Friday, April 15th, 2022

I spent my lunch break yesterday brushing polyurethane on these pieces, even though I shouldn’t have. The instructions on the can tell me I should wait until the temperature is at least sixty degrees but it was only fifty-two. I absolutely could not wait for it to warm up, though, because the forecast tells me it won’t get warmer than forty-five until next week. I’m so eager to make some progress on this project that I’m sure I’ll burst a vessel if I wait that long, so I cheated, cracked open the can of poly and brushed it on anyway. Checked it several times yesterday afternoon and evening and it looked fine, so I think I got away with it.

finished | 6:09 am CDT
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Monday, March 14th, 2022

After what seemed like an eternity of sub-freezing weather, we finally had a day of sunny skies and temps in the forties. The forecast says we’re supposed to get at least one more week of this, but I’m taking it one day at a time because I know this is false spring and we’re going to get at least one more fall of snow deep enough to shovel off the driveway before winter is REALLY over, and I don’t want it to break my heart.

I took two really long walks around the neighborhood today, one this morning and another this afternoon, and wow am I out of shape. I don’t mind walking in the snow but I really can’t abide going for a walk when it’s cold enough to make my nose and teeth hurt just because I’m breathing in and out (it actually seems to hurt more when I’m breathing out – how the hell does that make sense?), and as I mentioned already temps have been hovering around zero for weeks and weeks now, so I’ve been lazy. I’ll have to make myself get out there every day. Lucky for me that budding trees draw me like a moth to a flame.

In between my morning and afternoon walkies I worked on the camping thing some more. It felt so good to get outside and work on it for more than five minute without losing sensation in my hands. It’s not quite warm enough to brush some poly on the finished pieces, so instead I figured out how to set up the arch across the front of the van between the driver’s cabin and the rear compartment. The goal is not to wall off the back from the front, just to give me something to hang a curtain from. In the original design it’s a combination curtain rod and coat rack, festooned all over with coat hooks, and it even has overhead lights. I’ll definitely do the coat hooks. We’ll see about the lights.

I cut out the uprights from half-inch plywood about a week ago on a day of warmish temps (maybe in the low forties?) but didn’t get a chance to finish them until today when I screwed a piece of 3/4″ poplar to the back of each of the pieces that look like half a spade. The arch doesn’t have to support a lot of weight, unless you hang a lot of coats and backpacks from the hooks. The poplar’s there mostly to stiffen the back of the plywood and to make each upright a little prettier.

It took me a while to work out how to build a piece that would clamp the uprights to the grab handles on the B-pillar. I thought I had it figured out about a week ago, but after re-watching some video shot by the person who originated the design I tried a different, simpler way to do it. That got way better results.

With the uprights firmly anchored to the B-pillars I could lay a batten across the tops, attach a piece of cardboard roughly cut to fit the contour of the ceiling, and joggle-stick a template for the cross-piece. I’m pretty new to the idea of using a joggle stick to make a template for unusual shapes so I’m still getting the hang of it, but it so far it’s been working well for me. I joggled the shape of the uprights so they would follow the profile of the window and clear the door handle, and joggled the face of the overhead bin so it would fit against the sloping ceiling in the rear.

After cutting out the basic shape of the cross-piece, I had to use a belt sander with a loop of extra-gritty sandpaper to smooth out the irregularities of the jigsaw cut, which was a little easier to do than I was afraid it might be. I still have more sanding to do, but that comes after I figure out how to join the two halves in the middle. The bit of scrap wood holding them together in the photo is temporary. That part will get cut out anyway to make a little headroom in case I want to climb into the back from the driver’s seat. An overlapping piece up front and a shelf in the back where the lights go ought to do the trick.

summon arch | 10:05 am CDT
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Saturday, March 5th, 2022

The dry fit of the overhead storage bins is complete. I had to take the right-hand bin apart four or five times, trimming off bits here and there each time, reassembling it to check the fit, marking places where it needed further trimming, then taking it to pieces again. It has to sit snugly in the window so it doesn’t get in the way of the lid for the rear storage space. Took me about an hour and a half, but I finally got there. The left-hand bin was easier because I already had a pretty good idea where to trim and how much. Only had to take it apart twice.

Now that the dry fit is done, I have to take both of them apart again, sand all the pieces smooth, reassemble them (this time with glue), and finally brush a couple coats of clear polyurethane sealer on them. I never thought about painting them because I like the look of wood grain, even when it’s plywood.

They don’t look like much from this angle, but each one of the bins is large enough to hold as much as those rolly bags you can carry on a commercial airliner. I could pack a week’s worth of shirts, socks, and undershorts in just one of them and still have plenty of room left for toiletries, a book or two, something to write with, and I don’t even know what else. That leaves all the room under the bed for food, utensils, and other essential camping gear.

dry fit | 2:22 pm CDT
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Wednesday, March 2nd, 2022

Little by little, bit by bit …

overhead | 7:53 pm CDT
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Saturday, February 12th, 2022

We briefly enjoyed a day of what passes for warm weather here in Wisconsin. It got as warm as 42 degrees F (5.5 C) yesterday, which felt so warm after weeks of sub-freezing temps that I peeled down to my shirtsleeves while I worked in the garage yesterday afternoon. I was hoping it would remain at least above freezing today so I could work a little more but no, we can’t have nice weather on a weekend. This morning I woke up to temps in the single digits and forecast to remain that way. February sucks. It has always sucked. It will always suck.

Now that I got that out of my system: I clocked out from work at eleven o’clock yesterday morning because of reasons too convoluted to make interesting. I still worked forty hours last week, it’s just that I finished at eleven-thirty on Friday. The mechanism that allowed me to do that was awful. I wouldn’t voluntarily choose to do it but I got to putz around outside in that warm afternoon weather, so yay I guess.

The warm temps gave me an opportunity to finally tidy up the garage a little bit, which had become a repository for empty boxes and bags of bottles and cans headed for, but not quite getting to, the recycling bin. And there was a lot of sawdust on the floor. So I straightened things up, swept the floor, and filled the recycling bin, and while I was out there I banged on some lumber with a hammer. Very satisfying.

The lumber I banged on is starting to look like the camping thing I’m trying to imitate, if I squint and use a lot of imagination. In the short time I was able to work on it before the sun went down, temps began to plummet, and snow started to fall, I managed to install it in the van, attach four upright arms which will eventually support overhead storage lockers and lighting, and re-install the rear lid on a piano hinge. I deeply, sincerely hope that’s the last time I have to drill out the umpty-million holes for that hinge.

I got this far before the snow started to fall.

This is the third time I’ve installed that piano hinge because I don’t plan ahead. Instead, I tinker things together, then I see a better way to do it and start over. The top of the camping thing is a pair of lids that lift up from either end, hinged in the middle like a pair of butterfly wings. The first time I hinged them both to a single piece of lumber because that was the fastest and easiest way to do it and I wanted to get out and try it. The second time, just a few weeks ago, I re-installed the rear lid after cutting it to fit between the overhead lockers. Kinda crucial. And this last time, yesterday, I learned why the lids should be hinged to two separate pieces of lumber: because two forty-eight inch-wide pieces of three-quarter inch plywood are freaking heavy when I have to pick them up together. They’re a lot easier to pick up and install separately. So that’s what I did.

The guy I’m copying this design from presumably already figured out why it’s better to install the lids separately. I should have followed his example but I told my tinkerer’s self I could be improving on the design. It has quickly become apparent as I take this thing apart and put it back together repeatedly, as required by the need to fit parts together for which I have no measurements, that it’s better to have smaller, lighter parts to work with than bigger, heavier parts. We live, we learn.

This cold snap is especially frustrating because I’ve finally gotten to the point where I could be in the van with a joggle stick making a template for the overhead locker parts, then getting an early start on piecing them together, but drawing the templates is not work I could do while wearing gloves thick enough to keep my fingers from becoming painfully cold, and working without gloves in sub-freezing temps is obviously not an option. So now I have to wait until later this week for temps to return to a slightly more agreeable place.

cabin fever | 10:02 am CDT
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Sunday, January 16th, 2022

The temp outside on this wintry January morning is just one degree (-17 C), which is relevant because it means I probably won’t be spending much time outside today. I went for a little ramble around Cherokee Marsh yesterday morning even though temps were in the teens, where the temps have been stuck for weeks now, and later that same morning and into the afternoon I spent about four hours in the garage working on rebuilding the bunk for the minivan. I dressed up in so many layers that I could stay warm, but only so long as I kept moving. Well, mostly warm. I have to accept the fact that there are no gloves on earth that will keep my hands warm when it’s that cold out.

I had been using the excuse that it was too cold out to avoid working on the bunk this winter but was inspired to action by my cousin Carrie and her husband Darren, who have recently gone into business renovating campers. They started doing this last summer but have kept working on their latest project even in sub-freezing temperatures. I figured I could give it a shot, too, and found that working in the garage isn’t so bad. I even try to kid myself that having to work so slowly and deliberately because I can’t take my gloves off is a benefit. But I believe I will not be taking advantage of that benefit today unless it warms up considerably.

Added later: Okay, so I went out to the garage to work on the camping thing a little more. I’ve been calling it a “camping thing” because I’m not sure what to call it. Among the people who refer to camping in a minivan as “van life,” my camping thing is usually referred to a “build” or a “build-out,” but that’s not terribly descriptive. I called it a “bunk” in the description above because it’s primarily something to sleep on, but if I can manage to finish it, it’ll be more than that; it’ll also have a table where I can set up a camp stove, overhead cabinets where I can stow my clothes, and wash basin where I can draw drinkable water. If you’re really interested, you can view the videos I get my inspiration from here: Bruce Parks Videos on YouTube

I don’t have the kind of woodworking skills Bruce has. Heck, I don’t even have the kind of persistence he has, but I do like cutting up lumber and seeing if I can knock together fun stuff like this. So that’s what I got up to in the garage for a couple hours. I didn’t mean to take so long. It was so cold that I mean to do just one thing, cut up some lumber to fit into place when it was warmer in the garage, but it didn’t take long to do that and I felt fine so I did one more thing, and that went so well that I did another thing, and about halfway through that thing I realized I couldn’t feel my fingertips any longer. That’s how I knew it was past time to go inside and get warm.

first degree | 9:16 am CDT
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