The 5-minute Dovetail: A hand-tool woodworking exercise for building skills

There’s a woodworking school in Portland, Oregon, owned an operated by a guy named Gary Rogowski. If you read the woodworking magazines, or buy woodworking how-to books, you’ve likely heard of him. That’s how we met: I was an editor at Fine Woodworking magazine when I was assigned a feature story working with Gary to build an Arts and Crafts Style table.

Over the years I learned a lot watching Gary work up close, and reading his articles and videos. My favorite of them all is a simple exercise he taught his students called “The Five-Minute Dovetail.”

The challenge: Cut a “pin” and matching “tail” in a pair of scrap pieces of wood and make them fit in 5 minutes or less. The required tool: A bench vice to hold your wood, a handsaw (western or Japanese-style), a chisel, and a coping saw.

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(Not) ‘Making It’: You won’t see me on Season 2 of NBC’s hit craft show

When Season 2 of NBC’s hit crafters reality show “Making It” comes out this December, the familiar hosts Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman will not be joined by me. But not for lack of trying.

Last year I submitted a 3 min. audition video to be a cast-member on the show and I’m not ashamed to share it with you here, now.

I’m a Nick Offerman Groupie and was generally impressed by Season One but not intimidated by the talent. “I can compete with felters!” I thought. So it didn’t take much goading from an old college friend to apply. (Coincidentally, she built a successful casting agency after college and casts contestants for the show. LA is all about connections, right?!)

I completed the 1,000 page questionnaire, sharing my life story as the son of a yarn-store owner and micro-biologist, which apparently creates a curious and capable maker with tons of unique and inspiring answers for a craft game show contestant. The last requirement on the application was to submit an audition video.

I’m not an OK Boomer, but I generally don’t like to create selfie videos. So I drew some inspiration from a classic internet viral video — one of my all-time favorites — from the Dollar Shave Club launch.

My audition video got me through round one, and I was selected for a live Skype Interview with a producer. But I failed to impress and never got the in-person call back. I’m pretty sure it was the last question: she asked me for my favorite Karaoke tune and then made me perform it. Hopefully, that video doesn’t make the bloopers reel.

Make a PodBox Single-Purpose Podcast Player

The single-purpose “PodBox” Podcast Player

Build a Rasberry Pi speaker box that plays the latest episode of your favorite podcast

I’ve worked in the technology industry for more than two decades, and back when I got into it everyone was talking about “convergence.” It was a decade before the iPhone, but companies were hard at work looking to discover the perfect combination of features and functionality in a single hardware device.

After some fits and stops, here we are 20 years later and the quest for convergence has been conquered. Today, everything fits into a “phone.” The iPhone and Android unleashed a massive universe of apps that transformed a hunk of glass and metal into anything and everything you want it to be. Point it at the sky to identify the aircraft flying overhead with augmented reality (FlightRadar24). Hail a taxi cab on the fly at your exact location and pay the driver without your wallet(Uber/Lift). Take a photo (Camera) and share it with friends, family, and strangers (facebook, instagram, twitter). Unlock your front door before you arrive home (August locks), or spy on your babysitter (Nest). Deposit a check into your savings account with a photo (Wells Fargo), and order and pay for your Latte before you arrive at Starbucks.

Our phones have become so converged we can’t leave home without them!

The future is singular! 

With all this access to everything on demand in a single device, I predict that humans will eventually reject this all-you-can-eat buffet of information and evolve toward a more singular and focused future. 

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The Office of the (My) Future

I start a new job on Monday and I want to brag about my new office.

First of all, there’s the commute: I get to walk to work with a cup of coffee.

It has a fully-stocked kitchen that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and offers around-the-clock pour-over and all-you-can-eat snacks.

In addition to my personal office, there’s an outdoor patio and a second-floor deck with WiFi and pleasant views of the Santa Cruz mountains to gaze at while I do my heads-down work.

I also get to bring my dog, Pepper! She hates to be alone all day and now she gets to hang with me, take occasional walks and fetch breaks, and lay around on her pillow in the company of her familial pack.

My hours are flexible, which helps when it comes to shuttling kids to and from school and sports, or just finding a few minutes to hangout with my friends and family, exercise, or enjoy my hobbies.

Adjustable height desk

The motorized adjustable-height base has four presets.

But let me tell you about my favorite thing of all: my custom handmade adjustable-height computer desk. The tabletop is made from a glorious slab of California Walnut, sustainably grown and milled by a local farmer in Santa Rosa, Calif. It still has it’s original “live edge” and it’s constructed with traditional mortise-and-tenon joinery cut by hand. I can sit or stand anytime because the desk has a motor that adjusts the height with the press of a button.

Here’s the best part: I got to build my custom Walnut desk from scratch in the woodshop next door! That’s right, my new office has its own woodworking studio for employees!

For those of you who have not cut through the satire just yet, I’ll come right out with it. My new office is my home office (and that woodshop is my garage woodshop).

Next week I start work at Automattic Inc., the company behind WordPress and a handful of other software platforms and services for publishing on the open web. Automattic bills itself as a “distributed” company with no corporate headquarters. Me and my 900+ co-workers live and work in more than 70 countries from our home offices, co-working spaces, and even a few Airstream campers.

After spending the past five years commuting to and from the towering glass and steel edifice of Silicon Valley’s most famous technology headquarters, Apple Inc., I’m surprisingly ready for the change. And I’ve already started thinking about that next woodworking project.

Two halves of a single Walnut slap are fit side by side with a wavy fault line that follows the live edge of the tree.

Weekndr Project: How to Make a Balsa Wood Airplane

The Weekndr workshop turned into an aeronautical studio today for an inspired project building a balsa wood glider from scratch. Ours turned out a lot like the ones you buy at the toy store, only since we started with raw materials and used our own tools we came up with a fun wing design.

The inspiration for this family woodworking project was the new scroll saw we acquired a few weeks ago from cheapo tool maker Harbor Freight. For $69 we can now cut precise curves and delicate wood parts. That’s incredibly inexpensive for a scroll saw, but you get what you pay for. It’s actually a pretty wonky tool – the table is made from thin flimsy steel and the blade guard wobbles loose after a minute of use from the vibration of saw. I knew what I was getting though, and I managed to trick out the tool with a new table and blade guard, and now it cuts pretty well.

Without it, we couldn’t have made this:

The glider is made from a single thin sheet of balsa wood. Using a ruler and pencil each part is drawn on the balsa wood and cut to shape with the scroll saw. The edges are shaped and smoothed with sandpaper.

To attach the wings to the body of the glider the parts are assembled with joining notches. We devised a unique design for the tail wing assembly that features two rudder fins to accommodate this joinery technique.

To prevent the glider from tumbling through the air with each throw, we weighted the nose of the glider with three screws – not too many and not too few. It gave the glider just the right balance and they came with an added benefit: the screws protected the nose of the plane from crushing on impact.

And impact it made. Over and over all morning the kids tossed the glider off the front stoop and into the driveway. Parts broke off regularly as it crash landed again and again. But with the hanger nearby and a stock of balsa wood scraps at the ready, we were able to repair or replace each broken piece and get the glider back in flight in minutes.