The Big Think

January 4, 2015

A Prop Story

Filed under: Business,Disclosure,Woodworking — jasony @ 5:38 pm

One of the great things about doing props for me (one of my main reasons, really), is to help the students, particularly the girls, feel more comfortable around tools. So many of them have never held a hammer (really), cut a piece of wood, or built anything in the “real” world. Over and over again I hear from them that one of their top five memories from the whole process is helping a pile of lumber become a bunch of props that they can be proud of. I do much of the cutting (and all of the cutting with the table and miter saw), but they handle most of the nail gun work, drilling/screws, jig sawing, and other medium duty stuff. They do probably 70% of the work with me managing, advising, and “big picturing”. If there’s a problem I toss it over to them and help them solve it. It’s important to me that they don’t stand around and “watch Jason build” because they’ll be invested in their props if they’ve got their own skin in the game (hopefully not literally). Since so much of college takes place in the cerebral realm I feel strongly that it’s a way that I can hopefully help them feel like they can do something physical/tangible.

(Funny sidenote: several years ago a pair of Sing chairs came down for props. One of the chairs was so blown away by the idea of building stuff that she called me a few weeks later to tell me that she’d been to Lowes to buy some tools! Then a few days later she called me again for advice on a present that she was building. She didn’t have a router — the tool that could make the cut she needed— so I came up to Waco and helped her finish the project in time for her roommate’s 21st birthday. The present? A beautifully made… beer pong table. Gotta love college).

Anyway, a group was down this weekend to build props. They did a fantastic job, transitioning in the typical way from “I’m afraid of that tool and don’t want to touch it!” all the way to fighting over who got to use it. I was really proud of them. We had a great time, worked fast, stayed safe, and I felt like I was able to give them a memory and maybe some skills that could help them feel more confident in the future. Man, I love this part.

However (dangit, there’s a however), today one of the girls’ dads drove down in his pickup truck to cart the props back to Waco. We had a few minor things to finish up – a few boards to glue/nail and some casters to apply. No big deal, and certainly nothing compared to what we’d done the past few days. About 45 minutes’ worth of work, tops. Anticipating that the chair would be proud of her new-found skills, I gave the tools to her and walked her through the procedure just like I’d done over our build time. I thought her dad would be proud of seeing her handle a pneumatic stapler, drill, driver, etc. At first she jumped right in there, proudly saying “look what I learned yesterday!” I was beaming, and so was she. But at the first little hiccup/problem, instead of stepping back and letting her puzzle through it (I think the stapler just needed new staples), her dad stepped in and took over. Completely. You know, because “I’d do anything for my little girl”. You mean like take her very minor but potentially significant milestone away from her? I kept wondering if he’d have taken over the tools if it was his son, you know? At first she sort of fought it but then reverted back to helpless-daughter-leaning-on-daddy mode. It made me really sad.

My biggest goal in props is to help these kids (gahhh… I called them kids!) gain experience and confidence with tools in the same way that being a Chair helps them gain experience and confidence with budgets, peers, scheduling, etc. I just hope that the other parents are willing and able to let their kids stand on their own, even if it means holding their tongue (and their help) when their kid has a problem. Overcoming these issues can be much more helpful to their child than just grabbing the nailgun and taking over.. because you’d do anything for your little girl.

Got news, dad, your little girl isn’t so little any more.

December 31, 2014

And He Built a Crooked House

Filed under: Maker,Woodworking — jasony @ 12:41 pm

Storybook Houses Fantastic pics of some really amazing houses. As the article says, it’s so much harder to build “wonky” than straight-and-true.

December 14, 2014

Tool Time!

Filed under: Business,Woodworking — jasony @ 8:22 am

Ha ha! I get to buy a new tool. 🙂 A drawknife. I need it for a cool prop build and nothing else will do the job.

I love it when that happens.


September 2, 2014

A Workman Worth His Hire

Filed under: Business,Woodworking — jasony @ 10:06 am

A response to some work that was going to be referred to me.

No offense, and a sincere thanks for thinking of me, but my experience with most people is that they’re not willing to pay hourly rate plus materials that most accomplished woodworkers (with money invested in equipment) need to charge to make a living (hence why I’m not making a living woodworking!).

Most peoples’ expectations of price for custom woodworking comes from the fact that they can go to the furniture store and pick up, say, an entertainment center for around a grand-and-a-half for a decent one. However, “decent” means that it’s cheap particle board with a nice looking laminate on top (which means its value is only skin deep). If they’re lucky it’ll last a decade or until the first major move. But, hey, appearances are what most people go on. 🙂

Meanwhile I spent 9 months and 200 hours building our solid quartersawn red oak entertainment center with ebony inlays and custom stained glass. The materials alone (unfinished, unplaned, pretty much just a hunk of tree) cost me almost twice what a Fry’s entertainment center would cost. And that’s before hardware like hand-hammered brass latches and handles. Several coats of hand-rubbed, custom tinted coloration and shellac, hand cut glass, etc. It’s an heirloom piece that will be around for at least a century or two as long as it’s not mistreated.

When I asked the employee at the woodworking store what he’d consider a good price for the piece (and thinking he might say $4,000-$5000), he responded by saying that something like this would probably go for the mid-teens. As in around $15,000. I’m really proud of that.

So yeah, most people probably don’t want to pay for that sort of workmanship.

I’ve had a few people who understand hand work and heirloom quality contact me and I’ve done pieces for them. They’ve been thrilled. But then again they’re the kind of people who have an “art budget”. 🙂

Renovations and around-the-house kind of stuff is still charged at plumbers rates. In my experience, though, most folks are looking for someone who would be willing to charge minimum wage and also include the materials in that. It’s depressing.

And also the reason that most custom woodworking shops either cater to the wealthy socio-economic market (who understand the value of super high quality) or go out of business. You’ll rarely meet a woodworker competing downmarket who is happy with their situation.

August 19, 2014

You Have Been Eaten by a Grue

Filed under: Games,Hobbies,Woodworking — jasony @ 10:31 am

D&D For The Rich: Beautifully Crafted Gaming Tables | Geekologie:

“These are some examples of the beautifully crafted wooden gaming tables designed and built by Geek Chic. The tables range in price from $2,500 – $16,000 and ‘have two surfaces – a removable top and a recessed playing area. You can customize the number of player stations, drawers and rails and pick from walnut, maple or cherry wood.’ Plus you can get cup holders.”

More beautiful pictures at the link.


September 24, 2013

Iron is Hot

Filed under: Audio,Business,Music,Woodworking — jasony @ 4:35 pm

Why is it that when you’re self employed the work comes in these strange waves? I’ve been doing this for over 20 years now and I’ve noticed that I either have very little to do or I’m bursting at the seams with work. And it’s not just the same kind of work. Between arranging, writing original music, woodworking projects, audio editing gigs, and now a huge transcription project (reconnecting with my old friend and musician Kurt Kaiser).

It’s feast and famine but for now at least my mother and father will be happy that we won’t be going hungry for a while. 🙂

September 3, 2013

A Wooden Boat Story

Filed under: Maker,Woodworking — jasony @ 9:20 pm

Wherein a guy who’s been in the wooden boat business for a century finally decides to build his own vessel by hand. Three years and countless trees later he put to sea in a 50 foot sloop you have to see to believe. All the more wonderful because he did it himself.

The video may require a subscription to watch but I just gave it a junk account. Well worth the viewing if you have the time (90 minutes)


July 15, 2013

Adam Savage Geeks Out Over Woodworking Saws

Filed under: Technology,Woodworking — jasony @ 12:34 am

Adam Savage Geeks Out Over Woodworking Saws: “Adam geeks out over beautiful coping saws with Brian Meek of Knew Concepts. We learn about the design of these woodworking and jewelry saws and see some new saws built with a titanium “

January 15, 2013

Things that Make You Go BOOM

Filed under: Maker,Woodworking — jasony @ 3:35 pm

It’s official! I’ve been hired to build a rather cool and impressive object. It’s going to take a bit of time and design work, but the availability of the CNC machine at TechShop is going to be invaluable. It’s not an actual working… thing (that would be illegal), but it’s certainly going to look the part.

January 9, 2013


Filed under: Maker,Woodworking — jasony @ 5:09 pm

Okay, this is cool. I’ve already built some really neat props for the show this year but I just got a call to build something truly cool. Something I’ve considered building myself just for fun, and something that’s going to stretch all my skills- woodworking, TechShop CNC routing, fiberglassing, and maybe even some light metalwork- to the limit. It’s not 100% yet but I really hope it comes together.

November 26, 2012

Democratizing Access to Tools

Filed under: Maker,Woodworking — jasony @ 12:57 pm

TechShop: Democratizing Access To The Tools of Innovation from Maker Faire

November 21, 2012


Filed under: Maker,Woodworking — jasony @ 12:42 pm

I give up.

November 5, 2012

Tech Shop Class

Filed under: Woodworking — jasony @ 9:57 pm

Took the ShopBot class at TechShop tonight! Very cool. I can now run the $25,000 CNC router. Mwahahaha!

October 2, 2012

Birth of a Tool

Filed under: Maker,Woodworking — jasony @ 10:39 pm

I cannot list the number of ways I love this.

part II

July 20, 2012

Carpentry of a Different Scale

Filed under: Woodworking — jasony @ 11:41 pm

I recently built and installed a door. Nothing too unusual about that as I’ve done it several times around the house. But this one is a dutch door (the kind that have a top and bottom that separate and swing independently). It’s drying now but when it’s cured I’ll paint it red.

I built the door frame that fits the rough opening very tightly but just in case there are leak I caulked the opening around the frame to keep out drafts. I installed door trim too (after I stained it Dark Walnut, of course) and did all the molding work. Oh, and I’m working on the door handle now as well. Overall I’m very pleased with it, especially that the whole thing took me only an hour and a half.

Oh, did I mention that the whole thing… door, frame, trim, molding, handle, etc… is only and inch and a half tall? Just wait until you see the rest of the house.

April 27, 2012

A new home for SketchUp

Filed under: Computing,Mad Science,Woodworking — jasony @ 8:04 am

Official Google SketchUp Blog: A new home for SketchUp: “”

Not too crazy about this news. SketchUp is my tool of choice for 3D woodworking and prop design. I only hope they keep developing it. Love the “free” part, but if it’s part of a business (and not a Google side-project) I don’t know if that’ll continue. I’m definitely not against a for-pay version in the future (businesses have to pay their people after all) but the pre-Google version- which I almost bought- was $700! Hope we don’t go back to that.

February 17, 2012


Filed under: Woodworking — jasony @ 10:14 am

Kickbacks! – LLC

Why I ALWAYS use my safety devices (Blade guard and splitter) on my tablesaw. Video worth a watch for the terrifyingness.

February 4, 2012

Shop Class

Filed under: Maker,Woodworking — jasony @ 3:14 pm

“College works for many, many students — just ask your physician! But the truth is that students are not one size-fits-all. College is not the predetermined path from cradle to career that we think it is. We coddle and coerce, we tutor and talk, we insist on the square peg fitting snugly in the round hole.”

Shop is Not a Four-Letter Word | Edutopia

October 17, 2011

The Good Old Baylor Prop Build

Filed under: Maker,Woodworking — jasony @ 2:40 pm

A few weeks ago I got a call from Baylor University. They heard that I build props for the Sing and Pigskin and wanted to know if I could build them a new Baylor Logo prop to replace their aging 30-year-old big Baylor seal. They had the design all worked up from the marketing department and wanted to know if it was something that I would be interested in. Hey hey! Yes, I would! Is it something you can get to us in three and a half weeks? uh… (gulp)… yes. So I set out to build the new Baylor corporate logo prop over a whirlwind fifty hours. I had a lot of fun, it was a lot of work using some new techniques, and I’m tremendously proud of the results. Read on if your’e interested.

Step one was to get the official Baylor logo in digital format. The “BAYLOR” logo (aka “wordmark”) and symbol (“logo”) are both custom-designed by Baylor’s marketing department so I couldn’t just print out any old font. It had to be the exact “BAYLOR” that nobody else owns. The spacing between the letters is also critical as it’s part of the overall registered trademark. Once I had this file I took it to Kinkos and paid $65 for them to print it out on their large format printer. It’s pretty cool that you can get just about anything printed out in any size. Good to know for future projects.

Here’s a pic of the symbol and wordmark before I cut them up. I had to measure the spaces between the letters to reproduce them exactly once the thing was built. The overall length of the whole thing is about 23 feet!


The next step was to carefully cut out the letters and logo with an X-acto blade. I cut them just slightly proud of the design since I would then be fixing them to pieces of MDF with spray adhesive and then carefully sanding the MDF to the exact outlines of the pattern. These MDF pieces became my templates for making all of the letters and parts of the Symbol:

Yeah, my 42 year old eyes can’t focus that closely any more with my glasses on. I suppose there are bifocals in my future.

Detail work!

Here’s the symbol once I attached it to my MDF template and carefully cut to the line. For the symbol I ended up having to remove the archway and side supports so I could sand the edges of the building. Later when I attached the building layer to the background I had to sand and fill the cut with body filler. It’s an invisible join, even up close.

A little bit of mineral spirits and the paper template comes right off.


Next I cut out the paper silhouette, stuck it to some 3/4″ plywood, and used my scroll saw to remove the outline. I did the same thing with the numbers (you can see the holes I created there). I’ll eventually make a stack of the background layer, building layer, silhouette layer, and numbers. A nice 3D look.


I made the template for the letters in exactly the same way. Cut out the paper template 1/32″ oversize, attached it to a slab of MDF, cut and sanded the MDF to final shape, then removed the paper with mineral spirits. I did this will all six letters until I had a perfect example of each. Why? (I mean Y?)




What the “L”?




And there was much rejoicing “LAAA!”

In the picture above you can see the almost completed “L”. I didn’t get a picture of this next part of the process, but what I did was take the perfect MDF letter templates and use them as a pattern to make the 12 layers that comprised each letter. With 12 layers of 3/4″ thick plywood I was able to construct a 9″ thick letter. Basically I would lay the MDF letter onto a piece of plywood and trace it out, trying to fit as many of each 30″ tall letter as possible onto a 4×8 sheet. I ended up using almost 30 sheets of plywood for the whole job (that’s a grand in plywood, btw). The I would rough cut out each plywood letter, screw the template onto the rough letter, and then use a pattern maker’s bit to follow the template and thus cut an exact copy of each letter. Any imperfections in the pattern got translated to subsequent layers so I had to be really particular with the master pattern letters. Some errors still crept in but I corrected those later. Here’s a pattern bit so you can get an idea how it works (I didn’t get pics):


All told I had to cut out 72 different letters. It looked like an explosion on Sesame Street (minus the muppet body parts).

I then glued the layers together to make each chunky, 9″ thick letter. Then I had to sand each letter to get rid of any imperfections. If there was even a slight error in my template this error would be transmitted through the stack and you’d see a groove or dip all the way along one edge. My next step was to coat the outside of each letter with a layer of super sandable Bondo. It’s called Rage Gold and is used by the aftermarket auto body guys to make cool shapes in their cars, construct custom dashboards and radio inserts, etc. I used about 1.5 gallons of the stuff. I’d scoop some out, mix it with the hardener, then quickly (it begins hardening within about 90 seconds) spread it on the plywood edges of the letters. I spread it on thick to cover imperfections and to try and fill in the rough edges of the plywood. Once it dried I went back over it and sanded away probably 95%, leaving a glassy smooth surface. My entire shop was covered with blue-green-pink dust from the stuff. It’s nasty (but I wore my breathing ventilator).

The next step was to give each letter a coat of primer in prep for the base coat of paint. I didn’t want to use a brush or roller since the fast dry times caused by the 112 degree summer heat would mean horrible brush marks, so I purchased a paint sprayer from Lowes. Brilliant decision as it made the final finish so much better. Unfortunately, I only had room on my paint table for one letter at a time- and I gave each letter three coats of primer! I ended up sitting in my garage all day long with my laptop literally watching paint dry. Every 30 minutes I’d get up and give a letter another coat of primer until all the letters were done. A sweaty, hot, boring day.

Paint station (my neighbors love me)

Spraying the R

What I actually did most of the day


Finished letters

Unfinished letters:


Incidentally, the symbol that’s hiding behind the O in the above picture started out as a solid 9″ hunk of plywood, but it weighed well over 100lbs! So I had to cut each layer into a hollow donut then cap the front and back with solid pieces to make it manageable. It still weighs about 40lbs. The neighbor’s kids came over and we signed the inside before closing it up (hi neighbors!).

Next I gave each letter a coat of Official Baylor Green (helpfully supplied by Home Depot and Glidden- they have the contract for official college colors, thank goodness). I had to build a makeshift paint spray booth in my shop out of leftover plywood (cut into strips) and plastic from HD. You can see in the pic that I had some overspray onto my shop floor. Whoops. Time to ask the neighbor if I can borrow his pressure washer. It took me four days to paint the letters starting around 7am every day (one coat every four hours) and ending right around sunset. Three coats per letter:


Finished letters. Time was very short (remember that three week deadline?) so I didn’t paint the backs of the letters. No big deal as they won’t be seen from the back anyway. The flash catches the plywood layers here but in person it’s much more subtle.


Next I taped off the symbol and gave it a spray of green (the building will be painted yellow later). The nooks and crannies of the building (Pat Neff if you’re a BU grad) were particularly difficult to tape around:


After the green dried (and one day from deadline) I hand painted the details of the yellow building where it met the green background using a magnifying glass and a lot of patience. I wish I’d waited until it was painted to attach the yellow building to the background but for various reasons this was the best way to do it. Still, it was a pain in the backside, taking several hours to do a single coat, then going back over and correcting mistakes with green paint after the yellow dried. I gave the yellow layer three coats as well.


The yellow layer is done!

My eyes hurt.

Finally (and literally the morning I drove it up to Waco) I applied the silhouette and numbers, then filled in the micro nail holes with putty and a touch of paint.



Here it is in front of the house, all set up:


Yes, I got weird looks from drivers, but that’s half the fun!

An hour later I had loaded it up in my (well padded) Tacoma bed and trucked it up to Waco for delivery. Here it is in the Ferrell Center waiting for its public unveiling… which I never saw because I was told the wrong time! Oh well.


But someone was kind enough to send a few pics of it on the stage. Hopefully I’ll see it all set up in person someday.


Baylor Prop.jpg

So that’s the story of how it took me 50 hours to construct Baylor University’s official new corporate logo prop. I’m extremely proud of it and feel honored to have gotten the job. Hope you enjoyed this little how-to in case you want your very own giant collegiate logo. Just don’t do THECOLLEGEOFWILLIAMANDMARY. It’d take forever.

October 12, 2011

Cat House

Filed under: Woodworking — jasony @ 3:44 pm

A real-life Harry Potter cat house. I’d have loved to have gotten that commission.

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