Popular Mechanics Projects

Gordon got his first subscription to Popular Mechanics because he had a call center job and subscribed to ten different magazines to stave off the soul-sucking boredom. Turns out, it is now the only one of the ten we still take. We made our first PM project after getting serious sticker shock while looking for a meat smoker and then finding plans in the magazine to build one out of a 55-gallon drum instead. We were hooked.

A couple years later, Gordon found several old (we’re talking 1950s) issues at a thrift store and discovered he likes the magazine even better when it’s pretty out of date, so when he discovered Google books had an archive of old issues going back to 1905, he was thrilled. Especially in earlier years, the magazine was full of build-it-yourself projects of varying difficulty. And until October, 1960, the subtitle for each issue was “Written so you can understand it.” It’s every ambitious amateur handyman/electrician/carpenter/boatbuilder/mad scientist’s dream. Continue reading

Casserole Carrier circa 1977

We really don’t like to show up empty-handed for parties. This means whoever isn’t driving to the event is usually either juggling a hot pan full of (usually cheesy) food or listening to said pan slide around the back of the car and praying we won’t find a huge mess when we get there. It’s not a perfect system.

Fortunately for us, Popular Mechanics solved this problem forty years ago, and fortunately for me, Gordon likes to peruse forty-year-old issues of Popular Mechanics in his spare time. Continue reading

Built-in Library for (most of) Our Books

We have a serious book problem at our house. We both came into our marriage with large collections and an obsession with books. We stop at every bookstore and library sale we pass. Add to that an inability to get rid of any (I have so many college textbooks and anthologies that I just can’t bear to part with. What if I NEED them later?) and we quickly filled several bookcases and still had more in boxes.

Gordon decided that for my birthday last year, he would build a bookcase into an entire wall in our front room. He said it was boring once it was four feet tall, so he got distracted. But with my birthday this year fast approaching, he figured he’d better finish it so I couldn’t accuse him of stretching it out just to avoid picking a gift this year. It took late nights, many trips to Lowe’s, and the whole house smelling like stain for awhile, but our little library is now my favorite part of the house. Continue reading

Pysanky (Ukrainian Easter Eggs)

Pysanky sculpture in downtown Kyiv

If you’re ever in Eastern Europe around Orthodox Easter, you should stop by Kyiv, Ukraine for the festivities. The whole city is full of flowers, people wear their traditional embroidered shirts, and everywhere you look you see pysanky (Easter eggs) and Easter bread (honestly, you should go to Ukraine for the bread alone). I have always wanted to make pysanky, but they seemed so much more difficult than the typical American version with stickers and cheap tablet dye.

This year, we decided to go for it. Gordon ordered a kit from bestpysanky.com that included the wax pens (kistki), wax, and dye in several different colors. Continue reading

Powder Horn Scrimshaw

If all you really care about is how to make a powder horn, go read the other post. If you want to learn the word “scrimshander” and find out pretty useless trivia about Nova Scotia, while seeing more pictures of the powder horn with designs etched into it, you’re in the right place.

Thanks to the Reader’s Digest Back to Basics book, Gordon decided his powder horn wouldn’t be finished until he did some scrimshaw.  Continue reading

Powder Horn

After Gordon finished building his black powder rifle, he decided he wouldn’t be able to look actual mountain men and reenactors in the eye unless he also had a powder horn. So naturally, he made one.

We have a local leather store that also sells cow horns. Making a functional powder horn is pretty straightforward. If you want a pretty/fancy/impressive powder horn, you will need to put some more work into it.  Continue reading

DIY Black Powder Rifle Kit

As far as I know, Gordon has never participated in a Civil War reenactment. He does spend time at mountain man rendezvous (rendezvouses?) though, so I wasn’t really surprised when he wanted to build a black powder rifle.

I bought him this DIY .50 caliber Kentucky rifle kit for Christmas last year. I think he was a little disappointed at first because it seemed too easy—like the lego kit version of a gun. But once he started the process he realized he had a lot to do to really finish it well. Continue reading

Lantern Lamp Repair

I’m sure you’ve heard that back in the day, things were built to last. Not like our plastic-filled, easily breakable, planned-obsolescence modern trash. And that’s probably true about a lot of things. Take cast iron pans, for example. My great-grandchildren will still be using mine.

Sometimes, though, modern innovations have made things much, much better. Take this lantern lamp, for example. The good old fashioned plug on it might last for decades, but it might also burn your house to the ground. Continue reading

Sharpening Stone Case

Gordon gags when people say upcycle, because it usually means they’ve taken something useful (like a pallet) and made it useless (like a sign that says “Love is Everything” or “Live, Laugh, Love” or “I don’t need love, I have wine”).  But this is a post about upcycling and he’s just going to have to deal with it. Continue reading

Apple Cider Press

Visiting my grandmother in the fall always meant picking apples from her backyard orchard and drinking apple cider. Now that she’s gone and my parents live in the house, we knew there would be several trees full of apples that needed to be cidered.

I spent a lovely day picking apples with my parents while Gordon built an apple grinder and press. He used these plans from Matthias Wandel for the grinder and designed a small press using a scissor or bottle jack. Continue reading