Nov 27 2015

Window-Box from Redwood

By Max


I made this windowbox.  In the past, I haven’t been satisfied with my efforts at woodworking, so I went slow and tried to really work on the fundamentals.  And hey, turns out everything is a hell of a lot easier if you have the ability to do things like cut to a line with a handsaw, and make boards square and true.  So I got pretty good with hand planes, chisels, scraper cards, and learned how to re-cut and sharpen saw teeth so that I could make a handsaw functional and sharp again– I had broken a bunch of teeth on mine and they were the induction-hardened type that you can’t sharpen.  I also made some tools like a depth gauge and a marking knife:20151026_221351

It’s made out of redwood, which is cheap and rot-resistant, and also has a really pretty grain I think:

Redwood Grain

Using a scraping card is easier than sanding and gives a much better finish.  That shimmery effect is caused by the grain switching directions, and so it was quite challenging to work with the handplane.  I have a contractor-grade Stanley #5 and a Craftsman block plane from the sixties that I got on eBay, so I took the time to set both of those up properly, and by the end I had them both singing.

Drainage is important for plant health and also can be kind of difficult to get right.  In addition, I didn’t want any excess water to drain near the house.  So the bottom panel of the box is on a slope, and there’s a 1/4″ trench drain the entire length of the box, which I then covered with mesh.  This has worked very well, I haven’t had any issues with root rot:

Window box drainIt was my first time attempting dovetails, and I didn’t get them perfect, but with four corners to do I got some good practice in:

Dovetail attempt #1 Dovetail attempt #2You can see the plugs where I had to insert shims because there was a gap if you look closely.  Also in the bottom picture the insert I made to cover up a really ugly knot in what is otherwise a nice looking piece of wood.

The bottom piece is held in with a housing dado on three sides.  I cut this by first running lines with my marking gauge, then working along with my chisel.  It worked okay, but the next tool that I’m going to make is going to be a depth router, because it was pretty tedious.


I have the old-style wooden sash windows and I made wedges that slot into the window tracks and the box so that it installs securely without any screws or fasteners:


Having done this I think I could take on some cabinets or a bookshelf with no problem– the time spent learning to use woodworking hand tools is a great investment.  I have about the most basic toolset possible, with a cheap saw, a 1/4″and 1″chisel, carpenter square, marking gauge, two inexpensive hand planes, and a scraping card, and I was able to get perfectly acceptable results.   It’s so great to use something that you’ve made every day.


Oct 9 2015

Rolleicord Shutter Repair

By Max


Thanks for nothing, Vivian Maier: So this starts with a trip to Chicago.  While we were there, we visited the Chicago History Museum and it turns out they’re a little butthurt about the whole Second City thing, but anyway the main attraction was a Vivian Maier exhibition, which blew my mind.

October 31, 1954. New York, NY

So long story short I got all inspired and bought a twin lens reflex camera on the ebay, a Rolleicord Va.  I’ve shot on medium format but I’ve never tried to work with a Nifty Fifty focal length before, but I like the way it forces you into an editorial mindset– the field of view isn’t very large, and you have to make choices about what you’re going to include.

But: Unfortunately like most cameras that are 60+ years old, the one I bought had a sticky shutter.  If I warmed up the shutter by test-firing a few times it would work fine, but if allowed to sit or in cold weather it would randomly stick open.  Which isn’t something that you want the camera shutter to do, for all of you budding photographers out there.  The remedy is a shutter overhaul performed by a professional camera repair technician, which will be a strange older guy with a wizard beard.

So I decided to get right in there and do the shutter overhaul myself, because what could go wrong.  While doing the overhaul I took a boatload of pictures so that I could get it all back together again, and since it seems a pity to let them rot away in my automatic backup folder, I’m posting them here, with sarcastic commentary and salty language.  This isn’t intended as a comprehensive walkthrough, but if you’re contemplating taking this on yourself  or perhaps need a little help getting humpty dumpty re-assembled, this may help.  If nothing else, it makes the $150-$200 that Beardo wants to charge you for a shutter CLA seem entirely reasonable.  Also, don’t fuck with wizards.

DISCLAIMER:  I’m just this guy on the internet.


Where is your god now?

But Seriously: So, I’ve got some experience with complex repair projects, and I felt like I was lucky to get through this one without fucking up a nice old camera.  So if you’ve got a camera you don’t want to ruin, totally just pay a pro to do this for you.  In my case, a CLA would cost considerably more than I payed for the camera, and I figured that even if failed the knowledge would be helpful in future projects, given my weakness for buying obsolete industrial crap.   All of the tricks I’ve learned taking apart other things to fix them and breaking them worse instead came in handy here: work in shifts so you don’t get sloppy, take lots of pictures, read the service manual and anything else you can get a hand on, etc.  Also, if you’ve ever broken something working on it, you remember what you were doing just before it broke?  So for each step, think about how much force you should have to apply to do what you’re trying to do, and if you’re applying that much force and nothing is happening, stop and re-assess, you’ve probably missed something.

Fuck it let’s go already: Assuming you know what you’re doing, I’ve omitted words like ‘carefully’ and ‘gently’ because like this entry was long enough already.  And with that, let’s get started, yeah?  Oh hey and there’s two service manuals you need, one for the Rolleicord/Rolleiflex model you’re working on, and a separate service manual for the shutter model you have.  Two different companies.

Continue reading “Rolleicord Shutter Repair” »

Jun 20 2015

These badass winding sticks that I made (Woodworking part I)

By Max


I’ve been doing some woodworking stuff, and I’ve been finding that the thing I’m really enjoying is making the tools I need.  Thus, the actual project itself is moving… slowly.  But anyway:


The idea with winding sticks is that you put one on the near side of a piece of wood that you’re working, and the other on the far side, and if there’s any twist in the surface of the wood it’ll show up as them being out of parallel. Like so:

20150208_202001 20150208_202010

So in this (greatly exaggerated) case, the wood that’s under the winding sticks is high in the upper left and lower right corners.  To bring the face into true, you could plane off either of those corners.  To be effective, the winding sticks themselves would ideally be perfectly straight and identical.  Mine are accurate to about .0015″, which is the measurement tolerance of my micrometers and perhaps a bit more accurate than necessary.  I dyed one dark and left the other light to increase the contrast between them, and added the notches and alignment dots which really helps with sighting.

More to come on this topic soon.  I’ve got a bunch of stuff I’ve finished but I just haven’t had time to write about it.  But I’ll be on a three week car trip through France and Italy soon, so should have some time to catch up :)








Apr 24 2015

Poetics in Architecture Collage Assignment

By Max

So I’ve been taking a class at CCSF, History and Theory of Modern Architecture.  I didn’t major in architecture, and actually I’ve been kind of making this whole fucking career thing up as I go along, all these years, and with the more flexible schedule now (oh also I left the firm I was with to start my own lighting design practice, Minuscule Lighting Design, more about that later.  Changes!) I took the opportunity to fill in some holes in my education.  For one of our assignments we had to make a collage expressing ideas of poetics in architecture, and, well, here look:

Poetics in Architecture Collage


By the way the class is taught by Monica Tiulescu, who makes amazing/grotesque procedurally generated organic… things.

Jul 9 2014

1920’s Style Goosenecks

By Max


In my prior post on improvising a conduit bending machine, I mentioned that it was for a period reproduction lighting fixture for a theatrical project I was working on.  Well, the project is Speakeasy, and I’m happy to say that it’s up and running and getting great reviews.

So as you’d hope to find in a speakeasy, there’s a bar, and we wanted some more commercially styled lighting to go above it.  There were these gooseneck fixtures from the palettes I had put together, that we liked (top center):


My issue with the fixture as shown is that industrial chic wasn’t really a thing back then, in the way that in this day you can go to an upscale bar and all the lighting fixtures will be up-armored and distressed so that they look like they’re fifty years old.  Also, on a more practical level, period commercial lighting is a lot more difficult to find then residential lighting, and matching sets are pretty much impossible.

So I came up with this concept image, which retains the idea but it is a little more sophisticated implementation:

Concept image for the fixture

Concept image for the fixture

You’ll recall that we began with four freshly bent pieces of 1/2″ conduit:


I then cut bases out of MDF, improvising a jig to cut out the circles, and then around them with an ogee bit to do the corner detail:


Which, by the way, makes a fucking mess:


I cobbled together the rest of the connecting hardware from a pretty broad swath of departments at Home Despot:


And assembled:


I got a pretty acceptable bronze finish with a product called Rub n’ Buff.  Which has a hardcore following of the people who buy yard sale furniture and make it fab-ulous, so there’s plenty of good blog posts out there explaining how to use it, as it turns out.

Anyway, final shot of the bar.  I’ll write up some more on Speakeasy, which is one of the most ambitious theater projects I’ve done, soon.