Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Place to Tie Your Shoes

Like most five year-old boys on the wrong side of the Velcro dawn, I ambled frequently with untied (Incredible Hulk) sneakers while I struggled to gain the fine motor skills and muscle memory that would eventually come to be second nature and repeated thousands of times in restraining my footwear. In time, I mastered that skill and by the aid of my parents learned somewhat useful things like cooking, cleaning (don't tell my wife), lawn care and car repair. Among the learned skills I value now are: how to look closely at a thing, and how to create a thing you can be content with despite limitations of money, time, or ability (you'll always have them).

So when my parents got to living in their recently built (it'll never be "finished") home and they needed a place to store shoes and a seat to sit and tie them that fit tidily into a space by the exit, I knew this would be a chance to apply what I've learned. Of course, don't look too closely for fear you'll notice the mistakes (as I simultaneously point them out)

This project had several design constraints:
  • Of reclaimed lumber from a barn dad took down
  • Store shoes on a shelf
  • Sturdily support my parents
  • Fit between 2 doorways, but not interfere with pedestrians

These constraints probably could have been satisfied with a barn joist cut-off on cinder blocks, so additional design goals were considered:
  • Some sort of "delighter" to separate it from its utilitarian usage
  • Provide some feminine balance to the masculine utility (symbolizing a bit, Mom & Dad)
  • Provide as wide a stance as possible without interfering with the future trim or pedestrians
A few of the things I learned on this project:
  • Angled, chair-like joinery is best cut prior to shaping cuts if possible, to prevent your mind from melting.
  • Avoiding nail holes completely in barn wood is impossible
  • Sketching many wild and crazy shapes will eventually yield an idea for connecting A to B
  • Mr. Maloof style joints, provide a sturdy connection with only one degree of freedom unconstrained, but you really need a fastener for that last DOF (which he knew). 
  • Small personal details attract far more attention than angled housed lap joints or wedged through tenons even if they are by far the easiest bits to make.

My parents have given me inumerable life lessons, from tying shoes, to following passions. Their quirks have often turned out to be the very "delighters" that I treasure most in my own personality. Thanks Mom & Dad for adding fun details, but not skimping on the structure.


  1. A very nice project with a great "morale". Designing within a set of self inflicted limits force you to use the brain (which is a good thing).
    The wood looks like some sort of oak. That should ensure longevity of the finished product.

  2. Thanks, The legs are some sort of "red" oak (open pore structure) the top is not an oak I'm familiar with or just has some unusual coloring dark streaks to it. It's all pretty mellowed out as far as coloring, I assume that has been assisted by the "fuming" that comes from a livestock barn over time. For sure the very outermost surfaces were much darker.

  3. It is a very lovely project and I really appreciate it over a barn joist over cinder block :)
    Your unique woodworking ideas and skills are much appreciated.
    Love Mom
    (hopefully that is not too embarrassing to post as mom)

  4. It wouldn't happen to be chestnut, would it? I know that old barns can be the best source for old chestnut.

  5. I really have no idea, as it was all the labels from the 1850 big box store were missing... for sure the legs are a red oak variety, the top was similar but seemed harder and had dark swaths through it. Chestnut is one of the things I had thought, but I lean against it since the barn was taken down in central Illinois which I think is a bit north of chestnut territory.