Category Archives: Projects

Our gaming table

A little over three weeks ago I stopped by a place that I have wanted to stop at for a few years.  It is located less than 10 minutes away from us but isn’t usually open when we drive by.  I asked about having a table made for us to use as our dining room table that also could serve as a gaming table.  They gave me an estimate given my specifications, I gave them a $90 deposit (well, 6,000 Indian rupees) and then I headed home to draw up plans.  The next day I stopped by and talked more with one of the carpenters and my sketches in hand.

I stopped by twice to check on the progress and today they delivered the final product.  The table top measures 45 inches by 69 inches.  It is in three pieces, two at about 28 inches and the center leaf is 14 inches wide.  This was intentional — I wanted the top to be versatile and my parents let me know that one huge table top is very heavy to lift and cumbersome to stow.  We can take just one of the larger pieces off and have enough space for three people to play and not have to clear the table.  Or remove one end and the center piece for a larger area.  Or take off the two large ends and use the center leaf to separate areas like a game master and the adventuring party.  Or just leave it on one end for the popcorn bowl and drinks.

The play area itself is dropped four inches from the four inch wide railing.  The surface is 39 inches by 63 inches and is covered in a dark red fabric with a bit of texture which I hoped would allow for cards to be picked up easily.   The size is intentionally big so that we can play even our largest games (or Pepper could do a large puzzle) and still have room without feeling like the table is too large.

The entire thing is made of solid teak except the plywood bottom.  Aside from the dimensions being slightly larger than a 3×5 foot dining table, the other thing that pushed the cost up a little was that I had these carved legs made.

There are two things that are not excellent.  First, the three table top pieces don’t fit well together on the seams so there are gaps.  I should have suggested that they make one big table top and then cut it apart before finishing it.  Second, the table legs make a strange corner where they protrude through the floor of the playing area and up to the rail.  In hindsight I would have had them either move the rail to cover it, make a larger rail, or added wood to the inside so the rail doesn’t overhang the play surface.

In total it cost us $575 (39,000 INR) plus $5 (300 INR) for delivery.  We hope that this becomes a family heirloom and that our boys are fighting over it (civilly) many years from now.  Or maybe we should order another one now just to head off the family feud.

Custom bookcase set

The major project we hired a carpenter to do for us was to make four bookshelves.  We love books.  We also love games and Pepper loves puzzles.  Our collection of all three had really outgrown the single bookcase and two cabinets that we have from the school and the landlord.  So we decided to order our own.

I knew I wanted them to not be too large individually.  I wanted some versatility — stackable is what I guess I was looking for.  So I designed two components.  The bottom one has three compartments.  The bottom is 16 inches tall and the next two are 12 inches tall.  Yesterday the carpenter finished those two units so we moved them inside and loaded them up with our games and puzzles.

We’ll probably be able to move some things around after the top two pieces are done.  The bottom two shelves on them are 12 inches tall and the top two are almost ten inches tall. In total the four pieces will be eight feet wide and just under eight feet tall.


Custom shoe rack

One of the many things that Pepper has been wanting is a larger shoe rack for next to our front door.  Our first year in India we bought a metal one that is less than 3 feet tall, about two feet wide and has five wire shelves.  It has been full of shoes and had piles of shoes around it just about since we bought it.

Last week I hired a carpenter to make us our own shoe rack and this one is over three feet tall, exactly 4 feet wide and had five shelves plus the top surface.  Made out of hardwood plywood with teak facing here it is loaded with our shoes and some helmets.

The cushion on top is for the cats.  They love watching out the window.  The shelves are all 6 inches apart except the bottom which is 8.  They are also 12 inches deep whereas the old one we were using was just 10.

It cost around $100 to have made.  Probably a little pricey.  But we knew we didn’t want doors on it because, well, we’re honest about how likely we would be to use it then.  I do like the look of this one but it is considerably shorter and costs three times as much as we spent.

Lego Minifigure Shelf

In August we made shelves for our collection of Lego Minifigures.  Not all of them – just the ones from the collectible series.  I wrote the project up on Instructables here.

Next we’ll make some shelves for holding Jacob’s extensive collection of cars and perhaps one for Jordan’s collection of castles!

Yesterday was one of those “best days”

School starts back up tomorrow after our three week winter break.  So on Saturday I set out to try and have a really great day knowing Sunday would have a lot of things going on that I had to do instead of wanted to do.  Sunday wasn’t all bad though…


  1.  Slept in
  2. Watered my plants and did some repotting and pruning
  3. Went on a walk and did some beach combing and came back with two handfulls of treasures
  4. Ate pancakes, sausages and muffins that Pepper cooked.
  5. Got cash!  (See: India demonetization.)
  6. Picked up totes (actually Indian milk crates) to use to sort Lego.  (For a future project.)  Spent more than an hour with the boys scrubbing them clean.  Then went about filling them with Lego.
  7. Worked on a video from our summer travels.
  8. Went to a friend’s for dinner and drinks and to catch up on their travel during the break.


  1. Woke earlier
  2. Went on a walk and beach combed again.  Saw one dead sea turtle.  This time brought home two small grocery bags of treasures including a dolphin skull.  Yes, a dolphin skull.  (Perhaps a porpoise?)  I’m sure that it will excite our biology teacher as much as it did me!
  3. Cooked potatoes, bacon and eggs for brunch.
  4. The family got haircuts.
  5. Went to Amadora for ice cream.
  6. Wrote up a project on Instructables and entered it in an appropriate contest.

I know what I did last summer – I built a greenhouse

I have wanted one for a while.  I like to garden.  I also like to build with scrap materials.  So the last week that we were in Alaska last summer I started to work on a greenhouse and this is where I left it.



I started off by adding on to the garden shed that I built a few years ago.  Originally I was thinking about making four separate sheds that were beside or faced each other so create the greenhouse.  But I ended up with this.  The roof panels were a last minute purchase and set me back $80.  They were formerly covering the stained-glass windows of the Lutheran Church.  The clear glass windows were reclaimed form the dump and were from the elementary school.  The corrugated clear pieces were scraps removed from my home’s roofing a number of years ago. greenhouse2

Most of the lumber was reclaimed from a pile of scrap at a friend’s mill a few years back and had sat in our shed for a while.  The small vinyl sliding window next to the door was given to me by a friend that saw that opening and said she had just the right window for that spit – and it fit perfectly.  The door was also reclaimed from the burn pile at the dump.  I put in a new window out of plexiglass that I had kicking around in my piles of materials.  The siding was also reclaimed from construction sites.

greenhouse3This panoramic photo of the interior shows windows at the back of the greenhouse that I snagged from the dump, a number of tables to use (temporarily) for raised beds, and the flooring.  The flooring was our one major purchase for the project.  It is 1″ solid boards on top of 6×12 inch beams (the scraps from the shed project) at about 2′ spacing so the floor is pretty stout.  The yellow sink in the center was also salvaged and will have a rain-barrel plumbed in to it and a hose to make watering easy.

While I’m pretty happy with the outcome, I had framed much of the roof before getting the roof panels so I will probably redo that this summer so that the roof dimensions match the panels better.

I really loved the space.  When I was wrapping it up the day before we left I suddenly wished that I had a similar space to work in.  It is incredibly light and using my power saws in it didn’t leave sawdust all over my more delicate tools.  Maybe I’ll be building a small saw shop this summer?  Or a sauna with my collection of red cedar?  I also would like a small building to store things like the scrap aluminum and copper that I collect along with things like cable, chain, small wheels, large bolts and other tools and equipment that are not for gardening and are not used for most of my other typical projects.


My weekend project – rooftop cabana

I started working on a cabana on our roof patio during our winter break last year.  We have worked on improving the space quite a bit since then.  We brought up our potted plants in the spring.  Some survived, some thrived and some died.  Just before school ended we bought some used patio furniture from a family that was leaving Chennai.  A few months ago I bought the materials to build the posts and support structure to hold the roof in place.  I now need to have the roof re-thatched.  I did it once and now might look to see how much it costs to have a professional do the job.


Rooftop cabana
The posts and beams I purchased by the pound from a wood dealer. They were salvaged from a home that was demolished.
Cabana and patio furniture.
I left one side of the roofing open because of the dominant wind direction. Now that the posts are more secure it can be thatched.
Water buffalo skull
I found this skull at a campsite while rafting between India and Nepal. There were a lot of leopard tracks on the beach, both before we arrived and the next morning…
Cabana shade.
It is amazing how much cooler it is in the shade.
Mutton and chicken
I just bought these signs from the neighborhood butcher. I’ll attach the metal to plywood and hang them over the grill.
We had to re-pot this plant. If it outgrows this pot we’ll not be able to move it!
Mitten loves hanging out on the roof.


Father’s Day project 2014

For Father’s Day I made a bench out of the headboard and foot-board of a twin bed.  I salvaged them from the burn pile at the dump in Petersburg.  DSC_1306

First, I had to do a number of measurements to figure out how to cut the foot-board.  I determined that I would cut out about an 8 inch section of the center of the foot-board and have to shorten the legs so that the bench side rails were low.



Above you can see that I didn’t just cut off the leg.  I cut out a section of the middle and saved the lower part to reconnect using a peg and wood glue.

I used pegs and glue to attach the former foot-board and new side to the headboard/back of the bench.


Clamp for a while!

DSC_1313Though I didn’t document the next steps, they are pretty easy.  I cut a few pieces of wood to make supports for the bench seat from some red cedar 2x2s and a piece of oak from an old dresser.  I used the top of the same oak dresser for the seat of the bench.

Bench from headboard and foot board.A perfect spot to sit and put your boots on, kick them off, or take a nap if you’re a tiny kid!

Cafe Coffee Day – The Square in Chennai

Yesterday Pepper and I had breakfast and coffee/tea at Cafe Coffee Day – a chain coffee shop throughout India.  There are apparently 100 of them just in the Chennai area so they are a bit of the Indian equivalent of a Starbucks in their frequency.  (There are a couple of Starbucks in India but none in Chennai.)  The coffee was alright according to Pepper and they had a great breakfast.  But what I want to write about here are the cool stair treads they have.



I want to do something similar on the stairs of our workshop.  Perhaps limiting the animals to ones we have seen on or close to our property – deer, porcupine, river otter, black bear, bald eagle…