Fall Trees

People call us ‘crafty’.  I actually resent that term.  When you’re using jackhammers and shoveling rock, building pizza ovens and garages, ‘crafty’ is the last thing you feel you are.

But yesterday, I must even admit, I practiced ‘crafty’.

I saw this little project, I got a wild hair, and decided to make some myself.

It’s a little ‘crafty’ table ornament made with readily accessible resources – sticks, twigs, and branches.

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We started cutting branches into little rounds which I then brushed with Thompson water seal, and then drilled a hole in the center (but not all the way through).

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I cut little tree-like twigs and fired up the hot glue gun.  I think when the hot glue gun comes out, you are squarely in the craft zone.

And cut tons of little paper cut-outs of oak leaves with our handy leaf punch (doesn’t everyone have one of those laying around – available at Michael’s and JoAnn’s).

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With glue gun in hand, I glued the little twig trees into the branch bases… and the paper cut-out leaves onto the trees.

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And, wa-la.  Fall tree table ornaments.

Ok… maybe I am a little crafty.  But just today.

 

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Mossy Rock Wall

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If you have followed a number of the posts on this blog, you would find that we have been doing front yard ‘landscaping’.  We built a paver stone pad for our corn hole games… and then got completely carried away and built a pizza oven.  You can see the posts on that here (Part 1), here (Part 2) and here (Part 3).  If you take a look at these, make sure you click on the videos to see the videos – the best part 🙂

To complete this section of the yard we decided to build a little pony wall and ‘decorate’ it with solid rock face made from mossy rocks we would collect in the forest.  Little did we know when we took on this project how much work it would really be!

Once we dug and poured the footer, laid the block wall and filled it with concrete we were ready to begin the real work!

First we collected a number of trailers full of hand selected flat mossy rocks from the woods.

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Then we carefully put a large rock base layer along the bottom.

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We chiseled rocks that were too roundy or large, down to a more flat even size.

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And proceeded to build up the wall with stone.

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Because they were such large stones we used screws anchored in the wall to hold them in place, mortared the back side, and used large metal ‘sticks’ to clamp them in place while they dried.

We worked side to side every day, picking the perfect rock to fit into its given space, trying to maintain as small of grout lines as possible.

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When all the rocks were in place, we used die to color our grout and custom applied and finessed the grout between each rock.

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Finally we made a cardboard template for the rock top.  The rock top will be custom cut to our template from rock we pick from the rock quarry in Drake, AZ (about 3-4 hrs from our home).

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Whew!  A lot of hard work pays off with a beautiful detail wall.

Riding the Log

Some people go to the gym for exercise.  Some people are adrenalin junkies and go white water rafting or bungee jumping.  Here on the mountain, or abroad for that matter, we don’t subscribe to such extreme ‘sports’.  Our work around the house pretty much suffices for our exercise… AND adrenalin fix.

When we were away on our road trip we had a tree fall near the house.  It was only 6′ from the house itself, so we were lucky it fell the right direction… particularly since we weren’t home at the time in case it fell wrong.

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Now for the task of getting rid of the fallen tree.  The tree measures about 50′ long, 30″ around at it’s base.  We limbed the tree to rid it of all the scraggly branches, and cut the root ball off.

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Most people would cut it on the spot and carry up logs for firewood, one at a time.  But that would be too easy.  For us though, this beautiful cedar tree can make great lumber for projects.  We can slab it and make shelves with it, or lathe it and make salt cellars.  The possibilities are endless…. particularly if it is kept whole.

The tree sits down a fairly steep incline, so the task is to get it up the hill … without of course hitting the propane tank, pizza oven, or rocks.  We have a 2′ space we’ll have to thread it into.

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So we rig up snatch blocks in a tri-pull configuration to snake this 50′ long tree around several trees to thread it between the propane tank and rocks, using the winch from the truck parked up hill.

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We use tree branches as rollers to help finesse it up the hill.logride_IR.jpgtripull2_IR.jpg

When the truck starts sliding over the chalked tires and lumber toward the hill we have to stop to chain it forward to a tree on the top of the hill.

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John winds up having to ‘ride the log’ jacking it away from the propane tank to situate it through our small opening.

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As a fire fighter with chain saw and sawyering skills, he looks like the poster dude for what NOT to do in those Forest Service training video’s he watches.  All is fine until he is bucked off the log as it makes an unexpected turn toward the propane tank.

We turn to steel ‘rollers’ to get it up the rest of the way.

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Whew!  What a chore.  But we got it up the hill, rode the log, and got enough adrenalin to spare.

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Smoke sticks

For Christmas a couple years ago, I got John a miniature wood cask barrel.  For the person that has everything, it seemed like a great way to ‘age’ your favorite spirit to get that rich oaky mellow flavor.  It worked fabulous, and we got several excellent batches of oak aged bourbon from it’s staves.  The bourbon had an amazing smoothness with a toasty finish, and caramelized notes.  We loved it.  Unfortunately, after 4 – 5 times through the barrel, the effect wore off.

So we decided to re-burn the inside of the barrel.  We thought of making a fire inside, but we figured the port hole was too small and the fire wouldn’t be able to get enough oxygen.  So instead we bent over a piece of steel and got it red hot and seared the inside.

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We decided for our first trial with the newly smoked barrel, we would ‘smoke age’ some maple syrup.  So poured a bottle of good maple syrup into the barrel and let it age for 5 days.  Then we poured the maple syrup back into it’s original bottle, emptying out the cask as much as possible, then filled it with bourbon and allowed to age for 3 months.

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First off… the maple syrup was amazing!  It had a smokey, bourbon flavor.  It was fantastic on french toast… and made the best candied bacon I have ever had.  We used the bacon in scones, breakfast eggs nests, lunch salads and BLT’s.  I hated to see the product go. Yum!  But the maple flavored new smoked bourbon… WOW!  OMG!  You could bottle and sell this stuff.  It is so rich, slightly maple sweet, smooth, and smokey.  Fantastic stuff.

 

All this got us thinking… a dangerous thing around this house.  Why can’t we just make ‘smoke sticks’?  We could get some good oak… burn marks into them (heck, why not a cool design, or custom names).  Then take the burned smoke sticks and drop them in a bottle of your favorite spirit (bourbon, vodka, tequila, etc.)… or maple syrup.  So we set out to experiment.

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It worked!  To our joy and amazement, the smoke sticks lended a nice mellow smokiness to our spirits.  We started infusing all our spirits with the smoke sticks and winding up with premium spirits out of ordinary brands.  It only takes 3 – 5 days to infuse a nice smokiness… after that it can be overpowering.  They can be used 2 to 3 times… and after that, I’m thinking bourbon infused smoke stick jenga games.

Bird House Condo

What do you think of when you think of retirement?  Relaxing?  Golf?  Travel?   Not having to work!

For me, it is doing exactly what you want to do, when you want to do it.  Not having to report to someone else or appease another for the sake of work.  These days I surround myself with people I want to be around and do the projects, travel, and hobbies that we enjoy doing.

Since retirement, we have worked harder than we did at work… and not pushing paper or on the phone at a desk job.  We have built our home, and large projects which require jack hammers, cement mixers, shovels, picks, and tractors.  The back breaking type of work that yields noticeable large results… but keeps you sore and often hurt.

I have hoped for a day that we can do just this kind of project in retirement… birdhouses!  Simple, small, fun and fulfilling.

We opted to make 3 different size bird houses for a ‘bird house condo’.  We’d make them out of metal… cut them with the plasma cutter and weld them together, then paint them fun colors.  Colorful fun!

layout_IR.jpgWe started with cardboard templates and marked them onto our sheet metal.

plasma cut clos_IR.jpgThen we cut them out with the plasma cutter, along with the accouterments (flowers and hearts).

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… and welded them together

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hous_IR.jpgWe hammered out roofs….

Then painted them.  We dug a hole, poured 3 bags of cement and installed a post.

We built a ‘receiver’ and mounted the bird houses on the receiver and installed them in place.  For good measure we put a snow gage below them so we could measure the snow in the winter.

I think they came out pretty good…. we enjoyed designing and building them… and they are fun to look at it.  You know… I think we are finally starting to retire.

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Fred Flintstone Log Benches

It’s hard to believe we started this project 2 years ago, and are just now getting around to finishing it.  I could tell you that we were letting the wood dry, but the truth is that it has taken us that long for it to come up on the schedule.

After finishing our pizza oven and corn hole area, we wanted to put some benches around the area for ‘spectators’ to sit.  Our neighbor, Pat, (Thanks, Pat) donated a couple trees for our endeavor and so we cut them in half.

Our friend Jim, was visiting from Wisconsin, so we put him to work… back 2 years ago.  Remember that Jim?!

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Jim cut our trees in half, as we steadied the logs with our tractor.  With the logs cut in half length wise, we used a hand plainer, angle grinder, and wire brush to burnish the chain saw marks and smooth over the cut surface.

 

Once that was done, we used the chain saw to cut grooves for a steel banding to tie together the seat part to the back part, then chiseled it out smooth.

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We cut small logs, cutting wedges into them, to give the log bench something to sit on.

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Then we pinned it together and got it ready to move in place.

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Once installed we oiled it to protect the wood and it’s ready for company.

 

Function over Form

Since I have started selling more photographs I have needed a more useful ‘studio’ space.  Necessity is the mother of invention they say, and we created a work surface to sit on a futon coach we had in our office.  We put cute little curtains in front of it to hide the fact that it was actually a couch that this work top sat on.

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Somehow we actually thought we might use the couch again… well that wasn’t a viable idea!  Instead the couch became a place to put stuff… on, under, and around.  So we opted to get rid of the couch altogether, and build some cabinets to house the clutter that collected around the couch.

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We cut 7 sheets of baltic birch 7-ply plywood to make sides, tops, bottoms, shelves and doors for our cabinets, veneering all the edges with solid pecan wood.  We made 3 separate boxes.  We sanded the doors, shelves and boxes, and fit hinges for the flush mount doors.

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Then we stained and finished the bunch of them over 3 days.

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Once they dried we brought them up to the office and installed them in place.

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Whew!  What a difference.  They are not only beautiful, but functional.. and clean.  No more clutter.  They came out great.