Fido? FICO? Five-0?

D): None of the above

A new problem this week: storage rotation.  This is a common problem, faced by everyone from Walmart to the various branches of government to the menacingly reticent apocalypse survival folks.  Basically it boils down to this: if you are storing anything perishable from food to gasoline to ammunition, you want to use the oldest stuff first, while constantly replenishing the back of the stack with new stock.  The acronym that gets tossed around is FIFO: First In, First Out.

Where this came across my bench was the need for rotating canned goods easily.  If you have a shelf that is accessible from both sides, you could in theory take from one side and replenish from the other.  But if your shelves are backed up against the wall, you have to pull the stacks all the way out in order to put new stock in the back.  It’s time-consuming and irritating and tends to be ignored, which is how you get spherical cans of beef stew on the back of the shelf that expired in the Bush administration…the first one.  Ewww.

So in the interest of science, I did some research and built a prototype dispenser for a “normal” can.  This consisted of buying a bunch of cans of beans (took me forever to get through all of them!), and playing around with angles and whatnot.


As it turns out, while I finally made it work, it was cheaper and more efficient to use the powers of injection moulding and mass production.  If you’re looking for a cost-effective solution that will fit on a regular shelf and is adjustable for can size, the Cansolidator is probably your best bet.

But there was a hitch.  Some cans are very small.  Mushrooms, tomato paste, and so on are packaged in tiny little cans that, while you can get them to fit into the carousel, waste a lot of space, since the bays are sized to accommodate much larger diameter cans.  In addition, while you could just make big stacks of these little cans and bull your way through, they also don’t stack: the top is the same diameter as the bottom, making it precarious at best.

So I came up with a different solution: a vertical FIFO rack that will hold a goodly amount of cans, able to be constructed economically, and fit in little awkward spots (like behind a door).  That’s what we’ll be building this week, and hopefully you will find this an interesting solution to your fungus problems…



Between jobs

So the last big project is finally over, and the next one (or two, or three…) are on deck warming up, but now I’m kind of between jobs.  What happens in that time before massive content production is reinstated?

Well, I almost always have a batch of spatulas I’m working on.  Got to keep up with demand from the sales over at the farm store and Etsy, after all.


And I usually make myself a canning jar box just to get centered, and because I still have stacks of glass in the pantry (I think they’re breeding back there…).  This is suboptimal at best, especially if you live in an earthquake zone.  Or have a cat.  Same thing.


Seems a little dull, I know.  But more interesting things will resume shortly.  Do stand by.


Folks, in case you missed it somehow, it has been pretty hot and humid here in central Ohio the last couple of weeks.  If you’re one of those with air-conditioned workspaces, please leave now so the rest of us can be envious in peace…  For the rest of us, this hot and humid weather does present a couple of challenges that you need to account for in order to work year-round.

First of all, your glue will probably take longer to cure than you are used to.  Hide glue in particular is the principal offender in this regard.  After all, its solvents are moisture and heat, which pretty well describes the atmosphere right now.  Remember, campaign-style furniture was developed precisely because the muggy furnace of India was wreaking havoc on the luggage from England, and joinery was developed to hold firm even when the climate trumped the glue.  Other glues are not as markedly affected, but may show retarded curing.  So if you have panels to glue up (as we will in an upcoming project!), let them sit overnight, rather than over lunch.

Second, a newsflash: hot weather makes us sweat!  While this might not seem like a big deal, remember that your tools are generally made of carbon steel.  Smearing them with salt water (sweat) will cause them to rust in short order.  This is even more noticeable if you are using metal planes.  The ductile iron is extremely susceptible to rust.  So be extra vigilant about oiling your tools in this season.

And third, be sure to hydrate!  Drink water before you get thirsty (beer does not count!).  It might not seem like much, but a dehydrated brain housing group is prone to error.  If you are operating machinery, this is especially important.  A quick touch of light-headedness because you aren’t getting enough liquid can have some pretty disastrous consequences.

So while those stuffy garages are trying to work in this time of year, a few extra precautions will let you take the suffering without letting your work suffer.  Keep at it!


After everything was assembled, one of the doors I had made for the compost bit was a smidge fat.  Thankfully, I brought my #4 plane with me, and I took a few shavings off until it fit correctly.


The doors needed a couple of bolts each to make sure that not only do they stay shut, but also that kids/critters (there’s a lot of overlap) don’t get into the piles to root around.


Once the frame was complete, it was a long slog to get the poultry net affixed to it.  There are over a thousand staples (stainless steel so as not to be corroded by the treated lumber) in this bin.  I fired them with my old Arrow staple gun, and by the time I was done, I had to take a couple of days to recover because my hands were so worn out!


The last thing is to put 18″ long rebar pins through the skids.  There are a dozen of them, and they keep the bin from sliding down the hill.


And we are done!  The bin presents a fairly non-threatening appearance when closed…


…but when open, suggests that you could dispose of almost anything.  They’re still looking for Hoffa, right?


Into left field

When we last saw our compost bin project, it was at the end of the shop phase of the construction.  Now, it’s on to the field install portion.  The part I haven’t shown you is loading the multitudinous amount of supplies, from staples to hinges to handles that needed to be loaded.  Nor did I document the rather tedious exercise of carrying all those completed frames and hatches and 12′ long 2×6’s out the back of the garage and around the house to get to the pickup.  Admittedly, it would have been faster to just open the overhead garage door and go out the front, but I sort of have a pile of lumber sitting on it.  Bother…

But when I  did get to the site, the pile of lumber in the truck started to come together.  All of the subassemblies had been marked, so I arranged them in their proper order and attached the rear spine into the recesses we cut last time.  It can get a little precarious at first, but it worked out in the end.  Bringing a few clamps from the shop really helps.


Once the rear spine was in place, I attached the bottom skids.  These did not get recessed because I wanted them to be below grade.  When you’re emptying the bin, once you get to the skid, you know to stop and not dig a crater under the bin.  Once the skids were in place, I could move the whole bin away from the truck, and into place.  It can take a while to maneuver something this big by yourself, and without breaking things to boot!


The last 2×6 goes across the top rear of the bin to act as a hinge rail.  This way we can put the stress on the whole 2×6, not just the frame.  Then, hinges go on the hatches and two of the doors.  It’s the middle door that gets a little different treatment.  See, no matter which way we hinged it, it would be in the way during the transfer from one of the other bins.  So I used a pintle hinge.  Remember if you will that we had to make the middle door a little bit differently, with two braces instead of one?  That’s so the female part of the hinge could get bolted  into the brace with a 3/8 carriage bolt, since even the smallest one was longer than the frame was wide.


Two pintles on either side, combined with a lifting handle, means that the door can be lifted straight up off the bin and placed to the side when you’re rotating bins.  Yet, when the female parts of the hinge are slid onto the male portion that stays in the frame, it is held securely.  This might not seem like a big deal, but each of the bins holds roughly 64 cubic feet of compost.  If you can save a couple of steps on every forkful, every time you turn your compost, it adds up to a lot less work, and less spillage.



Once the frames were all lapped together (4 frames, 4 corners, 2 sides to the joint, 2 cuts per side is 64 different saw cuts just to get the frames up.  Whew!), I had to make the top hatches, which were 6 feet long and 4 feet wide.  They are constructed in a similar manner: another 32 saw cuts.  Then  I had to put the braces in on the frames and on the hatches.  These are a form of half-lap that, since it’s not on a corner, is also known as a crossing or halving joint.  It’s fairly similar to our previous joints on the male end, but the female end requires a chisel and is best cleaned out at the end with a router plane.


As with the corners, they are secured with a weatherproof adhesive, and heavy duty (treated lumber approved) screws.  There are six braces so far, and every one of them requires 4 saw cuts.  Add another 24 saw cuts to the running total.


Finally, I had to make the doors.  There are three doors to this bin agglomeration.  The stated idea is that you can flip compost from one bin to the other to aerate it and make it turn from a bunch of kitchen muck into a proper soil amendment faster, as adding the oxygen from aeration increases the rate of microbial activity.  Science!

To fit in our 12′ length, our doors have to be slightly less wide than they are tall to make room for the skeletal framework.  Not enough to be apparent at a glance, but enough that if you aren’t paying attention, it would be tricky to rework…


Each of those doors, constructed similarly to the frames, has its own set of joints.  The middle door has two braces, to account for some hardware mounting issues.  So, this adds another 72 saw cuts to our total.

Finally, the frames are cut for the reinforcing spine.  This spine is two 2×6’s that are going to be housed inside the frames for better rigidity.  This is best handled by clamping all the frames together and doing a gang cut on them.  This ensures that they will all be in the same plane.  It takes awhile to cut through six solid inches of yellow pine, but do persevere.  It’s best in the long run.  Again, I cleaned out the bottom with a router plane to ensure accuracy.  And this last bit (with another 20 cuts) will wrap up the shop portion of the build.  Next time, we’ll start on the field install.


In case you were curious, but didn’t want to count, this project has required 212 accurate saw cuts to get to where we could start really putting it together.  Thankfully, I was able to get it done before my saws went on strike for better working conditions…


Our new project for the week is a little different from the commissions I usually get.  I got an email from a lady who had seen my work at City Folk’s Farm Store, and wanted me to build her a compost bin.  Not just any compost bin, but one that was 12′ long, with three 4′ bins, complete with hatches and latched doors to keep the critters out.  I said I could do that (though my own bins are considerably more shabby), and drafted a design.

Dealing with the pressure-treated lumber that this bin is made from had a few considerations in the construction.  The joints used in this project are important because they allow for the strongest attachment of the sides, but they will open up over time because pressure treated lumber is extremely wet.  As it dries, it will shrink.  Also, be aware that there will invariably be variations in the size.  Though all of the 2×4’s will nominally be 1.5″ x 3.5″, I experienced a variation of ±1/8″.  This can be a problem if you use the nominal size as your standard.  Be sure to use superimposition to lay out your joints.

The joints in this particular project are almost entirely half-laps.  It’s a lot of fairly tedious cutting, but with a careful work, they will work off the saw, and not require further fitting.  It is fastest to use the big ripsaw, but you can use a large tenon saw if you have enough plate under the spine.


Once the half-laps for the frames are cut, they can be assembled, then put aside for the moment.  I’m using heavy-duty screws that are approved for use in treated lumber (important!), as well as a waterproof adhesive.  This one is almost done, three more to go!