…well into the second 5 year mission!

Author Archive

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

In late April, I was browsing the internet. On Wimp.com I found an interesting clip.

Puzzle Box clip

I thought it looked like something fun to do, which I could give as a Christmas present to a few people. I headed to a place that sold hardwood, and spent a pile of $$ to get a pile of wood, including American Walnut, Maple, Birch, Alder, Monkey Pod, Peruvian Walnut, and a few others. I planned the project and, in late May, I began cutting the first box, using American Walnut for the top and Monkey Pod for the base.

Almost a month later, I was finally able to slide the top onto the base. The joint was terrible, with gaps of up to 1/8” in width. The problem was that I was unable to see where the piece was jamming.

I have done a fair amount of hand cut dovetail work. When I do one of those, I cut the joint too tight, then shave away the pieces that overlap, until the joint closes. On the puzzle box, the points of contact were buried inside the box. I could not tell if the jam was happening on the left or the right, at the end or in the middle. So, I shaved and sanded, shaved and sanded, until I got it together.

It was so bad that I was going to throw it out, but I set it aside to think about it. With a little inspiration, I went out and got a bunch of paper type nail files. I put one in one of the 4 slot sides and closed the box until the box began to press on the nail file, then I worked the nail file back and forth, sanding the pieces where they were binding. I also cut a long piece of wood at the same side slope as the slots. I laminated some sandpaper to it and used it like a file to make the surface cut by the nail file more uniform. I worked all four sides this way until I had a joint that seemed nearly uniform in its 1/8” gap. I then took a piece of the Peruvian Walnut and planed it down to a 1/8” thickness and glued it in place as a shim.

The fit still was not good, certainly not to my usual standard, but it was better, maybe acceptable. I cut out the interior, put on the base, and began sanding, 5 full weeks after starting the work.

I decided not to do any more puzzle boxes.

BUT – I had all this wood. So, I made another, more conventional box, with standard dovetail corners. Joinery time, 2 days. That was fast enough that the two pieces could be varnished at the same time.

Emily Maya unfinished boxes

About this time, I saw some pics of turquoise being used as a filler for cracks in walnut. I liked the look, so I did initials filled with turquoise for the recipients.

A word about the finish… I did a hand rubbed varnish finish. The way this is done is a thin coat of varnish is applied and allowed to dry. Sand most of it off, then do another coat. Repeat until the pores and grain in the wood is completely filled. You know this when the sanded surface no longer has any shiny spots showing. On the walnut, that took about 4 coats. On the maple used in the second box, it took 3 coats. The monkey pod was at 7 coats before it came up uniform.

When the finish is filled and completely smooth, do a final coat. Let it dry thoroughly, then sand using progressively finer wet/dry sandpaper, starting with 600 grit and working down to 7000 grit. Finally, using a wet felt pad and rottenstone, do the final rubbing to bring up the shine.

Yep – the finish takes a lot of time and effort, but the result is so far beyond a brushed or sprayed finish that it simply is not comparable. It would be like comparing the coarsest burlap to the finest silk. The surface feels like glass to the touch.

Emily Maya boxes done 2017-07-07_1a

By the time I was completing the finish, I was planning a box for my niece. I had gotten some wood from another woodworker that he called zemboli (that’s phonetic – I have no idea of the actual spelling, and was not able to find it on the internet). To me, it looks sort of like zebrawood. I decided to use it to make a box with a bookfold joint. This is done by splitting a board in two, making the edges perfect, and gluing the two pieces together so it looks as if you have opened the board like you open a book.

So, I started with a board.

Elena box board

I cut pieces to the length I needed and split them.

Elena 1 wood 6.05.05 PM

Elena 2 box_5

It worked. I did two of those, one for the top and one for the bottom. I added maple and walnut trim on the top to create a flange and to dress it up a bit. I then did the sides with a traditional dovetail and put the sides and bottom together.

Box joined

Time for the finish.

Elena Finished_0

Elena Finished_1

Next piece – I did a Yin and Yang symbol for a couple for whom it would have some meaning.


I then did a plaque with an inlay of Kokopele, the southwestern native American god often called the flute player or the giver of life, as a gift for my nephew.


I did a Christmas tree ornament for another friend, and had leftover wood but no ideas.


By now, it was the latter part of August. I interrupted my woodworking efforts long enough to see something special.

Eclipse 2017-08-21_23

I still needed ideas, and had none. I wanted to give my sister-in-law something using a remarkable wood called purple heart. It was given to me by that woodworker in Wyoming. It is beautiful, a rich, natural purple in color, is very hard wood, is hard to work, and is hard to finish. I finally got a suggestion to make a USB charging station for her, and realized this was it – it would be something both attractive and useful, and I had the skills and tools to make it happen.

I cut the wood and did the joinery – some of the best dovetailing I have ever done. I began the finish. For some unknown reason, something about the varnish, the wood or the brushes, on coat number three, the varnish would curdle.

USB finish 1

I would sand it off and start again, only to have it happen again and again. After about 4 tries, I finally got the sides and top to be not perfect, but acceptable. The bottom was another story. As a sizable flat surface, any flaws really stood out. I was running out of time, and what I was getting was simply not acceptable. I sanded the bottom down to raw wood and began applying coats of lacquer spray finish. I did three coats and let them dry for two days, then sanded and did two more coats. After fine sanding, the result was pretty good, but there were five small spots, either from bubbles or dust, that I was not happy with.

You can’t apply lacquer over varnish. The solvents will cause the varnish to wrinkle. BUT – you can put varnish over lacquer. I brushed on a coat of varnish to fill and hide those air bubbles.

It curdled.

In desperation, I scrubbed the varnish onto the surface, rather than doing slow, smooth strokes. I then finished with the long smooth strokes to remove the thousands of tiny air bubbles I had created with the scrubbing. It worked.

USB finish 1a

For a while. I began rubbing out the finish. It looked great. A few days later, wrinkles began to appear in the varnish.

USB finish 2

USB finish 3

I rubbed them out. Again, after a few days, more wrinkles showed up. I figured out that the lacquer was still off-gassing its volatiles which, on reaching the varnish, caused the finish to pucker and wrinkle. The only option was to sand off all the varnish and rub the lacquer. If I sanded too much, I would hit raw wood and have to start over. If I didn’t get the varnish off, it would wrinkle again.

On November 15, with great relief, I finally finished the USB charging station.

USB Station final

USB Station final 2

It was a satisfying way to spend my summer.


The Magnificent Spectacle

I learned of the Great American Eclipse of 2017 in New Mexico in 2014 from my camp host, an amateur astronomer.  He provided me with information including links that helped me plan.  Most of all, he urged me to plan ahead for a place to stay, because everything was going to fill up.

I began to plan.  Depending on my physical assets, I had a number of locations in mind.  Closest to home was a Forest Service campground near Smith Rock in Oregon.  My second and third choices were Chickahominey Reservoir and Glass Butte, west of Burns, Oregon. None of them took reservations.

Further to the east, Stanley, Idaho would be a wonderful location but for several things.  First, few of the campgrounds took reservations or had power.  Most had tree cover, wiping out solar power.  Good grocery shopping was over an hour away.  A long stay there thus was problematic.

My next area was the Tetons, and I had a number of locations in mind there.  On the west side was a fishing access west of Driggs, ID.  It had great solar and internet, and very good shopping near by.  There was a dump station within reasonable distance but no fresh water source that I felt safe using.

North of Jackson on the east side of the range was Turpin Meadows Campground, as well as several dispersed camping places.  That area was a bit north of the center path, but well within totality.

My prime area was either of two campgrounds – Atherton Creek, my first choice, and Gros Ventre, my second choice.  I planned my stays in the area so I could get to them 12 days before the event and stay a few days after to avoid traffic.  With the campground host’s help, I wound up at Atherton Creek, taking the last designated campsite that was open.  I couldn’t get MUCH closer to the center path.

0 eclipse

I settled down and waited for the event.

As it drew close, the crowds began to gather.  People were allowed to park and either tent or RV camp in the parking area for the beach and dock.  That wound up tripling the occupancy of the campground above full.  Many more campers were sent 5 miles further up the very rough washboard, winding, narrow road to Crystal Creek and Red Hills Campgrounds.  Gros Ventre was full, and it is a huge campground, stretching more than a mile along the Gros Ventre River.

The day of the event, it looked like the weather would be perfect.  I had two cameras set up on tripods.  My d200 had my 18~200mm lens on it, with no filter.  I planned to use it only during totality.  My d300 had my 150~500mm lens with a solar filter film taped over the lens.  The tape was set up with the ends folded down to make the tape easy to pull off once totality arrived.  I had the d300 set to bracket my shots in increments of 0.7, 5 per set, giving me a fairly good range of exposures without having to do a lot of manual stuff.

Then it was time.  The partial eclipse was pretty cool, watching that the moon obscure more and more of the sun.

Eclipse 2017-08-21_4

Eclipse 2017-08-21_6

Eclipse 2017-08-21_8

I missed a really cool shot.  With he solar filter, it was very hard to see the screen limits.  With each shot, I had to carefully change the camera alignment to get the sun near center frame.  At about 50% coverage, as I am looking through the viewfinder trying to align the shot, an airliner flew across the face of the sun, leaving a contrail.  Had I been 30 seconds faster, I would have had that airliner in the shot.  Oh well, I’m not complaining.

Then, the crescent changed to the diamond ring.  I had peeled off the filter and covered the lens with my hand, so I was ready, and I got the first diamond ring.

Eclipse 2017-08-21_9

Then it was totality.  The corona blazed out, and there were stars in the sky!


Eclipse 2017-08-21_15

Eclipse 2017-08-21_17

Near the end of totality, I had an impulse.  In the darkness, I turned the d200 toward the Tetons, 20 miles to the west, hoping to see them in some light while I was still in deep shadow.  I set the d300 for the next shot and turned back to the d200.  And there it was.

Eclipse 2017-08-21_18a

Immediately, I fired off 2 sets of 5 bracketed shots with the d300, as light bloomed around me, then swung my unprotected camera away from the sun.  What I got was the start of the diamond ring, with a few solar prominences on the edge of the moon,

Eclipse 2017-08-21_20

and finally, a grand diamond ring.

Eclipse 2017-08-21_23

All my life, I have longed to see a total solar eclipse.  On August 21, 2017, my wish came true.  So, thank you, John Leffert, for the heads up, years ago.  Thank you, David, for getting me into a spot where I could settle down and see this.  It was truly thrilling.

Why Oregon?

Quite a few people have asked me why I made Oregon my home.  I note that none of them were Oregonians…  The most beautiful places usually require a bit of walking, but not everything.  Here are a few of my reasons for calling this home.

First, This is where I am camped at the moment.

Lookout CG 2017-05-18_0

In the area, Spring runoff fills the reservoirs.

Blue River Reservoir area 2017-05-19_0

Blue River Reservoir area 2017-05-19_4

… and the streams.

Blue River Reservoir area 2017-05-19_8

… and the springs.

Blue River Reservoir area 2017-05-19_12

When we talk about Oregon green, this is what we mean.

Oregon green 2017-05-19_1

Oregon green 2017-05-19

Best of all, every photo in this post was taken within 50 feet of a road.

A Late Winter/Early Spring Visit To The Tetons

I have seen the Tetons from late May to late September, but never in “winter”.  I decided to change that on my trip north.  My thinking was, I might see some snow on the ground, and this early in the season, it would not be busy, so my chances of seeing bears would improve.

When I got here, the winter look was delightful.

01 Tetons 2017-04-19_3

The skies were pretty overcast, though.  It wasn’t quite what I wanted.  Still, critters were out and about.  The elk herd was moving north, out of the elk refuge.

02 Tetons elk 2017-04-20

Bison were on the road near the Gros Ventre Campground.

03 Tetons bison 2017-04-20_4

And there it was – a male grizzly, on a hillside near Oxbow Bend.

04 Tetons Grizzly 2017-04-19

I continued up to Jackson Lake, where we had been swimming last summer.  Well, I wanted snow…

05 Tetons 2017-04-20_1

Soon thereafter, a bit of mixed blue sky showed up, and I made the most of it.

06 Tetons 2017-04-20_9

07 Tetons 2017-04-20_10

Inspired by friend Jan, I played a bit with the last shot above.  My engineer’s mind wants to make every photo as accurate and realistic as I can, but Jan urged me to just experiment.  So, I took that shot, and adjusted the levels for maximum intensity of white, darkening everything else.

08 Tetons 2017-04-20_10 playing

I like it.

Next day, we had a bit of fresh snow,

09 Tetons fresh snow 2017-04-21_1

and the sky turned blue.  I know these are repetitive, but without an editor, I couldn’t decide what to cut.

10 Tetons 2017-04-22_1

11 Tetons 2017-04-22_2

12 Tetons 2017-04-22_5

13 Tetons 2017-04-22_6

So, the side trip with 4 extra days of driving was worthwhile.  I am really glad I did it.

Revisiting Ken’s Lake

I know – it has been a while since I posted.  I have been taking isolated pics here and there, but nothing that I felt belonged here.

Anyway, I am now on my way north from New Mexico.  I stopped for a few days at Ken’s Lake near Moab, Utah.  With the bike, I was able to get out of the campground.  Just east of the campground is a waterfall that can be seen from my site.  Riding as close as I could get, I set up my tripod.

1 Kens Lake trail 2017-04-15_0

2 Kens Lake trail 2017-04-15_3

The falls seem to just appear, but a bit of rough hiking, which I did years ago, revealed that they come from a drainage tunnel built to divert water to the lake.  Sorry – no pics of that this year.

Further up the hill (about 800 vertical feet) is a 4WD trail.  I went a short distance up it to a rock wall with petroglyphs.

3 Kens Lake petroglyphs 2017-04-14

Below the rock wall, is a nice little waterfall.

4 Kens Lake trail 2017-04-15_7

5 Kens Lake trail 2017-04-15_4

For being in the middle of the desert, this is a pretty interesting area.

Desert Moisture

Wet weather in southern New Mexico is, to me, unusual.  We have just passed a storm system that brought first, a cooling, then two days of wet weather, then the storm cleared leaving cooler weather behind.

The clearing of the storm happened at dusk, with the dramatic clouds, moving east, lit by a setting sun.


The next morning I awoke to see the lakebed, mostly dry, blanketed in white, a soft, smooth surface hiding the lowlands but letting prominent formations peek through.



As the sun began to brush the cloud tops, the smoothness began to change, as if threads were pulling bits of cloud upward.


The surface was quiet, almost unmoving, looking like a photo of stormy seas- still, but showing turbulent currents frozen by the lens.  The photo below is not of the sky.  It is looking down on the sunlit top of the cloud, with the ridge of the background mountain showing in the upper right.


As the sun continued to rise, it pulled the cloud with it, dividing the lakebed from the peaks.




In Search Of Color

My visit to the Colorado National Monument was about the land, physical features.  When I left there, I was searching for color, specifically fall colors.  I revisited the Cimarron CO area.  It had produced well in the past.

A few days of rain later, I was having my doubts.  Then, just at sunrise one morning, with more storm clouds coming in from the west, I woke to see this out my back window.


OK, it wasn’t the color I was looking for, but it was nice, plus, one of the benefits of this lifestyle is that it is easy to be patient.  As the stormy weather cleared, it began to look like my wait might be rewarded.  That evening, the view to the west looked like this.


The color was definitely coming.  The next morning, there was more color in the campground.


Jim, Kathy and I went up to the area east of Owl Creek Pass.  We were rewarded for the drive with wonderful color.







I can now head for New Mexico, having seen the golden aspens in full color.


Wandering about in the afternoon

Every hour, the light changes in Colorado National Monument.  Yesterday, I did a late morning wandering.  Today, I went to the south end in the early afternoon.


The sign said, “Winding Road”…


These look small in the photos, but I assure you – it is grand.


Pedaling my A** Around Town – NOT

No need to pedal, and no town, but the bike is a lot of fun here.  I am at Colorado National Monument.  I’m not doing trails with the bike, but the road, in most areas, has no safe place to stop a car for a photo.  With the bike, I am able to stop almost anywhere and get the pic I want.  So yeah, I’m having fun!


By the way, there are cars in the below pic – above the cliffs, just to the right of center…


Stormy Weather – FINALLY!

It has been dry, dry, dry in the northwest.  That is finally starting to change.  We had a storm front come through midday today.

Stormy weather 2016-09-04_0

In the distance there was some lightning.  Up close, some of the peaks looked like volcanoes fuming in anger.

Stormy weather 2016-09-04_1

Mid-storm, we got some hail.  Yep, that’s what those white blurs and streaks are.

Stormy weather 2016-09-04_2

It began to pass – all too soon, returning sun to the east face of Mount Moran.  We need a LOT more rain.

Stormy weather 2016-09-04_4

It left us with the familiar range with a crown of clouds – and a bit of ice on the ground.

Stormy weather 2016-09-04_5