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 🙂



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…







Weekend in a Yurt

We left on Friday evening to go to the coast for the weekend and stayed in a yurt! The yurts remind me of the trekkershuts that I camped in when I go to Belgium, they are cheap to rent out at ~$40/night, and are super cozy. The drive out west was gorgeous as we got to see the sun set. I also had a little bit of fun playing around with a fish-eye lens.




The yurts were impressive





The next morning, we had brunch at a restaurant on the beach and spent time soaking in the forest air.





Currently pondering: creative vs. distributive work

Economic life is a mix of creative and distributive work. Creative work is defined as creating something (a tangible good, or idea) that adds to the total available for all to enjoy while distributive work is defined as work that takes goods or services that would otherwise be available to others and therefore comes at their expense.  Successful societies maximize the creative and minimize the distributive. Societies where everyone can only achieve gains at the expense of others are by definition impoverished. (See Roger Bootle’s The Trouble with Markets)

“This distinction between creative and distributive activities applies in today’s society. Consider the doctor tending to a patient or the midwife helping to deliver a baby. Everything they do is creative rather than distributive.

Or consider the marketing executive for a washing powder manufacturer. Her job is pretty much purely distributive. It is to do her best to ensure that her company sells more washing powder than its rivals. If she succeeds, the rewards will be greater for her and her company. But her success will be mirrored by other companies doing badly. Her contribution is purely distributive. Most jobs are a mixture of the creative and distributive. And society needs a mixture.”

just an interesting thought/book.


Setting up shop

Portland isn’t really ‘home’ for me quite yet. I’ve been so overwhelmed with my new job, acclimating to the weird geography, and making new friends that I’ve neglected to make my living space, well, liveable. Really, my living room floor has practically been serving as a huge shelf!


Since apartment-living is transitory in nature, I didn’t want to splurge on pricey furniture. However, I really love furniture made of solid natural materials and I didn’t want to go the cheapo MDF route. So, instead I went to IKEA and bought the TARVA dresser made of solid unfinished pine (on sale!):


I didn’t need a dresser so much as I needed a shelving unit to hold my books/record player/etc. So I decided to make a shelving unit out of the wood (with the help of Atelier 4|5 of course)


Even after loading up the shelves with books, I still have managed to have boxes of books lying around. When will the boxes stop appearing!?!



At least I was able to unpack a bit, and get rid of several boxes.



And now I have a ton of space to dance any way I want in my living room.


Christmas 2013

I normally spend Christmas in Houston with my parents. Traditionally when I go home, much of the holiday is spent fixing my parents computer problems. After that happens, we all go to an Indian buffet and then in the late afternoon, my dad falls asleep on the couch while the rest of us watch It’s a Wonderful Life. This year, after balking at flight prices ($700 RT to Houston!?!?), I decided to stay in Portland for the holiday…


Yesterday was slackalicious. I stayed in my PJs until noon, read Tina Fey’s book Bossypants, spent an hour picking M&Ms out of trail mix, and attempted to make sense out of the mess that is my apartment (yeah, I still need to unpack).
In the late afternoon, I rode my bike to Chinatown and ate at a Chinese buffet. Not bad at all.


Christmas Eve 2013

Yesterday, I cut out of work early and headed over to Camas, Washington to eat dinner with the Wakemans on Christmas Eve. The food was delish, I think Joel’s mashed potatoes qualify as the best mashed potatoes I have ever eaten!


MIranda has excellent fashion sense. Red corduroy pants… like me! 😉


Gingerbread house-making station. A lot of sugar/egg white binding agent was used!


Setting the table.


Tree. With Joel’s hand-made star to top it off!


Dano, posing with part of the octahedron of a gingerbread house.


Engineers doing some serious teamwork



I think I’ve eaten enough calories to last me until next year. Hope you’re having a wonderful holiday!



Holiday party. Or, how I got a frisbee.

My friend Lena hosted a  White Elephant gift exchange/holiday party yesterday.
Lena is awesome.

In this type of gift exchange, each participant supplies one wrapped gift. The gifts are placed in a central location, and participants determine in what order they will take turns selecting them. The first person opens a wrapped gift and the turn ends. On subsequent turns, each person opens a new present and gets the choice to keep that present or to “steal” another person’s unwrapped gift. When a person’s gift is stolen, they swap gifts with the person who is stealing their gift. The game is over when the last person has taken their turn

Gifts are typically inexpensive, humorous items or used items from home. The term white elephant refers to a gift whose maintenance costs exceed its usefulness.

party01 party02

Somehow, I ended up with a frisbee. Reminds me of my old undergrad days playing late-night ultimate on the lawn of the capital or in the quad. Good times.


The Portland Saturday Market

In an attempt to find last minute gifts for the holiday, I ventured out on my bike to the Portland Saturday Market for the first time. There are a lot of independent/local artists that make various handicrafts, but, there is an awful lot of junk as well.

sat01sat02sat03 sat04



I’ve been such an old lady lately and keep complaining that they don’t make movies like they used to. But the new Spike Jones movie—about a man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his computer—looks really weird and great. I’m crushing on the juxtaposition of Scarlett Johannson’s throaty/non-mechanical voice set as the computer voice-over.
The movie also wins bonus points in my book since one of my fave bands, Arcade Fire, wrote the original score for the movie!

I’ve a bit of a confession as well… I think I may be in love with computers, especially after getting my new smart phone last week. I’m hooked! Now if only I weren’t so absentminded, and could keep track of all the apps without getting confused. D’oh!

Anyway, I’ll be staying warm, cozy, and out of the rain this weekend to catch this movie.
Have a lovely weekend!