Make: Bookmarks

This one is certainly not my own. I ran across a post on Instructables about making your own bookmarks from scrap wood.

Lacking the appropriate scrap wood, I picked up some 2×2 lengths of hard wood, oak and alder perhaps? Probably $7 in wood. Then I cut my own blanks, cutting the stock to 6 inches and setting the fence to shave off 1/8″.

This is where I learned that a feather board would have been useful since I had some variability in the width of my results. Also, if I didn’t keep a steady push of the wood through the blade, I did end up with some spots that burned rather than cut.

But, it was good enough to start.

The first batch I made was me trying designs, some original, some not as original (if the Keith Haring estate sees one of these below, please let them know I love Keith’s work!).

The next batch was me trying some shapes with the bandsaw and no pen work.

In the end, a fun project and it was fun to let the family pick their favorites.

Note on the shapes: My daughter wanted one of the “spoons”. It’s supposed to be a stylized exclamation point. Somewhere between the physical necessity of connecting the dot at the bottom and the top I appear to have lost the distinction. Or my typography bites. Either is possible.

Make: Jake’s Chair

This is an even older one, but still one of my favorites.

Clear back in 1998, I wanted to build something and the something I came up with was a plan for an Adirondack chair.

At the time, I didn’t have many woodworking tools, so it had to have pretty low hardware requirements. Also, I didn’t want to put lots of money in to it, so something that I could build with reasonably priced wood was a big plus.

Enter Jake’s Chair. Interestingly, if you Google the term, you will find my site in the top 10. But it’s linked more elsewhere.

Basically, it’s a straight forward plan that can be done by a novice.  But, that’s what I needed (and still need).

Back when I did this in 1998 (page here), I did it with cheap pine and I had to buy a router.  When I decided to do the project again here a couple of years ago, I upgraded to clear cedar, which I stained.

One of the best things about this project, aside from the sense of accomplishment, is if something happens, like one of the slats in the seat or stool breaks because of a knot in the cheap pine or a dog chews the armrest on one of the chairs, I can fix it and not have to replace the chair.  And, yes, I’ve had to do both.

The original chair has since been painted, but is still holding up well.  The most recent pair are doing well.

Due to the cost of wood, or at least in these areas if you have to go to your local suburban home improvement store or lumber store, the lumber can be expensive.

If I recall, the last pair and a stool cost me something like $250 in wood, hardware and stain.  And my time, of course.  So, it’s likely cheaper to just buy one when you see one you like.  But, there really is something to be said for the knowledge that you *made* what you’re sitting in on a warm summer evening.  And, that if something happens, you can fix it.

I’d love to make six or eight of them to give as gifts, but not enough to pay the money for material and/or the multiple weekends I have to spend on the project.  Then delivery to the various friends and family.  So, for now, I have the only three that I’ve built.

Here’s pics of the latest pair after completion.  This is before staining and sealing.

Make: Sun Jars

This is an older one, but I liked the results and I think it was a pretty keen project.

Inspiration for this was an article on Instructables about Sun Jars.

At the time I saw the article, I was looking for a Christmas gift project and this seemed like a good fit.

The original article used some tracing paper and glass frosting spray to achieve the effect, but I thought that might not hold up well, so I wanted to try something else.

Additionally, I couldn’t find the Ikea jars mentioned.

My start was a trip over to my home products store to see if I could find a comparable jar.  I did find one that I thought would suit, but could only find a couple at that store and I knew my goal was a dozen for gifts.

A total of three stores and some gas later I had my dozen jars.


Next step was to head off to my local home improvement store in search of solar outdoor lights.  I traveled with jar in hand because I had to figure out if the light, when modified, would fit in the lid of the jar.

I ended up with a couple sets of lights that looked like they’d do the trick


Since I was only interested in the solar part: the panels, the rechargeable battery and light, much of the rest of the light was unnecessary to the project.


Next step was to take them home and “modify” them to fit my jars.  This was done thought the wonders of a Dremel tool.

A word of warning here: I’m not convinced, in retrospect, that this was the brightest or most effective way to go, but it worked.  There was a lot of bits of cut black plastic all over after I was done.  Cleanup took a while.  But the result looked like it was going to fit just fine in the jar.

The next step was to try and figure out how to frost the glass in the way I imagined.  I looked in to the spray but didn’t like the look on the glass.

I also thought about the paper route, but was ultimately unsure it would hold up or last.

In the end I went over to my local craft store and purchased a nasty chemical concoction whose sole purpose it to etch the glass.

While this worked, it’s a pretty caustic mix, being mostly acid and some grit.  The effect, though, was more or less what I wanted so I went with it.

The final interesting challenge was how to attach the modified lights to the lid in the jar.  While it fit pretty well, I needed something to seal it.  My initial attempt was simply electricians tape.  It looked fine and I figured the close fit would be sufficient.

After a few more hours work, I had completed the project and was very happy with the results.

Final Sun Jar
Final Sun Jar

Update: It’s been two years since this project and I have more insight in to how the end result holds up.

Two things I’ve learned:

1. The jars don’t like to be jostled and knocked about, like if they are left on a porch or dropped off a porch railing.  The batteries are likely to pop out and require taking the jar apart to fix.

2. The second thing I learned is that after a winter outside, electricians tape really gets kind of gross and loses it’s effectiveness.  Note, this may be limited to cheap tape, I’m not sure.  Ditto duct tape.  Next I tried clear silicone.  It stays less rigid, but doesn’t hold things together that well.  My latest attempt was automotive gasket sealer and while that worked pretty well, it’s still subject to some wear.

3. The jars are also not sealed since the jar seal had to come out to get things to fit.  This can result in condensations and/or water getting in the jar.  Nice effect, perhaps, but not the intended presentation.

That’s it.  After two years, I’m still pretty happy with the results of this project.

On Creativity and Storytelling

My nephew asked me recently to look at a story he’s writing and give some feedback and asked if I had any advice about writing.

While by no means what I consider to be a writer, I had a few things to share that I thought worthy.

The first question was what makes a writer.

I don’t recall where I ran across this or if it was phrased this way (a bit of googling failed to turn up a quick answer), but here’s my favorite definition:

Writers write.

It’s short.  It’s two words!  But, it’s also a true thing.  Writers write.  You are a writer if you write.  You write, therefore you are a writer.

If you want to add all sort of qualifications, you can.  Things like “professional” or “paying” or “talented” can always be placed before “writer” as achievements or judgements or justification or decoration, but none of them alter the basic truth: Writers write.

Same, of course, can be said of most creative endeavors: Writers write.  Painters paint.  Potters pot (not entirely sure that’s a viable verb here – ah, yes, agrees that it’s a decent enough verb).

This is my own observation: The distinction between where you are today and where you could be in the future is mostly hard work, with a strong dash of good luck.

I recently ran across a set of YouTube videos by Ira Glass (This American Life) on story telling and, more generally, how to improve your craft, be it story telling, writing, painting or nearly any creative endeavor.

For those who don’t know Mr. Glass, he, along with a number of very talented contributors, does radio stories.  Definitely worth listening to.  He has also recently branched out to a video version of the same idea on Showtime.  At the end of the day, though, he’s telling stories.

Go to you tube, search for “Ira Glass on Storytelling”.  There are four of them.  About 20 minutes total.  Watch them, pay attention to them, listen like someone is handing you free gold, because that’s what it is.

[Note: Linked below]

The third section has a critical lesson: Being good at something takes time and practice.  Don’t give up!  Keep producing, preferably on a deadline.

Gordon, a good friend of mine, states is slightly differently: We get better at the things we practice.
Obvious, perhaps, but still an important realization.  Talent will give some people a head start, but the reality is, the vast majority of us can get far, far better than we are at whatever we set our minds to if we practice.

My daughter is doing some videos on YouTube.  Mostly for friends, but obviously anyone can watch them.
They’re not all good, but some of them are.  She’s also getting better the more she does, whether we’re talking editing or presentation.  But, regardless, she is creating.  And practicing.  With time, if she keeps doing it, she’ll get better.  Or, as Ira Glass talks about in the third video, she’ll begin to close the game between what she envisions and what she can create.

That last is a really powerful idea and it’s one that is worth reiterating.  Lots of people have ideas.  Not all good, but ideas.  They want to write something, make something, dance, sing.  What keeps many people from doing that is that they picture the end result and they look at where they are now and they don’t know how to close the gap.

The short answer is: practice.  Like most things in life, there aren’t shortcuts, only hard work.

Much of writing (or painting or singing or dancing) is mechanical.  The rules, the structures, plotting, dialog.  Those are all things that can be learned and can be improved.

Does that mean you will end up as a top selling author/artist/singer/dancer?  Perhaps not, but if you could get 90% there on hard work, I think many of us, perhaps most of us, would be pretty happy and would be able to create what we see in our heads, or at least come close and enjoy the process!

Ira Glass: On Story Telling #1

Ira Glass: On Story Telling #2

Ira Glass: On Story Telling #3

Ira Glass: On Story Telling #4

Hacking a Technical Interview

This video hits on three great techniques for making the most of a technical interview.

While the technical skills are important, if not critical, the soft skills are the Jedi Mind Tricks that can make the difference in an interview.

It’s easy to underestimate the power of these interpersonal skills.

Everyone has been on the receiving end of these techniques, but it can be a valuable thing if you can apply them well.

But, as with all super power and Jedi Mind Tricks, use your powers for good, not evil.

Found via Lifehacker

Hacking the Technical Interview