Simple door details

I saw this doorway a few weeks ago while walking through a local neighborhood. It caught my eye for three reasons:

  1. It is original, and intact
  2. it is very simple, yet effective at adding an interesting detail
  3. its the same style/pattern that is used in the interior of my 1903 house, as well as that of a nearby neighbor's 2-flat.

I am always charmed by these sorts of things that are easy to execute, yet add great presence to a piece. Hooray for someone not painting over this nice red oak! However, the mottled opaque glass in the four corners has to go. It should be clear at least.

I'm back, and some architectural details

I't been a while since I've posted, but that doesn't mean I've been idle. In fact, I've been pretty productive over the winter, through the spring, and into summer. I have plenty of photos of projects, posts to make, and news to catch up on, so keep an eye out for that.

I've decided to add a "new category" of posts to the blog, generally around images and thoughts on architectural details. I like to walk through neighborhoods in Chicago, and when I see architectural details that catch my eye, good or bad, I usually take a snapshot or two. I'm going to start posting those here as well. Here we go...

Chicago has a long history with Arts & Crafts / Mission / Prairie / Craftsman styles in buildings great and small. Of course there is the quintessential Chicago bungalow, but other building styles tended to follow that general aesthetic, to greater or lesser degrees, during the 1900-1930s. Many brick "2-flat" or "3-flat" apartment buildings were built in that period, and they usually featured some art glass in the entryway, or above the mantle piece/fireplace, or in the side vestibule. I always look for these to see if someone has "gotten it" and kept them intact, or, sadly (and tragically frequently) knocked them out, or boarded them up/over. 

But here's a great entry door on a multi-apartment building that still bass original glass. Pretty cool...

I made a head

In addition to being a woodworker, I'm a musician, and have been all my life. I play in bands (a couple of them with my wife, a drummer), and am a guitar player, bass player, singer. I have been the proud owner of a pretty nice and epic guitar amplifier setup, the classic Mesa Boogie Mark IV. The Mark IV is one of Mesa's "classic" amps, that is out of production. Mine is in a configuration of an amplifier head that sits atop a separate speaker cabinet (actually, two separate speaker cabinets), as opposed to a "combo" where the amplifier electronics and the speaker are all in one enclosure.

As a longtime fan of Mesa's classic amps, I'd long ago acquired a couple of their glossy sales catalogs, and in there they showed some fancy "custom" options for their amps. Instead of the standard plywood-wrapped-in-vinyl construction (like mine), you could order yours with all sorts of coverings, or hardwood, and grill patterns, etc. One configuration that looked awesome was a bubinga (or some other tropical hardwood) hardwood version with a cane grill. At the time, the standard config was great, and it served me well for the many years of using the amp.

But I'm now a woodworker, and I had the urge, and capability, to convert my beloved amp into a fancy amp.

I started this little "side" project during the Christmas lull, thinking I'd get it done in a few days. While the majority of it went pretty rapidly, ordering the hardware, waiting for that to arrive, then fiddling with installing it took longer. And the cane grille took weeks to arrive. But finally, here it is...


I started out with this gorgeous slab of walnut I picked up from my favorite urban lumber source, Horigan Urban Forest Products. It was an impulse purchase; I didn't really "need" it at the time, but I got it, and thought about uses for it later. It was an 8/4 slab, allowing me to do some nice grain wrap around after resawing it. 

My 14" bandsaw with the 6" riser block (giving me 12" resaw capacity), and a 1/2" Woodslicer blade made a great, smooth, straight cut. Never underestimate the lowly, basic 14" bandsaw: tuned up with a sharp blade, it can do great things.

The construction was basically a four sided box, with a plywood support piece in the middle, cut outs for some hardware in the bottom, and then fittings for the mounting posts, a handle, and feet. Finally, the is the front cosmetic grille. I knew that I wanted full through dovetails for the joinery. As I got underway, I realized that this piece will be a great portable piece of my woodworking that I can show to (bore) my band/music buddies at gigs. Bonus!

The only issue I ran into during the joinery was that the bottom piece was starting to run into the lighter sapwood on the front & back edge. It would have looked odd from the from to the leading edge of the bottom piece milky white. So, I ripped that piece in half, glued it together with a sapwood running a few inches from the back, resulting in the front edge that matched the color of the other other pieces. Problem solved!

I enjoyed hand cutting the dovetails, and I was relieved when they fit very well. I smoothed the joints, cut the front top edge angle, and was ready for the internal cut out and support. With the original head as a guide, I just mimicked the pieces and cut out as needed.

After test fitting the hardware and electronics, I emptied it out, and applied my finish. I sanded up to 220, and started with a coat of oil (ok, technically an oil & varnish mix, Danish oil, natural). When that had dried, I brushed multiple coats of thinned blonde shellac, sanding lightly in between coats, until I build up a nice finish. I finished that off with some dark paste wax, applied will 0000 steel wool.

I then applied the hardware, starting with the leather corners. These are for both protection and decoration, and they were attached with 3/4" wide head brass tacks. I was worried they would look too "lumpy" but I quickly got the hang of shaping the pieces, and stretching them tightly as I tacked them in.

The four mounting screw holes in the top were interesting to get together as well. Per the original design, the electronics of the head are suspended from the top by four long threaded machine screws that fit into the chassis. On the original head, there were two long "plates" with two holes each to act as "washers" and distribute the weight of the guts across the top. I thought that looked a little too crude for this implementation, so i instead found some brass finger pull/cup things, and some black rubber plumbing washers. I recessed the pulls into the top, set the washer inside, and lowered the machine screw through it, providing a bit of the "shock mount" for the chassis. This is good for the health of the power tubes: it reduces the vibration from the speaker cabinet and prolongers their life. So it looks good and works better. Nice.

Only 1/2 of the handle hardware arrived, so I put on what I could, and a few weeks later, the rest arrived with the cane grille material. Finally, its done, and I think it looks better that what I could have ordered from Mesa back in the day, if i had the money.

This was my first trial into the world of amp/cabinet modification, and as it went well, I'll be building the matching speaker cabinet in a few months. THAT's going to look great at a gig.

Here is a gallery of the build...

Still a garage sometimes

Its been a little quiet here recently. Despite having made some good progress on a few small projects (posts on those to come), and the large wardrobe project, this past December, the arctic blast has forced my shop to revert to garage mode. While the insulated shop can be quite comfortable in cold weather (If I want to pay for the heating costs), it was time to let the car back in. Hopefully I can get back to "shop" configuration in a few weeks.


Working on a large project, like my current wardrobe project, takes a lot of time. And large projects go faster when I can get large blocks of time to work on them (so, that's weekends). When I have only an hour or so here & there, I find it hard to "get into" a large project, knowing that I'll soon have to stop.

Instead, I often use that time for little detours like cleaning the shop, organizing stuff, sharpening, tool maintenance, or even little side projects. And even though I'm not making progress on anything big, I'm still having fun in my shop. Here's a few detours that I went on recently.

Saw Support

I cleverly (not) built myself only ONE saw bench a while ago. I works great, but when working on a long board, I have nothing to support the other end with - there's nothing around that is the right height. But I don't actually need a whole second saw bench, so instead, I but one of these saw support/work support/work stand things. It has two "levels"; one the height of my saw bench, and the other the height of my work bench. I used some scrap red & white oak for material, and mortise & through tenons to join it, with wedges for the bottom through tenons. I finished it with boiled linseed oil. It's already proven handy.

Moving Fillister Plane

I tossed a bid into an eBay auction a few weeks ago, and happened to win it. It's a cool old wooden moving fillister plane. It's nothing fancy, but it's in good shape, except for the missing nicker iron. I took a little time to knock off the rust, clean it up, and sharpen the iron. It works great. A future detour will be to find some tool steel for the iron, cut & shape it, and then harden & temper it (something I haven't tried yet, but am inspired to do so by blacksmith Peter Ross).

Band Saw Maintenance

When my band saw blade started drifting, on even the simplest cut, I knew something was screwy. Especially since I'd recently put on a new Woodslicer blade about three weeks ago. A little investigation later, and damn it if the bottom thrust bearing hadn't seized up. Amazing how that makes such a difference -- you'd think the blade could still just slide along it. Oh well, a phone call to service, and in a few minutes I had the part on order. But that means no band sawing for a while.