Operation: Special Delivery

It is nearing a month now of not being out pounding the pavement and I’m going bat shit crazy.  Doctors and therapists want some badly needed healing to occur before the running resumes.  Sounds easy, but this is killing me.  The time on the road has been replaced with core and flexibility work which makes hill repeats seem like a trip to Disneyland.  A week or two more and the shoes will be laced up and training for next year’s running circuit will be back on track… fingers crossed.  Until then, might as well leverage the extra time and chip away at this month’s quota.

… and the theme lately appears to be PROJECTS – well, BIRDS and PROJECTS.  This month saw the completion of a pretty involved effort focused on one key goal – taking my revenge on the snow plow guy.  Now that may seem a little harsh, but this has been an ongoing battle for like the last three years.  Pretty sure this is a game for him – “how fast can I go to knock over all the mailboxes on this rural road?”  The sense of dread every time it snows is overpowering – reluctantly the boots are pulled on, the coat is dragged over and the cap slid on before plodding down the driveway to experience the carnage.  Inevitably, the box will be hanging by a thread or sitting off in a distant snowbank – lid open and the mail looking like the litter after a “Greener Tomorrow” benefit concert.  A few choice words and some fetching of powertools limps the box along until the next snow.  Linda was at her end with this issue and was stepping up her “awareness campaign”.

I refuse to be beaten by this devious plowman and committed to doing something about it.  Truth be told, this has been on my mind for some time – every time that beaten down mailbox came into view, the mind wind would start running down design options.  It was really just a matter of finding a couple of weekends to devote to getting my hands dusty.  That time finally came a few weeks ago and here is the end product – standing proudly waiting for the first test of the Winter.

One of the inhibitors is I wanted to get familiar with some new tools and try my hand at some new (to me) carpenter techniques.  When doing new things with tools that can cause serious maiming, you do not want to be rushed and/or distracted.  The fingies are important to me and the months working vertical steel lathes and gear cutters has taught me to respect the sharps (and you probably thought I just sat in a cozy office all these years).

Might as well take you through a quick breakdown of the process.  Clearly the first thing was to finalize the design.  A big thanks goes to my neighbor who came up with the original concept.  He is a big wood worker and made his mailbox when he moved in a few years back.  Every time I picked up the mailbox out of the snow I’d glance over at his driveway to see his mailbox standing proud above all the downed mailboxes.  No reason to ignore a working model – just needed to extend the concept a little bit to put the Bri touch on it.  His was made out of at least 6x6s posts he salvaged from the house clearing.  4x4s had to do for my project.  After the materials were acquired, the next step was to learn how to mortise and tenon (confession .. thought it was actually tendon which shows you what a rookie I am).  Neighbor’s was just bolted flat – figured this would compensate for the smaller lumber size and be a vehicle for getting familiar with my plunge router.  Starting with the tenon I used a straight router bit to cut a valley in the 4×4.  The depth was set to produce the desired final width after shaving off all four sides of the 4×4.  This was a pretty big cut which is where the plunge router came into play allowing for multiple passes of increasing depth.  Now, the first attempt failed miserably – not thinking I started by shaving off the very end using a pencil line to follow.  Not only is the pencil line dumb since once slip will effectively erase it, but more stupid is the fact it shaves off all the support for the router base as you move out to the end! dumb dumb dumb.  After some pondering the answer was pretty simple – there was plenty of length in the lumber so bringing the cut in more was not an issue.  Also added a wood guide to prevent any drift.

Just need to make sure the piece of wood was lined up on each turn of the 4×4.  It didn’t even matter how big the cut was, all that was needed was for it to be long enough to fit nicely into a mortise – guessing around a depth of 2 inches and the rest could be cut off with the chop saw.  To speed up the process, went ahead and cut all the tenons at once – the white tape was a short lived idea since the router base simply scraped it off and only caused the bottom to gum up.

Hit the jump to read about all the other details involved with this project

With those out of the way, the next step was to work on the mortise portions.  This required a lot of checking and double checking to make sure the mortise was centered on the 4×4 and matched the thickness of the tenon.  Had to go with tape here due to freehanding these cuts.  I tried to show how the tenon looked compared to the mortise in the shot below.

Carefully the router was moved around the sectioned off area until the width and depth matched the previously cut tenons.   This was rather difficult since the chips just stayed in the hole making it hard to see if all the areas were cut – the depth was controlled by the plunger depth so the bottom point was easy to tell – the intermediate passes were the real challenge.

Having never done this before, I must say it came out quite nice!

Three more mortises and that phase of the project was done (and completed with all the fingies so that concern was over).  Here is what it looked like before permanently fixing the posts together – the tenons and mortises were so tight fitting it basically stayed put just like that.

Clearly there still needed to be anchors for the joints – that plow would make this project into a pile of sticks without it.  A quick run to Lowes procured the required hardware – yes, once again, Linda had to spend a few hours there while I worked out the details in my head (a small price to pay being that this project was benefitting BOTH of us don’t you think? ) You can see the bite I wanted to achieve in the shot below – note the bolt was positioned past the end of the wood.

I fully intended to sink the bolt into the 4×4 – neighbor did not do this so you could see the bolts sticking out – figured this provided a better visual.  Wanted to make sure the bolt had something to press against so went ahead and added washers.  That depth had to be added to the bore cut depth as well – accomplished by simply marking the depth point on the flat bit at the desired depth.

Of course the top bolt had to be sunk for functional reasons.

The bolt on the front showed on mine – and even more on my neighbors.  They do not make plugs the size of the bore I had to make and definitely not in the treated lumber medium that was being used.  Not a problem – simply cut a square piece out of the cutoffs and then spent the next 30 minutes sanding the edges down so it fit perfectly into the hole.  A washer was clamped in the middle of the wood to provide for a sanding guide and once that was rounded simply drilled a hole in the back to accommodate the bold head. Not a perfect grain match, but I can’t complain how that turned out.

The easiest part was simply cutting the box plate that would sit on top of the 4×4 support to hold the mailbox.  Went with a 2 inch board to give enough grip width for the attachment screws.

As with the other bolts, these were countersunk to allow for the box to sit flat – and yes these were given washers too.

Almost forgot.  The support holding the mailbox was also angle cut for a little class.  Really easy to do – set the angle and just cut, rotate, cut, rotate etc.  Just be sure to line up the post to the exact same spot to insure the cuts come out symmetrical.  Next up spend the night digging two deep holes (JULIE was called last year so I knew where the power lines were – scary enough, they were directly under the old mailbox.  The new placement was set back a number of feet up the driveway to reduce the force of any snow that was going to hit it.

Having built the Serenity (link here) making sure the the posts were positioned vertical was old hat – just a few supports and presto, one mailbox frame officially positioned, sunk and cemented.  Thanks to the plate being cut to perfectly fit the base, positioning the mailbox was a piece of cake – a few coated decking screws and the mailbox was ready to go.  What I wasn’t expecting was the trouble that came with replacing the box for the local paper.  We had to basically BEG the Journal Star to bring us out a box – after 3 weeks they left just the plastic box with no bracket making it impossible to put on the frame.  Linda contacted them and told them they forgot a piece which they promised to send.  Three weeks later and still no bracket.  Fed up I finally drove into their office and got it myself.  Damn thing was too small to work the way I had planned.  Only option was to add a spacer to the support 4×4 to attach the bracket.

I changed my mind on the placement after putting the spacer on which is why the bracket is slightly shifted.  It didn’t matter since this bracket would never be seen anyway.

Note, before the hate mail comes, the paper box was set back slightly from the mailbox – I didn’t want the door of the mailbox to get hung up on the edge of the paper box since that was sitting almost flush.  From there added the house numbers – for those who struggle with getting that lined up right, here’s a hint – use the packaging to tell you where the placement should be.  They are centered properly in the packaging (at least all the numbers I have bought over the years).  Just put them up on the post at the same offset on the packaging (there was a stripe at the top I used to line up with the bottom of the above number).  Hammer a nail through the packaging to mark the spot, take the packing off and nail it permanently using the previously made guides.

Here is the head on view of the finished project – I did splurge and get a solar light for the top post – when you live in the country it can get mighty dark out there.

… and the side view – you can see from this shot it was moved back off the road a ways – the previous one was sitting directly at the road so additional rock was added to help on the approach and exit.


Lastly, the first time I headed out to work before the sunrise almost cost me a trip to collision repair.  Totally forgot I had put the new mailbox up and almost creamed it with the truck!  That night added another feature.

Yep, reflectors. Decided to put those over the countersunk bolts providing both aesthetics and functionality at the same time.  Now all that is left is to wait for the first snow to see how well it will hold up.  I can only imagine the disgusted look on the plow driver’s face when he sees my mailbox standing proud in his rearview mirror.  Bri 1  Mr. Plow 0 (from this point forward – he definitely has me beat on overall score).

2 thoughts on “Operation: Special Delivery”

  1. Wow, very impressive! I read these posts and wonder what _I’ve_ done lately–not much, and I don’t even take time to watch TV. But you did a great job here on this project! I was not aware that you are in R&R mode for running (“rest and repair”, which I just coined, or R&R&R for “rest and repair for running”).

    I do have to say that this is the first time I’ve ever seen reflectors mounted back at the owner! Not sure it’s a good visual. You should at least put a sign next to them with “Linda” on it and a big arrow to the reflectors, just to save face.

    And a nice nod to fellow Global Climate Change believers with the solar-powered light. Is this a little “code” amongst you fellows?



  2. ummm.. what I’ve done … let’s talk Sliver Mr. Java Programmer. Nice new acronym – maybe even go for broke and go with R&RFRR Rest and Repair from Road Running (or just call it what it is – a living hell). This wasn’t my idea of course, those finicky know it all doctors have the audacity to think they know what’s good for me – I say phewy (and yes, I’m running now).

    Wait a minute.. this may be a first, are you recommending that we inform the public that the reflectors are here as an aid solely for my wife? I LIKE IT! You will get a first hand account of why this was done very soon.

    GLOBULL WARMING maybe, but may your nightmares be filled with clowns if you think I’m among them. I was actually thinking about that today as I stood in the cold loading up water for the well. I decided I have no problem with a little global warming about then.

    I see you are true to your word and working back through the posts – good for you!


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