Friday, June 20, 2014

Joe Philippines Returns Home

Some of the old timers who still read this blog will know what the title implies but to those who don't, a brief explanation. A bit over ten years ago, not by any design or plan but solely by just being in the right place at the right time, I met a native Filipino in London, England of all places and after a few years married her. She ended up immigrating to the United States but still has some family back home in the Philippines and we go and visit them every so often.

The last time I went to visit was almost eight years ago. I can't believe how time has flown but I know that was how long because at the time, my wife was pregnant with our oldest daughter. Five years ago, I had every intention of going back for a visit with my wife and daughter before my wife started her residency which would prevent us from visiting for three years until she graduated. However being a slave to a nine to five job and being in the middle of a crisis in which everyone was looking at me to solve, I had to stay home and work to fix that problem while my wife and daughter went without me.

Two years ago my wife graduated from residency but because of all the major stresses going on in our lives, (both of us switching jobs, switching houses and towns and having another daughter), we haven't been able to go again until tomorrow that is. Tomorrow morning the four of us will be winging our way to the dark side of the globe which currently is in the middle of rainy typhoon season. Fortunately if we can just land, our destination is up in the mountains away from the coast where the weather is mild and there is no danger of being swept out to see or dying of humidity. I'm looking forward to it.

All this brings me to the title of the post which is Joe Philippines. On my first trip, I noticed a lot of strange Filipino natives would come up and say 'Hey Joe!' in greeting. I first thought it was because I looked like someone they knew but I soon figured out that they were calling me Joe, short for G.I. Joe. I guess because I'm six feet two inches tall with short blonde hair, I come close to fitting the bill. I would rather be shorter with a darker complexion so I don't stick out so much while over there especially in downtown Manila, but since that will never be, I'm okay with G.I. Joe.

Because internet connections are spotty to say the least and I'm not sure I'll even have access to the web on anything but perhaps a phone, my blog here will be silent until I get back. Hopefully sometime after the first week of July when I'm back, I can start writing about my adventures over there which I always have a lot of and posting a bunch of pictures. I love my adopted home away from home country and look forward to spending some time where life is a whole lot simpler. I'll try to stay safe and will see you all when I return.


P.S. In case you get bored, here are the journals from my first trip to the Philippines:

Joe Philippines: Part 1
Joe Philippines: Part 2
Joe Philippines: Part 3
Joe Philippines: Part 4
Joe Philippines: Part 5
Joe Philippines: Part 6
Joe Philippines: Part 7
Joe Philippines: Part 8
Joe Philippines: Part 9
Joe Philippines: Part 10
Joe Philippines: Part 11

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Over the course of the last month, I've made a couple dozen pens. The first dozen were okay but nothing I was really proud. I think the ones I showed you before were the third and fourth ones I made. I didn't like the shape of them. As you could tell in the previous post, I was striving for a more substantial feel to the pens but the bushing in the middle was too narrow so they ended up having a weird shape. If I made them less shapely, they felt thin in my hand like a pencil and not real pleasing to use. But the initial set I bought had a bunch of them and they were the cheapest you could buy which made for good training material.

I also never liked the finish of them. They weren't real glossy which I was looking for in my finish and they felt like holding polished wood. I wanted something that felt almost like holding glass yet made from wood. I researched a lot on the internet and came up with a finish that I wouldn't have ordinarily thought about right away. Superglue or more specifically CA glue. When putting it on, I could almost get the results I was looking for. I could get the glass like feel but not the high gloss. I ended up getting some synthetic mesh sanding pads up to 12000 grit and they did the trick quite nicely.

The one remaining problem is that two out of every three pens that I did and got this awesome finish on would delaminate a bit when I pulled them off the mandrel on which I turned them. The CA glue would stick them to the sizing bushings used to get the components to fit correctly and even when I carefully scored the glue from the joint, I would still end up with blisters more often than not. they were unsightly and destroyed the whole look in my opinion.

So after much research again, I found a solution. I would use the mandrel and the sizing bushings to turn the blanks down to size and sand them. I would then get some 60 degree bits (which I didn't have at the time) to hold the blanks one at a time on the lathe so I could apply the CA glue finish and do my final sanding with sandpaper and synthetic mesh pads. I ordered the bits and when they came in, they worked great. So I took more expensive pen component set and what you see above are my first two attempts putting everything together.

The style of pen called the Big Ben Fountain Pen is substantial feeling in my hand. The finish feels like holding glass and is high gloss which highlights the pen barrel material which in this case was a deer antler shed on top and some scrap walnut I had leftover from my treasure chest project for my oldest daughter on the bottom. The ones shown at top are both fountain pens but the walnut one has the nib cap on to show how they look both with and without the nib cap on. The fountain pen kit comes with a replaceable ink cartridge and also an ink pump cartridge so you can just buy a container of ink and refill it whenever needed. It rights incredibly smooth and I'm in love with it. I plan to make a few more of them using different woods and using gel roller balls instead of fountain pen nibs. All but perhaps a couple will be given out as gifts this year to people I know. Perhaps any extras I might sell if I find the right market. The latter part is not really a requirement since I do it more to just feel like I accomplish something and I find it very relaxing and satisfying. But if I recoup some of my costs of buying pen components to insert into my turned wood blanks, that wouldn't be all bad either.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Screw Jobs

I've been paying insurance premiums for much of my life. I have never filed a claim with the exception of when some guy backed into my car and I filed a claim against his insurance to pay for the repairs. I've never had any damage to things like my house or cars where I've been able to file a claim. Lucky, yes, up until recently. And like the saying goes, you never know how much you have in insurance until you go to file a claim.

Recently we had a heck of a thunderstorm move through the area complete with lots of rain and lightening but fortunately none of the hail or 100 mph winds they were predicting to go along with it. We rode through the worst part of the storm and went to bed. All night the lightening flickered and crashed but nothing really close. Then in the early parts of the morning, our power went out, started up again twice and disappeared for good for about an hour as we were just getting ready for the day. Everything seemed fine until I went to get something from the refrigerator and noticed that the interior light didn't come on.

I discovered the breaker had tripped and reset it only to have it trip again. I tried a couple more times with the same results. I got an extension cord and plugged the refrigerator into a different circuit thinking perhaps the breaker was bad and though I didn't trip the breaker in that circuit, the refrigerator was still dead. Nothing was happening. Something was most likely wrong with the refrigerator.

I'm not good when it comes to diagnosing modern electronics and because it was tripping a breaker, I figured I had most likely lost the compressor due to a surge. However because none of the electronics or lights came on, I figured it could be a lot more. I looked up six different appliance repair companies in the area, four in town and two in neighboring towns. Of the six, one flat out refused to work on my refrigerator because though it is Kenmore, it was actually made by LG and he said parts for them are impossible to get. Of the five left, three could get to me but it would be a week or two. One said he was booked up for the day but would call me back the next morning to see if he could schedule me in. The last said it would be a couple days. So I told option four to call me back the following morning and we could go from there.

Knowing that it would be 24 hours later before I would get a call back and then more time until he actually arrived, I suspected that I would loose everything in the refrigerator if I didn't act so I put everything in the deep freeze that would fit and would freeze. That evening when I still hadn't found someone to commit to actually coming to repair the thing, I went out and bought the biggest mini-fridge we could find in town, only one of three that were to be found. We transferred what we could in that and left out some stuff like veggies that would last a few days until we could eat them. The next morning came and went and no call from option four. I called at noon to remind them and was promised by the receptionist that they would call me right back. Three hours later and still no call, I called option five and he said he would be out there in a few minutes. (Now a week later, option four still has yet to call me back so obviously he didn't want to work on my refrigerator and just could tell me that honestly up front.)

Option five showed up and turned out to be an 73 year old retired man who was just back in the came to pay back some medical bills from a bad fall he took last year. Long story shorter, I ended up having to help him out with logic and even proper tools but at the end of a couple hours, I was pretty certain that the circuit board with all the electronics was fried along with the compressor and fan motor or at least their harness. I had spent my free time over the last 36 hours looking for a compressor online and had only been able to find one used one in unknown working order that I could order from England and take three to four weeks to arrive. That was it! I didn't know about the fan or the electronics but I suspected that I wouldn't be able to find those either. So the repair guy wrote out a ticket totaling out the refrigerator due to lightening surge and charged me $50.

Day three without a refrigerator I called the insurance company to file a claim and they told me to supply them with the information from the repair guy and a copy of the purchase receipt. So I am thinking at this point that since it was replacement insured that they would cut me a check for the difference between what I paid for the thing minus some minimal about of depreciation since it is less than 2 years old and minus the deductible. I searched around for refrigerators but at the end of the day the only one we really liked was the one we had. I didn't really like this option because if it ever broke down again, we would be back to where we currently were. On the other hand, that same refrigerator was on clearance for about $900 less than what we payed for it and with the expected check from the insurance company, it would end up only costing us a couple hundred dollars. I thought it worth the chance since it was not much outlay of cash and we really liked everything about it so we ordered it.

Screw job one was trying to get a repair person to look at it in a timely manner. Screw job two was the appliance company that sold me the new replacement refrigerator. The soonest they could deliver the new refrigerator was three weeks out inconveniently two days after I am going to be overseas on vacation for a couple weeks. So the soonest they could deliver it when we were at home would be over a month out on July 8th. That meant we had over two weeks of living on what we could eat out of a mini fridge and a deep freeze, followed by another four days upon our return to the United States. Sucks, yes, screwed over, yes, but not impossible.

Four days after we had ordered our replacement refrigerator, the insurance company called back to say they also needed the purchase receipt on our new refrigerator. They would only pay the difference between that and our deductible which meant that now I was only going to end up with a couple hundred bucks from them to replace my old refrigerator, a hell of a lot less than what I had hoped. Had I known that, I would have gotten another brand of refrigerator, hopefully one easier to get parts for should it break down, that was still considered similar by the insurance company but cost $900 more and had them reimburse me for it. Screw job three had just been handed to me.

Our insurance agent had assured me that we could also claim the food that we ended up pitching because we had no place to preserve it and couldn't eat it all in time. After I claimed $150 worth of groceries which was probably really conservative, the national claim center (not my local agent) told me that we had to pay extra a rider in our insurance policy that covers that. Screw job four had just been completed.

Now I'm looking at getting the same fridge I currently own being delivered in a little over a month from now and should it ever bite the dust, I'm going to be in the same pickle I am now. So I shelled out half my savings by buying it on clearance for an extended warranty plan to cover all repairs and full replacement for three years should it happen again. I also bought a surge protected outlet to replace the standard outlet so hopefully any future surges can be stopped before the refrigerator stops it. I feel poorer and well screwed over right now. These things always seem to frustrate me because in my mind, dealing with them should be a lot easier than it really is. If I had gotten a repair guy out in a timely manner, diagnosed that it was irrepairable and got another refrigerator in place by the end of five or so days, I would think nothing of it. Instead I have to be constantly reminded of it for over a month.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Tramp Stamp

No not the tattoo that women get on their lower backs but the action my 18 month old does when put on the trampoline see in the picture. She stamps her feet on the trampoline and feels the bounce.

While down on the farm hanging the quilt, we also celebrated my oldest daughter's 8th birthday. It really only seems like a couple years ago I was blogging about her arrival here on this blog and somehow, eight years have gone by. Being conservative parents, we bought her a lego set and a few book sets but her grandparents were pretty keen to spoil her this year. I don't know how many times my brother and I begged for something like this and all it takes was to produce a granddaughter and suddenly 15 feet diameter trampolines are being showered upon me. So after hauling 300 pounds of trampoline back home in the van, it fell to me to set it up.

I worked a couple hours in the morning before it got hot and got much of it together. My mom had said that where she bought it online had lots of good comments on the quality of the trampoline but it also had lots of comments of people saying to make sure to start attaching springs in the correct holes because they had to completely start over when they didn't have it correct. So I made sure to thoroughly read the directions and start in the proper holes. That evening when it was in the shade, I went outside to assemble the safety net support poles and install them, the final task. That is when I noticed that the net was inside out. Nowhere in the instructions did it say that the new was directional (inside/outside) and could only be installed one way. Written all over the directions were many notes stating that the door must be positioned in a specific location so that a safety catch to keep the zipper closed when in use would work and I correctly located that before installing the hundreds of springs, safety covers, safety net, etc. On the final line of instruction, it said that the straps for attaching the poles should be on the outside of the netting and that was in fine print in a set of instructions full of bold, italicized and all cap warnings. Crap.

So at eight in the evening, I took off the protective covers tied in a hundred different places (I had literally spent a half hour tying every tie earlier in the evening) with elastic ties which made it a very slow process. Then I had to unhook every spring one by one and unfasten the protective net enclosure and re-hook the spring. Then I had to turn the protective net enclosure outside-in and re-hook every spring for the third time that day. Finally I had to add the protective covers and tie all those elastic ties yet again. Finally about 9:30, I installed the poles and the project was done. Well for the most part. I ordered some ground anchors to fasten the thing to the ground more permanently so that it doesn't sail away in the first wind storm we get which coincidentally forecast to arrive the evening I wrote this. They were calling for 100 mph straight line winds, baseball sized hail and 5 inches of rain. Knowing that I couldn't do much to stop anything from flying in 100 mph winds, I lashed it to the deck of the house, staked it to the ground in a few places and hoped they were wrong. They were wrong on all accounts. We did get a couple inches of rain but no winds or hail so it made it unscathed. The ground anchors arrived later and have now been installed. Hopefully that will hold it in place for most storms.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

View From Heaven

I was up on a scaffolding down on the family farm doing some work and at times with no way down and my father off doing another part of the project, I had some time to kill and enjoy the view. It was a beautiful day and I was captivated by the crops growing, the garden freshly tilled off to the right and the clouds floating by. I just couldn't resist taking a panoramic photo.

The task at hand was to hang up a barn quilt that my brother and I gave my parents over this past Christmas. They are all the rage to hang up on barns and to show off that there is a farm wife somewhere on the farm who cares about what people see from the road. My father gets overwhelmed pretty easily with projects like hanging a barn quilt on the side of the machine shed so I volunteered back them to help him out when the weather was nicer. Last week he called in the favor.

Somewhere along the line, he got a scaffolding rig that slides onto the fork attachment for his front end loader. As you can tell, I ended up being the guy who got to go up and up I did. I'm guessing I was nearly 25 feet in the air on the rig. My father had to come up at one point when two hands were two too few and in order to join me, he had to get the other tractor with a scoop that can only go about fifteen feet tall but which you can scale up to the bucket if you climb on top of the tractor and use the smoke stack and part of the scoop bracing as stepping points. He was still about ten feet too short so he had to use a stepladder in the bucket to reach up to the bottom of my scaffolding. With our four hands, we managed to get the quilt screwed to the side of the machine shed and then bolted a couple places for good measure.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Pen Me

Throughout my life, I've seen people given custom made pens as awards or tokens of appreciation and I've always thought they were so cool. I write in a journal everyday and find the act of writing with a pen and paper almost meditative. One of the most pleasurable things to me is starting a brand new journal with a smooth writing pen. Some of my most beautiful handwriting examples can be found on page one of any of my journals. Here's the rub though, I've never been given a pen. Not one single one.

Now that I'm taking care of our youngest daughter everyday, all day, my ability to get a lot done has greatly diminished for the time being. I can do a lot of finish work on my box building hobby while she naps but working with noisy power tools during the early parts of the projects is not recommended. So I have periods of time to fill with quiet projects and making pens seemed like a possibility. Another benefit is that we are gearing up for a long vacation to the Philippines in a few weeks and as custom, we need to arrive bearing lots of gifts or pasalubong as it is called in their native tongue. They love America food items like M&M's, Hershey's Chocolate Bars, Taster's Choice Instant Coffee, Marshmallows and Spam. I'm not sure why these odd things are so in demand and feel guilty bringing them to any sort of meeting so I tend to try to bring other things as well. In the past I have brought bottles of scotch for the adults and cheap electronics for the younger folks. This year I was thinking that perhaps I would hand out pens that I have made.

I'm a power tool-aholic. I have parents who don't know what to buy me for birthdays or Christmas and often give me a gift card to home improvement stores in the area. Thus I often spend my gift card money on power tools that I've wanted but have never been able to justify their purchase with my own money. Probably about six years ago, I purchased a cheap mini-lathe and it has been sitting unopened in the box every since. In recent years whenever I looked at the box I regretted the purchase because I knew it was cheap and if I ever got it out to use, it wouldn't be able to do what I wanted with it due to its small size and cheap build. I would inevitably have to buy a better one to do the job needed. Well I finally opened up the lathe and set it up and yet it is cheap but it still seems fairly solid and works well for making pens. As you can see in the above pictures, all I needed to do was buy a pen mandrel and turn down some small pieces of rosewood into roughly pen shaped objects.

The first pen I made, not shown, I essentially made straight barreled. While it still looked nice, it really didn't showcase the wood it was made of because there just wasn't that much left. Pens two and three I made fatter barrels and I liked the feel but the finish just wasn't popping enough. So after doing some research I made pens four and five and finished them using superglue of all things applied while they were spinning on the lathes. After several coats of that I used some friction polish and the results are seen in the picture at the head of this post. Now I think they are on the fat side so I plan on trying to find a happy medium somewhere. Once I have them the way I like them, I press in the components which I buy in a kit seen below into the wooden barrels using the press seen above. All told I can make a pen in about 30 minutes.

These pens are called Slimline models with twist top ball point pen refills. They came in an introductory kit that I purchases to see if I really wanted to do this as a hobby along with several other types. I plan to build the other kits first but I already know that I want to do some fatter cigar shaped pens and branch out into rollerball and fountain pen versions as well. I have lots of small bits of hardwood that I can never bring myself to throw away after a project that I will use up for this project. I enjoy the hobby and hopefully I can bring joy to a bunch of Filipino family in a few weeks. But the real joy will be mine when I keep the prettiest one of the lot and use to write in my journal every evening.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Boxed In

With the duties of looking after a very fast 18 month old child during the day, I have to set my goal list quite a bit lower than previously. (As if three months for a bathroom remodel wasn't low enough!) So I thought I would use some of my nap time quality time to work on some smaller woodworking projects where I can drop at a moments notice and go back to being a father when needed. Since I was warmed up using my box joint jig on the vanity drawers and the treasure chest for my daughter, I decided a couple more boxes were in order. The first one seen above is one that I made for myself, something I haven't done in a long time. I needed a place to tuck my wallet, extra cards that I only put in my wallet when needed, man jewelry like cuff links, tie clips, watch, etc., and perhaps a place to stash the coinage from my pocket and sunglasses. All that stuff had either been tossed on top of the dresser anyway or in a bowl on one of my closet shelves. Above and below are photos of the end result. I again used some more of the decorative molding stuff that previous owners of our previous house left behind and I've been storing for the last decade plus. The space in the middle of the lid certainly made me think that this would make a great jewelry box if I put a mirror there and lined the bottom with some red velvet. But since it is a man box this go around, I forwent all that.

My wife immediately wanted the box for herself when she saw it so in order to keep the peace, I promised her I would make a box for her too. She wanted a bigger box to store letters, cards and other memory inducing stuff that would slide under our bed and utilize a pretty useless storage space. So what you see below is what I came up with. Looks pretty similar but on a different scale. On her box I tried a new technique in building it that worked out well. Instead of building separate top and bottom pieces for the lid and body and trying to keep them the same size and square so they fit properly, I build them as one single piece. I just made the box joints, top and bottom and glued them all together so I had one solid box that I couldn't open. Then I set up my tablesaw and cut the lid from the body once it had set up and I had sanded the outside. That way I ended up with a perfectly matching box and lid. I will certainly go this route from now on.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Year of the Cicada

Yesterday as I was headed out the door to walk with my oldest daughter down the road to the bus stop, I noticed a solitary cicada on the sidewalk. It seems as if every two or three years, the news breathlessly announces that this year is the year of the 17 year cicada when thousand will come out and serenade us with their songs and disrupt our lives. I'm always left wondering where are they. About three weeks ago, the news breathlessly announced that this was the year of the 17 year cicada. I didn't hold my breath.

But as we walked down the sidewalk, I could hear the noticeable hum of millions of the suckers throughout the neighborhood beginning to sing their song. It is almost a whisper compared to the roar that comes later when they are more fully matured. Then I saw the oak tree out front. There were hundreds of cicadas stuck all around the trunk and looking up through the branches there are probably tens of thousands of cicadas stuck in various forms of molting. I have never seen anything like it before so this year, they must have gotten it right.

As I walked closer to the trunk to take pictures and observe, I noticed a distinct crunching under my feet. Then I looked down and saw thousands more cicadas littering the ground, all in various stages of molting. I rushed inside to get the rest of my family to see such a sight and as I was leading them back out the door, my wife noticed I had a cicada on my back. That is because standing under the oak tree was like standing in a cicada rain storm. Molting cicadas were loosing their grips with the bark and falling all around like large rain drops. It was a sight to behold.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Honoring the Fallen

Due to several years of ongoing drought, I've had to cut down a couple dozen trees on our 2 acres of land since we moved in a couple years ago. This spring I had three more that failed to leaf out and a four others that had leaves on less than half the branches. So perhaps this fall, I will once again be cutting down more trees. With all these trees, I have been trying to come up with ways to utilize them so that their lives will not be in vain. I have more firewood than I will burn in the next ten years. I've tried selling some but with everyone else suffering from the same drought and dead trees, wood is dirt cheap. Because I don't own a splitter and have to rent one, I can't even recoup my cost of splitting it.

So with that in mind last fall, I saved an eight foot section of an oak tree that my brother and I cut down to perhaps use in other creative ways. I would have saved more but at the time I had the notion that I would cut planks out of it and being at the bottom of a steep hill, I wasn't sure I would get more than an eight foot section up and into my garage. I ended up cutting that piece in half, rolling it onto a dolly and dragging the dolly up the hill with a rope, repeating with the second half and that my friends, was all I could physically do for about a week until my body muscles healed back up again.

I let the wood sit out by the firepit for awhile and contemplated how I was going to utilize it. In the end, I thought I would start by squaring off the pieces by removing the bark. I did that and then started to cut one of my squared pieces into planks that I thought I might make into something someday. I did but the planks were just about unusable. Cutting a straight line with a chainsaw freehand turned out to be much more difficult than I ever imagined. By the time I cut the wood out, planed it flat and then laid it away to dry, I ended up wasting much of the wood. Later when the wood was dry, it had warped so bad that to make it flat I again had to plane it flat wasting even more wood. By the time I was done, I didn't have much left over though I've used some of it here and there for small projects, the rest is still waiting for a calling. If I ever try this again, I'm buying one of those guides that you can clamp to the bar of the chainsaw to cut straight lines to begin with and hopefully avoid this process in the future.

I still had the second half of the oak log to deal with and in the end, I just cut it into two squarish pieces and put it in the garage to dry. You can see those two pieces in the picture above. They dried all winter and as you can see checked in the process. I could perhaps square off one side and cut them into small boards after ripping out the checked parts but I decided that I wanted to honor the tree by keeping the grain intact as much as possible. So I pulled out my power hand planer and started flattening out the sides. I then sanded everything down and stained it. It is now serving as a plant stand to help another plant enjoy life near a window. It turned out so well that I think I will repeat the process with the remaining chunk. Each chunk probably weighs around 60 or 70 pounds so once set in place, they aren't going anywhere.