Nature Favors the Prepared

We are heading into the teeth of a storm, going up to Cassel CA prepped with a 20’x20’ tarp. We had a doozie of a storm last year about the same time but that was a one day event, albeit complete with hail, thunder and lightening.

This is what it looked like last week.

The biggest thrill was being in Hat Creek as a family of 8 -10 river otters swam by. Second biggest was hearing two bald eagles court.

Aquae Vitae

Aquae Vitae

More later but we are excited to have (almost) finished our (first?) kinetic fountain: Aquae Vitae! A few minor tweaks to come, of course.

Except for the screws, nuts, inserts, bolts and shaft, most parts fabricated were by us. We also repurposed an old steam valve, an old spigot and, of course, the big wine bottle, glass and barrel, and a few decorative items.

We learned a ton. Oh my. This was a wee bit more complex than we imagined when after looking at the wine bottle fountain, we said “Wouldn’t it be cool if the glass tipped and refilled?!”

Well, yes it is very cool! It looks so simple, as complex things often do. There are magnets. There are counterweights. There is friction. There are gears.

Quick Project: Yard Art Turkey

The fountains are fun but they take quite a bit of time as we have to make each piece. And sometimes you just want a quick fun project.

I started this during the week, using some scrap fence boards we’d picked up a while back. They became the turkey feathers. I cut the head out of a scrap of particle board.

wooden turkey yard art

On Saturday, we made the profile of the turkey head and the wattle from a piece of copper.  We also made a better base out of some scrap wood so the turkey would be more stable.

wooden turkey yard art


The Tipsy Fountain Preview (Fountain #4) – A Work in Progress

We’ve been spending a few hours every weekend working on another fountain. After making the one with the bottles that pour into each other and then into a mounted glass, we thought “Wouldn’t it be cool if the glass could tip over and then refill?” (I’ve temporarily named it The Tipsy Fountain.) Oh my!  As with many ideas, it sounded so simple. Well not simple, but I don’t think either of us had a clue as to how complex it would be and how many components we would end up making.

First we built a base from scratch, rather than using a recycled chair stand.  This involved me turning the largest thing I’ve ever turned, a 4×4 with some additional wood laminated onto it. It was a little scary to flip the switch on the lathe the first time but all went well. Rather than suspending the half wine barrel reservoir we built a beefy stand from a piece of a steel column that was on its way to the landfill when we spotted it,  It took a few whacks cutting that down to size and bending the shoulders, then creating the cross piece that will support the barrel and cutting the slots for it to slide into the column.

spun 4x4 for fountain yardarm


Once we had the barrel in place, we mocked up the tipping glass: duct taping the wine glass to a piece of wood that rotated, using clamps as a counterweight, trying to find the perfect balance where the glass would fill, tip over and empty, then get upright again to start the process over. We laughed out loud when we got it working–but it was too slow and inconsistent so we switched out the wood for a metal mounting arm.  Then it was too fast and we laughed louder.  It was comical.

First up was figuring out how to slow the movement down. We built a platform for the glass and used a steel rod as the rotating piece. Marlo got the brilliant idea to use magnetic friction to slow the glass movement down, so then we had to build all those parts and play around with different sizes and strengths of magnets.  There was a lot of sparks flying.

grinding some metal

The glass fits over the round piece of walnut. We switched the counterweight from clamps to a copper ball.The copper counterweight is adjustable in the back slot, although we’re probably scrapping the copper ball.

At the same time we were also figuring out how to hang the wooden spigot we’d found at an antique show, which will fill the glass, and the antique metal  valve we are using to split the water flow.

Now we are back to the counterweight and glass movement. We successfully slowed the glass movement down but we need stoppers at either part of the journey. Again with the magnets! So more are on order and we began building the piece that will hold them just above the barrel.

It’s amazing how many different components there are to this, each hand built with threads tapped and insets embedded, screws cut to length, magnets hidden about the piece, brackets built (cut, drilled, ground and mounted).

threading a hole in metal


When you look at it at the end, much of our work will be invisible and you won’t see the many steps it took to get it all working.

Sculptures and Fountain at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek is an amazing place, full of succulents and drought-tolerant plants from around the world. It’s 3.5 acres of beauty–and starting June 17th through August 19th, the garden is filled with art and sculptures of many different Bay Area artists–including us!  All of the art and sculptures are for sale as part of a fundraiser for this non-profit.

silver heart fountain with succulents

We installed the Silver Heart Fountain and replanted the pots with succulents from the nursery at the Ruth Bancroft Garden.

Marlo and The Golfer

We also installed The Golfer and The Fiddler.


The Fiddler metal sculpture

We hope you will go visit the garden. It’s a fantastic resource and a beautiful place with very friendly and knowledgeable people.

Ebony Cheese Knives or Dip Spreaders

Once we made the first board, we started talking about cheese knives. Marlo had two old pieces of ebony. They were actually decorative carved heads that had seen better days. They were a great length for a long cheese knife so we each set about turning one. Marlo used his metal lathe and I used my wood one to turn the handles, then we used our belt sanders to make the blades. It turns out that the woods were not the same. You can see how much darker his is. But oh my! Once buffed out, they look like they have a varnish on them.

ebony cheese knives

We then bought a small set of ebony pen blanks and I turned the handles on the wood lathe. I did a few blades and Marlo did a few. He has made quite a few metal knives over the years so has more experience making blades for sure. But what a trip. I love making functional art and it’s fun to stretch your comfort zones a bit.

ebony cheese knives and dip spreaders

ebony cheese knife

These are the first items up on our Etsy shop.

Cheese Boards from Cherry

I have never done any wood carving before but Marlo got the idea to make a couple of cheeseboards from some cherry wood he had.  Wow!  The finished products are gorgeous and I got a good upper arm workout in the deal. Ha. Seriously, swinging a heavy wood mallet over and over is a good workout!

Wood carving is so very different than wood turning.  When I turn, the wood is flying off in showers of sawdust and all I see is the whole piece. It’s a grand vision and a wonderful thing but very different than carving.  When you carve, each strike of the mallet takes off a flake of wood, individual. And there are lots of strikes!  (As an aside, the shavings make great kindling for fires. We were doing this when it was cold enough to want a nice fire every night.)

In both cases, you take away what you don’t want, unlike other crafts where you add what you do want. That took some getting used to when I was first turning. You’re not building something–you’re reducing it.


I was also amazed at how smooth the wood is without sanding. Each stroke left a smooth surface behind. I can get fairly smooth with turning but not to the level of carving. Maybe that says something about my skill level. I’m definitely a novice turner.

You can see more of the boards here.

Wine Barrel Fountains

We wanted to make a fountain using a half wine barrel as a base. For the first one, we repurposed a chair swing stand. We welded a base to hold the barrel and used some chain to use to make it appear as though the barrel were actually hanging from the swing.  An old hook and an urn were used. And we welded some arms to hang plants from.  I need to update this picture as we later figured out how to remove the coating on the chain so it would rust.

Fountain of Repurpose


For the next fountain, we built the base from lumber and decided to use old wine bottles for the water feature. We learned how to drill holes into glass bottles and constructed a somewhat touchy system of hanging the bottles, which we are rethinking. The vines that are holding the bottles are merlot vines we picked up at a vineyard that was being ripped out.

wine fountain
Wine Fountain