I made some small tablet/phone stands as Christmas gifts for family. Though they’re relatively simple, making a dozen of the exact same piece required thinking ahead.
I used a 7′ (-ish) section of 1x4 poplar from the Home Depot. This was S4S lumber, so it was a good piece to start with. I didn’t have to do any milling (which is good, because I don’t have any real milling tools). I initially cut a few short sections on the miter saw to make a few prototypes. I did a few different slot angles and widths, finally landing on a 3/8″ at 10°. The through hole is mainly to help access the home button (or swipe up gesture) when the tablet is upright.
For batching out the remaining dozen of stands, I needed to think through the process to set up repeatable actions for each step. While the miter saw is perfectly capable of making repeatable length cross cuts, I ended up just using the table saw in order to reduce my cleanup time (the dust collection on my table saw is much better and I was already going to use it for the slots).
I then glued up a couple of pieces of scrap to make a jig for drilling out the through hole. This didn’t work out as well as I hoped and I ended up having to just manually align the holes. Cutting them with a forstner bit was at least fast, though. I’ll definitely re-visit that drill press jig if I make more.
Next came cutting the angled slot, which is the only really tricky part of this project. I set my table saw blade at 10°. Now, it doesn’t matter what table saw blade I use, because no blade can cut a flat bottom when angled like that. So I have to cut about 5–6 passes and then have some ridges along the bottom of the slot.
To set the bounds for the edges of the slots, I added a couple of quick clamps on to my table saw fence gage to act as stops. Then I just needed to move the fence over just shy of an 1/8th of an inch for each pass until I hit the far stop. I also used my MicroJig Gripper to help hold the pieces. As you can see, the length of the piece between the blade and the fence is more than the width of the piece parallel to the fence. This is generally not a safe cut, but with such a small piece, it not being a through cut, and using the Gripper, I felt completely comfortable making these cuts. After making the cuts, I could use a 1/4″ chisel to clean up the uneven bottom of the slots.
Next came sanding. I sanded each piece through 120, 220, and 400 grit sandpaper. As these are very small pieces, I had to hold the piece in one hand and “air” sand it using the random orbital sander. To say the least, this was exhausting trying to hold vibrating pieces together! I then used my old nemesis, the disc sander, to sand a chamfer onto each edge. I set the table at 45° and made a quick pass along each edge. Keep in mind, each of thee blocks has 12 edges and there were a dozen blocks. That’s a long of sanding. At least I got through listening to a majority of my audiobook doing all this receptive cutting and sanding.
It’s during these sort of repetitive actions that it’s very easy to get complacent, which can lead to injury with power tools. Having my minor injury at the end of 2019 and then seeing very competent YouTubers get hurt, I was very aware of this fact. Even Adam Savage has talked about the risk of injury during these sort of repetitive actions. So I did my best to keep my wits about me and pay attention to every cut and every pass with the sander.
I finished each of these with a couple of coats of spar urethane (after stamping the bottom of each). I then gave each a quick knock-down sanding with a sheet of 400 grit sand paper. The finish is glass-like and should hold up to kitchens, bathroom counters, coffee mugs, etc.
After painting most of the rooms in the house over the past 6 months, we finally decided to tackle painting the halls and stairwell.
Like a lot of people around the world, we spent most of 2020 at home. We had planned on a fairly big vacation back in May, but that all got cancelled. We were fortunate to not lose a lot out on that. So, we instead started doing a lot of projects around the house. We updated the bathrooms, tiled a backsplash in the kitchen, worked in the yard, and more. We also had new carpet installed upstairs, switching to a light gray color (from very worn out beige).
We also (finally) got around to painting almost every room in the house. Some of which, like our bedroom, hadn’t been painted since we moved in. But no where in the house needed painting worse than our halls and stair well. Needless to say, with all our bedrooms upstairs, it’s a high traffic spot. We actually did have it painted about 9 years ago by a professional painting company. But between us, two kids going from toddlers to middle-schoolers, and three dogs, it just got beat up over time.
Ideally, I would have gotten to painting all this before the new carpet. Painting the bedrooms before then was great, because we didn’t care at all about the occasional drip of paint on the old carpet, knowing it was about to be discarded. But I certainly used a couple of drop-cloths upstairs. Honestly, I’d just been putting off painting these halls because I wasn’t at all sure how I’d paint the high walls in the stairwell. At its highest point, the ceiling is about 16′ high over the lower stairs. But I invested in a this 18′ multi-position ladder which tackled most of the issue of height. However, positioning it on the stairs is the trick. I saw a couple of YouTube videos in which painters had built their own stair-step platform for positioning ladders. After struggling I realized that I absolutely needed to build something like that.
So I grabbed some scrap plywood and 2x4s and measured the needed cuts right on the steps. That is, I literally never wrote down a single number; just got the top level and made a mark on one of the 2x4s. I pre-drilled the plywood pieces just to keep the screws straight. I screwed the plywood to the 2x4s using some 2″ deck screws — 2 screws for each end of a 2x4. I was worried that it might be a bit wobbly with only those screws in end grain, but 32 screws apparently was sufficient because it was rock solid. I added block of scrap 2x4 to space the top over the baseboard trim and to provide a place for the ladder foot to brace. I can’t say this is the finest piece of woodworking craftsman ship I’ve ever done, my mom recently told me that her father had been a house painter in his first career. So, I decided in that case, this was worthy of putting his name on my build after all.
I was able to place this step platform on the top step, paint the top trim and high wall. I then moved it down a couple of steps to get to the next section. After that, I could reach everything else from just standing on an 20″ painters platform, which is another investment we made for painting rooms in the house. I had used something similar painting houses with Habitat for Humanity and they’re just tall enough to easily paint ceiling trim work. A couple of other handy painting tools that we use:
Sure-Line Extendable Pole — we purchased one of these about 17 years ago and still use it to this day. It’s the single most useful painting supply we’ve ever purchased. With the painting platform and this medium (up to 5′) pole, I could get to my top edge with a roller no problem on a 14′ ceiling at our stair landing.
Wooster Shortcut - this is the best brush for detailed edge work. It’s got nice bristles and the comfortable, short handle is great for fine control. When you’re 14–16′ feet up on a ladder, you want to make sure you don’t have to come back to clean up a bad edge, trust me.
Sure-Line Edger — this is mostly useful for around door or window casing. You do need to be careful in not getting a paint bead on the outer edge (we went back over that with a small 4″ roller immediately to avoid it). The wheels are too far away from the paint pad to help much with ceiling or floor molding, though. This has threads for a pole attachment, but I found it to be useless when I wasn’t holding it.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that we bought good quality rollers, both 12″ and 4″. More importantly, though, is that we bought high quality paint. The paint is Behr Marquee (from. Home Depot) and I honestly cannot recommend this stuff enough. It’s got amazing coverage even with 1 coat in most of our applications (if over an older flat finish, it required two coats with a roller). It dries to the touch in about 30 minutes but keeps a good wet edge just long enough to prevent lines. We like the satin finish for most of our rooms, but did go with an eggshell for the bathrooms, I think. At $45 a gallon, it’s far from cheap but is money well spent. For reference, we just painted two hallways and the stairs using only a single gallon, with some leftover for touch-ups down the road.
I’ll leave you with this one final thought. As we close the final hours on what has been, at best, an interesting (and at worst, a dismal) year, it’s fitting that I’m writing about wrapping up a project I had dreaded for so long. When I mentioned to my dad a couple of days ago I was taking some time off work this week to do this, he suggested this be my next blog post. I wasn’t sure there’d me much to talk about for just painting walls, but I realized I’d learned a lot about painting this year and have gotten pretty good at it. Further, I realized putting off this project was more than my typical procrastination. I was naturally concerned about safety but also just about getting it done right. We tackled a lot of projects while home this year and I managed to turn that into some real know-how and confidence to do more and more, with finally being ready to paint that billboard-sized wall in our stairs! Knowing that there’s no interior paint job I can’t tackle is a great feeling and a nice way for me to close out another year of DIY projects.
Happy New Year and may 2021 bring us all some joy and many more new, great projects!
Angela & I updating our bathroom with new lights, sinks, faucets, and custom mirrors.
After having completed some updates to the other two bathrooms in our house, I have to confess I was somewhat disappointed every time I stepped into our “owner’s” bath, as it was the same old builder-grade stuff. We didn’t want to break the bank in updating it, so we set out with a budget-friendly set of updates we could accomplish ourselves.
You’ll notice that a lot of the images here are out of order, as the work isn’t really done one trade at a time. But I broke this up into the sections of work to better highlight the parts of each.
The overall lighting level in the bathroom wasn’t terrible, but I really didn’t care for the look of the single light above the large mirror. I really wanted to put in some wall sconces. In order to do so, we first had to take out the old light. This was mostly a straight-forward process. I wouldn’t be using the existing location (like I did in the other two bathrooms, more-or-less), so I cut out the wall box and then patched over the opening. I ended up having to cut the wiring, as it was (correctly, per code) sealed into the top plate with some fireproofing foam.
As a result, I had to install a junction box in our attic. I would have to drill laterally through too many studs to use the approach I used to add a second light over the kids’ vanity, so I instead drilled two additional holes in the top plate (I re-used the old, center hole once I freed the cut wiring). I then ran “U” shaped sections of wire to set up the three lights in series from the junction box, which connected back to the wall switch. I put in the old-work boxes and had the lights up in no time. Lastly, I used some expanding fire-proofing foam on the holes in the top plate (no one is ever gonna check, but we’ll know it would pass a code inspection!).
I had ordered some nice-looking wall sconces from Home Depot and used some “Edison” style LED bulbs that I already had. They put out a very “warm” light, but as they’re just above eye level, anything brighter would be too much.
The good news was that since this was already a double vanity, there was no changes needed to the water or drain lines. The bad news was that since this was a double vanity, getting a new top with square bowls was the single most expensive item (by far) of the entire project. Even though it raised the final counter height a bit, we really wanted a slightly thicker top. We found a pretty good deal on an acrylic VersaStone top with integrated sink bowls at Home Depot (it’s out of stock at the time I’m writing this, but Amazon carries a smaller size). Other than the sheer weight of pulling off the old top and then putting the new top in place, this was probably the easiest part of the whole project. The cabinet is a “standard” size, so it fit perfectly.
We also managed to get Moen Genta faucets on sale at the Home Depot, too. They were very straight-forward to install except that I had to cut-down the rod connecting the sink stopper to the pull lever, as it jammed in the drain! I did also have to get some water line extensions (why do plumbers install the water lines so low!). So that was a considerable amount of money (nearly $50) for 2″ of line. But the faucets look great with the lines of the vanity top.
Angela also put in a short backsplash with some marble tiles. We ended up having to cut just a few, and I was able to use a grindstone to bevel the edge of a half-piece so it fit in the end. I think Angela has definitely decided that tiling is her DIY job of choice!
If you’ve never lived in a spec-built home, let me explain something to you: the mirrors are glued to the wall with construction adhesive or mastic. It’s fast and easy to do them this way, but it is a huge pain to remove them. We lucked out in getting the smaller ones off the walls years ago. But the mirror in our bathroom was 6 feet by 3–1/2 feet. We knew it had to go, but we were more-or-less terrified about splitting it into a million pieces all over our bathroom. I watched a number of YouTube videos about the process and it seemed that prying it off all along the top by driving in wooden shims was considered the best approach. So, I got a very large pack of 14″ shims and then proceeded to tape up the mirror. You may think this was overkill for the tape, but I seriously considered just covering the entire thing! Angela was there for support, both figuratively and literally (do not try something like this on your own!). We went through the entire pack of shims, even going so far as to re-using some that fell down and we could reach. In the end, we had them stacked about four thick. But with a final, satisfying pop, the mirror came free in one piece. It weighed 70 lbs (I did the math), which isn’t a lot for the two of us to carry, but when it’s that large and fragile, it’s pretty scary.
We had to patch up the walls where the adhesive pulled off the outer layer of drywall paper. I’ve learned the hard way that this stuff is nearly impossible to patch right, even with drywall compound because the inner, brown paper isn’t water proof. It just sucks up the moisture and then bubbles up when painted. Using a repair primer first seals off that paper. We used Zinsser Gardz, because it’s available in a quart (however, I understand Roman Rx-35 Pro-999 is just as good; it just only comes in a gallon and this stuff goes a long way). Just make sure you cut back to sound outer paper and paint it on with a foam brush (it’s like milk). Then you can patch up the drywall with compound, sand, and paint.
I used some mineral spirits to soften up the adhesive on the back of the mirror once I got it out to the garage floor on some cardboard. A rubber headed hammer and a wide putty knife made short work of scraping it off. I then used a cheap‑o glass cutter and a drywall square to score the front surface along the first cut. I was planning to lower it back over a broom handle as a pivot, but it ended up just splitting as I lowered it! One quick change over underpants later, I repeated to split the smaller side into two final sections.
I ordered a couple of 6′ long, maple 1x4’s to mill up into some frames. I wanted a narrow, yet deep frame for each. So they were essentially cut into 1x2’s, framed in the “skinny” direction. The boards were pretty rough, with lots of chatter marks and sniping. I don’t have a planar, but I was able to smooth them down with my belt sander. Ripping the pieces into narrow boards certainly relieved a lot of strain, to the point I was concerned I wouldn’t have enough straight sections to make decent frames! But the hockey stick end aside, I was able to measure and miter each board to fit the mirrors. I cut the dados on the table saw. The glue-up for the frames was pretty easy, though having only one band clamp and limited work space meant I had to make one at a time.
I tried using some plain spar urethane at first on a sample piece to try to match the cabinetry, which while also maple is now over 12 years old. It wasn’t nearly a dark enough match, but my son helped me pick out a close color of get stain at Woodcraft to match one of the false drawer fronts. So, American Oak color wiped on very thin and then finished with spar urethane spray does a very good job of matching older maple, if you ever find yourself needing to do such a thing. Just be sure to do a better job cleaning up your glue and wood filler than I did first.
I used an 18gage nailer to reinforce the miter joints from the bottom and top, none of which are visible when hanging. I used some thin foam sheets to pad the mirror and then covered the back with a 1/4″ sheet of plywood. I used a couple of simple metal clips to hold it in place. The narrow frame means that the hanging hooks are visible from the side, but otherwise it’s a very clean and minimal look.
So that’s our final bathroom update! And making those mirrors was a really great experience.
After a couple of years of using a portable table saw, which actually belongs to my older brother (thanks, Steve!), I decided to purchase an upgraded table saw for my woodworking projects. I’ll describe a bit of why I decided on this model and what I think of it in this post.
The Old Saw
First, about the old table saw. It’s a Ryobi and it really did serve me well on quite a few projects. I certainly pushed the limit of what this saw is capable of. And for probably 90% of the projects, it was up to the task. Seriously, for a lot of DIY’ers, this is a perfectly good saw. I put a quality blade (a 50 tooth Freud Diablo), which dramatically improves the cut of any saw. I built a cross-cut sled that made a lot of cuts feasible.
But the saw is very lightweight, and sometimes pushing the sled into the blade would actually start to tip the entire saw! Also, the fence while actually pretty accurate, isn’t great. So, if you’re just ripping medium size pieces or making small cross-cuts, this saw can manage it. I actually even managed to rip down bed rails from a full size 4’x8’ sheet of 3/4″ maple plywood on this little thing! One place where this kind of saw just completely fails, though, is in dust collection. That is, there is none other than gravity generally making a giant pile beneath the saw.
New Saws Out There
I did quite a lot of research on table saws. I did consider a “job site” saw and putting it on a mobile base (or even re-building my mobile workbench). These are some pretty great saws in the $250-$600 price range. The next jump up in price range is a “hybrid” table saw, which is nominally portable (if “portable” only means having casters and weighing under 250 lbs). These have the larger table of a cabinet saw and typically better fence systems. These tend to be in the $700-$1,200 price range. Of course, there are cabinet saws for professionals which cost far more, typically require 220v power, and are far more saw than I could ever justify. And there are Saw Stop saws in all these categories and while their flesh-sensing system is amazing, I also can’t justify the cost for those. Really, Saw Stop sort of sit in a class of their own, in my opinion.
Within the hybrid saw class, most of the saws are really around $1,000 and up. There are some great saws in that price range. The big box stores have a couple of “entry” level models, though: the Ridgid and a Delta (why Lowes hasn’t label-slapped this as a Kobalt, I don’t really know). Between the two of those, the Delta seemed to typically get better reviews and was a bit cheaper at $600 at the time I purchased it (July 2020). Further, the Delta just got a newer version released with some decent improvements. Home Depot actually does also carry the Delta, but at $300 more.
The Delta 36–725T2
So what kind of table saw do you get for $600? First of all, a Biesemeyer fence system, which can cost over $400 separately. The center of the table is cast iron and the wings are steel. I found that the top may have a slight dip to the middle (that is, I could see a slight bit of light beneath a straight edge laid across it), but is more than flat enough for anything I’ll ever want to make. The wings aren’t stamped sheet metal, but actually steel plate, similar in thickness to the angle rails and square tube used for the front fence. Even the blade that is included is pretty decent. I ripped two 4′ lengths of 3/4″ plywood to make some French cleats and it was a clean cut on both. And while the dust collection isn’t perfect, it’s actually quite good. Also, the mitre included has a nice steel bar and heavy plastic body.
The entire saw took me about 2–1/2 hours to assemble, and that includes having to take apart almost the entire thing to swap the side the swivel caster was on. Also, I should have paid closer attention to the hole patterns on the wings, as I had to turn those around and re-level them. If I’d paid closer attention, I could have easily been done in under two hours without rushing. My wife did need to help me get the box out of the back of our SUV by lowering one end down to the floor. Otherwise, I was able to put the saw together by myself, including tipping it up (I used an extra scrap 2x to help tip it easy so I could get my hands under the cast iron top and just squat lift).
The scale on the rail was nearly spot-on out of the box. Similarly, the saw was very close to parallel to the mitre slots. How close? Well, I couldn’t actually measure the difference with a quality sliding square, but I could hear a tooth rubbing the end more at one end than the other. So yeah, pretty close. The fence is pretty spot on and super easy to adjust. I saw a few reviewers commenting that the angle gauge was off, but mine was within 1–2 tenths of a degree. It’s also easy to adjust (and, honestly, I have a digital angle gauge so I’m more likely to rely on that anyway). I haven’t run into anything about the saw so far that I couldn’t quickly tweak.
The saw is a bit bigger than I’d hoped, though (hold on, I’ll explain). I had planned on just rolling it beneath my fixed work bench. Since I couldn’t, I ended up having to re-arrange a lot in my garage. This was my biggest worry, but it ended up just fine and frankly, having to clean up the garage wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Fortunately, the casters are pretty good and the saw rolls & turns very easily despite weighing 220 lbs. I’ve moved it in and out of the “parked” spot several times for use now and it’s not been a bother.
Using the Saw
So I’ve used the saw for several different cuts now. As I mentioned earlier, I did several long-ish rips of plywood to make some French cleats. I also ended up having to cut down sides and back panels of an IKEA wall vanity (pine and hardboard). I used the mitre gage to make the cross cuts on the side panels as I haven’t made a new sled for this table saw yet. However, the mitre gage worked great for this purpose. I cut about half-way through the side piece, flipped it over and repeated. This reduced tear-out on both faces (and by reduced, I mean there was zero). But of course, to do this you have to have the blade dead parallel to the mitre gage and it was (again, right out of the box!).
The fence has a small rail that folds out on the right-hand side to make cuts on thin stock, such as the hard board back panels. This works perfect and prevents the material from sliding under the fence (which sits about 1/8″ above the table top). I also used the table saw to cut an angled dado into a poplar board, which was used to make a tablet/phone stand. I also used the saw to cut down some 1/4″ underlayment boards for a tiling project. So, not a ton of use, but a pretty good variety of types of cuts and everyone has had me even more happy with the purchase.
I do wish I’d cleaned and waxed the cast iron top as soon as I got it put together, though. It took only about 2–3 days for the Tennessee summer humidity to charm some rust out of the cast iron. I’ve since sanded, cleaned, and waxed it, but now there are some stains in the cast iron. They don’t in any way affect the saw, but good tools are worth taking good care of.
Lastly, one feature I didn’t know that I’d like so much is just how quiet this saw is. The magnetic start button is great and the saw is so much quieter than my shop vac, I can barely hear it!
A couple of things I had been curios about before getting it, so I’ll answer those here just in case anyone else is interested:
The box is 30″ x 24″ x 19″ and includes everything, including the rails (I think the larger top version has a separate box).
A Lowes employee helped me load the box onto a flat cart and a couple of others loaded it into my vehicle for me, but my wife and I were able to slide it out and down out of the back of the SUV. Beats paying a $60–70 delivery fee!
The length of the rear rail is 54 3/8″ and the distance from the spreader bar to the end of rear rail is 2 1/2″. The front rail is 62″. I think I was able to look up all the other dimensions online.
The tubular frame is crazy strong (like, I’m a structural engineer and I’ve seen buildings with smaller tube members); though it is rectangular. That is to say, you can rotate the lower half so the swivel lift caster is on the left or right, but not the front or back.
The three caster wheel occasionally “tips” a bit, but the corner of the frame prevents it from tipping more than just a few inches. So, the saw isn’t going to fall over on you; just occasionally catch if you make some aggressive maneuvers while moving it.
I built the “Basic Mobile Workbench” following Steve Ramsey’s design about two years ago. Having a workbench on wheels ‑along with the a roll-up extension cord in the middle of the garage- really changed the entire way I make anything in the garage shop. But I put some pretty tiny little casters on it, and though it rolled ok, I’d always wanted to improve it. However, since I built it at the height of the table saw, there was not way I could raise. Well, with a new table saw (more to come on that soon), I decided now was a good time to put on some bigger rollers.
I cut off the legs below the cross members using my late father-in-law’s old reciprocating saw. That old Craftsman is crazy powerful and made short work of it. I also cut some support bases out of 3/4″ construction plywood to level out those cuts and give the lag screws something meaty to attach to. The overall effect was to raise the top surface about an inch and it rolls better than ever.
I built an out-board roller support for my dust collection for use with my shop vac. For a cheap project made from scraps, I’m very happy with the results.
I’ve used the same Ridgid shop vac for dust collection for about 16 years. It continues to serve me well, but last year I purchased a Dustopper from Home Depot to use with a 5 gallon bucket in order to collect saw dust and other debris. This saves on the filter, as most of the dust gets deposited in the bucket before it actually gets to the shop vac. This also makes emptying out the waste a lot easier.
Well, in theory, anyway. First of all, there are other cyclonic dust collectors that are for use with shop vacs that no doubt work a bitbetter. This was a cheap (around $25) option and it was lower profile (more on that further down). But it was a huge pain to drag the entire setup around the garage! The hoses kept coming undone. The bucket handle at one point pulled off the bucket. I tried zip ties and ratchet straps, but it just wobbled around and tipped over on me.
A couple of weeks ago I sketched out a rough idea of supporting the bucket dust collection with another caster. A lot of other DIY’ers solve this problem by making a vertically stacking cart, with the dust collection on top. However, I store my shop vac under my work bench and I needed a low profile solution. Also, I felt like I could build a minimal system here and only need to purchase a caster. I also purchased one of those “cut to your own size” shop vac power tool attachments, but it ended up not being nearly rigid enough to make a solid connection.
I used some scrap 3/4″ pine plywood (like construction grade stuff). I measured out the curve of the shop vac body as well as the bucket and cut that to fit the profile.
I propped it up on some other scraps to check the fit, trimming a bit more to fit the curve of the body. I also measured the height from the floor to the bottom of the plywood (about 4 1/4″).
I cut out some scrap MDF pieces to make a riser for the caster. The caster measures 2 1/4″ tall, so I needed about 2″ total. This was two 3/4″ and one 1/2″ thick pieces of MDF, cut down to about 3″ by 3 1/2″. I glued them up and then sanded the edges to clean everything up a bit. I also sanded all the edges of the plywood platform, thinking that will reduce shin splinters in the future.
I then attached the riser to the plywood using 1–5/8″ decking screws. I counter-sunk the screw heads on top, just to keep the surface flat for the bucket.
As I mentioned, I used one of those rubber, cut-to-fit hose attachments. The idea here was that I would nest this into the shop vac attachment storage slot on one of its casters. Then I could screw the attachment to the plywood. I really shouldn’t have bothered. The soft rubber just didn’t give me any confidence that the connection was solid. And the whole platform could wobble too much side to side. So, I grabbed a couple of galvanized metal building clips (basically, a small angle with some pre-drilled holes). I mounted those on the underside of the plywood and screwed a 5/8″ screw on each side into the shop vac body. This may result in some lost suction, but I can always go back and seal off those screw holes with some silicon if so. So far, though, I can’t tell any difference.
Lastly, I took a second bucket and just screwed it down to the plywood. The dust collection bucket can then nest inside this one. It makes for a very solid connection that I can pull on, but also allows the dust collection bucket to swivel. And, the final test: the entire thing easily rolls up under my work bench.
Of course, I promptly pulled the vacuum back out to clean up the garage! It works great. And all for the cost of a 2″ swivel caster. I did blow about $10 dollars on that vacuum connection piece. I may get a more rigid flange connection to replace it, though (Woodcraft has one for about $5). I’m considering also painting the wood pieces gray and black to match the shop vac, which would be an excuse to take it apart and make that connection better.
So, if you happened to read my post last month on injuring myself, you’ll recall I did so because I was hoping to make a box joint jig. A box joint, or as it also known: a finger joint, is a series of overlapping “fingers” along a joint. This style of joinery gives lots of glue surface area as well as shear strength to a corner joint. It’s commonly used for the corners of a box, thus the name.
Well, I did manage to make a first attempt at a jig and made a single joint test. I was hoping to use my standard table saw blade with my sled in lieu of purchasing a dado stack1. The jig is a bit too loose in the cuts and it’s possible my table saw sled is a bit too loose in the miter slots, as well. This combined with some cheaper birch plywood (there are lots of voids and a very thin veneer) resulted in the fingers looking more like a boxer who’d just fought Mike Tyson.
Also, the depth of the cuts were a bit too deep (which is easy to adjust, at least). But gluing up the loose joints was a mess.
I had sort of given up on the experiment as a failure, but I did recently go back and sand the fingers down; this time on purpose (yeah, I get the humor after last month’s incident). The joint still doesn’t look great but it wasn’t as “gap‑y” as it seemed before cleanup. What’s more, I can attest that even as poor as this one looks, it is incredibly strong. It’s not especially pretty, but for some utility boxes, it would definitely serve it’s purpose.
So, this wasn’t a total failure and I did learn a lot from the exercise, including the injury. Which, my fingers have completely healed back, nails and all. As a result of “babying” the left index finger, I did develop tendonitis in my left elbow (which is really the forearm muscles and tendon connection). So, that little incident continues to remind me to be safe!
A dado stack is a pair of blades, often with intermediate spacer/chippers in between which cut out a wider section of material in each pass on a table saw. [↩]
A few years ago when I was considering getting into more “fine” woodworking, there was one project that came to mind: recreating the footstools my grandfather, Cicero, used to make. He was a handy woodworker and built a lot of useful projects1 I know we had two or three of these footstools around the house growing up. I assume my aunts and cousins may have had some, as well. They’re perhaps not a master craftsman project, but let’s not over-estimate my abilities. As my mom put it, though, after about a half century, they’re still in use!
So in 2016 I sat down to carefully draw out the pieces. His were all made from 1″ thick solid pine, but I figured I’d use 3/4″ plywood instead. The legs and sides have a roughly 10° slant such that the base tapers up to give a slight lip all around the top footrest. I also decided to add a handhold to the top of mine (some others of his may have this, but the one that sits in our kitchen does not). On my notes and sketches, I also doodled out a logo that read “Cicero Hand Made Crafts. Est. 2016”. I figured he was the “maker” in my family so I’d honor that by labeling made items with his name.
It took me about a year-and-a-half until I actually got around to making my first footstool. I batched out the pieces on the table saw for two footstools from a 2’x4’ project board of 3/4″ maple plywood. Some of the angle cuts using my cut pattern resulted in a color mis-match in the wood, but this could probably be resolved by buying higher quality plywood in the future. The bandsaw was used for all curves, including cutting the arches in the legs at 10° (so they’re actually level when assembled). I used the drill press and a 1 5/8″ forstner bit to hog out material for the handle (which I then cleaned up with a series of rasps, files, and sandpaper). The disc and belt sander were used to clean up all the edges (with care not to remove any more finger nails). My super-simple router table was used to add a 1/4″ round-over to edges. I then used the random orbital sander to clean everything up.
I used made an assembly jig for the first piece and used pocket holes to attach the legs to the top (something my grandfather didn’t have but he seemed like a practical enough person, he’d have used them if he could have). I attached the side runners to the legs with some counter-sunk wood screws (black). I used a light color wood filler for any ply gaps (or other blemishes). Finally, a generous coat of wipe-on polyurethane was applied for a finish.
I assembled the first footstool as a Christmas gift for my older brother last year and then completed the second footstool as a Christmas gift for my mom this year. The process for building both pieces was a learning curve, so I didn’t really take great photos of either build. These are a mix of both projects (which is why the tops look different). I already have planned out making some additional templates to use with a trim router to help improve the process for future builds. This project is so great because it ends up using almost every power tool I have. But just like every project I try, there is always something new to learn even when I’ve already built the same thing before!
One of which was a long shelf for my dad’s hi-fi system; a gift to his new son-in-law. This later became the platform which our G.I.Joe USS Flag aircraft carrier play set lived! [↩]
I got a hard lesson delivered today while starting a project in the garage this afternoon. I’ll lead in with saying that I’m ok (and will heal up fine in a week or so); only a bit rattled. Let me start with where my head was (and shouldn’t have been) that got me here.
I’ve had on my “To Do” list for 2019 to learn how to make box joints. Well, here we are into December and I’ve not even tried it. I had wanted to spend last Saturday working on it, but I let the weekend get away with me with Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations (which are fine and I was glad to get the time I had with all my family). This evening, I had a Cub Scout event with my son in which I was responsible for bring some audio and video equipment (i.e., our home AV receiver, speakers, and disc player). That ended up taking a lot longer than I had anticipated. But I had an hour to spare so I figured I’d at least get a jump start on my box joint jig, knowing all day Sunday (tomorrow) is going to be busy with other things.
And it’s entirely worth underscoring here: this is all arbitrary pressure I’ve put on myself. Absolutely no one else cares if I figure out how to make box joints ever, let alone today or even this year. But I had convinced myself that I needed to rush through the hour to get the table saw jig set up.
I picked out my backing board and was looking for a piece of scrap that approximately the same thickness as my table saw blade kerf (simply put, that’s the width of the cut that the table saw makes and is fractionally wider than the blade itself). My initial plastic piece for the jig ended up a big loose the backing board, so I wanted to quickly try a different approach. Mind you, the piece I’m trying to cut is less than a 1/4″ thick. So I figured, why not start with a thin off cut and just sand it down to the necessary thickness?
My power sander is a combination of a belt sander and 6″ disc sander. The disc of course will put a twist on any object pushed into it, so a firm grip and just being mindful of one side lifting and the other pushing down is important. I grabbed a long thing piece of scrap and tried sanding it on the disc, not thinking about where my hands would go if (when) it slipped out of my grip. I also failed to put on gloves. You certainly do not wear gloves with some power tools (anything with a circular spinning blade), but they are a good idea with a sander.
Within less than a second of me pushing the wood into the disc, it knocked it right out of my hand and left me pushing my fingers into the sanding disc. Now, in all the power tools I have, if I had to pick one that I was going to injure myself on, it would probably be the power sander. Blades, as you can imagine, can quickly cut into flesh and cause serious injury or death. I cannot imagine sustaining a life-threating injury on a small power sander like mine (though I’m not saying it’s impossible). But at 3600 rpm, 120 grit sandpaper can remove skin and nails quite rapidly. Certainly faster than my reaction time. Before I knew it, my unnecessary rush and lack of thinking about what I was doing caused me to injure my index and middle fingers on my left hand. My middle finger got the skin scraped badly but my index nail is about 1/4″ too short now. And boy howdy is that sensitive skin under there!
Again, it’s nothing serious. I was able to turn off the machine and immediately go treat it myself. My fingers are sore but the nail should grow back. Honestly, it’s the lesson I needed to learn. Power tools are not anything to be in a rush around. Every action with one requires complete focus and attention. I need to always think about how the tool could injure me based on the action the tool makes. Given that I was also using my band saw and table saw today (which, I do take less for granted, to be fair to myself), I’m fortunate that this is the injury I ended up with.
As my kids join me in the shop more, I’ve had to teach them lessons about safety. I’ve even had to warn my son about touching that very sanding disc until it comes to a complete stop (he thought he should stop it spinning one day after I’d killed the power). I even recently watched James Hamilton’s (aka, Stumpy Nubs) video on injuring himself with an angle grinder and remarked on the need to pay attention when I’m working. I firmly believe that the number one most important piece of safety equipment is your brain. Too bad I failed to put that and my gloves on this afternoon. I’ll do my best to take that lesson to heart from now on.
I really make a point to try to learn something new with each maker project I do. Whether it’s a woodworking project, a guitar effect, or some other hobby project, I want to add in at least something new to each one. First, it just keeps things from feeling redundant. But also it helps to expand my skills.
I’ve needed to make a guitar pedal board for a couple of years now. Mostly just to clean up the corner of my office where my amp and effects sit. It’s not like I’m ever going on tour or anything. I figured the metal frame I made in my intro to metalworking class would be fun to use as a basis for a pedal board. Up until now, it’s just been sitting in our garage; leaning against a wall. Of course, the more I started planning, I quickly realized it was really just a decoration around an otherwise wooden stool (albeit a short and slanted stool; that’s really all this is). I had wanted to put a shallow rabbet around the edge of the board so the top of the steel frame would be flush with the wood. I tried using both a router bit and my table saw and both were pretty much complete failures. Oddly enough, the sample board I tried on the router worked fine, but that was with the veneer grain running along the direction of the rabbet. When I tried using parallel grain on the “real” board, it just shredded the veneer. The table saw gave a cleaner cut but was just far less accurate (and wasn’t much cleaner than the router).1
So, I basically just build my pedal board out of 3/4″ plywood to dimensions that I could slide the metal frame over it. The pedals don’t sit entirely flat, but they work fine for my needs still. I still need to get some more Velcro tape to attach them (which would just mainly help allow me to up the power cords underneath). It’s probably a bit too tall to be very practical and I’ll almost certainly replace it at some point. Whether or not I try to include the metal frame is another matter…
I fully attribute both of these failures to my own inexperience. It doesn’t help that I have some very basic setups and things like featherboards, zero clearance inserts, etc. would also help actually accomplish what I had in mind. [↩]