More Pics and Catching Up

Panoramic shot that shows almost the entire backyard. Makes it look a lot smaller than it really is. That central island surrounded by blocks is about 25 feet long and 16 feet wide. Tomatoes in raised beds off to the far right. Garage off to the left showing the “garage garden” where we have raspberries squash and ornamentals.

If this time of year could be described by a single word, it would probably be “color”.

Almost everything is in full flower this time of year except for the autumn flowering plants. Just walking outside is a feast for the eyes.

So, let’s get caught up on what’s been going on. I haven’t talked about it much but one of the things I do is build furniture like, well, like this:

It looks a bit beat up now, especially the upholstery, but considering it’s lived through two teenaged boys, a rambunctious golden retriever and several assorted cats, it’s doing pretty good. Over the years I’ve built chairs, coffee tables, wardrobes, bookcases, decorative chests and I don’t know what all else. A few years ago one of my sons gave me a cheap wood lathe from Harbor Freight and I finally started fiddling around with it. It was super cheap and to be honest the build quality isn’t exactly what I’d call good. But I’ve messed around with it a bit, bought a decent set of tools for it and I’m going to see if I can add woodturning to my skill set. We’ll see how that goes. I’ll let you know if anything comes of it.

We’ve been spending a lot of time out in the gardens, of course. Where else would we be this time of year and with the pandemic still raging? Gardening is probably the safest and most satisfying activity we can do right now. But we’re still dabbling in radio. And I mean “we”. MrsGF is a licensed amateur radio operator as well. She’s more into the emergency services aspect of it while I’m more into the technical stuff.

It looks like the Great Radio Fiasco Project is back on the agenda. I was finally able to get the toroids I needed to wind the coils I need. But considering how busy we are with other things this time of year it’s likely that will be pushed back until the fall.

Let’s see, what else… Oh, I’m working on an upcoming post that answers some questions about amateur radio that people have asked. That will be coming up in the near future.

I’ve been working on getting better at CW (morse code). I’m still struggling, especially with receiving. I’m nowhere near good enough to be able to actually use it out in the field. If someone sends at like, oh, one word per minute or slower, I can generally figure it out. But any faster than that and everything sort of blurs together and I start to fall so far behind I have to give up.

Someone asked me if I was going to do anything for the ARRL Field Day exercise. Nope. Don’t have the time. This is probably the worst time of year for me to try to participate in an event like that.

We’re going to be doing some major renovations to the house this summer, replacing a bunch of windows, the front entrance and some other stuff. That’s going to be a mess, but it needs to get done. And expensive. Sigh… Oh, well. Owning a house is great. Until you start seeing the bills for maintaining it.

Stuff: Furniture & Wood

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 6.37.29 AMWe finally got the “new” desk in place on Sunday! Youngest son gave me a hand getting the old ones out and bringing the new one in. I am so glad to get rid of the particle board unit that was in there for years. This one is solid wood, looks like fairly decent oak, and it’s huge. 60 inches long and 32 inches deep. It’s probably around 50 years old or so, and actually in good condition considering it’s age. I thought about refinishing it, but decided I rather liked all those years of patina (“Patina” is what antique furniture dealers call scratches, dings, stains and other defects that add “charm” to the furniture.) and left it alone. MrsGF has had one similar to this for years now that we found for around $50 at a thrift store, and we’ve been looking for another one for me. She turned this one up at the local St. Vinnie’s thrift store for about $55, and we were thrilled to find it.

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 7.03.46 AMI got curious about what one like this would cost today if bought new and I started digging around on the internet looking for them and finally found one that fit all the criteria; oak with no particle board, dovetailed drawers, same size, same number of drawers and so on. For a whopping $2,200. It’s a bit fancier, but if you  knock off the fancier bits like the quarter-sawn oak, the thru-tennons on the rails at the base, it’s pretty much exactly the same. Judging from the photos, it’s made of higher quality wood and the fit and finish is much, much better. But still, over two grand?

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 7.10.37 AMI should have expected that, really. We’re so used to “cheap” flat-pack style, screw it together yourself furniture these days that we experience a bit of sticker shock when we see the prices on well crafted, solid wood furniture.

I started building arts and crafts style furniture many years ago. The Morris chair over there on the right has a matching ottoman and coffee table. The chair and ottoman are made from white oak. The coffee table was made from white ash. Once upon a time I sat down and tried to figure out what I’d have to charge for it if I were going to make any kind of a decent profit, and the numbers were a bit on the large side. I figured I’d have to get around $1,300 for the chair, $400 for the ottoman, and about $700 for the table. And even then I’d barely make minimum wage for my labor. So all things considered, over two grand for that desk probably isn’t all that bad.

Screen Shot 2017-12-06 at 6.43.01 AMThere isn’t really anything wrong with “flat-pack” style furniture you buy in a box and put together yourself. Nothing wrong with particle board, either, as long as you are aware of it’s limitations and problems. And potential health risks.

The particle board in most flat-pack furniture is either made of LDF or MDF. LDF is low density fiberboard, MDF is medium density. Of the two, MDF is better because it’s more dense, has a much smoother surface and is more sturdy. The stuff is very useful. Because MDF is very dense and smooth, it is often used as the base for countertops that have plastic laminate surfaces, even for the frames of cabinets where it can’t be seen. If sealed properly, it can be painted rather easily. It’s often used when the makers of “fine” furniture (Ha! Fine… We really need a sarcasm font.) try to fool you into thinking you’re buying real wood when what you’re getting is a thin veneer of real wood glued to MDF. It is pretty handy though, and can work well if you know how to use it properly.

MDF does have a few issues. Well, okay it has a lot of issues. First of all, it isn’t really wood, it’s basically sawdust and glue forced together under high pressure. It is fragile. It won’t hold screws very well. It breaks rather easily unless it is properly supported. It can’t carry a load unless it is well supported, as the owners of MDF book shelves can tell you as they watch the shelves sag under the weight. If it gets wet it will swell and start to disintegrate. It’s very, very heavy.

And depending on the type of glue used to hold the sawdust together, it can out-gas chemicals for months, even for years. Many of the glues used contain VOCs, Volatile Organic Compounds. These are compounds that will gradually evaporate into the atmosphere over time. Some of them can be nasty. (Some of you may remember the Chinese drywall disaster from a few years ago. Cheap drywall imported from China during a building boom gave off toxic chemicals that literally destroyed copper, I think it was sulphur dioxide but I don’t remember exactly. It wrecked the plumbing and electrical wiring in homes and businesses where it was used, and could have serious health consequences for the people who lived in those buildings.)

And if you work with the stuff, if you’re sawing, drilling or whatever, make darn sure you’re wearing a respirator because heaven only knows what’s in that dust. You do not want to be sucking that into your lungs.

If you get the feeling that I don’t like MDF very much, you’re right. But it is useful for some things, and if you want inexpensive furniture these days, you just can’t get away from it.

Then we come to the whole subject of fake antique furniture, which I’ve been finding with disturbing regularity as I travel around. I’m a sucker for antique shops. I don’t buy much, if anything, but I love browsing through them. One thing that I’ve discovered is that the amount of faked, fraudulent and mistakenly labeled “antique” furniture out there is astonishing. And the problem has become much, much worse over the years. I’d say that on average, about half of the “antique” furniture I see out there has some kind of issue with it. It’s either been badly restored, altered, mislabeled or faked in some way.

How do you know if a piece of antique furniture you’re interested in is the real thing? It can get complicated. You have to know the difference between modern finishes and stains and those that were used at the time the piece was allegedly built. You need to know what kind of screws were used, what kind of glues were used, construction techniques, how to identify different types of wood.

If you’re going to start buying antique furniture, you need to do some homework, or take along someone who knows something about furniture making, because the market right now is full of fakes. Frankly, when I look at a piece of “antique” furniture these days, I assume from the beginning that there is going to be something wrong with it until examination proves otherwise.

Me and Furniture

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We’ve been doing upgrades to the house. Well, to be honest it seems that all we ever do is do upgrades to the house since we bought the place. It’s sort of a running joke between my wife and I. I wanted a new ranch house, all sleek and modern and brand new. She wanted a house with ‘character’. Well, she got her wish with this place. It’s got ‘character’ all right, as I remind her every opportunity I get when she complains about the uneven floors, out of plumb door frames, etc. Great fun!

We’ve decided that now that the dog is too old to climb up on chairs and shed all over them and rip fabrics with his toenails, and that the cats have turned out to be reasonably well behaved and aren’t going to shred our furniture, we need to get some new furniture. I hate to say it, but all of the commercial stuff we’ve looked at has been either way, way too expensive, or, frankly, crap.

So, what does this have to do with the two photos? Well, the table and the chair are mine. I made the table — must be 10, 11 years ago. It’s made from white ash harvested from trees that went down on my father-in-law’s farm decades ago and which were stored up in a shed until I got my hands on the stuff. Most of it went into a wardrobe I made for my wife’s sister and her husband as an anniversary present, and what I had left over went into this table. I liked the design, with the kind of quirky way the table top is cut out around the tops of the pyramid topped legs.

The Morris chair is made from white oak and is the most comfortable chair in the house. The extra-wide, flat arms were designed deliberately so people can set things on them when they’re sitting. They’re also made extra strong, thanks to the corbels that support the arms and the fact the bottom of the arms are mortised their entire length and fit into the top rail. I made them extra strong because I knew people would be tempted to perch on the chair arms.

Anyway, ‘she who must be obeyed’ has decided there is going to be no crap commercial furniture. It has been decided that I am going to make a mission style sofa to match the chair and table.

Well, we’ll see.