I have had to sit on this news because I sort of knew it was in the works but now the truth can come out.  This is the biggest Evan-related news since he was born:  he is now engaged to be married to Cassie.  I am really excited – I feel like I’m getting a new daughter.  One who is already grown up!
He recently (December 1) asked us some questions about diamonds and where he might be advised to do his shopping. But on Friday, the 14th, he popped the question.

This is a tale of a father-daughter project. Like most projects that you design from scratch, it took longer than originally anticipated but it was worth doing in many ways. You’d think that as a scientist and engineer who has done nothing but research and development for my entire career, I’d be used to this by now and I guess I am; I don’t get upset when projects run on and on. But I never have learned to estimate the timeline of one either.

Anyway… As soon as I joined the Tulsa FabLab, Erin immediately envisioned making her own set of custom game pieces for Catan. She wanted to cut them out of wood and maybe make a box to put them in. I started immediately; she would have also if she hadn’t been taking 18 hours this semester in engineering so she can be excused for not doing most of the work herself.

I found the basic shapes on thingiverse.com and made some modifications. She took that file and made some refinements of her own and I then took it back and made sure the line widths were what they should be to make the laser cut or engrave.

I designed a gift box for them all to be stored in and she came up with some initials to be engraved on the top. Then, the day before Thanksgiving, we went to the FabLab where I had reserved two hours and cut it all out.

I really enjoy these collaborations; there are a fairly limited number of things that dads and daughters can both really enjoy doing together and this is one that works for us since we’re both engineers.

As to the woodworking aspects of the project, there is much to say. The game pieces are flat which makes this the perfect project for a scroll-saw or laser cutter. In fact, one day when laser cutters become the same price as scroll saws, they will take over that market because they not only do the same job but do it perfectly as well as offering the option of engraving (by burning only the surface).

The gift box is another matter. Because the laser cutter is basically a high-tech scroll saw, the project either has to be made out of only flat pieces or require some work with other tools after the pieces are cut. The latter is nothing new to woodworkers, in fact all real projects are like that. For the propeller-head crowd that flock to laser cutters, that is a bit of alien thought. I was on a timeline and really didn’t want to bother with creating a groove that the box bottom could slide into so I just cut the bottom to the real outside dimension of the box and glued it on. It’s plywood so that should be OK.

But first, a word on plywood. I bought a sheet of stuff at Lowe’s and it is the crappiest piece of material I have ever encountered. The 4×8 sheet was flat when I bought it (and, after all, isn’t that what plywood is engineered to be?) but as soon as I cut it into laser-cutter-sized pieces, they warped a bit. HOW CAN PLYWOOD WARP? That’s the one thing it is NOT supposed to do!

Anyway, I put the piece on the cutter and forged ahead. The first pass is usually the engraving pass where the laser head goes back and forth over the wood in a raster pattern and burns the top surface at low power. Some wood is vaporized and so there is definitely a change in thickness that you can feel but mostly the burning turns the wood black and makes an image. In my particular piece of crappy plywood, the veneer was so thin that it just burned through to the next layer. Strangely, the thickness was just enough to burn off the veneer but not char the next layer (which the guys up at the FabLab had never seen happen) and as such, it looked a bit weird. The second layer had some sort of light-dark pattern in it (like spalting) which showed through in the images and made them look completely strange. I did not have enough time to run it again since somebody was waiting to use the machine after me so I just took them home and decided to stain them.

So we took them home and applied some stain. I used whatever I had laying around from my last project and we brushed it on pretty thick and immediately tried to sort-of squeegee it off the top surface and leave it in the engraved parts to make them really dark and enhance the contrast. This mostly worked.

As to the joints, finger joints are a natural for the laser cutter and I very much like not having to have my fingers so near the cutter like you do when making these on a table saw. And, since the thing is so precise, they fit perfectly. At least in the finger-width dimension. The design assumed a full ¼” of plywood and of course it was less than that so the fingers were too deep, leaving some of the finger sticking out beyond the box. This is easily remedied by a disk sander but my daughter decided that it was fine the way it was. She does not have the typical woodworker’s aversion to this sort of thing and so I agreed to leave it.

This is where a ‘parametric’ design tool would be handy (the high-end CAD systems are like this). You would tie that dimension to a user input and, after measuring the material with a caliper, you would enter this and the design would adapt accordingly. But I didn’t have that software.
Another interesting phenomenon that I did not expect was the smoke marks on the “exit” side of the laser beam. The material sits on a metal honeycomb and air is pulled downwards through the machine to pull the smoke out as well as hold the material firmly in place. In my case, since the plywood was warped, as soon as one piece was cut out, there was no more partial vacuum to hold the piece flat and it warped upwards which let the smoke swirl around a bit underneath the material. This left smoke marks on the underside. Again, this is easily sanded out which we did.

This plywood took stain very strangely. One side blotched worse than anything I had ever seen. The “good” side would blotch in long lines that must have corresponded to something underneath the veneer but was most annoying. But it was not annoying to my daughter; she was totally happy with the result and therefore so was I. My alternative was to start over. We had put a sealer coat of shellac on the game pieces before the stain but for some reason I forgot to do the box pieces.

Again, my daughter was satisfied. Together we bought some brass hinges and a latch and installed these. I let her do most of this and one of the hinges ended up really crooked. We thought about it and decided to let this stay as it was and not try to fix it – mostly because she was returning to the university and wanted to check the project off her list. This is a gift so she needs to have it done and wrapped very soon.

After a number of coats of blond shellac, it looks pretty darned good – even in spite of the lousy plywood. And a good time was had by all. So, shop time, daughter time, and something completed. Check, check, and check. That’s something to be thankful for – and on the Thanksgiving holiday too!


Evan has collected several paychecks now and seems happy at his job.  He seems to have made some acquaintances at work that he hangs out with regularly after work and so seems to not be bored.  There are some nice bike trails near his apartment so he rides regularly. We finally bought him a graduation present: a GoPro camera so he’s been busy with that along with his first large purchase of his career: a new laptop.  He seems to be getting his adult life and career off to a good start.
As a parent, that’s the answer to almost every hope and prayer we ever had for him.  Only one remains:  that he meet the right girl.  That may be happening too; he has spent several weekends up in Fayetteville visiting Cassie and she has visited him a few times too.

Erin chose to do a study abroad this year.  She chose the “10 Days in Italy” option.  I’m not sure how much credit she gets for that nor what sort of materials she has to submit as an assignment but she got back recently and thoroughly enjoyed herself.

She knew one other girl well and so had a buddy.  We heard very little from her since we had told her to put her phone on airplane mode and keep it there to avoid expensive overseas data rates.  Occasionally she would hit a WiFi hotspot and put a notice on Facebook.  On the day she was to return, their flight from DC to Tulsa got delayed by a variety of things and so they didn’t come rolling in until 3:00 am.  By that time, plan changes had been made and she brought her friend McCall home with her.  McCall spent the night but was up very early at 7:00 am or so and her Dad drove over from Edmond to pick her up promptly at 9:00am and that was that – we didn’t learn anything more until Erin woke up that afternoon.  It took days for her to get back onto a more American schedule but I enjoyed that since it meant that she was up early and could talk about the trip.  She finally got all her good photos uploaded to Facebook and then we all got to enjoy them.

She had lost her camera right before leaving and only used her iPhone to make photos but the iPhone 4 makes good pictures.  Good to know.

It was such a whirlwind trip for her that she didn’t have much in-depth knowledge of anything and is already starting to forget what some of the things are that she took photos of.  Good thing she kept a journal.  She turned that in to the professor that was along for the trip and hopefully she will get that back and connect the dots soon.

We recently moved all of Erin’s stuff into her apartment in Stillwater.  She’s taking two classes this summer and has a job working in the honors college doing something – I’m not sure what.

This is the second time in recent memory that I’ve rented a truck from Budget and each time, I rented the littlest one they have and both times, they have upgraded the size on me to a 16 footer.  While I should be happy with getting more for my money, I am not a professional truck driver and when I know that I’m going to have to back this thing into my own driveway as well as the cramped parking lot of an apartment complex, I really don’t want anything larger than the smallest truck they have.  I was pretty irritated.  I took Evan with me to give me somebody to talk to on the drive.

Things went OK.  When we got there, the parking lot was almost empty which made things easy.  Her roommate’s parents were there too; they are ranchers from the southern part of the state so they had a long stock trailer with all her stuff in it.  He and his wife were experts at helping people back up with large vehicles so I actually had no trouble.  I had more trouble taking it back to Budget because it started raining torrentially.

We got her all unpacked and sorted out – at least for the most part.  They seemed happy to be there.  We left her there and have only heard good reports via text message since then.

After Evan’s graduation he and Cassie went on the wedding tour wherein most of his friends got married. Then he went to stay with Cassie and her family for about a week. That seemed like a little long to us but he had a good time. Finally we called and said “hey come spend some time with us” so he drove home, checked in briefly at his apartment in Fort Smith, and then drove over to broken arrow.

We spent a week sort of getting him ready to move away permanently. You know: sending him to the optometrist for one last visit, buying things he needed, getting him a haircut, stuff like that.

Then it was time to move Erin to Stillwater which he helped with.

Then it was time to drive to Fort Smith with him. His new employer had already paid to move all of his stuff there. But he did need to go buy some furniture for his apartment. So we drove around Fort Smith looking for furniture. We found a bargain at one place or not so much a bargain as it was just an instant living room. It had the sofa, love seat, two end tables, 2 lamps, and some accessories so it was a way of instantly decorating his living room. He needed something to sit on to watch television.

And now he starts work. It’s a big day. He’s well and truly out on his own now. Makes me sad but that’s the way things are supposed to go I guess.

I don’t know what’s come over me but there has been no bloggage here recently and nothing worth reading in even longer.  I guess Facebook and Twitter have just made it so easy to update something that I don’t think of it.  That and the fact that both children have left the house which means there is nothing interesting going on any more.
I’ve been working in Greenville a lot too so there’s that.  One might think that spare time in a hotel room would lead to a bout of creativity but no; I just end up watching movies and reading.  And watching woodworking videos.
But hey! We went to Disney World.  Both kids had spring breaks at the same time.  The kids had recently been giving us a good-natured ribbing for never taking them to Disney World (preferring instead to visit the cheaper National Park system).  So we decided to finally take them now that they did not need to be pushed around in strollers or micromanaged in any way.
We spend six days down there and it was wonderful.  We pushed ourselves to the limit on the first couple of days but after that we reduced the pace.  I was pretty reliably cranky in the hot part of the afternoon so we learned how to adjust to that time period.  We saw it all and did it all and so there seems relatively little to report. If I started writing about it, this would go on for days. I will have to rely on the date stamps on all my photos to remember what we did and when.  Luckily, the best of them went up on facebook and so are already immortalized in a way.  Good thing too since we were hit by a bout of malware after getting home.
Spring has sprung and with it, my annual checkout of the sprinkler system.  It seems to need some work as usual.  I can foresee that requiring either an entire weekend with a shovel or $300.  I’m leaning towards the latter.  Jobs get done much faster when I’m paying someone else to do them.  I’m totally addicted to the lawn service. Similarly, the back fence is sagging.  My beautiful replacement still looks good thanks to several applications of Thompson’s Water Seal but a few of the fenceposts that were not rotten at the time have completed the process and have let go from the ground.  So the fence is sagging in two spots which will require the digging of holes.  And so a typical homeowner year begins.