Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Decisions, Decisions

Over the past year or two, I have been formally evaluated by my co-workers a number of times. With each of those, I look for consistent areas that I need to improve as well as strengths that I can retain and nurture. One area of improvement I have is my decision-making process.

Several people stated, by score and text, that I tend to make quick decisions. That I could benefit from a more methodical style. Essentially, I need to slow down - I move too fast. So I took a class on managerial decision making (actually, more than one) in order to learn new approaches. Methodical, structured decision-making. All good stuff.

Then yesterday, while waiting for a tour group to arrive, a mechanic I had worked with for a couple years happened by. We engaged in the usual hallway chit-chat, with the typical "are you staying out of trouble" office jokes, when he said something I found interesting.

He said that he was spoiled working for me because I could make decisions. The group he was working for now couldn't make a damn decision to save their life. They'd waffle and back track, unsure of themselves and instilling uncertainty among the team members. I tried to laugh that off, but he was insistent that working for me was a pleasure. I found that, too, a bit odd because we were under the gun and working six tens per week, for no less than six months straight. I'm sure that such a pace wasn't fun, despite the fatter paychecks. I pulled night shift as much as my family schedule would allow, so this period wasn't fun for my wife and kids, either.

So what do I do with this?

That's the thing I struggle with, given copious feedback. For every sheet I get that states I run roughshod over the wallflowers in the room, I get another that says thank God I took control because nothing was getting done otherwise.

What I do know about myself is that I am perfectly content to follow, as long as I don't perceive a leadership vacuum. If no one is steering the ship, then I will grab the wheel. Should I worry about that? Should I change my ways? At what point do you just say, "fuck it - that's who I am" and just let it be?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Drawer Divider Done

Sarah broke the plastic drawer divider that I had taped to the inside of our kitchen desk. So I decided to slap together a wooden replacement that spans the entire drawer. I had a couple design considerations. The center had to be open enough for me to get at the drawer handle screws in case they loosened up over time. We have lots of pens and pencils in that drawer, so the pencil slots had to be generous (and long enough to accommodate an unsharpened pencil). We, also, keep somewhat large items in that drawer, such as staplers, so there had to be big sections in back for those type of things. And my wife wanted to make sure that Post-It note pads would fit somewhere (they're 3 inches square, so I made my squares 3-3/4 inches so you can get the pads out).

I fashioned this out of eight feet of 1x2 poplar. I used a Minwax cherry stain, but that came out browner than the actual cherry of the drawer. Meh. Close enough. Two coats of stain, two costs of polyurethane, steel wool between each coat. It'll do.

A few things I learned. I made it a friction fit, which is fine, but learned to round off the bottom corners of the ends to help it go in easier. I tried using a brad nailer, without much success. The first nail was deflected by the wood grain out the side (reused that piece where it doesn't show). The second time I tried it, the nail knocked the second piece back a smidgen, resulting in a paper-thin gap between the pieces. So I went with an all screw construction. The wood screws pull the mating pieces together. Also used wood glue on most of the joints, with a couple purposeful exceptions (being able to rotate some members helped me fit it into place). Most screws are straight and countersunk. I did use a couple pocket screws, just to experiment with using my pocket hole jig.

Designing and building the divider took a weekday evening. Finishing it took a couple more days, because of drying times.

Projects in Order

It was a bit of a struggle, but I think I have a handle on my home improvement projects and the order in which they'll be accomplished.

  1. Oak base cabinets
  2. Woodworking bench
  3. Small table
  4. Headboard
  5. Cherry bathroom vanity
  6. Matching medicine cabinet and wall cabinet
  7. Refinish master bathroom
The oak base cabinets are just to learn how to make base cabinets. Oak plywood from the BORG (Big Orange Retail Giant) wasn't much more expensive than any other finish-grade plywood, although its show layer is paper thin. For finish wood, I'll probably shop Cleveland Plywood.

My woodworking bench won't be much more than a double-thickness of plywood set atop those two base cabinets. I plan to top it with a sacrificial layer of hardboard, edge it with 1x3 oak, install a wood vise on it, add a pegboard and simple shelves to the back, etc. Already improved my lighting.

The small table is for my front parlor, to hold the record player. If I can find a suitable antique, instead, that would probably be better.

My daughter's bed really needs a headboard. I plan to make something simple from Ana White's site. If I get really ambitious, I guess I could make a footer and side rails to match. Also thinking about adding crown molding to her room, if only to practice coping cuts.

Most of all that, though, is because I want/need to remodel our master bathroom. I love our kitchen, so I want to carry the same look there. I couldn't find anything other than junk in the $200-300 range. Good vanities are more like $1000. Granted, I have a wonderful carpenter who could bang out a vanity for me but, dammit, I'd like to take a crack at it.

And, of course, if you're changing the vanity why not make a matching medicine cabinet? Since there's never enough local storage in a small bathroom (the toilet tank invariably becomes a shelf) why not also make a matching wall cabinet?

So there's a bit of prerequisite case work to do. Besides the demo, painting, fixture replacement, plumbing (toilet & sink), floor tile, wall tile to 48 inches topped with a cherry strip, etc. If I get really excited, I might try to add a programmable heater under the tile to keep my wife's tootsies warm in the morning.

At least now I have some sort of plan.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Better Tools

Well, no wonder.

I removed the blade from my miter saw. It was, evidently, the original. Although it was carbide tipped, the teeth were choked with pitch and there was something - plastic? paint? - smeared in concentric circles on one face. Ah, yes. This saw had been used to cut Pergo laminate flooring over a decade ago. The only use since has been feeding it the occasional 2x4 (the picnic table being the last project to use it).

Gee. Why would a filthy, forty-tooth Sears blade ever result in tear out when cross cutting oak?

While I'm learning how to clean up a circular saw blade, I decided to actually get something that (I hope) is up to the task. A 90-tooth Diablo high ATB blade.

When it doubt, blame the tool and move on. If anything, use it as excuse to buy better tools.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kind Green

The first winter project of 2012 is complete. I painted Sarah's room.

Gone are the marks on beige walls. Marks made with pen, pencil, permanent marker, and worse. Now, her walls are a consistent Sherwin-Williams Kind Green. Trim is a semi-gloss white. The major gouges have been filled and sanded.

This weekend, I've started on my second project which is to build a woodworking bench incorporating a pair of base cabinets. The real lesson here to to learn how to make base cabinets. Mistakes are to be celebrated and studied.

I have already made one. I mistakenly figured that the old carbide blade in my miter would be good enough to crosscut oak. Bah! My cuts suffered tear out. I need to acquire a fine crosscut blade and put something sacrificial against the fence. That's the whole point of this exercise, though. No need to waste my time being ashamed of such things.

I hate wasting oak, though.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Ghosts of Punderson

Spent a lovely weekend at Punderson State Park with my daughter and the Medina Guides. The cabins were nice enough. The lodge perfectly Gothic in places.

We walked down a narrow, low hall and into the library. The library is a small, round room at the top of the rear tower. Opposite the stained glass windows was an oddly deep set bookcase. A line of books, six inches deep, were balanced at the front of a three-foot deep shelf.

Out of curiosity I reached behind the books and felt another. I was a thin volume of ghost stories. I turned to page twenty-four and began to read to the people with me the ghost stories of Punderson Manor. Set on the bank of a small, glacial lake the manor has had several reported ghost sightings and incidents.

I, for one, do not believe in ghosts. I could easily understand them given a spooky old building, with its sketchy plumbing and electrical systems, creaks and groans of its old timbers and shifting stone, the tricks of light through billowing curtains and small panes of glass. All manner of things could cause a person, alone, to believe that there were others, unseen, with them.