I’ve always admired the aesthetics of Japanese woodworking. Every time I visit Portland’s Japanese Gardens, I’m inspired to build my own variation of something I find there. I decided to build two simplified versions of Shinto gates (torii), the traditional entrance to Japanese Shinto shrines. I thought it would be a good project because I wanted to make pegged mortise and tenon joints with my new Festool 1400 router.
I’m making two of these, and they’ll go in our backyard garden. They’ll be built from cedar 4x4’s which I bought in May 2021, when lumber prices were through the roof. Ordinarily, I’d buy the best quality materials for a project like this, but I just couldn’t force myself to pay three times more for straight lumber with no knots. I was going to plane them down anyway, so I just picked the best second quality boards I could find.
I bought a Festool miter saw in 2000, and never looked back. I own lots and lots of tools, but since I focus on fine woodworking and finish carpentry, It seems like I’m always adding to my Festool collection. But, boy, they’re expensive. My new router cost about three times more than I’ve ever paid for a router and, frankly, I never imagined I’d spend that much. But it was so worth it.
There are several ways to do just about anything in woodworking, and these large mortise and tenon joints are no exception. I really enjoyed figuring out how best to make both parts of the joints with the tools I have, with enough precision so that when it came time to assemble everything, it wouldn’t be a fight.
The first one is about twelve feet long and seven feet high, and is made of cedar 4 x 4 and 4 x 6. It went together surprisingly easily. It’s so satisfying when the joints fit together just right: not too tight, not too loose.
One could argue that it’s a lot of work just to make something to string my tomato plants to, and I don’t disagree. On the other hand, I’ve made something that challenged my woodworking skills and creativity, adds a lot to the aesthetic of our backyard, and will be around for a long time. I’m just starting on the second one. I love woodworking.
Whether there's a pandemic happening and you need to find a place to gather with people outside, or you're just excited to spend time in the fresh air, the backyard is a great resource for extending the overall living space in your home. Here are five ways you can get more from the land behind your home.
1. Build a deck
In the Northwest, a covered deck is a must for enjoying all seasons out of doors. For our home, I built a deck that runs the full length of our house, with a roof covering half of it. With the addition of a built-in barbecue (a Big Green Egg) and a granite countertop, we've created an al fresco kitchen space. We barbecue about once a week, including a turkey every Thanksgiving. There’s room for soaking up sun on the other half of the deck (this is a favorite with the cat.) It’s like an addition to the house.
2. Add some raised beds
I built two beds from cinderblocks then covered them with cedar. There’s seating on the top, and you get the warmth and beauty of wood, plus the longevity of concrete. Last year we had a lot of luck with tomatoes. (The broccoli, not so much.) You can add coverings to make cold frames to get an early start on planting.
3. Put in a greenhouse
If you really want to get an early start on your gardening, a greenhouse is a great way to go. Ours has electricity and water to make it easier to tend to the seedlings.
4. Add some lighting
Solar-powered lights make it easy to illuminate pathways, stairs, and even trees and shrubs. They can add a lot of depth to dark corners (and hopefully keep away the raccoons.) Built-in lights on the deck and patio also make entertaining easier.
5. Install a trellis
Climbing plants need a place to live, too! I built a nice trellis to support our tomatoes last season, and we also used some pre-made options to provide structure for the grapes in the raised beds.
Having a landscape plan can make it easier, and getting some expert advice on bigger projects like the deck and raised beds, which is where we can help.
Bonus tip: Adding a birdhouse can make sitting outside even more fun. Next time, I'll share an example of a recent project I helped a friend build... it's more of a mid-century modern avian condo.