Category Archives: Wood

A Treefort Grows In Woodbury – Part 2

So now, three months after kickoff, with a backache and a handful of splinters later, and the treehouse is almost usable (as long as we keep our balance) :)

I picked up where I left off, laying 2×6 boards across the top of the bolted 2×8 boards. Hardware was a big component, as I felt that the nails and bolts could only hold it together so much, without attaching it properly.  I went back and forth to Home Depot and grabbed some 90 degree plates that could hold the boards upright so they wouldn’t tip side to side.

For the underside there were some 6 inch metal twists, called Hurricane Ties, that also provided further vertical support, and kept the beams from moving off the foundation.

I know that the recommended spacing for beams is 16″ inches on center, but due to the trees getting in the way I adjusted this (smaller and larger) to accommodate the three, as well as the opening for them to come up on the ladder.  Finally it got to a point where I could lay some temp flooring on top, and the boys lent a hand (mostly decorating the boards.)

They say you can dangle the decking as far as 3 ft off the side without a problem, but I was over that, as you can see in the picture.  This was mainly due to the shape of the foundation, so only the corners protruded, but I was a little worried about stability.  Back to the Depot!

After some more discussion with a surprisingly helpful guy there, I opted to install a support beam running the whole length, with columns underneath. This was a bit involved.  I had to dig a set of holes nearly 4 feet deep, fill the bottom with gravel, place the posts in and attempt to get them as level as I could with temporary boards attached.  AND THEN, I had to make sure the posts were aligned the same way so they were parallel to each other.  Whew!  Being a one man job this took time, but I got them in and filled the hole with some concrete.  The boys did their part again here, mixing and scooping with joy as the stuff slorped and plopped its way into place.

All was going along, and then tragedy nearly struck.   We had a crazy storm blow through, and the trees, having been already weakened by prior severe storms, waved frantically about until the top fork on one of the trees snapped off.  We were amazingly fortunate in that it missed the structure by inches, so I set to it with a chainsaw, and the boys lent a hand once more cutting the branches down to size and pitching them over the side of the nearby fence into the woods.  My hope is that we can incorporate some of them into the railings when the time comes.  Bonus!

Each step took time, and I was really only able to work on this, on those weekends when we were not running around somewhere else, and not trying to wind down too much :)  But in the end, I was able to get to the wonderful step of removing the temporary flooring, pickup some additional boards, and begin placing them in, making the finished size just over 8×12 feet.

The idea of a treehouse to me, always meant using whatever you had on hand, and making do.  Most of the grainy pictures you see in movies all look like some hackneyed attempt, that is barely holding together, yet lovingly adored and revered by the kids.  With that in mind, I rummaged through what we had in the garage, and combined the old (cut to size) and new 1×6 boards.  I realize the older boards are not pressure treated, and will have a much shorter life span, but the finished look is so much better for it with an unintended zebra effect.

I have a few tips for placing the boards and spacing them, as well as accommodating the curves around the trees – but I’ll save that for another post.

In the meantime we all get to enjoy the fruits of our labor, and plan out the railing and roofing to go in.  Though if the boys had their way I’d be figuring out secret passages, one button trap doors, and a zip line entrance.  What a great time :)


A Treefort Grows In Woodbury – Part 1

So this year, after much procrastination, we’ve decided to finally build a tree fort for the boys.

Now, I never had a tree fort growing up.  It was the kind of thing every kid dreamed up, but few ended up with.  We would climb around in trees all the time, and made forts consisting of branches and old blankets down on the ground.  But nothing as formal or engineered as one with planks, turrets, and a spyglass.

I began this project, in the same way I begin most of the unknown – I Googled it.

This turned up a number of sites, but most were plans to purchase, with few tips.  I flipped through a book at home called The Dangerous Book For Boys and found some helpful hints there to mount the boards onto the tree, and lay them at 90 degrees to form a subbase.   After that it was your typical construction.

So a jot later with a basic plan, and we headed out to the local Lowe’s hardware store.

After finding the bolts we needed, we grabbed a friendly salesman who seemed to have some semblance of knowing what he was doing, and got some advice.  2x8s for the frame base attached to the tree, and 2x6s for the flooring base on top of it, with planks on top of that.

I figured we’d build a base, and sort out the top (covered roof, railing, etc…) later on.

So we got home, unloaded and began to work.

Step 1- bolt the base to the trees.  If you look at our “plan” you see three circles representing each of the trees we’ll be using.  I put one in using a single 1/2×6 inch bolt, then attached the other side with a lot of up & down to make sure it was as level as I could get it.

I quickly found the leveling part was the tough one, as these boards were heavy, and lifting them solo 10 feet above the ground wasn’t easy.  After some quick thinking I placed some 4 inch screws just below where the boards will be attached.  This way I can lift them up slightly to drill it out and bolt it into place, while the other end is resting on the screw.

Then I go back to that end and attach it too.  Repeat this to wind up with 3 bolts at each point where the boards meet the trees.  Needless to say I now have the boards up, but still need to put 3 bolts through at each spot. The bolts themselves are very hard to get in, and I’m using just a hand ratchet, not an air gun like some folks have for their Indy car racing.

It will take some time, but we’re off to a good start. Next step is to finish off the bolts, then the 2×6 boards go on top roughly perpendicular.

In the end I’m hoping for a platform somewhere between 8×10 and 10×14.  Final dimensions depend on how far it will stick out away from the tree, and how easy I can put up support columns underneath the corners.  Fun, fun!!  :)


Wood Meets Shaving – Brush & Razor Holder

So when I began my shaving excursion I had picked up a shaving brush and razor holder.

I’ve always liked wood, so I picked out one by Col Conks.

Using this as a template, I decided to build my own.

We have a number of Red Cedar trees in our yard, and they fall over and die once in a while.  So I went and cut out a length, and shaved down the sides until I had a post.

I placed the template one next to the post and traced it out, and using a coping saw I made the curve match up.

I then cut out some 1/2 inch slices along the grain from the cutout, prepping it to use for the brush holder itself. To mount this though took some doing, and I setup a jig with 2 clamps to brace the curve and allow me to cut out a section for the holder.

Once that was done I cut out the center hole for the brush, pushed it into place and Voila!

All set, and just like the original but a bit chunkier.

I’m tempted to coat it with some Tung Oil, but then that would hide the cedar aroma.  Ah well.  Gotta love the smell, and it will only add to the shaving experience.


Making Maple Syrup

Maple buckets on the treesLate February into March…  what do you think of?

After getting the paper cuts and allergic sneezing fits on Valentines Day, and trying multiple times not to repeat Groundhog Day, I think of pending Spring and tapping the trees.

Now some people think of maple syrup as nothing more than a condiment you put on your baked goods.  Growing up however, it meant a whole process, that ended up a wonderfully thick, golden, sweet and tasty spread.  I grew up in North Salem NY.  It was known more for raising horses than raising children, but thankfully we were fortunate enough to be surrounded by open land and woods.  Right next to our home, was the biggest sugar Maple tree I have yet to see bested.  This, along with many others on property, were tapped and collected into buckets to make maple syrup.

So first, if you’ve never tasted real maple syrup, you’re in for an exquisite treat.  While similar to the fake stuff, it isn’t nearly as sickly sweet, but rolls with an undescribable warm goodness you have to try on your tongue, to understand.

The process is far simpler than most people realize.  Basically you drill a hole into the tree, hammer in a tap spigot (which you can get online or at area hardware stores), and hang a bucket off of it to collect it.  Of course you should put a top on, and drill a hole into the top to allow it to drip – otherwise you get too many bugs, or too much rainwater mixed in.  Once you have half a 5 gallon bucket or more, you strain it through some cheesecloth into whatever collection device you have.  I use a very basic, 30 gallon spare garbage bucket.  Now it sounds a bit nasty, but I make sure to clean it first, then line it with a new, also clean garbage bag.  Once you have a decent amount of time, pour it off into a big pot and boil away!  Any worries about bacteria or further nasties get scalded off with the water vapor.

Boiling the syrupNow the professionals use things called evaporators, that take the process to a highly efficient stage.  I myself however, use your basic lobster pot over a contained fire using spare fire bricks and the grate off my outdoor grill.  Not exactly pretty or highly efficient, but it certainly gets the job done.

So once you have it boiling, keep in mind, maple sap collected is little more than all natural mildly sugared water.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 4% sugar content in the sugar maples and less content in others.  Boil it down at a 40:1 ratio and you get maple syrup (as in, 40 gallons of sap make 1 gallon of syrup).  The easiest way to tell when it is done, is to note how thick it is as it gets condensed and the water evaporates.  The other more accurate way, it to add 20 degrees onto the boiling point of water on any particular day.  This varies depending on air pressure and weather conditions, but generally it will be done once the sap/syrup reaches 120 degrees.

At our home we’ve collected the mason jars from pasta sauce, and use these to save the syrup.

This past weekend, since I’ve just begun collecting and it is relatively early in the season, I’ve tapped just 3 trees and gotten about 10 gallons of sap.  After an all day fire, and time spent chopping wood and keeping it roaring, we’ve ended up with about 1 and a half 32 ounce jars, or about 3 pints worth.

At every pouring stage you need to filter using cheesecloth and a mesh strainer, which complicates things, but makes it all the worth while when you got a full stack of homemade pancakes and a slow waterfall down the sides of the good stuff.

P.S. – Bite me Mrs Butterworth.


Woodworks – Finished The Poker Table Railing

Railing01So after much ado, and nearly a year of trying to find time, I’ve taken a week and a half off of work.

On top of the 50K things the wife threw my way, I insisted on finishing the railing for the poker table, begun soooo long ago.  I already had purchased all the parts I needed, so it was just a matter of doing it at this point, once I had the time.

I began with rolling out the large inch thick furniture foam.  Once it was laid out, I sprayed the railing with 3M adhesive and pressed it centered onto the wood.

After that it was a matter of guiding a razor knife around the curves, while leaving enough foam to go over the sides as well.Railing02 Needless to say I have a whole bunch of scraps left over for the kids to dive into.

Once that was done, I moved onto the top material.  I had picked out a black leather-like cloth, typically used on boats, with a nice soft feel to it that easily stretches.  With this however, I planned on using staples to hold it in place rather than the adhesive.

After sizing it up, I laid the foam covered railing on top of the cloth, and wrapped the outer edge first.  I spaced out the staples every 6 inches or so, pulling it tight as I wentRailing03; working on the sides first and moving into the curves.

With it roughly sized and pulled taut, I sliced it open to allow for expansion and let me more easily staple into place, while not changing the shape of the wood or the foam too much.

After that it was back & forth between the inside and outside of the railing, placing staples ever closer to each other, while continuing to pull it tighter.Railing04

Eventually I was able to get them all in place, and neatly wrapped.  I cut off the excess, and placed additional staples to reduce the bulges and warping of the fabric due to all the stretching I had done to work it around the curves.

There were more than I would like, but as this was on the underside I didn’t think anyone other than drunks would see it, and they would hardly care.

Railing05So I carried it out into the wonderful New England weather, from our nice warm basement, to the frigid outside barn, while hoping I wouldn’t slide down the driveway on the ice patches.

I managed to hoist the bulky result in, and after some minor adjustments, including pushing it back onto the table, we have liftoff!!

The railing should work well, and looks great.  To be frank though after months of using it without the foam I think I could have made do just fine, but it looks more finished this way.

If all goes well I might be able to get the word out, and get some orders to build more tables for other people.  If I can set aside dedicated time a 2 month turnaround should suffice for nights & weekends.  I might consider the finished railing as an option, or allow the client to use a vanished railing with rounded edges instead.  In either case, I’ll leave cloth and racetrack stain colors choices up to them too.

See something you like?  Don’t like?  Let me know if you have suggestions.  I’m  thinking about making a smaller version – a round 5 person one, and have that available as well at reduced pricing.  Now to enjoy a successful project :)

NicoCole 2009 EndDecember2 067 (Small)


Merry Christmas – Cut Your Own!

The Tree in the wildEvery Christmas growing up, we’ve always been a fan of real live Christmas trees.  Not the plastic ones, or the ones with the lights already setup, but the real pine smelling, finger pricking, always needs watering kind.  We’d take a hike over to a nursery, or over to where the Boy Scouts were selling them in some field, pick a nice one out and strap it to the car.

A few hours, and a few glass shards on the floor later, and we’d be all decorated up and in the holiday mood.

After we moved to Woodbury a few years ago, I began looking at cutting our own.  More because I wanted a good strong smell, but also because I heard the trees last longer.

Hauling it homeI always try to buy local when possible, so after some questions around town, we picked out a tree farm nearby.  I brought a saw, a pair of gloves, and a warm coat.  This farm, as do many of the tree farms, is setup on a hill – a few hills.  Naturally the ones closest to the parking lot get cut down first, so to get a decent one you have to trek around some.

Sooner or later you either get lucky, or settle on what appears to be the best available.  Both last year and this year, we found a tree larger than we wanted, and though the lower part was thinned out, the top was filled out really nicely.

A few cuts later at waist height, and we’ve got just the right sized tree!

Tree TrimmingSo then you grab hold around one of the branches, and drag it through the hill and dale back to the car.  Here’s to hoping you can avoid the mud or muster the strength to lift it over the puddles.

So while my lovely wife keeps the wolfish children at bay, I tie it onto the roof with some assistance from the Carhartt crew, and away we go.

Everyone has their own method for getting the tree into the house.  Ours is pretty basic.  I prep the tree trunk by fitting it into the stand before I carry it in, and cut off the lowest branches for a better fit and look.  Once that’s done, we clear the area, prop open the doors, and slide it through the doorway, beginning the needle drop right from the get go.

What a Beautiful Tree!After that, we bring out the boxes upon boxes, and bags, and wrappings that protected all our ornaments like little pieces of mummy antiquity the other 11 months of the year.  With children we’ve progressed from no ornaments below 2 feet, to only plastic ones below 4 feet.  At this point, whether an over excited hand or a sweep of the dogs tail knocks off one, we should be ok.  So they put it on, we adults move them off the one branch the 20 ornaments have been placed upon, and next thing you know we’ve got the Christmas spirit :)

Happy Holidays!