Cherry & Walnut Desk

Twelve or thirteen years ago, I had the thought, I need a desk.  Most rational, and retail-centric individuals would have traveled to a furniture store, engaged in conversation with a salesperson, possibly been convinced of the merits of a particular desk, and subsequently completed the sale with the exchange of money for the promise of a desk being delivered at some later date by two, slightly hungover individuals in a large box truck.

I picked up a wood working magazine, instead.  It was around this time, with the use of a friend’s wood shop and a couple hours of his time each Tuesday, that I had finished up a queen-sized, Mission-style oak bed frame.  I was hankering for another project.  A desk seemed reasonable.

I did not follow through the reasonable idea of taking ready made plans from a woodworking magazine.  Instead, I used them as a guide for things like height and depth.

You might be wondering, why am I bringing up a project that is over a decade past its completion?  There are a couple reasons.  The first being that I recently disassembled the desk to move it to another room in the house, and the second, and coincidentally, I came across an archive that contained the bulk of my notes, all of the AutoCAD drawings, and a software script (crude, albeit effective) for figuring out some golden ratios with regard to board widths that would constitute the desk’s main surface top.

The disassembly, and reassembly of the desk was interesting to me because it allowed me to better inspect the joints and such, as well as replace the drawer slides on the center drawer.  When we moved to a different house in 2012, and the desk was disassembled, the original drawer slides on the center drawer broke, and the replacement just never really quite worked well, and it did not extend far enough to make the drawer fully useful.

The design and construction of the desk was a bit of rolling effect.  I would design and draft up plans for a side panel or a drawer front, and my friend and I would spend a Tuesday evening jointing, planing and sawing the pieces of wood that would be necessary for that piece.

Shellac to Alcohol Ratios

I spent a lot of time tinkering with AutoCAD.  It was really quite enjoyable, and it allowed me to use some of the drafting skills I had learned while in high school.  During high school, the thinking was that future career plans would be some sort of mechanical or civil engineering, and drafting might be useful.  Education and career track ultimately did not follow the physical engineerings, but wandered down the path of computer science and the engineering of software, but I still feel that all the drafting and CAD I took in high school was well worth the time and effort.

In addition to picking up a legitimate copy of AutoCAD (I was a student at the time, so, I took advantage of AutoDesk’s educational discount program), I picked up a wide body inkjet printer.  This made working with the plans in the shop more readable.

The desk was designed to unassembled from time to time.  The center drawer, with the correct slides, is removable; the desk top can be removed after removing bolts that hold it to angle iron (see photos below) on the inside edge of the top of the drawer assemblies; the front (opposite where you sit) is removable by unscrewing four brass wood screws.  All of the drawers in each side can be removed to lighten the weight; if you are curious, I used Blum full extension slides.  A little bit more about the materials and supplies, I used:  the finish is 4 coats of shellac with several coats of marine grade varnish over the shellac. Twelves out from the finishing coats, and there are no signs of sun damage to the finish.  The wood, cherry and walnut, were from a friend and his family.  He has appeared in many blog posts of the years, from showing up in photos of gardening, snowshoeing into a Minnesota state park, to he and I traveling to arctic Canada, to me chronicling a cross-country road trip to his wedding.  Alas, the supply of cherry, walnut, oak, and others dried up when his parents left Minnesota.  Much of the other wood, like luan plywood and such, that was used in the desk came from local big-box lumber yards.  All of the drawers are also lined with physical stock certificates.  There are certificates for Marquette Cement, Massey – Ferguson Limited, Chemsol Incorporated, as well as dozens of others.  All of these certificates were purchased off of eBay.

Even though the finish on the desk is holding up quite well, the top has had a small bit of damage.  As the wood has continued to dry out, a lengthy crack has appeared in the top.  It is, however, in a location that does not impact functionality.  Aside from the crack, there was some shrinkage that was causing several of the drawers to no longer be aligned quite right.  In order for the drawers be to fully closed, the drawer had be lifted up slightly.  All of these drawer issues were resolved as I reassembled the desk in its new location.

Finally, if you are curious about the plans and possibly making your own fancy, overly complicated desk, the plans (most in PDF, but others in AutoCAD’s DWG format) are linked below.  The plans are released under a BSD-3 Clause like license.

The little bit of clunky software is also linked before; instructions on how to run the perl script are at the very bottom.

 

File: desk-plans.zip (5MB)

File: table_layout.pl_.zip (4KB)

 

About:

table_layout.pl is a simple script that can calculate various
options for construction of a table-top.  It assumes that you want a
wider center board with narrow, even-counted boards on each side of the
center board.

Usage:  ./table_layout.pl --width=FLOAT [--widecnt=INT] [--optimal]

Example:

./table_layout.pl --width=30.75 --widecnt=5

For a table with width 30.3/4" with 5 of the wider center/edge pieces.
The third option, 'opt', will cause table_layout to try to order the solutions
in what it thinks is optimal - this feature is as of yet unimplemented.

Nostalgia

It has been a while since I last posted anything.  July 2017, actually, seems to be the last time I wrote anything here.  I could say that I was busy, which would be true.  But, I certainly had the bits of time – here and there – that would have allowed me to post something had I wanted to do that.  But, thoughts that I wanted share just were not there.

The back half of last year has two large events that standout in my mind.  Both personal, but only one that I feel like sharing.

I graduated.  It is not like I am at the top of my field or anything like that.  I simply happy that I stuck through my graduate program and now I can say, I have a masters degree.

With this task now behind, I have been mulling over many-things-computer lately.  Marveling at how, in the early 1990s when I was I becoming interested in computers, I never really thought much about what exactly I wanted to do or be when I grew up.  I simply liked to tinker.  It was not until I was nearly finished with high school that I thought I would likely pursue computer science.  I really did not know what that was — likely computer programming, I had hoped.  I liked computer programming.  I had first been introduce to computer programming on Apple IIe computers when I was in elementary school, in an after school program for kids who liked math.  I was one of those kids who liked math.  I give much of credit to June Hendrickson for introducing myself and a small cohort of kids in the early 1990s in Hibbing.  I do not know how or whether that after school program influenced the others, but it certainly left an impression on me.

Miss Hendrickson introduced me to polynomial algebra and what was basically a gateway drug for me: Apple BASIC.   It was simple and seemed sort of elegant.  Start your program with 10 HOME and just work your way down the file.  Need to jump back to the beginning?  GOTO 10.  Programming clicked, and it would be the thing I did when I got home school, and it was often the thing I was doing before going to bed.

As it turned out, there was something more visual than just Apple BASIC or QBASIC.  Microsoft, in 1993, released Visual Basic 3.0.  An older friend, who was off at college, picked  me up a copy from the campus bookstore.  A graphic user interface with BASIC?  It was great.  I honestly didn’t realize that it was not great, and there were more powerful programming pieces of software available.  Nonetheless, I spent countless hours making small utilities and other bits of software.  The most memorable thing that I made was a piece of software that effectively calculated Riemann sums for assisting calculations related to curvature of a ballistic trajectory.  Like every 12 year old, I had a fascination with the mathematics of projectiles.  Unbeknownst to myself, I had stumbled upon some foundational concepts of calculus: calculating the area under a curve on a graph.

After Visual Basic, there was Borland C and Visual Studio.  I eventually obtained a shell account with the local internet service provider.  This was my first introduction to Unix and specifically SunOS.  Linux was also, at this point, a few years old.  Slackware was the thing to get.  The same friend who had purchased Visual Basic 3.0 for me, also introduced me to Linux.

There has been more since.  A lot more, and yet, I still have those old habits.  Things computers and things software are often the first thing I think about in the morning, and often the last thing I think about before falling asleep.  Even though my occupation is that of Software Engineer.  I still recreationally program, too.  I still tinker.  That screen shot of Visual Basic 3.0 (above) is from my modern day, current MacBook Pro laptop.  It’s Windows for Workgroups 3.11 running in a virtual machine.

A Small Vineyard

Around nine years ago, I got an inkling to grow grapes.  I do not know exactly what piqued my interested in the subject of growing grapes.  I was not, and still am not much a oenophile.   I will have a glass here and there, and will always be keen for a Malbec or Foch if offered.

We were living in the Duluth, MN, area at the time, and we had limited planting space in our modest quarter-acre yard.   A space maybe four feet wide by thirty feet long; it certainly would not be able to house enough vines to produce enough grapes to make a carboy-worth of wine, it would at least be an experiment.

In late winter, I placed an orderfor a half-dozen Frontenac vines from a place in Iowa.  Frontenac seemed like an interesting varietal.  It had its origins in Minnesota and seemed to have hardiness

that might work in the Duluth area (USDA Zone 3b).  And that was about all I put into which varietal to get.  Nothing

really about the potential type of wine or even consumable juice would be produced.   I really did not care whether it

was white or red, foxy tasty, or any of a host of other characteristics one might want.

The vines arrived, and with the help of a friend, we got them planted.  And we waited.  Over the time we remained in the Duluth area (until May 2012, when we moved), the vines ebbed and flowed with the seasons, dying back to the ground after a particularly harsh winter.  The vines did produce a few clusters of grapes, but nothing more.

…and we moved.

Here in St. Paul, MN, up until last year, we had only planted a few juice/jelly grapes – mostly the varietal Beta With none of these vines producing grapes, yet.  Last year, however, the inkling to plant a small vineyard came back.

In late spring of last year, we cleared a stand of buckthorn and mulberry trees on the north side of our property – behind our house – it’s roughly an area of 1,200 square feet.  The area has a decent amount of sun exposure in the summer from mid-morning to mid-afternoon.  We tilled the soil – mostly to remove the grass, and loosen things up.  Tilling was also useful to loosen the many buckthorn stumps.

In late winter of the previous year, prior to clearing the stand of buckthorns and mulberries, we decided we would grow the varietal Maréchal Foch.  I had recently tried a bottle from a local vineyard, and, as with Ogdan Nash’s poem, Termiteand how the termite tasted it, and found it good [in relation to wood], I tasted the Foch from St. Croix Vineyards, and found it good.

In January of last year, with a bit searching, I located a nursery and vineyard that sells Foch – Aberfoyle Vineyard & Nursery, which happens to be in Minnesota.  I placed an order for 25 potted Foch vines.  More waiting – mostly because it was winter.

With the trees removed, the ground turned over, and most of the stumps gone, we put a relatively simple fence around the space; we have hounds, and hounds are curious critters, and I could see them wandering off with neat bunches of grapes in your mouth.

The potted vines arrived in April of last year, and with the help of my wife and her sister, we got all 25 vines planted, and we waited.

Winter passed, and all the vines survived.  Once the vines had a bit of growth, we put wood stakes in place and loosely tied each vine up.  As an aside, if we were doing this on a larger scale, I would certainly be using grow tubes to train the growth.  On the topic of larger grow operations, the spacing we chose for the grapes would be generally be considered too close.  It would be too narrow for any machinery to be driven down, but with a row length of around 35 feet, I do not intend to drive anything down the rows.  We will have to keep an eye out for issues with air circulation, too, with the rows being somewhat narrow.

With the vines staked, and with a considered amount of growth having occurred since we staked the grapes, it was time to get the posts and wire trellis installed.  Using a two-stroke, single person post hole auger, I set to work on getting postholes made.

We used 12 gauge, stainless steel orchard wire, as well as using one-way wire anchor vises – which, I have to say, are probably the damn coolest device I’ve come across in a while.   We decided upon using a top cordon trellis system, so, there is just one wire, 66″ above the ground.  Generally, two vines from each trunk is brought up (trained) to the top wire, and then it simply grows down the wire.

Time will tell if we are able to produce enough grapes to make a bit of wine.

Spring Trees

It had been quite some time since I last visited the familial plot of land in the northern reaches of the state.  It was likely late January or early February, when I snowshoed in and replaced a lock on the travel trailer.  At the time, the snow was dry and crunchy from the extended period of subzero weather.  Later, during that visit to the north, I snowshoed up a trail to a parcel of land, near the Canadian border, that was for sale.  We did not buy that bit of land – it actually sold later the next week.  But we still have the familial plot of land to tinker with, and tinker we do.

Like years past, we bought trees for spring planting.  Some for in St. Paul, and some for points north.  I like fruit frees – there are so many varieties, they usually look amazing, in the spring, when in full flowers, and with the flowers, the bees love them, too.  More than often, we buy our fruit trees from the Fedco Seed Cooperative in Clinton, Maine.  We have been a member of this coop for years.  I like the quality and variety of the trees.  You might find the common nursery varieties – your honeycrisps and golden delicious, but you will also find Ashmead’s Kernel, Early Redbird, and Frostbite, to name a few.

Last year, we planted five Mesabi cherry trees, three apple trees, and two plum trees on the familial land.  This year, we added five more cherry trees of the North Star variety.  The eventual objective is to have maybe a half-acre orchard of fruit trees.  In addition the flowering fruit varieties from Fedco, each spring, we usually get a trees from county tree sales.  Around the perimeter of this orchard area, my mother also added twenty five flowering crab trees.   We also planted twenty white cedar trees in a low region.

Winter Hive Checkings

A couple weeks ago, on a Sunday, I got out to the beeyard here in St. Paul, I needed to check the hives.  In November of 2016, during the just-before-winter-hive-check, we had two fairly strong hives – they were strong enough and had produced enough honey that we were comfortable harvesting honey from these hives.  We left an ample amount for the bees to use throughout the winter.  The other two hives, however, were not in great condition.  The bees never moved up and beyond the first honey super, and in one of the hives, they had not even filled out that first super completely.  The top deep on each of these two hives was also empty.  After we pulled honey supers from the two strong hives, we wrapped the hives in tar paper, like we have done for many-a-winter-seasons. In addition to the winter tar papering, we have been using insulation boxes with a piece of Homasote board on the bottom of each insulation box, this, in theory, helps absorb excess moisture from the bees.

When I walked into the beeyard, two weeks ago, I had the feeling that things might not be good.  It had been warmer than the usual the last week, and yet, there were no signs of worker bees cleaning the hives out.  Instead, in front of one of the weak-hives was a pile of Homasote chips.  I knew what that meant – mice.

As soon as I took off the outer cover, the smell of urea hit my nose.  Mice.  As I began to tear down the hive, I noticed a small rodent nose poke out of the hive entrance.  It darted back into the confines of the fine – I assume this nose was attached the rest of a whole mouse.  Bending over to get a closer look, it was apparent that metal hive entrances are the way to go – the mice just chewed on the wooden entrance until it was large enough to just saunter into the place.

With the insulation box, honey super, and top brood box off, I was down to the last brood box and bottom board.  This remaining brood box was less frame-and-comb, and more shreds and pieces of Homasote board – soaked in mouse urine with feces mixed in for good measure.  A rapid series of taps on the remaining brood box, and a deer mouse came shooting up from between two loosely clogged frames.  I wondered aloud, if there were more in there?

I lifted off the brood box, and with a shower of daylight, twenty or so mice explode out from the hive, darting this way and that way, over my feet, and across my pant legs.

On to the next hive, I guess.

One other hive had signs of mouse damage in it, but only between two frames.  The bees in that hive, one of the strong hives going into winter, seemed to have gotten above their nearest pocket of honey in a super, and, likely, were caught off guard when the temperatures swung lower.  A similar situation was uncovered in the other strong hive.  A frozen cluster of bees was at the top of the hive – just until the Homasote board.  Plenty of honey remained elsewhere in the hive.

The last hive, one of the poor hives going into winter, had no honey remaining.  What little honey had been produced by the bees, had been all consumed.

This unfortunate happening with all the hives being devoid of bees can be spun into a positive of sorts, I guess.  We have been wanting to get the hives moved for a little while, and this presents itself as an opportunity to more easily deal with that desire.  I spent the rest of the day removing the hive boxes and generally cleaning up the fenced in area.  I also removed the pallets that the hives had been resting on for the last few years – the pallets were getting a bit soft.

The hope is, once the ground thaws, put four concrete pillars into the ground – similar to the base of my previous chicken coop, and build a nice, solid platform for the hives to reside on; make it easier to work around the hives and not be confined by the old chainlink enclosure.

Further South…

A week ago, a couple friends tagged along with me to Racine, MN, where we have just two hives remaining.  We have had hives in Racine for a number of years, and surprisingly, we have on hive that has had bees – through three winters.

The sun was out when we arrived at the farm.  Each of us put on a beesuit, and we walked the short distance from the car to the hives.  I rapidly tap a bit on the first hive, the hive that had made it through three previous winters.  I could hear anything.  Neither could my two friends.  We had the smoker going, just in case the bees were actually there.

The tar paper on these two hives was in shreds.  The wind must have been fierce earlier in the winter.

With the first set of ratchet straps removed, I lifted off the outer cover and insulation box.  The thing that hit me first was the smell.  A live hive has a distinct smell, and this hive had it.  I lifted off the top honey box, and bees began to make their way up.  A peek under the next honey box showed a teaming colony of bees hard at work, in the hive, on a nice sunny day.  The honey boxes also had ample weight left in them, evenly distributed, there was no need to supplement with winter pollen patties (which was great, because I had forgotten them back in St. Paul).

My friend, also named Alex, who was also a beekeeper in Vermont a few years ago, got to work at unclogging the entrance of dead bees.  I started to unstrap the the remaining hive.  Our friend, JP, watched and asked us questions.

The second hive turned out to be even more active than the first.  Removing the insulation box, showed the bees were busy moving about on the south-facing side of the hive.  A quick check on the weight of the two honey boxes showed an ample amount of mostly well distributed honey.  Alex worked to unclog the entrance this hive after he finished up the other hive’s entrance.

With that, we made sure each hive was reassembled with no gaps to let out warmth, or let mice in.  The entrance guards were back in place, and the ratchet straps snug.  We headed back to Minneapolis and St. Paul.