Rewards for saving the Planet

Keeping track of all the federal and state incentives for being green can be overwhelming. But, for those of you who received the 2010 tax rebate for installing new energy efficient windows in your home, you probably know first hand how handy those rebates can be. In 2009 and 2010 the Federal governent offered a Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit for up to $1,500 on purchases made towards increasing the energy efficiency of residential homes. In 2011 the tax rebate was reduced to $500 and is only available to those individuals who have not yet claimed $500 in years past. Although the amount isn't as high, for those individuals who missed out on the $1,500 it is still a $500 rebate, which means more money in your pocket come tax season.

In addition to the Federal Tax Incentives many utility companies and state governments offer tax incentives for replacing inefficient windows and doors. I recently ran across a great website that lists all the available incentive programs by state. Included in the database are incentives for both commercial and residential buildings. To see if there are any incentive programs you qualify for please visit:

If you find that you qualify for an incentive program make sure you understand the requirements and order your products accordingly. When ordering windows make sure you know what U-Value is required to qualify for the credit. In most cases, off the shelf windows will not meet the requirements for qualifying for incentive programs so make sure you clarify with your sales professional whether t windows or doors will meet tax credit requirements.

Start to Finish

I love to start projects. The problem for me, my husband and my home is that I don't love to finish them as much as I love to start them. I love the creative part of making an idea come to life, however when it comes time to put on the finishing touches and clean up, I tend to lose interest. Am I crazy...does anyone like that part? This weekend, my husband and I promised we would finish one of the many unfinished projects we have in our house. The project we choose is a project that has been on the back burner for the last six months and we finally finished it last night. I decided to share our project on this blog so that I may inspire one of our readers to complete one of their own pesky unfinished projects.
In The Beginning
Our project began at the scrapyard. My husband is a natural born treasure hunter and loves to frequent the scrapyards to see what kinds of treasures he can find. Usually his treasures are metal pieces he can use when welding. About six months ago he found a very large fir glulam beam. Having seen the projects Millwork Outlet has done in the past with gluelam beams (floors, tables paneling, ect), he decided to buy the beam. When he brought it to the Millwork Outlet I originally thought it would make a neat coffee table. It wasn't until we had a mobile milling machine come out to the Millwork Outlet three months later that we decided we would slice it into thinner more usable pieces. When it was finished being milled we had five 1 1/2" thick glulam boards that were 24" wide by 120" long. As soon as I saw the finished boards I knew I wanted to turn one into a kitchen countertop. And it was just my luck that my countertop measured 24" wide by 112" long.

Step One: Sand
Two months later we decided that we should probably put the glulam to use rather than let it sit outside through the rainy Seattle winter weather. Now I imagine there are probably instructions for making wood countertops on the internet, but both of us prefer to forge our own road, so we decided to wing it and use our common sense instead - after all we work at the Millwork Outlet so this should be easy. We started by sanding the board because I was pretty sure we didn't want slivers in our sandwiches when all was said and done. We sanded the top side as well as front edge with 85 grit sandpaper. We wanted to keep the board looking a bit rustic so we left some of the marks from the milling process. We finished the board with 120 grit sand paper which left the marks, but made the surface very smooth to the touch. We also double measured our countertop and realized that at 24" we would be a bit narrow since the ugly formica countertop we had has a 2" backsplash attached to the back. We found a piece of another board that had broken and sanded it down as well. Take home lesson: ALWAYS double measure.

Step Two: Finish and Protect
After we completed the sanding we were ready to apply a finish. Because it is a wood countertop and wood tends to rot when left wet, we knew the finishing step was extremely important. We had originally thought we would have to use an extra thick polyurethane coat, much like you see on bar tops in restaurants. However, a trip to the dreaded Home Depot made us think otherwise. Home Depot only carried one type of the extra thick polyurethane coating and was far from cost effective. We instead opted for a oil based polyurethane flooring coating because it is more resistant to scratches and it doesn't require sanding in between coats (did I mention I hate redundancy and inefficiency?) The instructions called for two coats for flooring, but since we expected the countertop to get fairly wet around the sink we decided to go a bit overboard and we applied six coats total. We did the same to the back splash.

Step Three: Remove the Nasty Countertop
The most fun step of all was removing the old counter top. Because not even a Craigslister would want our old countertop, saving it was not a necessity, so when removing the countertop in one piece became difficult, my husband grabbed the saw and hammer and cut and beat it smaller pieces and threw it in the backyard. Next stop: the big green dumpster.

Step Four: Attach the Backsplash
Once the counter top was removed we measured, cut and attached the backspash to the wall. In our case the studs were way off the standard 16" center to center so we screwed the backsplash in the bottom corner of each end so that the screws would be covered by the overlap of the countertop. We also added one to the top right hand corner for good measure which our microwave will end up covering. If you wanted you could router and plug the screw holes, but that was an unnecessary step for us.

Step Five: Install the Countertop
For those of you who have ever tried to remodel an older house you know how frustrating it can be. I would be willing to bet that there is not a single ninety degree corner in my house. We expected that when it came time to install the countertop we would have to make some adjustments and the gaps along the wall wouldn't be uniform. We were right. It took us a total of FIVE cuts and a timeout to move the stove before the countertop would slide into place.

Step Six: Make Room for the Sink
Working at the Millwork Outlet has taught me that when cutting holes in your home for a construction project, smaller is better. When it came time to trace the sink for the cut out we aired on the side of caution because a hole too big would have completely ruined our glulam and we would have had to start all over again or buy a bigger sink. We traced the outside of our sink with blue masking tape and then measured one inch inside the tape line. My husband cut the hole with a jigsaw and then we crossed our fingers....dropped the sink in...and the sink dropped all the way to the floor...just fit perfectly!

Final Step: Install the Faucet and Drains and Caulk
My husband has a saying he learned as a teenager installing custom cabinets and that's "Do your best and then caulk the rest" and that's just what we did! We caulked the gaps between the countertop and the backsplash with clear silicone sealant so water cannot get behind the countertop. We also caulked the sink edges so water doesn't leak into our lower cabinets. And finally, we installed the faucet and drains and hooked them up to our existing system. The last step took the longest because we were completely burned out and wanted to quit. We almost didn't hook the sink up because we were so tired, but we figured if we didn't do it then it would probably stay that way until next week. Now the sink and countertop look beautiful, but the job is still not done because the old countertop is still sitting in pieces in our backyard and I cooked my breakfast this morning in my mircowave that is in my hall and as my Grandpa Val always says, "the jobs not finished until you are all done cleaning up"!

NOTE: We have three glulam boards left if anyone is interested in making a glulam countertop of their own. Feel free to give the Millwork Outlet a call (425)432-5189 and ask for Venise.


Fireplace Bookshelves with Wood Storage

This is the same client (friends, actually) for whom we constructed an exterior door  (see oldest post here- ‘A Castle’s Exterior Door’… at the bottom of the page).
Anyway, this stone house was built over 75 years ago and we believed the old tongue and groove pine was original. Nice old wood but it made the living room a bit gloomy and she wanted to brighten and ‘clean up’ the look. They wanted to keep the stone fireplace and redo everything else.

We designed low shelving for that wall, the wall to it’s left and included a place for cord wood ‘waiting it’s turn’ to heat the house. It was a bit pricey so we eliminated the shelves returning on the left wall and… got to work.

The paneling was removed to expose the studs, the walls sheet-rocked, the stonework re-chinked, floors sanded / urethaned and the walls painted before installing the bookshelves.

We installed all the finish woodwork including some wider molding for the windows (more ‘old-world’ look to work with the stone). All painted white for a nice contrast. I fabricated some thick, oak, quarter round molding for the hearth’s edge as it sat 2″ above the floorRather than build the whole cabinet deeper, I elected to simply extend the floor of the cord wood opening. We protected it’s interior by lining it (floor, walls, ceiling and back) with sheet metal. I’m interested to see how this will stand the test of time.

I usually like the look of very old wood but it’s not quite so special when everywhere you look, you see nothing but walls of dark wood. I think this room is vastly improved… as our friends, all along, believed it would be.

Russell Hudson / Hudson Cabinetmaking, Inc.




Build a Chicken Coop

In the past few years we have observed a noticeable increase in the number of customers searching our surplus window lot for affordable windows to install into their chicken coops. According to THIS article in the New York Times backyard chicken coops are springing up all over the place, even on the roof tops and in gardens of city dwellers. The owners of the Millwork Outlet, Dan and Darryl Drllevich were raised on a small farm in Kent, WA where they raised cows, sheep, chickens and other farm animals. Both brothers have fond memories of caring for their animals and love talking to our customers about their chicken coop, barn and farmyard projects. With the increasing requests for chicken coop products we started searching for items that can help our customers build attractive and affordable chicken coops. We recently stumbled upon about 20 large shipping crates measuring 48" x 48" x 96" that will make a great structure for chicken coops. Rather than spending a fortune on lumber, these shipping crates are already built to last. A saws-all, chicken wire, paint and some carefully planned holes will turn these crates into cute chicken coops in no time. I searched the internet for pictures of chicken coops built from shipping crates and found the one below. These coops are built from smaller shipping crates, but the idea is similar. These already complete shipping crates are sold for $70 but as the seller warns the shipping from California would cost more than the coop. We are selling our shipping crates for only $45. For pictures and details please visit our surplus website HERE. Come get them today and you'll be on your way to collecting great tasting eggs for your morning omelet!
Small chicken coop made from a repurposed shipping crate.


I was walking the beagle this morning and I heard someone practicing violin in their house as we walked by. The player wasn’t new at it, but neither was he all that proficient. He was learning and repeating his scales. I’m no musician so I cannot say what kind of scale it was, but I [...]

Wood Bending Workshop (9-3-11)

Bending Workshop The first one-day Wood Bending Workshop occurred on Saturday, September 3, 2011, with two students in attendance. Marco Cecala is an accomplished woodworker and furniture maker interested in expanding his horizons, and David Keeling is a rehabilitated airline pilot who wants to make wooden surfboards using bending techniques. The day was devoted to exploring the different ways that wood can be bent: steam treatment, hot pipe bending and bent lamination.

Air dried wood, at about 15%MC, is the preferred material for both steam and hot pipe bending, because the lignin has not been dried out excessively in the kiln and still plasticizes easily in the presence of heat. Since we are not blessed with a reliable source of air dried hardwoods in Arizona, it’s good to know that kiln-dried wood will also bend — though not so easily, and with a higher expected failure rate and a more unpredictable spring-back factor.

Bending kiln-dried wood is only possible with the use of a compression strap — a stiff but flexible steel strap with stop blocks bolted in place that precisely capture the length of the stick to be bent. The strap forces nearly the full thickness of the stick into compression, allowing only a bit of tension stress on the convex side of the bend. Wood stretches under tension only a small amount before failing (i.e., breaking rather dramatically), while it can be compressed very substantially before buckling. We bent 42″ (107cm) long sticks, 3/4″ x 1-1/4″ (19mm x 32mm) in cross section, into a ‘U’ shape around a 6-1/2″ (165mm) radius form. The most agreeable sticks made the trip with no discernible tension or compression stress whatsoever. Measured after cooling, the outside (convex) face of the stick was still 42″ (107cm), while the inside (concave) face of the stick averaged 39-3/4″ (101cm), a difference of 2-1/4″ (57mm)!

In the workshop we made these 42″ (107cm) bends using kiln-dried ash, hickory, walnut, cherry, maple and alder. We saw minor tension and compression stress evidence in some pieces of virtually all the species used, but several pieces bent perfectly. Ash is a predictable performer, as is hickory, and the oaks are fairly reliable. Our favorite on the day was the walnut (easiest to bend, least stress evidence, no failures). A couple of pieces of cherry also fared very well. When choosing pieces to be steamed and bent, use only the straightest grain stock you can find.

Hot Pipe Bending The ‘hot pipe’ is an effective method of heating thinner strips of wood for bending. It has been used for a long time by musical instrument makers to form the sides of violins, guitars and similar instruments. It can also be used in furniture making and wood craft work for making things such as chair back slats and wooden utensils. The wood is typically soaked in water for several hours prior to heating. Air dried stock up to about 3/8″ (10mm) thickness can be successfully bent on the hot pipe, kiln dried stock up to about 3/16″ (5mm). The section of the soaked piece to be bent is warmed on the surface of the pipe until it is felt to ‘relax’, or soften. Keeping the piece warm and working it on the pipe, it can be coaxed into fair curves and even very radical bends. A little scorching is typical, but can be scraped or sanded away after cooling and drying.

Bent (cold) lamination is arguably the most direct and effective way for most woodworkers to bend wood. The material is sawn into thin sections – typically 1/8″ (3mm), more or less – that are individually pliable enough to be bent cold to the intended form. Stacked up with glue between each layer, the stack is progressively clamped firmly to the form and remains clamped until the glue has thoroughly set. Preferred glues for bent lamination are the urea formaldehyde types because they cure hard, are not thermoplastic, and do not ‘creep’ (i.e., allow the laminates to ‘slip’ in reaction to the laminates’ tendency to try to spring back to an unbent condition).

Please peruse the following gallery of images from the workshop to get an idea what we were doing.  If you’re interested in learning more about bending wood, considering signing up for my workshop the next time it comes on the schedule.


“Steamin’, I’m always steamin’ …”*

(* – apologies to the late Johnny Burnette … df)

My introduction to steam-bending wood was in the mid-1970′s in northwest Alaska. We got into building dog sleds and boats, and making and repairing snowshoes. The Inuit people had always used green birch, harvested regionally, for bending parts for such things. In the ’70′s it was more common to use hickory that was barged in every summer (the nearest road was 300 miles east). These kiln-dried 50mm planks came from who-knows-where, and if at the time we had known or cared about moisture content we probably would have thought twice about trying to use it for bending.

medium basket sled

A mid-size basket sled

But we forged ahead, learning the local bending customs from the old-timers. There was little agreement on processes — everyone had their own favorite secrets, divulged grudgingly — and the failure rate was significant, even for mild bends like dogsled runners. No one really knew about or understood the science involved, practical place as it was you just had a go at it using what you thought you knew or had learned from previous experience.

Martin Puryear, "Bower"

Martin Puryear. Bower. 1980. Sitka spruce and pine, 64" x 7' 10 3/4" x 26 5/8" (162.6 x 240.7 x 67.6 cm). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C. Museum purchase made possible through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, Alexander Calder, Frank Wilbert Stokes, and the Ford Motor Company. Photograph by Richard Barnes. © 2007 Martin Puryear

My first bending epiphany was provided by brothers Michael and Martin Puryear, who in 1980 or so kayaked the Noatak River and ended up camped on the coast next to us near Kotzebue. We were building a boat, and in the process of bending the chines. The Puryears were both woodworkers — Michael today is a well-known furniture maker in upstate New York, and Martin is a famous sculptor and wood artist — and both were experienced and educated in the process of bending wood. I’m sure they thought our uninformed, backyard efforts were nuts, but they gave us some great advice and later, after they were home in New York, sent me some excerpts from the USDA Forest Products Lab’s pub. #215, Bending Solid Wood.

In the 1980′s and ’90′s I came to rely on bending information written by Bill Keyser and Michael Fortune published in Fine Woodworking Magazine’s compilation Fine Woodworking on Bending Wood. (the book is still available from Amazon) In more recent years I have had the opportunity to see Fortune’s wood bending demonstrations at conferences and other venues, and became convinced — the eyes don’t lie — that he had the whole thing pretty well figured out. Michael has been my wood bending ‘guru’ ever since.

There is a lot of literature out there on bending wood with steam, and if you read through it it’s not hard to avoid the comparison with my Inuit friends from long ago — not everyone agrees on every aspect of the process. But there are a few constants that I think can be set down as rules:

  1. Air dried wood (avg. 15%mc) is ideal for steam bending. In air dried stuff the lignin and cell walls have not been ‘cooked’, as in kiln drying, and can still be easily plasticized by heat. Kiln dried wood responds to steam and can be bent, but especially in thicker sections the results are much less predictable and satisfactory than using air dried material.
  2. Use straight-grained, defect-free stock. If your piece has significant runout, inclusions or pin knots, or almost any defect at all — you’re asking for trouble.
  3. Steam wood one hour per inch of thickness. If your steam box is cranking (lots of very hot steam blasting out of every nook and cranny), that’s all it takes whether heating air or kiln dried wood.
  4. Use a steel compression strap whenever possible. If bending air dried wood, you may be able to skip this for milder bends, but it’s essential for radical bends. And if bending kiln dried wood, a steel compression strap is required for all bends, radical or mild — if you want to have any hope of avoiding failure.
  5. No rules are absolute! Sometimes things seem to work OK in spite of all evidence to the contrary. But following the rules above will generally give you the best chances for consistent success.

There are other ways of bending wood — the hot pipe for example, which has been used for a long time (centuries?) for bending violin sides, and can be used on air-dried stock up to about 10mm thickness (and on kiln-dried stock up to maybe 4mm. Bent lamination is the other chief bending method, in which thin layers of wood are glued and clamped to a shaped form.

Adding bent wood to your repertoire of woodworking techniques greatly expands your horizons as a woodworker and furniture maker. If you are interested in the process and a chance to try it in a hands-on environment, consider signing up for my one-day bending class (offered periodically). The workshop provides an introduction to steam bending, hot pipe bending and bent lamination.

Please see the following post for a description of the first bending class, held Sep. 3, 2011, including an image gallery from the class.


Cabinetmaking Class

The first iteration of the class “Make a Wall-Hung Cabinet” (henceforth to be called simply “Cabinetmaking”) was held over three days in late August (26-28) 2011 with two students: Matt Vredenburg and Chip Hidinger, both woodworkers with some experience. It was a very busy three days, but in the end I think we arrived about where I had hoped we would, and both students went home with cabinets they can be proud of.

Cabinet The cabinet we made was small (50cm x 30cm x 15cm), a simple design based on the kind of work done at the College of the Redwoods. Built of Honduras mahogany and curly soft maple, the carcase is doweled and the back is a full frame-&-panel construction glued into a rabbet. The door overlays the front of the cabinet completely and is hung on 7mm (5/16″) brass knife hinges. The door frame is slip mortise-&-tenon, and the panel is installed as would be a piece of glass –  so it is removable. Up to two adjustable mahogany shelves can be placed in the interior of the cabinet. The top and bottom edge profiles are worked completely by hand, with planes and spokeshaves, and all surfaces are hand planed and lightly sanded (400-600 grit paper). The finish is shellac polish, hand-applied prior to assembly.

Success! Considering it would take an experienced maker several days to make this cabinet (while honoring the construction methods, attention to craftsmanship and detail work), asking less experienced makers to do all the work in three days is biting off a lot. There’s simply no way we could start from scratch and hope to get anywhere close to completion, so I milled all the parts and did the mortise-&-tenon joinery in advance. The students did the case joinery and all the hand work of fitting the frame and panel joinery, planing and finishing all the surfaces, designing and working the top and bottom edge profiles, assembling the case and fitting and hanging the door. At the end of the session we issued a collective “Whew!” There’s much more to this kind of work than meets the eye, and much of the detail work comes at the end when everything is assembled and fitted.

Check out the image gallery from the class (below), and look for this class to be offered again in the next course rounds.