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!

Portland Trip

My goal for this summer was to take the family camping. Naturally, fly-in camping would be ideal. I scouted out what looked like a fantastic destination: Nehalem Bay State Park on the Oregon coast. The runway is in good shape, there are 6 camping spots right next to where you park your plane, and you can walk to the beach. Does it get any better than that?

We took off on a lovely Friday afternoon in June and departed the Bay Area.

San Francisco

Our flight took us along the Pacific coast for a little over 3 hours. It was gorgeous, albeit a little hot. 4WR doesn't have A/C! (...yet?)

Unfortunately, the coast didn't stay that clear the entire way to northern Oregon. At some point a thick layer of fog crept in. As we were nearing our destination, I started tuning the radio to the ATIS frequencies of various airports that we were overflying. Ceilings were down to 100 feet! Nehalem Bay has no instrument approaches, and I'm not instrument rated yet, but that's not even relevant with ceilings that low. The fog extended as far as the eye could see out over the ocean, but only about a half mile inland. The rest of the state was completely clear. Unfortunately, our destination was in that narrow strip along the coast that was totally socked in. When it became clear that the fog was there to stay, we decided to pick another destination. We diverted to Portland!

Landing at PDX was fun. The tower let me cut in front of a 737 on 10 mile final, which made the pilot of said jet a little uneasy. He asked about my location several times. The tower reassured him that I'd be well out of his way before he arrived. I did them a favor and flew a short approach and turned off the runway immediately.

I've spent my fair share of time in Oregon, but almost none in Portland. So it was fun to explore the city.

Overrated, in my Bob's-biased opinion

We lucked into the annual Rose Festival and Parade. There was lots of fun stuff going on downtown.

We met up with some Bay Area friends who recently relocated to Portland.

And I got to meet this guy at the Rose Garden.

When it was time to head home, we turned east after takeoff from PDX and flew down the gorge and out to Mt. Hood. We circled the mountain at 9,500' before turning south and back to the Bay. 4WR got us home in about 3 hours. What a time machine!

It didn't work out exactly how we'd intended, but we had a great time regardless. I'm still hoping to get some summer camping in, but it will have to wait for a less foggy day. We absolutely loved Portland and we hope to visit again soon.

Bath Time

I'm ashamed to admit this, but I went almost a full year owning N4WR without giving him a full bath. I'd washed the windows numerous times and done some spot cleaning, but I'd never taxied over to the wash rack and hosed him down.

In my defense, and to the previous owner's credit, 4WR was shiny and spotless when I picked him up in Indiana last year. Then, during the fall and winter months, flying in the rain kept him pretty clean. And the unfortunate fact that he sits out in the rain dissuaded me from washing him. However, when the rains slowed this summer, the dirt started to build up quickly. It was time for a wash.

So I taxied over to the wash rack, which is right next to the tower at PAO.

And I gave 4WR a thorough scrubbing. It was a dirty, difficult job that took me nearly 3 hours. An older German gentleman brought his Cessna 172 over, washed it, and left, in the meantime. But the results were worth it: clean and shiny!

After I finished, Sophie, Max, and the Haines family stopped by to inspect my work.

Micah and I went for a short joyride around the South Bay. It sure felt great to fly such a clean airplane. I'm pretty sure it flew a few knots faster, too.

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