The Japanese have a version of the the portière called Noren (暖簾) that can be found both inside and outside homes and businesses. According to Wikipedia,

Exterior noren are traditionally used by shops and restaurants as a means of protection from sun, wind, and dust, and for displaying a shop’s name or logo. Names are often Japanese characters, especially kanji, but may be mon emblems, Japanese rebus monograms, or abstract designs. Noren designs are generally traditional to complement their association with traditional establishments, but modern designs also exist. Interior noren are often used to separate dining areas from kitchens or other preparation areas, which also prevents smoke or smells from escaping.

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 8.40.47 AMThe August 1903 issue of Gustav Stickley’s The Craftsman has a few pages devoted to portières. At over $200 each in today’s dollars, these were luxury items. [1]

IMG_3126The very same portal that allows our UPS driver a full view of our bathroom has the telltale evidence of a past portière. In the doorway you can see the holder for a curtain rod that once held a portière.

In the name of modesty, I’ve added the portière to my long house restoration bucket list.

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106 Opposable Thumbs

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This week on the Root Simple Podcast we’re featuring the first half hour of another podcast we think you should subscribe to: Opposable Thumbs. Hosts Taylor Hokanson and Rob Ray interview a guest each week who issues a creative challenge to the next guest on the podcast. Think of it as kind of a maker game show. We’re simulcasting the first half hour of episode #10 on which Kelly and I tackle the challenge, “creating problems.” To find out what we did you’ll; have to listen to the podcast.

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Hint: it involves seed balls, payloads and explosives. To listen to the rest of the show head over to Opposable Thumbs #10 or subscribe to the show in iTunes, Google Play or Stitcher. The show is also the first time we’ve ever been involved in a conversation about alien autopsies and the Cisco hold music.  We also discuss:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

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I Organized My Drill Bits and You Won’t Believe What Happened Next

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For nearly twenty years I allowed my drill bits to rattle about in a drawer, disorganized and dullifying. When I needed one I’d root through the drawer wasting time better spent actually using the bit. Sometimes, if I couldn’t find a bit, I’d buy another one at the hardware store only to find out that I already had that particular size. Last week, as part of the sort of sweeping workshop reorganization that comes with middle age, I vowed to put an end to the madness that was my drill bit drawer.

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There is not one true path to drill bit storage but rather many paths leading up the organized workshop holy mountain. I am, however, partial to the 2 x 4 with a corresponding size gauge. To make one you simply drill holes for the bits (I found I had to use the next bit size up to make the holes big enough). Then, in she side of the 2 x 4, you drill a hole to use when figuring out which bit to use for a job.

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While I was at it I also organized my paltry collection of router bits as well as my overabundant collection of screw bits. I attached my now organized bit collection to my wall of tools. Now, when I need a bit, it takes mere seconds to find one, thus freeing up more time to concoct click bait headlines.

The Technological Disobedience of Ernesto Oroza

When Cuba fell into crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union, artist Ernesto Oroza was just graduating with a degree in industrial design in a country with no industry or use for his skills. Almost all the engineers had abandoned Cuba forty years earlier during the revolution, so even before the “Special Period” of the early 1990s people had to improvise their own technology with cast-off parts. Oroza and a fellow artist Diango Hernandez collected these improvised objects: things like TV antennas made from aluminum food trays, motorized bicycles and washing machine motors turned into incredibly dangerous fans (and even more dangerous table saws!). Oroza termed the extreme DIY ethos of the Cuban people, “technological disobedience.”

Visit Oroza’s website for many hundreds of examples of technological disobedience. I’m particularly fond of his photos of improvised urban seating.

On the History and Uses of the Router

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Of all the many tools we humans use towards the maintenance of civilization, which one should we give the most credit: the wheel, the steam engine, gunpowder, the fondue pot or . . . the router?

Those few people who know the obscure history of the router attribute its genesis to the pyramid bewitched ancient Egyptians. In fact the router was developed by the Greeks during the Ptolemaic Kingdom. It was the pharaohs that gave us the plunge router. The Ancient Romans, copy cats that they were, merely developed variable speed control and flush-trim bits.

Missing in many recently published editions, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick contains an entire chapter devoted to the tool,

But it is a ponderous task; no ordinary letter-sorter in the Post Office is equal to it. To grope down into the bottom of the garage after them; to have one’s hands among the unspeakable foundations, moldings, and very dado of the world; this is a fearful thing. What am I that I should grasp the handles of this fearsome machine! The awful tauntings in Job might well appal me. ‘Will it (the router) make a covenant with thee? Behold the hope of it is vain!’ But I have swam through libraries and sailed through oceans; I have had to do with routers with these visible hands; I am in earnest; and I will try.

And even those who know the router’s history may not be aware of its usefulness. The router is a complete woodshop in one tool: it can shape, cut and sculpt. It’s a table saw, chisel and plane in one powerful device. In addition to its use in woodworking, the router plays an important role in fields as varied as amateur dentistry and modal logic. With a router you can literally save the world, cure disease and halt the spread of the watered down rock Nashville dares to call “country.”

You’re probably guessing that I made up most of that intro. But I’ll stick by the part about a router being an entire woodshop in one tool. I’ve used mine mostly for making baseboard molding for our old house. What I did not appreciate, until recently, is that you can do some impressive joinery with a router. Federico Tobon’s discussion of jigs on the Opposable Thumbs Podcast inspired me to increase my familiarity with my router. Of all the power tools in my small shop, the router is probably the one that most needs a jig. It’s also, perhaps, one of the more difficult tools to learn how to use. There are subtleties of feed direction, handling and bit choice that aren’t covered in the short manuals they come with.

Around our humble bungalow, I’ve launched a home remodeling holy war on malfunctioning drawers and bad Ikea furniture. Since it’s impossible to find skilled people to work on a house this small, this means a lot of the jobs I’ve got to do myself. That’s where the router comes in. If it won’t save the world, it might just save our house.

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Here’s a few things I’ve learned about routers by way of doing everything wrong:

  • Get a good router. Many years ago I got a cheap one at Sears and had to replace it almost immediately. I’ve been very happy with much higher quality Porter Cable router.
  • Make or buy jigs. I picked up a Porter Cable edge guide that I can’t believe I managed to live without for ten years. The edge guide makes the tool much easier to use.
  • Get educated. I took a router dovetail jig class at the Pasadena Rockler this past weekend. Nobody else showed up so the class turned into a really informative four hour private lesson on the use of the Porter Cable Dovetail Jig. The instructor, David, guided me through the creation of the through and half-blind dovetail joints you can see above.
  • Don’t forget safety. The thing spins at 27,500 rpm and it takes quite a while for it to come to a stop. And don’t forget to turn the power off when making adjustments. The one minor flaw in my old Porter Cable is the power switch. It’s simultaneously difficult to switch off and easy to accidentally switch on. I’ve heard that the new model’s switch is easier to use.

Now, on to a summer of drawer and furniture making!