Sunday, March 16, 2014

Writer's block, so... more on gardening and other backyard pursuits

Still no piece on hunting with the nephew, I just can't seem to get it out on paper.  However, I have done quite a bit on the back yard, and I've started back into archery again.

First, a pic:

This is how real estate folks sell houses: a panorama shot of my back yard.  Images are closer than they appear.

Yes, the barren grass stands out, but what I see are improvements:  thriving trees and vines, a pond that is still mostly keeping it together, and a straw bale with a target in it. At right, the spectre of the shed looms...

The biggest good news for our yard is that the boysenberries are growing vigorously, the pomegranate survived my hacking at it over winter, and the fig is finally producing, keeping me from cursing it.  It already has figs the size of my thumb. (Tom, I have great hopes for your figs, too!)

We've also put peas into the ground.  Typically, this is getting close to being too late in the year, but I think we'll get a few in a couple of months.

One of the more labor-intensive activities was tying up my boysenberries.  I'd neglected them over the winter, and they needed to be raised up off the ground, untangled, and some of the old vines removed.  I'm no expert on pruning them, so I erred on the side of caution and kept all the vines coming up that were close enough to be tied onto the trellis.

Two years ago, I'd cut river reed from one of the nearby levees, drilled 5/8" holes into some redwood 2x4's, and trained them up.  Over time, the river reed (Arundo donax, a local invasive) had deteriorated, and so I pulled out the old cross bars and considered replacing them with some hardwood 5/8" dowels from the local big box yard store.  One trip and a price of $2.85 per dowel convinced me that a quick trip out to the levee to cut my own new river reed would add a nice touch of rustic charm to the back yard.

Ah, the rustic charm that comes from being a tight-wad... a river-reed trellis.
But my favorite "improvement" was the purchase of a straw bale for use as an archery target.  You see, I've been meaning to start up again, but couldn't bring myself to grab my gear and make the five mile drive to the archery range for the three or four shots I'd be able to physically make before wearing out my atrophied muscles.  Pretty pathetic, I know.  But the target in my back yard, plus signing up for a certification class to teach archery, have lit a fire under me, and I've been shooting nearly every day for the past ten days.  I'm even up to nine or ten shots a day.

Squirrels, beware.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

General updates around the house (or, of irons and fire)

Something to keep me coming back to blogging, and while I work on a larger piece on hunting planted birds at a club with an armed 12 year-old, here are some updates to my house and garden work:

-My friendship with Hank and Holly continues to pay dividends -- in the past two weeks we've had roast duck, duck legs and dumplins, and duck coconut milk soup.  Soon, I expect my children to start quacking.

-I realized, while thinking about making spaetzle for the first time but just making dumplings, instead, that chicken and dumplins (or in this case, duck and dumplins) are basically fat, Okie noodles.

-We've had quite a bit of rainy weather, but I've still been able to work up the nerve to glue up a handle and recurve tips for what I hope will become my wife's flatbow.

-I've also picked up a very old project I've put off for far too long:  my in-laws knives.  I used a Dremel tool and a grinder to design some knife blades a number of years ago, but never could get good enough with gluing up and carving the handles.  Well, last week I took out the old odd pieces of hardwood I'd been carrying along with me picked out the chunk of purpleheart, cut it and glued it. It was quite a morale booster.

-Last and most definitely not least, we picked up some plants for the garden:  tomatoes, garlic, onions, strawberries, a bell pepper and some marigolds.

Soon, I hope to hammer out a great story of my adventures with the armed 12 year-old.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Quick pic of the stitching pony

For Hippo -- here's the stitching pony in action (actually, I was just modeling it).

Monday, February 10, 2014

Inside job

With no chance to work on my workshop, I can still work in it.  Sadly, the roof leaks something awful, which means I have to push all the big equipment (lawn mower, rusty band saw, etc.) out of the way of the drips, substantially cutting into my workable space.

Also, in a rat-killing frenzy a few years back, I pulled out all of the homemade shelving the previous owner had installed.  The shelves were hideously ugly, and even worse, had many cracks and crevices perfect for storing rat droppings and old walnut shells, but now all I have is a poorly-made (but not by me this time!) work "bench top" and the ribs of the walls on which to hang things.  I put up a couple of pegboards, which are a little bit handy, but not by much.  Mostly, stuff is stacked or lays on the floor -- not conducive to getting any work done. 

Last night, however, I made a quick mental check of materials, and realized that I could bang out a quick version of a tool I've been needing for quite some time:  A leather stitching pony.

A stitching pony is a third hand for leather workers.  It is basically two long pieces of wood to make a clamp, vertically attached to one long piece of wood as a base.  One of the vertical pieces is attached by a hinge, and the other is just screwed into place.  A bolt with a wingnut runs through the two vertical pieces, and leather is glued to the ends, making a soft clamp for holding pieces of leather while you sew them together.

Here's a picture of mine:

Admittedly, not my best work.  I used one long 2x4 piece of redwood, because though I knew I had two good pieces of 1x4, it turns out I really don't know what I know (now THAT would blow Don Rumsfeld's mind).  I ripped a 16" piece with my rusty bandsaw, and attached the pieces to the base with screws lying around in the shop.

Attaching the piece to the hinge was a bit trickier because, of course, I didn't have screws short enough to not poke through the other side.  This here:

 is my solution.  I cut the ends off the screws with my rusty Dremel tool.

Next, I realized that I didn't have a bolt the right size, so I took a trip to the local hardware store, after all, for 5/16" bolts, wingnuts and a 5/16" drill bit.  I was going to do at least one thing right.  I picked 1.5" bolts, so that I wouldn't have a bunch of extra bolt hanging out the side.

At home, I put it all together, and glued leather pieces to the jaws.  After glueing the leather, then placing an example piece in the clamp, I realized I'd bought bolts too short.  So much for doing one thing right.  One more trip...

Thus, the 20% markup on my projects.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Anxieties. And weather.

Last week, I'd set my stern gaze upon the workshop, to begin drywalling this weekend, panic attacks be damned.  Though a small job, I am often beset by paralyzing anxiety at the thought of these endeavors.

One of my many obstacles to a project this size is the idea of the cost.  You see, I have a hard time spending more than $10 on any project (and most of them clearly reflect this quirk of mine), but there's no way around it, drywalling is going to cost in the range of $150-200.

I know I need a real interior to my workshop.  It will help keep out the inevitable attempts by rats to take up residence, and it will create a nice space, encouraging me to work.  Also, I know that when I complete a job like this, I get a serious morale boost.  Investing that kind of money pretty much guarantees I'm going to finish it, too, because I shudder to consider the alternative (shudder).

Still, I can't seem to get down to the store and get it over with.  Typically, for a project this size, I first go into the store and draw up a bill of materials, looking for the cheapest, but also making sure I've gotten everything in my calculations.

In the case of drywall: walls, tape, nails, and mud for materials; and nothing I don't have for tools.  Not bad.

The dimensions aren't daunting, either:  two five-foot walls, two eight-foot walls, and one sixteen footer, with heights of six and one-half to seven feet.

My next obstacle is usually figuring out a way to get materials to the house.  In this case, the cars simply won't carry 4'x8' gypsum panels.  My Dad's truck has been hit-or-miss lately, what with it being a 22-year old truck with over 600,000 miles.

I could buy a trailer for the Subaru, but then I'm looking at more than doubling the price of the project (feeling my chest tighten).  Additionally, I don't have any protective storage space for a trailer.  Perhaps I should buy one of those heavy-duty canvas garages, one of which I saw at Harbor Freight along with the trailer (a dream, and a terrible one, and now I'm short of breath and my shoulders are creeping up towards my ears).

So now, in my head, I've calculated the actual costs, added 20% for a typical overrun (mostly for gas, to pay for the dozen or so trips I'll have to make back-and-forth as I remember things, and for the cheap things I first bought, as they break and I have to replace them with slightly more expensive versions), and I've added approximately $400 in auxiliary equipment I'll need just to maintain what I've got after I'm finished.  My project has gone from $150 to nearly $650 in one brief anxiety attack.

I need to take a deep breath.  And wait a bit.

To get over these attacks, I usually have a series of short conversations about the proposed project with my loving and supportive wife.  This series typically lasts about 3 years.

This time, however, I've got a considerably shorter time frame, because I already put it out there in public, and I've made a resolution (I'll take Dad's advice on resolutions next year, I so solemnly resolve).

So think, man, think!

I finally came up with a fun, quirky, some might say red-necked solution to the transportation problem:  I need additional OSB panels for the floor of the attic (also on the list of resolutions -- if only you'd given your advice earlier, Dad!)... so, I'll just strap a panel to the rack of the Subaru and strap the gypsum panels on top of it.  Then, it's just three short, bumpy miles home.  I'll be that guy you get stuck behind on the road; I won't care, either, so just relax and enjoy the pace.

My plan fully fleshed-out, I re-set my stern gaze upon the workshop, clutching my dollars in hand (figuratively), and prepared to make the leap today, to actually buy the materials for the job.  It being the worst drought on record in California, I was sure to have a wide open sky under which to...

And of course, it's raining.  Four inches, they say, in two days -- about one fifth of our entire annual precipitation.

This rain is absolutely critical to our State, so I shouldn't be upset.

Take a deep breath.  And wait.

I guess its on to more interior labors:  A stitching pony for leatherwork, and maybe some additional floor space added to the attic.  

There it is, just waiting.  And getting wet.  And, slowly rusting every tool I own.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Just to show you my amazing brother in-law

In case you thought, in my earlier post, that my brother in-law was crazy for bowhunting for pheasants, here's a little video:


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Laughing like Sysyphus

My 20 gauge Huglu side-by-side (new cocking dog screw in the center, below the barrels)

For those who have been paying attention (hello, Hippo! and, maybe Dad...), I took a hiatus from blogging.  Life had gotten a little more complicated, what with a new job in a new and fairly complex realm (transportation).  I also didn't think I had much to write about.

But, over the year, I kept getting snippets of encouragement to start writing again (mostly from Hippo, but occasionally from my wife).  Also, I made a sappy resolution to do things that I love (like tying flies, working with my nut of a dog, and apparently writing), rather than things I merely enjoy (like playing annoying little video games on my phone).  So, here goes nuthin.

In addition to venting, I'm using this blog as a reference for my house projects and attempts at hobbies and items of interest.  So first, some house and land projects for the year, in general order:

1)  Increase storage in the attic, since the wife is hoping that I'll eventually move in there and end the charade that I have any space whatsoever left inside the house;
2)  Clean up the 8x16 shed out back, and add a real roof and interior walls(!).  I'm considering this practice for learning how to drywall;
3)  Clean out the washroom and put a washer and dryer in it (what a wake-up call to read that a guy in the backwoods of Angola has a washing machine and I don't);
4)  Fix up the back porch (ideally with an honest-to-goodness roof, a bread oven, sink, countertops, and permanent grill; realistically with a cloth roof, a hibachi, and a three-year old boy eager to carry burning coals).

Of course, each of these endeavors is a universe of joblets, broken tools, trips, agony, despair, makeshift jerry-rigs, and painful attempts at convincing people of progress.  Why, you ask, would a person, knowing what he knows about the utter inevitability of tears and curses, about the futility of it all -- why would he still try?

To understand why I will, yet again, take a running start before I hit the wall (to paraphrase Bill Cosby), let me take you back two months (cue harpstrings and wavy video effects)...

Two months ago, I was happily hunting alongside my amazing springer spanglish, Rocio, and my great brother in-law, who we shall call "Paul".  We'd made a typical circuit in fine California wild pheasant hunting fashion:  a six mile slog through every imaginable invasive weed on a patch of public property almost completely devoid of any game animal.

We'd seen exactly one pheasant, a rooster that popped up in a spot as likely to hold a game bird as a parking lot in front of a 7/11, so of course we weren't prepared.  As we neared our car, however, along a ditch line and near some blackberries, we jumped another bird.

"Paul" was shooting a 50lb draw recurve bow with flu-flu arrows (yes, it's a real thing), and I was -- oddly enough -- perfectly positioned just behind his left shoulder, affording him a clear shot.  Sadly, he missed, but the bird banked left.  I let loose with some #7 steel shot, and the bird faltered in mid-air.  I pulled my second trigger to finish it off, and... nothing.  No sound, no kick, no "click" of the firing pin, even.  Instead, the trigger merely squished back.  Thankfully, the bird fell out of the sky, anyway.

At home, I worried.  I had not taken apart my gun (a Huglu double barreled 20 gauge, found here), and when I looked it over, I noticed that it was missing a screw on its left side (ha ha, I had a screw loose -- okay, let's move on now).

I called Holly, a friend and amazing writer (and editor of CWA's magazine), because she and her boyfriend Hank have a guy.

I asked for his phone number, but I also asked about his prices.  Holly responded that prices would depend on the work being done, but that it had cost around $500 to get her gun fitted.


I called anyway, lacking any options (I'd trust a new gunsmith less than a new auto mechanic).  I knew he was British, at least, and so he had to be nice.

My first conversation with him went well.  Of course he was nice, and when I described the missing piece, he replied, "Ah, it's the (I swear to you he said this in his very British accent) cocking dog screw."

The cocking. dog. screw.

The only way that could get any more British is if Benedict Cumberbatch had uttered it while eating chips.  (My friend Andy pointed out that the Brits have a number of sayings -- "bullocks" comes to mind -- that are both extremely vulgar and completely innocuous; apparently, they name gun parts the same way.)

He did say that he'd look it over for free, and in so doing immediately sealed a deal with me.

Out of curiosity (or as Ronald Reagan quoted the Russians, "trust but verify"), I googled the gentleman, and intimidated the crap out of myself.  Among other things, this man had apprenticed and worked for J. Purdy and Sons and Rigby rifles, guns of my childhood dreams.  Now, he repairs and fits guns, engraves, and teaches shooting.  He also hand-crafts a few guns per year, which he sells, apparently, for many thousands of dollars.  I'd be bringing him a sub $600 gun over which I'd fretted spending so much money.  I felt almost embarrassed.

The following Saturday, my wife and I took a drive up to the hunting and shooting club where he worked.  Driving in, I was impressed -- a beautiful iron-worked gate, a couple of happy dogs, and a nice, clean clubhouse.  We asked about the shop, and were directed down a hill to a small, nondescript workshed.

We knocked, and were invited in.

I was surprised: This man's shop looked somewhat similar to mine, and definitely what mine could look like: only four machines -- a bench sander, a bench-top drill press, a bench grinder, and a metal lathe.  Other tools were strewn about the shop -- engraving tools, and also some typical things like screwdrivers and hammers.  Unlike my shop, of course, guns were also strewn about, in various states of disrepair, and I noted that not one looked cheaper than two grand.  One of them was a shotgun of his own making: a beautiful sidelock hammer gun in 12 gauge.

The gentleman shook our hands and warmly invited us in.  He looked over the gun and quickly confirmed it was the "cocking dog screw" (for those of you from England, an explanation: if an American quotes a person with italics, that means it is to be read in an English accent, unless otherwise noted).  I suppressed a chuckle.

He made nice small talk with us while he studied over the gun and removed the forearm and barrels.  In as nice a way as possible, (I swear, Brits can put you down in such a way as to make you feel like royalty), he recommended that I trade up my gun for an AyA (the next cheapest gun on the market, about three times the price of my Huglu).  He removed the stock-plate and looked to see what socket it might take.  He grabbed a one-piece T-handled socket wrench in 11mm.  Too small.  He grabbed a 14mm.  Too big.

He then grabbed a socket wrench with a drive (for fitting various sized sockets), and put a 12mm socket on.  Too small again.  He looked for a 13mm, but couldn't find one, so he grabbed a 1/2".  That seemed to loosen the bolt right up... and then the socket popped off the drive, stuck in the gun.

The gentleman put the gun between his legs to get more leverage, and slowly pulled.  And pulled.  No luck.  He tried to lever it out with a wide screwdriver.  No luck.  He took the gun over to his workbench, raised it stock-side down, and banged it hard against the bench-top (or as my wife, the English Professor, noted: "he knocked the shit out of your gun").  Finally, he pulled the socket.  Apparently, the nut was still stuck fast to the innards of the gun... hmm, probably a 12mm, after all...

A consummate professional, he earnestly explained each procedure to me, (while I stood there imagining scenarios in which, after sheepishly admitting defeat, this amazing gunmaker would offer me one of his guns in exchange, with the promise that I not utter a word about what had transpired).  After about 45 minutes of small talk, banging, explaining, mild cursing, and awkward pauses (my wife had left about 15 minutes in, when he'd started grinding a socket to fit), he stopped, looked at me and said, "I can fix the gun, I'm just going to need it for a bit."

Mind you, we'd never decided on a price.  He knew well both the amount I'd be able to pay (judging from the value of my gun) and the amount of time(money) he'd be putting into the thing.  He looked me square in the eye:

"I can do it for, let's say, $60.  But that's firm."  I'm sure I'd just watched him put $75 of his time into my little turk.


I walked back up to the clubhouse, where my wife was drinking a Coke and reading Gray's Sporting Journal, under various deer heads and birds in flight.  We felt very upper-crust, indeed.

It would be five weeks before I'd see my gun again (although in his defense, we did go on an extended vacation).  When I picked up the gun, it had two matching cocking dog screws, handmade.  He said it is a fine little boxlock, and that the rest of the gun may disintegrate, but he'd guarantee the triggers.

Why does this story inspire me?  Because, watching my gun get worked (and I mean worked), it occurred to me that I was basically watching myself do just about anything.  I was lucky enough to watch a master craftsman hard at work, and I could just as easily have been watching a video of myself changing the brakes on my Subaru.

At one point, as this man took my five hundred dollars and slammed them against the bench to dislodge a seventy-five cent socket, I actually thought to myself:  I can do this.