Parallam (PSL) side table

The mother beam

The mother beam

During a remodeling project in the fall of 2016, one of my family member decided to remove a load-bearing wall that divided a living room and kitchen. In order to maintain the structural integrity of the three story building, my brother, a civil engineer, worked his magic and came up with a solution that involved a 17ft x 19in x 7.5in parallel strand lumber (PSL) beam, commercially known as Parallam. Had it been covered in gypsum, the beam could have been slightly smaller in width and depth (to account for the fire retardant properties of gypsum), but PSL being a beautiful engineered wood product, leaving it exposed greatly enhanced the appeal of the room it was in.

Parallam (PSL) side table viewed from under

As delivered, the beam had an extra foot of length that was removed using a chain saw. My cousin wanted to toss away the left over part, but interested in the looks of the material, I picked it up with the intention of turning it into a piece of furniture. This summer, I finally garnered enough free time to get to it. PSL being very porous and brittle, it took severe belt sanding and 13 coats of polyurethane varnish to get a decent finish. Four legs later, I had myself a curious looking side table that since then has never failed to catch people’s curiosity (even more so than those other tables).Parallam (PSL) side table

Apple wood wine bottle stands

wine bottle stand

Two years ago, we had to fell an old apple tree from my parent’s garden. Wanting to experiment with this unusual variety of wood, I gathered the best logs and took them to a sawmill to have planks made and let them dry for a year in a shed.

Fast forward to last Christmas, not wanting to buy gifts and being left with very little time to come up with something before the 24th, I had the idea of making balanced wine bottle stands for everyone out of that old apple tree. It’s a simple project, it’s can be made in batches, can be gifted along with an actual bottle and would make an awesome souvenir of that tree we had so much fun climbing onto and playing around during our childhood.

Apple tree is a pain to work with, the grain is highly irregular and convoluted and the density of the wood varies widely within the same piece. However, the end result is spectacular, especially on the more weathered down parts of the tree, which have turned multiple shades of pink, brown and black due to parasites and moisture. From log to plank, there was a huge amount of loss but through keeping the project small I managed to get something workable out of all that wood.

 

DIY leather wallet

After 15 years of use and abuse in my sweaty jeans, my wallet had finally reached the end of its run. Looking at a worthy replacement, I started shopping around the web and found several canditates. However, either slightly too bulky or just out of my means, I finally decided to build my own. A tedious search on the web turned up this one, a template for a simple bifold wallet with slots for two cards on each size. Careful analysis of the design indicated that there was much more to leather work than met the eye and instead of cooking up my own design only to risk the wallet not folding properly, I opted to simply follow the instructions (for once). It’s sturdy, maintainable and looks good; hopefully, it will outlast me.

Wanting to offer some as Christmas gifts as well, I ended up making three. Here is abbreviated list of the challenges I encountered during the building:

  • leather is difficult to find, be thorough in you search for sources, call every fabric shop and cobbler in your region and once you find some, get there and feel the material for yourself;
  • sewing leather is long and tedious if you want to do it properly (with saddle stitching in this case), get the right needles and be patient, I ended up going through David Attenborough’s entire series on plants and birds in the course of putting mines together;
  • burnishing the edges of the leather (ie: make them smooth and shiny) is hard and appears to not work on vegetables tanned types; you also need a burnisher, which I build by cutting a section of a branch, hooking it up to a Dremel and then sculpting it to make a groove.

Printable recreational dive log sheet template

Having filled up the last page of my store bought dive log, I decided it was time I started printing my own log sheets. I wanted a template that could fit in a small binder (half letter (5.5″ x 8.5″) or A5), where there was enough space on the page to log two dives and that gave me ample space for comments while providing the standard diving data fields. Unfortunately, I could not find anything that suited my needs so I decided to put together my own.

Click here to download

Dive log demo

Printable dive log sheets full page

It features the following built in fields:

  • dive number
  • dive start time
  • visibility
  • air and bottom temperature
  • site
  • location
  • depth
  • air or nitrox (EANx)
  • gas consumed
  • weight
  • time under
  • safety stop
  • boat or shore dive
  • fresh or salt water dive
  • notes
  • buddy or divemaster signature and number

The layout is compact and text has been kept to a minimum: you write the units yourself. Once it has been printed (on good paper stock and double side preferably), cut the sheets in half along the dotted line, punch holes if you want to store them in a binder and go log some dives.

For those interested in the source, here it is. Suggestions for improvements are welcome!

Fold-down back seat modification on a Toyota Corolla 1999 VE

Toyota Corolla 1999 VEOn several occasions lately, I’ve had to transport long objects or gain access to the rear strut mounts in my Toyota Corolla. On most cars, this would have meant to simply pull a lever in the trunk and fold the back seat down but for some reason, Toyota had made this an option on my vehicle (the North American VE model).

So in order to be able to take advantage of the full length of the car, I had to remove the rear seat, which is not that difficult and only requires a socket wrench, but still massively inconvenient. While undoing the seats, I had originally thought of a way to make removal easier and tool-less in the future, but did not decide to make the modification. Until now, with winter at my doorstep, I’m convinced fold-down seats are going to prove themselves quite practical should I want to go skiing.

The mod is quite easy and requires no specialized tools or knowledge. The end result is that you will be able to lift the backrest up and lay it flat on top of the bottom cushion, exposing the opening to the trunk .  Since the seat belts are bolted to the frame, disturbing the seating should not have any effect on their function. However, you might end-up discarding a part I call the V frame, which could possibly have some structural or security importance, I’ll get to it later. Lastly, I’m not going to post a full disclaimer, this is the internet so you’re following this guide at your own risk. If you or your passengers get hurt because of this modification, nothing can be held responsible but you and your judgement.

Removing the rear seat

Bottom cushion out

Bottom cushion out

Taking the rear seat apart is nothing really complicated. The bottom cushion is held to the frame of the car by only two plastic clips that are approximately lined with the two front seats. You can even feel them by running your hand under the cushion along the outer edge. Pry them out with a sudden pull and they should give.

Backrest out

Backrest out

Next, undo the three bolts holding the back cushion to the frame. There is a bolt in the middle and two at the extremities close to where the seat belts attach to the frame. Lift the backrest out and set it aside outside the car. At this point you can re-install the bottom cushion to make working in the car a bit more comfy. Finally, push out the black plastic cache that separates the trunk and the interior.

If you just wanted your rear seat out only as a temporary measure, stop here. The car is perfectly drivable in this state. You might notice the road vibrations becoming somewhat louder but that’s entirely normal given the amount of noise insulation you just removed.

Removing the V frame

V frame removed

V frame removed

What I refer to as the V frame is the coincidentally V shaped piece of pressed sheet metal bolted right in the middle of the opening to the trunk. It’s in the way but if it does not bother you you can certainly keep it there. I, for one, decided to remove it because I did not deem it to be critical for the safety or handling of the car. First, Corollas with factory installed fold-down back seats do not have it and I’d be really surprised if their frame was any different than the standard model to account for the added structural integrity. Second, if it’s purpose was to give the body more stiffness, the V would be upside down. It could have a part to play in case of rear collisions, but my theory is that it’s meant to add support to the rear seat. So If you agree with my logic, you can go ahead and remove the six bolts that hold the V frame in place.

Fastening the bottom cushion

Bottom cushion fastened

Bottom cushion fastened

Last major step is fastening the bottom cushion. It has three metal prongs that would normally slide under the backrest part of the seat, but since it will now become loose, the bottom cushion needs to be attached to the frame. Once you have re-installed the cushion, simply drill holes where the prongs are. Rest assured, the metal is not very thick and your fuel tank is a safe distance below. Once that is done, use properly sized sheet metal screws and washers and thread them through the holes you just did to hold the cushion down.

Cut that metal prongOf the metal prongs on the bottom of the backrest that used to be screwed to the frame, the middle one get in the way and should preferably be removed. Its not absolutely necessary, but it will make installation easier. This procedure can be accomplished with a bolt cutter or a metal saw. There is another prong right next to the one you just cut that is meant to slide under the seat cushion; leave it in place.

Finally, slide in the backrest, thread the seat belts in their correct position and set it so the metal loops below the headrests pair up with the hooks on the frame. Give it good tap so it sits correctly and you’re done. Nobody should ever notice this little trick but I’m sure its going to prove itself very useful.

Done! You can now transport dead bodies in your trunk without having to cut them up.

Done! You can now transport dead bodies in your trunk without having to cut them up.