Clean Your Home Without Toxic Chemicals

Kelly and I will be leading a green cleaning for your home class at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral on May 19th, after the 11 o’clock service (roughly 12:15 p.m. give or take a few minutes). All are welcome and the class will be held in the historic Lady Chapel, a room entirely covered in gold mosaic tile. Come for the tile alone which we promise not to make you clean!  We’ll talk about non-toxic cleaning products that really work and bust some Internet myths along the way. More than just a white vinegar soliloquy we’re throwing in some church coffee for free. St. John’s is located at 514 W. Adams Blvd in Los Angeles near the corner of Adams and Figueroa.

A Not So Close Shave

Image from Der Golem.

I made the mistake of looking at Instagram for the first time in a year and was completely traumatized by the juxtaposition of beautiful meals and glamorous vacation destinations alongside posts by friend’s exes and children in hospital rooms. What bothers me most about social media is the pressure to curate an idealized, alternate self. These alternate selves remind me of the Jewish legend of the Golem, a kind of medieval robot made of mud and conjured into consciousness. Initially protective the Golem, in some versions of the story, ends up going on a murder spree. I’m worried that our online, alternate selves are forming a kind of Golem army. We can thank our Silicon Valley overlords for making an old legend a painful force-multiplied reality.

And yet, every time I look at social media it causes me to ask how am I also complicit in the curation of an idealized alternate self via this blog and our books? How many times have I presented some neatly tied up homemaking/gardening tip when the actual results were more ambiguous? Or, to go deeper with this, how often have I presented a “failure” as a kind of false modesty?

At the risk of doing the latter, and via a long winded media theory laden introduction, permit me update my ongoing struggle with shaving. Most folks don’t know that, long before the advent of social media deep in the bowels of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, our government developed the internet precisely for the purpose of creating divisive shaving forums. The thought was that arguments over the merits of modern safety razors vs. the manly art of shaving and sharpening a straight edge razor would so confuse our communist adversaries that they would throw down their AK-47s and embrace the joys of Pumpkin Spice Frappuccinos® and Logan Paul videos.

For years, not wanting to blow money on modern plastic razors, I’ve instead used an old-fashioned safety razor like the one above that has just one metal blade that lasts maybe two weeks at the most (you can flip it over and use the other side of the blade for another two weeks). To use it properly, you need to shave three times, down, sideways and up, lathering between each shave direction. It works great if you aren’t lazy and care about your appearance. The trouble is that I’m lazy and don’t care about my appearance.

The trouble is that when I wear my favorite stained and sawdust caked hoodie, I look like that police sketch of the unabomber. Looking disheveled can be charming when you’re younger but once you hit fifty it’s just creepy. In order to, at least temporarily, reverse this sartorial slide, I recently had a proper haircut rather than have a friend buzz my head. My hair-cutting professional took a look at my patchy facial stubble and pointed to his own face noting that both of us don’t have much in the way of beard hair even if we wanted to grow one out. He recommended something I’ve never heard about, shaving with an Andis Outliner II, a kind of electric trimmer used for close cutting. Men of African descent often use trimmers like this for dry shaving as a way of avoiding ingrown hairs.

Does an Andis Outliner II give you a really close shave? No. Would it work for those with prodigious facial hair? No. Would it be good enough if you worked at a corporate law firm or are in the military? Probably not. Can women shove their legs with it? Yes, but it leaves stubble. Does it work well enough for an aging Gen Xer who spends most of his time doing manual labor alone? Yes. It’s certainly better than looking like an escapee from a Victorian mental hospital.

A Manual of Needlework and Cutting Out

Please enjoy this manual of the lost art of hand sewing by Agnes Walker published in 1907 and recommended by YouTube sewing sensation Bernadette Banner. What makes the book useful is that, unlike a lot of sewing resources, there’s not a lot of assumed knowledge. The book also shows the high level of craftsmanship expected of young children before the great crappening of the mid-20th century.

Bottom-up Urbanism

In another great video from Fair Companies, Johnny Sanphillippo gives a tour of his Sonoma County rental property. Johnny describes himself as a “rodent who scurries about finding the opportunities other don’t recognize.” A lot of the things he talks about in the video are things we’ve done in our own very small Los Angeles house, such as adding sheds and making the garage space usable, all strategies for getting by on the expensive West Coast. The video even includes a bonus visit to a Murphy bed manufacturer.

You can follow Johnny on his blog Granola Shotgun and hear him talk more about his rental property on episode 120 of our podcast.

A Better Garage Organizational System

I gave übermaker Federico Tobon a tour of the garage when he visited the Root Simple compound back in 2017. He took one look at the pegboard and asked, politely, if I liked it. I could tell by his tone of voice that he was skeptical of this ubiquitous garage storage strategy.

Technically known as perforated hardboard (Peg-Board is an expired trademark), the idea dates to the early 20th century. You can still pick some up at almost every lumber yard or big box store here in the U.S. But here’s the thing. It sucks. Even with the little plastic doodads that are supposed to keep the metal hooks from falling out, in my experience, half the time you you go to retrieve a tool off the wall the damn metal pegs fall out.

This past week, inspired by an article in Fine Woodworking by Jason Stephens, I decided to put all my furniture building plans on hold and replace the pegboard with a more usable and robust home-brewed hanging system using 1/2 inch plywood and custom made tool holders.

The first step was a Marie Kondoing of the workshop. I decided to only keep tools that I know I will use. Since I’m focusing on woodworking this was fairly simple. A flurry of furniture projects in the past year taught me which tools are useful and which ones are not. But don’t worry, I also decided to keep the tools that I use for non-wood related household emergencies (toilet augers and stuff like that).

Stephens’ tool storage method begins by attaching 1/2 plywood to your workshop wall. Then you make a custom hanger for each tool or set of tools. This is easier than it sounds and took only a few minutes per tool. Having a table saw and air nailer makes this go faster but you could easily make hangers with hand tools. It would just take longer. For many of the tools I just put a nail or screw in the plywood to hang them. You could also make a small version of this system for an apartment and attach the plywood to the wall with a French cleat.

While what I put together was a storage wall for a wood shop, you could easily adapt this idea to any other craft. I could see a sewing or crafting room organized the same way. It does help to know which tools you need and to place the most frequently used ones close at hand. In my case that meant the measuring tools and hand planes were placed close to the workbench and the table saw accessories are on shelves next to, you guessed it, the table saw.

Rolling with Stephens’ suggestion, I used French cleat hangers so that I could remove tool sets, such as my drill bits and chisels, from the wall. As you can see I made a base so that you can put the whole set on a table.

There were a few other changes to the workshop I made in order to make it more useful for furniture making such as being sure that I could access my workbench from all sides, as well as improvements to the dust collection system. I can detail these changes in a future post but I’m more interested in showing that a well organized workshop can benefit any activity from sewing to gardening. Taking the time to plan a workspace makes work go much easier.

Aesthetics are important too. It helps to have a workshop that’s inspiring to work in. Towards this end I hung a few mementos on the wall. A St. Joseph icon reminds me to not cut off my fingers. And my late grandfather’s shop glasses, from his time riveting airplanes at McDonnell Douglas, look down from above the nuts and bolts.