Shoe Box Greeting – My First Box

During the Jim Crow era, trains were segregated and Black people were not allowed to visit the dining cars. Many passengers would pack a meal in shoe boxes when traveling to southern cities. Road trips by automobile also present challenges for blacks looking for places to eat along the way. Planning a head with boxed lunches became a tradition. My friend Carolyn Wallace, owner of Perfect Brew Catering, resurrected this tradition as part of her business offerings. She krafted her own moveable feast box, adorned with artwork by Artistry T. Design, for her clients looking for boxed meals vs. a traditional catering setup. A friend of hers, Kashara, wanted to immortalize Carolyn’s paper box in wood and asked, given my newfound skill set, if I could make one. I took the challenge.

I have a boat load of oak wood from the failed first version of my headboard.  It’s coloring was close to the brown kraft paper of Carolyn’s paper box, so I decided to use it for the project.  Since I had never made a box my first step was to study the box Kendall Glover made for me.  I could clearly see he mitered the corners.  I knew the top was an inlay, but wasn’t 100% sure how he made that happen. Whatever the process I would need to do similar to attach her logo. My lid will come completely off, like a shoebox, so I didn’t have to worry about hinges although the lip (for lack of the proper term) he created that his lid fit around reminded me that my lid needed to fit over the entire bottom. Time to dive in.

No pics, but my first step was using a ban saw to cut the thickness of my almost 1″ thick board in half. My target finish thickness would be 1/4″. I could have ran the board through the planer until it was the desired thickness, but what a waste of wood, time and blade that would have been. I was a bit nervous since I had not cut anything that thin or tall. I didn’t hit the half way mark, my two sides weren’t the same thickness, so now I used the planer. With two equally sized boards of 1/4″ I headed home as I have all the tools for my next steps, building the bottom box.

I ripped one of the boards to the proper shoebox height and cut out the bottom of the box. I learned well after I completed the box that the next step I did was create a rabbit joint for the sides to rest in. I knew to do it, but only after watching Ben Napier’s new show Home Town: Ben’s Workshop did I learn the name of the action. With the cut made on my router table I was able to get the measurements for my side miter cuts. I was spot on with both the short and long sides on the first cut. I used my table saw instead of miter. I find my sides meet up tighter. With all cuts made I was ready to glue up the the bottom. I clamped the hell out of it, perhaps overkill, but I thought better too much than too little.

With the bottom complete I could measure the outer dimensions to obtain the size of the top. At this point I could have made a deeper rabbit joint to recess the lid enough to accommodate the logo, but my mind was fixated on using the CNC router at the Manufactory, so I returned to the shop. No pics of the process because the 2″ spoiler bit I used finished the process in seconds. I was poised to hit the kill button in case I made the cut depth setting too deep, but I did not. The 2″ bit made large curved corners which I had to use a chisel to clean out. I clamped my lid down. The first chisel I used was super dull, so I asked Ben (owner of Manufactory) if they had sharper or could he sharpen the one I had. He gave me another set. Clearly I’ve never used super sharp chisels (mine at home aren’t either) because I promptly managed to slice down the side of my index finger on my right hand, major blood flow, but not deep enough for stiches. Another reason for no pics. I did finish cleaning up the corners and returned home to glue up the top.

With lid complete it was time to test the fit……too tight, so what to do? I needed to shave wood from either the outside of bottom or inside of the top. I did both. I had a set of hand scrapers that I was able to use. I scraped and scraped until I had the perfect fit. There were a few subtle gaps in my glue up on the bottom, so I was able to use the scrapings and wood glue to fill them in. It was beautiful, I pulled it off, except for one issue. The lid slid on perfectly but only in one direction. If I flipped it around it would catch on one end. Not sure what was not in alignment, but I’d just have to give it to Karshara with instructions. I decided to add natural Danish oil as my finish. Once it dried I added the SGw/S brand. As long as the logo and brand were both upside right the fit was perfect.

The final step was adhering the logo in the recessed area I created in the lid. To protect and seal it in place it was recommended to me to use ArtResin, Epoxy Resin. After watching their video many times, I psyched myself out. The project sat for days as I feared messing the lid up and needing to start over. Kashara called concerned I’d miss the Christmas eve deadline and talked me off the edge. I had to buy a mini torch for the bubbles the mixing would produce. I decided to practice by making myself a couple of coasters for my office desk. I rinsed out a plastic cup, dried it, but not thoroughly enough as when I mixed the two parts it almost looked like foam it had so many bubbles. With torching I still couldn’t thoroughly remove all the bubbles. I returned to the ArtResin website and found in the FAQ section a response that said mix container must be completely dry. Even a small drop of water will cause excessive bubbles. Armed with that knowledge I went for broke. The pour and bubble removal went flawless. My first box was now complete.

I was invited to Carolyn’s to be there for the reveal. She was on a Zoom with all her family, so they were able to see it too. I grinned all the way back home. I amazed myself again. I truly have found a new skill set that I absolutely love, woodworking. I’ve joined the Cincinnati Woodworking Club in hopes of meeting people that can help me grow in my new craft and now dream of buying a warehouse to have a proper woodshop of my own.

Grandchildren Abuse Correction

For months, after reading how I restored the doors in my house, my aunt has asked me if I could restore her living coffee and end tables. She’s had them over 40 years. They have weathered her youngest daughter (who just turned 40) and 3 grandchildren (ages 23, 10, and 4). The furniture is solidly made; real wood, not MDF or particle. The top is a wood veneer finish. This holiday season she treated herself to a new sofa, so now was the time to see if I could bring life back to these tables and I went back to my tried and true product Howard’s Restore a Finish. The color of her furniture is close to the moulding in my master and the kitchen built-in, so I had the product on hand.

I used the same process I used in restoring all the moulding and doors of my house. Step one I washed the surface with water and Murphy Oil soap just to remove grim and sticky stuff and then followed with denatured alcohol applied with 000 steal wool.

I used a new piece of 000 steal wool to apply Restor-A-Finish, Maple-Pine color. It’s amazing how well that product evens out the discolored areas. In that light spot I did apply a bit of Dark Ebony color, Restor-A-Finish that I used on my doors. I let it sit overnight because the furniture was very dry, especially on the edges where the protective finish had worn off.. That product has an oil consistency, so I didn’t think it would hurt.

After applying Restor-A-Finish

The next day the more worn areas definitely looked more dry than other areas, so with a soft cloth I applied a generous amount of Howard Feed-N-Wax, which I also let sit overnight. Before returning to my aunt I wiped off the excess.

The end tables turned out equally as well. These are pics of the one in worst shape.

Warning Restor-A-Finish does not rebuild layers of polyurethane or another top coat that may be applied to your furniture. Up close you will see the raised differences. I believe the only way that can be fixed is complete sanding. I opted to not do that because there were several raised areas in the veneer, most likely due to water damage, and I did not know what sanding would do to those areas.

My aunt was please, not a bad outcome for 40+ year old furniture.

Christmas Gift To Myself

Happy New Year! My apologies for the drop in posts. I’ve been busy with the bakery division of Sister Girl w/ Skills. My family loves my carrot cake, so for the last few years I’ve been gifting mini loaf size pan versions, each person gets their own cake. The recipe is one I’ve had for over 40 years, which I got from my Big Mama, Inez Kent (she was tall, over 6′ so I distinguished my two grandmothers by Big Mama and Grandma). She was a scratch cooker, using the palm of her hand to measure out teaspoons and tablespoons, but she wrote down this recipe for me. I’ve got to get this framed before it disintegrates more. This year I followed her recipe exactly, putting the nuts in the frosting. Over the years I had morphed it to follow my zucchini bread recipe, which I’ve also had for years. It was given to me by a colleague of my mom, Vivian Dobur, who use to grow enormous zucchinis in her garden every year.

The zucchini bread recipe saw a lot of action this year too. My friend, Carolyn owner of Perfect Brew catering, asked if I could make it in tiny pans that would allow her to include it in a gift box she created called, Making the Holidays Bearable. I think she may have birthed another side hustle for me. Typically I have two versions of the bread raisin or pineapple walnut. Given nut allergies in some people we stayed away from that one, but a few months ago when I had a taste for some bread I stumbled across a combination that is to live for, cherry chocolate. I ended up making more of it and actually selling it to other friends. I’ve been encouraged by those friends to market the bread to local restaurants and coffee shops, so I’m strongly considering it. I now have three sizes x-mini, mini, and regular, which I’ve priced at $4, $8, and $12. Not a killer profit for me, but at this stage I just like that someone loves something else I created and it’s worth exploring since Covid is forcing me to reinvent myself.

Living A2

In regards to the gift for myself my living room is comfortable, but it lacked a coziness that made me prefer to eat dinner on a TV tray in my master suite while watching TV.  I was spending too much time in my master, so I decided it was time to make my massive Rookwood fireplace (100″ wide, 60″ to top of mantle) functioning.

When I bought my front door lock set at Bona Hardware in Oakley two years ago I noticed they sold log sets. Remembering this and the great service they gave me I decided to get pricing on their units. Guy, my sales clerk, showed me a couple of options. I was looking to spend as little as possible. The opening, which was only 18″ deep and 39″ wide at its narrowest point and the existing location of the gas line (hole for gas line was there when I bought house) became the driving factor. I selected the vented Rasmussen Cross Fire log set in a sand pan with manual ignition. Guy connected me with a plumber, Lyons Plumbing and Heating, they frequently partner with on fireplace installs.

Gary (owner) and his son Joe came out to access my situation and give me a quote, which I accepted. Given I had already paid my HVAC company a similar amount to run the gas line two years earlier I thought their rate seemed high. I have no point of reference to compare and I wanted it done by Christmas, so opted to trust the referral and not obtain other bids. They returned on December 22 with the third member of the crew, son/brother Matt, and got to work. I already new my HVAC company had not installed the gas cut-off in the right area. They put it in the fireplace and code requires it to be outside. I was fortunate the City inspector didn’t flag me for it at that time. I bought the correct part months ago and was waiting for this moment to have it installed. I selected an oil rubbed bronze finish since I knew it would be located in the floor.

Gary and sons did a great job; I’ve found another reliable plumber. They discovered that my HVAC company had failed to replace a key 1′ section of iron pipe, which needless to say really annoyed me once discovered. They had put new pipe and valve in the fire place, but the 1′ section that ran underneath, accessible in the basement, they did not replace instead only connecting a new iron pipe line to it that ran back to the gas meter. That 1′ section was completely clogged, so clearly they never bothered testing their new line. The pipe was hard to access. Gary and his sons spent an hour working to free it, which is probably why the other company ignored it. I’m so grateful they just didn’t give up, since running new pipe was not part of their bid. I had to pay an additional $100. After about 3 hours of work my gift to myself was up and running. That first night I wore my mother’s robe and Bombas gripper slippers while enjoying hot tea from Churchill’s Fine Tea laced with brandy, ice cream, and a Sugar Tin mixed berry hand pie. I think I’ve fallen asleep on my sofa (which isn’t a comfy couch) every night since.

Sit to Stand DIY Desk

I needed to prove to myself I could make a table. I’ve shared many times that I had planned to make my own dining room table and office desk from the wood of trees that were once in my backyard. My dinning room table turned out absolutely gorgeous, but it was not done by my hands alone. At the makerspace I joined I got a lot of help from one of the members, Kendall. He showed me the ropes on running my wood through the joiner and planer. Unfortunately Covid-19 hit and the shop was forced to close. I used my stimulus check to pay a professional shop to finish what I started. My desk was an opportunity to do what I said I would.

My mulberry wood slabs had been in storage for almost two. The first step was cutting the crouch ends off. If they stayed whole I thought I could make some nice live edge end tables. All but one cracked in two pieces, so I’ll make more charcuterie trays.  Since the live edge is on both sides I decided to split the boards down the middle on the ban saw. Since I knew my cut was not straight I ran the cut side of the board through the joiner until it was even/flat. Once flat I could use the straight edge run the board through the table saw to cut the bark off the opposite. Some of the boards, even cut in half, were cupped so in those instances I ran the flat side through the joiner. Ultimately the goal was to get boards that I could start running through the planer to clean up and smooth out the surface. I also needed to get all the boards to the same thickness. My target size overall was 60″x30″x1.25″. The boards were just under 2″ thick when I started.

I never got all my boards the same thickness, but I was afraid I was getting them too thin (I was was already under 1.5″ and I knew more planning and sanding would be needed), so I decided to stop and and start filling the cracks and holes with epoxy. At this stage I could already tell I was going to have some gorgeous boards.

My dining table project had already taught me what to look for. Because of that my original design idea changed. I had boards between 3″ and 6″ in width and some had sap wood showing. I didn’t want to loose that, so instead of having uniform boards for my center panels I decided to have staggered sizes; 6″ in the center, 4″ on each side of it, and then 3″ on each side of the 4″. I’d have two, 20″ x 20″ panels running horizontally separated by a 6″ board running vertically. With the boards arranged it was time to glue up the two 20″ x 20″ panels.

The glue up went well. I decided to make another design change. I had a scrape piece of walnut from my table, just enough to create some 1/2″ strips for accents. Adding the strips would take me over my 60″ finished width, so I had to run my 20x20s through the table saw. I totally ignored the “measure twice cut once rule” as on the first board I cut off too much. The end result is my final table top ended up only 58″ long. With the walnut strips cut it was time glue up the full center panel with the walnut accents. Once that was done I was ready to glue up the outer boards.

The finished table was very uneven, which I knew would be the case since my boards weren’t the same thickness. To correct the unevenness problem I decided to take the CNC router class and use the CNC machine to smooth out the table. In the class you learn how to make a sign while get the basics for running the machine.

Making the sign did not translate exactly to the steps needed to smooth out my table, but fortunately the staff doesn’t let you go solo on your first solo use. Unfortunately the person that helped had a completely different way of operating the machine from what I learn in class making me even more confused. My biggest fear was that I’d take off too much making the table too thin. I started with the bottom as the boards on that side were most out of alignment. I set the machine to remove 1/16″ with a CNC Spoilboard Surfacing/Slab Flattening Carbide Router Bit 1/2″ Shank I purchased from Amazon. It went great, but was not 100% flat. After the first pass I was on my own, so I decided to flip the table over to smooth out the top. Good thing I did as my second pass did not go as well. I set the z-stop wrong and it took off more than my 1/16″ target. It made the top smooth, but I was at my 1″ minimum finished thickness. I stopped after two passes, leaving the underside as is. It wasn’t terrible, but far from perfect.

The next step was giving my top a finished edge by using a 5/8″ round-over router bit and hand held router along the edge. With that successfully accomplished I decided to do all the sanding at the shop to save my house from the dust. I started with 60 grit and progressed to 80, 120, 240, and ended with 400. I’ve learned that the higher the grit the smoother the surface, but the higher grit also closes the pores and impedes oil absorption. I used the paper I had on hand, but for a future project I may stop at 320 grit because I think oil absorption is key to bringing out grains of the boards.

I took the board home and started the oiling process. I learned about a brand of oil called Walrus Oil from a blog site I follow, April Wilkerson, when she shared a YouTube video about floating shelves she was making. When I went to their site I saw they not only had the cutting board oil, but a Furniture Finish Oil also. I decided to try it and their Furniture Wax Finish and Polish. I put two coats of the oil on the bottom of the table. The wood came alive and I knew then I had created something really special. I was anxious to attach the the top to the Fromann Electric 3 Tier Legs Dual Motor Desk Base – Sit Stand up Standing Height Adjustable Desk Frame I purchased from Amazon.

The first frame I received was defective, the holes were mis-drilled, so it could not be put together. I wrote a negative review on Amazon with pictures and returned it with plans to purchase one from a different manufacturer. Fromann read the review, reached out to me, offered me a full refund and a new frame. Now that is what I call great customer service. At this point my only investment in this project is my time and the cost of the Walrus Oil. The new frame arrived, went together with ease and the screws I needed to attach the top to the frame. It works flawlessly. I programmed three preset heights, sitting normal, sitting high, and standing. I wrote a new review, giving the product 5-stars. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy another one.

I applied three coats of Walrus Oil to the top, but I wasn’t happy with it. After each 24-hr dry period it still looked dry, so I decided to apply a coat of Danish Oil, natural, that I had used on my headboard. It looked better, but dried to the same sheen as the Walrus Oil. Since I had it I used the Walrus Oil Furniture Wax and Polish as my final coat and called the project a wrap. Sanding to the right grit is definitely key to using an oil finish with wood. I like that Walrus Oil is a 100% plant based product. I had always used a satin finish when I used poly products. Walrus Oil dried to a matte finish, so that is also why I thought it looked dry. I’ve purchased their cutting board oil and wax for my charcuterie trays I’ll be selling. I even bought a case of their 2 oz bottles, which will go with each tray purchased.

Sit to stand desks retail from $500 on up for mass produced models. Without the frame refund I would have had approximately $375 in hard cost. I probably spent about 12 total hours working on it over the20201204_112536 course of three weeks. You spend more time waiting for stuff to set or dry. I think Sista Girl with Skills furniture line has been born. I have two more slabs of mulberry left, plus the crouch that didn’t break. I’ll be partnering with Anna Petersen, the young lady that welded the stand for my sink, to hopefully make two live edge console tables and one end table. I need to do a better job with the CNC router if we’ll have a real shot.  Man I wish I had kept more of that mulberry tree.

Charcuterie Trays For Sale

20190619_181337From the crouch of the mulberry slabs left from my desk project and the last slab of walnut from my dining room table project I have created eight mulberry and five walnut charcuterie trays of various lengths, widths, and thicknesses, which I’m selling. Prices vary by size, but range from $50 – $75. This post has the first six ready for purchase via PayPal. All boards will be marked with the SGw/S (Sista Girl with Skills) brand. Free local delivery (within 20 miles of 45225).Shipping available in the US at just the cost of postage.

Each tray is unique, one of a kind, be the first on your block with a Sista Girl w/ Skills original.








Furniture Repair

Long before a friend coined the phrase Sista Girl with Skills to describe me I have been doing projects for Funmi. We met in 2014. She was a client contact, but our business relationship has morphed into a friendship. DIYing is in my DNA, I can’t talk about myself without talking about a project I’ve tackled and Funmi listened with earnest. On one occasion, after we had finalized a hotel contract, she asked if I would be willing to come to her home and look at a soap dish that had come out of the wall in her guest bathroom. I said sure, but I had an inclination that this could be a serious problem. I was right. Her grout had failed, water was getting behind her tile and mildew had started infesting the wall. With just my hands I was able to pull tiles surrounding the soap dish off. The correct fix resulted in my removing tile up about 4′ from the tub, replacing rotted drywall with cement board, and reattaching all of the original tile and a new soap dish. I am still amazed I did not break one piece of her tile giving me the ability to reuse all the original tile.

That first project then led to me putting new flooring in that same bathroom and her master bathroom. Both suffered from the 70s design choice of putting carpet in bathrooms (lets hope that never returns). She and her husband were considering downsizing and saw the carpet as a negative for putting their house on the market. They didn’t want to spend a lot, so we found a peel and stick, groutable, Armstrong Flooring product at Lowe’s. The inside projects led me outdoors where I replaced rotten boards on her deck, did an improvise to cover holes caused by birds on the front of their shed (I covered the holes with a 2x8x16′ board) and replacing rotten wood around the shed’s windows with a plastic wood product. Sista Girl was born six years ago, she just didn’t know it.

Now that Sista Girl has been revealed, Funmi sent me a text to see if I could repair her kitchen table set. The set was sturdy, made out of MDF (medium-density fibreboard, an engineered wood material) that had the design applied with a coating of resin or epoxy. From visual inspection it looked flawless, but over the years of moving it around the screws holding the table and chair tops to their bases had stripped because they were screwed directly into the bare MDF (a flaw with using MDF to build furniture). Her brother had the same problem with his table set and someone attached plywood to the tops to fix the problem and she sent me his pictures to see if I could do the same.

I think this is the easiest project Funmi has ever asked me to do. I made the familiar drive to Springboro and brought home the table and chair tops and one chair frame. I took some measurements and went to Home Depot and bought one 4’x8′ sheet of 3/4″ sanded plywood that I had them rip down into sizes that would fit in my car. I decided to make a 24″ circle for the top. Instead of attaching with screws (which is what it looked like her brother’s repair person did) I attached my plywood with Loctite PL premium construction adhesive. The original screw holes had created a raised surface at each location, so to smooth it out I ran my hand planer over each hole. Once the adhesive was applied I used my window weights to press down and let it set up overnight. I purchased SPAX#8 x 3/4 in. Philips Square Drive Pan-Head Full Thread Zinc Coated Multi-Material Screws to reattach the tops to the frames.

The chairs took a bit more effort. I traced its shape onto the plywood and cut it out. Noting where the frame hit the seat, I decided to decrease the size by approximately 1.5″. Once I was happy with the size the first one became the template for all the seats. I used the same process I used for the table top, but this time I added the SGw/S brand mark. I totally forgot I had it from the charcuterie trays I had made as gifts last year. In addition to repairing the table set, I facilitated the repair of a ripped screen by taking it to my neighborhood hardware store, Camp Washington Hardware. Not sure how a screen at least 15′ off the ground got torn, but I was happy to get it repaired for her and only passed on the repair cost of $15.09.