Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Picnic Table

Mary and I are big into hosting people and events at our place. We liked to do it in the loft and, while different, we like doing it here in the new house. Since we have a very large lawn with a great patio out back (something we never had at the loft), we set up a Memorial Day BBQ and invited family and friends.

The BBQ turned out great, but before that we had to do something about our outdoor seating arrangements. We inherited some great wooden patio furniture from my grandparents, but we were missing one critical element: a picnic table.

I resolved I would rectify this situation the only reasonable way one can: I would built it myself. One of the reasons I chose to do it this way, besides the obvious enjoyment of knowing I did it (assuming it came out right and didn’t collapse when people sat on it) was that you really can’t purchase a picnic table with a detached bench anymore. They are all the single piece numbers where the bench and the table are a single unit. Ugh.

That series of tubes, the Internet, provided me with what I needed: sweet plans for your own DIY picnic table. The original plans are from Popular Mechanics and are very easy to follow. I decided to not use pressure treated wood because it’s being used as seating and a table, and pressure treated lumber is loaded with chemicals. We plan to paint the set when finished anyways, which will protect it, and it will be staying on the patio, under cover.

So, off I went to get a pile of lumber and a bag of bolts and screws at the local hardware store. It cost about $100:


I borrowed a circular saw from my neighbors since I don’t have one yet and set to work in the back yard. The key element from the plan I found was to use the template drawn on a sheet of plywood to mark off the cuts for the legs. It made it much, much simpler.


Like any good project, this one took far longer than I anticipated. I began doing this work around noon the day before the BBQ. 14 hours later at 2am, I was finishing in my garage:


In the end, it all came together. The bench is awaiting its paint, but it looks great and fits in well on the patio. Only one leg was a little bit off, a quick shim nailed to the bottom corrected that:


Coincidentally, I seemed to have just rebuilt what was already here:

That’s my brother Derek and I, circa 1984.

Gutter Drain Care

Grandpa had a lot of foresight when the house was built. One of the things he did shortly after the house was built was dig out and put in 3 inch PVC pipes to run the gutter downspouts away from the house. Given that the house sits on a hill, and has fill around the back side of the house, this was a pretty smart option – you run pipe for 10-20 feet and it will come out on the side of a hill. Cleanout is easy – you have access to an open end of the pipe.

A few things have changed over the years. First of all – when the house was built there were very few trees around the house. You could literally see off the hill for miles across the valley. This meant no big leaf-in-gutter problems. Today the property has a lot of tall trees, including a group of four shagbark hickory trees. I assure you – they live to clog up the gutters with leaves, nuts, and sticks they drop. Fortunately this is really only an issue on the front corner of the house.

And there is the maintenance. The gutters themselves need to be cleaned out periodically and the PVC pipes need to be checked to ensure there isn’t anything clogging them either. You also need to keep the output location clear – cut back the grass and every year or two dig out the drain field. If you’re not careful, sediments (or worse, roots) will clog the buried PVC pipe. I had just such a thing happen with the pipe draining the gutter next to the kitchen door. This happens to be the longest one because it runs underneath the driveway, so it is about 50 feet. A few weeks ago I noticed when I popped my head out the door (yes, when it rains I check to see if the gutters and spouts work…) and lo and behold, the pipe sticking out of the ground was overflowing.

After trying several tools that I have on hand – a long stick, the hand-held drain snake and a 100 foot metal drain tape – I was not having success clearing the clog out of the pipe. So off I went to our local tool rental shop and picked up a drain rooter. I want to be clear…this thing was clean, but still had the air of grossness about it. I was cleaning a gutter…but you know it has been used for other work than that. Ick. I did my best to put those thoughts aside and get to the task at hand. It took about an hour of working the rooter, but I did break through and cleared the drain. It cost me $50 – a far cry from the $150 I would have paid the chain of drain repair folks to come out and do it for me. And I learned something in the process.

Here are some pictures of my adventure: The dug-out PVC drain end, the drain rooter, the roots that I pulled from the pipe, and the completed downspouts to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. Additionally, one of the shorter runs had a clog too – fortunately no drain rooter needed there. It was a seven foot run and cleaned right out with a  bit of work by the metal drain tape.

Every Day I’m Croquet-ing

While I cant compete with the totally sweet built-in Shuffleboard that Robert over at Live Better Electrically has, we have land, and an important requirement as a land baron is that one must have appropriate games to partake in so you can utilize those vast green expanses.

When we moved in, we found a nice Bocce set in the basement…pretty sure it was from 1983, I may even be able to find a picture of it in some of the albums or slides I have:

Bocce set from the 1980s...nice shorts dude.

Bocce set from the 1980s…John Ritter’s ghost called and wants his shorts back.

But no yard game group would be complete without the mother of all lawn games:

The all-new Croquet set

The all-new Croquet set

Huzzah! Croquet! Just picked this up today.

Mary and I get married in a few weeks (August 10th) and my brother and sister and their families (kids) will be staying with us. Pretty sure we’ll break this out a few times.

Of course if it’s rainy, we can always play with the Legos from my childhood that are in the basement (on the ping pong table) too:

The Sorting of the's a little like the crushing of the grapes.

The Sorting of the Legos…it’s a little like the crushing of the grapes. Sort of.

Owego Home Tour

A few months ago I reached out to the new Executive Director of the Tioga County Council on the Arts here in Owego (who also runs the Aesthetic Outburst blog) and pitched an idea: Given that Mary and I have a very unique mid-century house, what if the annual Home Tour included not just classic Victorian period architecture, but started to also show some of the interesting examples of mid-century architecture as well? She thought it was a great idea, and would discuss it with the chair of the Home Tour committee.

This of course meant that I would be asked to join the Home Tour committee. (surprise, surprise.) Mary and I are no strangers to this, so it was an easy idea for us – our loft in downtown Binghamton was featured on Binghamton’s “Loft Life” walking tour for several years.

We had our first meeting for this year a few weeks ago, where I shared my idea with the committee. There were a few skeptical glances at first as most people’s ideas of these houses are small ranches, but after whipping out my phone and showing a few pictures…they were believers too. The logistics are being worked out and it’s stil a long way off, but with a little luck and some good planning, late in Fall our house will be featured as a part of Owego’s Home Tour as a special mid-century stop and we’ll feature information about the house, the neighborhood and how it all of this area of Owego came into being as part of the expansion of the town when IBM built their plant here starting in 1956. Stay tuned for more information!