The crib is complete

Cribpics 6-19-2005 002

It took a while, but it’s finished! The hardware went on pretty easily and final assembly only took about an hour.

For those of you who are coming in late, quite a while ago I decided to build a crib for Ginny, my new daughter. I ended up building a matching changing table first. Both were built “from scratch”, using the crib plans as a guide for the changing table. I bought a hardware kit for the crib, as making the slid hardware and box spring would be pretty tough.

While the project was fun, there was also a bit of pressure and now it’s really nice to have it done 8–)

For anyone considering building the same project, using the same plans:

  • I did individual mortise and tenon joints for the slats instead of the slot & filler block approach they suggested. I thought it would be much easier to assemble, and I think I was right. However, it takes a long time to make all the mortise and tenons. I think it’s much more work to do it my way, but I have a real fear of complicated glue-ups.
  • The instructions don’t include how to install the hardware, although figuring it out from the plans is not too difficult. The only thing I would do differently is to install the threaded inserts in the legs while the legs are unassembled. Use a drill press (turned off) to align them properly and help with the installation. I waited until after they were assembled, and installation resulted in some splintering.
  • I used General Finishes wipe-on polyurethane as a finish, which is non-toxic when cured. It worked out pretty well. I put two coats on the pieces before they were assembled, and the rest in sub-assemblies. Then, during final assembly, there was no need to worry about glue squeeze-out – it just pops off after it’s cured.
  • Everyone wants to know if building it myself saved money. Usually, building your own furniture, like shooting your own meat, is NOT the cheap way to go. It’s not that you waste money, exactly, it’s that between new tools and the increased quality of materials it just ends up being more expensive. In this case I spent about $300 on wood, $140 on the plans and hardware kit, and perhaps another $50 on incidentals and finishing. This yielded the crib and changing table, of quality equal to or better to what we’ve seen at Pottery Barn Kids and other stores. Figure my $490 vs. about $900 to buy them. That assumes I don’t get paid, which is ok – I did it for fun. I also didn’t have to get any new tools, although a new router mysteriously showed up in the middle somewhere.

Crib Update

With all that’s gone on in the past two months, I totally forgot to post anything about the crib I’m building. So I thought I would put up a short update.

I finished the changing table, and it’s in use. The crib, on the other hand, quickly fell by the wayside once Ginny was born. Of course, she’s been growing like a weed and will soon outgrow the bassinet we have her in. Pretty soon she’ll look like a lobster in a butter dish – of course, the cutest lobster in the world.

So I’ve been working on the crib and am now varnishing the 58 pieces that will be glued together to create it. I’m starting to loathe wipe-on varnish, and yearn for a spray system. We have nowhere to use such a system, so it’s back to wiping. It takes about 3 hours to sand everything, clean all the dust off, and varnish.

If everything goes well, she should be sleeping in her new bed by Monday or Tuesday next week. I will have pictures then. The construction is exactly the same as the changing table, so there hasn’t been anything really new to show anyway.

Baby Crib Progress, #7

I actually wiped on the first coat of varnish on Sunday, and the second coat tonight. I’m not taking any pictures because everything is still just a pile of sticks. I’m no fool – it’s much easier to varnish things before they’re put together.

Saturday was quite productive, and I finished all the cutting and joinery, test fit enough pieces to make sure everything was going to go together ok, and then started sanding. Later I got to the store to pick up a gallon of General Finish’s Wipe-on Poly Urethane, gloves and whatnot. I never manage to keep that stuff on hand – finishes are always going bad in my basement. I learned a long time ago the only thing worse than the wrong finish is stuff that’s too old to use properly.

So, it’s another coat each day this week, and then some assembly on Saturday, and a few more coats after that.

Crib Construction Part 6

While my wife was very productive on the nursery this weekend, I got a lot done on the changing table as well.

Of course, not without a little misery. I seem to have a very hard time keeping the augers used in hollow-chisel mortisers in one piece:

Misc-3-13-2005 017

I broke not one, but two of these guys today. The good news is that I found a store that sells just the augers, so I don’t have to buy the whole chisel-auger set anymore. I did end up getting a new chisel (to ensure the augers would fit), which was the “top of the line” from Delta. It does work better than the last two I got.

I think I’ve finally learned that I was just going to quickly. Since I’ve slowed down, I haven’t had any more broken bits. I hope it stays that way, or I’m going to have to start budgeting augers into every project I do.

After the auger fiasco, I got some more pieces milled to size. Then I had  lot of rounding of corners to do. There’s no way to do it on thin pieces like the slats without a router table, and while I had been planning to buy a nice router table, I just snapped and built one instead:

Misc-3-13-2005 020

 It’s pretty rickety, but it got the job done and didn’t cost anything but materials I had laying around. I used pocket screws on MDF, which no doubt will have the folks at Kreg wincing a bit – I didn’t even bother with glue. I figure I can make a nice one later. The duct tape worked fairly well getting the chips to go to the vacuum hose. You know, that nice maple bench the router table is sitting on was perfectly clean earlier in the day – seriously!

Anyway, just a little more work, and I can apply the finish and glue it together. Then it will start to look like something instead of a pile of sticks.

Misc-3-13-2005 021

Misc-3-13-2005 022


Woodworking: Building a crib part 4

Today was pretty darn productive, even if my original project (tiling the bathroom) got pushed aside in favor of working on the changing table. I tried to do the tiling, I really did. The problem was that the laser level I’m going to use to keep things straight wasn’t bright enough – I could barely see the line in the bright mid-day sun.

Needing no further excuse, I got a new chisel for the mortiser. It turns out that Neu’s Building Center, one of the most awesome tool/hardware stores in the Milwaukee area was having a small woodworking show – several manufacturer’s reps were on hand to answer questions, and give demos. I found the chisels, and there were two different models to choose from – one was $30 the other $45. I found the Delta rep and asked about the difference. He started to explain, caught himself, and deferred to the catalog. It was simple – the $30 one was “for frequent use by serious woodworkers”, while the $45 one was “for professional use.” Hmmmm…. I pushed, and asked a few questions. After some hemming & hawing, the bottom line: If you aren’t a metallurgist, and don’t have a Rockwell hardness tester in your basement, you probably won’t notice the difference. I figured I would notice the $15.

Then I talked to the Benchdog rep to find out when/if I would be able to buy their really cool looking router table extension for a table saw. I’ve looked for it online, and it appears it’s listed frequently as either discontinued, or available in April. I looked on Amazon, and again, it’s there as discontinued, or as available in April. Reading the comments on the former, it would seem that Benchdog is having some challenges getting these items out the door. Anyway, I found the rep and asked. He took me to an employee and asked if they’d received the few they’d ordered (the rep had explained that Neu’s had ordered some in time for the show, wink, wink). The Neu’s guy gave me a rather priceless look, and then explained that yes, they had ordered some, over two months ago and they were getting pretty curious about just when they’d appear. The customer who had been waiting for one of them was rather more than curious. I decided that perhaps I would find another table.

I will need the router table to put roundovers on all the parts – nearly every edge has one, and a lot of the pieces are pretty thin to be doing it with a handheld router. When I took on this project, I had negotiated the router & table into the deal.

So I then headed to the Milwaukee booth to look at their body-grip router. This jobbie is a good pick for a table, because the depth adjustment can be made through a hole in the base plate of the router, and thus from the top of the router table. It was on sale, and I snatched one up – about $15 less than the best price I could find online.

I’m thinking I will use up some of the scrap plywood and MDF I have laying around and make a quickie table for doing the roundovers. I don’t do a lot of router stuff, so a serious table isn’t really a necessity.

Once I was back home, I installed the new chisel and finished all the mortises in the legs for the changing table. I even put the tapers on the legs using a hand plane, and finished milling all the cross pieces to final dimensions.

However, like most projects, there were a few bumps in the road. First, the cross pieces that I had ripped from the edge of an 8/4 board had warped a bit, but I hadn’t left much extra on and pieces that long and thin don’t straighten up very much on the jointer. So a few are still a little curvy . I can deal with that. It’s more annoyance than anything else.

The thing that was really silly was the rails that connect the front legs to the back legs have a gentle curve cut into the bottom set. I was so eager that after I got the rails cut to length, I jumped to marking the curve and cutting it on the bandsaw.

Incidentally, while the bandsaw is a low-end Craftsman of ill-repute, that is strongly taxed cutting 3/4 maple, I got it for free. A guy in Madison was so frustrated with it that he offered it to everyone on the Yahoo woodworking forum for free. I was the first to say “I’ll take it!”. I now know why – it’s very difficult to keep the blade on the wheels, unless you use very little tension and a light touch. If you need to cut styrofoam it works fine – on thin styrofoam.

Anyway, I got the curves cut just dandy fine, but then realized there was no way to cut the tenons now that one of the formerly straight sides was no longer straight. Aw crap! I dug around a bit, and finally decided what board to cut the replacement pieces out of, but then stopped myself and observed the first rule of maintaining shop sanity:

One mistake breeds another. Any attempt to fix a mistake will inevitably lead to another, more serious mistake. When you’ve screwed the pooch, go upstairs and do something else for a while.

So, I’m upstairs writing this post. It took me a very long time to learn that rule. I break it still, usually in some way that’s really entertaining several years later.

Last but not least, my efforts to take some decent pics of this entire process fell a bit short of expectations this time. If I can find some that are worth posting, I’ll post them.

Wood Working: Building a crib, part 3

Well, I worked on the changing table for a short while this evening, having a nice pile of wood to start with:
Hey look: It's a baby crib kit.
I spent about 8 hours milling all the rough-sawn lumber to rough dimensions. Some of it I’ve taken down to final dimensions. I’m trying to let everything adjust as much as possible, because I may have to let it sit for a while at various points in the project, and it really stinks to mill something nice and straight just to have it bow and warp a few days later.

So, I decided to continue cutting mortices in the legs as I was doing last night. Back when I was making one of my workbenches I picked up this Delta hollow chisel mortising machine, and it works pretty well.

There’s a auger-style bit inside of a hollow square chisel – the bit removes most of the wood, and the chisel cleans up the corners and drives the waste into the bit. It’s one of those things, like helicopters, that just seems like it’s got to break. It squeaks a bit, and smokes when the wood binds too much, but that’s just how mortising machines work. And it makes nice square holes a lot faster and easier than “chopping” them by hand with a regular hand chisel.

So I’m plugging along, and everything’s fine, when I hear a slight “Thunk!”, and then realize the chisel just got a LOT harder to push through the wood. Big mystery:

Aw man! It took a while to dig the broken bit out of the partial mortise, and I’m sure it will be a pain to find a replacement bit locally. The good news is that I’ve read that the stock bits that come with the mortiser aren’t very good, and replacements are much better. Not much for good news though ;-(

The clearance between the bit and the chisel is pretty important, and I’m thinking that the clearance I had wasn’t quite right. I’m not sure if it was too much or too little, though. On a 1/4″ bit, there’s no space to slip a feeler gauge in there to find out, so it’s not real easy to adjust.

Hopefully I can get a replacement this weekend.

The hardware kit for the crib still hasn’t appeared, but the plans have. I originally ordered a downloadable set from PlansNow for $10. They turned out to just be a copy of the instructions that came with the real plans, and the real plans came with actual large-sheets-of-paper-with-scale-drawings plans for $15. All I can say is that I won’t order from PlansNow again unless I know they’re not a subset of the real thing. Nothing beats scale drawings, especially when you’re trying to copy elements off the piece to make a matching, but different piece like my changing table.

So much for now…

Building a crib, part 2

In my last post on the baby crib project, I mentioned there would be pictures to follow. So, where are they? Well, as you can imagine, my pregnant wife isn’t that thrilled to stand around in our dusty, noisy basement with a camera waiting for me to look cool. But I think I now have things set up so I don’t have to bug her too much, but not in time to capture what I did last night.

Anyway, I’ve got most of the pieces aside from the slats cut to rough dimensions, and they’re sitting in the shop waiting for the hardware kit to show up. There’s no point in cutting joinery and other pieces to length until I confirm the dimensions of the metal parts I need to fit in, or things might not fit.

Just to make sure I didn’t get too lazy, my wife suggested I consider building a changing table to match the crib. It turns out that I had over-bought on the wood for the crib, and actually had enough to get started on the changing table as well. Since there’s no metal frame to fit into the assembly, I’ve gotten further than on the crib- I actually cut a few mortises for the legs. Overall, though, the evening was spent going between jointer, tablesaw and planer.

So with some luck, I hope to something to show after tonight.

Building a crib, part 1

My wife and I have a daughter on the way, our first child. At some point she’s going to need a place to sleep, and my wife and I have been looking at cribs. Like most furniture, they seem to be very expensive for the quality of wood and construction, so I’ve decided to build the crib myself.

I had a look at the design requirements set forth by the National Safety Council. Reading though this, there don’t seem to be too many requirements, and nothing that is very difficult to deal with.

I wanted to start with an existing design, as that will making finding some of the hardware items easier. I finally found this set of crib plans, which has a supporting set of hardware available here. I’m not absolutely crazy about the design, but when I asked our unborn daughter if she would hold off for an extra month or so while I came up with a design I really liked, my wife assured me she wouldn’t. Definitely not!

While looking for plans, I happened across a few threads of messages here and there where some hapless well-meaning soul left a message asking where good plans might be found. Sometimes it was a father, sometimes a grandfather. Either way, a really disturbing thing happened: People blasted them for even considering the idea of building a crib. The reasons they cited ranged from the complicated to the bizarre:

  1. There are all sorts of complicated specifications you have to meet for the crib to be safe. The National Safety Council does offer advice on the subject, and most of it is common sense. Some of it isn’t so common, but none of it is mysterious or complicated. Even so, there is at least one strong advantage to a home-built crib: Less metal fasteners. Since my crib won’t have to be shipped in a box the size of a Pringles can, I don’t need to use as many fasteners to put it together. On the downside, it will be a bit less portable. We’re not gypsies.
    Also consider that manufacturers have costs to worry about. If I get done with my crib and it’s a little weak here, or a little wimpy there, I’m going to add whatever I need to fix it. I don’t have to worry about unit costs.
  2. Manufacturers conduct all kinds of tests to make sure their crib is safe. Folks, I don’t see how any manufacturer is going to simulate a live baby for testing, without using a live baby. I doubt they do any more testing than the law requires – a crib is not a complicated device and the accidents are documented. The designs are evolutionary, not revolutionary. Even so, take a look at the number of crib recalls out there.
  3. Wouldn’t you feel just terrible if something happened to the baby in a crib you built? Yep. I’d feel terrible alright. I’d also feel terrible if it happened in a crib built by someone else. That I might have someone to sue isn’t much consolation. Should we choose the product based on who we can sue if something goes wrong?

I found the reactions disturbing because they reflected no understanding of real risk, just the tabloid-TV kind of pseudo-risk. These people weren’t “experts” or educated in the matter, they were just well meaning people thinking of what might possibly happen and recommending against it. C’mon people, we raised babies in God-knows-what for centuries before the National Safety Council was even a glimmer in someone’s eye. Now, I’m not for tossing safety aside, but let’s not start assuming that we have no abilities ourselves and that only the “they” of manufacturers and governments can figure anything out. I know it’s easier to pass the responsiblity onto others, but have we become that helpless?

Anyway, back to the fun part. I started with the obvious: A large pile of wood. That would be rough-sawn maple, 8/4 and 4/4. I’ve got the 8/4 pieces milled down to near-final dimensions, and soon wiill begin milling the rest of the pieces and working on the joinery. Pictures to follow.

[Ed. Note: you can find more on my crib and other woodworking projects here.]