Archives For Family

The XO-1 Returns

August 7, 2013 — 8 Comments

I had every intention to use the summer to design and build some much-needed side tables for the house (the “just-put-your-mug-on-the-floor” thing is getting old), but shortly after finishing the raised garden boxes, my woodshop quickly turned into a bikeshop.

Late last fall, despite some significant reservations, Ray learned how to ride his bike without training wheels–just in time for winter. Then, during winter, he outgrew his tiny person bike. So in May, I purchased a new bike for him with the stipulation that I would not put training wheels on it. And within a few weeks, we were riding up and down the block together. And in no time, riding around town together. It wasn’t long before we wanted the whole family to join in on our adventures, so I set my wife up with a new bike for her birthday, order a bike trailer for Anya, and bought a bike rack for the car.

This sudden ability to bike as a family was impetus to bring a long-lost friend out of storage: my 55cm 1993 Bridgestone XO–1.

xoxoxoxoxo

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Japanese Box Build

April 14, 2013 — 5 Comments

A few weeks ago Wilbur Pan wrote a post about a Japanese toolbox he built. This project caught my eye for a number of reasons—its simplicity more than anything. One board, some nails, and a few tools. The perfect project for Ray.

I figured a box like this would serve Ray well. He needed a way to transport his “contraption parts” and toys from one place to another, and he’s wanted a place to sister-proof toys he considers special. So he was excited when I proposed this project to him.

I showed him the box on Wilbur’s site as well as a Japanese toolbox that Chris found when he was in Australia. That box features some very simple finger joints that I find aesthetically pleasing. Ray, however, chose the simpler box, saying, “I don’t like those fancy sticky-out things”. So simple it was.

We were all set to go out to the home center to pick up some pine but I thought I’d first check the garage attic, where some miscellaneous boards leftover from my house’s construction remain. Bingo. A pine board more than long enough, totally dry, and only slightly twisted. Ray helped me bring it into the shop.

box board

I had him size the box using his arms, then count and mark out the pieces on the board. I then crosscut the pieces with a handsaw while Ray held them and stacked them.

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As I didn’t want the box to be too heavy for Ray, I dimensioned the lumber to a little over 1/2”, then asked him to pick up the stack of wood, telling him that the box with toys in it would be at least that heavy. He decided to make the box shorter, and I made the box a little less tall than wide. I then showed him how all the pieces would go together.

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Unlike the wooden jet project, Ray found putting the box together very challenging. With the jets, fitting the pieces together was not unlike putting together a puzzle—it was easy to tell which parts went where. When you pressed most of them into place they would stay together. Not so with loose boards. I quickly planed a very shallow rabbet (maybe 2 passes) on the bottom piece—he then had a very slight edge which helped him know where the box sides should go.

But clamps, even the quick-set ones, weren’t easy for Ray to manipulate, and in truth, I think it was in this initial assembly stage that Ray kind of gave up on the project. He made it through some glue and a few nails but started getting too restless and fidgety to keep him in the shop safely. I need to do a better job of realizing that it’s the instant gratification of snapping together LEGOs that I’m competing against. The trick isn’t keeping his attention span; he has an enormous attention span and boundless curiosity for things he enjoys; the trick is keeping the steps challenging enough to engage him but not so challenging that they become frustrating. In retrospect, I think setting the box up for him to drill and nail would have been a better approach.

After Ray went to bed that evening, I finished the box. I used box nails on the bottom, setting them deep so they wouldn’t scratch whatever Ray set the box on. And in addition to hide glue (unnecessary, but made assembly a little easier) I used wrought head cut nails for the sides and top handles. And for the pieces which go across the top of the lid, I used some cut brad nails, but only because I didn’t have any other cut nails that would work with the thinner stock.

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After milling the lumber (an unnecessary step if you buy appropriately dimensioned lumber to begin with), and not accounting for time spent helping Ray, the whole project probably went together in about 45 min or less. It really is a great project; if only everything I did in the shop could come together so quickly!

Japanese Box

I placed the finished box on the kitchen counter and Ray was thrilled to find it in the morning. He loves it—enough that he asked me to help him make a few more. A few things I’ll try differently as we make these boxes:

  • I’m going to pursue the finger-jointed version next time. I’ve already made a prototype, and by gang-cutting the joints, the whole thing comes together very fast. I think the finger joints will actually help Ray manage the assembly more easily by making more apparent what pieces go where and make the whole box easier to handle. The only clamp that will really be necessary is the vise in the joinery bench, which is easy for him to use.
  • Since we’ll be making a few boxes, the first one be an assembly-only project, with all parts prefabricated and holes pre-drilled. It’ll have the finger joints cut and small rabbets to help register pieces against each other. He’ll just glue and nail. He loves the hammer and cut nails.
  • For the second box he’ll drill at least some of the holes; he loves the eggbeater drill and the brace and already knows about pre-drilling from the jet project.
  • If we make a third one, maybe I’ll let him use a saw for one of the final cuts—maybe a flush-cutting saw to trim off one of the top pieces.

My wife and I are thrilled that the box is a place that Ray actually likes to keep toys that would otherwise lay all over the kitchen and family room, and of course, Ray is thrilled that his sister can’t get at them.

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But Anya’s strong enough now that she’ll just end up taking the whole box with her if Ray isn’t sitting on it. This is all part of the plan. Someday Anya will want to make a box for herself. And maybe by then Ray can teach her how.

Cool, Your Jets!

April 8, 2013 — 6 Comments

I’d love to get my son, Ray, interested in woodworking. Some of this stems from my desire to provide an alternative to the allure of superheroes on luminescent screens. But as I’ve mentioned previously, a lot of it is the hope that I can teach him that with just a little determination and practice, he can shape his world rather than just purchase one off the shelf (as many people do). I’d like to think that I’m not shoving the hobby in his face, but rather enticing him, picking out shop projects that I think Ray would appreciate, both as an end-product he enjoys using as well as a manufacturing process he connects with.

My last attempt at this was a pair of F–15 fighter jets, which we finished in February of 2012:

Ray's F-15

These jets are as friggin’ awesome as I am modest. They look great, have detachable wheels that click when inserted into the body thanks to some rare-earth magnets. And there are two of them so Ray and a friend can fly them around, engaging in aerial dogfights or embarking on stealth sorties, such as carpet-bombing the “LEGO Terrorist-Harboring Peasant Village” playset we got him when he was 2.

I figured if Ray found the process of making these jets similar enough to assembling something with LEGOs (which he loves and is very good at), it’d be something within grasp and rewarding enough for him to want more. So I involved him extensively first in the project selection process, then as an observer in some of the rough shaping stage (tablesaw, bandsaw, handplanes), and eventually let him use the spokeshave for a bit. But in reality, I fabricated all the parts in a few short-but-sporadic late-night sessions in the shop. Then, in a session lasting the better part of a weekend, he used a brace and handrill, gimlets, some hide glue, a hammer and nails, and some sandpaper and shellac to assemble and finish his toys.

Ray Assembles his F-15

He loved coming out of the woodshop with something he could say he built with me. I had a blast in the shop with him and still enjoy watching him and his friends play with these (though these particular toys are transitioning out of fancy I’m afraid). We’ve had to fix the wings a few times (thank you, hide glue), but I think the project as a whole was a success as far as he was concerned.

Unfortunately, work (and its evil comrade, work travel) picked up shortly after this, so whatever momentum I had coming out of making the jets with Ray vanished like a contrail…like a Ghost rider requesting a flyby.

A few takeaways from that project:

  • It took more time than I had. I think the parts came together quickly in terms of shoptime, but I think it was well over a month for me to get enough shoptime to finish them. That’s a long runway (sorry) from project selection to results, perhaps especially for Ray. I’d like to find simpler, quicker-to-finish projects. Projects that I could realize very easily should his schedule and my schedule just happen to coincide one weekend.
  • My general approach—center his participation around assembly—was right on. He loved figuring out which part went where and other than general tool and safety guidance, I was able to step back and make assembly his to own. Or p0wn, if you will.
  • That said, utimately my main issue with the project was that in the end, I’m not confident that the jets are any different a toy for him than something he puts together with LEGOs. I’m not sure why I feel this way; some of it perhaps is because the jets are really quite nice. Perhaps too nice. Though they have some flaws, they don’t register to me (or to a lot of people) as homemade toys. Hell, many of the toys I made for myself as a kid were made out of paper towel rolls, leftover snap-together model parts, and Elmer’s glue. They were definitely…distinct. And I loved those toys for that. The jets—they’re nice enough for them to compete with plastic toys that have motors and sounds. And on that score maybe they fall short.

I’m posting this for two reasons. One, just this past weekend I attempted another project with Ray: a Japanese box which crossed my radar thanks to Wilbur Pan:

Japanese Box

More on that project in an upcoming post (preview of the results in the photo above).

Two, I’m definitely soliciting suggestions for projects and approaches to woodworking with kids. What age is appropriate for them to handle tools with edges? Machinery? I’m sure this differs somewhat from child to child but it’s a topic on which I would love to gather anecdotes, both good and bad.

Update: I’ve gotten several requests to hand over the secret plans for the plans to these jets. You’ll find them in the book, The Great All-American Wooden Toy Book. It’s a good, inexpensive book with projects at all levels of ambition.

To catch you up on all-things-etherfarm, not much has happened since my last post, which was made on the day of my daughter’s birth a few years ago. In that time:

Sweet Home Chicago

The family has escaped moved back to the Chicago area from California. It’s probably no secret to anyone who knows me well (or, actually, anyone who had a passing conversation with me) that through my fifteen years away from Chicago, I had been longing to come back for roughly 13 of those. We landed softly, and with the exception of my work travel, our life here couldn’t be better. We’re in walking distance of everything we need, live on a great street with fantastic neighbors who pepper our social calendar with block parties and progressive dinners and the like, and there are numerous options for good deep-dish pizza and Italian beef.

I had high expectations moving back to Chicago, and—incredibly—reality has exceeded all of them.

Sitting on the wall

Birthday Girl

Family

Easter Song

You Shall Not Pass

The Street

House & Kid

Job. Job. Job.

I’ve changed jobs. Twice. I don’t usually blog about work on etherfarm. Work stuff goes here.

Dense as Wood

My woodworking activities have largely been put on hold due to the time demands of my new job and two small kids. The need to dismantle, move and reassemble my woodshop didn’t help either. I’ve made some small things (shelves, racks, etc.) but nothing I’d point out to anyone. Some downtime and an extended period at home over these holidays, however, have allowed me to start to getting things in the woodshop back on track (more on that soon).

To compensate, I try to make as much time as I can for projects with Lost Art Press, a small publisher dedicated to texts about woodworking run by a good friend of mine. Among those projects:

Lost Art Press is good people.

Fork Bending

I have eaten. A lot. Being back in Chicago is both good and bad in this regard.

Good: there is so much good food to eat.

Bad: I eat it.

Since my last post on food, I’ve got at least three food benders under my belt (literally). Don’t worry, I’ve got a post for one of those already lined up.

The Not-Swiss Family Nayar

The kids have obviously grown two-and-something years older. Ray is no longer a toddler (a large part of me thinks he skipped that phase altogether); he’s fully mobile and articulate and reads books without pictures and on good days, helps me cook, clean, and do stuff around the house. He’s interested in anything that involves lasers, robots, and photosynthesis. He still says some of the funniest things I’ve ever heard, which I’ve been documenting on Twitter for a while (#rayquote). Among my favorites:

  • “Right now, medicine is racing through my body on a piece of lasagna, slicing pain in two.”
  • “I don’t wanna learn how to ride a bike without training wheels. I mean, what good is a bike going to be after I learn how to fly?”
  • “I tried and tried until I successed.”

Anya is very much a toddler and Nara and I are being schooled hard on parenting a two year old. I can tell that Anya quotes are right around the corner. Until then, you will all have to be amazed with the following short videos:

Like I said—not much has changed. Just a reboot of practically every facet of my life except my marriage—a partnership which in just a few weeks will have started almost twelve years ago.

Anya Viola Nayar

Narayan, Nara, and Ray are pleased to announce the birth of Anya Viola Nayar. She was born (very quickly!) on May 23rd at 13:29, weighed in at 7lbs 9oz and measured 19.5”.

After Anya and Nara settled into a nap, I went to pick up some Ray and some dinner. My first conversation with Ray after his sister was born unfolded as follows:

Me: Hey buddy, we’re going to get some pizza and some ice cream for your mom…and your sister!

Ray: gasp … Did the baby come out?

Me: Yes, she did!

Ray: Is she a robot that shoots fire from her tentacles?

Me:

Ray: Because that would be cool. And dangerous.

Me:

Ray: Can I eat my ice cream next to the baby? What if the baby puts fire on my ice cream?

Me: I don’t think the baby will do that.

Ray: That’s great news! So can I have sprinkles on my ice cream?

And so it begins…

Addendum: Anya Viola’s Flickr Set grows almost as fast as she does. If you’re on the main page, some of my favorites to date are after the break.

The girls:

Look!

Yawn

Catnap