December 6, 2009

The Blues Altar

About a month ago, I was asked to build a piece that would compliment the work of artist Tom Zotos. His recent series of paintings, titled "Birth of the Blues," showcases various blues musicians such as Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones. Tom asked for an altar to be built on one wall of PeaceLove Studios which would then be adorned with paitings, instruments and other blues paraphernalia. The only direction given was to draw on the aesthetic of a juke joint.

The finished piece consists of 9 modular units, that when joined with only a few bolts, become a freestanding altar measuring 16' long and 10' high. The inner frame was created with conventional building materials, then finished with wood from recycled pallets and corrugated metal found at a local scrap yard.

Although heavy, the altar was moved and re-assembled in only a few hours. A tree from my art window earlier this year was also on display as a "blues family tree". The opening was well attended, and also featured artists Jeffery Sparr and Jillian Clark, as well as a live blues band. We're going back to add some lights and color on the wall for promotional shots in the coming weeks. I'll be sure to post them once they're done.

Tom Zotos
PeaceLove Studios

December 1, 2009


For a number of reasons, wooden shipping pallets have been an integral part of many projects this year. Each board has a unique texture and color, created by years of abuse. Reproducing this look effectively would be near impossible. Most are uniform and size and are inherently strong, which makes them ideal for stacking and building simple structures. Best of all, they're almost always free, which helps when working with little to no budget.

Pallets are not without their faults though. Dismantling one is an arduous task, especially if you're trying to get the most out of it. An average pallets yields only 10 sq/ft of planking, assuming there is no significant damage. The upright 2x4s are usually discarded, as they are so riddled with nails they would destroy most saw blades. Another problem arises with the quality of the wood. Pallets are usually constructed from low end timber which is often warped. Individual boards are also weaker and unreliable, which makes them a poor choice for structual elements. For this reason, I tend to treat it like a veneer, using it to face sturdier material.

Pictured above is the smallest of 9 modular pieces that make up my current project. It will be my last to use pallets for the time being. Not only will I be using up most of my stock, but I want to start experimenting with higher grade materials and new methods this coming year. But first I need to finish the "Blues Altar" which goes up this week.

- they're also a great way to move a corpse.

November 22, 2009

Research: Juke Joints

"an informal establishment featuring music, dancing, gambling, and drinking. the term "juke" is believed to derive from the Gullah word joog, meaning rowdy or disorderly." - wiki  Research for the blues altar, an upcoming project.

November 1, 2009


This year for Halloween I decided to head out as Tony Stark; billionaire industrialist, alcoholic playboy, and (not so secret) identity of Iron Man. The costume was based primarily on Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of the character in the recent film adaptation of the comic.

The main component of the costume is the "arc reactor" which in the film, not only powers the suit, but keeps Stark alive. Unfortunately, there are no commercially available prop replicas that would suit my needs, so I made my own using photos and movie stills as reference.

The reactor consists of around fifty modified and scratch built parts. The three LEDs in the center are powered by a battery pack which fit in my front pocket. An elastic material was used to secure the piece to my chest and conceal the wiring. I'll post some pictures of the final costume once my friends get around to uploading them.

October 26, 2009

Penthouse Suite

Waterfire is a lot more fun when you're not on the ground.

October 24, 2009

Works in Progress #1

I try to document every idea that I have, no matter how trivial it may be. Whether its as simple as writing down a few words or building a full sized prototype. Unfortunately, other projects will come along and take precedence, and these ideas will get lost in the shuffle. I'm starting this series of posts as a way of revisiting these projects and possibly finishing a few.

The straight razor was a mock-up I created for use in a larger piece. At the time, it was only the blade and one side of the handle. It ended up being too large for my purposes, so I decided to finish the handle and bolt the entire thing together, thus creating a razor exactly 6 times the size of an original. I had a number of ideas on what to do with it, but never settled on anything. If I don't come up with anything soon, I'll probably paint it and hang it up in my bathroom, but I hope to think of something a little more interesting.

October 18, 2009

The Yankee I

"The Yankee Planking Bevel I is mad of maple wood and brass. It can be used on new construction or repair work. By adjusting the slide to the correct width, bevels for planking from 2” to 7½” in width, any thickness, and ½” back-out may be precisely picked up and recorded on a bevel board."Pictured is an original Yankee I, the first in a series of tools my grandfather created almost thirty years ago. In my continuing effort to understand how they work, I initially had to learn how a classic boat is constructed. Here is a (very) brief overview of what I've found so far.

Wooden ship hulls are built in several different ways. The Yankee I is made for use with the carvel method, shown on the far left. A recent article in Wooden Boat magazine likens carvel planking to a wooden barrel. "Barrel staves, analogous to our planks, are laid tightly alongside one another, and taper at the ends. A wooden boat hull is similar, but with a few extra curves thrown in." Carvel planking not only provides a cleaner look, but is also easiest to repair, as individual planks can be replaced without disturbing adjacent ones.

The edges where these planks meet vary in angle depending on their location along the frame. The Yankee I is used to copy and transfer that angle from one board to the next. The more accurate this bevel, the better the overall construction of the craft.

I am just about finished rendering the tool for both reference and illustrative purposes. My next step will be to recreate a Yankee I using one of the unfinished blanks found in the trunk. I will also be attempting to build a hull model similar to the one my grandfather displayed at shows using old photographs and his original diagrams as reference.

October 12, 2009


This is what happens when I get bored.

Spike Jonze's blog, WeLoveYouSo and Booooooom, had a competition this weekend to promote the "Where the Wild Things Are" movie. The premise was simple, build an awesome fort.

I assembled my entry in about two days using a pile of old pallets. No nails or screws were used in the construction of the actual fort. Instead the pallets were lashed together with hundreds of feet of twine. The entire structure is surprisingly sturdy, even up on the third level.

Unfortunately, this is only temporary. As much as I'd like to keep/live in it, I'll need the wood and space for an upcoming project. Check out the site to see the other entries, all of which are amazing. I was really impressed with the quality and volume of submissions.

Update: I won the grand prize! Check out the postings below, and special thanks to Jeff over at Boooooom for putting together such an awesome contest.

Booooooom: Wild Things! Forts! Winners!

WeLoveYouSo: Fort Contest Winners!!!

October 8, 2009

Yankee Bevels

"It is just that, a tool. It does not replace craftsmanship. It helps you do a better job, the right way." - Chester Rice

During his 50+ years as a boat builder, my grandfather developed a series of tools know as the Yankee Bevels. Although he undoubtedly used these in his own work for years, it was not until the early 80's that he began fabricating the tools and making them available to the public. They were sold primarily through a small mail order operation and at classic boat shows around New England, several of which I was lucky enough to attend with him. However, after his passing in the mid 90's, the Bevels and all related material, were placed in a steamer trunk and put into storage.

It was not until recently when I was contacted by Wooden Boat magazine did I consider digging out the trunk. Apparently, the bevels are still in use by classic boat builders throughout the area, and the magazine wants to recognize that. What started as a search for some old clippings and paperwork has turned into a full time project. Over the past month I have been digitizing, drawing, and modeling in order to launch a new website and possibly do a limited production run of my own using both new and old stock. For now, I still have much to learn, and will be detailing the entire process here in future posts.

September 27, 2009

Tall Boys

Two different base prototypes for an upcoming project. I'm trying out a few different designs and constructions techniques before I start on the final build of 8 pieces.