Hits and misses of DIY projects, both big and small.

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You will need a few basic tools to do this build:

• A plunge router, this is used to create the cavities.
• A rotary tool
• An orbital jig saw

tools 1

Making a Plan for the Inner-Workings

This post is done on a very cold day here in Wisconsin, -20 degrees. Too cold to be outside. Besides, this is much more fun. Anyway, below you will notice a horizontal cross section of the guitar. Imagine the top cut off. This shows, I hope, the routed out areas that make up the sound chamber, pick-up pockets, and control panel - brown in color. The brown hatched areas are the built-up sides. These are, for the most part, free hand drawings, so bear with me. I draw these again to actual size to avoid transposing measurements, I’m Irish, old and simple, need all the help I can get. Here goes. Again maintain that center line. If you look close you can see it on my plan.


guitar image

Applying the Plan to the Material or "field engineer” if it is wrong

Once you have developed the plan you are hap! hap! happy with, cut out around the outer perimeter of the drawing, lay out on the block of wood material selected for the body with neck attached, and trace. Don’t cut out the shape until you have routed out the inside cavities with the router. Once the routing has been complete, cut out the perimeter “shape of the guitar." This is where the jig saw comes in handy. Now the body and the neck should be one piece and in a rough form. Using the rotary tool, clean up any rough areas.


I use copper foil for all my shielding. You might say, “what in the heck is shielding and why?" Without proper shielding, the pick-ups, potentiometers “pots” and input jacks would pick up outside humming noises, even hum-bucking pick-ups don’t always stop all noises. I save as much copper flashing material as possible for this use. If purchasing is the only source, hobby/craft stores carry copper foil by the roll or sheet. I use latex-based contact adhesive to adhere the shielding material to the cavity base and sides. Got to think (environment) sometimes. If you want, you can substitute magnetic chalk-board paint for copper shielding, this works, but is not quite as effective as copper. Remember, all cavities should be shielded, except for sound cavities.

I know this may be hard to understand without progressive images. I didn’t start taking image shots till later builds. Feel free to contact me with questions.

We used to make what we thought was music with very rough instruments: stump fiddle, wash tub base and drum, four string guitar and harmonica. Not in tune, but fun. We didn’t consider ourselves poor, just resourceful. Doesn’t take much to make me happy. Did I mention I’m a simple, poor Irishman?

Electronics: Fun Stuff

electronics harness

Now we get into the electronics. I made up my harness outside the guitar, this way I can take time soldering and will be able to test the components before installation. I used all reclaimed pieces, pots, input, pickups, and any switches needed. You will need the following equipment. Various electronic component diagrams are available for free on the internet. Just search "guitar electronics." Many diagrams will show up. To start with, select one that is basic. I use all passive systems, meaning no pre-amps or batteries are needed, must keep that carbon foot-print as small as possible.

needed equipment

Needed Equipment:

• soldering gun
• flux
• solder
• cordless drill, I'll explain this later
• multi-meter 
• wire stripper
• assorted plyers

Follow the diagram very closely as to where the wires are located. I label all components, and use colored wire. You will notice some pick-ups have 4 wires and some 2. I make most of mine 2 wire applications, again, I’m a simple Irishman. Now we are ready to test.


This is where the cordless drill is handy. I use an amp, cordless drill, and a multi-meter for testing. Follow this procedure and things should go well.

testing tools

1. Solder following the diagram.
2. Test connections using the multi-meter set on ohms to check continuity.
3. Plug your jack cord, one end into the input of your harness, the other into a small guitar amp.
4. Turn the amp on with volume about half, crank the volume and tone pots all the way up.
5. Using your cordless drill, hold it near the pick-ups, you should hear an amplified version of the drill.

sound test

Happy thoughts, thanks.

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Top View/Basic Measurements

Guitar top

This bout design allows me to play all 24 frets comfortably, sitting or standing. The playing scale length is the distance from the nut to the bridge. The fret layout depends on this distance. I made my fret layout gauge from measurements obtained from a book. You can now find them on the net for free.

The distance across the body was directly influenced by my planer, that's the widest stock I could run. To cheap to buy a larger planer. The neck, body and headstock are made together. You wouldn't need to do this, a set neck could fit into a pocket built into the body, or a bolt on type could be added.

Always work with a center line, this will almost guarantee a near perfect alignment for strings, bridge, pick-ups, headstock, etc. Design your guitar to fit you and your artistic slant. Try to use recycled, or reclaimed materials. They are very dry, and probably not plantation grown, these two characteristics make great instrument material.

Side View

side view

This view gives a visual of the entire instrument. I canted the headstock so I wouldn't need string hold downs and to give it that Irish flare. The neck is a three piece laminated unit. I cut the pieces using a gauge I made of old sub floor material. One piece of the neck is mahogany, two are maple, cut identical in shape but not length. The center piece goes the length of the guitar from head to body tail. The Maple pieces go from head to two inches into the body, Glue and clamp. I use Tite Bond glue, does the trick.

This is my neck gauge.


Body Back

The drawing below shows how the neck is incorporated into the body back. The center Mahogany piece is 3/4 inches wide and runs the length of the instrument for strength and looks. The Maple pieces run just inside the body. You can run them 2 to 4 inches in. They are also 3/4 inches wide. The body back is two separate pieces 3/4 inches thick x 6 inches wide x 20 inches long cut to fit tight to the neck material. Dry fit, glue and clamp. To achieve the body thickness, I stacked another piece of 3/4-inch material around the perimeter of the body. This material can be anything and in pieces, no waste, and a good way to use small pieces.

body back

cross section

Body Cross Section

I'll get into the inner body design next post. Remember to maintain that center line through out the project.

We, my two brothers and I grew up in a small house that sat on cedar posts, our job was to help lift the house, no not by hand but, with screw jacks and build a block foundation under it. The point I am getting at is this, the blocks were used, salvaged from another house we tore down. At nine years old, I was chipping mortar from blocks to reuse them on our house. This type of approach has stuck with me through the years. We didn't get paid to do this, just our way of life., but a little cash would have been nice. Oh well, foiled again. Have a good time. Recycle, Re-claim, Repurpose.


Willow, Maple, Walnut, and Cherry

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DIY Framed Floral Arrangement

I've saved all of the corsages my now-husband gave me for Prom and Homecoming when we were in high school. I’ve always loved flowers and couldn’t bear the thought of throwing them out after the dance. Instead, I hung them from my corkboard bulletin board in my room where they stayed for many years. The flowers dried out and lost a lot of their brilliant colors, but they are still a beautiful reminder of our evening.

I wanted a way to display these flowers, and the memories so I framed them in a shadow box. I used some brown kraft paper that had a floral pattern on it for the background and used glue and a needle and thread to keep the flowers in place. In keeping with the romantic theme, I included a poem: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It’s one of my favorite art pieces in our home.

Dried Flowers Red

The entire project cost very little to make, the only thing I purchased was the shadowbox frame, which retail for anywhere from $10 to $30, depending on size. I did not have to purchase any of the other materials. The corsages did have a cost that my boyfriend paid, but since I am using them after their intended use was over and done with, I am not counting their original cost.

To make your own Framed Floral Arrangement you will need:

• Shadow box style frame, with glass
• Flowers and/or corsages or boutonnieres (must be dried, to dry flowers, hang upside down in a well ventilated area for a few weeks or until completely dry)
• Decorative paper like scrapbook paper, pretty stationary, pages from a book of poems. The brown paper that I used was from a decorative paper bag.
• Liquid glue, like Elmer’s Glue
• Sewing needle
• Thread, try to match the color of the thread to the color of the florist tape on the corsages/boutonnieres or to the dried stems of the flowers
• A romantic poem of your choice, can be taken from a book or typed and printed from a computer, use pretty paper or stationery if you can.

Gather Your Materials, Let's DIY!

The first task is to decorate the backdrop for your flowers. I used liquid glue to adhere the decorative paper to the cardboard insert that came with the shadow box frame. If your frame doesn’t come with a cardboard insert, or if the cardboard is too flimsy, you can cut a thicker piece of cardboard to size. The cardboard needs to be sturdy enough to support the weight of the glue and flowers, but thin enough that you can pierce it with a sewing needle. Be sure to allow the glue to dry before continuing to the next step.

Before gluing or sewing down any flowers, play with the arrangement you want. Try several different options by placing your flowers, corsages and poem in different positions. I like to take photos with my digital camera of an arrangement before creating a new one. That way you can look at all of the possible arrangements at once before making a decision. Once you have an arrangement you like, lightly glue your poem and each flower and corsage in place. Only put glue on the parts of the flower/corsage that touch your backdrop when the flower is laying flat. Allow the glue to dry.

Once the glue holding the flowers in place is dry, reinforce the flowers by stitching them in place. Use a simple running stitch and be sure to match your thread to the color of the corsage or the stem of the flower. Once every flower is stitched in place you can frame your floral masterpiece!

Dried Flowers Sewn

This DIY project is lovely way to preserve flowers from special events in your life. Be sure to keep the frame out of direct sunlight, to keep the flowers from fading. Enjoy!

Have a healthy and happy Valentine’s Day!

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Don’t burn that wood pallet! You can instead salvage the wood, imagine and build a guitar. Pallets are made with beautiful wood, once planed and sanded. Pallets have to be strong, so you know the wood is good. Stringed instruments need good wood to resonate and sustain, in the musical sense, well. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy a hobby than to work without a budget. The creativity and cost savings involved in these projects justify the three 'R’s: recycle, repurpose, reclaim. The environment will love you.

Wood Pallet Guitar Components Materials List

Below I will give an overview of the components of my pallet guitar, which has an Irish flare.

Control panel

The material list is as follows:

This guitar is made of pallet material and was handmade on a dare. Part of one of my class requirements was to have the students build or design something useful with little or no budget. They, my students, figured if they had to so should the instructor, me and my big ideas. So I couldn’t be out-shined. It is a six- string, 24 fret, semi-acoustic, dual humbucker pickup instrument. The following bullet point will list the materials used.


Pallet Guitar

Body top: Book match cut willow, maple pick guard, cherry pick-up plate, walnut in-lay
Body bottom: lark (similar to fir), reclaimed stadium seat.
Edge banding: cherry, water soaked to conform to guitar shape, pallet material
Sound ports: walnut pallet material
Neck: through body, laminated maple and mahogany pallet material
Pickups: four singles paired in reverse to create two duels
Fret board: Maple with walnut inlay fret marks and walnut banding pallet material, fret wire is reclaimed.
Headstock: maple, walnut banding pallet material, tuning machines are reclaimed
Control panel: pots are reclaimed, tuning knobs are reclaimed, slide switch is used and reclaimed, from a dumpster.
Shamrocks: maple
Bridge: reclaimed Hipshot type
Finish: woods are natural, shamrocks are toned with compressed grass and cedar foliage creating a green stain liquid. Top coat is low-VOC latex acrylic clear (3 parts per gallon), well under LEED guidelines for sustainable use.

Guitar Case

Guitar Case 

Next, the guitar case. I had much fun with this piece because I had to mix species of wood in order to have enough.

Case exterior: made with combining book match cut alternating species of reclaimed pallet material, maple and black walnut, shamrock is white pine.
Case interior: reclaimed material purchased at a thrift store, price, $ 2.50.
Padding: reclaimed carpet pad. Chain stay probably mined from a dumpster as is all hardware used on the case.
Finish: natural accept for the shamrock, (again foliage liquid)

Guitar Stand

Lattice Guitar Stand 

The guitar stand was fun as well, this has no mechanical fasteners and made of old flooring.

Tripod: reclaimed redwood spindles (removed from a house in). Back spindle is reclaimed furniture stock.
Top: Lattice design is throw away wood rips incorporated into a frame made of reclaimed maple flooring.
Finish: natural with clear coat as guitar and case.

Finish and Hardware

Note: All clear finish is applied with a high volume/low pressure sprayer (H.V.L.P.) system, creating little or no overspray. The only thing new is a set of strings, only after my wife, Judie, convinced me to buy for $6.00. It plays very well, and I use it often. No mechanical fasteners were used in the stand, case or guitar, other than visible hardware, such as, hinges, handles, guitar hardware, etc. All connections are doweled, mortise and tendon, or glue joints.

My next post will explain how to build this style instrument.

Attend a Guitar-Building Workshop in Wisconsin

A personal note, Judie and I won Best of Show and first place with this instrument. I still don’t consider myself an artist, just having fun with salvaged stuff. I would like to start workshops on this subject. I am hosting a pallet-guitar-making workshop at a local Marinette, Wisconsin, library for ages 9-12 building small, 3-string box guitars in February. Ages 9-12 years, limited attention span, I must be quick. These guitars are a 3-D puzzle that will work!

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Adding a bit of greenery to your living space is especially welcoming during the winter months. As the outdoor world is lacking color at this time of year, indoor gardens can bring an element of life and vibrancy to your home. When space is an issue, a mini indoor garden will add just the right amount of verdant ambiance to your space.

There are many creative ways to create mini indoor gardens, but the greatest ones incorporate innovation with the simplicity of plant life. Let’s take a look at 7 examples of indoor gardens and learn how you can make them a part of your own living space.

Lightbulb Planters

With lightbulb planters, you can enjoy the delight of Edison’s creation for longer than the life of the bulb. Repurposed old lightbulbs can find a new use as mini terrariums to create an inexpensive mini garden. Combine a few of these to a window sill or shelf or create a hanging version to accentuate your living space.

Lantern terrariums take up very little space and bring a beautiful element of life to any room. Making them can be as complicated or as simple as you like, but the idea is that the sealed space of a terrarium creates a perfect environment for indoor plants. It’s basically its own recycling facility. Plants breathe in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. Sunlight and carbon dioxide are taken in through photosynthesis and the plants provide food for themselves and water from the condensation from terrarium walls.

Assorted Potted Plants

Anyone can create a lovely mini indoor garden space using pots and plants, and then arrange them in an interesting way. It can be as simple or as bold as you’d like. You can choose a variety of shapes and sizes for the pots, or keep everything uniform. Even the type of plants you choose can be simple or elaborate. The arrangements can also be as effortless as stacked shelves or an intricate as hanging shelves for pots.

A garden of potted plants is especially wonderful if you grow your own plants from seeds. After they sprout and grow a bit, they can find a new home in your garden.

Mason Jar Wall Planters

mason jar plants

Mason jars are one of the most versatile everyday household items, and they make especially nice hanging herb gardens for the kitchen. With a few simple supplies, you can create a mini indoor garden that’s not only easy to create, but also easy to maintain.

Vertical Wall Garden

Vertical wall gardens require a bit of wall space, and they can be as simple or as elaborate as you’d like. The one pictured above can be purchased from Williams-Sonoma, but with a little research and some legwork, you can produce a DIY version for your home.

Mini Hanging String Garden

hanging indoor plants

Add some height and depth to an indoor space with a hanging garden. The beauty and structure of the indoor plants is the focal point of hanging string gardens because the eye is not distracted by pots. Their simple elegance makes them one of the best ways to finish a room’s décor.

Bottle Garden

A bottle garden is a self-watering mini indoor garden. Using any type of bottle, from a pony beer bottle to extra-large wine bottles, you can create a unique conversation piece that doubles as an indoor garden. If you’re busy and don’t want to add more plants to water to your to-do list, consider a low-maintenance bottle garden.

When space is of concern or you’re looking for something small to add the finishing touch to a room, mini indoor gardens might be the answer. They perfectly couple simplicity with innovation, and add the perfect touch of greenery to a living space.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Olivia + Socktopus

I love pampering my three cats with toys and treats. They are my and my husband's "fur babies" and we adore them. Our cats are strictly indoor only, we feel it's better for their health and for the local wildlife population. We also live in an apartment that doesn’t have a backyard.

Another way we keep our cats healthy and happy is by providing them with toys, games and plenty of places to sleep and hide if they need to get away from their sisters. We use some store-bought toys like a laser pointers, a large cat tree and an interactive food dispenser, but many of our cats favorite toys are homemade.

I have made them a cat tent, a cat bed (following directions for The Purr-fect Homemade Cat Bed from Elizabeth Atia in the October/November 2014 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS), catnip stuffed creatures, cardboard tube tunnels, foil balls, fabric pom-poms and cardboard kitty forts. The most popular cat toys have been some of the simplest and easy to make. I'll show you how to make Amelia’s favorite, the socktopus, and tell you where to find Emma and Olivia's favorites out of items you already have at home.


How to Make a Catnip Socktopus

To make your own socktopus cat toy you will need:

• An old sock, (a partnerless one with a hole in the heel, not the toe area, will work perfectly)
• Scrap fabric for eyes or other facial features, optional
• Polyfil stuffing
• Dried catnip
• Scissors
• Needle
• Thread

Gather your materials, lets DIY!

If you want to sew on some fabric eyes or other facial features, do this first. I know our cats probably care very little for how their toys look, as long as they’re fun, but I think having eyes on the socktopus makes them cute. Do not use buttons for eyes as your cat could pull them off the toy and swallow or choke on them. I used brightly colored thread to sew scrap white and black circles on our socktopuses, but you can decorate however you want.

Make the head by filling the toe area of the sock with the dried catnip and polyfil stuffing (I make mine the size of my fist, you could go larger or smaller than that). Finish the head by gathering the sock at the base of the polyfil area and sewing the opening shut. You should have what kind of looks like a balloon with a sock tube on the end. For a no sew version, tie a knot at the base of the polyfil. Cut eight strips for legs from the tube portion of the sock. Viola! Give to your cat to enjoy!

Amela + Socktopus

The socktopus is one of my cats’ favorite toys. This toy is so easy to make I’ve made several as Christmas gifts for my family members’ cats.

A lot of our cats favorite toys are not store-bought or even technically homemade. I'd call them re-purposed. Emma's beloved “red stringy” is a drawstring I pulled from a hoodie. Olivia loves playing kitty “soccer” with a ball made out of aluminum foil. Cardboard tubes from toilet paper rolls and plastic milk bottle caps are fun to bat and roll around. An empty (or just open) cardboard box makes a great napping spot. Take a look around your home before buying expensive toys from the pet store, you may already have something your cats will love!

Emma + Red String

Do you have a toy that your felines adore? I hope your cats enjoy your creations! Let me know if you make any of these cat toys in the comments below.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


I prefer to use the dovetail joint whenever possible on boxes and other projects I make. The joint is attractive and reflects craftsmanship. Even though it appears difficult, after doing it a few times it becomes far easier. I like this joint because it can be accomplished by only using hand tools. The tools in the photo are all the tools needed to make dovetails. A fine tooth trim saw, sharp chisel, mallet and the dovetail marking gauge. The gauge I use to lay out the tails and pins for the joint is made of steel and brass and is adjustable. The most difficult aspect is measuring and laying out the dovetail joint which requires some precision. That is why I choose to use a good adjustable marking gauge to obtain that precision.


A Dovetail Gauge

I purchased the gauge in the photo from a specialty woodworking store and by following the original directions that came with it the gauge has worked extremely well and been consistent. Some old timers make their own layout gauge but I kept losing mine so I purchased this one and have liked it for its precision and utility. It is made in England by Collett Engineering.

Hand-Cut Dovetails vs. Machine-Cut Dovetails:

The dovetail joint is mechanically strong and attractive and represents craftsmanship. There are products made now that can make dovetail joints by machine. Personally I still prefer to make them with hand tools and do not use the machines even though they are very accurate and faster. To my eye the dovetail machines lack that hand made look which I find appealing. When making them with hand tools you can run the risk of making a measuring mistake which means that you will have to cut all the tails and pins off and start over again. The box will be a few inches shorter but that is usually the worst possibility. If one tail or pin is laid out a fraction off it will also affect the remaining tails or pins. The machine dovetail takes much less time to accomplish but the hand made dovetail provides more satisfaction when complete and most woodworkers can tell the difference between the two techniques. There is also less opportunity for making an error when using machine dovetails.

I will not go into the details on how to make dovetails because there are many books and web sites on the step by step process of making the dovetail joint which are readily available. The directions that come with the marking gauge pictured are easy to understand and follow and will get a person started in the right direction. Sawing inside the marked lines and using a mallet and chisel to remove the waste material is all that is needed for a good dovetail joint. The times I have made mistakes was when I didn’t pay close enough attention and made the cut on the line or outside the line instead of on the inside.

Dovetails Make a Strong Joint

The box in the photo was made twenty years ago and has held up extremely well considering the hard use it receives as our firewood box. It stands as a testimony to the strength of the dovetail joint. Approximately seven months out of the year it has firewood loaded into it once or twice a day. The weight of the firewood generates pressure on the dovetail joints but they have remained solid. The box is made out of walnut and maple and it is the dovetail joints that make it so solid and sturdy. It has recently been refinished with an oil and wax finish and I added cut nails mostly for decorative purposes. The cut nails are square and it is best to pre-drill holes so they won’t split the wood when they are hammered into the piece. They do not provide much joint strength but provide an attractive and old fashioned look to the piece.

 firewood box.jpg

Dovetail joints appear hard to make but in truth they are not that difficult to accomplish with a little practice. They are time consuming and all it takes is patience, attention to detail and being precise in laying them out. The finished product shows craftsmanship and a certain degree of professionalism not to mention an attractive and sturdy piece of furniture. The photo of the firewood box clearly shows that dumping firewood into the box has not weakened it nor have any of the joints loosened in the past twenty years. The dovetail joint is a strong durable joint and with the tools pictured it can be accomplished easily. It should be said again that when cutting the tails and pins be sure to cut slightly on the inside of the lines you mark and everything should fit nice and tight. If the joint is too tight it is better to file a little off the tail than have it loose.

Dovetail joints are satisfying to make and provide a strong and attractive addition to a piece of furniture. The firewood box pictured is also used to store our woodstove tools when they are not in use so it serves double duty.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their mountain lifestyle go to their website, McElmurray's Mountain Retreat.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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