Building An Under Cabinet Paper Towel Holder

Anyone who enjoys spending time in the kitchen knows that having free counter space is essential to keeping themselves sane while cooking. Our apartment kitchen has very little counter space to begin with and it seems like we always run out room to cut vegetables or roll out dough when we are preparing a meal. Although we couldn’t clean everything off of our counters, I thought getting the paper towels up in the air would free up a significant amount of space next to the sink.

I based my design on a paper towel holder that Frank Howarth, one of my favorite YouTube woodworkers made. To start, I cut out my two rails and two sides out of some cherry and oak that I had.

Next, I used some paint cans to trace some half circles onto one of the side boards. After roughly cutting out the half circles, I sanded the edges down smooth.

I stacked the cut side piece on top of the uncut piece and traced the half circle shapes to try to get the two pieces to mirror each other as close as possible. After that I cut and sanded the second side piece to match the first.

With the side pieces shaped, I needed a way to attach the overhead rails. Since I had recently finished building a dove tail cutting guide, I decided to get some dovetail making practice in. I knew ahead of time that these dovetails wouldn’t be visible in the finished product since the cabinet would block their view, so this was the perfect place to get some practice in.

If I were to make this again, I would definitely leave more space in between the tails and the curved piece.

Next up was drawing out the pins on the pieces of cherry.

…And then chopping the pins out with a chisel

I would prefer to have cut these out with a nice fret saw, but I didn’t have one at the time. Eventually though, chopping will get you what you need.

After repeating this process for all four pins, I dry fitted the pieces together.

Next up was drilling out some openings for the dowel that would hold the paper towel roll in the holder.

With the body of the paper towel holder all done, it was time to glue it all together.

While the holder was clamped and the glue was drying, I put the dowel in to mark where I would be cutting dados.

After many passes on the table saw sled, I had cut dados into the round dowel.

Once the glue dried, the last step was to plane, sand, and finish the piece in Danish oil. After a few coats had dried, it was ready to mount under a cabinet!

Originally published at on October 21, 2014.

How I Built Heavy Duty Freestanding Shelves

Our house was a disaster zone.

A lack of storage space for our stuff, which honestly I think we have a lot less than the average couple because we are constantly purging, had caused the floor of our guest bedroom and sunroom to look like one of the over stuffed lockers on one of those storage hunter reality tv shows. After looking around what was actually cluttering our spare rooms, we came to the realization that it wasn’t an accumulation of unnecessary jello molds and triplicates of frying pans; in reality, we just didn’t have a place for any of our stuff to “live”. What this meant is that whenever we finished using the hand mixer or needed to put away our sleeping bags and tent after a camping trip, we just kind of tossed them into a spare room because we didn’t know where else to put it. I knew our stuff needed a place to live, so I thought building some heavy duty shelves would provide just the fix.

At first I considered purchasing some metal heavy duty shelves. For shelves that were truly heavy duty, we were looking at spending about $300 for the 5 @ 8′ x 2′ shelves that we were looking for. Instead, I designed the above shelves in SketchUp and priced them out to under $150. The materials list includes:

  • 16 @ 2′ x 4′ x 8′
  • 25 @ 2′ x 4′ x 21″
  • 10 @ 2′ x 4′ plywood sheets (or less if you are okay with rafter style shelves)
  • 160 3″ drywall screws
  • 100 1.25″ drywall screws

In addition to the above materials, it would be really handy to have a miter saw and nail gun on hand. Unfortunately, I have neither, so I had to cut everything on my table saw sled and use screws to attach everything together.

Here’s all of the 2′ x 4’s that will be used for the shelf frames and legs

And the 25 2′ x 4’s I cut down to size for the frame cross beams:

The first step in building the shelves is to assemble the frame for each shelf. I found that a clamp helped hold the wood together at the ends to help with the alignment and drilling.

Check the alignment of the beams before clamping them down to ensure squareness.

After checking for 90 degree angles, I drilled in only one screw into each corner so that small adjustments could be made once the rest of the cross beams were attached.

After 5 crossbeams are attached to the rails of the first frame, I checked squareness one more time, and then drilled in a second screw at each crossbeam.

I then repeated this process for 4 more frames.

Next, I attached 2’x’4 plywood sections to each frame.

At this point, I realized that I would prefer to have two separate shelving units (read: I miss-measured and needed to split the unit up so that it would fit into the room) so I cut up the 6 2′ x 4′ x 8′ leg pieces so that I would have legs for two units.

I attached the legs by laying the frames on their long sides on the ground and sliding the leg pieces underneath. Then, I checked for squareness and screwed together the frames and legs. After finishing the legs on one side, I did the same on the top side with the three remaining legs. Flip the shelving unit up off the floor and it’s done!

Loaded up with stuff. Look how nice and organized! I added some additional risers made out of plywood and 2′ x 4’s on the food shelf to make it easier to see what condiments we have.

On the second unit, I didn’t feel like buying additional plywood for the top frame, so I left it bare. This worked out well because we would be storing large things on top of it.

Originally published at on August 12, 2014.

Dovetail Shaker Style Box

After becoming frustrated with the slow progress I was making at cutting dovetail joints by hand, I began to do more research about how I could improve my cuts. I was having issues sawing straight lines with my hand saw (the blade flexed and caused a wavy cut) but finally found a way that significantly improved my dovetail joints.

I found a video of David Barron’s dovetail cutting guide on YouTube and thought it was worth a shot. Although his CNC machined aluminum guides look beautiful, they are cost prohibitive for me. I set out on designing my own version however, and ended up with something that does an excellent job,

I use the guide to guide my saw when cutting the tails first, and then flip the guide 90 degrees to cut the pins. Since the angle on the guide is machine cut, as long as I keep my saw flush with the guide, the angles on my dovetail joint will line up perfectly.

Although I will be making additional refinements to the wood dovetail guide to make it even better (needs to be a little wider, more magnetic pull), I am very happy with how it helps in sawing such a beautiful yet difficult joint. It helped me finish my first dovetail project, a miniature version of Paul Seller’s Shaker style candle box. Although the box I made isn’t perfect, I’m very happy with the result and can’t wait to build the next one!

Originally published at on August 7, 2014.

Making a Scott Meek Style Wooden Hand Plane

When I watch videos of other woodworkers online, it seems like they have complete control over their hand planes, being able to make detailed adjustments and be able to shave off the thinnest of thin shavings from their projects. I have always struggled with my $15 Home Depot special, even with hours spent flattening the sole, sharpening and readjusting the blade, etc… After having built one too many out-of-square projects, I knew it was time to reconsider what I was using for a hand plane.

Before deciding to build a plane, I first looked into buying a used older model Stanley on eBay. It seems there used to be a lot of these planes available to buy online at a good price, but it’s definitely not as easy to get a good deal on a used one anymore. In addition to looking online, I continually search garage sales for quality tools. Although I’ve found some great deals on rasps, drill presses, clamps, and more, a quality hand plane has always eluded me.

Once buying a used hand plane was out of the question, I looked into buying a new high quality plane, however as soon as I saw the prices I quickly determined that spending $200+ dollars was out of my budget.

With old planes and new planes being out of the question, I decided to go the DIY route. In my research, I discovered Scott Meek and admired his beautifully built wooden hand planes. After learning that Scott put out a Make a Wooden Smoothing Plane Video, I was sold and purchased his video to begin my plane making adventures. The video did not disappoint; at 2.5 hours long, Scott offers plenty of easy to understand instruction and many expert hints that could only come from someone who has probably built hundreds (thousands?) of wooden hand planes. If you are interested in building a hand plane yourself, this video is well worth its $7.50 price.

I decided to build my plane out of some oak boards. After cutting them down to size, I glued them together to get what would be the inner part of my plane body.

After the glue dried, I planed the bottom of the block smooth and made sure it was completely square with the sides (fortunately, I have a nice hand me down block plane).

Next, I marked out the spots where the blade would sit and where the shavings would collect in and made those cuts. When I started this project, I hadn’t found my garage sale band saw yet, so cutting and shaping was very manual.

Then I sanded out the curve using the rounded end of my belt sander.

After the pieces were cut, I needed to plane the wood flat that the cap iron would rest on, and then chisel out a hole to accomodate the cap iron screw. The blade and cap iron combo I am using is from Hock Tools.

After cleaning up the walls, it was time to add some additional oak pieces as sides and dry fit the whole assembly.

I drilled some screws in to make adjustments and assembly easier.

The next step was to make the cross bar that would keep the wedge and blade in case. I used a plug cutting bit on my drill press to round the ends and then chisels and sand paper to round the three sides of the body (the fourth side remains flat to rest against the wedge). This was also when I drilled holes in the plane sides to accept the new cross bar piece.

With all of the main pieces done, it was time to assemble and glue up.

While the glue dried on the main plane body, I started working on the body. By this point, I had bought a bandsaw at a garage sale, making the follwing steps significantly easier. I traced a rough wedge shape onto a spare piece of oak, then went to work cutting it out and sanding it.

The next day once the glue had dried, I planed the bottom of plane flat and chamfered the edges to reduce resistance.

Once that was done, it was time to trace the template I received with my plane video purchase, and then cut out the shape on the bandsaw.

All that was left to do was some final shaping and sanding, and the plane was done being built.

After applying some Danish oil, the plane was beautiful and ready to be used. Hopefully this will increase the quality of all of my future projects!

Originally published at on June 23, 2014.

Building a Bird House

With beets, lettuce, and a variety of flowers carefully planted in neat little rows in our garden, our backyard was starting to look pretty good. There was something missing though; although the garden bed was filled with flora, Renee pointed out that we were missing some garden friendly wildlife. That’s when I was commissioned to build a nesting box for our neighborhood birds.

Renee is an avid bird watcher, so she chose the particular tree swallow nest box design available at in order to attract the types of birds she wanted to see in the yard.

The first step to building the bird house was to find some suitable wood and to mark out all of my cuts. I had some maple (?) laminate that had lived its previous life as a tray table lying around; once stripped of its varnish and sanded down, it looked like some pretty nice wood!

The boards all cut to size

The next step was to create some ventilation for the birds using the box as a nest. I did this by cutting an angle along the top of the sides of the house. This way once the top of the bird house was attached, a gap for air would be left in between the top and the sides:

And some quick cuts at the table saw:

Next, Renee joined me in assembling the box. We began by dry fitting pieces together and realized that the plans we were using had incorrect dimensions for the bottom: instead of 9″ x 6″, the bottom piece should have been a square 6″ x 6″. I went ahead and cut the bottom to its square size and then cut off the corners at a 45-degree angle to allow any water to drain out. Then we went back to dry fitting and assembling.

Since we would be nailing all of the boards together, we determined that this could be most easily accomplished by first clamping the two sides to the bottom before driving in any nails. After the sides were nailed to the bottom, we attached the front and the back. Renee’s carpentry skills were really impressive.

Once the sides, front, back, and bottom were nailed together, we went ahead and attached the top with a pair of hinges. The final step was then to drill a hole in the front to place a small perch in:

After the hole was drilled, we inserted a dowel and marked where we would want to cut the perch to what looked like an appropriate length:

And that was it! A quick coat of some UV protected deck stain + sealer and the bird house was ready to mount to a tree with some chain and a screw.

Originally published at on June 17, 2014.

Dandelion Wine Recipe

In some areas of the country, having a lawn full of yellow dandelions would get you judgmental glances from your neighbors and a swift fine from the home owner’s association. Fortunately, I don’t live in one of those gated communities and I let the dandelions grow free, pesticide free.

Sure, at first the dandelion looks only like a ragged flower that grows back faster than any of your grass after a weekly mowing, but instead of seeing a weed I see gourmet gold. Why is that you ask? Because I know it can be used to make a delicious dandelion wine.


  • 1 gallon of dandelions. Be sure they are au naturel and not coated in pesticides. If you don’t have enough to pick a gallon on your own property, city parks are typically a good place to find them since most cities don’t have the money to be spraying their grass.
  • 5 lbs honey. Divided into 4lbs for fermentation and 1lb for post fermentation sweetness.
  • 8 oranges.
  • 4 lemons.
  • 2 gallons of water.
  • 1 packet of white wine yeast

1. Pick some dandelions

Go and pick a gallon of dandelions. You want to be sure to only pick the yellow heads and not the tall green stalk. The green undersides that the yellow petals are attached to are OK to keep.

2. Make some dandelion tea

Add your 1 gallon of dandelions to 2 gallons of boiling water. Cover, and let steep for 24–48 hours, or until the flowers sink to the bottom of the water.

3. Add some honey and citrus

Strain the dandelion tea made from the step above. Add it back to pot and bring it to a boil. Stir in 4 lbs of honey, the juice of 8 oranges, and the juice of 4 lemons. Turn off the heat and let it cool.

4. Cool, pitch, and aerate

While the must is cooling to 80 degrees fahrenheit, add the packet of wine yeast to a cup of 90–100 degree fahrenheit water. Stir in a little bit of sugar and let it sit. Keep waiting until the dandelion must cools (a wort chiller or a sink full of ice water can help here) and then once it reaches 80F, pour the must into a carboy. Choose a carboy that is barely bigger than the volume of your wine, otherwise the extra room for air in the carboy will cause the wine to oxidize and taste bad. Once the wine must is in the carboy, pitch the yeast and tip the carboy back and forth to aerate.

5. Wait for fermentation

Add an airlock and stopper to your carboy and move it to a cool place out of direct sunlight. Optimally, the location will be around 68–70F. I find that basements work pretty well. In 18–24 hours, you should notice the must begin to ferment, and CO2 bubbles being rapidly released through the airlock. If after 48 hours you are not seeing any activity, get some new yeast and create a starter with it, then repitch it into the carboy. Once the bubbling activity has stopped (typically 7–14 days), you are ready to bottle.

6. Sweetening

Before cracking open the carboy of fermented wine, make a simple syrup by boiling 1 part honey to 1 part water (for this recipe I used about 2 cups of honey and two cups of water). This honey simple syrup will be used to sweeten the final wine to taste.

7. Bottling

Instead of dealing with wine bottles and corks, I like putting my wine in glass canning jars. Clean and sanitize your jars and lids and then fill each jar with 100ml of the honey syrup. Next, using an auto-siphon or a bottle filler, fill the jars with wine (leaving any sediment at the bottom of the carboy), leaving as little empty space as possible in the jar because we want to minimize any oxidation. Once filled to the brim, cover the jar with a square of wax paper and then twist on the lid. The wax paper protects the wine from absorbing any metallic flavors from the jar lid.

8. Storage

It’s best to store your dandelion wine in a cool dark place, like a refrigerator. Avoid storing the wine in direct sunlight. Additionally, avoid storing the wine in a warm area since any remaining yeast could become active again and cause a second fermentation to occur. If this were to happen, it’s possible that the glass jars might explode (since they will be under pressure from additional CO2 build up)!

Originally published at on June 10, 2014.

How to Build a Side Table

Since the weather has gotten warmer, Renee and I have been spending a lot of evenings out on the porch. We have comfortable chairs to sit on and a growing garden to admire, however we were missing a little side table to put our drinks and candles on. Seeing as I had a lot of scrap 2×4 white lumber laying around, I thought it would be quick an easy to build a nice little side table for ourselves.

I like using SketchUp to create designs for projects I’m working on. I usually start by creating a quick sketch of a design on paper and then transposing that to SketchUp to be able to play around with measurements until I get something that works. If you use SketchUp, I have made this model available to download.

The parts list for the project consists of:

  • Legs: 4 @ 23.25″ x 1.5″ x 1.5″
  • Long rails: 4 @ 21″ x 1.5″ x 1.5″
  • Short rails: 4 @ 10″ x 1.5″ x 1.5″
  • Table top: 4 @ 3.5″ x .75″ x 13.5″
  • Lower shelf: 4 @ 3.5″ x .75″ x 12″

The legs and rails of my table were made from scrap 2 x 4s. Since the 2 x 4s had rounded edges, I first trimmed those off before ripping the boards in half, leaving me with 1.5″ x 1.5″ pieces. The table top and lower shelf boards were 3.5″ x .75″ boards so I only had to cut them to length.

After cutting all of the parts to their correct sizes, I carved lines into the legs to mark where the mortises would go using a knife and a mortise marking gauge.

Even though the mortises are pretty small (.5″ x.5″ x .5″), I still didn’t want to have to completly chop 16 of them by hand with a chisel. To make the work a little easier, I used a forstner bit to drill most of the wood out of the marked mortises, and then only finished up the rest of the mortises with a chisel. This made the chopping take less than 30 seconds per mortise.

After finishing all of the legs, I started on the tenons. Since I was going to be making 16 tenons, I decided to use my table saw and cross cut sled in combination to make the process a little easier. Since the tenons are .5″ x .5″ centered in the middle of the 1.5″ x 1.5″ rails, I just raised the table saw blade to a height of .5″ and made cuts on all 4 faces of the rails until the tenons were made. A dado blade would make quick work of cutting these tenons, but since I don’t have one I had to make around 6 passes on each face of each rail in order to take out the correct amount of wood.

Once all of the tenons were cut, I was ready to assemble. Before adding any glue to my work pieces, I always dry fit the wood pieces first. By dry fitting first, all of my clamps will be ready at the correct widths and if I need to make any slight adjustments I can do so now before racing with the fast drying wood glue. At this time, as well as once I add glue, I check for squareness by measuring the distances between corners as well as by using a 90 degree triangle.

Once I glued and clamped everything down, the leg frames were done.

Next, I followed the same dry fit and then clamp and glue process as above to glue the pair of leg frames together.

With the table frame done, it was time to start on the table top and the lower shelf surfaces. For these surfaces, I created a laminate of 3.5″x.75″ boards. I cut the boards slightly longer than their final sizes so that when they inevitably slid around when I glued them together, I could just trim them to the correct length once the glue tried.

Once the laminates dried, it was time to plane and sand to get a smooth and even surface that would be ready to have finish applied to it. It’s best to plane and sand not only the top surfaces (the ones that will get used once the table is finished), but the bottom surfaces as well so that the bottoms will sit squarely on top of the frame.

With both sides of both laminates planed and sanded, it was time to cut the corners off of the bottom shelf so that it would fit into the frame. I found that flipping the finished frame upside down and putting the bottom shelf onto the leg bottoms was the easiest way to trace cut lines onto the boards. After cutting the corner squares out, I was able to dry fit the bottom shelf into place in the frame.

After the bottom shelf fit into place, I clamped the bottom shelf to the frame and flipped the whole table upside down. I wanted to attach the surfaces with 2″ wood screws, so I drilled some pilot holes into the rails. I only attached the bottom shelf to the long rails since the grain of my boards ran in the direction of the short rails. This way, when the wood expands/contracts, it will have some room to move.

After trimming the uneven ends of my table top I used a round over bit on my router table to round the edges and then attached the table top in the same manner as the bottom shelf.

Once the table was assembled, it was time to apply a finish. Since the table was going to be sitting outside during brutal heat waves and drenching soakers, I decided to go with a stain + sealer combo that contains UV protection and is meant to be used on decks. I brushed on the finish and let it dry overnight. The next day, we had a nice new side table to rest our drinks on!

Originally published at on June 3, 2014.

Four Corners Trip 2012

Last week I went on a 7-day, 3200 mile road trip with my father through the western United States. Below is a rundown of all of the parks we visited. All of the photos can also be found on my flickr account.

Badlands National Park — South Dakota

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Badlands, but it was a scenic park with lots of color rock formations that seemed to appear out of nowhere, as well as home to the largest herds of Bison I have seen.

Mount Rushmore National Monument — South Dakota

U.S. Presidents’ faces carved into the Black Hills of South Dakota. We arrived there once it was dark, but that didn’t stop me from getting an interesting shot before they lit up the monument.

Rocky Mountain National Park — Colorado

I have to say, I think the drive to Estes Park, Colorado was more scenic than the park. I’m guessing this park looks a lot more beautiful in the winter and spring when the peaks are still covered in snow.

Garden of the Gods — Colorado

An interesting and beautiful park of red rock surprisingly hidden in a Rocky Mountain community. Although the park was very beautiful to take in and walk through, nothing in particular caught my eye enough to take a picture.

Great Sand Dunes National Park — Colorado

North America’s tallest sand dunes. I hiked up one of the taller dunes (High Dune — 650 feet). The dunes are located in a plain that is surrounded by mountains. The area used to be a lake, but the water dried up long ago, leaving the wind to sweep across the lake bed and form dunes from the sand.

Bandelier National Monument — New Mexico

Historically one of the most fascinating parks we visited on the trips. We got to walk through the remains of some cliff dwelling Natives, and even got to climb ladders into their former rock carved homes. History doesn’t always make great photos though. I did however get some more interesting shots of Native American buildings in other parks below. The one photo I did like from the area was that of the Rio Grande right outside the park.

The Very Large Array — New Mexico

A science/astronomy nerd’s dream visitor center. The laboratories are run 24/7, so cell phones have to be turned off when entering the property to not interfere with the radio antenna readings. We got to see the antennas rotate and tilt a lot, and the visitor center contained lots of information about the discoveries made here. We happened to visit a lightning storm, so walking up to the huge dishes wasn’t really an option (although on nice days you can!), so we settled for the scenic views from the safety of our vehicle.

El Malpais National Monument — New Mexico

The main attractions of this park are the lava tubes, but unfortunately the tubes are closed due to some fungal disease that is killing all of the bats. All that’s left then is hardened lava flows, which although interesting, do not make for interesting photos.

Petrified Forest National Park — Arizona

Possibly my favorite park of this trip. Petrified trees form when they are buried in the sand and then covered with layers of sediment and compressed for a long time, essentially turning into rock. Silica (?) that seeps its way down into the trees eventually grows crystals, leaving behind a rock in the form of a tree that is full of very colorful crystals.

Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments

Sunset Crater contains a volcano that was active hundreds of years ago when the Natives (Wupatki) still lived on this land. After the eruptions, the Wupatki left to inhabit other areas.

Grand Canyon National Park — Arizona

It’s a hole in the ground. Granted, it’s a very big hole, but still just a hole. Next.

Navajo Bridge/Vermillion Cliffs/Glen Canyon

A huge collection of monuments and recreational area in northern Arizona/Southern Utah. If I had a motorcycle, this is the area I would want to ride it. For our trip, a minivan had to suffice.

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park — Arizona/Utah

This place is the worst. With all the money they rake in, you would think they could at least fill in some of the car destroying potholes in the park. Ultimate tourist trap.

Four Corners Monument — Colorado/New Mexico/Arizona/Utah

A Navajo park worth paying the small entry fee for. The sole purpose of this park is to get a picture of yourself taken while standing in four separate states at once. Cool.

Mesa Verde National Park — Colorado

A well-preserved historical park that focuses on the history of the Natives that lived on top of this plateau. Some of the larger cliff dwellings require a modest entry and guided tour fee ($3), but well worth the price.

Arches National Park — Utah

One of the most spectacular National Parks in existence and one of my all time favorites. Lots of scenery from the road, lots of scenery from the trails. As with most of these western parks, they are just as amazing in the dark.

Originally published at on September 19, 2012.

Vermont Trip 2012

Just returned from a week-long, 2000+ mile camping/road trip through New York and Vermont with Renee. All of our photos from the trip can be found on my flickr page. Here is a rough outline of the route:

View Larger Map

Day 1 | Driving Day: Jello-O, Veganism, and Brown Tract Pond Campground

The first day was spent mostly sitting in a car — the idea was to get most of the driving out of the way early on so that we could have shorter distances to travel the rest of the week. We did stop by the Jell-O Museum in LeRoy, New York, but it unfortunately didn’t open until 1pm on Sundays so we had to just take in the sights from the outside.

We briefly stopped in Syracuse for some lunch at the Strong Hearts Cafe — a small coffee house with vegan food offerings. I was excited to try this place out since I have never tried well-made vegan soy foods. I had a “chicken” salad sandwich and also tried Renee’s BBQ tempeh. Both were very tasty and I wouldn’t mind eating more vegan fare in the future. I however, don’t think I could ever pass up a juicy steak.

After eight hours of travelling, we finally made it to the Brown Tract Pond Campground. The campground is a New York state park, and it is in the middle of nowhere. Brown Tract Pond is a very nicely maintained campground with a small beach on a beautiful lake, no cell service, and a seven-mile dirt road separating campers from the closest town. As great as the campground is, we happened to arrive when it was getting dark, and a thunderstorm was rolling in. We set up our campsite in the rain, and then proceeded to eat our purchased sandwiches in the car.

Not really roughing it, I know. But this was a vacation, not n exam to earn a camping merit badge.

Day 2 | Wilderness Day: Shallow Lake, Kayaking, and the Milky Way

By morning, we woke up and the skies had cleared up, leaving us with a nice dry view of our campsite.

Since the weather was now sunny and cool, we decided to hike to Shallow Lake, about a 1 1/2 mile trek from the campsite through Adirondack forest. It was refreshing to stretch our legs after having spent almost the entire previous day cooped up in a car. The hike had some interesting sections to it, including a fern grove akin to the flora found in Jurassic Park and a log bridge that bounced quite a bit.

We eventually made it to Shallow Lake, ate some trail mix and drank lots of water, and then made the return hike back to camp.

While our morning was spent on (mostly) dry land, the afternoon took a turn in the opposite direction as we decided to go kayaking. We drove to Racquette Lake looking for a marina that would rent us a kayak and eventually found one. For twenty-five dollars we set off into the lake, surrounded by ninety-nine miles of shoreline and the Adirondock mountains.

We kayaked 2 1/2 miles through the lake and inlet until we were stopped by a very small waterfall.

After kayaking back another 2 1/2 miles, we were exhausted and ready for some food. We feasted on some delicious fried seafood at what looked like the best restaurant at Old Forge, Slickers. Not sure if it was the full day of activity, but fried fish and french fries never tasted so good. Afterwards we went across the street to an arcade (!) and I whooped Renee in air hockey 7 to 2. I won’t go into the details though of my pathetic performance against Renee’s skeeball skills.

We eventually made our way back to camp as it was getting dark. After a quick telescope collimation (telescopes don’t like being bumped around in the trunk of a car over rough roads), we headed down to the campground’s beach for an evening of star gazing. We finished setting up as soon as the sun set behind the mountains. Renee spearheaded the effort of finding Messier objects to cross off our marathon list while I fooled around trying to take photos. The skies in this part of New York are some of the darkest in the country, and we were treated with fantastic observing conditions. I have never seen the Milky Way so bright before!

After we finished observing, we stumbled through the completely dark woods back to our campsite.

Day 3 | “B” Day: Branbury, Beer, and Burlington

After such a fun and exciting previous day, it was a little sad to have to leave the Adirondacks — I will definitely want to go back and camp in that region again in the future. We packed up our site and drove for three hours to Branbury campground just south of Middlebury, Vermont. Although Branbury Campground is also beside a giant lake, this location is definitely more family oriented and not in a place where the bears outnumber humans. It’s a very nice area if you don’t mind all of the people, and we were happy because it offered a great 360 degree view of the night sky for stargazing.

After setting up camp, Renee and I headed to Burlington for some evening fun. On the way there, Vermont’s eco-friendly-let’s-save-the-planet-and-be-green persona became apparent in many ways, most notably through the huge solar farm we saw on the side of the road. It was pretty neat.

We made it to Burlington, and our first stop was Magic Hat Brewery. I’ve been on a few brewery tours before, but I particularly liked this one because instead of solely focusing on their own process, Magic Hat gave a pretty broad overview of the history of beer and microbrewing in the United States. Additionally, their gift shop is a grown-up Mardi Gras carnival funhouse with free samples of most of their beers on tap. Unfortunately, I forgot to take any pictures of the actual brewery except for one of Renee at the top of the tower in front of their building.

After Magic Hat, we drove deeper into the heart of Burlington to be tourists and eat some dinner. After some more delicious fried seafood, we headed back to camp for the night.

Day 4 | Dairy Day: Bagels, Cabot, Ben and Jerry’s, and Soft Serve

Wednesday was Renee’s most eagerly awaited day of the trip: dairy day. We started the day off by eating breakfast at the Middlebury Bagel & Deli. The shop’s bagels were hot and fresh and their homemade cream cheeses delicious. My particular favorite cheeses were the horshradish and bacon, and the scallion.

Next we were off to Cabot, Vermont to tour the Cabot Creamery. The tour was interesting because unlike most other tours that show only parts of the actual production process or use demos set up specifically for the tours, Cabot walks you around their actual creamery — with tourists getting in the way of employees and forklifts in the narrow hallways. As informative and cool as the cheese making process is, no doubt the best part of the tour is when you get to sample nearly all of the varieties of cheese Cabot makes. After sampling around twenty varieties of cheese, I was so stuffed that there was no need to eat lunch. Renee seemed to get pretty filled up on samples too.

After Cabot, we made a quick stop at the non-dairy related Bragg Farm and Sugar House to fill up on maple candies and maple syrup. Yum.

The next Dairy Day stop was at Ben and Jerry’s. Although the commercialization of Ben and Jerry’s makes visiting not as personal of an experience as all of the other tours we took (timed and scripted narration instead of being able to freely interact with the guide), it is still worth going on at least once. After having had our ice cream at the end of the tour, and then purchasing even more ice cream afterwards (to try some flavors we can’t get here in Ohio), Renee and I both agree that although Ben and Jerry’s is decent, it doesn’t even come close to Cleveland’s own Mitchell’s.

The home stretch of Dairy Day came less than a mile from our campsite. Lured by the promise of twenty-four flavors, how can you say no?

Day 5 | Popping the Question: Townshend State Park and Bald Mountain

Thursday was my most eagerly awaited day — only because Renee didn’t know it was coming. That was because it was the day I planned to ask Renee to marry me!

We started the day by travelling to our final campsite of the trip — Townshend State Park in southern Vermont. It was a dreary morning and I was worried that rain might hamper our hiking plans. When we arrived at the park, the weather finally cleared up and it became reasonably sunny. We set up camp as quickly as possible so that we could go hike up Bald Mountain before it got too warm. By this point in our trip, we had become experts at setting up the tent. The Townshend State Park campsite was particularly interesting because it was on a pretty steep slope. To account for steepness, and possibly the rain runoff that occurs on such a hill, there was a platform where we could set up the tent. It’s something I had never seen before but it was pretty cool!

Immediately after setting up, we set off for the trail up Bald Mountain. Although the trail sign stated that the hike was only 1.7 miles long, it rose 1100 feet in elevation and the distance felt much further.

Not only was the hike long and very steep at times, it was incredibly buggy. We also kept thinking that we were getting close to the top, but it wasn’t until our fourth or fifth “I think we’re almost there” that we actually made it.

The view from the top was pretty nice, but the sound of thunder in the distance meant we had to look around quickly before making our way back down. There was one thing that I wanted to do before we left, and that was to set up the camera on a timer to take a picture of both of us at the top of the mountain. I found a rock to rest the camera on, and had Renee stand-in for a test shot so that I could make sure we would both fit in the camera’s frame. One test shot, a second test shot, another shot with me in it, another shot; I think at this point Renee started to get a little annoyed just standing around while I dabbled with my camera. I promised her just one more shot but instead pressed the record button to capture some video:

Pictures speak more than words, but Renee was definitely surprised, and she accepted my proposal! Another friendly hiker, Greg, made it up to the top of the mountain shortly after and offered to take a photo of us.

After some more celebrating, chatting, drinking lots of water, and eating trail mix, we made our way back down. The hike back was still very steep, long, and buggy, but with both our excitement, it went by pretty quickly.

After the hike, we cleaned up and drove in to Manchester to eat some wood-fired brick oven pizza for dinner — yum. Afterwards we got back to the campsite, started a fire, waited to see if the sky would clear up for stargazing, and when it didn’t went to get some well needed rest.

Day 6 | Driving Day part 2: Manchester, Bennington, Albany, and Rochester

Our last day of the trip started early again (going to bed early the night before, we had gotten up at 6 am). After packing up our campsite, we drove-in to Manchester to eat some donuts for breakfast. On the way there, we saw some goats on a farm and decided to stop in and say hi.

After the goats and then after devouring some Boston Creme and Cookies and Creme donuts, we drove some more until we reached Bennington, Vermont. Apparently the soil in the Bennington area is perfect for making pottery clay, and so many artists moved to that area to practice their craft. We took a self-guided tour at Bennington Potters to see how they make their vessels, and as cool as it was, I definitely don’t remember being this excited about it:

Next we drove through Albany, New York and stopped for some lunch at Mr. Pio Pio‘s Latin-American kitchen. All I have to say is that it was the most delicious food we ate during our trip, and it was the best Latin-American food I have ever had. If I am ever anywhere near Albany again, this is where I am going to stop in to eat.

By the end of the day, we made it to Rochester, New York where we could look forward to sleeping in normal hotel beds for the first time in a week. Spending a night in Rochester helped break up the long drive (the next day we were a mere four hours from Cleveland) as well as letting us stop in to one of the Blackburns’ favorite restaurants: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. It was the first time I had ever eaten there, but the ribs were good, the sauces were great, and the mac and cheese was untouchable. It was the perfect way to end our road trip.

Originally published at on August 18, 2012.

Bottle Cap Table

Back in college my buddy Jeff and I were pretty big soda fanatics and would try to taste as many different varieties of the bubbly beverage as we could get our hands on. We particularly liked sodas that came in glass bottles and whenever shopping we would see if the store stocked any flavors we had never tried.

In addition to trying as many different varieties we could, we started collecting the caps as well. The caps themselves were usually very colorful and their rarity made them interesting. Eventually we started collecting the caps from other beverages as well (eg. beer) and our collection grew. At every party, we would swipe people’s used bottle caps and add them to our collection. Eventually, our friends caught on and would save us all of their caps as well.

We always thought it would be awesome to showcase our bottle cap collection, so what we ended up creating is the bottle cap table.

Fast forward until after graduation: I finally had the funds and motivation to pursue this project. The finished coffee table came out AWESOME, but it took much more time and effort to complete than I could have imagined. Below are the steps it took to create this piece of art.

1. Collect bottle caps.

A lot of them. The ~2’x4′ table we built uses 722 bottle caps. We had collected many more caps than this, however many of them don’t get used in the final pattern/design because of their colors or because they are too bent out of shape. Be sure to clean them all in some bleach water to kill any bacteria that may be lingering in them.

2. Find your table.

I went with a coffee table from Craigslist.

3. Pick your design.

This is the first step of many that took much longer than I thought it would. Organize your caps by colors and try to figure out a pattern that you will want to use for your table. If I were to do it again, I’m not sure I would bother with a pattern unless I had a very small variety of caps.

4. Glue the caps down.

I chose to use tile adhesive for this step: lay down some of the adhesive and press the bottle caps into it. I also decided it would be easier to attach all of the bottle caps to a piece of thin board first, then secure this to the table later on.

5. Grout.

I chose a nice black grout to contrast most of the bottle caps we collected. Grouting bottle caps is similar to grouting tile, except that the bottle caps are not nice and level like floor tile. Be sure to clean up any grout covering up the caps immediately before it dries — trust me.

6. Attach the bottle cap table top to the coffee table.

Since I attached the caps to their own board instead of directly to the coffee table top, now was a good time to bring the two together. I attached the bottle cap table top with some screws and then added some grout over the screw heads so they are not visible in the table top.

7. Cut, stain, and attach side rails.

I wanted the table to have a hard edge instead of just sloping off. I cut some pine to length, stained it to match the existing table color, and attached the rails. I added more grout where needed so the table surface was flush with the rails.

8. Caulk.

I used a clear silicone caulk between the grouted bottle cap table top and the side rails, as well as in the rail corners. This is to prevent any of the epoxy resin from flowing out.

9. Pour the epoxy resin.

This part was probably the most fun to do. I ordered a gallon of two-part epoxy resin “Kleer Kote” from US Composites. It’s not cheap, but it was highly recommended by others who have created similar bottle cap projects and I do not regret spending the money on it — it is a fantastic product. I poured on a thin seal coat first to prevent any air bubbles from appearing later on. Be sure to use a rubber squeegee to spread the resin around evenly (brush hairs may get stuck).

After the seal coat dried, Renee helped me pour on two flood coats to fill in the 1/4″ inch basin formed between the table top and the top of the side rails. Spread the resin out again with the rubber squeegee carefully so air bubbles don’t form. The resin is more or less self-leveling, so this spreading out doesn’t have to be perfect.

Remove any air bubbles with a blow torch. Either let the resin pour over the top of the side rails to coat them evenly, or if the table is level pour the resin right up to the top of the rails without letting it spill over. If choosing to do the latter, clean up any resin that gets on the top of the rails immediately. Let dry.

That’s it! I am very happy with how the table came out. The whole project probably took 40 hours of work total. I was fortunate enough to have the help of many people — Jeff who helped with collecting, sorting, and woodworking, Renee who helped with the design and pouring of the resin, my father who helped with woodworking, my mother and her friend Chantal who helped with gluing down the caps, grouting, and painstakingly cleaning the grout from the caps because it dried for too long, and Adam for helping collect a significant portion of the bottle caps.

The finished product looks great and is very solid. It is also very easy to clean. Due to the amount of work, I’m not sure I would make something like this again, but who knows — Jeff and I are still collecting caps.

Originally published at on July 30, 2012.