Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Condo Living in North Central Arizona - needs updating

Tuzigoot, Montezuma Well and Montezuma Castle
My wife an I have driven by these three early condo communities for the last 30 years without stopping to investigate. Recently, the National Parks Service offered free entrance to most parks during earth week. This was enough incentive to get us to visit these indian ruin sites in north central Arizona that were once occupied by the Sinagua tribe in 1000 AD.  The Tuzigoot property sat on 42 acres and had around 100 rooms, with river views.

If river views aren't good enough, one could travel 30 miles east to Montezuma Well. The water is at a constant 76 degrees.  Large amounts of carbon dioxide limit water life in the well.  Again the Sinaguan lived here around 1125 AD.

A few miles south is the location I would have selected Montezuma Castle.  This also has a river running through it and offers more of a high rise living option featuring 20 rooms.  It is walking distance to a casino.  Have times changed?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Adjustable Height Desk Update

This is a continuation from part 1 that can be viewed here: Part One Height Adjustable Desk 

The English Elm slab arrived slightly damaged due to its lengthy trip from Massachusetts to Arizona.  The nice folks at Berkshire Products provided a generous credit to compensate for the damage.  Now the planned 5 foot desk has become a desk of 4 1/2 feet.  
I spent two days peeling off the live edge and sanding both sides using 60, 120 and 230 sandpaper. Then, I mixed the 1/3 Linseed Oil, Naptha, Polyurethane formula provided by the - make-your-own-oil-varnish-blend.

Over the next 4 days I applied one coat to each side and wiped off the excess and let it dry overnight. On coats 2-4, I used 400 grit wet sandpaper during the application on the top of the desk to maximize a smooth finish. Here is the top after the first application:
I let the piece dry for another 3 days before mounting it on the adjustable base. Here is a photo at desk height:

Here the desktop is elevated to standing height:

I am pleased with the end result.  The top is smooth and I enjoy being able to stand and sit. Not a tremendous amount of workspace but it blends into the available space well and meets my needs.  The iMac is a 27' version that takes up quite a bit of real estate.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Product Review - WORX 16" Electric Chainsaw

Spring has sprung and now is the time to trim trees and remove any broken branches.  In years past I have manually performed this task with a very small handsaw the resulted in quite a bit of sweat and hard work.

I had been on the lookout for a small chainsaw for quite a while and The WORX product line always appealed to me from an aesthetic standpoint. These products look sleeker than the other offerings while offering the same features as the others for a competitive price.  As I usually do when purchasing from Amazon, I tracked the price using CamelCamelCamel and when it reached my goal of under $90 I pulled the trigger on the WORX WG303 16" Chainsaw.

I had considered the WORX WG300 14-Inch 3 HP 14 Amp Electric Chain Saw but now that I have had a chance to use the 16” version I glad I went with the extra two inches.  I often encounter branches that are in awkward positions or fairly thick. The extra two inches provide additional versatility and have worked to my advantage.

The unit has power to spare and the self adjusting chain is a nice bonus. The only slight negative I encountered is that the oil that comes with the unit (3.5 ounces) doesn't provide a whole lot of life.  I needed to purchase more oil after my first medium use.  The instructions are a little difficult to understand in some instances - for example the chain braking must be properly positioned or nothing will happen.

I wish I would have purchased this unit long ago instead of using my manual method for the last ten years.  The unit has performed flawlessly and has no problem with downed pine trees or large scrub oak branches. It won’t make you feel like Paul Buyan but you’ll get the job done with little fuss.  

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Height Adjustable Desk Project

I spend a lot of time at my desk using a computer.  For a while I have had a vision of a ergonomic desk that provides various adjustments and provides the ability to stand while I work.  Such a desk would also allow other users to enjoy the custom fit.  Additional criteria were that the desk should look good and come in at a  cost of $700 or less.  I don’t need a monster desk so my search was limited to medium sized desks or bases (3’x5’).

After an arduous search, I concluded there were several well thought out options and many pricey options that exceeded $1,000.  Those ideas and products that exceeded $1,000 were eliminated from contention. One idea used a “Perfect Chair” and a laptop desk in addition to a desktop giving the user the best of both worlds.  The idea has merit but I can’t imagine balancing a 27” iMac on a laptop desk. has an electric base for $615 and a desk with a top for $759 (shipping included). also has a selection of adjustable desks (electric) priced at $640 base only or $800 with a top (shipping included but $47 more is you live in NYC, Chicago or San Fran)

So far it is not looking good and the low cost is probably not going to happen.  However,  I continued my weekly searches and came across a base and desk option on eBay offered by Height Adjustable Worktable  The base on their website was $350 (they often offer $50 off for holidays like Easter) and is priced higher than eBay ($315 although originally it was at $270) shipping adds to the final cost; for me it was $22 (but I was only 100 miles away) through eBay for a total cost of $337.  I was hesitant to purchase this base because it was so much cheaper than the other options, but eventually I pulled the trigger.

The base arrived in 2 days and was well packaged in a small box weighing 44 lbs.  At first glance it appeared to be too small and my skepticism grew.  I opened the package and found parts to be individually packed and all of the hardware, including the necessary tools, were well arranged and securely packaged.  The instruction manual contained little in the way of written instructions but was well done and contained many pictures which clearly diagrammed the necessary steps needed. I took my time ad the base was complete in about 45 minutes.  If you are more mechanically inclined it might take you 15 minutes.  

The specifications indicate the desk can support up to 130 lbs, my guess is my weight will approximate 65 lbs. The base can be extended from 31.5” to 47.2”.  The height adjusts from 27” to 43” with the wheels attached and 3” less without wheels.

I was impressed with the quality and ease of installation.  I opted for the manual base although an electric option is available for $100 more.  The base is very steady and has a commercial feel to it and looks better than depicted in website photos.  I really can’t imagine the other available bases being that much better in quality, but I can’t say for sure.  It comes with feet, wheels or you can use it as it is, which I intend to do.

Although the desktops offered by all of the companies are probably functional and reasonably priced I sought something that would have a little more pop.  I searched multiple websites looking for live edge wood that comes off a tree in the form of a slab.  This option is somewhat eco friendly in that the wood is salvaged from dead trees rather than a generic formica top made from who knows what.

I also started looking at second hand shops for coffee tables where I might be able to use the top as a desktop.  I found one for $100 that might work and made the purchase mainly because it also matched another table I already owned.  Worse case is I could dump it on craigslist for about what I paid for it.  I mounted it on the base and it doesn’t look too bad and may provide a reasonable solution if I am unable to find a better option.
My space is somewhat confined and I could only use a top about 5’ in length by 30” wide.  After visiting several sources in Arizona I determined that most pieces available locally were limited to about 22’ wide and, therefore, slightly below my desired width.  Again, I ended up on eBay with a vendor located in MA that specializes in slabs - Berkshire  My first thought was shipping to AZ is going to kill me.  My second thought was these slabs are huge and way to big for my needs (some are literally 10’ in length and 5 or 6’ wide)  However, they had an English Elm Slab that was the second cheapest item in their inventory at $150 and met my needs (5’x24”x31”).  I was correct about shipping, can you say $137!
So another $287 out of pocket and the suspense of waiting a week while it made its way to AZ from MA.

Total cost to date is $624 ($724 if you count the coffee table top) my hope for a low cost solution is beginning to wain.  

Of course I know nothing about this wood slab headed my direction.  Can I leave the bark on?  What kind of finish goes on this type of piece?  Does it need to be sanded?  I found several tables and desks, that were made from live edge slabs, for sale which looked very nice and I wondered how much work was involved to turn a piece of tree into a $2,000 piece of furniture?  None of these artists were using a height adjustable base and all probably had a real shop, as opposed to a tool chest and a palm sander,to work with.

One of the more informative sites I came across was  I decided I would finish the top with a make-your-own-oil-varnish-blend which seemed to be time tested and the site operator let me know that this blend should work fine for my upcoming project.  I also decided that bark should come off because eventually it will work free on its own.

I  then made a trip to my local Lowe’s and acquired sand paper (60/120/230/400) Boiled Linseed Oil, Naptha, Polyurethane, gloves, wiping cloths and a mixing container. Add another $33, but I did receive a free tree because it was Earth Day. Total cost now $657. ($757 if you count the coffee table top. I’ll need to unload that coffee table to stay under my $700 budget)

I'll update when the top has been completed.

See Part 2 here