Vivienne Brazel Memorial Garden
Construction Progress

project origin and plans are here


garden furniture for the ladies.  more info here

finished torii

the bench swing is complete and being put to use

finished with a hand-mixed stain of linseed oil and earth pigments

this gorgeous catalpa was an unforeseen blessing

tranquility on the way in, strength on the way out


Here's the plan for the bench swing (click image to download full size).  This could be modified into a garden bench, modern sofa, or arm chairs.  It's not a hard build and would make a nice weekend project for a budding or recreational woodworker.

The ladies do a lot of outdoor grilling so I'm thinking to incorporate a simple rocket stove into the garden for them to experiment with.

6.22 Score!
Heading home Tuesday evening, a truck and trailer passed by in the opposite direction.  Since I've been scouting for grass clippings and chipped trees to loosen and amend the heavy clay soil, I looked back to see what they were hauling and caught a glimpse under the tarp of ...

Black gold!
  I wheeled around and followed the rig down the alley where they were about to dispatch this heap into the company boneyard.  Upon asking if I might have the material, the four-man crew cracked smiles and looked at me like I was a complete loon.

This 'waste' material is old mulch scraped from a commercial site that is being re-landscaped, and will soon be home to billions more critters to naturally till, aerate, and feed the new garden.

ready to spread and grow

one of the ladies helped me move the pile into place

and a few of the guys helped me hoist the pergola

nestled beneath this catalpa branch to shade the future bench swing

pergola joinery as-builts

the torii is erect and ready for finishes. i'm going to plant mint, thyme, oregano and chives around the bases which are natural bug chasers + free herbs for the kitchen.

part of the raising crew.  this photo makes it look like all fun and games, but it took about 30 minutes of trial and error, a fair amount of impromptu engineering, plus at least twelve additional 'today chiefs' to bring this structure upright, intact.  and there may be a new hernia or two. 

i've told the ladies a bit of theory on traditional japanese joinery and its use in ancient buddhist temples, so they're expecting this gate to last at least 1200 years.  no pressure there.

headin' out for the daily grind


tranquility and strength.  for anyone familiar with kanji, the blowout on the former will be filled prior to finishes. 

i made the wood gouge from an old spoon and scraps of cherry.  the shape didn't work out so well for this piece so i wound up using straight chisels, but i had fun making my first hand tool, crude as it may be.

done run outta duck tape, but found the bungee to work better once i got the hang.  despite 16 years of schooling, i've learned most from trial and error, mis-takes, thrift, and forced improvisation.  remember, kids, when choosing between potential failure or waiting on optimal conditions, go with option 1... you'll wind up miles ahead in the long run.

a volunteer helped with cleaning up pavers found on site for new use

and a couple others learned to cut mortise and tenons

to finish the pergola frames, ready for assembly

chillin' on the freshly cut "beach", as the ladies call it, til put into service

dry fitting the torii for fine tuning

a rough shape

taking final form

with a slight crown to keep water movin' along

progress or entropy?

tools used: spoke shave, chisel, restored block and bench planes.  not ideal for the top of this large and concave piece, but the best i have for now. 
fuels used: the ladies kindly make me a couple of sandwiches every workday - cold cuts, american cheese, veggies, mustard, mayo, on wheat, delivered on a pink plate... Spirit of Mom circa 1975 is on the job.

1968 was the closest i could find, plus Mom's super-groovy rockin' her beehive here

Prepping the harvested poles for finishes...

the patterns on the logs are feed trails cut by emerald ash borer larvae which separated bark from wood and eventually killed the trees.  the beetles originate from northeastern asia and were probably brought to the states in wood pallets.  no, this is not a long game conspiracy i hatched to be ironic and get free timbers for a japanese garden 20 years on... or was it?

two volunteers from the men's house today helped with the tedious job of stripping the poles down to stable wood. thank you, gentlemen.

5.30 Progress continues on the torii

rough hewn nuki and kusabi

work on the pergola commences with construction of the post-beam assemblies.  these posts were originally planned as 4x6s but were redesigned as round poles as i'm enjoying that work... much thanks once again to Deanne and Art for their help in getting two more poles to the site.

dry fitting post-beam-braces
all facets of this project will utilize solid wood / joinery (no fasteners or faux wood), lasting much longer as stresses are more roundly distributed with this type of construction.  ergo the 1200+ year-old wooden temples standing strong in east asia -- through earthquakes, fires, famines, wars, and tsunamis -- meticulously constructed by some of the baddest design/builders earth has known.

This week's work was cutting and assembling the components of the shimaki and kasagi (top beam members of the torii).  The curves were pencil sketched onto the lumber, rough cut with a circular saw, and final-shaped with a No. 5 Craftsman bench plane. 

dry fitting central beam assembly

before and after the tools are modified mortise and tenon joints... they probably have a name.  in hindsight i should have made butterflies for practice, but these will do the job.

This is my first large project using these vintage planes.  It's been a lot of fun/work figuring out how to properly set up and use them.  Now that I'm getting the hang, smooth as silk - no hand tool compares for flattening and shaping work pieces.


a nearly complete torii kit

Four young gents from Turning Point's men's house volunteered to help with cleaning up the site.  Thanks, fellas!

5.18 Torii poles prepped for final beam fittings

Tenons and mortises have been cut into the posts using a hand saw, chisel and mallet, plus a drill to remove some wood in advance (yeah, I'm still cheating, but aiming to be true). 

Additional lumber, concrete, and gravel for the torii, pergola and swing were also delivered to the site this week.

joinery detail

current site conditions (volleyball court and grill will be moved to side yard)

4.26 Construction of the garden commences with harvesting of round poles for the torii, courtesy of my good friend Deanne at Strawbale Studio, along with  much help from my bud Art in transport, and both with luggage and hoisting.   

Environmentalist note: No power tools were harmed in hacking these beasts to size, but we got a good workout plus a healthy dose of sunshine in the outback.
Loaded up and truckin' (if you get that reference, you're old -- or a youngin' with exceptional taste in fine film)
Within an hour of scouting over several acres, we found a pair of nicely matched poles roughly 9" x 11' x 250lbs each.  Both were killed by emerald ash borers but will find new purpose for a stretch before returning to earth.  Life is sacred, as is death.
Thank you, Deanne and Art.  Or as my mom's mom might've said, "Thanks, yous twos!"
project origin and plans are here