A new tool box with an old-school look


The idea to start this project emerged when I snapped the handle of the spade shovel that’s been in the backyard through each of the four season for each of the past dozen or so years.

But the root of the project goes back more than 30 years when my Dad gave me a tool box he had built out of some pretty nice Douglas fir 1X6. It wasn’t like a gift for a birthday or a rite of passage. As I recall, I said something like, “Hey nice tool box.” And he said, “Take it. I can build another just like it in about a half-hour.”

I’m not sure if he did build another one — or anything else,  for that matter. Not long after that, he was diagnosed with the disease that would claim his life. Continue reading


The intersection of roadside rubbish and a rack for rye whiskey

rack 2 angle

Each morning on my way to work, I tool down a two-lane farm-to-market that separates an endless collection of hillside cedars from a finger of Lake Travis near the Cypress Creek Marina.

On the Friday before Christmas, I spotted in the right-of-way at the base of the hills a wooden pallet that might have slipped off a flatbed or jettisoned by someone who wasn’t in the mood to go to the landfill. I thought to myself, “If it’s still there tomorrow morning, it’s mine.”

It was. So I pulled over and pulled the pallet from the weeds and tied it to the roof-rack on my Ford Escape. Continue reading

Setting sail for a new (kitchen) island

kitchen island

Our house has an open-concept floor plan downstairs where there’s a clear view of the television from the kitchen sink and half of the counters. But those counters are a little too far from the stove. And working from the counters adjacent to the stove puts the cook’s back to the TV.

Since I’m the cook most of the time, I needed to remedy that.

Not long after moving in, we discovered the IKEA store north of Austin off I-35. We bought a couple of chests of drawers that were easy enough to assemble, not too bad to look at and reasonably priced.  On the second or third visit, a small kitchen island caught my eye. It had a butcher-block top and a stainless steel storage rack below. The price was OK.

So I asked one of the guys in a navy-blue Polo shirt with the yellow IKEA lettering to direct me to aisle where I’d find the island. We walked over and the guy showed me the empty space where the islands were supposed to be. Continue reading

It all starts with baby steps

Steps done

This post is aptly titled because it describes project that is easily mastered by anyone with the most basic of skills and the most basic of tools. And because the product is designed to help toddlers take their first steps up to grasp hold of that which before was unreachable.

The little steps seen here were built for Ivy, the daughter of my niece Johanna and her husband, Nate. The steps are pretty much the same as the half-dozen or so I’d built before for other relatives and friends, and like the ones my dad built first his first grandchildren dating back to the 1970s. Continue reading

Pop’s log cabin: A downsized dream

cabin front

When I was a kid, we lived near the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a sparsely developed forest of old-growth pines that grew from a grayish-white soil that resembled the sand along the ocean beaches a few miles to the east.

I remember more than once driving through the pines with my dad and him saying that one day he’d claim a tract of that land and  take a chainsaw to the tallest and straightest trees and build a log cabin for the family. For a long time, I wasn’t sure if he was serious or if it was just one of the things dads say to entertain their wide-eyed adolescent sons.

Whether it was a real dream or a tall tale, the story sent my young imagination into high gear. I conjured up an image of my dad along with my brothers and I taming a section of the Pine Barrens and erecting a log house that would be the envy of South Jersey. Continue reading

A country kitchen accessory and a turning point

hutchJan. 27, 2001, was something of a turning point for me. That’s the day I decided to trade in my poor-running Jeep Wrangler for a Ford Escape.

I was what salespeople call “motivated buyer.” The Jeep, just three years old, had let me down at least twice on the highway with engine trouble: It would at random cough, spit, fart, snort and conk out without warning at highway speeds. Then after some rest, it would start back up, run for a few minutes– only to die again.

The last straw was coming back to Austin from Huntsville fairly late at night when the Jeep puttered to a stop between College Station and Bastrop on Texas Highway 21. What should have been another hour and a half ride home took more than twice that and I was fed up with that sorry descendant of the once-proud utility vehicle that helped win World War II.

But that Jan. 27 wasn’t only the day I traded in the Jeep for a 2001 Ford Escape, it was the day I decide to upgrade from the inexpensive No. 2 grade pine lumber to the pricier clear pine for a project I’d been designing in my head for a few months. Continue reading

A rustic ice box for my beer


There’s nothing wrong with stealing an idea, as long as you admit it — and maybe make it better.

For the past several summers, stores like H-E-B and Walmart have been selling rustic-looking ice chests that are wooden on the inside and plastic or galvanized metal on the inside. They usually have a Texas star or a horseshoe for decoration and stand about as high as a table.

I liked them but thought the price tag, which ranged from about $95 to as much as $150, was a bit steep. The design was pretty simple and the lumber pretty standard.

During a trip to Fredericksburg a few months back, I found at one of the antique stores along the main highway through the town some fairly inexpensive metal Texas stars and iron bottle openers that can be fastened to a fence post or a backyard deck railing — or a wooden ice chest. Continue reading