Tick Marks to Templates

Design sketches – checks. Materials – check.  Now it was time for some serious shop time.

For the complex curves that I had in several places on this piece, I knew I would need a few steps between my initial sketches and putting a blade to the wood.  My first step was to make some larger scale drawings of individual parts of the piece. From there, I wanted to create some plywood templates to ensure consistency in the repeated forms. I don’t know of anywhere that sells 1/4″ plywood with gridlines printed on it, so I had to make my own.

The grid lines provide two things: 1) a measure of distance – I spaced the lines 1/2″ apart, and 2) a way to transfer my previous drawings, one grid square at a time. My scale on the larger sketches I did was the same as these grid lines, so transferring the shapes to the plywood was a snap:

Some quick work at the band saw and I had several templates cut and ready for primetime:

In addition to getting these templates created, I started doing some layout work on the 4/4 maple board I have. It will be used for the outer drawer assemblies, so the primary shape I wanted to orient was the side pieces (lower left, above). I noticed on the maple that there were a few spots with some interesting cathedral grain near the center of the board. I’ve marked those areas for the outer sides, so the rising grain follows the sloping curves. It’s hard explain, so I’ll make sure to get some pictures as soon as I get the boards planed.

I did some shopping this weekend as well, picking up some SealCoat shellac and Transtint dye, so I can get the grain on the curly maple I’m using for the top to pop. One thing I still need to pick up is a white pencil, so I can mark up the walnut and purpleheart and still see the lines!

Hopefully, I’ll get some of the real wood cut before Woodworking in America next week.

Serving Up a -BANG-

When I was putting together my initial plans for this crate, I knew that I wanted to have a couple of trays that stacked one upon the other – even though I wasn’t sure how I would accomplish that. I knew I had to embed the handles of the lower trays into the upper trays, otherwise the crate would be too tall. I also wanted to make the handles easily accessible, which pretty much ruled out putting them on the sides of the trays.  That left a handle on the center divider.

I felt that a slowly sloping curve would be a good balance between how much of the handle would need to be embedded in the tray above and the strength of the handle. To layout the handle, I went to my set of French curve templates:

With the outline of the handle, I needed to draw the cut-out to actually grab. I traced two 7/8″ diameter circles from a drawing template, then used the French curves to connect them:

I cut out the divider for the bottom tray (that doesn’t need cut-outs for a lower tray) on my band saw, then used it to layout both the upper and lower curves on the other two dividers. I rough cut both of those as well:

While I was making the curved cuts on the band saw, I had a bit of a revelation. On almost every other cutting tool, you mark the cut line then take the blade to the line.  But when cutting curves on the band saw, I find the reverse to be true. When I bent my head around the idea of taking the line to the blade, I had better results getting those curves cut, especially near the points of inflection on the curve [/math nerd].

In order to get them to the same shape, I chucked a sanding spindle into my oscillating spindle sander drill press to sneak my way up to the line. I clamped all three handles together to make sure they all took the same shape:

Which turned out nicely:

On one of the handles, I drilled through the cut-out areas to clear most of the waste away. I did the rest of the shaping with a couple of files:

Once I had the handle cut-out in the shape I wanted, I set about making the other two handles match. I clamped the formed handle back on top of the other two and put a pattern bit in my router.  Using the formed handle as my pattern, I cut through the other two pieces.

With the top of the handles cut, shaped, and matching – it was time to turn my attention to the box that I wanted to use to form the tray sides. As seen below, I clamped up all of the center handles and long tray sides together to cut the fingers on my table saw:

I chose to gang up all of the long pieces and cut them the same basically because there are more long pieces that will get box joints.  The long tray dividers get box joints that will be fit into through mortises on the short sides, to help distribute the weight when you pick up the handle.  The short tray dividers have a straight end because they will only slip into a dado. After gang cutting all of the long pieces, I custom cut each short tray side to mate with specific long pieces. After some fiddling with each mating joint, paring to make small adjustments, I got some decently fitting box joints:

After all the finger joints were cut, I turned my focus to cutting the grooves for the tray bottoms. When it comes to cutting a groove, I trust my table saw slightly more than my router table for sneaking up on a groove/dado – especially when the width is not a standard dimension. Yes, I know, I need to get plywood width router bits. They are on the Christmas list ;-)

I set the table saw blade height to 3/16″ (approximately half of the plywood’s thickness) and set the rip fence to establish the bottom edge of the groove with this first cut.  After running all 12 box sides over the blade, I moved the rip fence slightly to increase the size of the groove. After the third pass I started testing the fit of a bottom in my test piece, adjusting the rip fence subtly until I had a good fit, which you can see below:

That picture also confirms another reason I’ve been excited about this project – the plywood I’m using for these trays is reused from the crates that crated my new jointer and planer when they were delivered. As you can imagine, there was a lot of it. I’m just glad I’ve found a use for some of it.

Once I had the grooves for the tray bottoms cut, the rest of the joinery would be quite custom to each piece. I cut a long dado in each tray bottom to give me another strong glue surface for the lone center divider that is also the handle. Another dado was cut in each long tray side to hold the short dividers.  The interesting cuts that remained were the mortises for the through box joints on the handles.  I marked the fingers on each short side and drilled through the center of those squares with a slightly undersized drill bit. After the hoels were drilled, I squared the corners with a chisel and adjusted the mortises until I got a good fit for each side.  I wasn’t sure how they would finally turn out, but I’m happy with the look:

Last weekend I got the first tray glued up and into clamps. The next day, I noticed a terrible error with my assembly:

D’OH! I hadn’t allowed clearance for the lower handle in my short divider. I made the correction in the other tray before I assembled it, but I was left to determine a fix for this first tray. I don’t have a coping saw with a wide enough to use on this already glued tray, so I went rumaging through my tools. I came across the gardening equivalent of a hack saw:

I couldn’t use the the whole saw, but the blade presented an opportunity. It is large enough to hold easily, but has a thin set. I was able to saw a kerf on each side of the wood I needed to remove, using the bottom and the long divider as guides:


With the kerfs cut, I chopped out the waste with a chisel, similar to chopping out the waste of a dovetail joint. Because of how I created the lap joints that connected the dividers I wasn’t going to have much material left on the short divider, so I had to be careful once I got to the top of the waste. After a bit of fiddling with the chisel, I had the waste removed. This left me my three stacklable trays:

This was not the end of my fiddling though. Apparently I did not properly measure the height of the handle curves, so I need to perform some more paring. The depth at the top of the handles was pretty close, but futher out from the center of the handle was preventing the trays from seating firmly upon one another. A few more minutes with my chisel and I was finally able to stack them solidly:

Overall, I’m happy with how the trays came out. I only had two big mistakes. In addition to the short divider issue chronicled above, I also cut the groove for the drawer bottom on the wrong side of one of the long sides. Fortunately I had milled an extra of each side and divider, in case this had happened. After some light sanding, I’ll be ready to get back to the crate itself. I’d like to get the crate finished this week, so I can devote all my shop time to the Build Challenge put on by The Sawdust Chronicles, which starts September 1st.

The Day in Shavings – 23 August 2010

This is the first tray out of the clamps and I have two others in clamps (I need more clamps) as we speak.  Once those are out, I can come close to considering the stackable trays complete. However, I noticed a huge problem with the first tray I put together that I was thankfully able to correct on the other trays before glue-up.  Here’s a photo that actually shows the problem:

Anyone see the problem? Once I figure out how to fix it without destroying the tray, I’ll put all of this into a post describing the whole tray-making process – along with a couple of mistakes I had to fix along the way.

The Day in Shavings – 21 August 2010

I don’t have the trays for the ammo crate completed, but I wanted to give a quick update on my progess for it. I’ve spent a ton of time working on the box joints for these trays (yes, that’s 3/8″ plywood):

Most of today was spent working on these thru-box joints that connect the handle/middle-divider to the tray sides:

On a completely unrelated note, I also broke the seal (so to speak) on a can of AnchorSeal to cap the cherry logs I picked up last weekend:

Tomorrow I hope to get the last few details finished and get the trays into clamps, so I can write up a full post on this step of the project.

Christmas Gifts – Domino Box

While I was working on the set of dominos for my parents, I was also working on a box to hold the set.  I liked the idea of box joints, but really liked  the joints Marc Spagnolo created for the case of his Gagdet Station.

Based on the size and number of dominos I was creating, I had some basic dimensions to work with and settled on this sketch for my box design:

After several iterations (seen above), I decided on three fingers for the sides – each 3/4″ wide, with two fingers for the ends – each 9/8″ wide.  I liked not just the varied width of the fingers, but having an even number of fingers on one face and an odd number on the adjacent face.

I really wanted to go two-tone with the sides of this box and had previously purchased paduak and birdseye maple for the job. To create the extended box joints,  I created a jig for the mitre gauge on my table saw:

I don’t yet have a stacked dado blade set, so cutting the fingers involved several passes over the blade.  I used a stop block on both ends of the jig to set boundaries for how far to each side I could cut, then made passes over the blade, slowly moving the piece from one stop block to the other. I clamped opposing sides of the box together, both to decrease the number of cuts I was making and to create matching sides to make the fitting easier.

After several dozen passes of the mitre gauge, I was left with four close to fitting box sides:

On the table saw, I made a concerted effort to cut on the waste side of my markout lines – so I could custom work the fit of each set of fingers with a rasp. After fitting the fingers, I used the rasp to roundover the ends of each finger. I didn’t fully pillow the finger tips, but just broke the sharp edges enough to soften the profile.

With the sides fitted and shaped, I took my focus to the top and bottom of the box. For the bottom I used a piece of 1/2″ birch plywood. With my router table, I cut a groove on the inside of each side of the box.  On the maple ends, the groove went completely through end-to-end. On the paduak sides, a through groove would show on the outside of the box, so for the first time I [slowly] dropped a piece of wood onto an already spinning router bit. I was surprised by how smoothly that went – hopefully my over-anxiousness was the key to the safety of the operation.

For the top, I used another piece of the birdseye maple.  Again on the router table, I cut a rabbet on all for edges – allowing the top to rest within the opening of the box itself. For the pull on the top, I used a scrap of paduak.  I first routed a groove with a 3/8″ core box bit on both sides of the paduak, about 1″ from the end. Then I chucked a 1/2″ roundover bit and profile the edge on both sides as well. A couple of countersunk screws from beneath the top, some Titebond II, and my assembly was complete!

After I wrestled the box away from its clamp-monster, it only took a few brushed on coats of amber shellac to complete the box:

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!

More Clamps

Saturday afternoon brought an odd visitor.  I was downstairs watching football when I heard my dog bark, something he never does.  I ran upstairs to find a delivery on my doorstep that I had completely forgotten about:


Woodcraft had a clearance on these 3.5″ F-style clamps this past week and I had ordered 10. I was able to put them to immediate use, holding together some butt-joined shelf supports:


While we’re on the subject of clamps, I have once again run into a time that I needed more clamps, putting together the crib cabinet sides:


I had enough large parallel clamps to hold each side together end-to-end, but not enough F-style clamps to hold more than one panel together top-to-bottom. This one panel used all eight large F-style clamps I own, which means I had to wait for the glue to set on this panel before I could assemble the second.

The moral of the story?
I need more clamps!

Two Steps Back, One Step Forward

I haven’t spent much time in the garage lately, mostly because I made a huge mistake.  Remember how I had some alignment issues that I thought were purely aesthetic? It turned out to not be so.  When I tried to set the large panel that would serve as the horizontal base of the crib, I found out that it wouldn’t fit, because the panels inside the base weren’t set at the same height as one another.  Given I had already glued everything up, this meant that I had to break it apart, buy some more wood, and start over.

I haven’t had to completely start over, as many of the pieces I cut were unused to this point.  Thankfully, I was able to salvage a couple of the larger parts from the deconstruction to be reused.  Nothing was reuseable in place, but I was able to cut some of the smaller parts from the larger “scrap” pieces I now had.

One advantage to having to do this a second time is I already know how the first couple of steps are supposed to go – which allows me to move a little faster through the assemblies.  Another nicety of this assembly is getting to use my new Jet parallet clamps on the end assemblies:


I’ve now come to realize that you don’t fully understand the lack of clamping pressure you had on a previous assembly until you have the clamping ability you actually need.  Getting any kind of proper clamping was a stretch (pun intended) for the long axis of the crib base.  I have two Craftsman ratcheting band clamps that I was able to fit around the whole base, but just barely.  The straps are so taut that they vibrate like a stringed instrument.  I should take my guitar tuner out there and see what pitch they hit.


Now that I’ve made sure the horizontal base will fit and sit level, I can move onto assembling the crib rails next.

The “Mandatory” First Project – Bookshelves

From the few things I’ve read, it almost seems like a right of passage to build a set of bookshelves as one of, if not the, first project as a woodworker.  The cliche wasn’t enough to dissuade me. It didn’t hurt that we had boxes and piles of books strewn across the house, either.  I was feeling creative, so I came up with this design:


Five shelves, angled side profile, and an interesting lattice work to keep books from falling out the back:


Being this was my first attempt at building, let alone designing, a piece of furniture – I ended up keeping things simple.  The whole bookcase (four feet wide, about 6 feet tall) was constructed from two 4′ x 8′ sheets of 3/4″ oak plywood. The shelves rest in 3/8″ deep dados on each side.  The back lattice work is joined with half-lap joints, assembled separately, and then added to shelf/side assembly.

Although this piece is not something I could sell to anyone, I’m proud of how things turned out and what I learned from it all. I’ve picked up tips on tear-out, on the true width of 3/4″ plywood, on how my collection of clamps is woefully insufficient, etc.  My favorite lesson has become my motto in my garage – “It doesn’t help to measure twice, if you only think once.”

Update:  Here’s a picture of the bookcase in use: