DIY bike rack for any truck bed, $33!

I used to just lay our bikes in the bed of my truck when we wanted to take them anywhere to ride. Not good. Pedals got tangled in spokes, paint chipped where bike met truck, and I was flirting with real damage.

I’m too cheap to buy a Thule rack, so I dug up some bolt-down “bike blocks” on eBay for $11 apiece, and figured out a way to make my own rack with two 2x4s. I found those in a friend’s waste pile, and I already had the screws and bolts I needed, so my grand total investment was $33!

What’s more, I figured out the dirt-simplest way to make the rack.

I was nervous that the handlebars would bump each other, but my bike is more serious than my wife and daughter’s bikes so my handlebars are set lower then theirs and don’t bump at all.

If you put a road bike in the middle and two hybrids or mountain bikes on the sides, I think that would also work, and if all else fails, you could just cock the bike mounting blocks slightly when you bolt them down, which would twist each fork a little and offset the handlebars.

If you are carrying three bikes, you have to climb up on the truck bed to attach the middle one to its block, but the side bikes are easy to put in and lock down. I even found the perfect bungee to hold the front tires in place. Score one for the cheapos!

Measure the width of the bed, roughly.
Measure the distance from the front of the bed to the wheel well, roughly, and then double it.
Cut and arrange three pieces of 2×4 as shown, so the rack won’t be able to move side to side or front to back, and screw the parts together, with three 2-1/2-in. screws at each intersection.
This is what bolt-down “bike blocks” look like. They are cheap and awesome. I used three.
Attach them with lag bolts. Put the bike block where you want it, and reach through the bolt holes to drill pilot holes, a little smaller than the lag bolts.
I found some crappy old 1/4-in. lag bolts to go with my crappy 2x4s. I used a nut driver to sock them down, but a ratchet or wrench would work too.
Then I moved the rack back into position and got ready to load up the bikes. I love when things are dirt simple but super effective. Perfect engineering! You can fancy up the look if your truck isn’t 13 years old.
If you are carrying three bikes, you’ll have to hop up on the truck to put the middle one in place.
Bike two…
Bike three!
The bike blocks hold the forks tightly, and the weight of the bikes and the rack makes the whole rig super stable, even in high winds on bumpy roads!
I even found the perfect bungee for strapping the three front wheels in front of the bikes.



Build Stuff, the book: coffee table project

So one of the things I’m working on out here in Portland, in my new freelance life, is a book. Tentatively called Build Stuff with Wood, it’s similar to this blog but focuses on wood projects. Where the blog will cover all things building, from home improvements to interesting makers I meet to tools I test out, plus who knows what, all of the projects in the book feature wood in some way.

This isn’t your dad’s book on fine woodworking. I love that craft, but the book is for a new generation of builders, young and old, basically anyone who has the itch to build but very little tools and kills. My goal is to prove that anyone can build worthwhile projects. I mean anyone.

This coffee table project is a good example of what you’ll find in the book, and I’ll roll out more as the book nears the finish line. By the way, it’s going to be published by The Taunton Press, my old employer.

The secret to this project is plumber’s pipe hardware, which is one of my favorite ways to build. The flanges can be screwed to anything. You can make light fixtures with them, and all sorts of tables. Here I’m adjusting legs so they are all the same length.
I cut out some birch plywood, rounded and sanded the edges, put on a polyurethane finish and screwed on the pipe parts.
Sometimes easy looks easy, but sometimes it looks really nice. That’s what the book is all about.
This is Baltic birch plywood, a better grade of plywood that’s also called Russian birch sometimes. It has lots of layers, which make the edges look cool when polished, and it combines with the pipe to create an industrial look that I dig.

Patio, part 2: Puttin’ it down

With the dirt level, I was ready to start putting down all the layers that make a solid paver job. Depending on where you live, and whether the ground fully freezes or not, you’ll need between a 4- and 12-in. deep base below the patio bricks. A good paver base is mostly crushed stone, with a layer of sand on top. You have to level the stone layer and then level the sand. Just like wood finishing, a nice patio is all about the prep work.

Luckily for me in Portland, the ground doesn’t really freeze at all, so the minimal base works. And luckier still (I hope), I found this new product, called Paver Base panels, that let me put down an even thinner base. It is sold at both Home Depot and Lowes so I took a chance on it. It is basically tough styrofoam panels that let you use just a 1-in. sand layer below.

I had to lug about seventy-five 50-lb. bags of sand from the front of the house to the back just to get that 1-in. layer, so it would have taken 300 bags of sand and stone to create a 4-in. layer! The downside of the 1-in. sand layer is that it really forced me to get the dirt floor perfectly level because there was no three inches of stone to even out any hills or valleys.

It was a monster job, but with the help of my string lines, plus a plate compacter rented from Home Depot (a must-have or the dirt will settle in spots), I got the dirt pretty level and totally packed down…and the landscape fabric down…and the sand layer down…and the Paver Base panels down…and I was ready to lay pavers.

Ready to give up and just hire someone? Consider that I spent $2,000 for materials vs. paying someone at least $10K to do a patio (and walkway) of this size!

But I did call in some help. A friend came over, and wheel-barrowed all 1,000 pavers from the front to the back, where I grabbed them and arranged them on the base. We got it all done in about 4 hours. It was actually fun to arrange my three sizes of pavers in a random pattern and watch the patio materialize before my eyes. Don’t be an idiot like me and leave your gloves in the garage–I rubbed my hands raw.

There are some finishing touches to do, but I’m almost there!

Jim Puterbaugh creates his world

When Fine Woodworking has a photo shoot in the Pacific NW, I sometimes get the call, saving them a few beans on airfare. That means I get to visit the shop of another dedicated woodworker. Visiting shops was one of the best things about my years at FWW, for a bunch of reasons, and Jim Puterbaugh checks every box and then some.

I visited Jim to shoot an article about how he likes to keep all of his tools out in the open, instead of behind closed doors in impressive cabinets. I was a little nervous as always to spend a day with a stranger, and like almost always, we weren’t strangers long.

Just like so many Fine Woodworking readers, Jim is a super-inquisitive guy. He knows a lot about old trucks, bread making, woodworking, home renovations, plants, old bicycles, and being a doctor (his day job). And he is thoughtful about all of it. That makes him fun to hang out with.

We blew past the small talk to get into how he motivates people to lose weight (no cookie cutter solution, so to speak), why he likes the wide toe box on Keen shoes, and what I really need to do to treat my allergies (short-term steroids and long term nasal spray).

And as you’ll see in the pictures below, Jim has created his world, just like Sam Maloof, George Nakashima, and all my woodworking heroes. He watches less TV than me, and builds a lot more. It is f—ing inspiring.

And he is generous as hell. He lives just a few miles form me in Southwest Portland, and already he has had my whole family over for pizza from his brick oven. I’ll be heading over soon to learn to make bread (that’s always been on my short list, and I rather learn it with J. Puterbaugh than U. Tube).

The point? Create your world. You can do it. And make friends with woodworkers. Most of them are awesome human beings.

Jim’s shop is amazing.
He built this Seussian treehouse for his grandkids! What?!
He keeps bees, many, many bees, and produces 150 lbs. of honey a year! What?!
Jim built this gazebo, where he and his wife spend the twilight hour with a drink each night. So he is a ladies man also.
Jim made this end-grain block for bread making.
And he has a brick oven in his house!
Windows are another place to create.
Almost all of the woodwork in the house is Jim’s.
Kitchen cabinets and cutting boards too.
And he is a FWW reader, who builds projects from the magazine. Love this guy.