Simple Butter Churn

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I apologize for being gone for a time. A short stint studying to become a Mechanical Engineering Technician, followed by a new job forced B.Howe & Family to take a short sabbatical. Well, things are beginning to sort themselves out around here, and we hope to be back on track shortly. In the meantime, I wanted to let you know that you haven’t been forgotten. Here is a project that kind of blind-sided me last week. But it’s quick and easy, so I thought I’d pass it along to you.

As a woodworking hobbyist you sometimes run into strange requests. My wife recently came home from a trip and presented me with a crock pot saying that I was to turn it into a butter churn. What could I do? Since I already had the pot, all I needed was the beater and lid.

It should be said that I don’t know anything about churning butter. The basic idea is to beat milk around until the fatty bits clump together. This can be done by simply shaking a mason jar partly filled with milk, or using a mixer with only one beater installed. There are many types of churns and information is readily available online.

The paddle consists of nothing more than two crossed pieces of wood mounted on the end of the dowel. To fix the paddles to the dowel, I chose to use a hardwood wedge.

The lid is fashioned from a 3/4″ thick piece of pine. I cut the shape to fit the outside of the pot, then routered the edge to allow it to sit into the pot a little. A hole slightly larger than the dowel was cut in the middle.

To finish the wood, it will be wiped with several coats of mineral oil.

And that is it. A simple and quick project that allowed me to get back into the shop and get sawdust up my nose.

If you’d like more information on making butter, here is a link to start you off: How to Use a Butter Churn”. There is a lot of information out there.

Watch for more to come in the near-future, and thanks for sticking around.

Time for a Change

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There is change in the air.  It is Nature’s way, and B.Howe & Family is certainly not exempt.  We have had fun with the products and projects that we have been working with up to now, but it is time for something new.

Over the next while, a selection of new products will be appearing here on the website.  We hope you will find them interesting.

So for now, this site is Under Construction,


Do-It-Yourself Vinyl Eavestrough

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This year I decided that the eaves on my house needed some attention. They had bends, kinks, and cracks which just couldn’t be ignored any longer. I thought about hiring a contractor to take care of it, but then I thought what a wonderful opportunity to try out the DIY Vinyl Eavestrough I have been seeing around the hardware stores. It would be a fun project for me and &Family to tackle, and we may even save a few bucks.

So, after a little research online, it was off to the hardware store. The instructions I had found made it sound pretty easy, all the pieces just lock together and hang from clips which get screwed into the fascia. We played around in the eaves section trying to figure out which of the vinyl pieces went with what. There are a few different systems, and a few different sizes. BE CAREFUL! We had to go back a couple days later, because different sized hangers had been mixed into the same box and we hadn’t noticed while counting them out.

The first thing you’ll notice, is that the price of the eavestrough is really low. Then you’ll discover that each hanger is going to cost you $3-5 or more. And finally, the downspout attachments get up around $15. A little quick math and you’ll probably find that the contractor is starting to look good.

We take our materials home and get ready to start the back of the house. I rip down the old eaves with extreme prejudice, and a little too much glee, then the kids get all the soffets and fascia cleaned up and repainted.

&Family have become quite the painters&Family finally getting to the end of the soffets.

My research told me that we wanted a drop of 1/8″ for every 10′ of eave, so we figured out our drop, marked each end of the house and ran a chalk line. We then had to screw all the hanger clips in place. The website said every 24″, but those clips are expensive so I was hoping to get away with every 30″. (This turned out to be a bad idea – on the front of the house I went back to 24″) As we put the hanger clips up, we were also assembling the eavestrough. End caps were installed, they just pop on, then the hangers were slid into place. The hangers must be slid onto the eavestrough from an open end. Then it was a simple matter to line the hangers up with the clips and snap it into place.

The second piece of eavestrough connected to the first with a two-piece coupler. One piece outside, the other inside, and then lock together when you have the two eavestrough sections lined up. The coupler is pre-caulked and seems to form a good seal.

At the downspout location we screwed the downspout adapter directly to the fascia and the eavestrough simply slid into one end of it. There are marks inside which are labeled with temperatures. You want to place it so that the end of the trough is lined up with the approximate temperature at that time. These placement marks allow for proper contraction/expansion of the vinyl as the seasons change.

The downspout was pretty simple. Clips are screwed into the wall, and downpipe pieces are cut and attached with elbows to get the shape required.

All-in-all it was a pretty easy system to work with. But there are problems which I didn’t discover until later.

Problems, Mistakes and Warnings:
1) Cost: This may be an affordable method if someone was putting eaves on a doghouse or shed, but for use on your house I would strongly advise hiring the contractor. It’ll actually end up cheaper in the end.
2) Lack of proper instructions: I didn’t see anything at the store, the staff were of no help (who really expects them to be?), only a few little blog pages like this one to try and gleen info from.
3) Clip Spacing: This is critical – no more than 24″. Vinyl is very flexible, and when the trough fills up with water the wider gaps between the hangers allows the side to bow out and spill the water. In one instance it bowed enough to pop free of the clips.
4) Downspouts: The pieces are just held together by a screw, just like with metal downspouts. Be very aware of screw placement. It will catch every little leaf if it is in the wrong place. I suggest putting the screw on top of any slanted pieces.
5) Downspout elbows: They have an arrow on them which point in to direction of water flow. Pay attention to them.
6) Clogging: They will clog on the smallest things. Definitely plan on using the gutter guards – which I should note, are very expensive and you’ll need a lot of them to actually cover your eaves.
7) Pitch: The angle they suggest is simply not steep enough. With 60′ across my house we dropped 3/4″ from end to end at the back of the house. Along with using too few hangers, we end up with water standing in the trough after a rain. I increased it slight for the front, up to 1″ drop, used enough clips, and the eavestrough completely drains.

And my biggest complaint and the Most Important when planning:
8) Drip Edges: The original drip edge on your roof is probably set almost flush with the fascia. This is because metal eavestrough is nailed directly to the fascia leaving no gap between. The Vinyl Eavstrough has a clip and hanger behind the actual trough. This means that there is a 3/4″ gap and when it rains the water will run off the drip edge and straight to the ground behind the eavestrough. To fix this I had to install a second drip edge about an inch further out on top of the first, while still making sure to be under the roofing tiles. Not an easy job, and even more cost.

Overall Opinion: It is easy to work with. It performs the job I believe it was intended for. It should only be used for very small projects where hiring a contractor is just too expensive. On bigger jobs, like your house, it is far cheaper, faster, easier, and longer lasting to hire the contractor and install metal eaves. So put it on your shed, it’s a great weekend project. Don’t put it on anything bigger unless you have a lot of money to burn.

Update: We lived with the wide clip spacing on the back of the house long enough. During long slow rains there was little problem, but we don’t seem to get those anymore. Over the past year it has only seemed to rain heavily for shorter periods of time. This resulted in beautiful waterfalls pour down beside the house wherever the eaves decided to flex and spill. We couldn’t take it any more, so this past weekend we ripped the eaves down and added clips in between the existing ones. That means we now have clips every 18″. While it hasn’t been tested by torrential downpours yet, we can already see that the eave is straighter than before – much less sag. We are hoping for much better performance when mother nature decides to start soaking us again.

Beer Chess

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One of the things that amazes us about the game of chess, is the array of people who play it.   We have met five-year-olds, who know the basics,  and yet their parents don’t know the first thing about the game.  There is the smartly dressed business person enjoying a congac and a game with a colleague, or the grease monkey who crawls out from under a beat up old car to make their next move.  Kids pick it up in school from friends, teachers, and Harry Potter.  It is played all over the world, and by people from every walk of life.  This is just amazing.

Equally amazing is what people will do with the game to make it their own.  Which brings us to today’s topic: Beer Chess.  There are as many variations to this game as there are players, but I’ve posted some general rules below.  It can be played with shot glasses full of beer as the pieces, or simply using the cans as pieces.  There is a suggested board setup below, but just use your imagination. has a set of plastic tops for beer cans, and we are working on a cedar version to match our chess peices and board.

Now, in our mind, what can be better than a sunny afternoon spent on the back deck, with good friends, a barbecue, and a few intense games of Beer Chess.

Cheers everyone!

Boston Beer Chess Rules

This was printed in the ‘Boston Half Baked’.
Beer Chess is chess played with beer as the pieces.  Beer chess is the  unification of the intellect with the inebriated.  Beer chess is stimulating brain cells as you kill them. Beer chess was created during a weekend retreat at the McEnaney Estate in Jackman, Maine, thus making Jackman, Maine the Beer Chess capital of the universe.

Beer chess is played with beer, a lot of beer.  One side uses Light  Beer (white), the other side uses regular (black) of the same brands. (see  list below)  Our research and development team has concluded that one can  expect a standard Beer Chess game to last up to five hours, assuming neither  player passes out.  Intermissions, however, may be declared on a bilateral  basis.

As you may have realized, this game requires a big board.  While beer chess boards are now commonplace in Jackman, in other places their availability is still limited.   Again, our R+D team has arrived at a clever solution: bathroom tiles-large white bathroom tiles. Placed on a darker table at regular intervals, one can quickly construct a professional looking Beer Chess set. For and even cheaper board, cardboard coasters, available at most bars, serve as  impromptu, portable boards.

PIECES        White:                                        Black:
8 pawns:        Bud Lights (8oz can)             Budweiser (8oz cans)
2 Rooks:        Miller Light (12oz can)          Miller Genuine Draft (12 oz Can)
2 Knights:      Busch Light (12 oz Can)        Busch (12 oz Cans)
2 Bishops:      Coors Light (12 oz Can)        Coors (12 oz Cans)
Queen:           Michelob Light (Bottle)        Michelob (Bottle)
King:              Bud Light (Bottle)                  Budweiser (Bottle)


1.      When one moves a piece, one must sip from the piece moved.
2.      When one’s piece is captured, one must drink the entire piece.
3.      Castling requires two sips: one from the King, one from the Rook
4.      En passent requires only one sip (as in a standard pawn move)
5.      When one’s pawn reaches the eighth rank, and is exchanged for a queen (or other piece), one’s opponent must drink the remainder of the pawn.
6.      Once a piece is sipped, that piece must be moved. (taking back moves is not allowed)
7.      One may take as long as one wants to drink a captured piece, but the  piece must be quickly consumed when a second piece is captured.
8.      After each exchange of pieces, the players must toast each other’s  health with the exchanged pieces.
9.      When one is put in check, one must sip from the King.
10.     Passing out constitutes a resignation.
11.     A player may not go the the bathroom before his move.
12.     When one is checkmated, one must drink:
1)  The remainder of one’s King
2)  The remainder of opponent’s King
3)  The remainder of one’s pieces.
(That’s a lotta beer)

1.      Take big sips out of pieces you expect to trade, when moving those  pieces.  This technique evenly distributes the amount of beer you will consume, and decreases the amount you will have to drink from that piece when it is  traded or captured.

2.      If you are a light drinker, avoid exchanges (especially if you are down a piece)

3.      Avoid sacrificing pieces for position.  A sacrifice will only force you to drink more.  Remember, in this game, you can be beating your opponent, not only by the fact that you have a greater number of pieces left on  the board, but also by the fact that you have a greater number of surviving brain cells left.

Our First Home Show

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On Saturday and Sunday past (April 30 / May 1, 2011) B.Howe & Family was represented at the Binbrook Craft and Home Show. It was our first foray into the world of Craft Shows and from our point of view it was a success.

Most venders enter into a show with the hope of making enough sales to cover their costs plus a little extra.  Unfortunately, the attendance at this show was very low and most of the venders were unable to break even.  We did get to hear many theories as to why attendance was so bad, which gave us an interesting look into the minds of the veterans. There was also plenty of time to wander through the other displays and see the different ways people show their products, and to be able to talk to them as a peer rather than a customer.  We picked up many hints and tips about how the shows work and change, and which shows can be good or bad.

Our focus for this show was to gather reactions and opinions with regards to our own products.  We wanted to show them to people who were not concerned with sparing our feelings, and had different tastes than ours.  This show was to be a sort of product testing ground for us.  Of course we already had our own opinions about what people would think, which items they would be drawn to, and which items they would barely notice.  We couldn’t have been more wrong.

As you can see from the photos our display consisted of the cedar chess set, framed by the birdhouses on either side, and the whirlwinds hanging above.  We placed a couple of the camp chairs behind and a table beyond that where we had our sign, brochures, album, etc.  A last minute addition was the rug tiles, which paid for themselves the first day by sparing our backs and legs from standing on concrete for 6 hours.

So here are some of the conclusions we were able to draw from the weekend:

  • The chess table stole the show.  So much so that a few people walked away without seeing the other items at all.  It generated the most comments and discussions, and we are extremely pleased with the response to it.
  • The birdhouses drew some attention. People seemed to like the utilitarian style, commenting equally on the fact that they will fit into almost any yard and that they are a blank palette for kids to decorate.
  • We thought the whirlwinds would grab a lot of attention, however only a few people commented on them. The comments were all positive, however we feel that there weren’t enough to lend a confident impression.
  • The camp chairs went largely unnoticed, and we believe this is our own fault.  We did not have them tagged or labelled so visitors to the booth may have simply thought they were there for us to sit on.  We will be addressing this if we do another show.

So with that we have to label this show a success.  We learned a lot about the show process, and about our own products.  We have some ideas to further or better the existing line of products,and ideas for new items in new directions.  Thanks to everyone at the show who had the time to answer our questions and offer advice, and a special thanks to all the shows visitors for offering your comments and opinions.

Craft Fairs – a Beginners Look

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If you have been following our posts, then you’ll be aware that we looked into showing our products at a large trade show a little while ago.  That didn’t pan out, simply because we weren’t ready to take that kind of a leap yet.  Well, if good things come to those who wait, then perhaps we will do well with this new plan.  Last week the opportunity arose to rent some floorspace at the Binbrook Home and Garden Show put on by the Binbrook Agricultural Society each year.

We decided that we should try again, at least give it a chance, and a few emails and phone calls later we had enough information for us to make an educated decision.  We booked the booth.  Compared to the previous attempt, this was easy, low risk, inexpensive, and just an all around friendly option.  Here is what we found made up our minds for us:

Easy to Understand Application Process

  • We only had to deal with one email address,  and one phone number.  We weren’t required to contact one person about electrical, another about signage, another about tables, yet another about carpets.
  • The application form was simple.  A one page application consisting of contact information, product type,  and display requirements.  There was a spot to request electricity, and table rental was part of the final cost calculation.
  • Only one payment to make.  After we figured out the space cost, and table rental fees, we only had to write one cheque.


  • Where the large trade show was going to costs us several hundred dollars for the cheapest booth in the worst location, this show is giving us a central booth in a good traffic area with a table for less than $100.
  • It’s closer to home than the larger show, so we don’t have to factor in the costs of a hotel room for a weekend.
  • The shows insurance covers the vendors, so we did not have to get our own.
  • We won’t be surrounded by $10,000 displays, so we can keep our own display simple and within our means.


  • Leading up to our signing for the booth, we only had to deal with two people.  One very nice woman who we had email and phone conversations with, and her daughter.  That was it.
  • It is a long running show, in a small town, and from what we can tell it attempts to maintain the neighbourly feel that you don’t find in the more corporate shows.
  • Binbrook is a satelite town of Hamilton, and there is a good chance that it will draw a customer group out of the city.
  • This venue showcases local craftsmen and businesses in the fields of home and garden design and decor.  A good chance for us to discover how we fit into the scheme of things.

We will be spending the next couple of weeks getting ready for the show.  The brochures are ready, business cards are on their way, and soon the signs will be made and the products packed. We’ve worked out a tentative display floor plan, and lists of the things we still need to acquire.  It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s even a little scary.

If you find yourself in the the Binbrook area on April 30th, or May 1st, please stop by the Binbrook Fairgrounds and see us at our booth.  We’d love to hear what you think.

A Shoe Rack for the Closet

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It’s spring, finally!  And, one of the jobs which has to be addressed is cleaning out the coat closet.  The parkas get cleaned and stored, the spring coats are brought out, and winter boots are traded for running shoes.  It’s when digging out the boots that my wife starts to casually mention that we need a new shoe rack for the floor of the closet.  Within a few days the comments become more of an ultimatum.  So this is how you get this weeks blog.  We’ll be building a shoe rack.

Solid oak shoe rackOak shoe rack sketch

First we’ll measure the available space in the closet.  Then it’s out to the shop to figure out what we’re going to do.  There is a bunch of scrap oak left over from Rosemary’s Cupboard so we’ll use that.  I want to avoid plywood, so the rack will have to be made of slats.  A simple lap joint should hold the slats in place.  Arbitrarily I chose 1.5″ as the width for all the pieces.  And instead of being a single unit with two shelves, I’ll make two independent and stackable shelves, just in case  we want to use them for something else.  This is a one time job, so I’m not going to draw up a plan, just a quick sketch to help me visualize the finished product.

And here we go! The edges and slats for the tops are cut to length.  In this case the edges are 43.5″ and 12″ long, and the slats are all 9.25″ long.  Then a quick pass over the table saw to rip each piece down to 1.5″. 

The Edges:

Edge pieces and slat showing overlapThe edge pieces will need to be routered for the slats to overlap.  Install a  5/8″ straight bit on the router, set 3/8″ high.  Oak likes to splinter terribly, so to avoid problems make several shallow passes until the lap edge is 3/8″ deep.  You probably already know this but set the fence for the first shallow pass, and cut all of the edge pieces.  Then shift the fence back a bit and recut each edge piece, deepening the lap.  Repeat this until the lap is deep enough on all the pieces.  Switch out the router bit for a 1/4″ roundover bit,  and rout all the corners except the lap.

The edge pieces then need a 45“ mitre at each end so we can make the frame out of them.  To secure the corners, we drill pocket holes on the mitre and secure them with 1-1/2″ screws and glue.

The Slats:

Slats roughly laid outRepeat the routering process with the straight bit as with the edge pieces, this time putting the lap on the ends of the slats.  Use a piece of scrap as a push block to avoid tear out when the router exits the wood and as a way of maintaining the right angle as you move the slat across the bit.  As before, do several shallow passes until the lap is 3/8″ deep.  Switch the bits and roundover all other edges.

The Legs:

Legs showing pocket holes and light braceThe legs are 5.5″ x 8″ pieces of oak.  To make them look a little better, we cut a half circle out of the bottom with the band saw.  We rounded over all edges which wouldn’t be in contact with the top or the ground.  Then we added a couple of pocket holes which we will use to attach the legs to the top.  As a final touch, we cut a couple small triangles which will be glued in place as a light brace.


Assembled rack showing ratchet strap clampStart with the top:  Screw and glue the edge pieces together to create the top frame.  To keep everything in place while setting the screws we use ratchet straps.  These are just the ordinary webbed straps sold for cars, trailers, etc. and they are fantastic for clamping odd shapes or large pieces.

Evenly space the slats within the edge frame.  I simply glued them down, but for a stronger joint you may want to secure them with a small brad or finishing nail.

Both shoe racks drying up for the nightFlip the top over.  Position, screw and glue the legs in place on the short edges.  Glue the light braces into place.  Let the entire assembly dry up overnight.


Sand the entire piece and wipe clean with a cloth.  Apply the stain of your choice and finish with a couple coats of Danish Oil. 

Now you’re all set to shove your beautiful solid oak shoe rack into the deep recesses of your overstuffed closet where it will never be seen again, but you can be satisfied knowing that you produce a useful and beautiful object that will make your home a better place (if only subconsciously).

As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns about this post please share them with us.  Thanks for visiting.

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