A new cutting board

Like a lot of kitchens, we have a pull out cutting board underneath one of our counters. Our house is a 1960’s ranch, with a kitchen that is mostly original, as you can see from the counter top. Certainly the cutting board was. It was unusable as anything but a shelf when we moved in. It was made out of fir plywood, and the outer plys were all chopped away. It was nasty.

So I made a new one. I had large chunk of maple left over from another project, and after resawing it into planks I glued them up and breadboarded the ends. I finished it with mineral oil, and it’s a huge improvement over what we had. It’s smooth, and clean, and I can actually put food on it. At first I hesitated, since we have a poly cutting board that would fit, but there’s ample evidence that a wood board is no less sanitary, and possibly more sanitary than a plastic one.

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I was in the process of making a dress up island to hold the girls’ dress up clothes, but realized I’d gotten pretty rusty in the shop so I decided to do the cutting board to refresh my skills. I’m glad I did. The board was a bit of a comedy of clumsiness but it absorbed a few mistakes easily. It would have really stunk to have ruined the other project.

I always underestimate how much of fine woodworking is a skill that has to be kept in practice. I also always underestimate how cathartic it is to make something useful.

Building a guitar – 1

So I’d decided to build an acoustic guitar, and after I researched just what the wood would cost I changed my mind. Really good wood, the kind of perfect wood you need for an acoustic, is unholy expensive these days! A kit, which is really just rough cut pieces, is $400-$500. Of course, to buy the guitar such a kit would allow you to build would cost about $2000. Even so, more than I have to spend at the moment so I decided to pursue an electric guitar first.

I’ve wanted a Telecaster for years, and so I decided to make a design similar to that. The blond model with a black pick guard. My goal is a guitar that works. I’m not going to try to make it perfect, or authentic, or beautifully finished. Just competently made and functional It will probably be finished with a few coats of oil over sanding to 220 grit. Maybe shellac, if my arms feel strong enough for all the sanding. I figure it will take at least 2 more guitars before I get to where spraying lacquer and buffing to high gloss will be worth it.

The first step was to make a template using a drawing off the internet and a trip to Kinko’s to print it out full size. I used spray-mount adhesive to stick it to some baltic birch plywood, and then cut and sanded to the lines. Not too bad – over 16″ the drawing was out maybe .030″ according to my most expensive ruler.
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In the mean time I dressed some ash I’d bought, and glued up a body blank. Why is it impossible to buy a piece of ash without saying to everyone ‘Hey, I just got a nice piece of ash!’. Anyway, it was a nice pie…attractively figured ash board. Now it’s a lot nicer looking and the right dimensions for cutting into a body.

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While the body blank was drying I got started on the template for the neck. The surgical loupe was there so I could read the .010″ graduations on my ruler – my eyes just don’t go there anymore. I pasted a drawing of the headstock on the plywood to get started, and then calculated the length and where the taper should start. It’s about now that I realized that there are really very few critical dimensions on a guitar – really just the distance between the nut, bridge and frets. The rest is just aesthetics. I like this kind of wood working!

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Today I got the body routed out – not without a flaw here and there due to tear out and unexpected router mishaps. I’m going to try to repair as best I can, but really the guitar is meant to be functional and practice more than family heirloom. A few dings to start with just means I don’t have to worry about the first one that comes after it’s finished.

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I have a lot more work to do, but so far it’s been about what I expected. I will have to order some parts before I get too much further, as things have to be located to fit.

So far I think I’ve discovered a better way to do this. Instead of making the body, and routing the neck pocket, I think maybe it should go the other way. First rough the neck, then route the neck pocket in the body, then rout the outside of the body. I’ll have to try that next time.

More to come!

Building a Playstar playset

Last summer we finally decided to build a playset for the girls. It was quite a project, but it turned out well, and the girls love it. We decided on the Playstar Super Star Silver Star. A friend, who’d been involved in evaluating play equipment for a local community, suggested that the spiral slide wouldn’t get much use after the initial thrill wore off, but that straight slides (and their higher speed) would stay popular.IMG_1580.JPG

This is not really a weekend project unless you have help. I had three very handy individuals as helpers, including a friend of 25 years and my brother-in-law and his wife. We printed two copies of the manual, and worked separately on the two towers. I have three cordless drills and had set up my compound miter saw on a stand. There was little time spent being confused, arguing, waiting for tools, or any of the other usual time wasters – we were very efficient.

I started early in the morning cutting pieces, and we still didn’t get done until past dinner time the next day. In fact, there were some pieces (like the rock climbing holds) that didn’t get done until several days later.

My point is that this can be a very big project, so plan accordingly. My wife did an awesome job of getting the kids out of the way and keeping them out. If she hadn’t, I don’t know how long it would have taken!

We bought the wood and the parts together from Menards. The delivery guy was very nice, and even put the skids in the back yard for us. This was very good, because the wood arrived about as dry as if it had been pulled out of a pond. Treated lumber is often very damp when bought from discount places, and other than being heavy there was no problem with it. I think we had one curvy 2×4, otherwise I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the wood.

Plan on driving about a gazillion 2-1/2″ deck screws. Seriously, we went through 3 huge boxes of them, and have about 5 left over. I suggest if you don’t drive screws for a living, you keep an eye on popular blister spots – like the inside of your thumb – and have athletic tape ready. On the second day I had a few sore spots that made driving screws just no fun.

Tim, my brother-in-law, located the footprint with stakes while I was still cutting pieces. He oriented the unit at an angle, which makes it a lot easier to spot the kids when they’re on the playset. I would have made it aligned parallel out of habit, but having it angled works a lot better. This was one step that I had mentally blown off, but Tim took it seriously and I’m grateful.

When I opened the box I found the instructions had been robbed from it. I called Playstar, and they sent me a link to get new copies online. this worked out great, because I could print as many as I needed. This way everyone had a copy and there was no hunting for them outside. All of the required parts were present, and we didn’t have to make any changed due to mistakes in the plans. Things fit the way they were supposed to.

Because my girls are too young to do hand over hand on the rings between the two towers, I made a bridge out of steel cable and 2×4’s drilled edge-wise. It took a couple hours to make, but it works well. In a few years when the girls are old enough I will take it out.

If I was going to do it again, there’s not much I would do differently but one thing: Sand the pieces before assembly. Sanding the unit once it is complete is miserable. Really, nearly impossible. But the individual pieces are easy to hit with a random orbit sander, and 60-100 grit paper, and get the corners rounded and obvious splinters removed.

Woodworking advice

A person recently left a comment on my posts about building a crib for our children:

I am very impressed with both of you. My husband doesn’t want to purchase a crib. Everytime we go to the store he picks the poorly made (overly priced) cribs apart. He is set on making his own. I just don’t want to add to his stress. Any suggestions I could pass on to him as he begins his own project, would be greatly appreciated.

There’s always advice one could give on tools, techniques, or whatever, but there are a few items that always fit:

  1. Woodworking requires practice like anything else, and it’s not easy to keep from getting rusty unless you move from one project to another with no breaks. So, before I begin a large project like the crib, I build something smaller and less critical. The process of making the smaller project brings me up to speed, and reminds me of a all kinds of little things I have to remember.
  2. Never fix a mistake immediately. Most likely, you will just follow it up with another mistake. There’s a reason why you made the mistake – you were tired, hungry, stressed, whatever – and the reason is STILL THERE. Any time I make a mistake (or injure myself) I take a break and leave the room and do something else for a little while.
  3. Quit when you’re ahead. We all know the feeling at the end of a very productive day, when we’re just a few steps from being done. We’re elated, tired, and ready to be finished. STOP! You’re not as close as you think you are. Go to bed, and pick it up again in the morning.
  4. Think about finishing first. The finish you put on a project is more important than just about anything else. A bad finish means a bad project that WILL get tossed when it gets old and dirty. With modern wipe-on varnishes, there’s just no excuses any more for not putting a decent finish on.