Custom Nightstand

I bought an old house 10 years ago and, adhering to the advice of Tom Silva, focused any renovation or improvement work on securing the home from water and improving the mechanicals. It was prudent advice but it inferred that some of the more visually gratifying renovation projects were put off and as a result, we got accustomed to some less-than-ideal furnishings and, frankly, some ugly rooms.

After years of the aforementioned prudent renovations, it is finally time to fix some of the things that we can appreciate!

It’s always a little random when I decide to fix something and this was no exception. Let’s start with the problem: I don’t have a nightstand. So I didn’t have a nice place to charge my phone and store incidentals like books and headphones or a cup of tea. There are lots of nightstands available on the market but the wall behind my bed is shaped like this \_____/ so I needed an odd-shaped table. Since I needed a custom solution, I had the opportunity to make it special and did not hold back in this project, opting for an integrated USB charging hub tucked in the back!

One element to my advantage is that three-legged objects never tip or rock. I used “found” materials for the project — ended up building the whole thing using parts from discarded furniture that I collected over the years. The wood does not match (there are parts made from maple, oak and poplar) but it is painted so that doesn’t matter.

The legs were joined to the apron using mortise and tenon joinery. One of my favorite touches, from a woodworking perspective was adding a gentle taper to the legs. They are 5/4″ square at the top and 3/4″ square at the bottom.

In the end, I really like the utility of the piece. Here is a pic of it with the front drawer opened:

Gravely 812 Partial Restoration

I’ve had a Gravely 812 for around 10 years now and I like her a lot. She is as old as me, built in 1973. She’s a brickhouse and even has a cigar lighter in the dash. She’s really jumpy when put in gear but there’s a few things about her that I really like:

  1. PTO: it stands for power take-off and it’s really cool. All old tractors have it – it’s a spinning shaft that you can connect to various attachments; snowblower, wood chipper, mower deck, tiller, brush hog, etc.
  2. Hydraulics: this 812 comes equipped with hydraulic lift. It’s the premium way to raise or lower the mower deck or snow plow
  3. Repairable: lots of new tractors are disposable. Not the Gravely 812. She has a Kohler 12 HP motor and parts are readily available.

I sometimes look at old cars and want to restore one. That’s a big job, but getting the gravely into better shape is a much more practical goal in that I already own one and I can restore a neglected part and resume using the tractor. There are limited parts and it really looks good when cleaned up.

Anyway, I took the hood off and cleaned, hammered straight, sanded, removed decals, painted and applied new decals that I ordered online.

Kitchen Island

Our kitchen had a dated counter against the wall. It was fine for a few years, but it was made of 1/2″ particle board. As time passed it was falling apart. The particle board had broken corners and the dowel joinery was coming apart. It bowed when I would smash garlic.

This winter, I built a new island, situated in the center of the kitchen with more storage space and stronger construction. Featuring sapele lumber and solid brass hardware, this island is build to last and has a luxurious amber hue that stands out within the rest of the existing, dated kitchen.

I finished it today. This is the biggest woodworking project that I have worked on. It tested and developed my skills. In particular, my need for featherboards and my ability to resaw thick boards at the bandsaw. We are still moving into it but this is the current state of things:

Hibiscus Tea Recipe

Hibiscus Tea, as I have recently discovered, is a delicious, refreshing summer beverage. If you train your palette, it is to summer what sage is to Thanksgiving.

Hibiscus tea is tart and red from the flowers. Often, it is sweetened with sugar and complemented with various aromatics, including ginger, star anise and cinnamon. How a tea brewer introduces those ingredients is a matter of preference; here is my way:


I think that heat is most effective in bringing out the flavors of ginger, cloves, star anise and cinnamon so I make a hot tea on the stovetop. Additionally, the syrup is great in multiple applications, read: mixed drinks.

Syrup Ingredients

1 cinnamon stick
3-5 star anise pods
5 whole cloves
1 nub of fresh ginger, chopped
3 cups water
3 cups sugar

Chop the ginger and put in a pot with the cinnamon, cloves and star anise. Steep the aromatics in simmering water for a half hour. Strain out the solids and add in the sugar. Stir to dissolve. If the sugar does not dissolve, add heat until it does.

This is your ginger syrup. It should keep fine in the fridge for a month or so but, admittedly, at the point of writing this, I don’t know if I have ever encountered or could detect “bad” syrup.

The Hibiscus Tea

Tea ingredients

120 grams dried hibiscus flowers
2 gallons water

I steep the dried hibiscus flowers in the sun (as opposed to on the stove) for around 18 hours. My preferred batch is 2 gallons and requires 120 grams (3 mega-handfuls) of dried hibiscus flowers. I am not a professional but have never messed this up, so don’t sweat it. When the batch is done brewing, strain out the flowers and add sweetener to taste. I recommend 1 cup of syrup for 2 gallons of tea for a gently seasoned taste.


Hibiscus tea on ice with a wedge of orange is pretty fantastic.

The Inside Scoop

Here’s the thing: as a New England resident, latin markets are the only place I could find dried hibiscus flowers. They tend to sell a few ounces for a few bucks but that can get expensive if you really like the stuff. However, I recently discovered that the local restaurant supply store (to which I have a membership) sells dried hibiscus in 5 pound bags (which is enough to make 38 gallons of tea) for around $22. Noone really reads this blog, so the risk of random strangers asking me to get them some hibiscus is low. So, hit me up if you want some.