Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 132, August 2016 Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
Here's My Woodworking!
By Jon Lehman
Kickapoo, IL

At 69 years-old, I have two passions: go-kart racing and woodworking. I'm not planning on moving up to NASCAR any time soon, but since I was a little kid I've wanted to race on dirt ovals. I started racing karts at 58, five years after I retired. I've won three season championships at two different tracks.

I get the most pleasure making something from nothing with whatever wood that is already down that I find on our property. My woodworking started about four years ago. I suppose I've always been interested in different woods because my father was a master wood carver. We have 75 acres with oak, cedar, cherry, walnut and hickory trees. There is always something falling down waiting to be salvaged and made into something beautiful. The rest of it is used to heat the house.

I wouldn't call myself a skilled woodworker because I don't know what I'm doing. I slowly plug away without any plans. I start with an idea then find the wood. As I work the project, I have no idea how to proceed beyond the next step. I don't even think about what to do past that. It just comes into my head what I'll do next. After that part is finished, I'll spend a lot of time thinking (some people call it naps). I never throw things away in the shop. I'll walk around looking at stuff, find something interesting and figure out a way to incorporate it into what I'm doing. I'm sure if I were skilled it would be a lot easier. If I mess something up, well, that's what sandpaper is for.

Latest project: a wild cherry bench assembled with no glue (except
for the two side pieces). It's held together with gravity
and oak pins I made.

I started this bench with a wild cherry tree that fell down and blocked a path. I cut it into nine-foot logs and then into boards, which are the sides. The bench is made from the slabs of bark that were cut off. The slabs laid by the wood pile all winter and I was going to finish cutting them into chunks to heat the house. One day I noticed the unusual 3-D grain and was glad I didn't burn it. About that time my wife said she wanted a bench for the front deck. And that's how it started.

The beer holders on each side were made from limbs from an oak tree that fell down this winter. I left the sapwood on so it blended in with the cherry. I'm not sure where I got the stainless rings but I put them to use on top of the beer holders. They are held on by a tiny stainless piece I salvaged from an old grill. The two side pieces have three leveling screws each (salvaged from somewhere) to keep the bench from wobbling. The finish is a sprayed-on Epifanes clear marine spar varnish.

A rock with a Coffee Table around it.

When I got three semis of rocks for building a retaining wall by the lake a few years ago, there was one very flat thin rock. I put it aside with the idea of an outside table. I became tired of our ugly coffee table and the rock came to mind.

The top of the coffee table is red cedar trimmed with oak. I made the boards from trees that had to come down when I put in the lake behind the house. The base is from the old coffee table. This thing is NOT going to blow away...ever.

Fire Table for use on the deck

This project started with an idea for a fire table to use on the deck. I like to reuse/repurpose/make stuff out of junk laying around. It's even better when projects turn out looking nice.

The design came from my head and changed as I built it. I designed the table around a lay down propane tank from a lift truck, which a friend gave me. Only after I was all done did I find out lift trucks use liquid propane while grills need vapor propane. Since the table wouldn't hold a regular 20 pound tank, I had to buy a new lay down tank.

The frame is made from 20+ year old decking I replaced. It was fairly heavy so I bored some 2 inch holes in it to lighten it up a little. Everything is held together with Festool Dominos and glue. There are no screws or bolts.

I used an old propane grill's parts for the front, back and bottom where the tank sits. The panels had slots in them for air circulation - very important. I did have to buy a drawer slide to move the tank in and out.

The top is made from a cedar tree I had to cut down a few years ago while clearing an area for a pond. I used a chain saw to cut it into slabs, then some hand planing and machine planing to make 3/4 inch boards. The finish is Epifanes Clear Varnish. There are 12 sprayed coats with sanding between each coat. The sides and edges are covered with stainless steel I had made for this project. The burner, pan, controls and fire rocks come from Moderustic.com. My wife made a custom cover for it out of Sunbrella Supreme with linen flock. It's a premium, waterproof exterior marine fabric. Overall, from planning to finish with a drink took two and a half years.

"Stump Cooler"

My wife and I were camping at Mississippi Palisades State Park in Illinois. Someone had rolled a red cedar stump up to our campsite fire pit. It hadn't been burned and I have no idea where they found it. It seemed a shame to burn it, so I rolled it into my trailer to take home and make something out of it. It sat outside all winter while my mind worked inside. There didn't seem to be many uses for a stump that I could come up with.

We like to sit by our fire pit in the evening and drink a little vodka while watching the bats and listening to the frogs. Our store-bought cooler wasn't tall enough for the bottle and that caused the problem of having no place to set our drinks because the cooler wouldn't close. I toyed with the idea of making my own small cooler to keep a bottle of vodka cold while we enjoyed the evening. Then there was that stump sitting there doing nothing.

I made the hole in the middle and sanded it smooth. There was a piece of stainless grill from something no longer being used in the scrap pile. I cut it to fit the bottom of the hole so the ice wouldn't fall out but would still drain. Also in the scrap pile was a thin piece of aluminum with holes in it. I formed it around an empty vodka bottle, pop riveted it together and fastened it in the hole so ice would be all around the bottle. The metal stand the stump sits on was part on an old printer stand.

The oak shelves on each side were made from an oak tree on the property. I used my Festool Router to make the slots for the shelves to fit in. There was supposed to be only one shelf but I put it in the wrong end…so there are two shelves. All sanding was done with my Festool Dual Mode Sander and my Festool finish sander. The finish is sprayed on Epifanes Gloss Clear Varnish.

Refurbished Picnic Table

Our 24 year-old picnic table was at the end of its useful life. I discarded the old boards, refurbished the legs and made my own boards from an oak tree that had been laying in the pond for a few years. Critters ate a hole in one of the boards, leaving a hole. I found a rock that pretty much fit the opening. Epifanes Clear Varnish is the finish.

Below is one of my first projects. The top is cedar and the legs are oak. It was all pulled out of the wood pile that was intended for heating the house.

My old cat needed help jumping up on the bed, so I made her a stool. It's a chunk of oak from the wood pile. I don't even know what kind of wood the legs are.

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