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.

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…

Framing the Crib

This weekend I took a break from commenting, to actually get into the garage and do some woodworking. I started Saturday morning with just a bunch of boards, but now I have a few pieces assembled that are starting to look like more than a random pile of wood.

The plans for this crib call for a ton of dowels (something I’m starting to lament). Given the first few holes I drilled, I knew I was going to need some help making the reciprocating holes in the second pieces of wood. Since there is a Sears Hardware right across the street, I headed there first in search of help.  I wasn’t able to find any dowels centers, so I decided to drop a couple of bucks on these:


That’s a pair of 3/32 inch drill bits, with 1/4 inch chucks. Since I’m using 1/4 inch dowels, I figured I could slip these guys into the holes I drilled, marking the second piece with the bit tips.  It sounded like a good plan, until I tried to actually fit the bits into the holes. Things were a little snug, to say the least – I wasn’t willing to force them in.  So this learning experience brought about a trip to my local Woodcraft store. Since this was my first trip to a Woodcraft (or any woodworking-specific store), I made a little list of things I wanted to peruse and likely buy.  Atop that list was a set of dowel center pins:


The set came with four pairs of varying sized pins.  Luckily for my project, there are a pair that fit into 1/4 inch holes as well as a pair that fit onto 1/4 inch dowels, allowing me to mark two sets of wholes at once. I picked up a handheld countersink bit (something I’ve wanted to get for a while) and a set of cabinet scrapers, from E. Garlick & Sons:


I’ve done quite a bit of sanding for this project so far (the crib rails), so I’ve been willing to try anything that would ease the amount of time I spend with grit in my hands.  These cabinet scrapers certainly fit the bill.  Right off the bat, I put them to use smoothing the outside of the butt-jointed legs of the crib.  Not only did it remove the slight lip caused by my less-than-perfect clamping, but the scraping left an amazingly smooth surface behind – a bonus I really had to experiece to believe! And, oh those wispy, sexy shavings:


Now armed with smooth boards and the proper marking devices, I began to assemble the pieces that will form the base of the crib.  The first part I worked on was the back of the base. It consistes of two horizontal board, doweled to a pair of legs, framing a sheet of plywood to cover the back.  The front is a matching frame, but without the plywood sheet – there are drawers planned for that space.  Here’s a view from what will be the inside of the piece:


And a picture of the front frame:


Given I’m assembling the first parts, I’ve offered myself the first opportunity to make a large mistake – which turned out to be an offer I couldn’t refuse*. Any one notice how there are about two inches of space on the front frame between the bottom of the legs and the bottom of the frame?  That same lift is supposed to be on the back piece as well, but I was in too big of a hurry when I started assembling.  Like I say – Measuring twice doesn’t help if you only think once.

As things stand right now, I’m willing to live with the aesthetic mismatch of the piece as it stands – especially since that part will be against a wall. Aesthetics aside, I had to deal with the fact that the piece of plywood covering that hole had to be arrange just so in order to fill the gap. If you look at things just right, you can see the slivers of light that make the gaps:


If I had made the frame properly, there would be about one inch above and below the frame to ease attaching the plywood.  As it is I have only adhered the sheet at the ends. I figure that I need to do some kind of sealing along those “gaps,” as well as putting in some angle brackets along the length of the plywood, to further secure the piece. If anyone has any suggestions on how to fix this problem (besides reworking the whole piece), I’m all ears – please leave a comment.

The sides of the frame were a little easier to assemble, being two frames of oak secured to a piece of plywood:


Each of the oak pieces will be drilled for dowels and attached to the legs (that are already part of the front & back assemblies).  On top of this will sit the massive 66″x33″ piece of 1/2 inch birch plywood.  Of course, that is all predicated on me clearing out enough floor space in the garage to actually assemble this.  That will likely prove more difficult than the slip-ups I’ve encountered so far.  I guess I better get to cleaning…

*No horses were harmed in the typing of this blog post.

Drilling for Dowels

Continuing on with the crib construction: This evening I drilled the holes in the crib rails for the dowel joinery.  The plans called for two 1/4″ inch dowels on each end of each rail.


I marked the lines on each rail before I rounded the sides on my router table. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been if I had to mark the lines after cutting the curves!

One bonus of having a floor-standing drill press is I can lower the table down enough to stand a 26″ piece of wood on its end, still having it fit beneath the business end of the drill press:


I dropped the table down, secured each rail on end with a wooden hand-screw clamp, then clamped that rig to the table:


This was looking like a solid setup, until I started drilling some holes. One disadvantage to buying a really old tool is that not everything works as well as it did when it was new.  The biggest problem I’ve found is that the clamps/hold-downs don’t grip as well as they should.  Both the table and the head unit will rotate around the pole, even when the hold-downs are tightened.  Because of this problem, not all of my holes lined up perfectly.

My rationalization: as long as I “perfectly” drill the reciprocating holes, this shouldn’t matter.  But that means I’ll need to figure out a way to really clamp those parts down so they don’t move. I can’t afford to screw up this next set of holes or the rails will look really shody.

That’s just the beginning of the tool maintenance I need to do before proceeding with the crib.  I also need to gussy up a block plane I recently bought.  There are some corner pieces I’ve already glued together that need some TLC on the edges. I can either sand and sharpen a block plane, which will fix many pieces going forward, or sand and sharpen just the pieces at hand.  I think I’ll choose the former – better ROI.  Not to mention my recently discovered disdain for excessive sanding…