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Writing Challenge Day 8: My New Hobby: Lessons Learned

Community Manager

This year has thrown us through a loop and being stuck within our four walls eventually catches up with us all. Some of my hobbies are no longer safe and a new one needed to take its place. For me, accentuating the positive meant learning a new hobby. Finding the tools, information, time, and raw materials for making something I wanted, but didn’t need, was key. This is my adventure.

Balancing Need vs. Want

Over my lifetime, I’ve collected many, many tools. For the first part of my life, I needed to get tools as required by a first-time homeowner. When I had a roof leak, I needed to get a circular saw, a roofing nail gun, and a compressor. When I had a pipe leak, I needed a blowtorch, solder, and pipe cutters. When I needed to move an outlet, I needed wire strippers, a multimeter, and lineman’s pliers.

Part of acquiring those tools was also learning the skills necessary to use them efficiently and safely. Again, this was because I needed to complete the tasks. It does you no good to move an outlet if you just end up tripping the breaker (been there) or electrocuting yourself (done that). If you’re on a similar journey, you end up with an assortment of tools in cases, organized into individual toolboxes, or thrown in a bucket or drawer.

When we talk about hobbies, it’s something completely different. Those are things someone wants to learn. A hobby should be distinctly separate from what pays the bills. If you’re a computer programmer, programming in your free time isn’t a hobby, it’s just unstructured work. That may be different from learning a new programming language, but it’s still adjacent, and I wanted something without a keyboard. Since my day job is in technology, most of my hobbies have little to do with computers. In fact, two of them are pre-industrial revolution: traditional archery and blacksmithing.

The Status of My Existing Hobbies

In March, for the safety of everyone, my bowling leagues were disbanded, the smithy was closed to non-essential personnel, the archery lanes were shuttered, and tabletop role playing games are hard to play without people around said tabletop. Like many of you, my people-centric hobbies were cancelled for the foreseeable future.

Choosing a New Hobby: The Process

It turns out six months was about all I could take. I had already read those (comic) books I’d been putting off, I listened to everything of value on my podcast list, I cleaned off my DVR, and even finished building shelving in, and organizing, the garage.

My "organized" garage workspace and shelves.  I swear this is more organized than it appears at first glance.My "organized" garage workspace and shelves. I swear this is more organized than it appears at first glance.

For me, I needed something else, but it needed to be something with a relatively low barrier to entry.

For my wife, she dove into baking. She’s always been a phenomenal cook, but baking was something with which she struggled in the past for one reason or another. Dana is an instinctual cook—she knows what needs to be added to give a dish the last little something. But with baking, there’s a mix of both science and culinary mastery. While many find this appealing, for her it was more of a struggle. Learning the way ingredients interact under heat in an oven is different than on a cooktop.

Like everyone else this year, we tried our hand at making sourdough from a starter and read/watched many things on the internet about how to do it well. Some would say too many. There was so much conflicting information available, when the bake was successful, it felt like pure luck. Nevertheless, she persevered, and Dana has since become an excellent baker (as both our Thanksgiving spread and my waistline can attest). I still needed to find something for me.

Finding a new hobby for myself took longer. I thought back to what I loved to do and what was required. For baking, Dana already had the tools necessary: the oven, a stand mixer, some silicone baking sheets, and several others I’m sure you have in your own kitchen. What she needed was the raw materials, the information, and the time to perfect it. When I sought out my next new hobby, I decided to follow her approach and work with the tools I already had at hand. Since I had done a small number of carpentry-type things over the years (like building the shelves and workspace in the garage), I had a collection of tools. Since I had also organized my garage, I knew where they all were (this is important) and with that, I settled on woodworking. Precision woodworking is different, but akin to general carpentry. With the tools in hand, I needed to reserve some time, and all I needed was the information and raw materials.

Turns out the decision to do woodworking may have been a self-filfilling prophecy of one kind or another.  Last year's December Writing Challenge was ELI5: Explain (it) Like I'm Five and I selected Day 21: Routing.  The first line of my post went something like this:

Today we'll discuss routing as it pertains to computer networking and not woodworking. We can talk about the woodworking angle another day if desired.

Looks like today is that day.

Collecting the Information

Getting information in the form of instruction on YouTube and getting materials on Amazon are two phenomenal resources when taking up a new hobby, but each comes with their own caveats. It’s incredibly easy to find someone doing a thing on YouTube, but are they an expert? Even more important, are they the best resource for what you have in mind? The only way to ultimately determine if this person’s instruction is right for you is to pay close attention to how they work and with what materials and tools. It’ll take some research and a little creative deduction, but you should find what you need—even if it’s information cobbled together from multiple sources.

Amazon has a similar, but distinct, issue. Ultimately, it’s a storefront and they want to sell you things. If you’ve ever seen the “You might also like” section, you know what I’m talking about. I could go online and outfit a whole shop just from the internet, but I wanted to start mostly with what I had tool-wise. After all, a hobby should not be a vocation—at least not to start. I told myself I’d use Amazon (and other online shops) only for the raw materials whenever possible.

The First Real Project

I decided I wanted to start small and, for me, the ultimate decision was an end grain cutting board. I came to this choice because I knew it would challenge my skills while still providing something we’d use. We already have a similar-style one already that belonged to Dana’s grandfather and we use it nearly every day.

Pop's Cutting Board - long used and well lovedPop's Cutting Board - long used and well loved

To say Pop’s cutting board is an essential piece of equipment in our kitchen would be selling it short. If we had a second or third, I am sure they would also get used, so that informed my decision. If it comes out great, then it’ll be used, and if not, then we still have the one we need. This is a perfect definition of a hobby—something I wanted to do but did not need to do.

Finding the Teacher

There are dozens of videos on how to make this cutting board, but most of those people had professional shops (band saws, drum sanders, planers, jointers, miter stations, the works) and I was working with a few entry-level electric tools (miter saw, table saw, orbital sander, etc.). I needed instruction on the basics of woodworking and I found them from a guy named Rex Krueger and his Woodwork for Humans series. He does everything by hand and teaches you the basics: sharpening and setting up a hand plane, smoothing, gluing up, and other techniques. I was even going to make his $30 workbench (in the low Roman-style), but the how-to video was recorded in the year 3 BC (before coronavirus). As of today, lumber prices have gone way up, so it’s probably closer to a $75 bench today. I elected to save that for a future project. The true lesson here is to check around and, if necessary, select details from multiple sources for your instruction.

Finding the Raw Materials

Finding wood to work with can be difficult depending on where you’re located. For a project like this, I needed some more decorative woods and pine wasn’t going to cut it. If you’re located near a Woodcraft, you’ll have no problem finding whatever you need, but I’m not allowed to go there unchaperoned. I drool too much over their tools and Dana nearly has to physically drag me away from the exotic wood stocks. Searching elsewhere, you can occasionally strike gold on classified-style listings, but I felt that was pushing my luck considering the state of the world and recommendations for social distancing.

What I finally ended up doing was ordering square turning blanks from Amazon. If you aren’t familiar with the term, they’re the raw materials used on wood lathes. I don’t own a lathe (but I want one) and, by design, they’re uniformly shaped. I ordered one set each of black walnut, cherry, and maple. Each set contains four 2”×2”×8” sections of wood. When they arrived, I double-checked the dimensions with my caliper and saw the dimensions were close to being true. One thing that’s nice about turning squares is they’re almost always without twist, which is important when gluing along the long dimension.

Looking at the three species of wood side by side by side helped me decide on my raw materials. I decided to use the black walnut and cherry for this project because of the rich colors and contrast each wood would provide. The maple looked good with a decent color, but ultimately didn’t “pop” enough against either of the other woods.

The Build

If you want to understand what I did step by step, you’re welcome to read through it all. Just expand the spoiler tag to read the entire process.

Spoiler

Preparation of the Raw Materials

The first thing I did was trim down each of the blocks to 1¾” square. It sounds trivial, but it required me to make precise cuts on my entry-level table saw. I watched a few more videos on how to make my blade 100% true to square and made my passes. After the cuts, I made sure the corners were square with my mechanics square and was overall pleased with the outcome.

After cutting, I was left with a bunch of small strips of the woods. I took one of each and applied the cutting board treatment to them, so I could see what each species would look like when assembled next to each other.

Black walnut, cherry, and maple samples after being oiled.Black walnut, cherry, and maple samples after being oiled.

The walnut turned a lovely dark brown, the cherry had subtle red undertones, and the maple had a lovely pale blond feel.  I decided to go with the walnut and cherry because they would show a vibrant contrast. I chose to use all eight turning blanks blanks so when the strips were flipped, I would have a checkerboard pattern. If I chose to use an odd number, it would have lined up with cherry/cherry or walnut/walnut together. My raw materials have been selected.

Glue Up

The next step in assembly was gluing all the parts together in an alternating pattern. I used Titebond 3 for two reasons—first, it’s a food safe glue and second, because I already had some from a previous task—ergo, it was free.

For gluing wood and having it appear seamless, you need to make sure the surfaces mate as perfectly as possible. People online have said getting a joint to disappear is easier between two drastically colored wood species, so that worked out well for me. I stacked the blocks horizontally on my workbench, test fit them, and then rotated each of them to put the intended glue surface facing up. Because I needed to have complete glue coverage, I used one of the thin sheets of scrap from the initial cuts to spread it out the glue. I enjoy working with this glue because it’s got a few minutes of play before it begins to stick. This is important for clamping.

Clamping up the first glue-up.  P.S. Send me more clamps.Clamping up the first glue-up. P.S. Send me more clamps.

The last step in this first glue up is clamping everything together. When I started the project, I had four bar clamps, two smaller (about 12”) and two larger (about 36”). I grabbed my larger clamps and affixed them to one side and then grabbed one of the smaller to put on the opposite side. But because I forgot how arithmetic works (8 blocks × 1¾” each = 14”), my small clamp would not fit. Thankfully, this brand of clamp can be quickly joined with another of the same and I was able to span the gap. I cleaned up the excess glue as much as possible, and now we wait for the glue to dry. Note to self: buy more clamps.

Using the Hand Plane

The glue up resulted in no gaps and the wood looked fantastic, but there was some drift on each large surface where some blocks were slightly higher or lower than its neighbor. This can be sanded down but sanding can result in divots and high marks. It’s significantly better to shape this down with a hand plane for an absolutely flat surface.

Using a hand plane, in theory, is an easy process: drag the smoothing plane across the surface and shave off slivers of wood as you go until everything is perfectly flat. The problem is using a plane was foreign to me. Knowing I was outside of my depth, I went back to YouTube and watched a few videos until I know how to set up the plane. There were several steps in getting it ready: making sure the steel is sharp, the proper placement of the chip breaker, the angle of the cutting edge, the sizing of the mouth of the plane, and a few others. For being a simple tool, dialing it in was a lesson of its own and was an educational use of my time.

I took a piece of scrap wood I had laying around the garage, clamped it down to my workbench, and started making wood chips. After a little playing around with the adjustments, I got the tool where it needed to be—I was taking nice even shavings across the board. Then I moved onto the cutting board blank and planed one side. When happy with it, I planed the other side. I did notice the walnut was much more partial to chip-out and gouging—I took note of this for later.
When set correctly a hand plane will take uniform strips.When set correctly a hand plane will take uniform strips.

It wasn’t a quick process. Part of that was due to my inexperience with the tool and the other part of it was inherent to the task itself. If I owned an electric planer, this would have been quick work, but I wasn’t ready to financially invest in a specialized tool. My thought process was this: if I determined woodworking wasn’t for me after a handful of projects, I didn’t need another tool taking up space.

Ripping the Blanks

Once everything was lovely and flat, next up was rip cutting the full blank perpendicular to the original glue up lines. First, I had to trim off the waste on each end grain to give me square surfaces, then I needed to decide on the width of each rip. The resultant block of the first glue-up is 7” × 14” × 1¾”, giving me a few options. Determining where I wanted to go from here took some time and thought.

The ultimate size of this project will be determined by the rip cuts I make. For example, if I go with ½” cuts, I’ll have 14 blanks with a 1¾” width, making the final dimensions of the project 7” × 24½” with a ½” thickness. After doing some calculations on the whiteboard in my living room (I’m sure no one’s shocked I have a whiteboard in my living room), I decided on 1” cuts. That’ll yield seven blanks for a finished dimension of 7” × 12¼” with a 1” thickness. The larger 1” cuts allow me to have more surface for gluing and will add to the project’s longevity and rigidity.

The first rip cut at 1" width.  Use painters tape everywhere.The first rip cut at 1" width. Use painters tape everywhere.

Poor Planning and Pivoting

My table saw is a Skil 3310 I've had for years.  It's a perfectly serviceable table saw, but it may be the tool I have the least experience within my garage. It’s also the tool I show the most respect to because of the possible danger. About 18 months ago, my father took a chunk out of his thumb with his table saw. He’s fine now after a few stitches and healing, but I didn’t want to donate my own blood to this project.

When used correctly, and checking things at least twice, this tool works well, but that doesn’t mean I can’t screw something up by being dumb. In this case, I “forgot” I don’t have a large table behind my table saw to catch my pieces. Immediately after my first 1” rip cut, the block slid right off the back of the table saw’s surface, fell directly on the floor, and I groaned inwardly at my stupidity. The result was one walnut corner chipped out and one of my glue spots popped open.

Gravity assisted separation of blocks.Gravity assisted separation of blocks.

I was hoping for a 100% clean break because I could re-glue the one part, but that didn’t happen. You can see some of the cherry still sticking to the walnut. There was no chance I could re-glue this. I set this piece off to the side to keep as a reminder of my poor planning sample piece where I could experiment on finishing touches.

Then my saw bound up on a second piece because I was putting too much pressure on the fence and not enough downward pressure on the table surface. I was down to five blanks. The project was dwindling in size, but it’s ok because now I know several things not to do. Learning to fail isn’t the same as failing to learn, I reminded myself.

The Second Glue Up

Now that I have my remainder blanks, I arranged them in such a way where I could see little to no gapping. If there’s a small amount of light in a specific place, I can probably pull it together with the clamps. I drew a cabinet maker’s triangle to keep my orientation.

Drawing a cabinet maker's triangle to mark alignment.Drawing a cabinet maker's triangle to mark alignment.

Finally, I trimmed down any glaringly high spots with the hand plane. Same process as before: turn them on their sides, spread glue evenly, clamp it up.

Second glue-up.  This time I used five clamps. P.S. Still send more clamps.Second glue-up. This time I used five clamps. P.S. Still send more clamps.

Since I’m clamping on a smaller dimension, I can use my shorter clamps. I also picked up another set of bar clamps between the first and second glue up. I used a total of five clamps to hold this piece together (not pictured).

To ensure there were no gaps, I held the board up to a light—both before and after the glue up. This also helped identify places where my edges are a little wonky. I planned on a final edge trim anyway, so seeing this “in the light of day” helped me determine the width of the cut.

Checking for open seams with a bright backlight.Checking for open seams with a bright backlight.

 

Final Sanding

For the surface, I planned on using my smoothing plane again, but with the tear out I was seeing at the edges and the way the walnut was gouging, I decided to sand the final surfaces. There are pros and cons, but since I was getting close to the final stages, I figured I’d try my luck and see where it went.

Ready to begin the final bit of sanding.Ready to begin the final bit of sanding.

I already knew this sanding was going to take a good while, therefore I elected to use my random orbital sander. I started with 60 grit on the tool and then moved up to 80, 120, 150, and finally 220 grit. Going up slowly was the way to make the best finish and remove any of the glue residue slowly. Since I had to sand both sides, I needed a way to keep it stable without marring the edges too badly. I took some scrap wood to protect the edges and clamped it down to my bench. Then it was time to make more sawdust.

Cleaning Up the Edges

If it wasn’t apparent from an earlier picture, painter’s tape is, and always has been, my friend. I used it all over the place to prevent tear out and to mark lines to follow. I decided to take off about ¼” from each side. This reduced my overall width and length by ½” but I decided it was better to have a good edge than a ragged one.

Note the scrap wood protectors.Note the scrap wood protectors.

I clamped it down one last time to finish it up with hand sanding at 220 and 320 grit by hand. It was probably overkill, but I wanted my first project to shine.

I was nearly there, so I went to look at the original cutting board again.

Original cutting board showing the chamfer.Original cutting board showing the chamfer.

Notice the rounding over of the edges? That’s called a chamfer and it is used in all manner of woodworking projects to prevent splintering and to soften hard edges. It’s most apparent in square wooden legs for tables and chairs. I needed to chamfer the edges of my cutting board so bumps and dings wouldn’t result in chips.

This was an ideal time for me to go back to my sample piece I messed up set aside earlier. Most chamfers are cut in with a block plane or a trimming plane. I only have a block plane, so I tried it on my sample piece.

Using a plane to set the chamfer.Using a plane to set the chamfer.

Wouldn’t recommend. Zero stars. On the walnut it’s chipping more than cutting. Option number two was to try the same thing but with sandpaper. It would take longer but should be gentler on the wood fibers.

Using sandpaper to set the chamfer.Using sandpaper to set the chamfer.

 That looks much better. I needed to sand the twelve edges to a uniform angle, and I’d be ready for the final step.

Finished cutting board sanded up to 320 grit by hand.Finished cutting board sanded up to 320 grit by hand.

 Final Preparations

After hitting all the surfaces and edges one last time with a high grit sandpaper, it was time to clean and prepare it for use with food. I cleaned the wood with mineral spirits and shop towels and let it dry completely before putting on the protective coating.

Using the Butcher Block Conditioner to make the cutting board shine.Using the Butcher Block Conditioner to make the cutting board shine.

I used a commercially available butcher block conditioner and followed the directions on it for preparing a new surface. It was applying, letting set, and wiping off 3 – 4 times for an initial base layer. Then it’s only maintenance every couple of months after.

My best guess at the total time invested in the manual labor is somewhere in the eight- to ten-hour range.

Lessons Learned

Original and New Cutting BoardsOriginal and New Cutting Boards

If I had to sum up what I learned over the life of this project, it’s this: with the proper information, tools, raw materials, and time, anything is possible. As a technologist and student of project management, I found this out years ago, but I’m always amazed how these themes keep coming back up in my life.

There may not be a better time to try out a new hobby than now. Take all the skills you needed to learn and put them towards a craft you want to learn. Personally, I’m already looking for the next project and I think it’ll be a larger cutting board made from the maple and some new purpleheart to replace one we have that’s failing. Do we need it? No. Do I want to do it? Yes.

This was my small adventure in taking up a new hobby and I got through with my fingers intact and no trips to the hospital. What I want to know is what you’ve done with your idle hours, maybe you’ll inspire someone to pick up their own new hobby.

34 Comments
MVP
MVP

that looks like great fun. I have a friend who has made that sitting workbench, before that he made the mallet and use the "three tool method" to make the workbench. 
Prior to that he and I made a hand cart with large wooden wheels

all of which seem to start out with - I didn't know what I was doing, but........

Community Manager
Community Manager

@mcam Every project - and I mean EVERY project - be they in technology or with the complete lack of technology (like my hobbies) always begin with "I have no idea what I'm doing here."  What people need to remember is that's 100% a-okay.  In fact, it's the best way to learn.

Level 9

I've decided to enter the world of home distillation... I figure a second hobby to get noticed by the ATF is a good one, maybe next year I'll start growing tobacco just to hit the trifecta.

MVP
MVP

Nice write up @KMSigma 

For me the only new thing/hobby that changed/that i picked up during COVID is -> "cycling"

Level 9

Perfect right up, I have started down the journey of building my own firearms and making my own loads. I built a work bench in the garage and have learned a lot since March. I have built 2 riffles and plenty of target ammo. 

Level 13

I have not picked up any new hobbies this year, but I have spent plenty of time with my existing hobbies. From costume-making (even though we went nowhere for Halloween) and tutu-making (currently) on the crafting front to reading and gaming. Some things have changed of course, including adding moving some of my in-person party gaming (like Jackbox) online with friends and ordering all materials online instead of going to Jo-Ann's for materials. There were times I had trouble finding motivation, but I always get that satisfaction from completing a project. Cheers to your hobbies!

Level 14

@KMSigma I am impressed.... That is a very nice piece of work! Great job!

It is extremely important to have a hobby, especially to counter the stresses in our work lives. Mine has been updating my house since I moved to Maine 18 months ago. (see earlier writing challenge post photos of my bar area). I have a small workshop now and my garage is used as an annex. Always something to keep me busy.

 

 

So very impressive.  The only hobby i developed is my truck.   I got a new one and the little things I now add to it.  Your woodworking skills are impressive.   I work on my house and I am going to tackle tile soon.  Everyone says it's easy, but like you said its 100% ok to have no idea what I am doing.   And I have no idea.   Working with wood I love, but do not have all the tools or space to be efficient and deliver the quality I would like.  But little but little and with many tips to Lowes, HomeDepot, Harbor Freight, and the lumber yards, as well as shopping on line, i am getting there.

I just need to work on a "He Shed" to get some space to work in.  

 

 

Level 10

@KMSigma your board turned out beautifully! I can't wait to see what you'll build next. 

Early on in the pandemic, I picked up golf. I'd taken lessons when I was in elementary school, but to my grandmother's dismay, I opted to play field hockey over golf (crazy, right?!). Asa loves playing golf and I've enjoyed remaining in the "know" of the golf universe. I am also a *very* very competitive person, and while golf has been an escape for Asa I also wanted to find an activity that we could do together to incite a little competition (I know, I know... playing with fire). 

Rewind to the 2018 holiday season: I asked my grandmother for lessons, which left her absolutely delighted. She can't play any longer, so I was able to get her clubs fitted for me (score) and I took the time to get properly outfitted, knowing my traditional workout attire isn't a polo. I had a few lessons over the course of 2019 and the general sense of play/motion returned! But the year got away from me, I didn't play as much as I would like, etc., etc. 

Fast forward to 2020: April is ending and May is showing signs of warming up. It became clear that Asa and I needed to find safe, socially distant escapes out of our house so we wouldn't drive each other completely mad - enter, the golf course. 

We opted to play at off-hours, so we weren't met with peak crowds and went to courses that weren't the most popular in our surrounding areas. Some of the courses we opted to play took us on, albeit brief, fun road trips! Now, I'm no Michelle Wie and I'm not quite in a position to give Phil Mickelson a run for his money, but I am getting closer to playing more holes on par [Read: if it's a par 4 hole, I'm probably between 5-7... could be worse!!].

llgolf.jpeg

 

The biggest lessons I've learned from taking up golfing this year: 
-I GET the allure and why it keeps you coming back for more! You have a really excellent drive, and then you're garbage the rest of that hole. But because that ONE drive was SO great, you play to hit that same high in the future. 
-My field hockey background isn't always playing in my favor - I'm still learning the value of "let the driver do the work" as opposed to the power behind my swing. 
-My short game still has a long way to go, "tick-tock" and chipping are... works in progress.
-My husband, Asa, is about the most patient partner... there have been many times where I want to throw my club across the green (and sometimes at him 😬) but he's taught me that the other players on the course AREN'T on the PGA tour, the importance of keeping my head down, and no one is judging my game, except for me. 
algolf.jpeg

 

Now that winter is upon us we haven't hit the links recently. I'm hopeful with the changing of the seasons and progress on the vaccine front, we'll be back this summer... maybe by then, I'll be brave enough to pair up with other players besides Asa, ha!  

Community Manager
Community Manager

@lbeavs - I, too, have a problem with lifting my head.  It's hard to break the "keep your eye on the ball" training and convert it to "keep your eye on the ball, until you hit it, then just stare at the place where it was."  Good luck on getting closer to par!  My short game is where I need work.  Maybe we should have a community outing when it's ok to get back with people again!

Level 10

Wow that cutting board looks great.

 

Recent Hobby I have spent more time is my baking, especially sourdough bread making.

There are lots of fancy lames, proofing baskets, dutch ovens, etc that can help with the process. Do you need them to make a decent loaf, no, but some can make the process a little easier. I've calmed my over "excited-ness" to buy every little gadget and focus on what can really make a good loaf. We have decided a good dutch oven will be worth investing in as I can use it for other things as well! 


So far 4 weeks of sourdough and none gets wasted. This week (yesterday ) I made some cinnamon raisin sourdough! Yum Yum, French Toast anyone! 

 

 

Level 11

Finally got the wife a bike so we are trying to spend more time as a family out of the house. That does prove to be hard so the next hobby I picked up, if you can call it that, is playing Rocket League on the Switch. 

Level 11

With the size of my house and lack of garage, I really have not gotten into much home repair or woodworking. My father used had a nice shop in the basement of the house where I grew up, but his 29th yahrzeit is today (i.e., he passed away 29 years ago on the Jewish calendar) so that was a long time ago, and he was already ill before I was old enough to learn. Not having space to do the things he did, meant I needed something that would not take so much interior room.

I've been interested in outdoor cooking, especially smoking and barbecue for a long time. I briefly dabbled with an electric bullet smoker about 25 years ago, but hadn't been able to do much since. I didn't even have a grill most of that time (condos and apartments). I had tried to smoke some chicken parts on a Weber kettle, but nothing really serious. With the extra time provided by 2020, I started to scratch that itch.

First Brisket on the Weber KettleFirst Brisket on the Weber Kettle

 

The first brisket went on the Weber for July 4th. That came out pretty well, that I tried a couple of others with mixed results. I started watching videos and reading. It became abundantly clear, that I really wanted to play with something more intended for smoking.

 

Offset Smoker After SeasoningOffset Smoker After Seasoning

 

Enter this guy. My wife and I bit the bullet and ordered it last month. When it arrived, I got it seasoned just in time for one pre-Thanksgiving test cook: a couple of turkey legs and a whole chicken. I am still waiting for some things with which I want to modify it to become available again.

First Thanksgiving Turkey  off the SmokerFirst Thanksgiving Turkey off the Smoker

 

Then came the first real cook: Thanksgiving turkey. Not perfect, but neither my wife nor I complained. Plenty still to learn, but we can do that at our own pace now.

 

 

 

Level 11

My new hobby is making bread.  There is nothing like fresh home made bread.  I got a great book on it.  It included a recipe for some great Chicago style pizza which I have indulged in several times. I recently got a sour dough starter which I'll be trying with many different recipes.

More time at home, due to COVID-19, brought me some new hobbies & lessons learned, as well:

  • I bought a 3/4-ton pickup truck (my first pickup truck ever) just before COVID-19 hit.  It's enabled me to do new things:
    • Pull stumps.  Lesson learned:  Use the right kind of tow strap, lest you end up with one that stretches until the stump's roots release and send the stump shooting up through the air towards the truck.  I wasn't hurt, the truck wasn't damaged, but I WAS surprised to look in the rear view mirror and see a big stump fly up in the air, out of sight, and come down right behind the truck, bumping it in the bumper.  If I'd been towing fast, it's easy to imagine it could have landed on the truck.  Maybe right on my head.
    • Haul heavy loads.  Like a new 5th wheel camper AND my boat in the same load.  Like rental dump trailers that haul up to 10 tons of gravel/rock.  Like rental skid steers for doing hard yard work, moving downed trees & their stumps, excavating large boulders, and smoothing yard & driveway to a perfect finish.
  • Reminders to keep my actions realistic, no matter the ambitions.  
    • In the spring, I had a few dozen big Aspen and Pine trees to take down with a chainsaw.  After a day of working hard, moving too quickly at getting new trees down & sawn up, I waded into a mess of a big Poplar that had only fallen part way--it was hung at about a 20-degree angle, wedged into some other standing trees that had to come down, too.  I was tired, but didn't want to give up before I had that Poplar all the way down.  Hindsight shows my decision-making process was flawed, and I inadvertently stood on the wrong side of that Poplar when cutting; it sprung towards me instead of away, with the running chainsaw between it and my knee.  The saw dug into my knee cap (and I wasn't wearing chain saw protective chaps that would have stopped the chain) and finished my working that day.  It bled a bit, and was painful to clean fully, and required a trip to the hospital to ensure I hadn't done anything permanent.  But all was fine (except for my jeans!), and I walked away reminding myself to quit when I'm tired, not when the job is done.  Tomorrow would have been perfect for finishing that tree off.
    • I made plans to rent a skid steer to move gravel & clear brush & downed trees, and was looking to get a lot of work done in a short time.  Then I recalled a friend had a skid steer he was using to clear property for his new home, and I learned from his lesson (instead of on my own body).  Working alone, he had a boulder in the bucket, and was moving it down a hill he'd cleared of trees.  The bucket was high so he could see where he was going.  That was a mistake.  He ran over a small bump and the weight of the boulder forced the skid steer to rock forward while going down hill.  He tried to lower the bucket quickly--but not quickly enough.  The skid steer started to somersault down the hill with him inside.  When it stopped, it was cab-door-down, having rolled onto a small standing tree he'd cut off at waist-height.  The tree trunk had came through the door, and through his thigh, pinning him in the cab.  He passed out.  Alone.  When he came to, he was able to (somehow!) get his thigh off the tree, get out of the skid steer, and pull himself by his arms up the hill until he could see the house.  He yelled for help and his wife heard him and called EMT's and an ambulance.  He recovered fully, but as I operate rental skid steers I'm SUPER cautious on hills, and I never travel with a load in the bucket when the bucket is high.
    • I was eager to move about 300 cubic yards of Class C gravel for my new driveway.  And although the rental dump trailers are rated for 10 tons, never get that much load in them.  The rental agency advised me to stay with no more than eight tons, lest I blow the tires or permanently bow the axles.  The rental company's owner is a friend of mine, and told me the weekend before I stopped by to rent a trailer, he'd had it out hauling 10-ton loads.  All four tires blew, and both axles were damaged, setting him back a pretty penny.  Lesson learned:  learn from others' mistakes instead of making them yourself.  Or, study history.  Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it.  And no one needs to waste time (or money, or injuries) re-inventing the wheel.

Those are enough lessons learned about my new hobby of home / yard improvements.  I'd love to own a skid steer with big buckets, jaws, and a 2-stage snow blower, but renting one is more affordable.  And I got all of my mandatory yard/driveway/forest projects completed this year.  Next year I'm dreaming about renting the skid steer again to clear a few wider walking trails through my 20 acre woods.  We'll see how that turns out!

Remember to teach the wife how to operate the skid steer.  She'll enjoy it!Remember to teach the wife how to operate the skid steer. She'll enjoy it!I love working outside on my property in the summer.I love working outside on my property in the summer.The new truck gave me hauling options I'd never had before.The new truck gave me hauling options I'd never had before.8 tons of Class 5 gravel doesn't go very far when you have vertical filling required along with horizontal spreading.  I had to bring the grade up five feet in some spots, nine feet in other.  Plus I had a new 250' driveway extension to build (it took 160 cubic yards).8 tons of Class 5 gravel doesn't go very far when you have vertical filling required along with horizontal spreading. I had to bring the grade up five feet in some spots, nine feet in other. Plus I had a new 250' driveway extension to build (it took 160 cubic yards).After cutting up all the trees, hauling the brush away was a several-day job.After cutting up all the trees, hauling the brush away was a several-day job.Power dump trailers eat a lot of battery juice.  I'd run out of power after just eight lifts (8 tons per left).  Fortunately I was within reach of the garage's power, so popping a battery charger onto the trailer's battery was simple.Power dump trailers eat a lot of battery juice. I'd run out of power after just eight lifts (8 tons per left). Fortunately I was within reach of the garage's power, so popping a battery charger onto the trailer's battery was simple.The smell of freshly cut balsam and red pine & white pine is heaven to my nose.The smell of freshly cut balsam and red pine & white pine is heaven to my nose.The gravel pit operator only charged me $7.00 per cubic yard of Class 5, and loaded it in my trailer for that price.  I used their truck scale to keep the weight under the limits of the trailer's tires & axles.The gravel pit operator only charged me $7.00 per cubic yard of Class 5, and loaded it in my trailer for that price. I used their truck scale to keep the weight under the limits of the trailer's tires & axles.Trimmed beard due to heat!  Most of the trees were cut into fireplace lengths and stacked (I have seven stacks so far, and more to be cut & stacked).  Some of the bigger, straight sections of tree trunk were set aside for projects.  I split a couple of these the long way with the chain saw , and the half-round sections will be part of next summer's project to make some benches around the fire pit.Trimmed beard due to heat! Most of the trees were cut into fireplace lengths and stacked (I have seven stacks so far, and more to be cut & stacked). Some of the bigger, straight sections of tree trunk were set aside for projects. I split a couple of these the long way with the chain saw , and the half-round sections will be part of next summer's project to make some benches around the fire pit.This is my template for benches, photographed at a local state park.  I hope I can do as well as those craftspeople did!This is my template for benches, photographed at a local state park. I hope I can do as well as those craftspeople did!Back in the spring I was still wearing my 2020 COVID-19 beard.  Temps were cool then.  Later in the summer I had to trim it back for comfort.Back in the spring I was still wearing my 2020 COVID-19 beard. Temps were cool then. Later in the summer I had to trim it back for comfort.The left section is the new driveway that attached to the right section, making a loop to the highway.  It's MUCH easier to manage a double-tow (truck, 5th wheel camper, and boat) with this setup, and it also enables me to have a much straighter backup to the parking pad I built next to the garage (behind this point of view).The left section is the new driveway that attached to the right section, making a loop to the highway. It's MUCH easier to manage a double-tow (truck, 5th wheel camper, and boat) with this setup, and it also enables me to have a much straighter backup to the parking pad I built next to the garage (behind this point of view).The new driveway, seen from the highway.  A county crew came in to install a longer culvert so I could have a wider driveway access, but they cut my phone line / Internet, due to it not being properly marked when the painter was by a few days prior.  That was a bit of a debacle, but they got it fixed and finished the job in one day.The new driveway, seen from the highway. A county crew came in to install a longer culvert so I could have a wider driveway access, but they cut my phone line / Internet, due to it not being properly marked when the painter was by a few days prior. That was a bit of a debacle, but they got it fixed and finished the job in one day.May of 2020, trees down, ready for stump removal, top soil removal, erosion/ground matt, and 160 cubic yards of Class 5 fill.May of 2020, trees down, ready for stump removal, top soil removal, erosion/ground matt, and 160 cubic yards of Class 5 fill.

 

Rick Schroeder

In the Little Red House

In the Saginaw Wood

Community Manager
Community Manager

I'm happy you weren't injured too much with the chainsaw, but that is sad about your jeans.  I know a guy who works for a denim company if you want me to put in a good word. 😉

Thank you, @KMSigma for the kind offer.  The jeans were easily replaced.

MVP
MVP

Love your art @KMSigma I appreciate fine wood and a finely chamfered edge, spending most of my time in a wooden outbuilding you appreciate these things. I built the desks I work on just over a year ago, well two of them. The third I already had I should upgrade too. I made a fireplace mantel too. I love the freedom you get working with wood. IMG_20191028_000425.jpg

After making my own desks i'll never buy one from a furniture store again. It gets into your soul. The art of creation. Just like making a snazzy dashboard for SolarWinds. 🤣😂

Community Manager
Community Manager

Is that some tongue and groove goodness on that desk?  Nicely done.

Honestly, the hardest part for me recently has been finding decent lumber - either dimensional boards for some larger things or smaller pieces for more crafty things.  I'm still not allowed to enter a Woodcraft store without my wife watching over my shoulder because I would probably spend the grocery money on exotic woods.  As much as I like woodworking, I think I'd rather have dinners this week. 😋

MVP
MVP

Yes it was left over wood from the building I work in. It was too good to throw away. I've used a gamers desk mouse mat to cover the top so that its flat on both desks. The biggest challenge was finding strong underside support brackets to hold the desk together. I'd be the same spending my money on driftwood. I have a nice beam of oak in my garage that I still want to do something with.

Community Manager
Community Manager

Dear @KMSigma

Can I please have that cutting board for Christmas? 😬😜

As for me, while it’s not exactly a *new* hobby, I have started baking again, which has been pretty great. Here’s some bread I made the other day 🎉

FFC74AF2-BD4C-4D1C-8313-FEF7F18AAB30.jpeg

Level 10

My hobbies are work and kids. As a father of 3 boys, I rarely have time or money to devote to a hobby. I do a bit of woodworking, but the workspace I have is an already too crowded garage. I also wrench on my car (1990 Honda Civic) when I need to.

The hobbies I want to have are: woodworking, blacksmithing, and cars.

I need more money... and time...

I am envious of those who are able to have the time to pursue individual passions and hobbies. I have a nice list of hobbies and passions that I want to pursue. I have resigned myself to the fact that it isn't going to happen anytime soon.

 

BTW @KMSigma  Your workshop looks SWEET!  🙂  So much trouble to be made in there...

@tinmann0715 I am with you all the way one this. Work from Home has not given me more time to do anything different. Even our Bocce Season disappeared as most of our crew is in a high risk category. Am I doing things differently, sure. But I didn't have a long commute before, so not extra time gained there really. While I don't have time for new hobbies, it does give me time to take care of household chores. But I am still putting in 50 hours a week for work with all the projects going on. 

@KMSigma I hope Dana has had a chance to do some really fun things with baking. Linda and I have baked a few different recipes that we have done before. It isn't the same things as throwing yourself into truly become a baker, but we are pushing our limits and experimenting. Just to say I really like that kind of woodworking and I appreciate the time and effort that goes into those pieces. Vey well done sir.

Level 11

Fishing and BJJ for me.  One you get cold and wet, and the other you get hot and sweaty.  Kinda evens itself out.  Least that's what I am telling myself.

Level 18

There is a reason I'm not a "real" programmer - I don't have the patience for the dog's work of generating thousands of lines of code, of fine-tuning the logic structures, of the realities of refactoring the job requires. Those are the same reasons I'll never be a finish carpenter. I'll happily throw together a bunch of lumber into an inside wall or a finished basement; I could do electrical work all day and never complain. While it's not my favorite, a few sheets of sheetrock and a bucket of mud isn't a bad way to spend an afternoon. (Of plumbing, we shall not speak).

That said, over this pandemic my hobby of choice let me leverage skills I already had, but also flex them in ways I don't get to do as tech writer who deals more with the philosophical and theoretical - I've been updating my house with smart lighting system(s). That allowed me to do a delightful amount of re-wiring (the house is mostly knob-and-tube); it gave me the puzzle-like engagement of making disparate systems work together (leviton, hue, cree, lifx, and - all credit to @aLTeReGo - Home Assistant); and it let me do a little bit of networking (can't have those nasty IoT devices on the same VLAN with our phones and computers).

Like so much during this pandemic, for many of us the allure of a new hobby is less about the novelty and more about the way it engages and encourages us to see past ourselves into what isn't, but what can be.

MVP
MVP

For me being a Computer Scientist... I decided to become full on voltnut and timenut.  I only pretend to be an Electrical Engineer.  In search of the perfect DC reference and 5/10MHz oscillator!  At the heart of the best DC voltage reference is something called a buried zener the LTZ1000.  At the heart of the best  oscillators have been a couple things.  SC Quartz oscillators, Rubidium, and Cesium atomic clocks:

The current time standard for the United States is a cesium atomic frequency standard at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado. In 1967 a standard second was adopted based on the frequency of a transition in the Cs-133 atom:


1 second = 9,192, 631,770 cycles of the standard Cs-133 transition

Many of the rubidium can be found on the used market for more reasonable prices.  The cesium are a little harder to find and more expensive.  A new Keysight 5071A Cesium Frequency Standard Reference retails for around $50k so I had gotten into a hobby that isn't exactly cheap but it's also one of the things that makes it "elite" and a kind of niche for the truest of "timenuts."

Long story short... I've got a couple dozen rubidium frequency references now, 3 (2 working) cesium, and a collection of quartz oscillators with excellent stability!

In both the "voltnut" and "timenut" hobbies it's all about ppm aka parts per million.  In the time nuttery it actually can be become parts per trillion.  In my quest I have oscillators with a few parts in 10^-14 short and long term stability which equals nanoseconds/day.

How small is 4.4×10^-10? (relativistic effect on our GPS satellites time)

~1 ms / month
  1 s / ~71 years
~1 atom / 1 meter
~6 inches / distance to Moon
~1 cm^3 / volume of Olympic swimming pool

• 10^-2 = 1% ≈ 15 min / day
• 10^-4 = 0.01% ≈ 1 min / week
• 10^-6 = 1 ppm ≈ 0.1 s / day
• 10^-8 ≈ 1 ms / day
• 10^-10 ≈ 10μs / day ≈ 1 s / 300 years
• 10^-12 = 1 ppt ≈ 100 ns / day
• 10^-14 ≈ 1 ns / day ≈ 1 s / 3,000,000 years
• 10^-16 ≈ 3 ns / year ≈ 3 s / billion years
• 10^-18 ≈ 1 s / 30 billion years

It's a rabbit hole that goes further and further down.  Another neat thing... when you start to measure things in picoseconds light only travels a few inches.

Bill

Product Manager
Product Manager

I warned you @adatole that you were headed down a deep rabbit hole. I personally can't bring myself to admit how much time and money I've invested into home automation. Like you though, this pandemic has caused me to spend much more time than usual automating little things that annoy me, that I would otherwise forget, or simply could be made faster or easier through automation. 

Community Manager
Community Manager

Home Woodworking Update:

I built a crosscut sled for my table saw.  Now it's easier for me to make repeated, detailed cuts.  Hopefully this will make less gaps moving forward.

Front View of Crosscut SledFront View of Crosscut Sled

Rear View of Crosscut SledRear View of Crosscut Sled

MVP
MVP

@KMSigma  I fell into the saw thing years ago and made room for one of these.

radialarmsaw.jpg

Well this when Sears was still around and... it was on sale.  It was great but I sold it when I moved from the midwest in Ohio and headed out to Arizona.

Bill

Community Manager
Community Manager

I'm jealous @ecklerwr1 - that is a pretty saw.  Aside from the pretty paint job it looks like it was ripped right from the New Yankee Workshop!  I know that I saw my friend "Nom" use one just like it.

MVP
MVP

I had even hooked up a big 6" vacuum tube to the back of the arm saw so it would collect all the wood flying back into it.  They rock for doing nice cuts at different angles.  Crazy thing the vacuum was this HUGE box about 3 feet square I bought used.  It sounded like an air conditioner on a house when it started up!  It moved a LOT of air.  A few things had to go when I moved... this along with a full size stand up drill press.  I miss them both!  I've got a little table top drill press now.  I was always a big fan of Craftsman but sadly now it's really not the same.  I miss the old days of going to Sears with my dad on Saturday when I was a kid.

Bill

Community Manager
Community Manager

My nerd-self took a minute to translate "vacuum tube" to what you meant, because my mind went elsewhere.

Not this type of vacuum tubeNot this type of vacuum tube

 

Level 9

Sewing isn't a new hobby for me. I've had my machine for almost 15 years. But when suddenly faced with the prospect of not leaving the house - not commuting to and from work, mainly - I found myself with extra time on my hands. I had a full extra hour (and then some) that was previously spent in the car just getting to and from work. And that's not even mentioning a lunch break! I had more time to sew than I had previously. 

In addition to sewing a multitude of masks (I honestly lost count), I was able to focus my time on sewing things I had been putting aside and things I really wanted to sew. I got brave and made some things I'd never made before. I've learned almost as much as I've seam-ripped. I took on some really ambitious projects. 

None of it is perfect, but I'm very happy with what I've made and what I've learned this year.

About the Author
Kevin's first computer was the family TI-99/4A. He's learned computing the best way possible: by fixing his own broken machines. He was a SolarWinds customer for nearly 10 years before joining the company. He's worked the range of IT jobs: from the 3-person consultancy to the international law firm. Along the way, he's become a SolarWinds advocate and evangelist of monitoring glory. His passions include shooting archery, blacksmithing, playing D&D, and helping IT professionals leave at a reasonable time each and every day.