Back to School

Nightstand updates and a new site feature!

#NightstandBuild Update

My last post detailed that I was about to get started on the #NightstandBuild build back in May. The good news is… I’m almost done!

I’ll be compiling all of my photos into a monster project page once I’ve completed the whole shebang, but I’m very pleased to be just about finished.

Technical Talks

I’ve added a new section to the site to house transcripts of my tech talks at various meetups and conferences. My hope is that they provide some expanded context for those that were there as well as be accessible to those that may not have been able to make it when I was speaking.

The first talk up is one that I gave at the Madrailers Meetup on August 27th details how to use webpack with rails.

Tagged under: ,

Spring Shop Update

Checking in after a few busy weeks: nightstands, jigs, shelving and more!

It’s been awhile since the last post but I’ve been quite busy in the shop. The problem is that it’s mostly on (for now) Supre Seekrit Projects! I have project descriptions in-progress but until I can reveal them I’ll have to content myself with some small updates.

Darrell Peart’s Greene & Greene Book

My summer project is going to be a pair of Greene & Greene-inspired adirondack chairs from The Wood Whisperer Guild, and to get ready for it I bought the suggested reading by Darrell Peart entitled Greene & Greene: Design Elements for the Workshop.

I’ve so far really enjoyed the book, which is not only a history of the Greene brothers and their now-iconic furniture designs but also includes details on how to incorporate some of their design aesthetics into your own furniture.

Moreover, after completing the rather simplistic changing table this spring I’m eager to start working in stylistic elements into my pieces. In fact, I’m planning on using a G&G element in the nightstands build.

Jigs for Upcoming Projects

That design element requires a jig so I started working on that while waiting for the glue to dry on some panels last week. It took about an hour to put together, and I should be able to use it on the nightstands as well as the adirondack chairs.

Greene & Greene design element jig

Also, our house needs picture frames!

This looks really cool and I plan on making one real soon, as well as the spline jig.

Armoire Shelving

The armoire that used to be in my son’s bedroom is now in my home office, but I’ve been frustrated with the large closet in it because I don’t really have anything to hang on the rods.

I had a bunch of extra baltic birch plywood out in the shop so I cut it into shelving and then used some walnut offcuts to make front edge banding for them.

Installed shelves before lighting added

Now instead of a five foot tall closet with a bunch of junk piled in the bottom I have five 17” x 19” shelves: perfect for my photography gear as well as some extra storage for office supplies. As an extra bonus I installed some LED lights with a motion sensor. The shelves are so deep it was a little difficult to see the lower shelves. Now it’s terrific, with even lighting on every shelf that comes on every time you open the door.

LED lighting installed under each shelf

Office Shelving

When we moved into our new house last year I kinda just threw everything into piles in the office. Books, extra furniture, whatever it just all went into there in no particular order. Now, getting things into order with the armoire shelving gave me a kick in the pants to actually decorate the office and get things in order, so the next thing I’m doing is to make some shelves for the wall to put all my trade paperbacks.

I originally wanted to use hardwood for the shelves, but now I realized that I can use this as another opportunity to reduce all th extra plywood out in the shop. I have some nice 1/2” maple plywood that I’m going to laminate together into a roughly 1” thick board and then band that with some more walnut offcuts, similar to the armoire shelves.

Images to come once I finish!

Nightstand Work

Finally, work continues on the nightstands project. I’ve definitely had the most issues of any project on this one, but I feel like I’m unblocked now and so I’ll be moving forward this weekend.

Work continues apace on nightstands

Happy Friday everyone! I’m looking forward to posting about my projects soon!

Tagged under: ,


We bought a zoo HP Proliant DL380 G6!

My Synology 410j NAS is getting on in years and I’m starting to get annoyed at the performance. I’ve always liked the Synology DSM software and the packages on offer, but it’s not fun waiting for a couple of minutes for a preferences panel just to load in a web UI.

At work lately I’ve been getting trained up on some sysadmin stuff for the servers we maintain in our lab, and my recent experience with those along with my annoyance at my existing backup solution for my photos sent me onto Amazon looking at what bare-bones rackmount servers cost.

And holy shit did I learn some shit.

It turns out there are a variety of resellers on Amazon that deal in decommisioned servers of all varieties, and at pretty surprising prices. As an experiement I ended up buying a 2U server to see whether it would suit my home networking/server/backup needs, so let’s talk about it!

HP Proliant DL380 G6

I paid $343.98 for an HP Proliant DL380 G6. Let’s talk about the specs a bit:

  • 2x Quad-Core Xeon 2.26GHz
  • 24GB RAM
  • 8x 146GB 10K HDD
  • HP Smart Array P410i RAID

I also bought a 12U four-post rack to mount it on plus a variety of additional tools and supplies to be able to hook everything up. Finally, I bought a rack mountable shelf to set my existing NUC system and Synology NAS on top of, so that I could run power and a switch to the back of the rack and enclose all my systems in one place.

Racked but not wired yet

The first thing I did was to switch the RAID array over from 0 to 1+0. It cut my logical disk space in half, but the whole point of the system to is to allow for disk failure without losing my data. The system came with eight 146GB disks, and at some point I’d like to bump those up to eight 1TB disks, but for now the roughly 540GB of redundant storage I’m getting is enough (my photo collection, after extensive cleanup and pruning, sits at 100GB right now.) I will likely buy a few spare 146GB disks just in case of failure, then in the longer term I’ll start acquiring 1TB ones for down the road.

I installed Ubuntu Server 17.10 on it, and the installation was rough only because (a) due to a storm the power in our house went out one time as I was laying down the file system and (b) I could not get LVM partitions working with the P410i RAID controller. In the end I was able to get things working by partitioning without LVM, then installing the system as normal.

I have OpenSSH and Samba running on it right now, and I’m considering whether I want to run the Proliant as a DNS server with my NUC as a backup. That would allow me to set up a real home lab environment while falling back to something like or This is still in the planning stages, but I’d rather take the plunge than continue to manage /etc/hosts files across all of my home machines.

My backups from my main photo editing machine to my backup server are now operational, but I haven’t yet setup off-site backups yet. The Synology had an installable package to automate Amazon Glacier backups, but I’m not sure if I want to go that route from the new server or explore something like Backblaze. If you have an opinion on this hit me up on Twitter!

View from the back of the rack

Once the system was up and running, I looked to consolidate my network footprint inside the rack as well. I took my switch down off the wall, and added it to the back of the rack alongside the power unit (not UPS, basically a big rackable power strip.) I also bought a patch panel, which as you can see from the above picture is not hooked up yet.

The ultimate plan is to wire everything inside the rack into the patch panel, and from there to the switch. Meanwhile, all connections coming in from outside the rack (home theater, office, fiber modem) will connect directly into the switch.

rubs hands with glee …and I still have 6 more U’s.

Modestly configured HP 1U servers are ~$200-$300, and using them as Docker hosts for app development is sparking some ideas in me. It’s also a low-cost way to continue to learn about administering bare-metal stuff, which I’ve never done before.

So, uh, yeah. Maybe we’ll see my tiny data empire grow.

Tagged under: , , ,

Shop Lighting

The flourescent lights in my shop burned out. What’re we gonna do?!

In the summer of 2017 I had my shop rewired by an electrician to add many more 120V outlets along with a few 240V ones for the presumed upgrades I was going to make.

At the same time, they swapped out the existing simple overhead light sockets with new flourescent light fixtures, but only in the third bay of the garage. The main bay of the garage where we park our cars still used old light sockets.

The new lights were a huge improvement in the shop, though! Now, however, we’re six months on and almost all of them have burned out. And one thing you should know about me is that if I can upgrade something to save money in the long term then I’ll always take that road.

So let’s talk about flourescent versus LED shop lights. I considered going LED last summer when I bought the lights but was talked off that ledge by the electrician. He counseled that LED was still too expensive and that a T8 flourescent fixture would be better. When I made that decision, however, I didn’t think I’d only get 6 months out of a set of eight bulbs. A set of compatible LED replacment tubes has an “expected life” of 36,000 hours, which means less climbing up on a ladder to replace them (and what you need to know about me is that I’m a lazy man.)

So easy! Let’s simply rewire our light fixtures and then pop in the new LED tubes! The main car bay will still be lighted like a back-alley but the shop will be bright and happy and I didn’t need to be able to see where I parked the lawnmower anyways!

I have a better idea for the long term.

I’ve been following April Wilkerson’s wood and metal shop build with interest via YouTube and Instagram and she recently had a video about installing the walls and ceiling, with a small aspect about the overhead lighting. The main thing that interested me was the light fixtures she was using: Big Ass Lights Garage Light.

I really like the look and profile of that light, but it’s too expensive for me to swap out everything in my garage right now. My goal in the medium term is to swap in one Big Ass Light above my most often-used work area and move the LED tube fixture over to the car bay, then eventually buy a second Big Ass Light for the shop side and move the other LED tube fixture over to the car bay as well. At that point everything in the garage would be 5000K LEDs and I think I’d be in pretty good shape!

…a few days pass, during which I actually follow-through with the above plan…

Oh god ohnononono. This was much harder than it needed to be. I have lots that I learned doing this. PLEASE SIR OR MADAM HEED MY WARNINGS.

Ok, good news first: I now have only LED tube lights in the shop bay of my garage. If that statement sounds carefully parsed, then you’re really good at reading into statements! Congratulations!

I pulled down one of the fixtures, and after watching the above YouTube video again I disassembled it and cut the wires apart, re-hooking them back up while bypassing the ballast. I then inserted the Phillips Instantfit LED tubes and cautiously plugged everything back in.

Flourescent fixture: disassembled and rewired


I’ll skip the hours of swearing and rewiring and get right to my first lesson of the day: Phillips Instantfit LED tubes will not work when you bypass the ballast; they are meant to be used in UNCHANGED flourescent fixtures. Unfortunately, by the time I figured this out, I’d already torn apart the inside of one of my fixtures and the way I cut the wires… uh, I wouldn’t be re-hooking up the ballast.

  • Good News: I was able to easily use the Phillips Instantfit tubes I had purchased through Amazon in the other fixture that I had not yet torn apart.
  • Bad News: The Phillips Instantfit tubes would not work in the fixture I had already torn apart.
Phillips Instantfit tubes working in an unmodified flourescent fixture

So, as is often the case when I’m working on something I’ve never worked on before: to Home Depot we go!

There, I found toggled LED tubes specifically made for bypassing a ballast in an existing fixture. They were a bit more expensive, but I was reasonably sure they’d work in the fixture I’d already rewired.

Once home, however, I realized that these tubes required even a different wiring than I’d already done, so time to break out the wirecutters again and rewire again. Luckily, the instructions that came with each tube were helpful and instructive, and I was able to get things wired up pretty quickly. They still weren’t working, however, until I realized that these tubes must be installed in a certain direction or they won’t work. Once I turned them around: voila!

toggled LED lights working in a ballast bypass-modified fixture
  • Good News: All my fixtures now have working lights in them
  • Bad News: Different lights in different fixtures… man.

Reflections & Learning

I’m gonna throw this section in even though this isn’t technically a “project” post. As frustrated as I got with this, I really learned a lot about the different options in converting from flourescent to LED.

The main thing you need to consider is why you’re converting:

  • If you’re converting primarily to save money on energy costs, you should rewire your fixtures and purchase ballast-bypass LEDs. Note that this means you should NOT buy Phillips Instantfit tubes. This is because the ballast is still using the same amount of energy whether you’re using it to drive flourescent or LED fixtures, so you won’t see the cost reduction from using the LEDs in this case. You should still see a greater lifespan, however.
  • If you’re converting primarily for heat generation or “avoid climbing a ladder as often” reasons then go ahead and just buy Phillips Instantfit tubes, stick em in your existing fixture and be done.

I also learned that I should go buy some extra spools of 18awg wire of all colors to have when I’m working on rewiring shit like this. I got stuck at a few points because I was forced to re-use wires I’d cut out of the fixture.

And that’s it! I have light in my shop again; hope this helped you folks thinking about converting over yourselves.

Tagged under: , ,

On Deck: Nightstands

Let’s talk about the next project I’ll be working on! A set of nightstands for my in-laws’ master bedroom.

Last fall my wife’s parents brought a stack of unused hardwood tongue-in-groove flooring to my shop. They asked if I could use it to make a set of nightstands for their master bedroom.


They had a design in mind from a magazine, so I clipped it into my sketchbook and then started thinking about the dimensions and general approach I could take.

Design sketch and inspiration

I thought it would be interesting, and a learning opportunity, to use square metal tubing for the legs to more closely match the inspirational design. Eventually I’d like to learn how to weld, but the way I’m thinking of this design I likely won’t need to: my plan is to simply cut the four legs to length and then attach them to the top box with L-brackets. I’m also planning on attaching the lower shelf to the legs from beneath with L-brackets.

It’s not cler to me yet how I’m going to cut the tubing; I have an angle grinder with a metal cutting disc, but I’d rather do it with a chop saw in order to keep everything nice and straight so I don’t have to try to grind it to a flush meeting with the bottom of the drawer box.


My in-laws re-did the flooring in their house some time ago and had a lot of extra tongue-in-groove wood after the first floor was finished. My father-in-law used some of it to build a headboard for their bed, which is why they’d like me to use the same wood to make the nightstands.

I honestly, truly do not know what kind of wood this is.

I started prepping it by cutting off the tongues and grooves and then running it through my jointer and planer enough to get the varnish off the top. What I found was that I appeared to actually have two different types of wood? Or at least wood from two very different parts of the tree. One was a grayish light brown while one was a yellowish color. I asked about this and my father-in-law was suprised as he thought it was all one type.

Rough-milled wood, stacked for inspection

I was asked not to finish the pieces once they were done- my father-in-law will take care of that part. But that means that I need to cobble both colors of wood together into some frankenpieces, assuming he’ll stain them to the same color or try to create two different colored nightstands.

The plan is to use this hardwood for the drawer box, lower shelf and drawer front of each nightstand. The drawer itself will be baltic birch, likely assembled with pocket screws.

Next Steps

This project has been on the back burner since before the holidays; the changing table took precedence recently. I’ve noticed that some of the milled wood has started to bow, which makes it very hard to start gluing up panels.

My plan is to go through and find the pieces that stayed straight after milling and see if I have enough to glue up the six panels I need (top and bottom of each drawer, plus lower shelf).

If I don’t have enough wood then I’ll need to go back to the source: my father-in-law’s basement.😄

Tagged under: , ,