Constructing a Vintage Cricket-Rattle : 2016 Greater Newark Maker Faire

A Neely Hall Cricket Rattle

I submitted my application to the 2016 Greater Newark, NJ Maker Faire a few days go for my exhibit titled Home-Made Toys for Girls and Boys. This year I am constructing many of the projects described in A. Neely Hall’s 1915 book Home-Made Toys for Girls and Boys. Anticipating the acceptance of my application I began building several of the toys. In the book Mr. Hall explains, “A Cricket-rattle is about the liveliest form of rattle ever devised. After constructing one for your sister or brother, you probably will decide to make one for yourself.”

john p chismar cricket rattleBecause of his bold statement I decided to make three cricket-rattles to sell or share. The first time I tried the rattle I expected a chirping sound, instead loud cracks shot straight into my ears leaving them ringing. More awesome than I anticipated! Before painting the rattles red or blue, as the instructions asserted, I decided to add tramp art carved embellishment around the fringe which I painted yellow.

I have a few other projects already completed for the faire and many more on the drawing board. With any luck my application will be accepted permitting me to proceed full speed into the past opening doorways to forgotten pastimes. I hope to see you there.

Two-Tier Unknot Corner Shelf

two-tier unknot corner shelf

A friend asked me to build this two-tier unknot corner shelf as a Valentine’s Day gift for her husband. She specifically knew the shelf she desired and clearly described its design. The project was to be built with no hardware and install easily without a hundred screws damaging the wall.
two-tier unknot corner shelfI took a day or two to think about the project and decided to build a prototype of the shelf using a two by four. I drew a schematic of the shelf on a scrap paper and transferred the measurements to the lumber. I also constructed a corner jig out of plywood. The jig keeps everything square and provides something solid to clamp to as the glue dries. With the unit complete I experimented with various ways to install it. I placed a mirror hanger on the back of each vertical support, but with no support in the corner the unit was unstable and drooped away from the wall. After much thought and experimentation I discovered the easiest and strongest support was a mortise in the shelf and a tenon attached to the wall.

two-tier unknot corner shelfThe shelf was to be a blond color with a matte finish. While visiting the wood store the decision was made to use ash wood. I purchased a beautiful piece of 5/4 ash lumber  7 1/2″ wide and 8′ long; enough lumber for two complete shelves. The lumber acclimated in my workshop a few days and it was planed to an inch thick. I proceeded to (1) crosscut the length of each section. With all six sections cut to length I (2) cut 45 degree miters for the left and right sides. (3) Each section was then ripped to 3 1/2″ width.  (4) A stacked dado blade was used to make a 1/2″ dado across the back of the top  shelf sections. Pieces of ash were glued into the ends of the dado to create a mortise.

two-tier unknot corner shelfI waited for the glue to dry and (5) cut the corner miters on the top and bottom shelf sections. I considered various ways of strengthening the joints of the assembled sections. In the end the use of biscuits was the victor. Using a power biscuit jointer I cut biscuit mortises into the surface of each joint. Working one at a time each joint was glued with a biscuit and clamped. Gluing and clamping requires patience and scrutiny to insure each connection is square in every direction.

I waited a day for the glue to set and then started the finishing process. Using a random orbital sander I sanded every surface with 80, 120, 180 grit sandpaper. The sharp ninety-degree corners and edges were slightly rounded with the gentle touch of a cabinet scraper and a sanding block. Rounding the harsh corners provides a luxurious surface to touch and allows for a durable finish.

I applied three to four coats of polyurethane finish by hand, lightly sanding between applications.  The polyurethane finish hardened over a duration of few days and then sanded with steel wool to reduce the glossy appearance.  A super silky feel and rich luster was created on the finish by buffing the surface with rottenstone. I am happy with the complete piece. At my friend’s request I delivered the shelf days before Valentine’s Day. The photos with the books are of the shelf installed in their home.

Because I made two of these shelves I have another currently stored in my shop. Maybe I’ll install it in my home or perhaps someone will be interested in purchasing it from me. Either way, it’s a win. And please be sure to have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

two-tier unknot corner shelf schematic

My first taxidermy experiment

Little sparrow, little sparrow
precious fragile little thing…
flies so high and feels no pain

Dolly Parton

sparrow taxidermy

The art of taxidermy has been on my bucket list of things to explore. I go through phases of rambling to my wife Amy and choice friends about my intent to attempt taxidermy on various expired creatures found while walking Fleur in town and country. For instance, a few weeks ago I came across a beautiful raccoon laying in the grass fresh for the picking. I chickened out and decided to leave it where it lay. I’ve never hunted or killed any warm-blooded creature; therefore I have little experience in the delicate art of dismembering such things. Besides having little clue of the preservation of flesh, I was concerned on how I’d stomach the process. In my mind a carcass is a balloon stuffed to the breaking point with guts; the smallest puncture and Kaboom!

Megastorm arrived last January slamming us with a few feet of snow. During the cleanup Amy stumbled upon a lifeless sparrow in the snow. Remembering my rants about taxidermy she placed the creature on a snowbank, located me and explained her discovery. I placed the sparrow in a zip-lock bag and put it in the freezer. Shortly after I ordered a Standing Bird Mounting Kit online containing “practically everything [necessary] to get started” including an “instruction booklet.” The package arrived after a few short days. Filled with excitement I tore into the kit: wires, borax, dry preservative, clay, hemp, thread and needles spread across the table.

The instruction book does not provide one illustration or photo and assumes you understand the process and terminology of taxidermy. Before tackling the kit I needed to do much more independent research. To my surprise there is very little thorough information on bird taxidermy on YouTube. I found a few articles and book excerpts online and decided I probably seen all I was going to see with regards to useful information. Over the weekend I had a free day and decided it was time to thaw the sparrow and plunge into deed at hand.

I gathered tools and supplies I thought I would need: scissors, tweezers, x-acto blades and such. The instructions indicated to make the first incision from the center of the breastbone to the vent (anus). I dawned a pair of rubber gloves and raised the sparrow in my left hand, x-acto in my right. I used my fingers to gently part the downy chest while gently scanning for the breastbone. Ready to make the first incision I softly placed the blade on the skin and slid the blade towards the vent. The skin, thinner than cellophane, parted revealing bright red meat. No squirting blood, no gross scent – instead, something beautifully surreal.

sparrow taxidermy

With the incision open I was able to slowly use a blade to separate the skin from the muscle. The skin was separated from the legs, and snips were used to break each leg bone at the knee. When the tail was separated from the muscle the skin was able to lift up to the base of the head, like removing a shirt. While the skin is neck high the wing muscle easily separated from the skin; I cleaned the muscle from the bones and snipped the wing bones at the elbow. Once the wing bones were snipped the skin was completely separated from the bird, except for the head.

To remove the cranial matter an incision was made across the back of the head, starting at the ear. I guess I knew birds had ears, but I never really thought about where the ears were. Towards the back of the head, low and near the jaw, I felt a pair of bumps. Closer examination revealed ear holes. The skull is pushed backwards through the incision to where it connects to the beak. The spinal cord is snipped releasing the body from the skin. The brains were removed with a tiny hook, not nearly as gross as I expected. Using a toothpick I was able to loosen each eye into a position easily clipped away with tiny scissors, also not as gross as expected.

The sparrow was ready to be washed. Following the instructions I prepared a soapy bath. I washed the skin and let it soak for a half hour. I was amazed how light and fragile the wet soapy skin seemed to the touch. To dry the skin the instructions suggested running a vacuum cleaner in reverse setting. I did so with my shop vac and unintentionally sent the skin across the room for a final flight. I switched to an alternate method, placing the skin in sawdust. The dust seemed to stick to the skin, I couldn’t imagine how I was going to remove it. But as everything dried the sawdust easily brushed away from the skin.

Due to a lack of time and information I didn’t build a manikin to stitch the skin over. I packed the skull with preservative, returned it under the skin and sewed up the incision. The skin was rubbed with preservative and I carefully positioned it on a board. When I have the time I’ll find a nice piece of wood to permanently pin the skin to. I don’t know where this experiment will lead me. I know I enjoyed it more than I first thought and, to my surprise, I discovered a deeper appreciation for life and nature.