Building a 3-legged milking stool…with hand tools!

Woodworking had been taking over my thoughts for a few weeks this past month. Everyday after work, I’d rush into the wood shop only to become somewhat frustrated and overwhelmed. Our latest project assigned by our class instructor, Sterling, was to build a 3-legged milking stool. Easy enough was the thought that first came to my mind (especially after seeing Sterling’s sample stool), but the reality of building the stool (with hand tools mind you) was totally different.

We were given rough milled 13x13x2″ poplar (for the seat of the stool), and 3 legs of poplar that were roughly 2x2x8″ for the legs. The first step in the process was to square all of the boards. Luckily, I got quite a bit of practice in doing this when doing the try square project (which I wrote about previously here.) Once the boards were squared up, we were off, marking the stool in such a way to understand placement of the legs, angles the legs would splay out, and dimensions of the mortises.

then we sawed, chiseled, and hammered away:


Too many hours in the shop later, I ended up with this:



I was able to get the tenons to fit into the mortises, however there were still gaps between the edges. To add a bit of flair, highlight the flaws (I wanted to prove that I indeed made the stool entirely by hand of course), and impress people, I added a few wedges of walnut on the edges of the tenon to fill in the gaps.

Overall, I appreciate the aesthetic of the stool, and I think that this idea for a first major beginner project was good. I learned a lot of techniques, I only wished I’d have had more time to work on it. As you can see, there is a bit of wood tear out around the mortises (this can obviously be fixed with a bit of surface planing), and the bottom of the stool shows the edges of the mortises (ideally, the area around the tenon would hide this part). But, I suppose that is why God made wood putty 😉







In the end, despite all the imperfections, I’m rather proud of my stool, because I made it mostly by hand, and because it is an awful lot of work. I’ll likely go back into the shop soon and sand down the edges, and plane away the tear out to make it more aesthetically pleasing.
Now, I only need to find something to do with it, since I don’t see myself milking cows again any time soon. 😉

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Woodworking 101: Handtools, try-squares, and try, try again

I don’t think I realized how much of a ‘builder’ or ‘tinkerer’ I am since I left grad school. Now that I’m transitioning out of doing my own research and doing things with my own hands, I find myself jonesing to make and build. I think it is a part of my nature, my mother even tells me so by recounting stories from my childhood where I would spend hours building puzzles, making art, and playing with Erector sets. I’m older now, yet all of this still excites me. Strangely enough, my engineering job keeps me away from doing much tinkering, so I decided to branch out…

It all started when months, after living in an apartment with hardly any furniture (I’ve put off buying any because IKEA puts me off, and the fine furniture I admire puts my wallet off), I thought it might be nice to build furniture of my own. I naively signed up to take a woodworking class at the Oregon College of Art and Craft; it was a 10 week class focused on hand tools, and taught by a really passionate instructor, Sterling Collins (you can see his professional work here). The class started off slow (at least in my own mind), I mean, we did spend an entire class learning how to sharpen chisels, but I’m glad I got to get started in the craft with hand tools as opposed to power tools. I feel like I was able to gain a solid appreciation for the craft, an intuitive feel for the wood, and I think there is something beautifully primitive in being ‘one with the wood’. Don’t get me wrong, it is tough work, my arms got quite the workout initially, but over time, this was an incredible experience.

Practicing sharpening chisels.Way more important than I ever would have thought!

One of things I really enjoyed about the class was that we actually made a try-square (a measuring device)…by using our hand tools! It was challenging to get the angle to be flat and a perfect 90 degrees, but it was such an accomplishment when all was said and done. I learned how to use a saw (it takes more skill than you’d think), how to carve a mortise to a tenon, and how to put pins in for added stability. 




Finally, I used a coping saw to add a bit of flair to the end of the try-square. This try-square was made after this model. I’d been reading a lot of literature on hand-tools (what’s worth buying, techniques, etc), and Chris Schwarz books and ethos have really spoken to me. He has written much on the beauty of making one’s own tools and he is a strong advocate of using hand tools. He is apparently visiting Portland in April, I’m hoping to find time to make it to one of his workshops!

Until then, I suppose I’ll admire my finished try-square 🙂


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Brain fart Friday: Thoughts on Leadership, Courage, Single-tasking, & Online Garbage

It is the day after Thanksgiving and I’ve eaten my weight in green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, quiche, and pumpkin pie. The post-Thanksgiving lethargy has me ruminating over several thoughts that I thought are worth noting here.

It all started on the topic of leadership. It’s been on the forefront of my mind lately, not because I’m in any particular leadership role (in fact, I left my previous role that was ‘leadership-heavy’ to take on a less stressful gig), but because now that I find myself in a position where I’m not having to make substantial decisions I feel rather ordinary.

I’d venture to say that most educational institutions (and the way I was conditioned to think), teaches us that leadership involves being able to climb that greasy pole of whatever hierarchy one decides to attach themselves to (i.e. partner in a law firm, physician in practice, head of ____ bureaucracy). My Alma Mater’s catch phrase is ‘What starts here changes the world’… it is almost as if their mission is about educating people who can then make a big name for themselves in the world, people with impressive titles, people the university can brag about.

This definition of leadership that I was conditioned to believe is no longer how I define leadership (otherwise, everyone with a college education would be ‘leading’). In fact, I feel that the formulaic and homogenized upbringing of the American millenial has caused us to become complacent, and that for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going.

What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of exper­tise. What we don’t have are leaders. This is why I quit graduate school.

Now, I’m thinking about courage and how leadership so gracefully segues into such a word. Because it seems that what makes people thinkers—and leaders – is precisely having the ability to think things through for oneself. Because when you do this, you develop the confidence, the courage, to argue for your ideas even when they aren’t popular. Even when they don’t please your superiors.

So true leadership means being able to think for yourself and act on your convictions.
Q: How then does one think?
A: Not by multitasking.

Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Not learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information, however much those may sometimes be useful. Developing your own ideas. In short, thinking for yourself. This is why I no longer own a television (why should I allow Hollywood and the likes of a handful of ad execs influence my decision making), and why I should probably get off the internet.

But I can’t give up the internet. Because unlike books that stand against the conventional wisdom of today simply because they’re not from today, the internet is interactive and I like to read the silly comments section in the Atlantic and Circuit 😉


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A couple of my faves visit!

My favorite Belgian and Norwegian crossed the pond and I got to spend a few days with them!
I managed to leave work a bit early on Friday (Labor day weekend score), and met up with them at SEE SEE’s Coffee and Motorcycles (a quirky coffeebar across the street from my apartment that I’d previously been to only once).

One of the things I love about having visitors is that I can actually take the time to see the city I live in from a tourist’s perspective). Now, I know why so many tourists come and visit this city. Since it was later afternoon, we headed over to happy hour at Noble Rot to get a nice view of downtown Portland, and then decided to head elsewhere for dinner.

Division street’s many restauraunts left us with a great decision. Ultimately, we decided to have dinner at the Roman Candle Baking Company. I’m not thrilled with the pizza they make (neither were my guests), but the appetizers are great, and the ambiance of the patio can’t be beat. SE Portland makes a great setting for people watching!


After dinner we headed next door to Salt and straw for some exotic flavored ice cream. The Europeans thought the queue for ice cream was photo-worthy.


Good first night in PDX.


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Trip to Astoria and Cape Disappointment

Summertime in Portland can’t be beat. The sun is always shining, the skies are blue, and the nature is magnificent. A friend and I decided to take advantage of the great weather and a free weekend by making a spontaneous trip out to the coast!

We left Portland early on empty stomachs, so our first priority was to find a cozy brunch spot. Fortunately, one of Astoria’s brunch hot-spots was waiting our arrival. I decided to try out the veggie ratatouille.



From the restaurant we were able to see great views (including this one of the Astoria bridge)


Our waitress kindly reminded us that Hood to Coast (one of the largest relay races in the world) was happening this weekend which would surely back up traffic in Oregon. So we got in the car and crossed the bridge to go to Cape Disappointment state park in Washington.



We first walked along the long stretch along the coast that is Benson beach. It was nearly empty, with some kite enthusiasts flying their handmade kites, dogs running with their owners, and TONS of driftwood. I could totally see myself camping out in a fort of driftwood!




After walking on the beach for a few hours we decided to check out Waikiki beach a few miles away. From there, I was able to get a great view of the lighthouse, and we layed out on the boulders with water brushing up to the rocks.



There is something about the sound of water and the feel of my toes in the sand that is so incredibly relaxing. I’ll definitely be going on more coastal adventures!


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Alexander’s fourth birthday

Last weekend was Alex’s fourth birthday. I can’t believe how big that little man is growing up to be. Since I’m now one of Alex’s best friends (number 8… he told me), I was invited to the happening party that was Frozen themed (Frozen is a Disney princess-type movie) I love how Alex’s likes are so gender neutral. He likes what he likes.

I’ve never been around so many kids in the same room at once. One thing that surprised me is how much energy little kids have. They just ran around and swam in the pool. For hours. haha

I decided to get Alex a Spiderman watch with a Velcro strap (so he could put it on all by himself), and a wooden toy clock so he could learn how to tell time analog-style.

and of course, there was cake and ice cream!




Happy birthday little dude!


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Foster the People and NONONO at McMenamin’s Edgefield

Last Saturday I got a surprise wake up call from my friend Erica, asking if I’d be up to go to a concert at an outdoor venue. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of going to yet another outdoor music festival (I’m getting too old for this) until I found out Foster the People was playing (one of the bands that’s been on repeat in my studio lately), and that they were playing at McMenamin’s Edgefield (basically a playground for adults in Troutdale). I managed to get a last-minute ticket for the sold-out show off Craigslist, and boom I was in.

Before heading out, we hit up ROOST for brunch. If there is one thing Portland knows, it is how to do brunch. ROOST is quite possibly my favorite brunch place in this town.


Afterwards, we headed over to McMenamin’s Edgefield, indulged in a glass of wine and pizza, and checked out the opening act, NONONO, a band from Sweden with the popular song ‘Pumping Blood’ that you’ve probably heard on the radio a few hundred times. They were awesome live, the lead singer is stunning to watch.


Next up was the main event. Mark Foster is incredible live. Foster the People knows how to do catchy, they do it so good. Erica and I could hardly stop dancing.



Not bad for a random Saturday,


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Berry picking on Sauvie Island

Last weekend Santia, Steph, Alex and I headed out to Sauvie Island to go berry picking. We were able to get the season’s last remaining blueberries and buckets of blackberries. Looks like I’ll be having blackberry smoothies for the next several months…







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Memorial Day at the Rose garden

My friend Nancy and I decided to head over to Washington Park and check out the International Rose Test Garden. Portland sees a lot of rain, luckily the gloomy days aren’t for nothing, they yield these beauties!







There were so many varieties of roses, and by the end of the afternoon, I couldn’t smell much other than sweetness.
Happy was ecstatic to romp about in the bushes and was quite muddy in the end.


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When mum comes out here to visit, I’ll definitely be taking her here. I also got the fantastic idea to do the 4T trail.
I’m loving the PDX summer already!


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Goldendale, WA

Last weekend, some friends from my women’s group headed a monastery couple hours north to Goldendale, WA for the weekend. It was so beautiful to spend time unplugged and in a peaceful environment so secluded that we couldn’t get cell reception even if we tried. I really enjoyed hiking in the woods, communing with friends, and playing with baby goats (my fave!).





Now it is back to reality, and wishing this season of life to be over with.


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