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.