Category Archives: Carpentry

The Prime Minister of Procrastination finally gets his cabinet together.

Despite what my friends would have you believe, that I’m the personification of anarchy, I actually hate chaos.

For the last several years, the lack of storage space in our house has been driving me nuts and in particular the fact that we didn’t have an efficient way of storing and retrieving our CDs and DVDs.

We used to have our TV on a funky but poorly designed cabinet from Indonesia. The old unit looked OK but it didn’t have very much storage space because it’s design was more about style than function. There always seemed to be a large stack of CDs and books with various other bits and pieces strewn all over the top of the old sideboard that was already crowded with electronics.

In short it was a mess.

Another thing that was getting on my wick, is that I’m totally over, dark wooden furniture.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to design and make, to remedy our entertainment storage area. I don’t like the current trend in furniture design with their low storage areas that look great in minimalist showrooms but are impossible to live with. Another thing I don’t like about a lot of “so-called” modern furniture is that it looks so 1960s with their little legs that seem to be designed to make it difficult to sweep or vacuum under. Let’s not even talk about how outrageously expensive and over priced stylish furniture can be.

At first, I thought of making a wall unit but that design concept seemed so 1970s. Plus we have plaster cornices where our ceiling meets the wall  and I don’t like gaps between high furniture and the ceiling because they collect dust; are hard to reach and don’t display items well.

Last month I went to the Sydney woodworking show and it inspired me to get my finger out and do some carpentry. Here’s what I’ve come up with after years of procrastination and three weeks work.

At last I can put all the CDs away

The cabinet is constructed out of 19mm plywood, that has been “V” bookmatch veneered with figured English sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus). I used Australian silver ash (Flindersia schottiana) for all the solid wood components except the drawers which were made out of pine and 6mm plywood. The top was veneered in an exploding diamond pattern and inlaid with some commercially produced inlay strips.

mmmmm wood

All the exposed drawers (all dovetailed) for the CDs and DVDs are on runners that allow the drawers to be completely extended so the contents can be easily viewed.

Easy to sort through and get to 

On a side note about procrastination, my wife reckons that I procrastinate because if I put things off, that means it will be longer before I make some errors and mess it all up. I short, Engogirl thinks I’m afraid of failure.

I’m afraid………

 she might be right.

You can never have too many clamps

I’ve been beavering away at the cabinet that I said I’d make back at the end of June. I’m in the last stages of putting it together and tomorrow will be spent sanding. On Monday, it’s off to a professional spray painter’s for a two-pack polyurethane finish. Hopefully the unit will be completed by next Friday.

One of the reasons why it’s taken me two weeks to get this far is because I don’t have enough clamps. Sure, I’ve got lots of clamps but it never seems like I’ve got enough of the right size. I can only build so much before I run out of the right sized clamps and I have to stop.

So far the whole construction has been done with glue (a cross-linked PVA that sands back real nice), using biscuits, dowels, lap joints, mortise and tenons, plus tongue and groove.

Because I’ve had plywood veneered one side (it’s so damn expensive) with figured sycamore it has bowed the plywood a little which means I have to muscle it back into line with equal measures of brute force (sash clamps) and ignorance (a lump hammer).

you can never have too many clamps

The large black clamps in the foreground are sash clamps and they are good for exerting a lot of force on large items. Sash clamps are quite often used to join wood, side to side like on table tops. The red handled clamp on the left near the sash clamp is a pipe clamp and it’s basically a sash clamp as well but it has the advantage of being able to be twisted so you can clamp things in different directions (see the photo below). The down side to sash clamps is that they are quite heavy and bulky.

The smaller red handled clamps are F clamps and are usually used for smaller clamping jobs. It is possible to get large F clamps but they’re not very good because they bow when you tighten them right up which sometimes causes the joins to come apart. The big advantage of  F clamps is that they can be coarsely adjusted very quickly.

The yellow and green clamps are quick grips. Like the name suggests, quick clamps are very quick to use and have the advantage that they can be used with one hand. The down side of quick clamps is that they don’t exert much force which means that they are only really useful for holding things in place. I find quick clamps are great for holding the little blocks of scrap wood in place, that are used with the larger clamps to protect the item being made, while I’m getting the bigger and heavier clamps into place.

One of the things that’s been slowing progress down is that fact that I can only assemble one drawer a day. The glue I use shouldn’t be stressed for about 24 hours and because I’ve used dove tails joints (nice and tight),

if only I had more clamps

I have to use a fair bit of force to pull the drawers together so there are no gaps and when the clamps are taken off the wood springs back a little, stressing the glued areas. So I have to wait a day before I can do another drawer because I don’t have enough clamps. There will be eight drawers in the cabinet, which means eight days. 

By the way, the paper between to the scrap wood in the clamps is baking paper which I use because glue won’t stick to it.

Cooking and carpentry…. there is a cross over.

So, as you can see, I’ve been in a very wood-butcher head space lately and I haven’t been posting as much lately. Sorry about that but I’ve only got a week to go.

Now to glue another bloody drawer!

I’ve got wood. Fnarr! Fnarr! Chortle, chortle. The Sydney woodworking show. NSW, Australia

In an effort to explain why I’ve been so tardy with my postings lately I’d like to tell you about the latest thing that is distracting me.

Last week I went to the Sydney woodworking show with my good friend Paul. The woodworking show is basically porn for carpenters and as such, when discussing it, double entendres come easily and uninvited to my mind and it makes me feel like Finbarr Saunders.

Finbarr Saunders

It’s hard (I’ve started already!) not to have some ribald fun with sentences like, the men lovingly held their tools while they fantasized about what they wanted to do with their wood.

Or perhaps,

They stood in a circle, almost salivating, as a man in the centre rubbed oil all over his wood until it glistened. Every eye followed his skilled movements. Back and forth he went with a smile on his face and as he worked on his wood. Every man in the crowd couldn’t wait to get back home and try the same technique on their own wood.

Anyway, enough of that childish nonsense!

My wife, Engogirl would like me at some stage to make a solid wood table from one piece of wood. I’ve always thought that it would cost too much but I was very surprised to see that large slabs of seasoned wood are very reasonably priced and I’m pretty sure that next year I’ll buy a large slab of wood and give it a go.

Solid pieces of timber

All this recent talk of wood got me motivated to use my tools again. Over the last week I’ve begun making a cabinet (L 2000mm x H 800mm x W 500mm or 6’6″x 32″x 20″) to put our TV on and to hold all our CDs (we have about 600) and DVDs (about 100).

I started off in carpentry making sets in the theatre in Vancouver many years ago. I never really trained in carpentry but an old friend gave me a job and taught me the things I couldn’t figure out for myself. So in short, I’m not really a very good carpenter in a technical sense but what ever I make usually looks pretty good… from a distance and you don’t look at it too closely.

My trouble is that I tend to rush things. I’ve never really been a fan of process. I’m more interested in the end result. Which of course means that I always build things that I could’ve done better, and it bugs me! So for this latest project I decided to take a deep breath and take my time.

This will be a new experience for me, as I usually take the bull charging a red flag approach.

I’ve decided to make the cabinet out of plywood that will be custom veneered with figured sycamore and edged with solid wood. The veneering service alone, is going to cost $132 a square metre! So I’m going to have to take my time as I’ve spent about $1000 already on materials. I got a quote yesterday for the lacquering and it’s going to cost about $500 just to get it painted.

Here’s an illustrated mock up of what the cabinet should look like with the TV etc in and on it.

Hopefully it will look like this

I better do a good job or Engogirl won’t be very pleased if the money I’ve spent is wasted.

As usual, I’ve bitten off more that I can chew and I’m chewing like crazy! Here’s a video of a dovetail joint using a jig that is similar to the one I will be using to give you an idea of what I’ve gotten myself into.

[youtube L_dw_iV6-0E]

Peter helps me feel normal. Wingello, NSW, Australia

When I was in my early 20s I read the book, “On the Road”by Jack Kerouac and when I finished it I thought to myself, “what was all the fuss about?” So the guy did a bit of hitchhiking and hung out with a few other young guys.  It didn’t sound like a big deal to me and by the time I had read the book, I’d already travelled extensively; hitch hiked tens of thousands of kilometres; come under mortar fire in a war zone and worked in the carnival as a laser light show operator. 

“On the road” just seemed very tame to me. 

I had a similar feeling when I saw the much hyped movie “The Motorcycle Diaries”about Che Guevara travelling around South America with his friend by motorcycle. Some of my friends had raved about the movie and I can remember when I watched it, thinking to myself, “hrumph! So what! A couple of guys from well-off families go on a motorcycle trip, big deal!” To top it all off, nothing really happened.

Sometimes I feel so disconnected with most of the people that I share society with by the differences in our life experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel superior, just different. It always amazes me when I talk to people and they tell me about how they lived in the one place, went to the same school and have only had a few jobs all their lives.  I almost envy people who can say that they have a hometown or they refer to, “my” high school.

Every time I see a TV show with that old trope about the high school reunion it’s like I’m watching some strange ritual being performed by an exotic tribe from a strange faraway land. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to still have friends from high school. I went to six primary schools (I was expelled from one), three high schools, two colleges and one university.  Because I’ve moved around so much as a kid, it hasn’t been a big deal for me to just walk away from friendships that I have made and begin new ones very easily.

In short, I’m what my wife (Engogirl) describes as an over stimulated jaded piece of meat.

The whole idea of having a career is such an alien concept to me that it’s almost unimaginable.  The reason why I find it so hard to get my brain around the concept of a career is that I find it difficult to understand how somebody’s attention can be held for so many years doing the same thing.  I usually do things (with the exception of photography) for about five years before I move on to something else.  Most jobs I’ve had, with one exception, have only lasted about a year or two.

I suppose, “recalcitrant dilettantism” would be a suitable description of my chosen career path.

Here’s a short list of some of the jobs I’ve done, starting with part-time jobs I had at night in high school.

Newspaper boy.  Bus boy.  Waiter.  Kitchen hand.  Door-to-door salesman. English (as a second language) teacher in Cambodia and Japan.  Worker in a tractor factory (only did that for about two months because it just sucked so badly).  Pizza maker.  Ceramics slip caster. Mouse racer (a carnival job). Laser light show operator. Set builder in the theatre. Camera salesman. Photographic assistant in a large studio. Photographic lab manager. Outdoor equipment store manager.  I now fake it as a designer (sets, websites, graphics) in my own little business. 

Now that I’m married, live in the suburbs and own a house, my life is so totally different to what it used to be.  If you were to ask some of my older friends what I was like before I met Engogirl 13 years ago you would hear adjectives like, party animal, lunatic, dangerous, trouble. I’ve even had some friends tell me that they thought I was going to be the first person in our social circle to die because I was so reckless. All my friends feel that Engogirl has civilised and calmed me down.

Before I met my wife I used to rock climb quite a bit and most of my friends were people like myself. Rootless drifters living on the fringes of decent society working only because they were saving enough money to go on their next trip.

Two weeks ago Engogirl and I went to her parent’s holiday home down in Tallong and when we were down in that area (the Southern Highlands) we dropped in on an old friend of mine, Peter, and his wife Simona.

Simona and Peter

In the picture above of Peter and his wife you will notice that there is a framed advertisement (for Bonds clothing) behind them that has a red shirted young man sitting on a chopper. The young blond haired dude is Peter in his early 20s. He was quite the chick magnet in his day and when I used to work with him I noticed that quite a few women still found him attractive.

I first met Peter about 15 years ago when I was the manager of an outdoor equipment store and he was a customer. At that time Peter used to live in a tent for about 4 or 5 months of the year down in the snow country so he could spend his time with his girlfriend (at the time) skiing.  When Peter wasn’t skiing he used to install television cable systems in hotels and live aboard other people’s boats minding them for them.  After spending a couple of seasons skiing, Peter moved back up into Sydney and started to work in the store I managed.  It was during this time that we worked together that I heard about Peter’s life.  He had travelled extensively and he used to have a yacht charter company in Sydney Harbour with several yachts and he owned a block of apartments until he lost it all in a divorce.  Although Peter wasn’t too keen about the idea of losing so many assets, he was quite philosophical about it all, telling me that he felt that his life was getting far too complicated and stressful and that it was all probably for the best. Every now and again Peter would supplement his income by delivering yachts up the coast to Queensland.

Peter stayed on in the outdoor equipment industry for another couple of years and in his spare time he built a catamaran and lived on it in Sydney Harbour. About five years ago Peter met Simona and they were married within about a year.  It was always really obvious to me that life in the city working in a normal job never really suited Peter. A couple of years ago Peter and Simona moved down to the Southern Highlands to a town called Wingello.

Friends of mine had told me that Peter had moved into a yurt and because I had known Peter so long I assumed that he built himself a large round circular tent in the style of the Mongols, like what I’d seen at the Kyrgystan pavilion at the 2005 Expo in Aichi Japan.

Yurt at 2005 Expo in Japan

It certainly wouldn’t have surprised me.

I didn’t have an address for Peter but I knew that if I asked the people in the only store in Wingello where he lived they would know because he is such a sociable character they would be bound to know him. Sure enough they did and they gave us directions to his place, finally saying, “he lives in the yurt and you can’t miss it”.

I have to be honest and admit that I was a bit disappointed to see that Peter was actually living in a solid house. Aparently, such octagonal houses are known locally as yurts.

Peter and Simonas yurt

Peter now makes a living as a local handyman and Simona owns and runs a little junk shop.

Peter and Simona bought the “yurt” in an unfinished state and when we arrived they were in the middle of laying beautiful travertine marble tiles on the floor. The bottom floor has all the shared living areas and there is a circular staircase in the centre that goes up to their bedroom. I was told that they wanted their house to be like the inside of a lighthouse and that they were also seeking permission to add another story on top of their bedroom to make their house look even more like a lighthouse.  I knew it was pointless to point out the fact that they lived 100 km from the coast.

Who cares anyway?

Nothing about Peter is ordinary and he has absolutely no time for conventions of any kind. Having said that, Peter is a lesson in conviviality and capability. He is always surrounded by a tribe of friends and he seems to be capable of manifesting anything. 

One of the main reasons why I like Peter is that he makes me feel normal. Nothing that I have done in my life seems different or extraordinary when I am with Peter.

Our first week of the new year

I hope you all had a nice Christmas and an excellent new year!

As is usual, the time between Christmas and New Year’s day is packed with feasting and socialising. That’s my excuse for being slack with posting and I’m sticking to it.

Here in Sydney Australia it’s stinking hot right now and for reasons I don’t understand, I always get highly motivated to do major projects around the house at this time of the year. The smart time to do most of these laborious jobs would be in the cooler weather, but no, that would make too much sense. I never really feel like doing such things until it gets uncomfortably hot and humid.

Further proof that I’m a complete idiot. 

Last year at about this time I landscaped the front yard in the blazing sun. This year I’ll be toiling in the backyard making a pond and replacing two toilet sets in the house. 

The photo below is of Engogirl on the first day of this year, helping me with the construction of some bench seating that will surround the pond we are constructing.

Engogirl likes using the drill press

After sweating our butts off for a day, we decided that instead of getting stuck into our backyard work and knocking it over quickly, we would rather get into an air-conditioned car and take couple of days off to visit Engogirl’s parents at their holiday home in Tallong (2 hours south of Sydney).

There are a few orchards in Tallong and stone fruits are in season. Engogirl’s father loves jam and makes his own.

This man is powered by jam

Here’s Engogirl’s father’s recipe for apricot jam


Equal quantity of firm (slightly unripe) apricots and sugar. For the jam that was being prepared in the photo above, 1kg of apricots and 1kg of sugar were used.
Pectin (use only half the amount that is recommended on the packet or the jam will be too firm).
Glass jars. 


Place freshly washed jars with lids and sugar into an oven and heat up to 100 degrees C (which is boiling point at sea level or about 212 degrees F). The sugar is preheated so that it dissolves quickly and completely when it is added to the fruit. Wash, pit and halve the apricots. Place prepared apricots into a saucepan with a cup of water, then heat for about 15 minutes, until the fruit begins to soften, over medium heat.

When the fruit is soft add the sugar and pectin stir until dissolved. Bring the mixture to the boil and cook for about another 5 minutes, whilst continually stirring. You will know when the jam is ready to fill the jars when the jam mixture sticks to the side of the saucepan in thick blobs. When the mixture is ready, take the jars and lids out of the oven (don’t forget that they will be hot, so use oven mitts) and fill with the hot jam mixture and screw on the lids straight away. It’s probably best to perform this operation in your sink in case there are any spills or accidents.

What has karma and a guitar purchase got to do with quality wine?

I have a friend called Brett, who lives in Adelaide, South Australia, near some of the very best wine producing areas in this country.

Several months ago, Brett contacted me because he was in a bit of a bind with a purchase of a second hand guitar that he had made over the Internet.  The guitar was an Epiphone Explorer bass that didn’t come with a case and it was sold on the condition that it was to be picked up by the purchaser.  Trouble was, Brett lives in Adelaide and the guitar was in Sydney so he rang me up to ask me to go and have a look at it, to inspect its condition; pick it up, and then wrap it up for shipment by air to him.

Epiphone Explorer bass

The guitar was in the excellent condition that it was advertised and so I picked it up.  Being a bass guitar meant that it had an extra long neck and to be honest, it was huge. Another thing that caused me concern was that the headstock bent back further back than the very back of the body of the guitar so that when it was laid down, the headstock was supporting the weight of the guitar. I just didn’t think that wrapping it in bubble wrap and cardboard was going to get it to Adelaide in one piece, so I rang Brett and told him about my fears for his new guitar.   Unfortunately, because the guitar was so big, the carry cases for them quite rare, and therefore they cost quite a bit more than normal cases, so I offered to make him a wooden carry case for it.

Brett’s father owns an upholstery business, and as such, Brett has access to the materials to cover the case with, and the hardware to hold it together.

In the meantime, my friend Mark was going back to his home town of Adelaide (Mark and Brett grew up together) for a short trip, so he offered to take the guitar in its case to Brett.

Brett was very happy with the job that I did for him and he rang me up to thank me and to see if there was anything he could do for me.

I know that Brett has a large wine collection of very high quality Australian wines, so I said to him, half jokingly, just bring around a bottle of “Hill of Grace” (one of very the best wines made in Australia, at any price, which I know he has quite a bit of) next time he is in Sydney, knowing full well that probably wouldn’t happen for quite a while and that would let him off the hook feeling obliged.

Brett surprised me by replying that he would be coming to Sydney at the end of October for Mark’s upcoming wedding and that he would be bringing a few bottles of wine with him.

As a rule, I don’t really have that much time for the whole wine wanker scene. I consider myself a bit of a wine philistine in that I don’t believe that one should spend a lot of money on things that one probably wouldn’t appreciate anyway, just for a pose. Having said that, I have three friends who have extensive knowledge about wine and large collections who have patiently dragged me, kicking and screaming like the low class trailer trash that I am, into a better understanding of oenophilia. 

Over the last couple of years, my friend Peter (who collects wines), has been generous enough to share his knowledge and wine with me. So it was with great pleasure I was able to invite him to a barbecue at my place on this coming Sunday with Brett and his wife to enjoy the wine that was coming. 

Last night, Brett sent me an e-mail with a photograph of the wines that he is bringing, so I looked them up on the Internet to find out a bit more about them, to try and gauge what I should cook to go with such wines. 

I never thought I'd ever get to try these wines

I got the shock of my life when I found out more about the wines that Brett is going to be bringing along. 

The wine is worth at least twice as much as the guitar and one of the bottles, the 1992 Wendoree Shiraz Malbec is quite rare, and is considered by many to be a spectacular wine.

The 1994 Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz is of such quality and fame that puts it in a price range that I thought I would never ever get to taste.

The 1993 Turkey Flat Shiraz is made from some of the oldest shiraz vines in the world. Apparently, the original Shiraz vines in France were wiped out by phyloxia (a nematode) , and that modern French shiraz vines have been grafted to the root stock of a native American variety of grape from the Mississippi region.  Which is ironic because the nematodes were first brought to Europe from America. It seems that the French had to import their current shiraz vines from here in Australia, South Africa and South America.

As I write this, it makes me think about the famous Australian bush walker, Paddy Pallin, who once said, something along the lines of, “if you know the names of a few trees, when you look at the bush, it’s not just bush any more”. I’m starting to feel that way about wine, in that the more I know about it, the more interested I become in it and therefore, the more I enjoy and think about it when I drink it.

So to make sure that I do justice to Brett’s generosity in sharing his fabulous wines (that I don’t deserve), I will be going out and buying the absolute best piece of meat to barbecue for us this Sunday. Probably the best meat to barbecue (I have a kettle style Webber barbecue that burns charcoal) that you can buy here in Sydney would be a whole Scotch fillet of organically grown, aged Angus beef.

I can’t wait, and pictures of our bacchanalia will follow!

Here’s a video of the band (The Smokin’ Crocs) that Brett plays bass in.

[youtube kGH1oJs6VSY]

Some things I made 10 years ago.

When I was in design college my class was given an assignment to make a piece of  jewellery in a presentation box that could be given from a representative from one country to another.  We were all asked to pull a country’s name from a hat.  I got Poland.

The assignment required that we all some research about the country we were given.

I knew nothing about Poland before I did my assignment and I was really amazed at how bloody and troubled Poland’s history had been. Being between Germany, Sweden, France and Russia has been a curse for the Polish people and it’s amazing that Poland has lasted over the centuries.

The jewellery is made up of various symbols from Polish history. I made the brooch in a rough manner so it would like something made by the common person. I wanted it to communicate that it was a heartfelt gift from one people to another people and not some meaningless bauble from one dignitary to another. 

The background cross comes from a medieval knight’s belt and is made from titanium representing the strength of the Christian faith in Poland. The silver wings are from 17th century cavalry armour when Poland had the best cavalry in Europe and they represent the Polish fighting spirit. The amber in the middle has been fashioned to look like an electrical resistor and represents the Polish resistance to the Soviet Union.

The box is covered with red shellac to represent all the blood that has been spilt and the names around the opening are the names of battles where the Poles have been triumphant. I tried to give the whole thing a medieval look, as though it is the reliquiae of the Polish spirit that has been kept safe through all that Poland has gone through and suffered.

We also had to produce a background poster to go behind the jewellery when it was displayed at the end of the year.

The roller-coaster at Luna Park, St. Kilda, Melbourne, Vic. Australia

On my recent trip to Melbourne I passed Luna Park (an old amusement park opened in 1912) in St. Kilda on the way to Acland Street and I thought it might be good to get a photo of the entrance.

The entrance to Lunar Park in St. Kilda

As I walked through the car park along the side of Luna Park I noticed the wooden roller coaster and how unsafe it looked (to my untrained eyes at least). Quite a few of the upright timbers of the supporting structure looked as though they were beginning to split. The ends of the many of the cross members were rotting and the bolts fastening them to the uprights appeared to be fairly rusty. I took a few pictures and I can assure you that most of the timber work where I stood looked like what  you see in the three photos below.

The timberwork of the Lunar Park roller coaster

I didn’t have to hunt around to get these shots, they were in plain view as there were so many choices of ratty looking timberwork to choose from.

When I was a kid I thought that those old style roller coasters were dangerous and I didn’t like going on them because I feared that they’d fall apart when I was on them. After looking at the roller coaster at Luna Park, I wouldn’t get on one even if a gun was held at my head.

Long time no post

It’s a long time since I’ve posted to this blog.  The reason for this is because I have been preparing my house for sale and I’ve been overseas for five weeks. 
It took me about a month of my free time to replace the rusted handrail on my lower balcony and the rotted balustrade of my upper balcony.
This first picture shows the rusted out lower balustrade.


This next picture shows the balustrade that I made out of wood.


One of my wife’s co-worker friends, Jade,

Jade and Engogirl

 who was born in Malaysia, invited us to her wedding in Kuala Lumpur.  My wife and I try to go overseas at least once a year, so we thought we’d take this opportunity to do a bit of travelling in South East Asia.
Since we were going all the way to Malaysia, we thought we might as well, visit Vietnam and Thailand as well. Needless to say, a 5 week trip overseas takes a little organising and I had work commitments so I had no time to make posts to this blog for the last couple of months.
So over the next couple of weeks I will be making many posts concerning our travels.

Razzbuffnik with Engogirl at Jade's wedding