Briana’s Crib, a Recap

Over the last 9-10 months, I’ve constructed my first labor of love – Briana’s crib:

Over that large period of time, not only did the project grow in size, but I grew as a woodworker. When first reading through the plans for the crib, I had a very difficult time visualizing two steps ahead.  This combined with a not so great plans, led to a few mistakes and more than enough frustration along the way. With those mistakes and frustrations came solutions and lessons learned.  I wanted to write this post to collect those various thoughts that were significant enough to remember and lessons that were important enough to share.

  1. Plans – After this set of plans left quite a bit to be desired, I’m a little soured on doing projects from plans.  However, this may be a case of getting what I paid for (these were cheap). I’m a little disappointed, because I’ve seen plans in $5 magazines that far surpass the $14 plans used to build this crib.  The plans were also written assuming the user has very little, if no, woodworking experience.  That became more annoying as I progressed, both through this project and through my skills as a woodworker.
  2. Cut Lists – Many people have said it many times, but I definitely now know not to cut everything to size up front. Really – they are all telling the truth.
  3. Dowels – This project was almost entirely comprised of dowel joints. I have come to loathe them, but they get a future second chance for two reasons: a) The joints were almost exclusively end grain to edge grain contact, and b) I made the joinery with just dowel-center pins, not with a dedicated doweling jig.
  4. Finishing – I still need to work on my finishing in general. I haven’t taken any pictures of the mistakes, but there are places on the crib that are darker, mostly because some shellac dripped over an edge.  Part of this is because I was a little cramped in my finishing space, so I wasn’t able to view all angles of all part of the crib while I was finishing.  [pipedream]A dedicated finishing room in a future shop would be great for this, I imagine. [/pipedream]
  5. Time – As this project drug along (as Briana aged), I felt more of a time crunch in trying to get the crib completed.  This brought out some “just get it finished” tendencies that I’m not very proud of having commited.  Some of them ended up not mattering, some of them ended up causing me more work later.

Looking back, there are a ton of things I would have changed, both in the design of the crib and my techniques for executing.  But shouldn’t that be a positive sign of growth – the ability to look back on both successes and mistakes to see how to improve? I certainly hope so.

Crib – Completed!

The last remaining task for the crib was to construct the drawers that go into the base.

The drawers are a simple box of 1/2″ birch plywood, with 1/4″ oak plywood for the bottoms. To hold the drawers bottoms, I setup a 1/4″ slot cutting bit on my router table and cut a groove in all of the 1/2″ plywood pieces. The fronts and backs of the drawers have their through grooves hidden by the sides. The face of the drawer will hide the grooves on the front of the piece; only on the back of the drawers will be exposed – which will be hidden inside the case. Once all the grooves were cut and passed the dry fit test, I applied some glue and clamps.  I even channeled my inner Norm and added a few pins to each joint for strength.

While the drawer boxes were drying in clamps, I started working on the drawer faces.  Because I liked the look it gave the rail tops, I eased the edges of the drawer faces with my block plane. Besides making them slightly safer for children (this is a crib), I think it softens the profile of what is otherwise a square piece. The next step was to drill a hole for the drawer pull. I’m using just a single knob for each drawer, so I needed to find the center of the board. I decided to draw lines corner to corner and drill at the intersection of the lines. Because I was marking on the back of the board, I only drilled the hole deep enough to just puncture front side – to avoid any tearout on the front. Then I flipped the board over and completed the hole from the front.

Once the glue on the boxes had dried, I clamped the drawer boxes to the faces and drilled pilot holes for the screws attaching them.  I also outlined the box on the back of the drawer faces, so I didn’t finish that section, both to help with gluing and to avoid wasting finish. With everything marked and drilled, I set to shellac the drawer faces.  Same as the rest of the crib, I brushed on two coats of shellac, followed by wiping on a final coat that was cut 1:1 with denatured alcohol. Drying time, some glue, and a few more screws left the drawer construction complete.

Little did I know that mounting these drawers would be far more frustrating than building them! Some of the frustration was due to the way the “plans” were put together (I’ll have a separate post on that), but some was due to slight mistakes I made during construction.  The center support is the mounting point for the inner drawer slides on each drawers.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have it perfectly centered.  This meant that in order to get the drawer box AND two sets of slides (one on each side) to fit between the center support and the leg, I was going to have to cut into the support to mount the inner drawer slide.  I really didn’t want to drag the crib’s base back into my shop and I didn’t want to run my router – and it’s high speed sawdust – in the baby’s room, so I went galoot and hollowed out the groove with some chisels and a mallet. I guess the next two hours were my penance for using my nail gun on the drawer boxes…

Despite all that chopping, I finally got the drawers mounted, opening, and closing. This project is finally done!

I’ll have a wrap-up post some time next week to go over the entire project!

This Fully Armed and Operational Battlestation!

..or at least its a sleepable crib.

After far too much time spent cutting, gluing, remaking some parts, gluing, and shellacking – Briana now has a crib in which she can sleep. I still have to put the hinges on the cabinet door and make the drawers for underneath, but those can go in after she gets to start using it.  And she has:

Almost Finished (so to speak…)

Ever get the feeling that the last inch is a mile away?  I’m just about there.  I’ve got two coats of amber shellac on all of the pieces of the crib.  Shellac, sanding, shellac, and sanded with an extra fine scotch pad. For the final coat, I’ve decided to thin the shellac:

I diluted the amber shellac with an equal part denatured alcohol and rubbed it on, as opposed to brushing it on – as the previous two coats were applied.  I really like how that has turned out – here’s a shot of the base after the thinned finish was wiped on:

That should dry easily overnight, then back to the upper half for its final coat. If I don’t add a second thinned coat, Briana should sleep in the crib this Tuesday night!

It’s Not Finished Until It’s Finished…

… or The Closer I Get, the Further It Seems

I am to the point now on this crib where all the construction necessary for the crib to be functional (i.e. everything but the drawers) is complete.  After assembling the trim that would frame the base, I attached it with my brand new biscuit joiner:

Unfortunately, I was slightly off in my markings for the biscuits slots, so I needed to cut into the inside of the base itself. I was able to hog out most of the material with a flush trim bit, but the bit wasn’t long enough to get the whole amount. This lead me to my mallet and chisel to remove the rest of the material in two places:

While these last modifications were being cut, I was also starting to apply the finish to the cabinet and rails. I decided to go with shellac for the finish, as that was the consensus pick for being a child safe finish. This evening I put the second coat on the cabinet and rails:

I really like the color that the amber shellac has brought the red oak – it seems to fit quite well. If I can avoid any drip marks on the final coat, I think this is going to look good in the end.  Sometime within the next week or so, Briana should be sleeping in it!

Anyone have any ‘finishing the finish’ tips?

Laziness and Hand Tools?

A couple of nights ago I was out in the garage to work on the trim that would top the rails and footboard of Briana’s crib. One of the lessons (out of many) I’ve learned during the process of building this crib is not to cut everything ahead of time. The pieces I had cut a while ago were a few sixteenths of an inch short – all three pieces. So I ripped two new pieces for the long pieces and used one of the old long pieces to shorten for the cross piece.

Once I had the pieces ripped and cut to proper length, I realized that these would be pieces that Briana would be grabbing eventually.  I decided to I wanted to round over the edges, but had no desire to setup my router table. As seen before, my router table is one of those 15″x30″ prefab tables from Craftsman. When not it use, it gets piled up in a corner in the garage; this is especially the case when I have a huge project (such as this crib) taking up space.  I really didn’t feel like getting it out, clamping it to my bench table saw, and setting up the roundover bit.  As it turns out, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Instead I clamped each piece of trim in my quad screw vise and grabbed my block plane:

This isn’t one of the pieces from my recent purchase, but a block plane I’ve had for some time. I just wanted a simple roundover, nothing too dramatic or deep, something to keep a sharp edge away from the baby.  I ran several passes across each edge, varying my angle slightly to keep a smooth surface. Even though it was stringy shavings, instead of wispy ones:

…there was still a simple peace in working the wood this way. A little sanding and this trim was ready for glue-up. With pieces that were covering such a long and wide space, I setup my clamps before applying any glue:

Turns out that was a great idea, because I would have been scrmabling quite a bit to get all these clamps in place:

Here’s a couple of close ups of the corner of these assemblies:

You can almost see the roundover detail on the trim in those shots.  Next step, I have similar trim pieces that wrap around the cabinet, rails, and footboard – holding those pieces to the base.  After that all that is left to make the crib habitable is a couple of coats of shellac. I should probably get back into the garage right now…

Making the Fixed Break Down

One of the biggest hurdles remaining in building this crib was figuring out how to construct it outside of Briana’s room and then get it into Briana’s room. Constructed as per the directions, the crib is too wide, too long, and too tall to fit through her bedroom door. I could do the final assembly in her bedroom, but then the crib would be stuck there.

My solution? T-bolts!

There was just enough play in the crib’s plan that I was able to add an extra bar of wood between the rails and the cabinet/header of the crib. That will serve as caul, holding the rail assembly to the cabinet.  The first step was to sink the t-bolts into the side of the cabinet:

A shallow hole drilled with a forstner bit (to keep the face flush) followed by a concentric hole drilled to hold the full bolt. After some glue and a couple of small nails, the t-bolt is anchored in the cabinet side:

Next, I drilled another compound hole, to allow the hex screw through the caul while catching the head – creating my locking system. A couple of test fits and all looks good:

So now I have a crib that is sturdy when assmebled, but can be broken down into three parts for moving in and out of a room:

Three big tasks remain for the crib:

1) Trim – there are trim pieces that top the rails and top the base, holding the rail/ and cabinet assmeblies in place.  I’ve begun shaping the pieces to complete this, but there will be a lot of adjusting for a perfect fit – especially for the trim wrapping the base.
2) Finishing – There will be a lot of shellac, followed by sanding, followed by more shellac.
3) Drawers – The base will have two large drawers in the bottom.  They are last on the list, because the baby can sleep in a crib without drawers, and Michelle is eager to get the baby sleeping in the crib ASAP!

Bracing for a Whisper

I feel like I’m this close to being finished with Briana’s crib, having only a few subassemblies left to complete before getting the whole thing together. I’m currently working on attaching the rail assemblies to one of the ends. Each set of rails is attached to the end assembly with four dowels.  I had previously drilled the holes into the end, but hadn’t yet used my dowel centers to mark and drill the matching holes in the rail assemblies.

Getting each mark set was easy enough, but the battery on my cordless drill was completely drained. Not to be deterred, I decided to dig out a gift from my father-in-law*:

I expected the brace to get the job done – drilling the holes. What I didn’t expect was the shock of actually hearing the wood shear. Not only that, but how that seemed to speak to me – a whisper that was previously drowned out by the whirring of an electric motor.

I’m not going to win any cat fights in the near future, but I’ll certainly be trying.

*I’ll have another post soon about each gift I was lucky enough to receive this holiday season.

So You’re My Uncle Joey…

… better get used to these bars, kids.

Assembling the rails for the crib has proved quite tedious. Without a dedicated assembly table, I’ve had to make due with my table saw table for marking and setup – which works fine until you have to slide longer pieces across the table, throwing off any hope of perfect alignment. Can close enough be close enough? Right now, the magic 8-ball points to yes:


I expected this glue-up to be difficult, so I enlisted the help of my wife.  With 13 rails and 52 dowels I certainly needed it.  Despite Kari’s Rule #9, my wife was a willing assistant. I can’t imagine getting this assembly laid out, glue applied, and clamped without the extra set of hands.  After some mallet pounding, a few curse words, and the obligatory gnashing of teeth we were able to get the rails glued and clamped:


The parallel clamps were a huge help, allowing me to crank down on the the pieces and fight my way through some not-perfectly-drilled dowel holes.  I have 26 more holes to drill in another board, then we get to do it all over again for the second set of rails!

Besides being closer to finishing this crib (and its finally starting to look like an actual crib), a huge benefit from tonight’s work was my wife coming to the realization that I need both more garage space and more clamps.  With Christmas just around the corner…

Crib Coming Together

I spent several hours in the garage this evening, attending to a few different aspects of Briana’s crib. I built my first frame and panel door, which will front the vertical cabinet on the right side of the crib:


I ended up routing the groove through the entire length of each rail and stile, mostly because I’m not nearly comfortable enough to attempt to drop the workpiece onto a spinning router bit.  That, coupled with the laziness that prevented me from build a jig to properly support a router to plunge into the workpiece have left me with four small holes I need to fill. I have plenty of scrap pieces of the oak I’m using for this project, so I’ll rip some 1/4″ strips (the width of the groove) to wedge in there and trim flush.

I also got the sides of that cabinet assembled and dry fit (if you can call standing them on end “dry fit”) on the crib’s base:


The last thing I did tonight was to sand the rails to 120 grit.  I had previously sanded them with 60-grit sand paper, just enough to remove a few burn marks left by the round-over router bit. I had done that sanding by holding the rail in one hand and a sanding block in the other.  That was quite the effort, not to mention stressful on both my hands, so I was determined to find a better way for this round of sanding. I decided to treat the rails like a blade to sharpen.  I set the sandpaper on my table saw:


held in place with two of the rails I’m working.  I held the sandpaper down with my left hand (via the rail) and worked the rail across the paper in my right hand:


I got into a good rhythm and I think I this was a decent method to ease the amount of work during this round of sanding. Does anyone out there know of a better way to sand these mostly round pieces, short of buy a spokeshave and building a shaving horse?  I figure I’ve got one more round of sanding for the rails (likely at 220 grit) and anything that reduces the time I spend sanding is worth investigating!