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How to Build a Leopold Bench—even in the winter!!

I recently finished shooting some instructional videos with Storey Publishing to promote “The Backyard Homestead Book of Building Projects.” Here’s a link to the video on how to build an Leopold Bench—one of my all time favorite (and easiest) projects.

Screen shot leopold video

Spike’s launching a new book

I’ll be launching my  fourth book—The Backyard Homestead Book of Building Projects—March 27th, 7:00 p.m. at the Stillwater Public Library. I’ll build a project from the book, examine the resurgence of backyard homesteading and discuss the challenges of creating a multi-faceted non-fiction book.

The Backyard Homestead Book of Building Projects

The Backyard Homestead Book of Building Projects

It’s fun, it’s free. It may even be slightly educational. Books will be available through Valley Booksellers of Stillwater. The book includes a wide range of projects including:

  • A potting bench
  • Garden cart made from a single sheet of plywood
  • A PVC Hoop greenhouse
  • A quintet of raised bed gardens
  • A flowerpot smoker
  • About 75 other projects

For more information go to The Storey Publishing website

Trade In Your Timex for a Bag of Balloons—A Tanzanian Adventure

Kat and I just returned from an indescribable trip to Tanzania. We worked at an orphanage for special needs kids and Boma ‘longombe secondary school. This was my fourth trip and Kat’s first. Here’s a piece about the experience I wrote for my Facebook page. More about the wood part of it later.

spike_balloons_throng_malende

When you go to Tanzania, trade in your Timex for a bag of balloons. The balloons are infinitely more useful and you’ll never regret the decision.

When you trade in your watch for balloons you can sit on the steps of a guesthouse in remote Bomalongombe, laughing while you make balloon animals with three dozen children. It means you can teach one another: Mbwa means dog, pua means nose, mbili means two, their presence means they trust a stranger traveling in their midst.

happy_kids_ballooons

Your watch will only make you anxious over the graduation slated for 10:00 a.m. that starts at 1:15 p.m. Your watch will make you forget it’s more important to have tea and connect with old and new friends than to stick to a schedule that makes you hurry and scurry, so you can hurry and scurry some more.

Balloons let you give something new and mysterious to a one year old-and to learn about parenting in return. My grimace says “I fear your child. biting this balloon, will get an unpleasant surprise.” The mother’s smile says, “Yes. And that way my child will learn it’s not a good idea to bite a balloon.” It makes me think we no longer let our children bite balloons; we hesitate when it comes to letting them, regardless of age, learn about the natural consequences in life. We take away balloons, fearing the “pop” will scare or scar them.

kat_kid_DIRA_balloon

Balloons grant you passage to the back of a village church where the choir is practicing hymns; songs where the words are different but the melody is the same. Balloons help you realize that music and faith link us together though we live half a world away. Balloons make a mother trust you enough to let her 2-year old sleep in your arms while you listen to her sing in the choir. Balloons make you realize if the tables were turned you might not feel the same trust.

Balloons help you cheer on the blind youth choir singing to welcome you. Balloons help you celebrate the 103 students graduating from school, heading into a world where opportunities are slim compared to ours. Balloons help you contain the joy you feel in seeing a four year old walk for the first time under her own power. Balloons make the work of building bunk beds for 100 students a little lighter.

spike balloons mwatasi

Balloons help you realize the nine people you’re traveling with for two weeks are all kids at heart. Balloons make me realize how incredibly lucky I am to have a fearless, loving wife by my side as we travel.

kat_mwatasi_balloon

Balloons allow you to give away something to kids that aren’t given much; to add a splash of color to a life that can be dusty and dry. Balloons are hugs and hope. And when they sail away you realize hope is a fragile thing.

When you trade in your Timex for balloons you trade in your anxiety-Am I going to lose it? Scratch it? Gum up the mechanism? It allows you to exchange something made of steel for something truly enduring-memories that can only be had by living.

A balloon allows you to leave a part of yourself-your very breath-in Tanzania. Fitting for a country that takes your breath away.

Firewood stacking for creative people (or those with too much time on their hands)

A friend of mine sent me some photos that the 10-degree below zero temperatures inspired me to share.

Sort of a HOOT!

Sort of a HOOT!

Timbered timber

Timbered timber

Why not?

Why not?

Doing it inside makes so much more sense

Doing it inside makes so much more sense

Stay warm everyone!

Stay warm everyone!

 

 

 

 

A Simple Gift For Father’s Day

A simple gift for dad — anyone can build it

A simple gift for dad — anyone can build it

Last weekend I was at Valley Bookseller in Stillwater promoting Woodworking FAQ: The Workshop Companion, and other books I’ve penned, for Fathers’ Day. I was promoting something else, too-the idea of building something with your own two hands to give as a gift. We weren’t just promoting the idea, we were building it! I think the good folks at the bookstore are still vacuuming up sawdust.

My book that features the project.

My book that features the project.

The project was a simple balancing wine rack featured in my book, Ridiculously Simple Furniture Projects. All it really takes to build one is a drill, a jigsaw and about 30 minutes. I think these things are so cool people should make them by the dozen to have on hand for emergency gifts! And there are a jillion variations in terms of shape and size. It’s a great project for using up oddball wood scraps. Find out more about Ridiculously Simple Furniture Projects.

My granddaughter Paige sanding her project.

My granddaughter Paige sanding her project.

There were kids of all ages building the racks during that hour; a couple of 60+ years olds that wanted to dip their toes into woodworking, a pair of Junior High girls that unwittingly walked into the scene and wound up making gifts for their dads. They rolled their eyes a little, but in the end they thought it was cool. There were little kids ranging from 1 to 7 years old. Best of all, three of my granddaughters and four of my own daughters were there. Guess what I got for Fathers’ Day?

Daughters Kellie and Tessa building a bottle rack for dad.

Daughters Kellie and Tessa building a bottle rack for dad.

It’s pretty easy to walk into a store and buy a card and a necktie-but it’s not much harder to make a simple gift. With a handmade gift comes the memories of making, giving and receiving it. It feels better. Give it a whirl.

Here’s the basic plan:

A simple plan for a simple project. Just build it!

A simple plan for a simple project. Just build it!

 

Wooden Bikes & Golden Moments

In my day I’ve interviewed incredibly talented woodworkers, ridden amazing bikes and met wildly imaginative inventors-but I’ve never seen all three of these come together in such a neat package as last June in Tanzania.

While troubleshooting the water system in Mwatasi-a village in the highlands region of the country-we encountered these five young gentlemen with their latest creation: A wooden three wheel bike. It may not look like much but look closer. For here you will discover resourcefulness, cooperation, imagination, an understanding of physics and geometry and an overwhelming sense of pride.

wood_trike

As woodworkers we can bemoan not having the space or finances for the latest high tech tool. As bikers we can complain about the potholes and narrow roads we need to navigate. As parents we may even gripe about the lack of educational opportunities for our kids. Whenever I start whining, I look at this photo and recalibrate my brain. Wooden bikes are more popular around the world than you might think. Below is a photo of bikes ridden in the Banaue region of the Phillipines (note the rear braking system!)

wood_bike_PhilipinesTo see other ingenious bikes, visit cool wood bikes.