Chicken Coop

Our backyard chicken coop has been mostly done for many months now, but I wanted to put some finishing touches on it before I wrote up the project on my blog. Well, just last week I found the time to finish it off, so here goes.

The coop build started about a year ago. As usual, I had a picture of what I wanted in my head and I made some rough drawings on paper as a sanity check. Then I started digging holes in the back yard.

I trenched out the perimeter, so that the hardware cloth on the fence would extend under the ground. Hopefully this will make it harder for predators to dig their way in. I dug twelve post holes and started building the perimeter fence.

Once the fence was complete I moved on to framing the hen house. I wanted the hen house to sit atop the run on the corner closest to our house, so that it would be visible from our back door and accessible on two sides.

Next up were the two gates. Since the top of the run was going to be covered in hardware cloth as well as the perimeter fence, I decided to build a large gate of sorts into the roof. This allows me to raise a big section of the roof and gain access to the run without crawling on my hands and knees through chicken poop. I also built a more conventional gate in the perimeter fence.

It was around this time that we decided to buy some chicks. Surely the coop will be done before they're ready to move outside, right? Right? We got four little chicks in Half Moon Bay: two Brahmas and two Rhode Island Reds. Max thought they were pretty cool.

Shortly after buying the chickens, we took off on our trip to Yellowstone. Luckily, David Z was more than happy to chickensit for us. He became quite attached to the chicks and had a hard time giving them back to us!

David trained all four to jump up onto his shoulders

As you can see, the chickens were growing very fast. Finishing the coop became an urgent matter. We painted the fence white and attached the hardware cloth. I put up the plywood walls and roof on the hen house. Max thought that was pretty cool, too.

The coop wasn't complete, but it was livable, so we introduced the chickens to their new home. One third of the floor of the hen house is open for a ramp down to the run. Since the roof of the run still wasn't entirely covered, I put some plywood over that portion of the floor, trapping the chickens in the hen house for the time being.

On one side of the hen house I wanted those large double doors, so we could easily reach inside the house to clean it out or grab chickens. The other accessible side was for the nesting boxes. I took off that wall, cut a hole in it, and built a new wing on the house. It is divided into three nesting boxes and has a hinged roof for easy egg harvesting. Sophia had the brilliant idea of cutting the back wall of the nesting boxes in half and adding hinges to that wall as well. This makes it very easy to lift the lower half of the wall and clean out the boxes.

Everyone helped out painting the hen house. Sophia picked the color.

After the paint came the trim and the roof. I used a bunch of old redwood fence boards from a fence that I removed from our back yard a few years ago. Under the fence boards is conventional roofing paper. For the nesting box roof, we found some flexible roofing tape to go along the hinged edge. I think the whole thing is pretty water tight.

And that's how our coop remained for a good long time. There was one more thing I wanted to do before calling this project complete, however. Karen Z had brought over some old pickets that she picked up at an estate sale months ago. I finally got around to attaching them to the perimeter fence.

To paraphrase the late, great Roger Podacter: "Those damn chickens live better than we do."

Shelter Cove

There's a "NorCal Meetings" thread on BeechTalk which I follow closely, wherein Beechcraft owners in my part of the world coordinate spontaneous flying trips and meet each other at fun destinations. The most popular destination is Shelter Cove, a tiny coastal town about 50 miles south of Eureka. This incredibly remote town (they don't refer to the area as "The Lost Coast" for nothing) features a picturesque airport on a tiny point jutting out into the ocean from sheer cliffs. All the houses on the hill are cut from the same mold: the wall facing the ocean is covered almost entirely by windows, from the floor to the vaulted ceiling. And in front of that wall is a huge viewing deck hanging out over the steep terrain. Aside from the homes and some fishermen, there isn't much there. This is, after all, one of the only short stretches of the California coast that Highway 1 doesn't follow closely (it's a windy 20 mile drive inland).

I've been wanting to join my fellow Beechcraft owners at a gathering in Shelter Cove for a couple of years now, but our schedules never seem to line up. A bunch of them flew up yesterday, and once again we were unable to join them. After checking out their photos and videos of the trip I decided that I'd had enough already! We decided to go up today for lunch. Thank goodness for paternity leave.

We took off from Palo Alto at noon and landed in Shelter Cove just after 1pm. Good job, N4WR! This was our two-week-old baby Luke's first flight. He slept through the entire thing like a champ! Max also fell asleep on the way to the airport, slept through the transition to the airplane (in his car seat), and didn't wake up until we were about 15 minutes from Shelter Cove.

The General Store and Delicatessen

Naturally we were all hungry by the time we landed, so we headed over to the deli for some delicious fish and chips and fried clam strips.

We found a nice spot to eat.

After lunch we looked into the local fishing industry.

We also explored the old lighthouse from Cape Mendocino, which was dismantled and relocated to Shelter Cove in 1998. It was built in San Francisco in 1867.

From there, we walked down the stairs to the ocean to see what kind of life forms we could find in the tide pools (the tide was way out). The snails were Max's favorite.

The flight home was a little quicker due to some tail winds. We also got a great tour of San Francisco and the entire peninsula from 2,000 feet, where ATC kept us due to busy airspace above. As we overflew SFO, we saw all 4 runways in use with parallel landings on 28R and 28L just as we passed by. Pretty cool! This was definitely a trip we will be repeating.

Building An Airplane

Speaking of building an airplane in my garage, my friend Ryan is building an RV-9a in his parents' garage in Modesto. My father-in-law and I flew out there today in N4WR to check out the operation. Since we distracted him for so long I thought we owed it to him to at least provide some unskilled labor. It was fun!

Media Cabinet

A few months ago we decided it was time to upgrade our home theater. We had been living with our huge Sony 50" LCD rear projection TV for too long.

I mean, just look at how deep this thing is. Modern televisions are paper thin and hang on the wall.

So 2005

Aside from the TV, our audio system was due for an upgrade as well. We only had 3.1 audio. No surround sound. We had an old Denon receiver which predates HDMI. I found creative ways to route all the audio signals through the receiver while routing video directly to the TV. This meant that switching inputs was a two-remote process. Frankly, the entire setup was embarrassing.

So we made one big Amazon order that included a new TV, a new receiver, new surround speakers, a new antenna (we ditched cable TV over a year ago), and all the cables and wires I would need to hook them all up.

I spent one heroic weekend crawling around in our attic with a tool box in tow. I cut holes in the ceiling for the new in-ceiling surround speakers (I realize ceiling speakers aren't the ideal position, but it's the only thing that would work in our room). I cut holes in the wall to route all the wires for our new wall-mounted TV. I mounted our new, big antenna in the attic. We hooked everything up and turned it on and it sounded and looked fantastic.

There was just one problem. Since the old TV stand doubled as our media cabinet, all of our A/V equipment was now sitting on the floor and there was a horrendous rat's nest of wires behind it.

We went shopping for a new media cabinet, and I had the same experience I have when I shop for just about anything. Most everything I saw was terrible. The few that were decent had some issues that meant none of them was just right. Naturally I decided the only possible answer was to build one myself.

One of the styles that I thought looked pretty cool was this reclaimed timber slat sideboard by Restoration Hardware. I decided to design my own using a similar style. I wanted room for our specific equipment and some extra room for storing things like DVDs (although I avoid buying DVDs at all costs). I also wanted some compartments that would be open in the front for our speakers, so the sound wouldn't be muffled. This is what I came up with.

After figuring out exactly how much wood I'd need, we drove up to OK Lumber in San Carlos. They were super helpful in giving me advice about types of wood and even about finishing and building techniques. After taking a few different boards home and testing different stains and dye mixtures, we settled on the winning formula. We placed a large order for 1" x 4" poplar and they delivered it to our house. We got out the cut list and Sophia and I cut all the wood the same day it was delivered.

Pregnancy doesn't slow her down

As a sanity check, I stacked all the wood up in the garage as it would be assembled for the finished product. The one finished board on the front was my final test board I had made a week or two earlier after I had settled on a finishing process that would produce good results and a dye mixture we liked.

After that, the long, arduous process of finishing this massive quantity of wood could commence.

The first goal was to sand the wood thoroughly. I started with 80 grit paper on the end grains and any other particularly rough spots. Then I went over all six sides of all the boards with 220 grit and then again with 320 grit. This resulted in buttery smooth boards. The wood really felt fantastic.

One of the first things we noticed in our testing was that poplar doesn't take stain very well. Due to the softness of the wood and its inconsistent density, the color ends up extremely blotchy. After extensive research through the annals of YouTube, I decided to order some of Charles Neil's pre-color conditioner. As you'll see later, the stuff works miracles. As Charles himself suggests, I applied two coats of the pre-color conditioner to all six sides of all the boards. The conditioner raises the grain and causes the boards to be pretty rough again, so I did one more pass with 320 grit sandpaper over all the boards.

Now it was finally time for the stain. We wanted a muted gray-blue color that was translucent enough to show the wood's natural color and grain. After testing a bunch of mixtures, I settled on a 100:20:3 ratio of reducer, sea blue, and black. I used Behlen reducer and dyes. I just did one coat of stain. As you can see, I took over the entire garage for this project and I repurposed Sophia's new storage shelves as drying racks.

Here are some of the stained boards. As I was staining them, occasionally I realized that I had missed one side of some of the boards while applying the pre-color conditioner. Can you tell which boards here don't have it? What a difference!

Thank you, Charles Neil!

The final step in the finishing process was to apply some satin top coat. The top coat really made the wood glow. It brought out a lot of the more beautiful features of the grain. The effect got stronger with each coat. I did three coats of top coat and buffed the wood with 600 grit paper between coats.

I was tempted to go for a fourth coat, but, for those of you counting at home, I had now made 12 passes over the massive stack of boards in my garage. Needless to say, I was more than ready to assemble the cabinet and be done with the project at this point.

I decided to do the assembly in our living room so I wouldn't have to try to move this massive beast far when it was complete. I moved all the wood into the house and stacked it next to the wall. I borrowed Sophia's grandpa's nail gun and started nailing the boards together.

As I stacked the boards up and nailed on each successive layer, I used a little level to make sure everything was plumb.

The front of the cabinet features double doors that rotate around dowels.

Max helped out during the assembly

I added supports along the back side of the doors so that the door boards would all rotate in unison and maintain their proper spacing from one another.

Attaching the top boards, which stand up on end, was probably the most challenging part. I made a little jig out of some scrap wood in my garage that acted as a guide for the nail gun.

After over two months of work, it was finally done! I quickly disassembled all of our A/V equipment, hooked it back up, and stuffed it into the new cabinet. Sophia added some decorative touches to the top.

This was a long, difficult project. It felt great to complete it, and I'm extremely pleased with the result. I think it gave me a small taste of what it would be like to build an airplane in my garage, something I want to do when Max is old enough to help me.


This past summer we loaded into the Bonanza and flew out to Yellowstone for a week.

Our first stop was in Provo, Utah, so Sophie could reconnect with some college friends and show me around her old haunts.

After that it was a short hop up north to the park. We met my parents and my sister's family there (the poor souls drove all the way from California!). My dad rented a really cool house for us all right next to Hebgen Lake just outside West Yellowstone, Montana.

This was my first trip to Yellowstone. I'd never seen (or smelled) natural hot springs, mud pots, or any of the other wild thermal features before. I found it all fascinating and beautiful.

We hired a fishing guide to take us fly fishing one day. None of us had ever been fly fishing before. Walking through the water and remaining bone dry in the waders was a bit surreal. Andrew proved to be the best fisherman, although that might not be saying a whole lot considering my dad and I are notoriously cursed!

What a great trip!

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