Stay at a Portland B&B furnished by Makers

I visited today with Bryan and Jen of Zenbox Design here in Portland (we might be working on a Maker how-to book together, so stay tuned for that!). They wear a lot of hats, literally and figuratively. These days they outfit camper vans and other spaces, and they also own a two-bedroom B&B in the heart of Portlandia, called Maker Flat, which is almost completely furnished with Portland-made products. You can stay there, of course, but you can also buy any of the funky furnishings, dealing directly with the artists at your convenience.

There is a portfolio book lying around, with prices and contact info inside. Or you can just enjoy your stay in a very handmade house, drinking in the local beer, wine and weirdness that is Portland.

More than anything, I think Maker Flat will inspire you to make something yourself.


Patio, part 1: The big dig

Our house isn’t big, so outdoor living spaces are key. Plus, why did we move to Portland in the first place if not to enjoy the outdoors? So after some painting and cosmetic stuff inside, a patio in the backyard was job one. I actually promised my wife and daughter our first hot tub ever as part of our big move West, and the patio is the base for the tub.

We already had a nice big space marked out, 14 by 21, right off the small deck in back. That’s a lot of materials, but stone suppliers all deliver. I actually went with some affordable tumbled concrete pavers from Home Depot, called RumbleStone. A 14×21 space is also a lot of digging, and our tiny fence gates wouldn’t let in a big digging machine.

Luckily, I really only needed to level the area and then build up the base from there, so I went with a shovel and muscle power. Two days later, I was almost done. Good lord. The key is careful layout with stakes and strings, which ensure that you are keeping everything flat, yet tilting the patio a bit away from the house to send water that way.

I’ll be compacting the whole area with a rented tool, called a plate compactor, but to do a bit of tamping and get everything close to level, I made my own tamper, which works awesome!

As you can see, I had my work cut out for me. I actually had to remove a fair bit of soil to keep the overall level below my crawlspace vents. The dog is looking for a new toilet I think.
Stakes and strings are the key to creating a level surface. I also staked in a long board (at right) to hold back some of the soil at the edge. At the back edge of the area there was already a big beam, which I’m keeping right there.
While I was digging the Home Depot delivery guys showed up with all the stone and sand. If you are already paying for delivery, have them throw everything you can think of on the truck.
I not only dug up the whole area to loosen and level the soil, but I also had to dig a walkway to the side gate! I was so beat.
To make my tamper, I started by attaching a small square of plywood to the bottom of a 4×4, using long lag bolts. With pilot holes, these things really grab.
Then I screwed that first plate onto a bigger one. I also drilled into the 4×4 from both sides at the top, for the dowel handle.
The tamper is a good workout! It is pretty key because it showed me how level I was basically, getting everything pretty close before I go to rent the plate compactor and really pack everything down.



Shop storage: Why I love open shelves

I’ve got nothing against the folks who build gorgeous tool cabinets. They definitely are inspiring, especially when loaded with a beautiful collection of handplanes, chisels and such. But I’m in that school of woodworkers who believes their shop is a tool. I want it to work well, but I also want to be done tinkering with it so I can start building stuff! Also, I think shop cabinets with doors are sort of like that TV armoire people used to have, the one with the fancy sliding doors that are always left open?

For most of my shop storage, I like good-old-fashioned shelves. Whether it’s an old bookcase, or just pine boards on simple brackets, open shelves can do it all, from holding lumber to hanging tools and clamps. They are dirt cheap, and they go up quick, letting you store stuff all the way up to the ceiling.

My new garage shop in Portland already had a few shelves hanging here and there. So I relocated those as needed, and added a couple more. Check out the pics for some of my favorite ways to use open shelves for storage.

Shelves can hold lumber and all sorts of supplies, using dead space high on the walls. Even cheap brackets like these will hold a ton of weight. You can also attach lights to them, and hang clamps on the edge.
You can saw and drill a low shelf to make it hold tools, like this combo square and screwdriver.


Add a window (Let there be light)

When we starting looking for a house in the insane Portland market, we knew we couldn’t have it all–far from it. So we spent our money on location and potential, banking on my DIY skills to take us to the promised land. Luckily my family is pretty patient. They do know I’ll deliver…eventually! By the way, as I fix up this carpeted, plywood-sided, 1979 palace, I’ll blog every step.

My wife had also accepted that the workshop was job one, because I needed it to be functional to start doing my woodworking journalism thing. The garage is big enough for the job, but it is a dark cave. So I framed in my first window ever.

I started by shopping for used windows at the Habitat for Humanity Restore, but those were a mess, and for not much more I could get a new model at the home center. I chose a 4×3 left-hand slider, in all vinyl. A nice Jeld-Wen model was only $170–not as bad as I thought. (OK, I’ll admit I also had to buy a new tool–a recip saw–but those are awesome for demolition, which I’ll be doing a lot of! This is the story I told my wife anyway.)

The plan was to put it right behind my workbench, so it throws good natural light there where I need it most, and just as importantly, shows up in my book photos!

The easiest window to install is the type with nail-on flanges around the outside edge, so that’s what I chose. It came with pretty decent installation instructions. Luckily, my roof has broad eaves (the overhang), which is a big reason we chose the house. So that meant I didn’t have to freak out about how weather-proof the window is. We’ll be covering the nasty T1-11 plywood with Hardiplank later on, and I’ll do a really professional flashing job then.

Luckily, everything went as planned. A fair bit of work, but nothing too tough. If you are considering doing the same, I say go for it!

BEFORE: This is the back wall of the garage/workshop, before the window.


I went online to find a framing diagram like this. Basically, you have to take out some studs, and then use more framing lumber to create a “rough opening” that is really close to the outside dimensions of the window. At the same time, you need to put in a header and jack studs as shown, to carry the roof weight down to the floor safely and securely.


I took the plywood off the walls inside the garage, and put in 2x4s and 2x6s to create the rough opening, and then fixed the insulation all around. Some of the framing is covered, but I pretty much did what you saw in the last diagram. Then I drilled a big hole to get the blade of my reciprocating saw through, and cut out the exterior plywood. That was scary because now there was a big hole in my house. But the window was in one hour later.

AFTER: The wall looks way better now! On the outside I put a self-adhesive membrane on the sill (as recommended), and then screwed the nailing flanges to the house. I put some caulk around them, screwed on some simple molding, and caulked around the molding too. The molding will come off later when we re-side the house.
AFTER: Now I can see outside, which makes the shop a way nicer place to be. I made the window casing (the trim around the window) even nicer inside the shop, in a sort of Asian style. Notice that I also painted the walls white, which also helps to brighten up any shop space.

Building a new life in Portland

This blog marks the beginning of my new adventure. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few, but this one is the biggest. In 2015, my wife and I dropped our jobs in New England, where we lived our whole lives, and headed West. We took one daughter, one dog, and one cat, and left another daughter in college back east.

For my last 15 years in Connecticut, I worked at Fine Woodworking magazine, living in a house I helped to build in the middle of the woods, with a nice workshop. When your passion is also your job, you are a very lucky person. I did everything I could at FWW, including running the show for 8 years, and it was time to build something new.

So West we came. Here in Portland, Oregon, land of tasty beer, natural splendor, and little-to-no snow(!), I’ve hung up my shingle as a freelance writer, photographer, editor, and builder of many things.

One of my new projects is a book, “Build Stuff with Wood.” My goal is to introduce a new generation to building things. That’s me up top with one of the projects. Build Stuff is also the theme of this blog. I definitely love woodworking, but wood is only part of it.

I like to make things, period, and I’m just as happy building a patio and fire pit as as I am making a steam-punk light fixture from plumber’s pipe. This blog is for people like me, who want to build their world. Sounds corny, but so what? It’s awesome!

As I fix up my fixer-upper in southwest Portland, try out new tools, build projects for books and articles, and meet makers all over the Pacific Northwest, I’ll share my favorite tips, tools, and project ideas with you here.

Ask questions, suggest topics, and if you like this blog, share it with your friends. Let’s build some stuff together.

At Fine Woodworking magazine, I learned a lot about building with wood.
Then we dropped everything to head West.
Even the dog was freaked out.
Chess-set copy
I’ve always loved building things. I went to tech school for high school, where I made this chess set.
I make fine furniture, too, but building is building.