Sunday, August 31, 2014

Naturally Make Your Pans Look New Again

We all have those pans in our houses. Those pans that are covered in baked on, nasty, sticky grease. Those pans that the dishwasher just can't get clean. And what do we do with those pans? We just keep on using them, building on the layers and layers of baked on, heated on grease.

The other day I was washing dishes, and I realized that I just couldn't take it anymore. We have a wonderful pan that had the bottom coated in grease. I didn't want to use steel wool or an SOS pad, since I don't like scratching up the pans. I have used baking soda in the past as a non-abrasive cleaner, and I don't know why I never did it with this pan.

So after cleaning the inside of the pan, I flipped it over and sprinkled some baking soda onto the caked on grease. I left it for about a minute, and then used a wash cloth and a little elbow grease to scrub the baking soda into the grease. The result was amazing.

I know this is not a huge secret. In fact, we use baking soda for so many things around the house - diaper pail deodorizer, non-chlorine whitener in the washing machine, toilet bowl cleaner, counter top stain remover, and glass-top range cleaner. Baking soda is a wonderful product to have around kids in place of harmful chemicals.

And speaking of avoiding harmful chemicals, let me tell you about this pan. I got this for my wife several years ago. This Ozeri pan is made in Germany with a stone-derived non-stick coating (Ozeri, if you're reading this, would you like to sponsor my blog? I could use another pan). We were
looking for a safe alternative to Teflon after a pan of ours started flaking pieces of the coating into our food. I did some research, tried a couple of plans, and finally settled on the Ozeri smooth stone-derived pan. It is amazing, and if you are not happy with your non-stick pan, you should check this one out.


So get your bulk supply of baking soda, find a chemical-free pan, and happy cooking, Renaissance Dads and Moms!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Inexpensive DIY Doll Bunk Bed

Doll bunk bed, with actual bunk bed in background
Years ago I built a bunk bed for my girls. It was a fun project, and four years later the bed is still standing, so I must have done something right. And then my middle daughter, Big A, decided that her dolls needed a place to sleep. She turned our wine rack into a doll bed, and also commandeered every laundry basket and couch cushion in the house. So enter the Baby Doll Bunk Bed project.

When I initially thought about making toys years ago (please see the Heirloom Toys article if you missed it), I imagined I would have piles of cherry, oak, and walnut toys that my kids played with. But as I thought about the doll bunk bed, I realized that the greatest thing for my daughters would be for them to have a doll bed that matched their bunk bed.

Here is what I did to make a bed that fits an 18 inch doll (like American Girl or My Generation). I started with one 2x2 and two 1x3 boards. I used the 2x2 for the posts, and the 1x3's for the horizontal pieces. I cut the 2x2 into four 18-inch pieces for the posts. I then cut four 18-inch lengths of the 1x3 for the side rails, plus eight lengths of the 1x3 for the end rails.
Don't try this with a store-bought bed

Using a pocket hole jig (if you've never used a pocket hole jig before, you must. They are easy to use and create very nice joints), I attached four end rails to two posts, and repeated for the other side. I then attached the two ends using the side rails. When everything was together, I filled the pocket holes with some wood filler, sanded it, and painted the whole thing white to match my girls' bed. Meanwhile, my wife took some scrap pieces of foam from the fabric store that we used for "mattresses" and covered them with some small pieces of fabric. We hot glued these to some pieces of plywood, and attached the plywood using small scraps of wood to brace the plywood.

This entire project cost about $15, with the bulk of the cost being the "mattresses." It took around two hours from start to finish. And the girls love the bunk bed. They often make sure to tuck their dolls into bed before they go to sleep.

At my house, my wife often tells our kids not to climb on the furniture, with one exception..she says, "Did daddy make it? Then it's safe to climb on." So this bed also doubles as a ladder, step stool and seat for my rambunctious crew. And we can store our wine, sit on our couch, and do laundry again. Win-win-WIN!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Entry Storage Bench

My wife's grandpa passed away a couple of years ago. He was a woodworker, and he had a large stack of walnut that he milled from a walnut tree in Iowa decades ago. Nobody in the family had any interest in it, so last summer my father-in-law and I hauled a trailer full of a piano and rough cut walnut boards from Iowa to Arizona. So that's how I ended up with a large stack of walnut in my garage. What to do, what to do...

Entry bench with room for three kids, and maybe their parents
I had many thoughts about what to do with all that lumber, but my wife came up with a genius idea (my wife usually comes up with genius ideas): we could really use an entry storage bench. You see, with two adults, three kids, and no coat closet, our stuff gets strewn everywhere. Backpacks, brief cases, diaper bags, lunch bags, bags of clothes... These things end up on the floor, on chairs, on the stairs. There was no place to store them, and as any parent can tell you, one of the most frustrating things about being a parent is when you're upset at your kids for not putting things away and 1) there is no place to put those things, or 2) your stuff is equally as guilty of being out of place. So let's entry bench it up!

As die-hard Renaissance Dad followers could tell you, I cannot do woodworking projects following written instructions. I spent three months working on this bench, and I did not use plans. So this is not a step-by-step tutorial on to how to make an entry bench. What I want to do is share some things that I learned through the process of making this bench.

1) Anything, even making a bench, is more fun with my kids. While the kids weren't with me for every step, and while they didn't really do much by way of cutting, sanding, painting, staining... Actually, they really didn't do anything. But they were very interested in watching and learning, and for me, this is worth more than having an entry bench. And of course they were quite interested in the sawdust, so I gave them brooms and dust pans and it was like Christmas.

2) A lot of sawdust was generated. I estimate that between the planing, cutting, and sanding, I collected more than 25 gallons of walnut sawdust and wood chips. While a lot of people would throw this away, this is gold for compost. Yes, I am crossing over from woodworker to gardener. This sawdust is great for the compost, helps with moisture retention when used as a mulch, keeps the gnats down in a compost pile, and adds to the richness of the soil when mixed in. I almost want to just plane wood down for the valuable sawdust. Almost...

3) Some things are a lot easier with a partner. When I was joining and gluing the top shelf to the sides, I was working with two sides that are six feet tall and two shelves that are five feet wide. I would get one side set up, move to the other side, only to have the joints on the first side slip. I went back and forth and back and forth, but because of the mass of the pieces and the little area I was working in, I could not get everything set up to clamp. Which led me to...

Unwieldy pieces make for difficult gluing.
4) It's best to know when to take a break. When I was getting frustrated with the glue up that was not going well, my mind was not as clear as it should have been. This could have been in part because of exhaustion (it was about 105 degrees in my workshop, and the monsoon humidity was close to 50%), or it could have been because I was nearing the end of the marathon of this project. Regardless of the reason, I knew that if I wanted this to look presentable, I would have to take a break and come at it again fresh (right before I came to this realization, I shouted the prayer, "Come on, Jesus. You were a carpenter. Throw me a bone here"). Many aspects of this project required me to take a step back and approach the project from a different angle. This is part of working without instructions or plans, but it is a challenge that I enjoy.

5) It never hurts to get a professional's opinion. When I was finishing the bench, I applied some tung oil. After a couple of coats, I wasn't sure if I would get the finish that I wanted. I was listening to one of my favorite Saturday morning home improvement shows, Rosie on the House, and Rosie had a furniture restorer as a guest. I called in and asked what kind of finish I would want on this. Mind you, I had already researched this, which is why I moved towards tung oil, but I was at a point where I thought about my three kids climbing and playing on this, and I realized that I needed something a little more robust. Consequently, I ended up using lacquer thinner to remove some of the tung oil and then applied a 90/10 mixture of spar urethane and mineral spirits. I learned that mixing in mineral spirits causes the urethane to self-level, creating a smoother finish. I also have a friend who is a professional woodworker, and Jeff answered so many questions and offered much needed help throughout the entire project.

One garage light fixture later, the bench is upright.
6) There is something extremely satisfying about starting with rough lumber and creating something. While not everybody has the tools, space, time, or other resources to do this, and while I don't anticipate building every piece of furniture that I ever need, there was something fulfilling about this process. In order to make the lumber usable, I had to plane it and cut it to size. I created every panel by joining boards. My sweat is infused in the lumber that also holds the sweat of my wife's grandfather, who cut the tree down. And yet it is still just a thing. While I really want to keep waxing poetic right now, I'll refrain.

7) Blemishes make it mine. This is not a perfect piece of furniture. There are nicks in the wood. There are gaps in joints. There are mistakes in cuts. And while I know where every single one is, most people will not see them. But I know that the mistakes mean that it did not come off a factory assembly line. I made it! It is not perfect, but it is mine.

8) I never could have done this without a Renaissance Mom. My wife spent countless hours corralling the kids so I could plane, cut, glue, and assemble. The encouragement to keep going. The ice water on blazing days. The reminder to be safe. These things all enabled this project to happen. For that I am grateful.

So there you have it. Eight things I experienced throughout this project without a single direction on how to actually build an entry bench. So pardon me, dear reader, if you were looking for an instructional, step-by-step explanation. That's just not the way my brain works.

And for my next project, I'll figure out what to do with all of that cow manure I have at the side of the house. But that's another story.