Monthly Archives: March 2014

The History Behind the Birthday Dragon Chest


The Dragon Chest, created for my granddaughter’s 2nd birthday, includes my interpretation of many stories that try to include some of my granddaughter’s heritage. Because her ancestry is so diverse, she is indeed the epitome of the American Melting Pot, I was forced to limit it to two. I went with Chinese and Norse/Celtic. As I make and will be making, God willing, chests for each grandchild I want each chest to be unique as a part of this new family tradition.

The first chest, for my first granddaughter, was made out of red cedar from her own back yard and petrified wood from the abundant fossil fields of Las Vegas so this one needed to be as different as one child is from another. I was struggling trying to decide on a path for this chest, a vision all its own if you will. I just couldn’t come up with a plan. This problem persisted for months. Then I had a dream and there was the chest with a Chinese pagoda roof style lid and a Viking ship base. I told about it Grammie that morning. “Good News!” I had a place to start.

The Chinese Influence 

Since my granddaughter was born in the year of the water dragon, 2012, and because of the dream, I decided to put dragons on the “roof.” I started with ones on the top and the 4 on the corners plus the water dragon holding a crystal on the front for a total of seven. That was changed to 9 dragons by Grandma Jean. There are 2 dragons on the ridge, 4, one on each corner, 1 one each end and of course the main dragon, holding a crystal, on the front. The main dragon was inspired from a 2012 Chinese calendar.


The dragons on the top and corners are straight out of my dream.

The dragons on the sides were inspired by Chinese parade dragons kind of peeking over the edge. And also inspired by the wood I had that I thought looked an awful lot like dragon eyes. The yellow tongue is naturally cracked and came from a Mulberry tree.




The angry dragon?


The happy dragon?

The sides of the roof have slats instead of individual shingles like the front and back. The front has a pattern with the shingles whereas the back was strictly random. This was inspired by the Chinese concept of yin-yang with opposites being intertwined and interdependent.


The rocks (all collected by Rock Hounds Grammie and Papa, in the Las Vegas valley and were individually selected from our large selection) combined with the wood (also collect From the Streets of Las Vegas) were used for their individual beauty and to also follow this same yin-yang philosophy. Yin-yang was also followed by using yellow rocks on the sides while the front and back are a mixture…opposites. I did not include the Chinese yin, opposite of the yang dragon, the Chinese phoenix, because this about dragons and not their opposites.

I may have this all wrong but that was what led my reasoning.

The Chinese influence does not end with the exterior on the top. On the inside is our granddaughter’s name in Mandarin Chinese. The interior is made from 1/2 inch ply-wood that was recovered from Jimmy John’s restaurant by my good friend, Al Popp and donated. It was their menu that had become out of date.

The color purple (the royal color for our little princess) is (currently) her favorite color.


The Viking Dragon Chest

Both Grammie and Papa have Viking blood so this ancestry was an easy choice. But there was another reason: DRAGONS.

Both Chinese and Nordic history have a strong dragon influence. Why such distant cultures have the same (ALLEGEDLY) mythological creatures of legend is yet to be discovered. Did dragons once fill the skies, swim in the seas and walk upon the lands of both Europe and Asia while men marveled? is as yet and unsettled question.

Many Viking ships were decorated with dragons, from the ship’s figureheads on the bows to intricate intertwined dragons on the sides of their ships.

The front of the chest is adorned with intertwined dragons inspired by the Oseberg burial ship of Queen Asa of Norway Circa 830 AD.




The dragon on the left side of the chest is a replica of a Viking figurehead from Oslo, Norway. The handle of the left side has a fork like a dragon’s tongue.



I placed a Viking ship with sails full of wind and a dragon figurehead on the right side of the chest just below a handle that represents a lighting bolt:


Weeping Willow was used for the body because of its beautiful dark lines and to give it an aged appearance. No stain was used on any of the chest. All the coloring is natural with only a Clear Coat finish. The trim on each corner was left with “live” edges to mimic Viking clinker built ships.

On the interior I included a dragon I made in 80s that once graced the front of a shield originally carried into battle by my granddaughter’s father. These battles raged on the streets and backyards of Reno, Nevada. It even has original battle damage on the fire plume, chipped by a swords (I also made) in the heat of battle. Many lives were pretended to be lost on those bloodless fields and much glory gained.


Just above the dragon is a naturally heart shaped cut of Red Cedar to represent the love that went into the construction of this chest.

The lid supports are a combination of rope, for the Viking ship’s sails, and chain to hold anchors so the she may always remember to stay anchored to the love of her family, the extended family joined together by these supports. But to also keep her dreams in the wind so she may follow where her heart leads.

The floor of the chest is framed in pine, cut from the family’s 2013 AD Christmas tree. The floor also has the finial dragon. A naturally formed stone Grammie and I found while rock hounding. The Red Cedar came from a tree cut down and loaded into a trailer to be hauled to the local dump that I rescued last year and inlaid with stones and crystals. One of the small pieces on the floor has what appears to be a “flux capacitor” created by three small branches coming out of another small branch. I laughed when I found this as this chest is its own time machine.


As the finishing touch and for practicality I needed a handle. I couldn’t find one I liked until I went to an antique shop and found this one. It was perfect.


I have been asked many times how long it took to build this chest and the honest answer is that I do not know. There was well over 100 hours expended on the wood and rock work. I have over 16 hours just in sanding. But how many hours were spent rock hounding? How much time designing the chest and the dragons. How much time went into to collecting the many different types of wood from all over the valley that other people thought was only fit for the dump? I guess it took somewhere around 250 hours but that is a guess at best and does not include the time I took considering the possibilities nor having the dream that made it a reality. Does sleep time count?

And so the story ends and a new project beings.

Happy birthday!

The Dragon Chest And My Granddaughter’s Name In Mandarin Chinese

I am getting close to finishing my 2nd granddaughter’s 2nd birthday chest. The one with the 9 Chinese Dragons on the top half. I cut her name, in Mandarin Chinese, out of wood, yesterday. I used a scroll saw.


I printed up the  hanzi (漢字/汉字), sent to me by Grandma Jean (thanks Jean), for a pattern then glued the paper not bothering to cut out the figures as the saw did that for me. I glued the printout onto 1/4 inch thick birch using Elmer’s glue sticks. This holds well while cutting and is a good way to get the paper off afterwards by just putting the material in water. The first time I tried this with printing a Viking ship with a dragon I used Hot Glue. BAD CHOICE. I had to sand it off and it ruined a sanding belt. Dipping it n water for 30 seconds and pealing off the parts that didn’t just fall off was cheaper and easier.


I sanded them a little then spray painted them metallic gold.


I  glued them on with 5 minute epoxy.


I’m almost done. I better hurry. Her birthday is this week. Just a couple of touchups and the hinges are left to go.


Trying Something New II

This is a continuation on for Trying Something New.

I took the blocks of wood made from discarded redwood 3×3 posts that I fond near Decatur and the 95. I drilled them out using Forstner bits. I started with an inch and a 1/4 them moved up to 2 1/4 then finished it off with a 3 inch bit. I cold not have attempted this with a smaller drill press. I could have just used the 3 inch bit if I wanted to destroy the bit and the wood. It really required a step by step process.  I tried to do this with a hole saw and it was a royal pain. It took about 30 to 45 minutes per flagon to drill out using the Forstner bits. It have taken 2 hours a piece with the hole saw.



S1210006I cut the outside of the first one I started and added a branch handle:



I still have to finish the rest of the blocks. There are 5 more. The 7 inch tall flagons hold 24 ounces of liquid (that’s 3 cups). I have 4 more of those and one 6 inch that hods a little over 2 cups. The branch next to flagon with the forked end will become a handle to one of the other flagons.

Shelves for the Craft Room

We are  putting together a craft room since the projects are expanding and more people are getting involved. In the Spirit of From the Streets of Las Vegas we only wanted to use things we’d picked up around town to recycle. We don’t find a lot of shelf brackets so I decided to make them out of tree branches. I made  one shelf out live edge wood with a bit of warp to it. That’s two disks for the Red Cedar tree I just found last week.


I’v never made a bracket like this one on the left before with the two supports. I just found these branches today over on Lamb Blvd. They are Mesquite.  I pealed the bark on these because it doesn’t have much character and cracks off as it gets old and dries out more. A quick couple of spray of Rust-oleum gloss Clear Coat and it leaves a very nice yellow wood. I cut the back of the branch, the part that connects to the wall, so that it is flush against the wall.



I left the bark on the other shelf brackets (below) because it does have great character and will not be falling off. I used Clear Coat on these too. These branches were from a pile my wife found before I started listing the finds on Wood Collection Dates and Stories page. I don’t know what kind of wood it is but I’m guessing it’s Elm.


This shelf is a plywood shelf with a nice cap finish on the font edge. I found it recently in front a rental house that was cleaned out and dumped on the curb. I did nothing to it except sit it on the brackets.



A single 3 inch screw predrilled through the wood branches and then into a stud is all these needed to be secured to the wall. Then I added screws through the shelves into the brackets and they were very solid. I could put a lot of weight on these shelves. They are stronger than metal brackets.

You can see I didn’t fill the screw holes. They are mostly hidden from the front view by the front branch and it was 7:40 p.m. when I got this one up. Time to quit.

Trying Something New

We are experimenting with different ways to make drinking flasks and mugs. When I found the 3×3 posts I decided to try something new with them. I put them into the planer and planed 2 sides to remove on old worn exterior to give a new surface for gluing. I cut the lengths into 7 inch pieces and one set of 6 inch pieces. and glued them and clamped them.


I will be boring out the center with a 3 inch forester bit. Then I’ll trim it up with a band saw. I have no idea if this is going to work but I have high hopes.

Dominos and Mugs

We started on a few new ideas this week. Captain Wedge gave me an order for a beer mug made from the wood collected From the Streets of Las Vegas. She also gave the order for blank dominos and a case with natural edges. The Kappy burns ‘em. I’m just the Ship’s Carpenter.

They ain’t finished yet but pretty close. I cut the staves for the mug 8 inches long with a 12 degree angle. The inside measurement was 1  and 1/16th inch with the inside. We looked at several ideas for the handle and decided that instead of cutting one we would just use a curved branch.

Here is the mug with just a single coat of Bee’s Wax as an exterior finish. It still needs work in the inside.


The dominos were fun. I made them out of 3/8 inch thick 1 inch wide strips made on a table saw and a planner. Then I cut them into 2 inch sections on a radial arm saw. Kappy finished them by burning the dots sealing them with bee’s wax.



The case was made from Weeping Willow we found in Henderson near Windmill Pky. and Eastern Ave. following a wind storm last year. I love the coloring on Weeping Willow Every piece in unique. I made it out of 1/2 inch material cut to depth using a table saw and finished with a planner.  The sliding top was made out of 1/4 inch material. I finished it with gloss clear coat.





Wood Collection Dates and Stories

2014 AD

Wednesday, April 30th

I picked up a couple of sheets of 1/2 inch plywood that had been used for real estate sale signs then were cut down and left for several months next to the highway. It over by Jones and Blue Diamond. I wait to see if anyone that owns them picks them up and after I am sure they are abandoned I move in. Today was that day. I also picked up four 8 ft. 4x4s. The plywood will be perfect for chests and I think I’ll make toy swords out of the 4 bys.

Tuesday, April 29th

My ever watchful wife saw a pile of different woods types while on one of her walks with my granddaughter and asked the nice folks if I could have it. They said okay so I went to pick it up and right up the street (Arvile and Pebble area) I spotted a pile of pine branches. Over all it was a nice haul.

On the way home I decided to check an area on the north side of Blue Diamond by Decatur where a lot of people throw whole cut down trees away. I was specifically after old dried out Christmas trees. I was thrilled to find five of them. Perfect for war clubs like this:


Well now that preparation for Pirate Fest is over the wood collection starts again.

Saturday, April 5th

S1250004I found an elm tree that had been blown down by recent high winds, It was on a split trunk next to this one sown that is still standing. I found it near Michael and the 95, It must have been about a 25 foot tree, The property owner on the other side of the block wall fence was glad I was taking it and asked what I would do with it. He wondered if I would use it as firewood. I explained that I use it for artwork and told him about this website.

S1250001The elm tree was very soft on the trunk center which is probably why it broke and fell.  dug it out a bit with my hand. I don’t know how deep it goes. I am wondering what I can do with this, Maybe some chest tops or a mug. We shall see,



Right up the street on Michael I found two small piles of illegally discarded wood so I took some of this too.



This is the truck load I got from the Elm and the two piles. Now the real work begins.



Thursday, February 27th

Captain Wedge gave me a call telling me she’d found a treasure that some folks that didn’t realize what they had. They were Tree Surgeons and had just felled a Mondale Pine. It was right on the corner of Mayfair Avenue and Surrey in Henderson, Nevada (So we cheated a little. But that’s okay because WE’RE PIRATES so stop complaining) The Tree Surgeons were just going to take the whole tree to the dumps. What a waste.

PICTURE! This may be a new way to get wood. I got their card and they told me they’d be happy to let me have the wood so that they didn’t have to haul it off. It was a win/win. I got a lot of the trunk. It had about a 8 inch diamater base. The branches were loaded with cones. The branches could be used for towel hooks or shelf braces. But I decided to have a bit of fun. I found a branch that just about perfect  for a coat rack/show tree/hat rack or whatever. (PICTURE)

These Mondale Pines have very interesting cone patterns. I made a bouquet (INSERT PICTURE) for my wife just cutting of a branch. The picture of the cones is a natural formation. No additional cones were added.

Tuesday, March 4th,

I saw a pile of branches and decided to take a gander. It was a large pile of Olive branches. (See pictures) All I got was a few smaller branches. I heard olive was very pretty but I won’t get much out of this find.

Thursday, March 6th,

I found an entire Silver Dollar Eucalyptus tree that had been cut down and thrown into an open field near the corner of Cameron and Blue Diamond Road. It had a base about 10 inches in diameter. The trunk had been cut into three pieces each about 4 to 5 feet long with many large branched. Some were over 10 feet long. I looked this wood up and there was not a lot about it as far as woodworking. I did read that it gets very hard after it dries, So hard it dulls tools. I appears best to cut while still wet.


Saturday, March 8th,

I found 2 really nice 2 ft. by 4 ft sheets of 3/4 inch clear both sides pine 7 layer plywood. It was sitting next to a full garbage can on the street. It was near Jones and Oleta. A small carpet caught my eye so I stopped to take a look and YAHOO a treasure my hardies.

Monday, March 10th,

I got to work on Sonja’s chest today. I worked on the chest base interior bottom. I trimmed out the interior using boards cut from Sonja’s 2013 AD Christmas tree. The 2 one by boards I got from the tree were just barely enough  I had less that 6 inches of waste.

Then I decided I wanted the interior to have red cedar so I covered the rest of the interior base with Cedar disks. I went with 3/8 inch deep disks so the live edge of pine tree boards would show. It makes it look like a picture frame. I like it. The gaps will be filled with stones.

Wednesday, March 12th,

What a find I had today. I took a side street as I often do to take a look at the many open fields all around the valley over by Warm Springs and Decatur at the south end of the valley. There it was. A 15 foot Aromatic Red Cedar that had been torn out by the roots. The needles were still clinging to it but many had fallen off. The wood was that beautiful red with the white outer edge. Oh Yeah Baby! I can see the chests I will build with this one . SWEET!

Here is all  left. Just the stump. You can see it was torn out buy the roots.


We cut a set of Dominos on Tuesday out of some Aromatic Red Cedar that I got over by Decatur and the 95 a few months ago that had been set out on the curb for trash. Then Captain Wedge burned the dots on them. They are beautiful. Pure God made beauty. They are purple. Amazing.

While I was driving off I ran into another tree that had been illegally disposed of on a site that had been clearly marked NO DUMPING. It had about a 4 inch diameter base but there was about 6 feet of trunk and very straight. No idea what kind of wood it is. It looks like it will be clear blonde when I cut it into lumber. I am going to try to make a Pirate drinking mug out to it today. I may mix it with more colorful wood. The handle will be a curved branch instead of cutting one out of lumber.

March 18th,

I took the dogs for a walk and just up the street I found several 3×3 posts that looked like they had been used for some kind of furniture . It had several holes drilled in the wood that looked like the parts were bolted together. Here are a few of the leftovers after I cut them up for a project.



March 19th, 

Captain Wedge and I were over on the East side of town by Lamb and Charleston to see a member of the Pirate Guild. Behind the Mesquite trees lining one side of Lamb Blvd. was a 200 feet long pile of branches. We had to be back to West side of town so we only had time to grab a few branches. But I hope to back tomorrow and grab another load.