My Woodworking Background
Look at My Woodworking Background if you want to learn more about my woodworking background. The short version is my father was a master woodworker, then military pilot then construction and cabinet firm owner. He trained me and let me take expert woodworking classes all over the world. I learned to make fine furniture, do fine cabinet making, and just about every aspect of home construction. These skills helped me build and run a successful furniture business and construction firm that built new homes and refurbished old buildings including helping to build the first Spaghetti Factory.
Although you might think that my parents wanted me to become a home builder from my upbringing, the reality is far different. My dream from well before the first satellite was launched was to become an astronaut and they fully supported that. My parents were very highly motivated bright people who strongly valued education. My father went from fine woodworking apprentice to owner of a successful construction firm that helped rebuild Pearl Harbor. He joined the Army Air Corps, flew fighters in both Europe and the Pacific, then returned to expand his construction firm into a development firm. The Air Force kept recalling him back into service where he rapidly advanced to became a senior pilot instructor examiner, commander, then top pilot and troubleshooter for the Strategic Air Command. He continued his ownership in his development firm and helped start multiple businesses while in the Air Force. He earned his engineering and architectural degrees, followed by four advanced degrees including an MBA. My mother was equally driven becoming one of the top clothing designer illustrators in the world and a university professor. Although a complete idiot in many areas, inheriting my parents drive and their being very enabling let my skills grow in many areas. Living in Japan let me become fluent in Japanese. Living next to an air base where my father owned a plane and was member of their large aero club let me learn to fly far before being legal to drive a car. Working hard earned me first seat in our school orchestra and first seat in our school band playing two different musical instruments, earn varsity letters with league titles in seven different sports, earn a chess master title rated in the top 100 in the world, and be a national finalist in mathematics and science. My parents wanted me to have some high demand skills to ensure I could earn a good income. They helped me start four successful businesses, plus taught me lots about investing, finish carpentry, cabinet making and home building, plus bribed me to get top grades. In spite of them being multimillionaires, my parents required me to always earn my own spending money and pay board and room from age fourteen on. When asked years later why, they said it was the only way to ground my wildness. I was working part time in my parent's cabinet manufacturing shop and had moved up to manager, but that income was too low to be a living wage. Although they had great plans for me and probably much disappointment, my carpenter work mostly doing fine finish work and building cabinets let me become self supporting working at rehabilitating homes and business buildings. This let me move out and start college at the University of California at Davis (UCD) while still a junior in high school.
Computers fascinated me, but the only computer around was the large system at UCD which also served the UCB campus and Lawrence Livermore Research Facility, so lots of work let me start attending UCD just after my sophomore year in high school. Once enrolled I took computer programming classes learning FORTRAN followed by teaching myself assembly programming. One of the professors in my modeling club was impressed because some of my model airplanes and rockets set records. In my junior year in high school he got me a fellowship at AeroJet General to create a FORTRAN computer program that used calculus to optimize solid rocket fuel casting to create programmed burn rates. Just the right casting caused the missile fuel to start with a very fast burn so planes no longer flew into their missiles before they got up to speed, plus also ensured maximum endurance flight times and speed.
During my senior year in high school my mornings were spent taking classes at UCD followed by two State required classes at high school then my afternoons, evenings and weekends were spent either working or at sports. Meanwhile my parents had relocated, and I chose to stay supporting myself while attending both high school and college. In spite of earning good money doing fine woodworking and rehabilitations, I still really wanted to become an astronaut. I aced my SAT scores which combined with very high praise for my fellowship work, taking all of the top accelerated classes, and starting UC Davis two years before graduating high school opened the doors on most of the colleges and universities I applied to. Most not only accepted my enrollment, they were willing to give me full ride academic scholarships and a few were even willing to give me an athletic scholarship as I placed in the top few athletes in California. Lots of extra work earned me a second-place national finish and Congressional nominations to four military academies. I chose the Air Force Academy, graduating class of 1970. Soon after starting their summer orientation program exhaustion caused my vision to slip below the minimum and got me bumped out of the pilot's program which I had to have to become an astronaut. My lifelong dream was shattered by something I had no control over. Worse, it was too late to get into any of the top schools who had offered me a full ride scholarship.
My return to UCD was just in time to start the fall semester with no break leaving me with almost no money and no place to live. My preference was to work as a carpenter mostly doing fine finish work, but the country was in a bad recession and competition for construction work was so fierce the few who could find work had to work at near minimum wage. This left me working part time at a gas station then as a student engineering assistant at UCD. My life continued to be nothing but work, then some unexpected things came together and things got worse.
During the UCD engineering labs cleanup late one evening this graduate student was sitting by a strange contraption almost in tears. He initially refused to respond to my question about what was going on, then reluctantly said it did not work. He blew me off as a young ignorant kid, when requested to explain what it was supposed to do and how it functioned. With some prompting saying his sharing how it worked might help him figure out what was going on. He shared that it was an automated grape harvester, but was not working. After he went through the design, he yelled and told me to leave after my suggestion to lengthen two linkages. The next morning my sponsoring professor woke me up and told me to get to the dean's office immediately. There this graduate student turned out to be a very unhappy full professor who wanted me fired for disrupting him as he tried to work and make a deadline. Great, already near bankrupt from the pillow business, I was about to lose my job. My sponsor stepped in and totally changed my world. He was prior department chair and managed to save my job with my having to apologize. He and the dean changed that project deadline and suggested the professor take a few weeks of vacation before the fall quarter started. Having worked with me for years on projects that went well, my sponsor gave me a set of plans and told me to draw up my changes on that grape harvester immediately. I drew up my suggested changes and he got that unit modified. The unit worked perfectly.
While sweeping up one of the agricultural engineering labs I saw a fellow I thought was a graduate student all but crying saying it would not work. I stopped, looked over his contraption, and asked him to walk me through it as that might help him figure out what was wrong. He did and I suggested he lengthen two lever arms. The next morning, I awoke to a phone call from my advisor/sponsor saying I had to get to the Engineering Dean's Office immediately. I got there and this fellow I tried to help was ranting about needing to fire me. He did not approve of a summer broom pusher telling him, a PhD how to make his grape harvester work. The Dean was one of my good friend's fathers, so he had known me for years and my advisor was the prior dean, so I had some support. They were very impressed with my model work that had set some new world records. They spanked me requiring a public apology to that professor, reset the deadline on that project and sent the professor off on a few weeks’ vacation before school resumed for the Fall quarter. After he left, they had me draw up my suggested modifications, had our machinists make those changes, and the deans tested the result. I ended up with being honored as one of the inventors of the first grape picking harvester.
They greatly increased my hours making me responsible to run the campus weather station, oversee one of the first large air quality measurement projects, oversee a project to establish optimum solar design, and help build many new agricultural harvesting and processing machines. They also allowed me full access to the UCD wood and metal shops which let me make parts and refurbish tools and equipment to make a little much needed extra income. My part time student work coupled with just enough construction work kept me going and allowed me to pursue my other passions, playing tennis and music including playing in the Sacramento Symphony and working as a campus DJ. My life became work, school, taking the shifts at the station others did not want and playing on our university tennis team that won the small school nationals. A fellow student on a weekend construction job became friends then my roommate. We created a remodeling business that mostly worked for a partnership owned by and engineer and architect. They had far more work than we could do, so we started hiring more staff for them and managing that staff. My friend loved the remodeling but kept firing all we hired as they lacked his skills and work ethic. With deadlines, he quit school to work full time with my giving up tennis and most of my DJ time to work more. We designed and built the first Spaghetti Factory and restored many buildings in Old Sacramento. In spite of our popularity we still earned just over minimum wage, so had to put in far too many hours.
The partners gave me an abandoned near unused commercial sewing machine that was in one of the buildings we restored. I used the campus machine shop off hours to get that sewing machine refurbished, but after all that work nobody was interested in buying. My agricultural blender was tested with large foam blocks. Rather than just throw the resulting shredded foam away, I brought those bags of shredded foam home. My plan was to use the sewing machine to make big throw pillows stuffed with my blender foam for me and my friends. Another friend worked at a fabric store and found for me some close out artificial fur that I sewed with my shredded foam to make some huge throw pillows that all loved. For some friends' wedding a pair of the pillows were wrapped in a single red ribbon. The buyer for Macy's was at the wedding, saw the pillows and tracked me down saying she wanted to sell them. This presented the perfect opportunity to hire my friend's Japanese wife who really wanted some work. She knew me as one of the few who could speak to her in Japanese. She went to work as a contractor using my sewing machine to make pillows with a fixed fee to make each pillow. These pillows proved far too popular. The insane growth rate required me to front more and more money every month for materials and salaries. The banks laughed at me as a eighteen year old looking for a business loan with zero experience or credit.
Sometimes when it rains it does pour. My grape harvester experience proved to be far too good of a story and it rapidly spread all over campus, mostly at faculty cocktail parties. Suddenly I was offered and accepted a real job as a computer programmer that paid four times what I could make per hour doing construction. I could have spent my life writing statistical programs for computers, but instead decided to write a whole series of generic statistical programs anyone could use. IBM spread my programs all over the world giving rise to what became known as the BioMed Programs which were then copied to create SPSS and SAS. That let me spend my time on more interesting projects such as inventing ways to build in artificial intelligence into computer programs, and playing around with how to implement graphics on computers. That programming job also gave me the income to keep from losing the pillow business. Almost overnight I had twelve graduate student wives working for me sewing up a storm and we needed at least twelve more. They were bright highly motivated workers and all spoke different languages other than English making that business a lot like trying to herd cats. These pillows sold for four times what they cost to make, so on paper this business was making me rich. In practice, it was bankrupting me and wearing me out having to work ever more hours at my other jobs to keep up. The workload finally forced me to a pause by refusing to accept any order increases until we were caught up financially. It took months to get paid and the business continued to grow so fast, that the payments did not keep up with the ever-growing demand for more staff and supplies.
That grape harvester story kept further reducing my time. Professors and graduate students from all over campus kept asking for me to help with stalled complex projects in trade for units. My successes rapidly built my reputation as the one to go to. I was very blessed and, in most cases, could immediately come up with workable solutions, so I just kept getting more and more requests. This let me choose just those things that I could really do well. This work also gave me lots more free time as I was able to trade help for units. My work helped the university earn twenty one patents, publish many different papers and let me do fundamental research on improved automated food harvesters, better food processing and canning equipment, optimized solar building design, molecular shapes detection in crystal formations, biofeedback equipment, generalized statistical computer programs, artificial intelligence, and critical care hospital patient monitoring. This work also cut back into my limited free time. The digital equipment I built for psychological monitoring got me drafted to teach digital engineering as an undergraduate. My computer programs also got me drafted to teach computer programming to students and faculty. My hospital critical care patient monitor and biofeedback equipment earned me a full medical school scholarship.
My graduate student friend with the Japanese wife who first worked for me on that pillow business surprised me and got rid of my biggest time eater. He got a large loan from his parents and bought the pillow business paying a big lump sum payment with ongoing royalties. At age 19 I suddenly had more than enough money to pay cash for a nice home and my computer income earned near what a full tenured airline captain made. I had more than enough money to enjoy life, but no time to do so.
Not only was I earning good money, I carefully hoarded the money from the sale of my pillow business. That money went into a little bit of junk including cars I refurbished, but mostly was invested in friends I liked and trusted. Learning from my father, I helped start and ended up owning half interests in four automotive garages, an upholstery shop, and a furniture making shop. I also bought an old building that needed restored and started a bandit radio station. All struggled initially barely paying bills leaving me insanely busy helping and adding what little free money I could. I refurbished my building and then with help from my construction partner refurbished it for a tenant to open a bar restaurant. My friend agreed to help build my building into a nice bar restaurant for a one quarter interest. The new tenant was to get a half interest but had to pay for our materials, and I ended up with a half interest. Neither the tenant nor my friend knew I was the building owner and the bar owner had to pay a small fixed rent plus a percentage of gross revenues monthly. Our tenant thought he had a backer who pulled out of the deal so could not pay for the costs. I agreed to pay for those costs in trade for a half instead of quarter interest. My construction partner had his one quarter. The bar was slow to gain customers, so we all had to work for essentially nothing. I ended up buying out my friend and ended up owning the building, and three quarters of the bar restaurant. My buying him out and putting up half the money let him open a furniture business that he loved. At first it barely made enough to keep him going, but it soon exploded and he dropped out of school to work full time with that business.
My world was happy and I fully expected to continue to teach, do research, and keep taking classes through my PhD in biomedical engineering and MD in medicine, then go on faculty where I hoped to do more of the same for the rest of my life. Instead, I was drafted before completing my dual degrees in biomedical engineering and pre-medicine. Not wanting to flee the country or get killed in Vietnam as happened to one of my closest friends, I joined an Air Force Reserve unit, scored too well on their entrance exam so was made flight crew, and ended up being one of the few activated and sent to the Vietnam War. I served in the Vietnam War as an aircraft tail gunner then returned to find myself unwelcome at the University of California campuses. I had so many units they agreed to grant me a general education degree with seven science minors.
In 20-20 hindsight they were probably right to prevent Vietnam Vets from returning to school as too many who came back from that conflict had serious problems. The life expectancy of a tail gunner there was about six weeks. Six of the ten who started with me were dead in six weeks and two more were in hospitals, so I drank far too much. When I got home, I spent a year working a graveyard shift as a computer operator for the Claremont Colleges to put myself back together. I learned there that in spite of being very bright, my education was terrible compared to the really smart and those who had been afforded top private schooling all their lives. Unfortunately, in spite of them treating me better than any employer before or after, that job was in the worst of the Southern California smog. The smog was so bad I could not even play tennis or do my daily jogging.
I moved to Sacramento and took a job at California State University at Sacramento to help them with their computer labs and help finish up projects. In trade they agreed to cover my tuition expenses and provide me the time off to finish up my master degrees in both computer hardware and software engineering. The Engineering School did big projects for private industry in trade for the equipment and money to operate. Soon I was getting their stalled and long bogged projects completed one after another and was quickly again drafted to teach both digital electronics and computer systems programming. Much of my work was testing new designs for complex logic circuits before they were made in silicon. In self-defense I wrote some computer programs that did the testing and debugging of very large scale integrated logic (VLSI) circuits, particularly complex microprocessors to help IBM build their new System 3 business computer. To complete that project, I added more software that did circuit design. Soon nearly every mini computer maker in the country started using my programs and expertise.
Concurrently, I purchased what was once one of Sacramento's most expensive mansions built by D.O. Mills who was the banker who financed much of the 49er gold rush. That home was in horrid shape and very affordable. In fact the fellow who bought it to restore found himself in so far over his head, he sold it to me with zero down payment. My fiancé and I rebuilt it and then married expecting to have a large family. Instead a worried mother rushing home to a sick child ran a red light and put my new wife in a care facility with irreparable heart damage her doctors did not expect her to survive. I ended up getting blamed even though I was clear across town at my job, so was not allowed to even go visit. I kept myself way too busy to avoid the frustration I could not change. I ran a major medical project that identified what things we could do to live happier and healthier lives, plus get an old drug certified for alternative treatments. With no budget to do this medical work, I was forced to invent much of the hardware and software to build our own data entry and editing machine. The resulting system landed me in the history museums as being the first to get a microprocessor-based computer not only working, but equipped with a color monitor, high speed printer and large hard disc drive years before the first kit computers. We freely shared both my hardware designs and software which resulted in just about every personal computer using variations of my operating system, video editor, BASIC interpreter, spreadsheet and data base software.
One of my good friends talked the Governor into drafting me to work as a trouble shooter because the State had lots of serious computer problems. The Governor was on one of the boards that reviewed my medical research project and liked my work so hired me. That job paid more than double my CSUS job, plus gave me time off to keep teaching. Soon UC Davis asked me to return and teach there as well. I filled six pretty empty years earning two more degrees, teaching university engineering more than full time, working a full time job with the State of California fixing many problems. I also took lots of interesting classes ranging from cooking to water color painting. I did so much a little searching on the Internet rapidly gets embarrassing.
My dual income coupled with too much free time and tool rebuilding hobby let me build up a nice home shop which helped restore that Victorian mansion. I shared how I modified an older ShopSmith with one of my professor friends. He liked what I did so much he insisted on buying my modified unit for far more than it was worth, then shared my changes with ShopSmith. They incorporated many of my design enhancements in their Mark V systems they still sell. Ever since I've continued to share design changes and things I invent with different vendors in trade for payments and more tools for my own shop. The bottom line is I have helped improve and evaluate new tools since the 1960s. I have worked with cyclones since 1994 and most small shop vendors today now sell their own variations of my early cyclone design that addressed cone plugging and poor airflow problems. Some of my designs became very popular such as my ShopSmith upgrades, dust collector cartridge filter (pictured on the right), and significant dust collection innovations.
A bad allergic reaction to fine dust in early 2000 gave me severe pneumonia leaving lung damage that forced me to retire from teaching in 2000 and worsening related problems forced me to retire completely in 2004. This inspired me to figure out what went wrong and make repair. The peer reviewed medical research shows every fine dust exposure causes a measurable loss in air capacity, some of this loss becomes permanent, and the greater and longer the exposure the worse the loss. Fine invisible dust particles are so small they slip right by our bodies' protections. These deeply lodged particles damage and scar our tissues. This is why the EPA sets such tough indoor air quality standards. Wood dusts are particularly bad. Wood dust particles are covered with razor sharp edges and sharp often barbed points that cause them to get stuck deep in our respiratory tissues where we have a very difficult time getting rid of them. Wood dusts also carry and contain many toxic chemicals that can cause irritation, rashes, nerve damage, poisoning, increase cancer risks, and cause sensitization meaning worsening allergic reactions. Air quality testing in my very clean looking shop showed it was badly contaminated. My air quality inspector explained woodworking creates huge amounts of fine invisible dust compared to how little it takes to harm our health and wood dust particles last nearly forever unless they get wet. So, in shops like mine that vent inside the fine invisible dust builds to dangerously high levels. His test equipment showed my clean looking shop had built up so much fine invisible dust just walking around without doing any woodworking stirred enough fine dust airborne to fail an EPA air quality test.
This same fine dust that harms our lungs also destroys fine filters. Woodworking makes so much of this fine dust it constantly clogs our filters to the point they will barely pass air, so we have to clean constantly. Cleaning forces the razor-sharp edges and sharp often barbed points on airborne wood dust particles to cut and tear their way through the fine filter strands creating such big openings our filters no longer filter. This damage destroys fine filters forcing their replacement in most commercial shops roughly every three months. Almost all commercial shops vent outside to avoid the high expense of constant replacement of fine filters. Airborne dust when vented outside vanishes with no visible trace and rapidly breaks down as soon as it gets damp.
To get good protection in my shop I either needed to accept the regular replacement of expensive fine filters or come up with a better solution. After years of working with cyclone separators I knew traditional cyclone designs pass 100% of the airborne dust right through. This airborne dust is what harms our health and destroys filters which is why we should vent outside as do most commercial firms. Using a pre-filter just created a clogging and constant cleaning problem, so I came up with a much better fine dust separating cyclone. My design is independent medical school tested to separate airborne dust over six times better that its closest competitor which is my prior design that most small shop vendors now sell. This improved separation keeps our filters clean for better airflow and means we have to clean and replace our expensive fine filters far less often. It works so well over 10,000 people worldwide now use my cyclone design that you can build from my free plans on these pages or purchase from Clear Vue Cyclones.
In summary I taught college engineering for over thirty years, have multiple degrees, and many patents, papers, books, projects and inventions including some woodworking tools. Since my forced retirement I have focused on this not for profit effort to help others protect themselves from fine dust so they are not blindsided like I was. The risks from fine wood dust are real and can be easily verified from the peer reviewed medical research. Likewise, my suggested solutions for good protection are the best current industry practices from those top firms that make the dust collection equipment installed in facilities that monitor and must pass air quality standards. I've written many articles on dust collection and these pages have won awards from industry leaders as one of the best and most positive influences for good fine dust collection today.