Archives For Ray Bueno

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


February 6, 2013 — 3 Comments

I’d love to tell you that I have built two workbenches. I cannot. I can tell you, however, that I’ve completed two workbenches.

I’d love to tell you that during Chris Schwarz’s Bench Class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking I spent a week sawing and milling and gluing and joining large douglas fir timbers into a Roubo bench. I did not. I wasn’t even there. Chris did the sawing, the milling, the gluing, and the joining. My bench is assembled from his “teaching” bench–the bench he built along with the class. All I did was buy the lumber and drive down to Indianapolis last April and pick up the pieces of the bench. And take Chris out for a big steak. Or two. Maybe three–I don’t remember. And four sides. Really. Then lend a helping hand when Chris and Megan came over a few weeks later to assemble the pieces into what would eventually be my workbench.

So as a reasonably smart person, you may be saying to yourself, “Self, Narayan picked up the pieces of that bench last April. And had master-level help putting the thing together. And it still took him ten months to finish his damn bench?”

Continue Reading…

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


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?


Ray: Because that would be cool. And dangerous.


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:




On To Two O One O

December 31, 2009 — 5 Comments

Most of my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances found 2009 a harder year than years past. The global economic downturn and its residual effects of course weighed heavily on all of us—some more directly than others. For me, 2009 really wasn’t bad, and I’m going into 2010 with some good momentum.

The Could’ve-Been-Better

2009 was a bad year for the Nayar dogs. Both Sadie and Lakshmi passed away, and their absence is palpable. I can say without hesitation that Lakshmi’s death was the low point of the year for me.


Other than at work and in regards to PS3 game trophies, I was spectacularly unproductive this year. In woodworking, I tried a lot of new things (like turning) and have honed some essential skills over the last year, but in service of nothing productive (sans more shop furniture). I’ll endeavor for more tangible results in 2010 and already have a list of pieces I hope to build in the first half of the year (and yes, dear, your side tables are on it smile). I’m also empty-handed when it comes to etherfarm developments–I had grand plans for this site this year, but at the end of a day staring at screens and talking with people who stare at screens, after Ray goes to bed I find I’d much rather be at my lathe or at my bench in the woodshop than in front of HTML, CSS and PHP.


Sadly, though, I more often ended up with a videogame controller or mouse in my hands rather than a tool. This I lament, even though there were some amazing games in 2009, some of which I even found inspiring.

The Good

My work travel was less than 50% of my 2008 corporate globetrotting. That didn’t necessarily translate to more time at home; I spent almost all of my vacation days in Illinois. Which, for a variety of reasons, is a splendid place to be.


I might be one of the few people I know who likes their job. I took on a new role at work this year, and it’s full of new and interesting challenges. For the first time in a long, long time, I feel that when I’m engaged with what I’m doing, I can end just about every day having learned or done something new or having found new ways to apply the one or two things I actually do know.

I spent a lot of time with friends this year–old and new, near and far. Last year, my tolerance for West Coast Flakiness achieved a critical mass and I more or less went into seclusion. This year, a few of my friendships in the Bay Area seemed to take root and it somehow worked out that I had more quality time with friends in other locales. It perhaps goes without saying that I ate a lot of good food with some of these good people in 2009.

And to counter all that good food, I managed to swim at least 3 times a week all year this year (with just a few exceptions due to travel). This wasn’t really a goal (it’s an unintended accomplishment) but I’m ending 2009 feeling much more healthy than I have in years past. Which is nice, because despite my relatively low number of years on this planet, I’ve felt physically old and decrepit since my back surgery in 2003.

We transformed the front and back yards from worthless patches of horrible, clumpy grass to wonderful outdoor rooms. I admire them every time I leave and arrive home and probably will until we leave this place.

Before: Front Yard
From Garage Door
Back Porch

And of course, there’s Ray. I go on and on about him, and I’ve found that those who meet him tend to go on and on about him as well. It’ll suffice to say that in the last 365 days, he’s gone from toddler to little boy, and I find joy and poetry in almost everything he says and does.

Obviously, in balance, I really can’t complain about 2009—to do so would be absurd. It has left me exhausted in a good way, like being “just full enough” after a great meal. And I’m optimistic about 2010 for a variety of reasons, but Nara has the biggest one in development:

If all goes well, Ray’s little sister will arrive in early June. And if that’s not a reason to look forward to 2010, I don’t know what is.

Less Is More

October 21, 2009 — 2 Comments

This year I’ve traveled only a quarter of what I traveled last year. Though I have friends in most places I visit, it has been nice not having to go overseas so much. The real difference, though, is not measured in miles traveled or time abroad. The difference is that this year Ray really notices when I’m away. You have my word that etherfarm won’t become a repository for quoted conversations with my son, but if you ever hear the following, it’s time to unpack the suitcase for a while (or be sure to pack him in it next time you leave).

Narayan: How are you today, Ray?

Ray: I’m fine. But I got run over while you were in Philly-delphia.

Narayan: You got run over?!

Ray: Yes. I got run over.

Narayan: What ran you over?

Ray: A lawnmower.

Narayan: A lawnmower?! Did it hurt?

Ray: Yes. But I also got run over by a jackhammer.

Narayan: Really?

Ray: Yes. It was a steel rod jackhammer.

Narayan: Oh, those are the worst kind.

Ray: And I got a boo boo.

Narayan: Where?

Ray: On the inside.

Narayan: You got a boo boo on the inside?

Ray: When you go away I miss you and I get run over on the inside.



July 5, 2009 — 4 Comments

Below are excerpts from recent conversations I’ve had with Ray:

Playing with Trains

Ray:Choo-a-choo, whoo-a-whoo…

Narayan:Choo-a-choo, whoo-a-whoo…

Ray: “Slow down for the government!”

Narayan: “What did you just say?!”

Ray: “Slow down for the government!”

Narayan: “Wow. OK. What does that mean?”

Ray: “Slow down for the government!”

Narayan: “Yeah, but what does it mean?”

Ray: “It means you have to go slow so you don’t hurt anybody.”

Narayan: “Oh, I get it, the government says you have to slow down to be safe.”

Ray: “Yep.”

Narayan, strategizing: “You know what else the government says, right?”

Ray: “No.”

Narayan: “The government says you have to take a shower this morning.”

Ray: “No it doesn’t!”

Narayan: “How do you know?!”

Ray: “Because you don’t take showers on the train, that’s silly!”

Watching a Jogger

Narayan: “There goes a jogger!”

Ray, wincing: “He was nekkid!”

Narayan: “He was?”

Ray: “His legs were nekkid!”

Narayan: “Yeah, he was wearing shorts.”

Ray: “His tummy was nekkid!”

Narayan: “Yeah, he wasn’t wearing a shirt.”

Ray: “And his head was nekkid.”

Narayan: “Yeah, I guess he was a little bald.”

Ray: “And his arms were nekkid and his neck was nekkid and his fingers were nekkid.”

Narayan: “…”

Ray: “Daddy?”

Narayan: “Yes, Ray?”


Making Pancakes

Narayan: “Ray, do you want blueberries in your pancakes?”

Ray: “No.”

Narayan: “Do you want blueberries on your pancakes?”

Ray: “No.”

Narayan: “Strawberries?”

Ray: “No.”

Narayan: “Butter?”

Ray: “No.”

Narayan: “Whipped Cream?”

Ray: “No.”

Narayan: “Honey?”

Ray: “No.”

Narayan: “Maple syrup?”

Ray: “No.”

Narayan: “Well, I’m out of ideas. What do you want on your pancakes?”

Ray: “Daddy?”

Narayan: “Yes, Ray?”

Ray: “You know what I want in my pancakes?”

Narayan: “What, Ray?”

Ray: “Flavor.”

Narayan: “Well, that’s silly.”

Maker Faire

June 8, 2009 — 2 Comments

My family has been attending the SF Bay Maker Faire every year since its inception. It’s relatively easy to describe what The Maker Faire is—unsurprisingly, it’s a gathering for people who make things—but it’s very difficult to articulate its scope in a way that can be understood for those who don’t or can’t attend.

The horizon of creativity witnessed at the Maker Faire is mindboggling. In attending the faire one imbibes equal parts art, science, craft, hobby, delusion, and obsession, witnessing everything from master yo-yo performances to roving squadrons of cupcakemobiles to battle robot arenas to pipe cleaner art. I think of the faire as a local Burning Man but one which, in ways I find refreshing, substitutes the pleasure and delight of “just making stuff” for the increasingly annoying pretense of “being cool”.

Only at the Maker Faire

One of the things I love about the Maker faire is that it’s so incredibly kid-friendly. This is really the first year that Ray is substantially cognizant in his exploration of anything, so even days later he’s still raving about the giant hydraulic hand (he’s fascinated by hydraulics–go figure) and the lego trains and the underwater robots.

It’s fair to say that despite the flashing lights of walking robots and the spectacle of flamethrowers, the highlight of the 2007 faire for us was this gentleman, Zach Houston, who ran a “Poem Store” in the expo hall.

Poem Store 2007

For whatever you think a poem is worth and on whatever topic you fancy, Zach will bang out a short poem on his tiny typewriter. In 2007, when Ray was just 1, we spoke for him, and the topic we chose was of course, Ray. Zach tapped out the following:

We looked for Zach in 2008 but unfortunately could not find him. We were thrilled this year, however, when we found him sitting under a tree, and we immediately queued for a sequel. When asked what topic Ray wanted for his poem, he thought for a few moments before saying, “ticket” (?!). Zach went to work:

Thanks, Zach. We’ll see you next year.

Here’s a bunch of photos from this and previous years compiled into a Maker Faire Flickr photoset.

Table Play

January 4, 2009 — 8 Comments

I kicked off the new year by finishing up a project I started last year. This is a play table I just finished today for Ray.


Most of the in-house projects I’ve taken on in my current woodshop have been either for the shop or for Ray. Given the way the last few years have been for me at work, I can’t see it having turned out differently. Adult-scale furniture takes me a long time to construct and finish, and as my shop is not very large it’s difficult to store large boards and panels while a piece is under construction. Also, an unfortunate busy spell at work can keep me out of the shop for months at a time, and the larger pieces tend to require a kind of continuity and focus not made possible by such a staccato schedule. So on a variety of fronts, these small-scale pieces are great.

I’ve made three pieces for Ray so far:

A desk and chairs made mostly with handtools, fabricated out of 2x4s:

Ray's Desk

A stepping stool made with the boards of a thrown away futon:

Step Stool Installed

And this latest piece, a play table.

In Use

With all pieces I make for Ray I try to experiment with skills and processes I haven’t yet tried. The last two pieces used curves and sprayed finishes. The desk and chairs were my first legitimate (i.e. non-woodshop furniture) foray into handtools. And this play table was also the first show-in-the-house piece for which I used a spokeshave and which features exposed handcut dovetails.

A lot of people who see these projects while they’re being constructed wonder why I don’t just run down to Ikea to pick up a step stool for $10 or a desk and chairs for $25. They wonder why I handplane children’s furniture or throw pieces away that aren’t turning out well. Why all this effort for something so…ephemeral? And on some level, I understand where they’re coming from. It’s highly unlikely Ray will remember these pieces when he gets older. I certainly have no recollection whatsoever of even using a step stool, much less what it may have looked like or where it may have come from.

Perhaps I don’t really have an answer which would make sense to anyone who would go to Ikea or Target. Why I make these things goes beyond the fact that I just like spending time in the woodshop or that I want to make stuff for my kid. This might sound a little over-the-top, but through these projects I very much believe that in some small way I’m shaping the way Ray sees the world. I want him to know that it’s still possible to make stuff and to know the people who make your stuff. That not everything we use is disposable. That with just a little bit of effort and practice you can still have something to do with the very artifacts around which your life happens–something other than breaking out a credit card, lugging a box home, and cursing at Swedish assembly diagrams.