dawnbreaker copy

For Christmas, my niece requested Dawnbreaker, which is a sword from Skyrim. For reference, here is what it looks like in the game:

Dawnbreaker (1)

It’s made primarily of poplar, with sculpted details using a 2-part epoxy clay and leather grip.

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The magical glowing crystal in the middle is made of a clear plastic ring box, sprayed on the inside with a frost spray paint with a ball of LED fairy lights inside.

The orcs in our neighborhood don’t stand a chance.

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Castleton Door Hanger


This is a joke that will be very difficult to explain to anyone who is not a member of our family. Suffice it to say that, inspired by an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, we decided to name our house Castleton. So I made this for my sister. It’s freehand cut and routed from poplar.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Thunderspears


My nephews are obsessed with Legends of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, so for Christmas I made the real-life versions of one of their favorite weapons from the game – the Thunderspear.


The blade is painted poplar with inset EL wire embedded in resin so that it can light up like the spear in the game. The shaft is a Martha Stewart curtain rod.

Please enjoy their dramatic poses.


Monster Book of Monsters

Monster Book of Monsters

My younger nephew loves Harry Potter and he loves animals, so I thought he would like a Monster Book of Monsters for Christmas. I made it in the form of a box so he could use it to keep his special treasures.

Monster Book of Monsters open

I made the box out of plywood. The pages are strips of paper, all glued around the box.

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I made the eyes out of the little brown stones you use in vases. I got the idea from this tutorial and it worked brilliantly. The face around the eyes, the teeth and gums, and the title text on the cover are made of Model Magic because I wanted a sculptable material that would remain somewhat soft when it dried. The tongue is made out of wood because it also serves as a latch to keep the box closed. The interior of the lid is lined with faux suede and the exterior is, of course, faux fur. I gave it a razor cut with my x-acto knife to make if nice and scruffy looking.

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I think it turned out great and I do think my nephew likes it. It may be a little too accurate, though, because initially he was super creeped out by it and it was at least a week before he would bring it into his own room.

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My older nephew loves imagining that he’s a master Quidditch player and inventor of superior racing brooms, so I decided to make him a snitch for Christmas, which is also a secret treasure box. Of course, it had to be oversized, because otherwise he couldn’t keep anything in it larger than the Resurrection Stone.

Snitch open

I began with two wooden bowls from Ikea that were perfectly sized and shaped. The wings are make of strips of ribbon on a tulle base, wrapped over bent brass rod. All the trim on the sphere is model magic. The catch is magnetic.



My nephew Nathan loves trucks. Obviously, he needed a sandbox to use his trucks in. So I decided to build him one for Christmas.


My main goal was, of course, to build a functional sandbox that Nathan would enjoy playing in. My secondary goal was to build a bizarre sandbox that would amuse me and confuse his friends’ parents.

In researching sandboxes on the internet, I learned exactly three things. One, it’s nice to have a place for grownups to sit while the kid is playing in the sand. Two, sandboxes need a cover so they don’t get soaked in the rain or used as a litterbox by local cats. Three, sandboxes need drainage for when you inevitably forget to put the cover on before it rains. (My sister, another friend, and I were discussing the sandbox project in the ladies room at an antique show. As we left the bathroom, an unknown woman in one of the stalls yelled desperately after us, “Drainage! Your sandbox needs drainage!!!”)

We decided that, based on the space available in our yard and the estimated number of children who would be playing in it, 4′ x 7′ would be the appropriate size. The design that I came up with was based on the human circulatory system. I’m not sure exactly why I thought this would be a good subject for a two-year-old’s sandbox, although Nathan actually does enjoying looking through Grey’s Anatomy, which is no doubt why I chose the cover of Grey’s Anatomy to work from. As a nod to Nathan’s interest in trucks, I made it sort of a cybernetic circulatory system, with wheels in place of the heart and a rather extraneous steering wheel.

Step one was to build a base that would allow for sufficient drainage. I used half inch plywood on a 2×4 frame, with three-sixteenth inch holes drilled in it for drainage at regular intervals.

I built the frame around the base out of 1×12, with profiles cut into it so as to suggest the shape of a man’s torso with arms out and fists pressed together. The front of the frame was formed by the forearms and fists meeting in the middle. The sides sloped up to form the upper arms. I put in plexi cutouts in the sides so I could cut away the opening under the upper arms. My hope was that this would emphasize the arm shape and provide a neat little glance into the stria of the sand in the box. The back of the frame was the actual torso, so in addition to the frame, I cut a piece of 1x to suggest a cross-section through the shoulders, which also functions as a seat.

That was all the structure I was planning, but my brother-in-law pointed out that a sandbox designed to be used with trucks really ought to include a ramp. So I came up with one that flipped in and out and cut some curves into the sides so it would look less incongruous. It wasn’t perhaps as integrated with the overall design as it might have been, but experience has proved that it was, indeed a worthwhile addition.

After a few coats of clear sealant (I had decided to stick with a natural wood look), I lined the inside of the sandbox with a couple layers of landscape cloth, so I would still have drainage without the sand leaking out the holes I had drilled. I then laid down a layer of that springy stuff that goes under carpets to keep them from sliding around. I thought this would make a nice soft bottom for the sandbox, but I had to remove it after a few months of sandbox use, because it kept collecting sand underneath it, so that the functional sand depth kept dropping.

To complete my torso concept I painted the head onto the canvas that was destined to be the underside of the sandbox cover. Instead of skin, I gave it a woodgrain effect so it would appear more continuous with the wood of the sandbox. Then, using the cover image of my Grey’s Anatomy book, I painted in veins and arteries.

Once the paint was dry, I sewed the canvas underside together with the blue vinyl I had bought for the upper side of the cover. With the lid complete, I was able to position it on the back of the sandbox. Where each painted vein or artery on the cover met the back of the sandbox, I drilled a corresponding hole through the seat and screwed in a length of plastic tubing as a continuation of the vein or artery through which sand could be poured.

The last step was adding the wheels – three in the vicinity of the heart, eight little casters indicating the fingers (which have proved to be utterly useless), and an arbitrarily placed steering wheel in the upper right arm.

As of this writing, it has now been 17 months since I made this sandbox and Nathan still plays in it literally every day, so I would say that it has been a very successful present.

Hobby Eagle

As soon as my nephew Nathan learned how to walk I decided that he was ready to fly. So for his first birthday I made him a hobby eagle. (It’s like a hobby horse, but much more cumbersome.) Being the giant Tolkien nerd that I am, I called it Gwaihir the Windlord.


In making the pattern, I tried to size it appropriately for a taller-than-average one-year-old boy. Time has proven that I, in fact, sized it appropriately for a taller-than-average three-year-old boy, which is just as well, since time has also proven that Nathan had virtually no interest in the eagle until he turned three.

For the structure I used a wooden spindle with a dowel stuck through it at a right angle for the handle. I had already decided to go with a muted palette of natural eagle-toned browns (because everyone knows that one-year-olds love subdued, tasteful colors), so I simply used a basic oak stain. I put a caster on the bottom as well because I figured that would make it easier to use for a boy too small to actually pick the whole thing up.

I then made a complete mockup of the entire fabric section out of paper. I of course made it unnecessarily complicated with layers of feathers in gradated colors and lots of alternating curves and a big gaping maw with a twisted tongue. So when it came time to sew the real thing out of fabric, I had to do a lot of hand sewing on the little fiddly bits. Then I used foam rubber to stuff the wing feathers and batting to stuff the rest of it and glued the fabric pieces onto the wooden structure.

Since I was making this in Wisconsin and my nephew lives in California, I then had to make a giant, custom-made foam core box to ship the huge thing to Nathan. I think that he found the box at least as interesting as he found the eagle.