Custom Speaker Stands

Back in 2001 I was contracted to build a pair of custom waterfall speaker stands. This of course pre-dates the shop by about 2 years which means they were built on the back patio and living room of our first apartment here in Houston. If fact, if you look at the office picture in my apartment post you’ll see a piece of uncut copper under the table saw and the leaded glass sides right in front of it. This build was incredibly fun with loads of electrical work, plumbing, and design. In fact, I had pretty much a free hand to create whatever design I envisioned which is always fun for me. The final project took about 70 hours for both speaker stands with most of that spent designing and building the first one. Materials cost in 2001 was about $500 per stand but copper prices have more than tripled in that time so I’m not sure what they would cost to build today (I just hope the current owner doesn’t decide to recycle them). As this was back in the pre-blog days I didn’t take any pictures during construction. The current owner recently allowed me to take some pictures for the blog but bear in mind that the stands are now over 7 years old and unfortunately in need of a great deal of polishing but you’ll get the idea. I do have one original picture that I took back when the project was completed.

New and Shiny


  • Must use copper as main design element
  • Variable lighting
  • Remote controlled
  • Fit in a box 16”X16”x36”


  • Stainless steel angle, square tube, and sheet
  • Roll of 1/16” copper 24” wide and 6’ long
  • Leaded glass
  • Ceramic tile
  • Solder
  • Copper tubing and fittings
  • Pump
  • Various electronics


  • Table Saw (could do it with a circular saw)
  • Router (could do it with a circular saw)
  • Angle Grinder
  • MIG Welding Machine
  • Drill
  • Tin Snips
  • Propane Torch


To begin, I welded a stainless steel frame out of 1/2” angle and square tubing. I attached marine grade plywood panels to the top and bottom sections of this steel frame.

Basic Frame Skeleton

To this basic frame I attached a stainless steel triangular rear panel with an access door, copper water reservoir, electronics package, and lighting.

Basic Frame with attached components

Rear View

The electronics package consists of a primary junction box which routes power to the ground fault interrupt (GFI) to protect against water related short circuits, a remote controlled power switch (to allow the owner to turn both stands on and off remotely), a power switch for both the pump and fogging module, and a dimmer for the lighting system. This allows the waterfall to run in many different modes (water no fog, fog no water, both, no light, bright light, dim mode lighting, etc).

Electronics Package

The water reservoir had to fit around the main support of the steel frame. To accomplish this, I built two sections into the water tank with a connecting tunnel between the front and rear sections. This allows for water return and provides an attachment point for the frame. The reservoir also contains a retaining circle for the fog generating system.


The rear section of the reservoir contains a 120 gallon per hour statuary pump. This pump is supported by the main copper discharge line running to the top of the stand. It is attached to this line with a rubber coupling and held 2 millimeters off the bottom of the reservoir thus insulating the vibrations of the pump from the rest of the structure.

Pump Attachment

The fog (or mist) system sits in the front of the reservoir and consists of a water proof hypersonic piezoelectric disc which causes the water to vibrate with enough energy for individual water molecules to overcome their electrostatic attraction and separate from the surface of the liquid creating a mist effect

Hypersonic Piezoelectric Generator

Fog System Activated

The top of the stand supports the main spray arm which is simply a drilled piece of ½” copper pipe and the lighting system. The light is a 500 watt halogen bulb surrounded by a handmade copper heat sink. Both the spray arm and heat sink are grounded through the GFI.

Underside of the Top Panel

The sloped support arms of the main frame contain notches to receive the locking pins from the stone tray.

Locking Notches

The stone I selected is a bluish gray flag stone about 1” thick. I had the quarry cut the stone to the required tapered shape and smooth the back of the stone for attachment to the steel support tray. I used a waterproof construction stone adhesive to glue the stone to the steel and then glued copper strips the edge of the stone to keep the water from running off the surface of the rock. The tray can be easily removed from the frame for cleaning.

Stone Tray

Lock Pin Detail

Stone Installed Full View

Stone sitting below Spray Arm

The glass for the project consists of 3 custom leaded glass 3/8” thick panels per stand. Two are long rectangular panels with one edge double beveled and polished. The third panel is a square piece of single beveled glass. I taped a diagonal line on the long panels that matched the angle of the stone and used a high gloss enamel spray paint on the inside of the panel. This results in a perfect finish on the outside of the panel that hides the electronics and plumbing.

Glass Panels

The long panels fit into grooves cut at an angle into the top and bottom plywood panels.


Installing Large Glass Panels

Once the glass was installed I fabricated a copper splash guard/rock holder. This piece keeps the rocks at the base of the waterfall from falling into the main reservoir and keeps the mist effect from getting too crazy!

Splash Guard (front and rear views)

Installing the Guard

Rock Holder Function

Keeping the Mist Contained (somewhat)

Once all the functional parts were installed, I worked on trimming out the piece with the required copper. I attached brackets to the bottom side of each corner of the stand to support the lower trim piece. The trim is all hand fabricated soldered 1/16” copper.

Support Brackets

Installing the Lower Trim

To complete the lower trim, I cut section of ceramic tile and supported them on 4 adjustable screws.


Completed Lower Section

With the bottom complete, I next fabricated another copper trim panel to fully enclose the top section and support the glass shelf.

Upper Trim

Glass Shelf

With water added to the reservoir, simply press the button on the remote control and the water starts flowing!


Spray Arm On

Draining the unit is as simple as clipping the quick release drain hose in and turning on the pump.


Here’s a shot of the completed stand.

Complete View

Of course, compared to the 7 year old picture at the top of the post, you can see that they really could use some polishing but other than that both stands have held up remarkably well. This is one of my favorite projects as it incorporated so many different materials into one piece of functional sculpture. I don’t often get to design a piece with no preconceived notion of what it needs to look like. Most people have a picture in their mind and want me to somehow build to match that. These stands were just the result of me being allowed play…and it was a blast!


Best CSS Reference

Sitepoint has always been a decent online community and publishing company for web developers. They have articles written by top designers and coders and a number of really great reference books available for purchase. Recently, however, they added a new free reference section to their site that is incredibly useful. Currently only a CSS Reference is available but they are working on an HTML and Javascript section as well. There are many CSS references out there but this is by far the easiest to use. It is not written as a tutorial but rather a simple lookup and explanation (with samples) of every CSS property, rule, workaround, filter and hack. I few clicks and I found modifiers to properties that I had no idea existed.

Sitepoint CSS Reference

The Reason We Lost Our Deposit…

A lot of people ask when I started collecting tools…truth is I’ve always been into tools but the real collecting started after Monique and I moved into our first apartment. I just found these pictures in our box of non-digital goodies and thought you might like them. I only wish I had a picture of the welding machine that lived on the coffee table…

I don’t think the landlord appreciated the table saw and band saw in the office


A typical evening sitting in the living room, watching some TV and building a stainless steel pressure vessel for one of Monique’s experiments…


Over the next few days I’ll do some entries on some of the things I built in our apartment living room…let’s just say they needed new carpet when we moved out.

Blues Name Generator

My friend Ryan recently posted a hilarious list of rules for writing the blues. Rule number 19 says

Make your own Blues name Starter Kit:

  1. Name of physical infirmity (Blind, Cripple, Lame, etc.);
  2. First name (see above) plus name of fruit (Lemon, Lime, Kiwi, etc.);
  3. Last name of President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, etc.);

Examples: Blind Lime Jefferson, Jakeleg Lemon Johnson, or Cripple Kiwi Fillmore, etc. (Well, maybe not “Kiwi.”)

So I took it at face value and built my own Blues name generator. So far my favorite that it’s come up with is “SARS Mango McKinley or Albino Pineapple Polk”. Let me know what it comes up with for you

Click here for my Blues Name Generator

Blogging made easy with Word 2007

I really love blogging but one of the biggest headaches is dealing with the online text editors. I’ve found that the editor built into WordPress is one of the best out there but even it is a bit quirky. Spell Check works in Firefox but not Internet Explorer. Keyboard shortcuts for formatting are hit and miss. Adding a picture is a major hassle…First you have to compress the image, and then you have to upload the picture and add it to the text of the blog. Resizing the image and laying it out in line with the text is next to impossible without switching to the raw code and editing the HTML by hand. I love coding web sites but when I want to blog I just want to blog. I want a true what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG) editor.

Enter Microsoft Word 2007. Imagine using all the document creation tools you’re familiar with in Word as the editor for your blog. Word 2007 can directly upload to most blog servers. I don’t mean typing in Word and then cutting and pasting into a new blog post on your server. I mean typing in Word, formatting in Word, adding pictures in Word and then clicking Publish in Word and having it show up on your server. Word 2007 can upload directly to the following blogs; Windows Live Spaces, Blogger (blogspot), SharePoint blog, Community Server, TypePad, WordPress, and most others if you have an API for your blog. You can even define an alternate location for images if you don’t want them hosted on the same server as your blog.

To begin, open Word 2007 and click on the new “Office Button” located in the top left corner of Word and choose publish>blog and bang out a post. Insert any images and format everything the way you want it (there are lots of online tutorials for using Word). You could type your post and then click publish>blog but switching to blog mode first will eliminate the page breaks and margins. It will also limit your image and page formatting to things that can be recreated in HTML.

The first time you enter blogging mode you will be prompted for your account information. If you have more than one blog don’t worry, Word can handle this.

Simply select your blog provider and click next

Enter the URL for your blog in the space provided (mine is, enter your username and password, check “Remember Password” if you want to be able to publish without entering this information next time. Click “Picture Options” if you want to define another web server to host you images on.

As soon as you switch to blog mode you can access to the blog toolbar.

This has some great features.


Clicking this button will post your entry to your blog and upload all your images. You can choose to Publish or Publish as Draft. I always select draft so that I can check it one last time online before I make it public.

Home Page

This simply opens your default browser to your blogs home page

Insert Category

Clicking this button adds a category dropdown to your post. You can select from any of the categories that you’ve previously defined on your server or enter a new one. Click it again to add a second or third category to the posting.

Open Existing

This is really cool. Clicking here will give you a list of all of your posts. Even post that you did not create with Word show up. Using this tool you can open previous post in Word and edit them.

Manage Accounts

This menu lets you edit your account settings or setup additional blogs to manage. If multiple blogs are configured you can select one to be the default.

When you create a post there is a dropdown to select your account (if it is different from the default).

You can also title your post

Double clicking a picture pulls up the picture toolbar which has a number of great features including cropping, borders, edge effects (soft edges, glow, drop shadows, bevels, reflections, and 3-D rotations), brightness, contrast and compression. Compression is one of the most useful…By default Word will upload compressed JPEGS of all your images…no more need to edit your pictures before blogging and no more 3MB pictures on your blog!

Picture with shadow and reflection

Picture with 3-D rotation, soft edges, and bevel.

There are about 40 presents as well as full control over all the options for an almost infinite amount of combinations.

Hope this saves you some time on future blog posts (course now you need to buy Office 2007!)


How not to save $3.52

We’ve been working hard these past few weeks on some projects to get the house ready for baby number two (I’ll do some project write-ups on them soon). As we were cleaning out a closet we came across some stuff that just made Monique laugh. It seems I’m infected with a disease that causes me considerable pain whenever I buy something that I could just make in the shop. The disease usually progresses like this:

  1. Monique mentions something that we need around the house that Wal-Mart sells for $29.95
  2. I tell Monique that I can build it in “about” 30 minutes for “around” $10.00
  3. I go to Lowes and spend $19.00 on materials and $79.95 on a new tool I need for the project but I don’t count the tool because “I’ll use in on all kinds of stuff…”
  4. I spend 5 hours in the shop working on the item
  5. I head back to Lowes and spend $7.43 on stuff I didn’t realize I would need
  6. 3 more hours in the shop working
  7. 24 hours later the paint and/or glue is dry and I proudly show off the results of my 8 hour effort to save us $3.52
  8. Monique heads to Wal-Mart to buy the real item because mine doesn’t quite work

Luckily, Monique was well aware of this aliment long before she agreed to marry me and many times my affliction does pay off. I love that our furniture came from my hands and I love spending time in the shop working on projects for my family. But there have been some real moments of “why didn’t I just buy this…” Below are a few examples.

A while back Monique wanted some crown molding style shelves.

My Version

Not too bad right? I think they look great too. Only problem is that it took about an hour and a half to build and another hour to sand and paint. Twenty-four hours for the paint to dry and about $16.00 in materials and paint supplies…After building 5 of them we found this at Wal-Mart:

Store Version

So we bought 2 of them for $12 each….oh well.

When it came time to mount my surround sound speakers I never thought to price speaker mounts at the store. I spent almost $20 on materials and the better part of a day cutting, grinding, welding, and painting to create this monstrosity:

My Version

A few months later I’m at Fry’s and I see these for $18.99 a pair…they are about a tenth of the size…you can’t even see them behind the speakers.

Store Version

When we first moved into this house I installed a laminate wood floor in the office. Part of the installation requires the use of spacers around the edge to create expansion room. I spent two hours cutting over a hundred 3/16″ thick spacers…

My Version

By the time I did the next room I discovered that of course they make a plastic spacer that cost like $5.00 for a hundred…

Store Version


But the real prize belongs to the time Monique asked for an aerobic step like this:

Store Version

But of course 2 hours later I deliver this 20 pound shin mangling embarrassment:

My Version

Aquarium Stand

I’ve been wanting to write up a few older projects for a while now. The only draw back is a lack of pictures during the process…all I have are the completed shots. Hopefully its still useful or interesting. A few years ago I was commissioned to design and build a fully integrated aquarium system. The requirements were for a fresh water system that could easily be converted to salt water without changing any equipment. The tank needed to be at least 100 gallons. No aquarium equipment could be visible. The stand needed to fit the existing decor (brick floor, warm wood colors, nothing contemporary) and the system needed to arrive ready to run, just add water and fish! I’ve included costs for those of you who stumbled in here looking for ideas on setting up your new aquarium. My labor charges are not included.

The scale is difficult to gauge in this picture. The piece is 6′ 6″ long, 2′ 4″ deep and 6′ tall. Needless to say it will take up some room in a house!


Aquarium Materials/Equipment:


  • ~65 board feet of rough cut African mahogany ($4.75 per board foot)
  • 1-4’x8′ sheet of 1/2″ mahogany plywood ($60)
  • ~24′ of mahogany crown molding ($3.35 per foot)
  • 1-4’x8′ sheet of 1/4″ mahogany plywood ($30)
  • 1-4’x8′ sheet of 3/4″ pre-finished maple plywood ($65)
  • 12-8′ select or #1 grade 2×4’s ($2.50)
  • Assorted wiring/electrical components (~$75)
  • Hinges/Hardware ($25)
  • Finishing Supplies ($50)


  • High-end Table Saw
  • Jointer (at least a 6″)
  • Surface Planer (12″ or greater)
  • Band Saw
  • Router/Shaper Table
  • Router
  • Shaper Hold Down Jig
  • Rail/Stile Bit Set
  • Raised Panel Bit
  • Edge Molding Bit (2″ High)
  • 1/4″ Cove Bit
  • Plate Jointer
  • Spindle Sander
  • Duel Bevel Compound Miter Saw
  • Random Orbit Sander
  • Finishing Nailer
  • Air Compressor
  • Pocket Screw Jig
  • Loads of Clamps


The tricky part of this project was the integration of 5 distinct systems into one piece of furniture.

  1. A support system that could hold up a 220 lb aquarium, 1,100 lbs of water, a 75 lb canopy (with other decor items on top), and 450 lbs of rock for a total of almost 1,900 lbs.
  2. An electrical system that could deliver power to the pumps, heaters, and lighting as well as control the lights via a timer or override switch.
  3. A plumbing system that could deliver water to and from the filters and the heaters
  4. A decorative wrapper system that would encase all the above systems and make it look like a piece of solid mahogany furniture.
  5. Fully integrated canopy/lighting system

Support System
Step one was to do the load calculations and ensure that the whole thing would not come to a very loud and very wet end. I keep a white board in the shop for tasks like this.

Aquarium Load Calculations


I began by taking high quality white pine 2×4’s and running them through the jointer, planer, and table saw to create 1.25″ x 3″ stock. I then built a frame with this stock using pocket screw joinery.

Frame Design


The front uprights were doubled up in thickness to create the column look. Below you can see the frame assembly from inside one of the cabinets

Frame with Pocket Screws


To the top of the frame and to the inside right and left bottom frame I attached a shelf made of 3/4″ pre-finished maple plywood. This plywood comes from the factory with a heat applied poly coating that is virtually indestructible…perfect for conditions involving water. Minus the back of the cabinet which provides my lateral stability this structure makes up the support system that will bear the 1,900 lb load.

Maple Plywood



Decorative Wrapper System
Next, I needed to disguise the frame with a mahogany wrapper. First, I attached some 1/2″ mahogany plywood panels to the outside ends as well as the inside of the inner frame. The bottom inner frame panel was milled with two dado’s to receive the upright panels. The inner upright frame panels were milled with a dado to receive the center shelf later. Next, I wrapped the upper portions of the frame with a 4″ wide 3/4″ thick band of mahogany. This would later become the support for the crown molding to attach to. For the last bit of plywood work I slid a 1/2″ thick piece of mahogany plywood into the center shelf dado’s and finished it with a small milled piece of solid stock to treat the edge.

Center Shelf



The main visual element of the design is the four fluted columns (they are not load bearing). To build these I glued up a three sided column (front and two sides) with biscuit joinery. Using a jig to ensure accuracy I routed 3 flutes and a corner detail into each column and then fitted them over the existing frame.

Column Fitting over Shelf


I also created a fake rear column on each side using a single piece of stock.

False Column


Next, I attached the top shelf which hides the bottom edge of the aquarium. I treated the edge of this shelf with the same half flute detail that I used on the center shelf, lower cabinet frames, and lower edge of the top wrapper. This simple detail repeating throughout the piece gives unity to the design and ties in to the full flutes on the columns.

Top Shelf Edge Detail


Next, I milled out the base board from solid mahogany stock 2.5″ wide using the shaper. Then I wrapped the bottom edge and columns with the baseboard.

Baseboard Detail


The last piece of molding detail was to install the crown molding below the top shelf and around the tops of the columns.

Column View


The final steps for the design portion of the system was to mill out a pair of raised panel doors.

Rail and Stile


When I installed the doors I made sure to line up the face of the door on the mid-line of the last flute…this allowed the reflection of the half flute in the door face finish to create the illusion of a full flute.

Flute Reflection




Power System
Now that the base was complete it was time to wire the system. The unit features a single line to plug in. This line feeds a multiple sets of outlets in each cabinet.



The white set of outlets on each side powers the filter and heater and any other accessories that require power at all times. The gray plug is controlled by a hidden switch and powers the lighting system. Rather then hard wire the lighting system I utilized this pass through plug design to allow for a timer to be installed on the lighting system at some point in the future.

Hidden Switch



Plumbing System
Now for the water handling system. The canister filters are installed on each side and the output and return lines are passed through the back panel and up to the canopy behind the aquarium background. The output line also runs through an inline heater on each side to avoid having heaters in the tank. You can also see the lighting ballast in this picture.

Inside Cabinet View




Canopy System
The canopy system needed to house the lights, route the plumbing, allow for access to clean the tank, provide an easy way to feed the fish, hide the top edge of the tank, and match the design of the rest of the tank. I built it using a 1/2″ thick plywood for the top rear section and solid 3/4″ stock for the rest. I kept the crown molding and half cove detail intact.

Canopy View


The front and forward 6″ of the top fold completely up to allow for periodic tank maintenance and also revel the 640 watt 24′ long VHO lighting system.

Top Opened


The bulbs are mounted in German 3 piece water proof high temperature T12 sockets and backed by a polished aluminum reflector. The lights are 8″ above the tank to allow for some heat dissipation. You could mount them closer to increase the light level as well as shrink your canopy but you would need fans and this client wanted the system to be as quiet as possible.

Light Mounting


On the right hand side I also installed a fish feeder door to allow limited access to the canopy compartment without opening the face.

Fish Feeding Door


Here is the final product

Competed View



With All Access Doors Open



This project had a materials cost of about $2,400 and a labor cost of around 100 hours. This was a very enjoyable build with lots of unique challenges and design features. Hopefully I’ll get around to doing a few more of these past project write ups.