Optimus 45 Retrofit–Tilley Cast Iron Burner Grate

Hippy New Year!

Knowing that I have a not wholly rational obsession with camping stoves, MJ gave me this little ring of cast iron for Christmas. It came from South Korea, so I assume it was made there, or possibly nearby. If we ever get a day where the high temp is below 60 F, I will crank it up with the following top:

Exterminate. Exterminate. Exterminate.

The ultimate hand warmer, or possibly an infant Dalek. Only Dr. Who nerds will get that reference.

Great Woodworking Books–Old School Edition

I attended the New College at the University of Alabama before I became decidedly Old School. In our Humanities seminar, we did things like break boards with our bare hands, and rappelled down a bluff on the Warrior River. As the only former High School ath-a-leete in the class (three sports), I was put on “belay,” so I had to hold the rope at the bottom of the bluff, and was responsible for everyones’ safety. One young sorority woman showed up to the rappelling exercise wearing a very short skirt. She slipped, flipped upside down at the top of the bluff, and showed everyone a nice pair of legs. Despite the distraction, I got her down with no visible harm.

To ahh, elevate the conversation, I declare that Lost Art Press, which published these two tomes, is a national treasure. Based in the South (Kentucky), they edit, typeset, and publish everything in the US. And these are some quality hardback books.

Their first famous book was actually written by an Estonian scholar named Ants Viires, and the full title is Woodworking in Estonia: Historical Survey. The strange and literally bizarre story of it’s translation and dissemination alone are worth the price of the book. The key players were the USSR, Israel, the USA, and the Soviet Socialist Republic of Estonia. Just another day when I wished I could make stuff like this up.

The book itself is thorough, readable, and best of all, it has pictures. Therefore I don’t have to do things like visualize how you can hand plane a board on a bench without a vise.

I Swear that’s not Me in the Picture. He’s planing Left Handed!

The publisher of this book, and co-founder of Lost Art, Christopher Schwartz, was obviously inspired by this classic. Here’s the cover of an equally fine book that Schwartz wrote.

Now We’re Talking really Old School

I’m making projects out of this book I got for Christmas like crazy. I’ll write about those later, but I see three more workbenches in my future. Schwartz, and his researcher Suzanne Ellison, go all the way back to Imperial Rome, and the oldest known workbench illustrations. Strangely enough, those benches work as well, or better, than modern ones. This design comes from a fresco from Herculaneum, buried in AD 79 by the explosion of Mt. Vesuvius.

Legs Again. Get your Mind off of Legs.

I will be forced to make one of these eight legged benches. Hopefully our local sawmill hasn’t closed yet. I’ll need a good sized slab of wood.

Flexcut Tools

American Made, and Made to be Sold, and Used

After the Stanley company turned into a seller of screwdrivers and hinges, I soured on US made woodworking tools. There were fantastic tools being made here, but they cost as much as a car payment. As I always had a car payment already, I turned to German and Swedish tools, as well as the occasional English one (Oops, I forgot about the spectacular quality of Canadian tools, and the value of Eastern European ones).

Then I ran across the smaller manufacturers like Gramercy and Flexcut. Flexcut blew me away with quality and value combined. I already had the carving tools sharpener (superb), when MJ surprised me with the gift of the folding carving knife, after I was commissioned to carve a spoon for the book A Gathering of Spoons. Wow. It was love at first cut.

Then last summer rolls around, and I have a large walnut bowl to carve (it still isn’t finished.) If I had not found the 2″ Flexcut gouge on the Highland Woodworking website, it probably never would have made it to the stage where it is now. And I had intended to mortgage the house and buy a Swedish gouge made by Hans Karlsson. Now I have a gouge and a house.

At any rate, I also have a re-vamped carving bench. More on that later.

Making Creole Mustard

Needs to Age

If you are weary of rich and sweet Christmas food, here’s one answer to waking up your taste buds. Make some Creole Mustard. This is a simplified traditional recipe.


1 cup ground Brown Mustard Seeds (I ground mine coarsely in an old hand cranked grinder)

1 teaspoon Garlic Powder

1 teaspoon Horseradish Powder

1 ground Clove

1 ground Allspice

1 teaspoon ground Fennel Seeds

Pinch of Salt

Equal parts White Wine and White Wine Vinegar

Simple and pungent, this whole grain mustard is a modernized version of the classic recipe from The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook (For those who have the newer hardback reprint, edited by Ms. Bienvenu, the recipe is on page 553.) The old method is to steep the spices (they also use Mace) in the white wine on the stove, strain out the spices, add the wine, along with some Tarragon Vinegar and Apple Cider. Warning–the last two ingredients are not included on the ingredient list in the book, and no quantities are specified. I just mix everything after grinding it all, and pour in as much liquid as I need to get the consistency I want. The simplest solution is the best.

This will be blazing hot on the first day, but leave it covered on the counter, and it will become gradually more civilized as the days pass. After a couple of weeks I put it into a mason jar, and then the fridge. You can also can this for future use. Either of these approaches beats anything at any supermarket.

The Curse of the Colonel

A Slugger?

Spring is just around the corner here, on the first day of winter, and Spring Training will be here in ein Augenblick, or the blink of an eye. The “Boys of Summer” will be back at it, and could there be fans this season that aren’t cardboard cut outs? But there is a food related curse that should be known to every baseball fan. Naturally, it involves the Japan League, Kentucky, and fried chicken.

A favorite Christmas meal in Japan, according to Deutsche Welle, is a big box of KFC fried chicken, which is known as a “party barrel.” KFC restaurants will decorate their Colonel Sanders statues in Santa suits as well, which is better than the Tokyo department store whose Christmas display was Santa nailed to a cross (a definite holiday mix-up there). “Party barrels” may include wine and cakes with fried chicken, which makes them so not KFC USA. So why would the revered Colonel curse part of Japan?

The Hanshin Tigers could be considered the equivalent of the Cleveland Sports ball team of the MLB American League. You win some, you lose some, at about an equal clip. The Tigers, however, became the sworn enemies of the fried chicken gods in 1985.

The Tigers won their only Japan League title that year, and the celebration turned both epic and Dionysian. Revelers gathered on the Ebisu Bridge in Osaka, and began throwing people into the river below (canal, actually,) who resembled members of the team. One problem–their star player was an American slugger named Randy Bass, who had a beard. There were no Americans with beards in the crowd.

Therefore, a plastic statue of Colonel Sanders was thrown in instead. Within moments, the Colonel was swimming with the fishes, and the curse was on.

Curses make much easier excuses than bad management and crappy players. Eighteen years of last and next to last place finishes ensued. In 2003 the team won a division, and over 5,000 fans jumped into the canal. The Colonel was unimpressed, and the Tigers lost in the playoffs.

Finally, in 2009, pieces of the Colonel were rediscovered, with eventually everything but his glasses and left hand being found. These were reproduced, and the Colonel returned to KFC. Sorry, but it didn’t work. Still crappy players and mediocre management.

They need to follow the example of a perennial doormat like the Atlanta Braves. They finally sign Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz, three Hall of Fames pitchers, and Bobby Cox as Manager, who racked up 162 Manager Ejections (a record by far for Managers,) but also racked up a bushel of league, and one World Series, title. Funny how talent beats a curse every time.

Moocher’s Compost Bin


The mooching lifestyle is far more under appreciated in the US than it should be. A person could practically live off of discarded items, and I am certain that many people actually do. There’s no tax on throw aways, either.

I am only a part time moocher, but I have dumpster dived and mooched in numerous locales. I pulled a fancy desk chair out of a dumpster, worth several hundred dollars, and then spend my time at the computer sitting in an old post and rung oak chair, that I mooched for $5 at a flea market. My latest mooch could prove to be my best: a flat bed truck full of cinder blocks, and the wood pallets this compost bin are made of.

The story is this. We have been have been showering the in-laws with free eggs, and one couple had just had a retaining wall replaced, and needed to get rid of the left over and used cinder blocks, more commonly known in these parts as “see-mint blocks” (cement blocks.) As my mooching has become a valuable reputation enhancer, they offered us the blocks, and with free delivery. We countered with an offer of thirty eggs. It was a deal.

The sweetener was that the blocks are to used in the construction of a smokehouse, and we offered free use of that as well, once it is completed. The blocks arrived quickly after that offer. I helped unload them, and they had been sitting on two pine pallets on the truck. My brother in law asked if I wanted them. He didn’t know I been looking to mooch two wooden pallets as well.

Three deck screws later, and I had a new compost bin, attached to the back of the chicken run. It is now being filled with table scraps, leaves, and chicken manure in various states of decomposition. It will be half full in no time.

Free Fertilizer

Next spring we will have mooched fertilizer as well. Which reminds me that it is almost time to grab a shovel, and get to work.

Wall of Saws

I will Cut a Board

We have here four restored Disston saws, which are book-ended by a Keen Kutter and a no-name dovetail saw. I bought these back in the days when almost literally no one wanted a hand saw. There really is no end to dipsticks.

Let’s go right to left, Chinese style, as usual.

Dovetail Saw

The little guy at the top has no name on it, but it has incredibly small TPI (tooth per inch). They are so small, in fact, that I had to buy an equally vintage saw set just to sharpen the thing, and set the teeth. It’s a fine saw.

Disston D4 Backsaw

Now we get to the bosses. This is a fine tool, made to work for decades. It has to be my go to backsaw.

Disston Miter Saw

No number on this one, and the miter box disappeared decades ago. I need to make a new miter box, and put this back to work. Miter box project number would be 1,498

Disston D8 Rip Saw

Bad news, 1x lumber. I have forsaken my circular saw for this relic. There is no refuge. I may have to go for even bigger game.

Disston D28 Lightweight Cross Cut Saw

A fairly recent, somewhat lower quality saw. With that said, the steel blade is just as good as the older saws. I may swap out the steel nuts on the handle with some older brass ones.

Keen Kutter Cross Cut Saw

When you see a saw priced at $1, buy it. This one was in miserable condition, but it was something of a size I had never seen before. Kid’s Saw? Who knows, except for some Keen Kutter collector. Actually cleaned up far better than I expected.

People who don’t know me think I am well organized (MJ’s boss even asked me how I stay so organized.) BwahHaHaHaHa. Here’s what my workbench usually looks like.

There’s a Bench there Somewhere

Four projects at once, and the turned piece is a Salt Grinder (seriously).

However, what is a workbench without a champagne cork on it?

Rejuvenating Cast Iron Cookware

Back in Action Again

Even someone as OC as myself occasionally slacks off. I pulled out a dutch oven that had this skillet lid sitting upon it, and there were spots of surface rust on the inside of the lid. Time for some rejuvy-nation.

Lard to the Rescue

This was a simple fix–lard and paper towels, plus some heat. This is a stove top treatment, so it does require some adult supervision.

Start with a practically invisible layer of melted lard. Heat until it smokes, wipe it out, and repeat the step until you get tired or fall asleep. After a few rounds, the rust disappears. Magic!

A Stovetop Skillet

It finally dawned on me why I like this skillet lid so much. It’s the handles. There isn’t a long skillet handle to get in the way of all the other things on the stove. This now is no longer a lid for a dutch oven. It’s a permanent resident on the stovetop, where it is used at least a couple of times a day.

Now I have to get MJ the 2020 Rosie the Riveter skillet. This is seriously a 19th amendment year.

Four French Hens

Proper Eggs need a Proper Basket

I don’t know the name of the sadist who wrote that never-ending Christmas song, “Twelve Days of Christmas,” but I fixed it by buying four French hens. To be precise, four ISA Browns. They could easily bury any of us in an avalanche of eggs.

Ethel the Brown Guards the Mail

These birds are hybrids, and bred to lay more eggs than a large family can eat. We are currently supplying five families with eggs, with only eight chicks, four Browns and four Barred Rocks. Do the math.

Ethel: “This is my Best Side.”

They are also remarkably handsome birds. There must be a passage in the French constitution, after all that stuff about liberty and equality ( thank Mr. Jefferson and Monsieur Lafayette for that,) that all French exports must look great. I don’t have a problem with that.

Christmas advice: Buy American Cast Iron! Buy German Tools! Buy French anything that has to do with Food! Have a Joyous Noel!

Great Southern Cookbooks, Part Three–Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book, by Chris Lilly

Alabama is the crossroads of BBQ. We probably ended up with the “world champion pitmaster,” because we have every style of pork barbecue imaginable, and at least one place that serves a pineapple bbq sauce. We even had one poor sod who tried to sell Texas style beef BBQ. Tried.

In short, we have more BBQ joints per capita than any other place in the States. We have one large multi-state chain of restaurants, Jim and Nick’s, which was started by two chefs of Greek extraction. Nick Pihakis, an acquaintance of mine, besides having created this pig empire, is one of the founders of “The Fatback Project,” whose aim is to return pork production to small farms with free range pigs (he even bought his own meat processing plant.) This is definitely a battle cry for those of us who have had enough of the disgusting practices of “Big Hog.”

He’s only resting and Getting a Tan. I swear.

This book is so good, just go and buy a copy. Archduke Bezos sold me this excellent used copy for three bucks, and the restaurant is only about thirty something miles from here. There is a chapter titled “Ode to Pork,”(take that, Schiller,) that quote from one of my favorite Roman poets, Ovid, who died in exile, and the recipe for “Eight-Time World Championship Pork Shoulder.” Don’t read this book while hungry.

In case you didn’t figure out that this is one smart guy who wrote this, Chris Lilly married in to the Big Bob Gibson family, after he graduated from the University of North Alabama. It just occurred to me, that I forgot to ask MJ that most important question, “Honey, does your family own a famous BBQ joint?” The Big Bob signature white sauce recipe is in there as well, though it is also widely available online. Yes, there is a mayo based BBQ sauce. Pure Alabama.

Let’s leave with a pic of Big Bob sporting his goods in 1956.

I be Big Bob

Pig out.


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