Sippican Cottage

Close this search box.

Old Posts People Are Reading For Some Unknown Reason, Part G, Subsection 23

Ad Hoc? I Invented It. Six Homemade Tools

I make furniture all day, but I still gots no money; that doesn’t explain my ad hoc infection, exactly. In construction and related disciplines, you’re always making props and jigs and what-have-yous for the situation at hand, and you adopt it for a way of life after a while. People from the delicate arts (that don’t want to admit they are) talk endlessly about duct tape because they think it makes them sound manly, but duct tape is more a symptom that you have no idea what to do than an indication you do, and are all manly and so forth. This stuff isn’t a patch.

Woodworking catalogs rely on people that don’t ultimately make much buying expensive things with which to not make those things more easily. Parse that sentence, college boy. Anyway, here’s a half-dozen examples of things I made that are better than things you can buy.

1. Clamping Jig – Clamps are really expensive. I’m awful if I ever see Norm making anything on that commendable show he had. Just ask my wife. “He’s making a four-dollar tabletop with four thousand dollars-worth of clamps!”  She just nods and smiles. This is why we don’t have cable. Here’s how I make glue-ups. Iron pipe with pony clamps and pads, with the whole shebang hung on the wall to save space and my back. The galvanized pipes on the right don’t leave marks on anything delicate like the black iron pipes on the left do. They should all be galvanized, but I’m cheap. BTW, that benchtop blank in the clamps will be on sale by Friday.

2. Stickers  – Stickers is an actual woodworking term, not an ad hoc one. The little bits of wood you place between boards to allow air to circulate all around them, and helps to keep wood from warping from having only one side exposed to the air, are called stickers. I make my own, hundreds of them, from little bits and pieces of off-cut wood. I use them for all sorts of things; Keeping things up off a surface when painting, props, jigs, etc. I have to test my branding iron on something before I use it on your furniture, so they all end up with one or forty SIPPICANs burned into them. The really old ones are all mellow with shellac overspray and smooth from a million hands.They’re all eleven inches long. I only measured the first one. (See item 6)

3. Featherboards – Here’s one of eleventy-jillion I’ve made. A piece of wood will go forward through a featherboard’s little wooden fingers, but will not back up. A safe way to hold wood against a fence and not have it thrown at you by the blade. I make them often, in different sizes for different setups. I suppose I could put the sacrificial wooden fence you see on the table saw on this list, too, but I’m lazy. One of the main bad ideas of most pre-made jigs you buy is too much metal near the blades, and for some reason, too much plastic everywhere else. I don’t want metal things hitting metal things. Then hitting me.This is woodworking, not the artillery.

4. The Push Stick – All woodworkers on TV are liars. They say: the blade guard is removed so the camera can see the work. Lies. All lies. They’re in the trash. Guard or no, never, NEVER put your hand between the blade and the fence. Did I mention NEVER? I push everything through the blade with a push stick. It’s got a little hook in it to hold things down as well as shove them. Stuff gets thrown at you more than any other danger you’ll encounter on a tablesaw. This push stick is about eight years old, I think. It’s a testament to the veracity of my NEVER claim that I still have this one after all this time, despite living in two different states. It is ALWAYS on my fence, so I can NEVER.

5. Tapering Jig – They sell adjustable ones that are made from steel for a lot of money. You must have been dropped on your head as a baby to push a steel anything through a table saw right next to the blade. Upon reflection, you were probably dropped on your head as an adult, too. I have dozens of these jigs, each made special for a particular tapered leg. They’re very safe if handled correctly, and made from garbage. Like bacon!

6. Stop Block – It’s just a leftover from a table apron or something. You clamp it to a fence and cut the same thing over and over. Measure twice, cut once! says the TV. Measure once, set the stop block, and cut 145 times, I say. Measuring twice is for dilettantes.

So, there you go. I make all sorts of things with near nothing. You have near nothing, too, I suspect, or can lay your hands on it. Make something!

Old Posts People Are Reading For Some Reason, Example 43.7


You need to keep in mind I’m not like most people. Your mileage might… will most definitely vary. I once bummed across Guatemala, by bus and hitchhiking, with fifty bucks and a machete. I was fifteen. That was easy. These got me fuming, over and over. Remember, “frustrating” is not exactly the same as hard:

  • Getting a utility pole put in place

I’ve done this a whole bunch of times at this point. It has never gotten any easier. There is a paperwork and voicemail labyrinth involved with setting the bole of a tree in a hole that makes walking on the moon look straightforward. Hint: the telephone company owns them.

  • Trying to sing while playing the bass

I am neither a good bass player nor a good singer. Imagine doing both badly simultaneously. I find it much easier to play the guitar or drums and sing, even though I stink even worse at playing those. The closest example I can offer to uttering sounds while fretting (over) syncopated rhythms, is juggling. You can’t ever look directly at one ball or you’ll drop all of them.

  • Getting a building permit

Like the phone pole, but more of a tag team beating. I’ve been responsible for hundreds of building permits in a handful of states for almost every kind of construction. It’s the strangest gamut of Bureaus of Silly Walks interspersed with jailhouse lawyer neighbors you can mention. I was trying to build a little house on a plot of land that was laid out as a houselot since the seventies, in a little neighborhood near here, and a doughy neighbor woman dressed like a four dollar hooker got up and and said: “I’d like to read a prepared statement.” This, in a room with a wobbly banquet table and few bockety folding chairs, presided over by four commisioners who were dressed in Sunday go-to-hell yardwork clothes, and me.

  • Unionized

People who are in unions that just collect dues and waste it on bribing state senators have no idea what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever been in a real union that takes an active interest in eveything a member does, you’d know it’s more constricting than being a comedian in North Korea.

  • Changed the ball joints on 1966 Ford Fairlane

No one fixes their car anymore. Not changing your oil, and so forth, mind you, but effecting repairs so you can go to work. Used to happen all the time. Before emissions inspections, they just checked to see if you were sitting on milk crates to drive, made sure the horn worked, that the tires didn’t have inner tube showing, and that your ball joints weren’t dodecahedrons. Mine were. I took the car apart in my mother’s garage, and started banging on a giant steel tuning fork to pop the conical part from its tapered lair. I banged on it for two solid days before I got it loose. When it came loose, it fell on my foot. When I got done swearing and exulting, I realized there was another on the other side.

  • set up a .htaccess redirect on a website via FTP

I had to do it. I did it. I have no idea how.

  • Grow grass

People who live in apartments, in cities where every square inch of everything is paved, like to write comments on blogs at three AM on how wasteful and unsustainable a lawn is. They’re missing the possibilities lawns offer for population control — because I swear if you tried to grow a little patch of grass around your house for your kids to play on where I live, you would have taken your own life by now.

  • Find a decent plumber

My first plumber was named Leaky. His name was an exaggeration. “Leaky” would indicate that at least some of the water was still in the pipes. After him, came Squeaky. He was a good plumber, but very strange, and now very dead. Dead is a bad attribute for returning calls. After that came Sully. I should have recalled that the shortest book that could ever be written would likely be Famous Irish Plumbers. All the trouble in Angela’s Ashes could have been avoided if anyone in Ireland understood righty tighty lefty loosie, after all. Sully cut a trench through the center of my second floor that left overweight him, underweight me, and one quarter of the footprint of the second storey being supported on enough lumber to make a rickety hummingbird house. “Don’t worry; wood is strong!” he said, while walking to the edge of the property line with his feet barely touching the ground.

  • Built a boat

I’ve built damn near everything at one time or another. I unrolled the plans for a little skiff, and while searching in vain for anything that resembled a rectangle, I realized that even the stuff that wasn’t curved had beveled edges.

  • Put my kids in public school

Anything that resembles what I would consider a good education is unavailable at any price in the United States at this point, so I don’t spend a lot of time wondering what else we should be doing with our kids. But I wouldn’t mind if when my wife and I went to talk to my children’s tormen… er… teachers, they would at least pretend that they didn’t think I was just hit in the head with a shovel, and wasn’t too bright beforehand anyway. I might be dumb, but my kids can at least learn to change the ball joints in a ’66 Fairlane from me.

Feed The Monkey

I recall a very bad joke from way back when we were still hurling men up into space, but hadn’t quite reached the moon yet:

NASA decided they’d finally send a man up in a capsule after sending only monkeys in the earlier missions. They fire the man and the monkey into space. The intercom crackled, “Monkey, fire the retros.” A little later, “Monkey, check the solid fuel supply.” Later still, “Monkey, check the life support systems for the man.” The astronaut took umbrage and radioed NASA, ” When do I get to do something?” NASA replies, ” In fifteen minutes, feed the monkey.”

There’s a great deal of feed the monkey in that video, and in modern life in general. The fellows you see appear towards the beginning of the video, wearing the clown shoes of liability — safety glasses worn where there’s never any danger to speak of, are checking to see if the robots welded everything to the correct tolerance. They’re feeding the monkey. Maybe there are lasers in use there I didn’t notice, hence the glasses. Someone feed the laser monkey after you feed the robot monkey.

There are people even farther removed from the monkey’s nimble digits out of our field of view, making up slips of paper that tell the monkey-feeders to wear safety glasses whether they’re sitting on the john with the morning paper or welding. You can go pretty far down that rabbit hole, looking for ancillary monkey-feeders. Manolo publishes pixel opinions of what shoes to wear to assist the slip-producing women in Personnel –oops, Human Resources— in deciding what shoes to purchase online instead of doing their job producing slips with bits of text on them.

Of course the pinnacle of feed the monkey instruction is the government, reminding you constantly that you’re feeding the monkey wrong, and in an unapproved way, and is that salt on that, you fiend? You looked at the monkey a bit funny just then, and that monkey might be the wrong color monkey, and you touched it in a manner deemed inappropriate unless you work for the government and then it’s Colombian hookers and stained blue dresses all the way, baby.

Hell, if Mercedes builds a vehicle full of coal batteries instead of a big gasoline battery, Uncle Sam tries its hand at infinite recursion and pays you to feed the monkey-feeders, giving you the taste of sweet monkey-feeding feeder importance for one, brief, shining moment.

The world isn’t like it used to be. The big thinkers in charge of everything, and the people that would like to take their jobs, are very small thinkers indeed if you ask me. They offer outdated unguents for imaginary ailments. Some say kill the monkey, and take his job. Others say get Chinese monkeys. Why not marry the monkey? Let’s send the monkey to college while we work in a coffee shop. He’ll fling his poop at the professor, but let’s face it, so would most of the people behind the counter in a Starbucks. Let’s make the monkey god. Let’s make the monkey a goat, and scape the living bejesus out of him.

My life is simpler than most people’s, and more complex at the same time. I am the monkey. I’m warning all you wannabee monkey feeders. I have a window into the mind of the monkey that you probably do not. The monkey is getting tired, and the monkey is getting angry. You can’t feed yourself at all or even feed him correctly while he’s doing all the work, and you’re hurtling through space in a tin can. You  don’t want to be in a little tin can with an angry, hungry monkey. Think harder.


It’s Not Easy Being Green

RUMFORD, MAINE- Local environmental scientists who won a government contest are rolling out their eco-friendly, sustainable, locally sourced, union-certified, carbon-neutral, water-saving, “waste-reflection-free” bathroom mirrors at participating Home Depots and other non-evil retailers on Earth Day Sunday.

The cutting-edge bathroom mirror design comes at a price, it’s true — $6500, before a government rebate of four dollars — but with the world spinning out of ecological control, the EcoMirror might be our only hope to avoid forty billion people sitting on a desolate, lifeless planet, with an average daytime temperature of 1400 degrees Kelvin. The government is phasing in a requirement that all bathroom mirrors be waste-reflection-free by 2014.

Despite intensive attempts to educate the public about the danger posed to the environment by waste reflections, people are woefully ignorant of their effects. Faculty scientists at the Rumford University College Academy Institute of Higher Learning, located upstairs from the Aubuchon Hardware sphagnum shed, were among the first to “science up” a bunch of evidence that waste reflections from your bathroom mirror are killing the planet.

“We used R Prize grant money to study the links between waste reflections from American bathroom mirrors and the obesity rates of Piping Plovers, and let me tell you, the results were chilling,” opined lead researcher Thad Delano Farquar Devonshire-Smythe IV, “and there was a direct and incontrovertible relationship shown between unused reflections and the plover population. “You could almost hear the crunching of the eggs as the working mother plovers plopped down, exhausted after a day of doing all the work (for only seventy percent of the seeds a male would get) in their family units, and unwittingly killing their broods. And let me tell you, you could win the Stanley Cup with the chart we came up with.”

The studies show that no matter how eco-conscious a family might be, the reflections from the bathroom mirror are being continually pumped into the atmosphere, even when the house’s occupants are out riding their recumbent bicycles to their fair trade jobs. “Unless you have a teenager at home, the mirror can have no one in front of it to absorb the planet-killing reflections as much as forty percent of the time,” Devonshire-Smythe continued, ” and if you leave the light on in the bathroom by mistake… dear Gaia, you might as well start clubbing seals.”

The EcoMirror avoids these deadly waste reflections in an ingenious way. First, the EcoMirror trims back the size of the mirror itself to about the size of the porthole on an economy cruise ship. Then, it cuts out almost 100 percent of the waste reflections by avoiding directly showing the user a representation of him or herself at all. It’s simply equipped with a button that summons a government-approved pastel artist, who arrives as soon as public transportation allows, and draws a likeness of you on the erasable EcoMirror’s surface.

Local resident Butch Herblock said he was skeptical at first, but said if you give the process a little time, you might like it. “The first artist they sent was a little hinky. I didn’t want to say anything, but she arrived kind of late, and smelled a bit of medical marijuana, and she drew a picture of the Soweto riots on my new EcoMirror instead of a reflection of my face. But when I explained to the Homeland Reflection Authority that I needed a different artist, they sent a nice fellow as a replacement after I filled out some forms online. He wore wool socks and Birkenstocks, which my wife said was a bad sign for artistic flair, but he did pretty good after he got the hang of drawing everything backwards. And the HRA offered to pay my co-pay for the transfusions I needed when I shaved in the new mirror. I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Everyone should have one of these babies if we’re going to save the planet.”

The EcoMirror’s price tag has set tongues to wagging. But Ed Dyson Light of the National Cray-Pas Consortium is a believer. “It’s just Big Mirror that’s against these kinds of things. Anyone complaining about these mirrors are funded by the Koch brothers, I bet. And think of the jobs this thing will create. I know I am.”

Local wag Spike Daboll was having none of it. “Hell, I got two art-school dropouts sleeping on my couches right now. I told that woman not to send my step-kids to Rumford University College Academy Institute of Higher Learning unless’n they got a scholarship, but did she listen? On top of everything, they’re oil painters and no one’s gonna wait around for that stuff to dry when they’re brushing their teeth. Couldn’t paint a fence if you ask me. Anyway, we don’t need another gummint program to get people sketching around here. And I’ll tell you what. For every EcoMirror you make me buy, I’m going to keep two old ones, and point them at each other.”

Berlin, Infinite Recursion

Max Raabe singing Irving Berlin In Berlin. For a German, he’s a borderline wildman. I like the part where he raised his eyebrow that one time. Skating at the edge of the volcano of his inner torment, no doubt.

Month: April 2012

Find Stuff: