Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fun With Wood!

When I was six or seven years old, I met my neighbor, Tom. Tom was retired, seventy or eighty years old, and had converted his one car garage into a semi-pro woodworking workshop. It was amazing, even to this day. All of his equipment was old, but very well cared for and, when they were purchased, top of the line. Good, expensive equipment do not a workshop -- or woodworker -- make. It's what you do with that equipment that separates the amateurs from the craftsmen.

Tom had built his shop around the equipment. His main workbench was custom made (by him) to include his table saw, band sander, drum sander, and easy access to all of his carving tools. It was strewn with wood scraps, old designs, half finished projects, bottles of glue and solvents, and sawdust. To me it was an incomprehensible mess, but he knew exactly where everything was. What stood out to me as a seven year old, was a large table press whose long turning handle had a hand carved lion's head on one end. It was beautiful in its simplicity.

Tom carved a wicked cool "crusaders style" sword and shield for me. He carved an amazing bas relief carving of two doves and a heart for my parents anniversary. He quickly produced... so many things for each and every time I wandered into his backyard. He was incredibly generous, talented, and kind. If he had thought of it, or seen this video, he would have made an expanding table, but it would have been ornately carved on all visible surfaces.

It wasn't until over fifteen years later that I began to cut and carve my own projects with hand tools. I eventually got some beginner level equipment and began to fashion a workshop of my own. I started watching shows like Woodworks and New Yankee Workshop for ideas, tips, and tricks. I started going to stores like Rockler's and Woodcraft.

I also set my sights high for my first big equipment purchase: The SawStop Table Saw! This bad boy is about $500 dollars more than the best table saw out there, but it's SO worth it! Using electrical impulses, a little computer monitors the blade. If two teeth come into contact with something that conducts electricity, i.e. a finger, then the computer fires a charge which propels an aluminum brake into the blade, stopping it instantly. The remaining momentum of the blade jerks it down beneath the table.

Normally when you get a finger in the mix, not only does the blade cut through it, but it goes to town on your other fingers too! Finger reattachment surgery costs $15,000 and up! Compare that to the extra 500 bones shelled out at the beginning. Oh, and of course the brake, computer, and blade are toast after an accident, but to replace all three costs around $50 bucks. Not a bad charge to have a "mishap," rather than a amputation. Make sure you check out the "Hot Dog Test" video!

The first thing I think I will make with it is this freakin' sweet walking table. What a great idea!

I think Tom would have liked it too.

Making things out of things since 2001...

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Snakes on a Plain!

If you have read my previous post, you'll know that this week is apparently "Horrible Back Pain Week." This means that all sorts of random stuff crops up, all requiring the use of my back.

Yesterday was no exception. I was talking to my mom on the phone and letting the dogs out at the same time. (You Freudians can do what you will with that) I stepped onto the porch and happened to glance to my right. A few feet away in the yard was a coiled, HUGE snake. No wonder the dogs were barking.

Needless to say I was caught off guard, and I casually apprised my mother of the situation. I said, "HOLY S**T, MOM! There's a giant SNAKE here!" Mom is so proud, I'm sure.

I rushed the dogs in, never letting my eyes leave the reptile. It didn't move and -- having just at that moment LOST my MIND -- I almost nudged it with my foot. Instead, I asked mom to help me out. "But, Honey, I've got a dinner thing in two hours."

"Yeah? Well, I'm staring down a 4-foot long snake. Just go and type 'deadly snakes that are enormous' into google for me. I would do it, but I don't want the thing to escape and lurk under my porch all summer."

I described it to her and she came back with "I don't like the sound of that triangular black head.

I think it's probably a Cottonmouth."

"Okay, so... can I shoot it?" Keep in mind that yes, it's pretty rural out here, but I live in a mini-suburb surrounded by lots of rurality.

"Yes, dear, but a shovel or axe might be better. Now, don't hurt yourself and I'll talk to you later. Bye!"

I laughed at the absurdity of my mommy hanging up like that, leaving me to deal with a hungry hungy herp, but look at it this way: My mom has that much faith in my ability to deal with... whatever. Thanks Mom!

As luck would have it, there was a dirt-rake and an axe just around the corner. So I grabbed them, checked on the dogs to make sure none were writhing around from poison in the house, and grabbed my Glock just in case. (I live in Texas. Yes, most of us have guns. USA! USA! USA!)

In my mind, I was desperately searching for the correct rhyme for this situation. "Red and yellow, it will be mellow, red and black... kill jack?", "You'll turn black?", "Put it in a sack?", "Your acne's back?" For future reference, kids, it's "Red and Yellow, kill a fellow; Red and Black, friend of Jack."

I got ready and just as I was making my move, the dang thing bolted around the corner to hide in the plastic doghouse. Well, that wouldn't do, so I pulled the doghouse to the middle of the yard, pulled the snake out with the rake -- man, was it strong! -- and lowered the axe a few inches behind its head.

Thinking my job was done, I was taking a closer look, when the body moved. It was trying to slither away! It wasn't going anywhere -- I did say "trying" -- but still, I was impressed. I grabbed a trash bag and spent a few minutes fighting my back and a headless, yet determined, snake. Finally got the body in the bag and went for the head.

In one of the creepiest moments of my life, the head turned towards me and gaped its mouth! A body less snake was trying to eat me. Yes, I wet myself a little. Now, I didn't know anything then about killing snakes, so I figured it was just reflexes. As I learned later, a snake can stay alive for hours without its body and CAN bite you and KILL you. THAT's Determination!

I won't lie, I felt pretty manly dispatching a poisonous snake, protecting the homestead and the dogs, but at one point I seriously thought about herding it to the property line. However, I had already made many overtures to the snake about killing it and I didn't want it to come back and bite me, or sue me for pain and suffering. So now I will just be haunted by the ghost of a snakehead floating around the yard.

I got on the internets today and did some research. The most probable reason the snake was there in the first place was because of the hordes of toads roaming around. These toads have caustic glands that will injure and kill the stupid dogs that try to gum them. The snake that most commonly eats these toads is... the Blotched Water Snake... a non-venomous toad-only-avore.

I believe that I removed the only thing between my house and a biblical-like plague of toads. Yeah, I feel a little sheepish.

Is the "toad-licking" craze still going on?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Oh, the Pain!

I have recently come to realize that my bed is trying to kill me. For a long time now, I have had chronic neck and back pain. I've always thought it was because of my strenuous lifestyle, (no laughing please) but it's really my bed.

Yesterday, I awoke with HORRIBLE lower back pain. I couldn't stand up straight. I couldn't bend over. As if that wasn't fun enough, my neck decided it didn't need me to look more than a couple inches to the left. I felt like an old man!

Not this Oldman,

but this kind:

As it would turn out, I had to leave my house instead of quietly, painfully, sitting at my computer all day. So I ventured out. My first stop was the post office. It's a normal post office where you walk through some double doors into a large room with P.O. Boxes, then go through another set of double doors to get in line to talk to someone who works there.

Well, I had made it past the first set of doors and was shuffling to the second set. I was slightly stooped over because if I didn't, I would have had a back spasm and collapsed on the postage meters. I got to the next set of doors and was carefully pulling one open when a lady passed me going out.

She was in her forties, dressed like a nice, normal housewife. What was not nice and normal was that she was glaring at me! She had this look of disgust on her face that took me aback. She obviously wanted to spit something at me, but instead she merely glared and walked on by.

I wanted to turn to see if she was going to hit me from behind, but my neck said "no". The pain from my neck jolted me up straight and I convulsed from the shooting back pain. I shuffled and groaned, slightly stooped, and prayed for a car to crash through the building so I would have an excuse to lie down on the floor.

I hadn't gone but a few feet -- I won't tell you how long it took to do that -- when I noticed a man in front of me. He looked to be about eighty years old. He was slightly stooped over, semi-shuffling, making quiet groans every step or so. He looked like I felt. It all clicked into place...

That housewife thought I was making fun of that poor old man.

Just get me some ibuprofen and leave me alone...