Jatoba and Aluminum Coffee Table

My machinist friend Brian and I collaborated on a coffee table for his new place. I ended up reusing the table top from a previous project - the

Lathe Table


The as built dimensions are roughly 24" wide by 48" long and 18" tall. The table top is 1-1/2" thick (8/4 repurposed wood planed to 1.540" thick) and the total weight is about 80 pounds; jatoba is ridiculously heavy. These are the process and final photos.

Initial drawings for the aluminum legs. The idea is for the pins to expand by driving  wooden wedges into the slots similar to how an axe or hammer handle is attached.

Orthographic drawings done in Rhino and Illustrator.

This is the shop drawing. The pins are drafted slightly at the top so they exert enough pressure to hold the leg in place. I need to acquire a photo of his notepad - Brian turned this drawing into what I assume is essentially a G-code equation for the EDM machine.

These next few images are the mock-up leg that Brian produced.

The wedge that gets pounded in is made of jatoba. It's about twice as hard as oak and 1/3 more dense.

Testing the ability of the wedge to expand the aluminum pins.

It worked but in the end the pins got longer, thinner, and drafted (thicker at the top) to provide more ability to expand outwards.

Repurposing the old table top.

Bye bye bad craft.

End grain doesn't glue up well so I added some simple splines. It also lines up the wood better so that you don't waste as much material in the planer.

I added a domino joint (mortise and tenon) just because.

The symbols on there indicate which way the wood bows towards. There wasn't much at all, but if you put opposing pieces next to one another they straighten each other out. The planar I use is 18" wide so I had to glue it up in portions...

... then join the whole thing. I messed up and made the domino joints prior to planing so the sides were off by 1/32" or so. That would require a lot of sanding so later I cut the whole thing in half and did it again.

Cutting the ends flush. The table saw blade has gunk on it from architecture students making models with odd material, lots of not entirely dry glue, and pushing material too quickly/slowly through the saw. More finishing work...

Dual end grain spline joint.

The router fitted with a follow bit; it's essentially a bearing at the tip of the bit that follows a template.

Cutting the ends flush. The shop is used by students so all the blades have gunk on them which leads to burns on harder woods, so - more finishing work.

This one turned out well. The first one was difficult though. 1-1/2" of extremely hard wood is a lot to take off at once.

The material I used for the template was too thin and poor quality so my router bit crushed it a bit and my mortises came out about 15-18 thousands too large - which actually turned out to be okay.

This is a Domino machine made by Festool. They're about $1,000 new... really want one. You can build anything with one of these.

These are the beechwood (similar to oak) tenons that along with glue join two pieces of wood.

This is the result of me cutting the table in half to line up the two halves more closely; it worked out really well.


Almost perfectly flush this time.

The corners had to be hand chiseled out to be made square.

I had to flip it over so that the final cuts wouldn't cause tear out on the bottom. This led to cutting 32 (4x4x2) corners square.

This is the EDM (electrical discharge machining) my friend Brian used to cut the tops of the legs... to within "roughly" 100,000th of an inch. (The next seven photos are Brian's).

End milling a taper to the legs. They start out as 2" by 1-1/8" by 18" tall and at the base they're 1-1/8" square.

Just under 0.251", not bad.

The pins are about 1-1/2" long and vary in thickness from 3/32" to 1/8".

I used epoxy on the tops of the legs just to make sure nothing would move then pounded the wedges in. I was very surprised by how well it all worked. They went in easily, flush, and when you grab the legs it's obvious that they're very sturdily attached.

Flush cutting the wedges. I did a first finish coat for some dumb reason... the saw and general mess screwed up the finish so I had to strip and start again.

After stripping and sanding I use a scraper as the final finishing tool. At this angle you can see what it does to the grain. It sort of compresses the grain and leaves it smoother than any sandpaper can.

Since the table will see daily use I opted for a polyurethane finish. Not my favorite but it does protect well. The first three coats were glossy (to bring out the depth of the grain) and the final coat was semi-gloss so that it doesn't look like plastic. I rub it on with a rag, wait 24 hours between coats, lightly sand with 320 grit between coats, and the final finish gets a #0000 steel wooling.

Detail shot of the top of the leg.

Finishing the legs took forever.

Glue and grim...

I ended up putting a coat of poly on the legs so they wouldn't soak in oil from peoples hands.

All the final shots were taken in Crown Hall.

This is a rendering to show how the legs work.

Making Mead - Batch #1

I'm jumping the gun a bit here since I haven't posted photos of how Vija and I harvested honey from our beehive, but none the less.

About two weeks ago I picked up a book called The Complete Meadmaker along with some additional brew equipment since my friend Chris had given me some as a gift. Just to clarify, mead is basically honey wine. It was the preferred drink of the vikings and is thought to be one of if not the oldest fermented beverage on earth. People have been making it for at least 9,000 years.

I decided on two 1-gallon batches of traditional sweet mead. I opted for a method that involves no heating. It can be risky in that wild yeast could take over the fermentation, but 80% of brewing beer/mead is sterilizing everything, so it shouldn't be a problem.

The ingredients are:
3 or 2.2 pounds of honey - in this case south side of Chicago unpasteurized wildflower
1/2 pouch of Wyeast Sweet Mead yeast
1/2 gram of Wyeast yeast nutrient
Filtered water to fill up the rest of the 1 gallon carboy

The only equipment needed was a few 1 gallon glass carboys; a hydrometer; a hydrometer beaker; some airlocks and rubber stoppers, and eventually I'll need a siphon hose; capper/corker; caps/corks; etc.

Obviously I'm running it as a bit of an experiment. The IV is the amount of honey added. One batch got 3 pounds of honey while the other got 2.2 pounds. The idea is that, according to the book, every 0.2 lbs. honey/gal of must (that's the honey water mixture that ferments into mean) you get roughly 1% ABV (alcohol by volume).

The water honey mix.

Mixing and aeration is supposedly key to the initial steps of fermentation.

A hydrometer tells you how dense your must is. 1.000 is water. If something has a specific gravity (SG) of 1.11 as in this case then it is 11% heavier than water. Water being 8.33 lbs/gallon that makes this about 9.25 lbs/gallon. When it's done fermenting it should have a SG reading of around 1.0 again. They should finish in the 10-15% ABV range; I'm not very experienced so we'll see. Sweet meads tend to be less alcoholic

This is the fermenting must two weeks in. The one on the left is the 3 lbs and the right is the 2.2 lbs. The fermentation took about 48 hours to really pick up and the airlocks on top have been busy ever since giving off CO2.

Walnut Entry Table

For my final project in my summer furniture class I built an entry table with storage space for shoes. It has a solid walnut frame and maple plywood for the interior. The finish is a semi-gloss polyurethane, but I'm going to strip the front, top, and sides and apply tongue oil instead. Walnut more than most woods looks much nicer with an oil finish.

It measures 36" high, 48" long, and 16" deep. The shoe cubbies are 10 1/2" wide; 15" deep; and they range in height: 4" for flats and sandals, 6", 8", and 10" for winter boots. The concept was to build something that had a sense of permanence. That is, literal heft and construction techniques that would last. If you put a gouge in solid wood it just reveals more wood.

Axonometric drawings.

Exploded axonometric view.

Rendered exploded axon.

Parts list.

I modeled our entryway and made this rendering using Rhino and Maxwell Render.

These are the process photos. It took me two and a half to three weeks (6-7 days a week at roughly 12 hour days) from start to finish. The actual construction was done in the first two weeks. Finishing is mostly just being patient. I've since decided to strip the walnut of the polyurethane finish and instead use tongue oil.

The two 10' long, 9" wide, 1 3/4" thick walnut boards cut into 1/3's to make joining easier.

Jointing - making two perpendicular planes square so that the remaining planes can be squared.

Using the table saw to get the rest square. Walnut is one of the best woods to work with.

This is called a domino machine by Festool. It makes a floating mortise and tenon joint. What's that? Basically a squared dowel. It allows the wood to shrink, swell, and move without damaging itself. It also allows the maker to waste less wood because everything lines up perfectly. The resultant piece is also much stronger.

Creating the mortises for the oak tenons and wood glue.


Once gluing is done it's off to the planar to make everything uniformly thick.

I kept the boards in order so that the grain pattern will follow around the piece. It sounds simple but it was surprisingly difficult to keep it all in order.

This is the interior shelving for the shoes. It's 3/4" maple plywood.

Humidity was a huge problem...

The plywood grew by a 1/16".

This is the jig to make the finger joints. You adjust the width of them by moving the back piece of wood. The difference between perfection and utter failure is within the width of a single line of lead (look at the left side bottom of the photo). All those pieces are tests.

Routing out for the shelves and strips for the walnut within walnut inlays.

This is the walnut routed on three sides for the shelves, the walnut strip to hide the plys, and the walnut inlay on the exterior.

More RH problems... I had to hand file each side of all the fingers, but it's better than fighting it during assembly.

This is the second jig I built to put the frame together. The first one was too weak and this one was too. If I built it again it'd be made of 2x8's and lag bolts.

This is all done to ensure that everything is square. Lots of planning beforehand. If you screw up here you just bought yourself some expensive firewood.

To flatten the finger joints I made a jig (see a pattern here?) that would elevate the router. It was incredibly sensitive. The removal of 1/64" of an inch is very visible and it's easy to just push the jig down a little harder and do just that.

Putting polyurethane on the maple ply. It ended up with 4 or 5 coats.

The inlays.

Japanese sawing off the excess for a flush finish.

Dominoed backing - I used 1/2" maple ply. I hate when you buy something from IKEA or whatever and the backing is 1/8" MDF/cardboard veneer junk.

First coat of the polyurethane. I should have used gloss for the first several coats THEN semi-gloss. Regardless, I'm stripping it soon and replacing it with tongue oil.

Using a micrometer and planar to get the right thickness. I made it five thousands (0.005") over so that it would compress in the joints.

I didn't want to use nails and I also wanted the pieces to be solid so I routed out the furring strips to create an egg-crate joint wherever they intersect.

The butt (back).

Here you can see the egg-crate joint and the dominos. The lack of steel means it will last forever as long as it's not abused too much. Wood on wood joints instead of steel means everything expands and contracts at roughly the same rates as the temperature and humidity changes.

The live-edge corner.

Using a block plane to get everything nice and flat. I also had to tape off the inside so I could apply the finish without disturbing the already applied finish on the maple.

Crown Hall was empty so I used it as a big photo studio.

The view in my large format.

This was the digital test photo...

... and the 4x5 film negative. Shooting in Mies's masterpiece - empty none the less - is quite the perk of going to IIT.

Modern furniture + neo-georgian architecture = kind of awkward. Guess I'll have to design a house to put my furniture in.

Finch's Brewery - Process Photos - Film

First off here's some 4x5's. My scanner doesn't do a great job with them since it's for film that's you know... not 4" by 5".

This was taken on my phone. In person they're like prints in and of themselves. You can drum scan them to hundreds of gigabytes if you pleased. Basically the amount of information in them is staggering.

This is the canner.

The cooking platform.

An accidental double exposure of the fermenters.

More of the cook platform.

The single exposure of the fermenters.

Now the B&W 120 film. The negatives measure 2 1/4" x 1 3/4" (56mm x 42mm) and the film is Kodak 400 TMY-2 if you were interested.

This is what you would see if you were delivering say a pallet of grain.

The grain silo.

All stainless fermenters.

The keg washer and filler.

The grain mill.

Cleaning the grain out of a batch that just got cooked. They had multiple dumpsters of spent grain. Seems like an opportunity for a productive reuse if someone would come haul it away (big if). The guy who makes our moonshine in NC has a flock of "wild" turkeys that eat all the mash. Supposedly they're delicious.

This machine places the tops on the cans.

Cooking station.

Finch Brewery - Process Photos

I went to a BBQ at Finch's Brewery a few weeks ago at 4565 N. Elston. Afterwards I asked one of the owners if I could photograph his brewery and oddly enough he said yes. And that's why small companies rule. This is the digital portion of the results.

The warehouse was really nicely done. I've been in a lot of factories so I have a fairly good idea of what a good fit and finish looks like industrially. These guys spent some money up front and ended up with a really nice place. They're busy too. The day I was there they had about six or seven employees working - it didn't hurt that they were all really nice and entertained my usual battery of questions.

This is their main room where all cooking and fermenting happens.

Keg washer. The kegs get rinsed with pressurized acid to eat away any build up, then iodine to sterilize them, and (if I remember all this right) are finally rinsed with water. This same station handles keg filling.

After being washed the kegs are stored in the fridge to get the ready to be filled.

Beer making is at least 50% sterilizing everything. Hence, there's sterilizer everywhere.

This is the grain grinder.

It has it's own dedicated room (Update: this is supposedly because grinding grain causes a fine dust to accumulate in the air that becomes an explosion hazard).

Their milled grain connects directly to a silo via a system very similar to those vacuum tubes used at banks. I'm not actually sure what mechanisms move the grain around. I'm assuming an auger attached to a motor.

The silo sits right next to what I'm going to call the cooking station.

Cooking station. Update: The vessel on the left is a boil kettle where the wort is boiled to the desired gravity. The one on the right is a combination mash/lauter tun where the grains steep in water to extract their starches (sugar).

This is a PLC (programmable logic controller) LCD screen. Everything is automated - it's incredible how similar this is to the concrete plants I work at - the output here is just more interesting.

No open flames at Finch's hence the steam boiler. Never seen one of those before...

This is a heat exchanger that removes heat from the freshly brewed wort (pre-beer) so that yeast can be pitched. This is a much bigger version of the tiny copper coil that Evan and I use to chill our massive 5 gallon batches. Finch's does a 1000 gallons at a time. If you don't cool it down the yeast will die and fermentation will never start - at least not with the bacteria that you want. I think they run city water through this then chilled glycol (more on that in a bit). I think I'd increase my surface area and lower my delta T (city water is pretty cheap) but they seem to have their system pretty well worked out.

The grain needs to get cleaned out of the mash/lauter tun. A tad bigger than our 3 gallon stock pot.

These are their 1000 gallon fermenters where their beer will sit for several weeks.

The yeast gives off CO2 as it converts sugar into alcohol, but air cannot be allowed back into the fermenter. Hence, an air lock. In this case a 5 gallon bucket filled with sanitizer. This one was really bubbling off.

These are 5 gallon kegs that I would normally help Evan fill with beer. In this case this is what they use to hold their yeast. 5 gallons of yeast to 1000 gallons of beer! They propagate all their own yeast.

That's a food grade hose. Everything is stainless, seamless, and sterilized.

This is part of their glycol system. The fermenters are jacketed. That is, double walled. Chilled glycol is circulated around them to keep them at whatever temperature is wanted.

Glycol supply and return lines

A solenoid and control precisely control the temperature.

This is the reservoir/make-up tank for the glycol. As you might be able to tell from the number of photos I was really impressed by this system.

Once fermenting is done the beer can be either bottled or put into kegs. This is the canning line.

If the beer is to be kegged it makes its way to the manifold (bottom). All the fermenting tanks connect to this. Very nice. Much easier to open a valve and let gravity and pumps do the work.

Process Photos #3

My first and second post about this.

This is the first roll of my professional online poker playing friends. I've done some more recently but I refuse to scan anything else until I have compressed air... dust everywhere. Just Ben and Pasha play. On any given day they'll usually play several tournaments at once for a few hours.



Pasha on the right.

Update on Process Photos

I first blogged about this here.

Since then I've continued to document a few of my friends who are doing interesting things. Among them are my brother brewing really good beer, Justin making silk screened art prints and gig posters, Ben playing professional online poker, and a group of my friends recording an album. Which from what I've listened to is quite impressive. I'm very fortunate to have interesting and productive friends.

These are my film photos of Justin printing. I'll post some of Ben and the band later.

Justin masking off a screen so that ink doesn't go through where he doesn't want it.

Justin registering the print; making sure the screen contacts the print in the same spot so the different colors line up.

After exposing the screen the unhardened emulsion must be washed away.

Here the ink on the screen is being exposed to UV lights to create an image.

Lots of Art

Just posted a new print on Etsy. It's of the EL tracks in the Loop.

Also, I've been taking a few process/documentary style photos lately, so the other day I took photos of Evan brewing beer and Justin (who's website is linked at the top right also) doing some screen prints. It's a bit more involved than I imagined, and he's way more of a perfectionist than me. You can tell my photos are handmade. There are imperfections everywhere. Film leaders just look too sweet to crop. But Justin will toss a print at the slightest sign of a blemish. Fascinating stuff.