Finally put this project to bed…Shaker inspired nightstands.

A few years ago we repainted our bedroom.  This prompted my wife to want a new headboard for our bed.  The old headboard was dark cherry and just didn’t fit with the room anymore, so I made a new one. Once that was done she observed that now the nightstands didn’t really work (also dark cherry), so I set to work on a new pair.  As it happened, I had just inherited a healthy stock of maple from my father and was looking for a suitable project.  Given the overall aesthetic of our home, I thought that a shaker/19th century vernacular style would be a good place to start with the design.  I’ve learned the hard way to always draw plans before the first cut to give one a a sense of size and proportion.

IMG_0993
Shaker inspired, but also pretty reminiscent of the 19th and early 20th century vernacular style I was accustomed to seeing as a kid in rural Pennsylvania.

I started dimensioning the stock and gluing up the sides last winter–then spring hit and the carcasses sat in my shop while I went to work prepping the garden.

IMG_0999
Lovely (and very hard) maple
IMG_1005
Glue up

I thought that being on sabbatical last Spring would afford me all the time in the world to get these done–such was not the case!  As summer gave way to fall my wife became a little more impatient and openly speculated that perhaps it was time to start looking at furniture stores for a pair of nightstands.  OK, I got the message.  After Christmas I finally got back to it.

With the carcasses largely complete to this point it was a matter of assembling the face frames and building the drawers and inset panel doors.

RLRV1031
While I am certainly not opposed to the use of power tools (never giving up my table saw or router!) I still enjoy prepping stock with hand tools–I can joint a board with this Stanley #8 pretty quickly. This piece of stock was resawn to make the book matched panels for the cabinet doors.
IMG_2153
Drawer assembly–my dovetails are improving
IMG_2198
Hand cut dovetail.  I cut them slightly proud then trim the ends of the pins and tails with a block plane before final sanding.
FDQF8288
Final fitting of drawers, doors, and hardware

After drawer construction was complete (all hand cut dovetails) and the doors glued up I assembled both nightstands for a final fitting.  Originally I had intended to use Shaker style hardware–wooden knobs and latches.  My wife requested modern hardware in something like a brushed nickel finish.  Our compromise was antique salvage hardware from the 1920s or so: glass pulls for the drawers and steel Hoosier cabinet latches.  I like the look.  After fitting I removed all of the hardware, gave everything a final sanding to #220, and applied three coats of Tried & True Danish Oil burnishing with #0000 steel wool between coats.

MJEN9498
I love this stuff

I’m pretty happy with how this project turned out.

GMHR2464IMG_2203IMG_2192

LWVK9497
Plenty of room for bed time reading

While I was at it I thought a “new” clock was a good idea as well.  I have and old Telechron given to me by a colleague that I love, but the alarm was always pretty temperamental.  So, I found another Telechron (circa 1940s) in need of a little TLC–it needed a new cord, some lubrication, and the case looked like it had been dropped down the stairs.

TBNC6866
Cleaned, lubricated, new cord and the finish restored this vintage Telechron goes well with the maple nightstand.

Done and done.  Next project (after resharpening all of my chisels and plane irons that got beat up on the hard maple) is a reproduction of an 18th century sea chest.

The things we leave behind

I received a text message several weeks ago from a friend and former student: a friend of his was tasked with cleaning out her grandfather’s house in Watertown, Massachusetts which included a basement workshop.  Her grandfather had died at the end of 2019 at the age of 94. Unsure what to do with everything, she and the family decided to try to sell off his tool.  I said I’d be interested in taking a look; at the very least I could provide some guidance on what was of interest to collectors and what wasn’t.  Perhaps I’d even find a few things for myself.  What I didn’t expect was to be as affected as I was by digging through the now quiet workshop of Charles Paone, a man I never met.  His friends and family called him Charlie.

Mr. Paone’s workshop was located in the basement of the modest cape style home (circa 1940s or 50s) adjacent to a  basement den paneled in tongue and grooved knotty pine that instantly betrayed (in a very familiar and for me pleasing way) the age of the the home.  The shop itself was filled with stray off cuts of lumber and shelves full of stains and varnishes.  All around were empty Chase and Sandborn and Folgers coffee cans and Prince Albert tobacco tins now filled with an assortment of nuts and bolts and wood screws.  I immediately thought of my grandfather’s garage and the baby food jars filled with hardware. I spotted a few tools that were of interest to me but I mostly was interested in learning about the man who spent his Saturday afternoons and evenings after work building and fixing things at a workbench still strewn with the tools and clamps he used on his last project.  I talked to his granddaughter a little about tools, but mostly I asked about him.

What I learned is that Mr. Paone was born in Watertown in 1925.  He was a veteran of WWII where he served in the south pacific with the US Army–it is likely he lied about his age to enlist early, a not so uncommon practice!  Following the war he built his home in Watertown where he raised his family and worked for Waltham Millwork Corporation.  What I found fascinating was the number of home built power tools–belt sanders, bench grinders, and router tables.  I picture him sitting with a set of plans from a 1950s Popular Mechanics and adapting an old washing machine motor to run a stationary belt sander.  I found a couple of piles of old electric motors patiently awaiting their reuse.

Most of the old power tools are of greater interest to a collector than they were to a collector and user like me.  There was one major exception, which was a Craftsman model 103.23620 bench-top drill press.  As best as I can figure, it was produced sometime between about 1947 and 1951.  I plugged it in and it fired right up and ran smoothly. I loaded the drill press and an assortment of hand tools into my car and spend a bit of time chatting with Mr. Paone’s granddaughter.  It was clear that they were close. Before I left I spotted a picture of Mr. Paone and his wife June on their wedding day and quickly snapped a pic.

Paone (2)
Charlie and June sometime in the 1940s

I got the drill press home and gave it a through cleaning and lubrication.

IMG_2124
Back on my home workbench

 

IMG_2125
Craftsman: The tools that launched a thousand home workshops

After some consideration, I made the decision to replace the motor.  Originally I had planned on just replacing the cord, but further inspection revealed deteriorating insulation inside the motor; it also emitted a very strong odor of ozone.  I don’t think it was original to the drill as the manual claims it had a 1/3 hp motor from the factory, while the one mounted to the drill when I brought it home was 1/4 horse.  I upgrade to a sealed 1/3 hp motor from Grizzly Industrial.

IMG_2129
The old General Electric 1/4 hp motor
IMG_2126
The new motor mounted easily and is lighter and more powerful.

She now runs like a top and I couldn’t be happier–I’ve wanted a drill press for awhile.  What I got was even better: a drill press and a story.

I picked up a few other odds and ends as well.

IMG_2122
Stanley #99 side rabbet plane
IMG_2123
Stanley #71 router plane
IMG_2121
Fitchburg Tool Co. combination square. I don’t know the date, but what little info there is on this company indicates it went out of business in the 1950s.

I was certainly very happy about finding these tools, but being there in Charlie’s shop also made me feel a sense of sadness and loss.  Mr. Paone marks the passing of a generation of men and women who fought their way through the deprivations of the Great Depression and then fought their way through the horrors of the Second World War in Europe, the south pacific, and on the home front.  After that, to have the chance to own a modest home on a modest street and to have a small space to work with your hands and a place to raise your family must have felt like a profound luxury.  As we get further away from the hardships and triumphs of Charlie’s generation we forget that there is not just happiness but also nobility in a modest life lived simply and well.  Men like Charlie made great sacrifices and asked for little in return but a little shop in the corner of the basement where all of the destruction he had witnessed could be negated but the small but powerful act of creating.  His shop was my grandfather’s shop.  His shop is my father’s shop.

As I left, I promised Mr. Paone’s granddaughter that I would not sell the items I had bought, but rather, I would honor him by using them to build things for my family and loved ones.  I am proud to have such an opportunity.  Thank you, Charlie, for everything you have done–I only wish we had had the chance to meet.

IMG_2130

 

Epilogue:

About a week after I visited Watertown and returned with some treasures from Charlie’s shop I received a large envelope in the mail.  Inside were the original owner’s manual for the drill press as well as the funeral card pictured above.  There was also a very kind letter from Charlie’s granddaughter thanking me for taking such an interest in her grandfather, “his craft, and his life.”  The honor was mine.  I will put the funeral card up in my shop as a reminder of Charlie, a man I’ve never met but have enjoyed getting to know.

A Classic Takes to the Field

I can’t deny that modern firearms are technically great–modern metallurgy, coatings, ammunition and ballistics, optics, and synthetic stock materials make for weapons that are accurate and reliable under even extreme climate conditions.  So yes, they don’t make them like they used to, and perhaps that is sometimes a good thing.  Sometimes, however, you just can’t compete with a classic, and despite the technical virtues of modern firearms, I love, for lack of a better word, the feel of a classic rifle or shotgun.  To that end, I give you the Remington Model 31, which is in my view the finest pump action shotgun ever made.

Rem31(2)

First produced in 1931 to compete with the then market dominating Winchester Model 12, the M31 marks the pinnacle (in my humble opinion) of the development of the pump action.  The operation is just incredibly smooth, earning it the nickname the “ball-bearing action.”

Rem31

No, it doesn’t have ball bearings but it certainty feels as if it does.  There is not a piece out of place or a rattle to be heard as the tolerances are tight, even on my M31 which is now 70 years old.  There is a really nice article on the M31 in Guns Magazine that summarizes it nicely:

“Finally, there’s the issue of smoothness. These guns do not have ball bearings but I think the description of “ball bearing action” fits perfectly. I’ve never found anything comparing to the smoothness of the M31. It has a lighter stroke than Winchester’s M12 or the Remington’s M870, which replaced it. The stroke on the M31 is the shortest of the three at 3-1/2″ inches compared to 3-3/4″ for the M12 and 3-7/8″ for the M870.”

The action is fast and I can rack and fire a follow up shot with my M31 probably just a bit slower than I can manage with my semi-auto Remington Model 11-87.  Unlike a semi-auto, I never worry about stove-piping a shell especially with the light loads I favor for quail and chukkar.  This gun is not an over/under showpiece to be trotted out at an Orvis resort; this gun was made to be carried by folks who took to the field in earnest.  Perhaps not the cheapest gun in its day, but Remington managed to sell quite a few even in the dark days of the Great Depression.

Rem31(3)

My M31 was made in about 1946 or 47 and is the “skeet model” with a solid ribbed 26″ barrel and adjustable polychoke. In the field, the gun is quick to shoulder and swing into action.  It is comfortable to carry for a long day of upland hunting (just shy of 8 pounds)–it feels light and nimble but solid.

M31(3)
My beloved 1946-1947 Remington Model 31 with 26″ solid ribbed polychoke barrel

The condition of mine hits the sweet spot for me: it retains a fairly high percentage of the original blueing and has just a few scratches in the stock but no cracks or structural problems.  The bore retains a mirror finish and the action is nice and tight.  In other words, it is in really good condition but not so nice as to be a collector gun I wouldn’t want to take into the field.  I don’t want to own a gun if I have to feel bad about using it!

A few caveats for perspective owners.  One, these shotguns will only accept 2 3/4 inch shells.  If I want to use a 3 inch shell when duck hunting, I take my M11-87.  Two, used replacement barrels are getting harder to find and they are not cheap.  And lastly, this is not the easiest gun to fully disassemble.  While I can tear down a Remington M870 (which was introduced to replace the M31) in minutes or even seconds, the M31 is more demanding.  There are more parts and those parts or fitted to tight tolerances.  So, this shotgun requires a little more care and practice.  In the end, it was those tight tolerances and beautifully inter-meshing parts that spelled the end of the M31 which finally ceased production in about 1950.  Final fitting and assembly required a skilled gunsmith, whereas the simpler action on the M870 did not.  That made the M870 cheaper and easier to produce. The M870 is also a great gun that has certainly stood the test of time, but the M31 is in a different class altogether.

I’m always looking around for vintage sporting rifles and shotguns, but it will take something pretty special to overtake the M31 as my go to field gun.

M31
My M31, a pair of pheasants, and a Brittany Spaniel called Stella

 

Bread ‘n Butter Pickles

A simple but wholly excellent recipe I got from a close friend of my wife’s family.  Apart from our shared admiration of Scotch we apparently have a similar love of bread ‘n butter pickles. I’m not sure of the original source for the recipe, but thank you to Lani for passing it along to me, and thank you to Richard and Pat with Middle Earth Farms in Amesbury, MA for the fresh ingredients!

Lani’s Bread ‘n Butter Pickles

4 quarts sliced pickling cucumbers (I used a mandolin for the slicing)

6 medium onions (I used Vidalias)

3+ sliced red peppers (I added a lot of extra peppers)

3 cloves garlic

1/3 cup pickling salt

4 cups sugar

3 cups cider vinegar

1 1/2 tsp turmeric

1 1/2 tsp celery seed

2 tbsp mustard seed

  1. Combine cucumbers, onion, peppers, and garlic. Add salt IMG_1828
  2. Cover mixture with cracked ice and mix thoroughly. Allow to stand for three hours then drain and rinse well
  3. Combine remaining ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a rapid simmer
  4. Pack sanitized pint jars with cucumber mixture and ladle in vinegar solution, leaving a 1/2 inch of head space. Adjust lids and bands
  5. Process in water bath canner for 15 minutes.  Allow to cool and check for seal.

JWVG6038

 

 

Lazy Days of Summer

Not really lazy per se, just recreational.  The garden is humming along and the plants are doing their thing.  There will be a flurry of activity when it comes time to harvest, but for not it is just a bit of weeding and watering.  I don’t spend much time building in the shop during the summer, so all in all, I’ve been relaxing with other activities.  Sitting and reading on the beach has taken a healthy piece of my time (O.K., that is kind of lazy), but mostly I’ve been working on rehabbing my right Achilles tendon, which I had surgically repaired about three and a half months ago.  Today I started back to trail running, and for my return to the trails I chose one of my favorite place: Appleton Farms. Beautiful rolling terrain mixing pasture, meadow, wetland, and wood.  Oh, and Jersey cows.

Appleton is one of my favorite places, probably because the rolling pastures remind me a bit of home, or at least what home used to look like.  I started at the visitor center and ran past Briar Hill where part of the herd of Jerseys had taken shelter from the heat beneath a tree.  The hill itself was covered in a blanket of Queen Anne’s Lace, considered an invasive, nonnative weed by some, but a regular fixture of the New England countryside nevertheless.

HHCH4420
Jersey Cows sheltered under a tree on Briar Hill
NEOF4534
Daucus carota or Queen Anne’s Lace

I ran along the dirt farm road between the Great Pasture and The Plains before turning to the west and heading up slope along the Great Pasture toward a low stone fence the marks the boundary between open ground and the wooded Grass Rides. Along the way I was treated to a field of goldenrod (Solidago) and Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosa) in full bloom.

IMG_1722
Goldenrod and Joe Pye Weed in bloom in The Great Pasture
4609_thumbnail-1024
Appleton Farms and Grass Rides

I turned south and followed the stone fence up slope until I crested Pigeon Hill, the highest point of the property that offers a stunning view of the farm and beyond.  It is also the site of one of the four stone monuments placed in memory of members of the Appleton Family.  The granite pillars are the decorative pinnacles from the top of the former Gore Hall at Harvard University which was demolished in 1912 to make way for the new library.  The four pillars were gifted to the Appleton family.  The pillar at the top of Pigeon Hill was placed in memory of Francis R. Appleton, Jr. (1885-1974).

IMG_1740
The Great Pasture from the top of Pidgeon Hill
OAZN8306
Monument dedicated to Francis Appleton, Jr. atop Pigeon Hill

Heading down from Pigeon Hill I entered back into the wooded trails that comprise the Grass Rides.  Passing through low wetlands the trail emerges into a clearing called Round Point where I came upon another pinnacle from Gore Hall.  This was the first to be erected in memory of an Appleton Family member, in this case, Charles L. Appleton who died of pneumonia just a few years after returning from active service in the first world war.

IMG_1725
Entering Round Point in the Appleton Grass Rides

After circling back through the Grass Rides I retraced my steps past Pidgeon Hill, along the stone fence, through the Great Pasture and back along Briar Hill.  Perhaps not a Lazy Day, but certainly one of joy and discovery.  I’ll be back soon to find the other two pinnacles.

Refrigerator Pickles

In my day job I’m a university professor, which means I spend a good bit of my time trying to identify plagiarism in student papers.  It is an unpleasant task, but it goes with the territory.  If I want my head to explode, I could undertake the same investigation when looking up recipes on the internet; they all seem to be just copies of each other with only slight modifications.  So I’ll give you a disclaimer: I got this recipe mostly from the internet with a few minor modification, but I cannot for the life of me detect the original source since it is replicated on at least a dozen different sites (though I suspect it may have started with Bobby Flay).  Perhaps it doesn’t even matter.  By now, the concept of refrigerator pickles has been around long enough for the copyright to lapse, or in the parlance of the pharmaceutical industry, they are now free for generic manufacturing.

I’ve made a lot of cucumber salad off the two vines I grew this summer, so it was time to make some pickles instead.

IMG_1675

So, without further adieu, here is a tried and true recipe to use with your summer crop of cukes freely stolen from the interwebs and lightly modified to suit my taste.

Quick and Easy Refrigerator Pickles

3/4 c. white vinegar & 3/4 c. cider vinegar or some combination thereof

1/4 c. white sugar

4 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. mustard seed

1 tsp. coriander seed

1 tsp. dill seed

3/4 tsp. pepper flakes (or to taste, or omit altogether, hell, they’re your pickles)

2 c. water

2 lbs pickling cucumbers (or whatever variety you happened to have grown)

3/4 c. chopped dill

4 cloves garlic, chopped or thinly sliced

Instructions

  1. In a saucepan combine the vinegar, water, and dried herbs.  Bring to a low simmer until the salt and sugar completely dissolve.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
  2. Cut the cucumbers as you will; slices, spears, or what have you. In a large bowl, toss the cucumbers with the dill and garlic. Place in a jar.
  3. Add the cooled vinegar solution, cover, and place in the refrigerator.  Let them sit for a day or so (if you can wait).  Can be enjoyed for about a week.

IMG_1676

I didn’t grow pickling cukes but the regular old Burpee cukes I did grow worked just fine.  They were large so I cut them into spears and packed them into a 1/2 gallon canning jar.  I also had close to 3 pounds (2.9 to be exact), well over the 2 pounds the recipes call for but the recipes made more than enough pickling solution to cover them.  They are easy and they are delicious.

I have a friend who is a Serve Safe expert who claims that you can increase the refrigerator life of these pickles by omitting the garlic, which he claims is often the source of things like botulism.  As pickles rarely last long in this household I wasn’t too concerned.

 

Roasted Garlic Sriracha BBQ Sauce

I have made about a million different iterations of BBQ sauce in my life but have never really settled on a master recipe.  This problem is exacerbated by the fact that I have some friends from the south who argue at length about the relative virtues of regional BBQ variations and what, in fact, constituents a proper sauce.

Well, rather than try to mimic (or appropriate in the parlance of our time) a southern BBQ sauce, I decide to simply focus on the flavors I like and work out a master recipe that I can continue to tweak over time.  After all, I’m not a southern boy, but rather a son of Pennsylvania  now living in New England so why be fettered by BBQ provincialism?

I’d hardly call this done by any means, but initial batches are very promising.  I started with a generic BBQ sauce base that seems pretty common across the internets and built from there adding in maple syrup as a nod to my New England home, roasted garlic, and Sriracha.

Ingredients:

1/2 large sweet onion

1 head of garlic, roasted

2 cups ketchup

1/3 cup + 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

4 tbsp brown sugar

3 tbsp maple syrup

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

2 1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp ground mustard

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp kosher salt

2 1/2 tbsp Sriracha or to taste

  1. Roast garlic in the oven and allow to cool for easy handling
  2. Roughly chop the onion and saute until it develops a golden color
  3. Add the onion to a food processor.  Remove the roasted garlic from its husk and add to the food processor.  Pulse until fine but do not turn it to mush!
  4. In a saucepan combine the onion and roasted garlic with the other ingredients and simmer until thickened (about 20 minutes or so) and adjust seasoning to taste.
  5. You can store in a container in the fridge for a week or two, or freeze it.  Given the acid content, this recipe could also be canned in a water bath canner.

That’s it!  I rarely make a recipe the same way twice but this is a good master recipe from which to tinker.  My best friend of 35 years and his family will be arriving this Sunday and I will be smoking a large brisket on the Big Green Egg.  This sauce will go nicely on a brisket sandwich.