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.

Furniture Assembly

Our house has a large concrete patio, and since we’ve moved in we’ve been wanting to get some furniture to enjoy it. Advice on the subject was pretty uniform – get nothing expensive, as the life of outdoor furniture is unpleasant and short.

I had the chance to get a large stack of teak wood decking for a low price, but I knew that if I tried to build all the furniture it would be August before we’d be enjoying it. So we shopped. We argued, and then we did what any red-blooded American couple does when they can’t decide: We went to IKEA!

We got 6 chairs, 2 folding tables, a bar/food cart, and a small picnic table for the girls. It was less money than the table & four chairs we were leaning towards at the local home center. The quality is better than I expected, with solid wood throughout and sturdy fasteners. The catch, though, is assembly is required. Lots of assembly.

So, here are a few tips if you find yourself outdoors in an ocean of flat boxes from IKEA, and a lot of stuff to put together:

  1. Get some decent tools, and keep them handy. IKEA pretty consistently uses 4 & 5mm hex keys, and 13 to 17mm wrenches. If you get double ended wrenches and hex keys with screwdriver handles your hands will thank you and you’ll have 4 or 5 tools max. I wouldn’t go buy this stuff just to put a few items together, but it’s worth a trip to the workshop if you’ve already got them. Not to be totally geeky, but having a tool belt to keep them in reach and always in the same place is really nice as well.
  2. Put the tables together first. Then you have a nice work surface to use to put everything else together.
  3. Get a bowl, preferably heavy, to dump the hardware in. I was amazed at how even a light wind would take a plastic bag with a few screws several feet way. It’s not easy to find screws in the lawn!
  4. If you have more than one of something to assemble, put them together simultaneously with an assembly line. This keeps tool changes down and it’s a lot faster.
  5. Everything you get will come with a hex key. They are small and not very comfortable to use, but they are free. Leave them in drawers or some other handy place for tightening things as they inevitably loosen. I’m tempted to drill a few strategically placed holes in a few items to hold a wrench.

The Computer Cart / Table is For Sale!

You may remember a post I put up a while back about a small computer cart / table I made a prototype of a while back:

I had a request for more pictures of the computer table/cart prototype, so here ya go:

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Cartpics 010 mod

Well, post kids, the cart just doesn’t work very well in our living room. It’s just too much of a magnet for our daughters, and that makes it pretty hard to use!

Since there was a lot of interest in it, I thought I’d see if anyone would like to buy it. I will be posting more pics of details, but here’s some to get started:

The Good:

  • It’s made of solid hard maple with one piece of birch plywood. It’s pretty strong – I put my feet up on it all the time. I wouldn’t sit on it though. Mortise and tenon joinery was used on the legs, biscuits or dados were used otherwise.
  • The remote holder is screwed on, and is removable. It could be set on a table or hung on a wall, for that matter.
  • The outlet strip is included.

The Bad:

  • It’s unfinished aside from a very light coat of , and has a few stains from drinks being left on it. Nothing major, but it could use some sanding.
  • If you remove the remote holder (which makes the cart a little tippy when it’s empty) there will be 3 screw holes in the back wall.
  • I had to wrap electrical tape over the zip ties I used to tie the outlet strip down, which might require some solvent to remove completely.

Other notes:

  • You’ll need a square drive screw driver to put it together – but I’ll send the appropriate hex bit to the buyer.
  • The cart will not be a very large package, but it will be large – I’d estimate shipping (buyer pays) to be $25+ to the US.
  • Payment is via paypal, in US Dollars.

I’d like to auction this item, but I’d also like to avoid Ebay because of their many fees.

Anyone have any suggestions? If not, why not simply comment with your bid, and/or any questions? I will let the bidding go until midnight, central standard time on May 5th.

The computer table prototype

You might have noticed that I havenâ??t posted about woodworking in quite a while, but it doesnâ??t mean I havenâ??t done anything in the shop. On the contrary â?? a month or so ago I made a small computer table, and this last weekend I made a few revisions.

The table was a solution to the problem of no longer having a coffee table. With Ginny (our 8 month old) needing a lot of space for crawling and whatnot, out coffee table ended up across the room and not very handy for setting a laptop on. I wanted something I could use as a simple computer table, and then could roll out of the way when needed.

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What you see above is it. I think it needs to be a tad taller and wider (maybe 2â??), and it needs to be a bit heavier to provide tip resistance. The little space provided for the mouse is surprisingly useful, I can even surf while sharing the space with a drink. I do plan to add a box for holding a drink, though.

I added the remote-carrier box on the back this last weekend, which has effectively ended the nightly â??who has the remote?â?? scavenger hunt, and gives a nice spot to put bills. Iâ??ve added an outlet strip and a 7â??port usb hub. I zip-tied the cord to the leg to minimize the dangling-cord-attraction for Ginny, and so far sheâ??s ignored it.

For those of you who are curious, itâ??s made of solid maple (scraps from other projects) and birch plywood. Mortise and tenon joints along with biscuits were used, although the add-on remote box was simply butt-jointed â?? it is a prototype, after all.

Once I get the design settled down, I plan to build an uber-nice one out of cherry. Until then, Iâ??ll just keep hacking on this one.

[UPDATED] Here are some more pictures.

[UPDATED AGAIN] It’s now for sale.

New course at Woodcraft

Woodcraft University has a new course – Bandsaw 101. I think bandsaws are far more complicated to tune than to use, but still it’s nice to learn new techniques. Also, if you’re contemplating whether to get a new tool or not, or are trying to decide between, say, a lathe and a bandsaw, these kinds of intro courses can give you a better idea of how much use it’s really likely to get in your own shop.

The crib is complete

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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.