Door Mounted Spice Rack


Building a spice rack had taunted me from my to do list for many years but not anymore.  We cook most of the food we eat and have accumulated many spices over the years.  It always takes more time than it should to find the ones you want.  Let’s eliminate some frustration from our lives!

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Tree Tower Tree House

TREETOWER3My brother bought a farm a year or so ago.  He’s been adding fruit trees, chickens, fences, and all sorts of other improvements.  He has five kids so I’ve been pushing for the addition of a tree house.  They want to use the property as a retreat for people (they actually already are), so I’m hoping to convince him to save his money and then build the tree house as an actual living space.

I had all of the kids draw up what they wanted in a tree house and I tried to incorporate as many of their ideas into my plan as I could.  Below is my first pass at what this thing might look like.

1.  For safety, maintenance, expandability, livability, and durability, the tree house was designed instead as a free-standing tree tower to be located among the trees rather than in it.
2.  This design is based off a 4′ x 8′ sheet of plywood.  The tower is made up of three 8′ squares.  Walls are 8′ tall per floor.
3.  The tower is located in a wooded area with tall mature oak trees and almost no ground foliage.  The area is in a slight depression that can get a little muddy when it rains a lot.  The bottom of the tower should be elevated above driveway height by about a foot.  This will put it one to three feet off the ground.
4.  Walls to be made of 2″x6″ lumber, insulated.  Outside would be cedar shakes or Hardiboard painted about the color of the tree bark.  Inside would be Sheetrock painted white.
5.  Roofs to be standing seam metal construction.
6. Built-in furniture and floors would be semigloss polyurethaned oak.
7.  Windows to be painted rust red or orange.
8.  Lower deck could be made into a screened porch with permanent, removable, or retractable screens.
9.  Second and third floors are accessed via split-rung ladder recessed into wall.
10.  Second and third floors have trap door to cover ladder access hole to reduce the chance of people fall through that hole.
11. “Bedroom” areas can accommodate a queen-size bed and may be used for sleeping, or putting in a table for eating and board games.
12.  Areas above windows in “bedrooms” contain storage shelves.  These shelves could have LED lighting installed underneath to light the space.
13.  Concrete footings need to be engineered to support this tall narrow structure and keep it stable under max wind loads for that region of the country.  A soil survey may be necessary to ensure the design provides the necessary stability.
14.  Upper deck has access to a tree stand/platform (more like a traditional tree house) via suspension bridge that is not attached directly to the tree tower (in case the tree falls over, we don’t want it pulling on the tree tower).  The tree platform has a rope ladder for second means of access.
15.  Install two-piece A/C system for comfort and to avoid musty, moldy camp bunkhouse situation.  A/C system includes a wall mounted blower, a single wall penetration for coolant lines, and a ground-based compressor located outside.  No ductwork needed.
16.  The railing around the second story deck would probably be open wood (standard looking railing) or painted metal to give it a more open airy feel, but I was too lazy to model that for this concept.

What do you think of this design?  What should be changed?  What have I forgotten?


Enlarging a Hall Closet – Part Four

You’ve had to wait a few weeks to see the completed closet that was started back in this post.  Thank you for your patience.  The only things left to do were build the drawers, install the doors and make a final choice on how to handle the walls being offset and the exposed broken tile in front of the base cabinet.

The drawers were simply a matter of cutting up some of the same pre-laminated 3/4″ plywood I used for the shelves and inserting some 1/4″ pre-laminated plywood for the drawer bottoms. With the nice ball-bearing slides I knew the corner joints wouldn’t take much of a beating but I cut some simple lock joints just to be sure nothing separates over time.

I opted to save some money and got MDF doors.  In theory, this should have meant that they were extremely straight.  Once I got the special-order doors home and removed the blocking that prevents them from moving during shipping the left-hand one curved itself back into its natural shape.  Rats!  Those turkeys at the factory knew they had a crap door but installed it anyway.  I could ship it back and wait several weeks for replacements or just live with the slight curve knowing that it would probably never get any worse.  I took the path of least resistance – especially since I had to sign papers accepting the delivery as is at the store.

I painted the doors and finished them off with glass knob hardware I’d scavenged off other unused doors we had in the garage.

The last challenge was dealing with the floor at the front of the closet.  As I mentioned previously, whoever walled in the original closet didn’t build the new wall to the right length.  This meant that the corner was not square.  It wasn’t terrible but with nice parallel wood flooring and perfectly square tile at the base of it, it was eye catching.  On top of that, the loose and broken part of the tile extended out past the base cabinet leaving exposed concrete flooring.  My answer to all of this was to build a wooden threshold like you’d see on an exterior door out of a piece of oak.  After shaping it, I just polyurethaned it and it matches the rest of the floor nicely.

So that is that.  We really love having this extra storage.  It is wonderful to be able to put all of our towels and sheets in one location and still have room to store lots of other stuff.

How to Make a Quick and Easy Batwoman or Batgirl Costume

As detailed in my how to make a Green Lantern costume post, we have been asked to dress as superheroes this year – specifically Green Lantern and Catwoman.  While doing an image search for Catwoman, I started running across articles discussing how adult superhero comic books are becoming and that she is at the forefront of this shift.  I won’t post any links as those images are NSFW.  Needless to say, Melanie will be Batwoman for Halloween this year.

We decided to make a sort of mash-up of Batwoman and Batgirl.  Between the two, there have been many different costumes from the comic books, TV show and movies.  The version we settled on has an active high contrast black and yellow color pallet and rugged details reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Batman.  I really liked the interpretation shown here (except for the skewed belt and leggy wrap thing).

MASK – Sew a Spandex Head Sock and Cut Out Eye Holes
My only concern with this costume was the mask.  I’m not a great seamstress and a mask could be challenging.  I knew making it out of spandex would be a big help.  Since it is so stretchy, it would be forgiving of a less-than-perfect shape.  I didn’t realize just how easy it would be until I saw this video.  Once I realized I could get away with a tube that would stretch to fit, I knew it wouldn’t be a problem.

First we took an edge of the spandex and wrapped it snugly around Melanie’s head to see how big of a tube we needed.  Next I pinned it up, cut it out and sewed it together up one side to create the tube.

Spandex Folded in Half with one Soon-to-be Sewn Edge

Second we added a curved cut and sewed the top to create the ears.

Hood Inside Out Cut and Sewn

After that we turned the mask right side out to hide the sewn edges.  Melanie tried the mask on and we marked for eye holes and a small nose ridge.  We tried to keep the holes small at first as we knew the material would stretch when she wore it.  We left all the cut edges raw since this fabric doesn’t unravel easily and it will probably only be worn one time.  After a test fit I noticed that the ears stood up but were a little flabby.  I made a couple of inserts out of some sheet foam (this stuff is awesome and cheap).  I guessed on the first set and then recut some a little bit larger to get them into a nicer shape.

Finished Mask with Original Ear Inserts – White Paper Placed for Clarity
New Ear Inserts (L) and Original (R)

CHEST INSIGNIA – Cut from Sheet Foam and Sew to Shirt
I have to imagine that one of the best parts of getting to draw Batman is putting your own spin on his logo.  There have been a huge number of different logos over the years but the one we settled on is from one (or more?) of the recent movies.  Its linear and angular nature lend well to the tougher harder look we were going for.

Sized Patterns for Chest and Belt

We sized the image for Melanie’s shirt and cut it out of the yellow Foamies sheet foam.  It is attached to her shirt with two stiches of yellow thread that can easily be removed without damaging the shirt (We were rushing to get pictures taken before the sun set so it is shown taped on below).


Yellow Foamies Sheet Foam

BELT – Cut from Sheet Foam, Glue Parts Together and add Velcro Closure
The belt was made from the same Foamies sheet foam that the hood inserts are made of.  First I cut two strips that would form the belt.  Next I made a buckle out of  a 3”x5” piece that would hide the seam where the two belt parts touched one another.  On top of that I glued a bat emblem and to its sides I glued “utility canisters.”

Cut Parts out of Sheet Foam
Belt Buckle will Hide Ends of Belt

Once the glue dried, we sewed and glued two strips of Velcro on the ends of the belt so it can be attached from behind.

All parts were glued together with a super strong PVA glue that I’ve used since school called Sobo.  It is basically a thicker, stickier version of Elmer’s glue.  I would think any kind of flexible strong glue would work for this project.  I would not use Elmer’s though.

This Glue was Used to Attach All Belt Parts Together

GAUNTLETS – Cut Fins from Sheet Foam and Sew to Tube of Spandex
Next we cut out yellow fins from the sheet foam adding an extra ½” to the bottom where they could be sewn into the spandex.  We also cut out rectangles of the spandex that could wrap Melanie’s arms over her shirt comfortably.

Fins and Arm Guard Fabric Cut Out – Fabric Shown Unfolded

Next the fabric was folded in half and the fin was placed inside along the edge.  Then the edge that the fins touched was stitched, joining the fins to the fabric.

Arm Guard Folded in Half Inside Out with Fins Upside Down Inside Arm Guard

The fabric was turned inside out to create the finished gauntlet.  The ends of the fabric tube were left unfinished.

Finished Guantlet

BOOT INSERTS – Cut Inserts from Sheet Foam and Slide in Front of Boot Tongue
We wanted to add some yellow to the bottom of the costume but were not willing to buy yellow boots.  Most homemade shoe covers that simulate boots look terrible and don’t stay on.  We came up with a solution I like very much.

In keeping with the tough look, Melanie will wear her black hiking boots and we just made a little yellow insert to stick between the laces and the tongue of the boot.  It worked out great!

Paper Pattern to Test Fit
Refining Pattern for Good Fit

CAPE – Cut from Spandex and Add Shoelace to Top for Attachment
We were trying to do this costume ultra cheap and originally were not going to have a cape but it turned out that we had just enough fabric left to make a decent one.  If it were a fully designed part of this costume I would have made it wider and longer but it works as is.  And besides, shorter is better for fighting crime.

First, we folded over a section of the cape at one end just large enough to get a shoelace easily through, then we pinned and sewed it.  So we had a small tube at one end of a large rectangle of fabric.

Cape Pinned for Shoelace Tube

Next we ran a shoelace through this tube and test fit the cape.  The cape is attached by wrapping the ends of the shoelace over the front of the shoulders and then passing them through the armpit area and tying them together in the middle of the back.  This provides a very clean look for the cape with no need for a front clasp or knot under the throat.

Shoelace Run Through Tube

Next we marked where we wanted the bottom of the cape to be.  Finally, we cut a scallop pattern in the bottom of the cape and left all of the edges raw.

Adding a Scallop Pattern to the Bottom
Finished Cape

We are both really pleased with how this costume turned out and how cheap it is.  Melanie already had a black shirt, black leggings and black boots.  The only things we had to buy for this costume were half a yard of “black swimwear lining” and a sheet of yellow Foamies.  Total retail price:  $6!  We had a coupon so it only cost us $3.50!

Black Running Shirt and Black Leggings
Boots with Yellow Sheet Foam Inserts
Spandex Cape Tied Over Shoulders and Around Back
Spandex and Yellow Sheet Foam Guantlets
Yellow Sheet Foam Ensignia and Belt – Taped on For Pictures – Ensignia Sewn on – Belt Parts Glued On
Spandex Mask with Sheet Foam Ear Inserts

How to Make a Quick and Easy Green Lantern Costume

I found out recently that we would be attending a Halloween event for kids and they hoped that we would wear costumes too.  Their theme for the evening will be superheroes and it was requested that I dress as Green Lantern and Melanie dress as Catwoman.  We didn’t want to spend a lot of time or money on the costumes but we wanted them to at least be decent.  This article will detail how I made my Green Lantern costume.  I’ll write a separate article for Melanie’s costume.

It didn’t take much thinking to realize that my costume should be quick and easy to make.  The members of the Green Lantern Corps come in all shapes, sizes and colors and so do their costumes.  This meant my costume could pretty much look like anything as long as I had an emblem on me somewhere and wore a power ring.  Hal Jordan is my favorite lantern and he actually wears one of my favorite superhero costumes so I decided to try and look somewhat like him – maybe his cousin, Sal Jordan.

MASK – Heat-Formed Sheet Foam Cut to Shape and Glued on with Spirit Gum
Hal wears a simple green mask that is “held on by his willpower” without any strings or straps.  I thought this would be a neat opportunity to experiment with spirit gum, the special effects glue that is used to hold on fake beards, Klingon head lobsters and such.  I haven’t actually tried that part out yet since it is a one-shot deal but if it doesn’t work, I’ll just punch two little holes and attach the mask to my face using black string.

I wil try to Attach the Mask with This – String is a Backup

I knew that it needed to be lightweight, so cheap options included paper, fabric and a cool sheet foam material I’d tried out recently when I made a Golden Ticket.  I also found this video which details how to turn a sheet of this material into a mask.  How simple.  Decision made!

I made my mask out of green Foamies sheet foam.  It cost about $1.50 for a roughly 12”x18” 2mm or 3mm sheet.  It comes in various thicknesses, sizes, colors and is available at most art supply and craft stores.  They only had one shade of green when I was looking.  It would have been nice if it was a little darker, but for $1.50, I’m not complaining.

Alternatively, the mask could be done away with completely or drawn on with green face paint.

Step One – Make Mold
Because I was unwilling to spend the money on two adult Batman masks as detailed in the how-to video, I had to make my own mold.  A trip to the Halloween isle at the dollar store got me this hard plastic face mask.

Hard Plastic Mask is Basis of Mold

I then determined the size and shape of the beak portion of the mask with paper.

Working out Dimensions for Beak

Next the paper pattern was transferred to a more sturdy mat board and taped to the mask.

Final Mold

Step Two – Heat Sheet Foam and Form on Mold
Next I cut a roughly six inch piece of sheet foam and placed it in a 250 degree oven for about four minutes.  Basically, what you are trying to do is let the foam get hot enough to begin to slump but not so hot that it melts or burns (I don’t think it would do either at this temperature).

Preheat Oven to 250 Degrees
Cut off a Six Inch Strip of Foamies
Place on Rack in Oven Until Foamies Slumps (As Shown)

Incidentally, I don’t know if this material gives off any harmful gasses when heated, but I didn’t detect any odd smells or notice a change in the material other than it softened (unlike vacuum forming plastic).  I would guess that it is completely safe but, since I don’t know for sure, you should work in a well-ventilated area and wear a high-end respirator mask that blocks out all fumes and toxins just to be safe.

Once the foam sheet softened, I removed it from the oven with a wooden spoon (the foam wasn’t that hot but the rack in the oven was).  Working quickly, I placed the foam on the mold and used my hands to press it in place.  I held it for about a minute at which point the foam was cool and had taken on its new shape.  Simple, fast, cheap!

Formed Foam

Step Three – Figure Out Eye Holes and Mask Shape
Then I measured my eyes center to center and made small cuts in the foam at these points.  I enlarged these holes enough to determine exactly where my eye holes needed to be.

Eye Holes Cut

From there I sketched out paper patterns and put them on my face to finalize the shape and size of the mask.  Of both costumes, this was surprisingly the single most time consuming step and I went through several iterations.  If you opt to use the double Batman mask molding option from the video, it will be much easier as all of the details will be pressed right into the foam.

Many Attempts to Find the Right Shape and Eye Placement

Step Four – Transfer Pattern to Foam and Cut Out with Scissors
From there, I just laid the pattern over the formed foam, lining up the eye holes on the pattern with the eye holes on foam and traced it with a pen.

Finally, I used a pair of scissors to cut the mask to its final shape.

RING – Buy a Toy
I looked into building my own but when I discovered that they make both kid and adult-sized movie prop replicas that light up for less than $5, I was sold.  I couldn’t make a decent copy that cheap.  Apparently the ones you see in most stores that come packed with a little plastic mask are kid-sized.  The one I ordered came individually packaged and fits my normal-to-slender adult-sized finger.  It lights up and is brighter than I expected but the battery isn’t replaceable and it only stays lit for a few seconds each time the button is pressed.  I was sad that it wasn’t eligible for Amazon’s Super Saver shipping because it ended up costing just as much to ship it as to buy it.

Momentary Switch Lights for a Few Seconds

UNIFORM – Buy a Green Lantern Shirt and Wear Dark Clothes Under It
To finish things off, I bought a shirt with a Green Lantern logo on it.  I had one of these years ago and this new one is a much nicer darker green than the old bright green one I had.  My biggest problem with it is that the green in the insignia is screen printed on and it isn’t exactly the same color as the shirt.  It isn’t the end of the world though and now I’ll be able to wear the shirt even after Halloween.

If you don’t want to spend $14 on the shirt, you could easily cut the emblem out of sheet foam, felt or paper and just sew or pin it to a shirt.

For my base layer I’ll wear a black long sleeve running shirt that I already own.  It has a cool futuristic weave to the material which enhances the look.  I have some grey running pants and black hiking boots that I will also wear.

There you have it.  An affordable Green Lantern costume you can make in a weekend.

Black Running Shirt & Grey Running Pants
Black Boots
GL Shirt
Mask and Ring