Tuesday, October 19, 2021

What I did over my summer!

 Yup, I am still here. What happened? Summer and work. I'm one of the fortunate people who can work from home. In fact the company I work for has offered us the ability to work from home permanently. Or at least permanently until they change their minds. Yay!

Just because the blogging stopped doesn't mean the woodworking stopped. Woodworking slowed down but didn't stop.


I finished my hand tool workbench last spring. I flattened the top of the bench using a scrub plane I made from an inexpensive Harbor Freight jack plane. It worked about as well as you'd expect. The plane is garbage. It isn't possible to adjust the frog to give the plane blade a flat surface to ride on. The blade and the chip breaker are stamped steel. To get the tension on the chip breaker it has a big hump near the bottom that interferes with the letting the lever cap sit on top. With the heavy scrubbing the parts would work loose and I needed to put them back together again. I got the job done but figure I should have bought a slightly less cheap plane from Home Depot or Lowes.

After getting the top planed flat I drilled some dog holes using my hand drill and a jig to keep everything straight.

Then I bought a big acme threaded bolt from Amazon and added a leg vise.

I added a dowel to keep the leg from swinging when I turn the screw. I also added an angled block on the bottom to keep the chop from racking when clamping something in it. 

The handle is still a temporary piece of dowel. I need to make better endcaps for it. I just got a 3d printer so perhaps I'll print new end caps. I also need to bolt the top to the legs a little more solidly. Right now the top slides off when I clamp a board.

Built in Closet Shelves

I made some built-in shelves for my gaming closet. I was hoping to better utilize the space and be able to store more things. That didn't happen but at least the games are easier to get to now.

French Cleat Laptop Shelf

I wanted to be able to use my personal laptop on my office desk as well as my work laptop. So I built a French Cleat shelf that hovers my laptop over my work laptop.

Holiday Gaming Table

Last fall one of my neighbors had a garage sale. I didn't go; however, the next day while walking my dog I saw they had a small table out on the curb for garbage pick up. So I knocked on their door and asked if I could take it. They said sure, so I came back with my truck and picked it up.

The table was missing some hardware for connecting the legs. It was also kind of beat looking. Someone had painted a it white...  poorly...  then they got it dirty and the paint scratched and chipped.

I bought some paint stripper got it home, then re-read the safety instructions and then decided I didn't want to use a chemical stripper. I used several 60 grit sandpaper disks on my random orbit sander to strip all the paint. It took a couple of hours but I got all the paint off. Once I was down to raw wood the table was super unimpressive looking. Better than a dirty bad paint job but still pretty ugly.

This table was destined for a friend who holds a party every 4th of July. We'll refer to him as Andy to protect his identity. I took cleaning up the table as a spring project. I thought this a perfect opportunity to try some things I don't really do that often. I decided to stain the top a dark brown and my idea for the legs was a dark green. Came out okay I think. 

It looks even better in someone else's game room basement.

Office Desk

Mid summer my wife and I were given the opportunity to choose whether we wanted to continue working 100% remote, 100% in office or a hybrid schedule. We both chose to work 100% remote.

I've been working on an old office desk and have been gradually tweaking it to make it more suitable for working at. My wife has been working on her old student desk. It was small, maybe 2ft x 4ft. Barely big enough to hold her laptop and a single monitor. She asked for something custom.

Since I know my woodworking isn't fast I decided to get her something much better quickly. The quickest way to getting her a 3ft x 6ft desktop was to buy a solid beech workbench top. It's massive. It weighs 100 lbs. 

I bought it from Grangier's on an internet sale. The first one I picked up had a really bad cup and I had to return it. While it was a pain picking up, returning, and then picking up a replacement they handled it very well. I'd shop there again. The second benchtop was as flat as I could test for.

Coming off fixing up the little table for my friend I decided to make the legs the same way. 

It's basically some hanger bolts that pull the leg up against the skirts. I have to admit when I started this I was thinking of it as a cheap mass manufacturing way to build a table. After I worked with the joint a bit I gained a new respect for it. It's very strong, it breaks down easily, and it is very forgiving. If your measurements are off even a fair bit everything will still go together fairly well.

Anyway, we polyurethaned the top and painted the legs. My wife wanted a keyboard tray so I added one of those too. 

She wanted a couple of monitor stands that were Calculus, jQuery, and C# Design Patterns high. One of her friends quipped that that was the best use for a Calculus book she'd ever seen. So, not in place but I created a couple of wood boxes with smaller boxes inside as drawers.

Cat Wall

I built a cat wall. Okay, it's more of a cat playground and it isn't finished.

I attached a whole bunch of French cleats to the wall in our family room. The idea is to build a bunch of platforms and cubbies the cats can climb in and through. When they get bored I can rearrange the wall to make it new and interesting. The ramps are attached to the platforms with hinges so I they come apart and I can rearrange them in different shapes. 

This is all I have so far but I'll make some more this winter.

Free Wood

Well, I got free wood. I was at a summer picnic and struck up a conversation with a coworker. We'll call him Dan to protect his identity. Turns out Dan was an ex-woodworker, was moving, and had gotten rid of all his stuff excepting about 100 bd ft of soft maple. He offered it to me for free. So I got the trailer out, unfolded and drove over to his house and picked it up.

I've got ideas for using it this winter to build a bookshelf but I need to go through it to see if I am going to be able to get what I need out of it.


I visited my parents in Chicago...

Heimdall is a pest

Mid summer Heimdall decided the puppy was her best buddy. The puppy was not happy about it but Heimdall doesn't seem to care.

Hobby Workbench

Wow, just realized that workbenches were the alpha and the omega of this post. Well, my wife and I decided to get 3d printers. We bought good quality but intro versions She got a resin printer to support her painting hobby. I got an FDM because I mostly want mine for making jigs and templates. I don't need a delicate high quality finish. To hold the printers we bought another smaller solid beech bench top and stuck some legs I built out of poplar and luan plywood. We painted the legs with leftover paint we had lying around.

That's my Crealty Ender 3 V2 and her Proxon hot wire foam cutter. My printer has been moved to another room where it can run without disturbing anyone but the bench hasn't moved. I added foot levelers to the legs to make sure the top was level as well as flat. I'm currently working on light duty rolling cabinets to put underneath but they are still a work in progress.


It was a pretty busy summer. I didn't do any large projects but I did get a bunch of medium sized projects done. I'm hoping to build a nice bookshelf for my office this winter as well as do some more smaller projects to make our offices "better".

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Yup, still here...

 It's spring / almost summer here in Upstate New York. I've got yard work, my day job has been busy... It's not my fault!  :)

Anyway, the workbench is done. I need to finish up the series I have on that. I'm currently working on refinishing a table I got off the curb last summer. It was a cheap piece of furniture that then got painted...  poorly... I stripped the paint and the original finish using my random orbit sander. Took me about three hours to do a poor job of it. Mostly I just didn't do a good job of cleaning up the swirl marks from the 60 grit I used for stripping everything.

Anyway, I'll hopefully get some pictures of that here sometime soon. I don't think I have any pictures showing how bad the original finish was but that's okay. It looks decent now.

What I do have for today is an update to my workshop floor plan. Here's the old one I used to plan everything years ago.

And here's the new one:

My friend Jon was asking how big my shop was and I knew I had a diagram on my blog so I looked it up. I was disappointed to see how old it was. I already had a Visio diagram of my basement, it was even mostly up to date. I just had to fix some of the measurements that were "off" and add the new tools since I'd last updated the floor plan (router table and hand tool workbench).

Yes, I would love to have a couple thousand square feet for my shop. I'm also grateful that I have what I have. Left side of the stairs is what I call my primary shop, the right side of the stairs is what I called either my secondary shop or the annex.

I don't do any woodworking in the annex. That is all wood and mobile tool storage. When I want to use one of the tools that is stored in the annex I roll it over into the primary workshop. Woodworking has become so much more enjoyable since I got all my space back.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

No Woodworking Week

 I took this last week off from doing woodworking. I mostly sat around the house and was lazy.

I did go down into the shop on Sunday afternoon and spent a number of hours trying to flatten the back of a plane blade I ruined a number of years ago. I was trying to flatten the blade on a coarse water stone and didn't realize the stone was getting dished out. Riding up and down the walls of the valley cause much more material to be removed from the edges. I bought a replacement blade for my hand plane, chalked it up to lessons learned and move on with life.

The one good thing about it is that now I have a "busted" plane blade to experiment with when trying out new sharpening techniques.

A week or so ago I bought an extra coarse diamond stone from my local Woodcraft store. The coarse diamond stone I already had wasn't taking enough material fast enough so I figured I'd try extra coarse. I pulled it out and went to town. It was definitely taking more material than my coarse diamond stone but it still wasn't what I'd call fast. Certainly not compared to sanding wood.

I also pulled out my old dished water stones and tried flattening it on my diamond stones. I think it worked out okay but I was getting a little tired by this point. I had water everywhere including the floor. I had sharpening stone slurry all over me and my sharpening station. 

In any case I worked on that busted hand plane blade for quite a bit using my water stones, my new diamond stone, and I even tried some sandpaper on a flat board. I got it better but still didn't manage to fix it. I was hopeful with the sandpaper on a board thing; however, I got lazy and didn't spray glue the sandpaper down. I think this allowed the paper to curl just a little bit so while it looked like I was making progress flattening the iron I wasn't.

I worked on one of my old cheap chisels and may actually have gotten the back flat. I need to go back and check it with a fresh set of eyes that might not be clouded by as much wishful thinking I had on Sunday.

Yesterday - Monday - evening I wanted to check out my new Grebstk chisels and see how they were. I saw Rex Kreuger talk about these on his YouTube channel. They're four wooden handled chisels for right around $20 on Amazon.com. His initial impression of them was favorable so I figured I would give them a try. They'd be cheap chisels I could practice sharpening, they might actually end up being good chisels, and I could always grind them to a different angle than my Irwin chisels.

Also, worst case...  I could use them to scrape glue.

So yesterday... I stuck with my extra coarse diamond stone and my coarse diamond stone and flattened the backs on two of the chisels. Both were dished a little bit from the edge but still flattened pretty quickly. The dish was far enough from the edge on both of them I could have left it but I kept going until I had the backs flat.

I didn't take them any further because I didn't want to pull out my Tormek. I'd gone down to the shop in my street clothes and the Tormek can get a little messy. It doesn't create a slurry like the water stones but it does get water everywhere. I didn't do more than two of the four because I have tendonitis in both my wrists and I have to be careful how much I do to avoid aggravating it. I'll get the backs on the other two flattened some time this week and then this weekend I can finish sharpening them

I'm hoping I can get the bad plane blade to good enough shape that I can sharpen it into being able to be used for a scrub plane. I'll need that for flattening the top of my workbench which I need to get back to. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Closet Makeover finished - part 4

 It's finished!

Okay, I was hoping to make it a one-weekend project and it extended into the week but all told my time and materials cost was around $250 in plywood and 12(ish) hours of labor.

Putting the shelves into the cabinets went pretty quick and was pretty easy. I made some supports out of the offcut from the lower divider / shelf support that were 12-1/4" long. I set these up on either side of the shelf, then using gentle hand pressure on top of the shelf to keep it from slipping I fastened them in place with pocket hole screws. 

I've used plywood for shelf spacing in the past but that's always been 3/4" plywood, often the full depth of the shelf. One thing I found that I really appreciated about these was the ability to get to the pocket holes between the supports. Also, being double layers of plywood they were able to stand on their own.

I do have one picture of the shelves not being packed with games.

I'd have gotten a picture of the completed closet empty but I needed to empty one of the old bookshelves to be able to comfortably get into the left side to install the shelves. So, what's on the shelves is the contents of one of the two small bookshelves that had been shoved into the corners of the closet.

All in all, I am happy with the final results. It's definitely on the utilitarian side but it is still solidly built. It has slightly more storage than our previous arrangement. I think I might have done some bad math when calculating how much additional storage I was going to get. I was expecting a little more than the 8(ish) ft of empty shelf space but that's fine. I think there will be enough space for our games that have gotten scattered around the house and we're not big game purchasers so we should be good for a number of years.

Future enhancements might include:

  • Add some more bracing under the bottom shelf cleats to transfer some of the weight to the floor
  • Add a face frame to the upper shelves to hide gaps and make it prettier

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Closet Makeover - part 3

 Well, it is done. Monday evening I didn't get any time in the shop but Tuesday evening I had a couple of hours after work to glue the cases together.

I started with one side, added some glue to the dados in that side then added the bottom/top and nailed them in place with my 18 gauge nailer. The cases were too large to keep on my outfeed / assembly table so I transferred the assembly to the floor with the top / bottom pointing upwards. I was then able to add glue to the dados in the opposite side then flip it over and add it to the assembly.

I moved the assembly back up to my assembly table and checked to make sure my joints were tight. Moving the assembly from the table to the floor and back to the table did loosen a couple so I pulled them tight with a clamp and shot a few more nails into those.

Then it was just a matter of putting a thin bead of glue around the back edges and dropping the 1/4" luan onto the backs. I swapped 1/4" crown 1/2" staples for the nails in my nailer / stapler and tacked the back down with those. Glue squeeze out was cleaned up with my finger, a damp rag, and just left depending on how much glue there was and how visible it was going to be later.

Then I set the case aside as seen in the above photo and did the next one. 

With the cases assembled I was able to get an accurate final measurement for the shelves. I set on of them in place and with a couple of test cuts got the fence set to crosscut the shelves. I used the same technique as I used on the sides and top / bottom, using my miter gauge with an extension to keep the board perpendicular to the blade.

The last step before assembling the shelves into the cases was drilling pocket hole screws in the ends. I thought about quitting for the evening but I really want to get this project done. It went a lot quicker than I thought it would. Maybe 45 minutes?

Then it was dinner time: Kielbasa and Pierogis. Yum...

I had after dinner plans but since one of my friends was stuck at work we cancelled. (And yes, it was an on-line event). So, (minus one Toastmaster point for starting a sentence with 'so') since my cases had had sufficient time for the glue to get to it's initial set period I carried them upstairs and put them into the closet.

I carried all four boxes upstairs before adding them to the closet. I have to admit some nervousness that despite all my careful measuring and re-measuring (measure 20 times, cut once) that as I was sliding the second lower box in place that they might not fit. Fortunately, all my careful measuring worked out - and I didn't make any math errors. The second bottom box slipped into place and I have my planned 1" buffer (1/2" on each side).

I was greatly reassured; however, then I got nervous again as I went to add the first upper case. I realized as I was lifting it into place that the lightbar that is on the inside of the closet was in the way. <sigh> It protrudes into the front plane where I was planning on lifting the boxes into. I was able to get the box in place by tilting the box into the back plane. It was a little awkward lifting the box. The box probably only weighs 40 lbs or so but it was large and needed medium-fine manipulation to get into place.

The second upper box was even more awkward as I had even less space in the closet to maneuver in. Regardless it wasn't too bad and actually ended up going easier than the first upper case. I was saved by having left a whole 1" buffer along the top of the shelves. I often get in trouble by cutting my margins too close but I was careful to not make that mistake with this cabinet. It would be nice to have that volume available for storage but it was more important to not have to rebuild the shelf boxes because they didn't fit.

Anyway, the shelves are still in the workshop and need to be brought up and installed in the cases. Before that I need to screw fasten the shelf boxes together to make sure they don't shift; though, they are heavy enough I don't think that's a huge worry. I am getting a little worried now that I didn't put enough screws into the cleats holding everything up. I may go back and reinforce those.

That's another day though.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Closet Makeover - part 2

 Relative to most weekends I spent a lot of time in the shop. I got in probably six hours on Saturday and another three hours on Sunday. 


Saturday morning I got started early by emptying my closet. It only took me an hour or two to move all the games off the top shelf and pick up the loose stuff off the floor and slide the plastic totes out of the way. It only took minutes to slide the bookshelves out of the closet and into the bedroom; however, that was pretty tense. Both bookshelves tucked into the sides of the closet were relatively heavily loaded and didn't have backs to stiffen them. I was still able to successfully slide them five or six feet without any disasters.

I'm horrible at remembering to get "before" shots

Saturday afternoon was spent moving my materials from the garage down into my shop. All my new plywood was 4 sheets cut down into 2'x4' quarter sheets so I could fit them into my Forrester. I also needed one full sheet of plywood I already had in my garage.

I started with taking one of my 2' x 4' quarter sheets and cutting cleats to hold up the bottom shelf. I somewhat arbitrarily chose 3" for my cleat height. I cut four pieces off one end for the cleats on the closet sides and front walls. I cut two pieces off one of the long edges for the back of the closet. This left me enough wood for one half the bottom divider / middle shelf support. I got the other half out of another one of the quarter sheets. It left a large off-cut but that's fine. Large offcuts eventually get used for something.

The front walls of the closet are only 14" wide and the pieces I'd cut for them were 24". I cut them both down to 13-1/2" so that they wouldn't be obviously visible from outside the closet. I then glued up the over-sized center shelf support / middle divider and put a bunch of clamps and weights on it.

While this was drying I started installing the cleats in the closet. I used my levels to find the high spot in the floors then drew a level line around the closet 13" from the floor using the high spot as my initial point. This will be the line I align all my cleats with when I put them in.

 For example:

I was then able to work my way around the closet putting the cleats in one at a time. I used my stud finder to locate studs, drilled countersunk pilot holes and then used 2-1/2" deck screws to fasten them in place. As you can see in the above photo I have predrilled pocket holes ever 8" or so in the cleats to hold down the bottom shelf.

When I got to the back center where the bottom shelf support / middle divider is going to go I used a temporary block of the right thickness to leave sufficient space. I used one of my deck screw to hold the block in place because I hadn't brought my pocket hole screws up yet.

I measured for the center of the back wall and aligned the temporary block with my marks.

This is definitely one of the cases where close is good enough. I got the block pretty close, then left some wiggle room in between the two cleats.

This work took long enough that I figured I could remove the clamps from my divider. After scraping the glue from the edges I trimmed the edges to be flat and square. From there it just needed to be fitted to the closet. I brought it upstairs and set it in place. I used a pencil set flat on the floor to scribe a line parallel to the floor, then did the same with the back wall. The floor wasn't level but it was flat enough that I decided to not bother cutting to that line. The back wall however needed to be cut. I did that on my table saw using my panel jig and some shims.

With the panel fit to the wall and floor I used a level to draw a level line on the panel from the back wall cleat out towards the door. I again made this cut using my panel cutting sled and some shims. Here's what it looked like after I put it in place. The level was in the shot because I was checking to make sure the front of the divider was level with the cleats on either side of the doorway.

I mean, it should be level but you never know. Those three points I was checking were the end points of the single point I started from - which is about halfway between the side wall and the lower divider / shelf support along the back wall. It is far less expensive to check now rather than to be trying to fit the next piece and have things not working and have to then try and figure out what's wrong.

Speaking of the next piece, that was the lower shelf.

I'd measured the size of this shelf to be 25" deep by 75-1/4" wide. I did the best I could to check for square in the closet but just to give myself a little wiggle room I cut the shelf about 1/4" short in each direction. I did cut the shelf on my table saw and while I appreciate that the rip fence capacity allowed me to make a 26" rip cut, followed by a cleanup cut at 25-1/2" and finally at 24-3/4" to get my final width I was not appreciating how heavy a full sheet of plywood is to cut down. I probably should have used my circular saw and guide to break it down in the garage before bringing the full sheet downstairs.

The sheet pretty much dropped into place. It was a bit awkward to get into the closet and then straightened out over the cleats but once I had the right side pushed into the corner against the cleats I was able to lower the left hand side. I'm really glad I trimmed the board to be a little smaller than the calculated opening because while the back was mostly straight and the corners relatively square, the two short front walls actually angled in a little bit and hung up the board. Some solid thumping with my fist did bring everything flat and didn't seem to damage the walls appreciably.

After getting the bottom shelf in place all that remained was shimmying underneath with my Makita Impact Driver and drive the pocket hole screws into place. And by shimmying I mean lots of grunting, twisting and trying to drive screws at angles my shoulders and arms didn't like. I am a little claustrophobic but being focused on the task and only being partially underneath the shelf didn't bother me at all.

That was Saturday... It doesn't seem like all that much but like a house foundation this step was critical to get right as the rest of the cabinets will be built in my shop and will not have much adjustability once they start to go in.


My primary goal for Sunday was getting my shelf box parts cut, joined, and glued. Then I could let them sit overnight to let the glue dry, add shelves, insert them into the closet, then reload the closet with all my games and books.

I won't keep you in suspense...  I didn't get all that accomplished.

Fundamentally my shelf boxes are going to be super simple. The sides, tops, bottoms, and shelves are all going to be 11-3/4" wide. My rough-cut quarter-sheets from Lowes are approximately 2' x 4'. So step one was ripping them all down to two pieces each, 11-3/4" wide.

I don't normally let boards just fall of the outfeed table onto the floor. However, after starting the saw, ripping one board, stopping the saw, walking around the saw to get the board and stack it on my New Yankee workbench then repeat just a few times, I realized it was going to take forever. Since all the boards were going to be cut down eventually, I started just shoving them through and letting them fall. Any banged up corners will be trimmed later in the next step.

That's a lot of boards. 26? 32? I don't have the count right in front of me; however, it was a lot. After ripping them all to width I made sure they were all square by trimming both ends using my crosscut sled. Cutting them to length was a little more dicey. I don't have a super wide crosscut sled as I don't normally need to do this and I am running out of space for sleds and jigs. Instead I used the table saw fence and a miter gauge to crosscut them all to the appropriate length. At least all the case pieces. I'm going to leave the shelves for after the cases are constructed so I can be more exact with the shelf lengths.

Yes, I know this isn't the safest way to make this cut; however, my table saw surface is slick so the boards didn't get that much friction. My saw blade is new enough that it cuts cleanly without a lot of force needed. I went very slow to make sure I didn't get binding. I also had an auxiliary fence on my miter gauge to help make sure I didn't twist the boards and get binding.

The next step was cutting the joinery on the case pieces. I'm using a 3/8" tongue and dado for my joints.  I started by installing a 3/8" dado blade in my table saw and set it to make a 3/8" deep dado. Close was good enough as I am leaving 1" of extra space on the side of the shelves. If I am off by 1/64" it won't affect the fit of the cases in the closet. I then cut dados on the top and bottom of all the sides to my four cases. I then added a sacrificial fence and cut tongues on the tops and bottoms of all the cases. I had lots of off cuts to dial in the rabbet for the tongue but it only took me one or two tries to get a tight fit.

I got the case pieces fitted tuning the tongues where necessary with my shoulder plane. I really like this tool. I know I could do the same with a block and some sandpaper but the shoulder plane can take a bigger bite and leaves a nice surface. 

With the cases fitted I cut my plywood for the backs. I've mentioned my mistakes in lumber purchases for this project in a prior post; however, I was able to make the quarter sheets for the 3/4" plywood work out just fine. However, I don't want to have seems in my backs and unfortunately I'd had the 1/4" luan cut down into quarter sheets as well and they just weren't going to fit. I ran out to Lowes Sunday morning to get two more sheets, this time cross cut to 48" then ripped to 40" which is the maximum width my Forrester can take in the back.

Then, I ran out of time in the afternoon. I had to make dinner and feeding me and my wife takes priority over woodworking...  usually...

Next Steps

I was hoping to get into the workshop Monday evening unfortunately I hadn't slept well the night before so I figured keeping fingers was more important than potential progress. I've got my case pieces ready for assembly so that's my next step. I'm going to glue the sides to the tops and bottoms. I've got good joints but I'm probably going to shoot some brad nails into them to "clamp" them while the glue dries. I have enough clamps to glue up all four cases at once but the sides aren't going to be visible. I may as well save myself the dozen trips from my clamp storage in the auxiliary workshop and just use my 18 gauge nailer.

I've got my backs cut out to slightly undersized (about 1/8") and I'll glue and staple them to the case with 18 gauge staples using the same nailer/stapler. This will help me square the case and will "clamp" it square while the glue is drying.

After the cases are assembled it will just be a matter of cutting the shelves to the right length, drilling pocket hole screws into the shelves then installing them. Then dropping the cases into place in the closet and reloading it.

Side Note

I don't use my extended table and fence on my table saw all that much; however, when I need to it is very nice. This last weekend I make dozens of cuts using the greater than 36" capacity of my extended table and fence. I think 39-3/4" was the widest cut I made.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Closet Makeover - part 1

 I'm pretty sure I've mentioned in the past that one of my hobbies is playing board games. We've taken over a bedroom and made it into a game room. It confuses people who come over to play games but it's nice to have a room where we can leave a game set up and not have to worry about it getting in the way of dinner or something else. We took one of the closets in this room to store all of our boxed games.

Currently the games are stored on the top shelf and two small book cases shoved into the sides of the closet. We've got a couple of totes on the floor with scenery for miniature based war games. This works but we've maxed out our storage. We don't really buy that many games but we already have more than can be stored in this arrangement. 

Well, I've been thinking for about the last 20 years that I'd make custom built ins for the closet. This is the year! 

The indecision decision for this project is how to design it. I have Euro Games in their classic square boxes, Book Shelf sized boxes (8.5"x11"), flat pack games, and big box games. I also have some totes with scenery I keep on the floor. I want my shelves to be as wide as possible to maximize storage. I need them to be tall enough to hold my largest boxes on end. I also have a number of wide games that cannot stand on end and need to be stacked. I want some shorter shelves so the stacks don't get so high.

In summary, I want my shelves to be as wide as possible, some short, some tall, and some in the middle.

My closet is 25" deep, 75" wide, and 91" high. I think I can split the width and have 36(ish)" wide shelves. I still want totes for storing things like miniature game scenery so I think I'll create one large shelf that spans the entire closet so that I can just slide my totes in underneath. With that decided I just need to figure out what height I want to make my individual shelves and how to build them.

I thought about boxing in the entire closet to make everything square and flat and then using pocket hole screws to hang shelves. I don't know how out of plumb the walls are but I know from when we installed hardwood floors that the floor slopes 2 inches from the front of the closet to the back. I'm assuming the walls aren't close to plumb. My thought was I could line the sides and back with 3/4" plywood. To get them square and plumb I'd need to shim all the walls with furring strips. It'd be a nightmare to get right and take three full sheets of plywood. I'd also have to build everything in place rather than in my workshop. I'm calling this my "big box" design and I'm not liking it overly much.

My next thought was putting the bottom "full" shelf in level using legs scribed to the floor then building shelves up from there. I drew that design idea out a couple of times then decided that I didn't really need legs on the sides. Since it is a full shelf reaching all the way from side to side I could just use cleats attached to the wall.

The other part I need to figure out is the shelves. The trick to making built-in anything is to build as much of it as possible in your shop and then install it in a way such that it looks like it was built in place. If I were going with the big box strategy I could just pocket hole screw them to the sides and a divider, or use shelf pins to make them adjustable. But since I've already decided against the big box strategy I need a way to support my shelves. 

One of the challenge of working inside a box is the need to be able to get the parts into the space. Since my door is narrower than the space inside I need to make sure everything can fit through it. I also want to minimize my costs.

My Ideas

  • Medium Box - build two boxes 3' wide and 5'(ish) tall in my workshop I can put on top of my base shelf next to each other. I could put fixed or adjustable shelves in them.
  • Small Box - go with a Thomas Jefferson - yes, that Thomas Jefferson - approach and build individual boxes that could be stacked on top of one another. These could vary in width and height so long as I plan ahead.
  • Minimalistic - Instead of making full boxes, I could make U-shaped shelves. Basically a box without a bottom. I could then use pocket hole screws to fasten the sides to the lower shelf.

Medium Box pros and cons

I probably won't be able to make these boxes reach entirely to the ceiling without some gymnastics to get the boxes into the closet. With a wide lower shelf that will cramp the amount of space I have to fit pieces into the upper part of the closet. On the positive side, I'll be able to make the shelves inside it adjustable either through the use of pocket hole screws or shelf pins. I really like the strength of pocket holes vs shelf pins but the easy adjustability of shelf pins is nice. Though there is a bit more work engineering shelf pin style shelves in that I'll need to make a shelf pin hole jig, and I like making small notches in the bottoms of shelves to capture the pins so the shelves cannot easily slide out. I still have some more utility style shelf brackets I could install but those would be ugly.

Small Box pros and cons

These boxes have some very useful attributes. I would be able to build them entirely in my shop, then install them by stacking them on top of each other in the closet. Since each box would only be approximately 1' x 1' x 3' I have no concerns with be able to get them into the closet. If we ever decided to move we would be able to deconstruct the shelf, nail a board across the front and use the boxes as shipping containers for our games. Since the bottoms would be double thicknesses of 3/4" plywood I I would have much less worry about the 3' shelves sagging over time. I would also be able to construct different width shelves so long as I could come up with sets of shelf-boxes that added up to 75" in width.

There are a couple of downsides to this style of shelf. They would take more materials to make than the other designs (materials == cost). They would only be easily adjustable within limits of already constructed boxes.


This style of shelf takes some of better attributes of the first two ideas. It uses about as many materials as the Medium Box design. I could make a variety of shelf widths so long as I have sets that add up to 75"

Unfortunately the downsides of this approach outweigh the positives. Since I wouldn't necessarily have a solid panel running from the top to the bottom or solid boxes stacked on top of each other this structure would be much weaker than the first two. It would be less modular and adjustable than either of the first two as I'd have to unload all the shelves, deconstruct them, then put them back together, and then reload them. It would also be more work to make the initial set of shelves since I would have a lot more in-place assembly.

This is basically a really bad idea on multiple levels where the cons out weigh the pros. I'm just including it here as it was an idea I briefly considered.

Ultimate Solution

I'm going to go with a hybrid approach. I'm going to go with the Medium Box design but rather than make two boxes, one for each side, I am going to make four boxes, two for each side. By splitting each side into two boxes, on on top of the other I'll effectively be adding a fixed middle shelf that will add some strength. Of course that's offsetting the strength lost my having monolithic sides. However, I don't have any worry about getting the boxes in place. I can get the bottom two in place and then slide the second two into place by lifting them vertically and sliding them on top of the lower boxes.

The only thing I have to decide now is how tall to make each of the boxes. I think I want the sides to be consistent because it will make construction easier. I've thought about three options, split the height evenly, maximize the use of my 2' x 4' plywood sheets, and finally make sure I get the maximum number of 1' height shelves. I think I am going to go with the last option which will make 1' shelf heights standard and maximize the number of them.

Design Iterations

Initial Design, small box plus two iterations of the base

Big box design plus cleats for bottom shelf

Multiple iterations of the medium box design

The design I am going with is the lower right hand side one in the last page of scribbles. I drew out the top one on that page then realized that I was going to have a lot of off-cuts from from my 2'x4' plywood. So I drew out the bottom left design which made more efficient use of the plywood I have. Then doing the math I realized the 48" high box wasn't going to divide evenly for 1' high shelves. I may not be fast, but I get there.

So, I did some erasing and drew in the right hand side boxes. The lower right hand box is sized to have three 12 1/4" high shelves plus the 3/4" shelf that's 13" per shelf plus an extra 3/4" for the top of the box. The top box gets the remaining space between the bottom box and the top of the closet. It will have space for two shelves plus a third 9" shelf. 


This should be a quick one-weekend build especially if I scrimp on sanding, leave the plywood edges bare, and don't bother putting finish on it. I know, that doesn't seem like a fine woodworking approach; however, these are utility shelves. The games don't leak, there isn't going to be moisture in the closet. 

It'll be fine.

Or if it isn't fine, I can replace it later. Or I can come back and pull out sections and put finish on them later.

It'll be fine.

(Also, since I am finishing this post Sunday night I can say I didn't quite get the closet built ins finished over the weekend. Super close but that'll come in the next post.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Workbench Diversion

 I got no work done on my workbench this last weekend. I'm going to attribute some of that to my next step being flattening the bench. To flatten the bench I need to sharpen my hand planes. To sharpen the hand planes I need to flatten the back of the plane blades. Flattening the back of a blade is much like sanding and I don't like sanding.

Instead of working on my bench I took a trip to Lowes on Saturday. I wanted to pick up some plywood for my next super secret project. And there started my plywood adventure. For some reason I'd thought that I could fit 4' wide plywood into my Forrester. I don't know how that made it into my head. My cargo area is actually closer to 3' x 5'. 

The reason this is relevant is that I had thought I could just cross cut all my plywood once and fit it into the back of my truck. I've had bad luck relying on the resawing services from big box stores before so I'd brought along my cordless circular saw, straight edge guide, and a spare battery. I went to cross cut the first piece of plywood and realized that my battery wasn't just low, it was empty. Fortunately I had the spare. It was only after I cross cut my first piece of plywood then realized I was going to have to double the number of cuts. I admit I was a little nervous because my second battery wasn't full.

Turns out my battery made it through about half the cuts I needed to make. I looked at my pieces of plywood and started calculating the cost of just abandoning them in the parking lot. Instead I took the walk of shame and took my plywood back into the store and got some very helpful workers there to cut my plywood down for me.

Then the only problem was having a tall stack of plywood in the back of the truck and no tiedowns to keep it from crashing around. I drove home super carefully and had no problem; however, it was just kind of the icing on the cake of bad decisions.

That was most of my Saturday as well as a fair bit of sitting on the couch.

Sunday I went over to a friend's house. We'll call him Dave to help protect his identity. He's a beginning woodworker and is still setting up his shop a tool at a time. He'd recently gotten a Rigid contractor/job-site table and a Dewalt 2 1/4 HP router. I ran over to his house over the recent holidays to help him set up his table saw so it wouldn't be extra dangerous. While I was there we'd started building a portable router table of the same design as the one I used for 15 years or so. He has a garage workshop and has to share space with vehicles, especially during our upstate NY winters so a small format easily stored router table will be important.

In any case, I was heading out this last weekend because we hadn't finished building the router table or the table saw sleds and jigs that every shop should have. Unfortunately the router table insert he'd bought in the intervening week was for trim routers rather than his full sized router so we again couldn't finish his router table. Instead we spent the morning working on his cross cut sled for his table saw. He decided he didn't need a tall fence or a panel/tenoning jig so we didn't make either of those. I forgot the miter joint spline jig which is too bad because he might actually have wanted one of those.

We also went over router safety and basic use.

That took most of my morning and since I had slept adequately but not great the night before I may have taken a short nap on our couch. When I got up there wasn't a lot of afternoon left but knowing I'd be sad if I didn't get a little time in my shop. So I headed down and after putting away the toys I'd brought with me to Dave's house I decided to work on a small project.

I have a small coat closet in my kitchen next to the door to the garage. It holds most of our coats, shoes, hats, dog leashes, and other things that we might want before heading out the door. The top shelf in this closet has a pile of gloves, mittens, hats, and scarves. Whenever we want something off that shelf we pretty much have to dump the contents, sort them out then try to pile everything back on the shelf.

So, I'd come up with an idea on how to improve this space a few weeks back. I didn't want to start on this project while my shop was still nigh unusable due to having workbench pieces all over the place but now that the workbench was out of the way I figured this would be a nice diversion from working on the bench.

The construction was super simple. I ripped a bunch of Baltic Birch to 11 3/4" x 60". I cross cut four pieces to 24" for the sides, six pieces to 19" for the top, bottom, and shelf, and one piece to 9" for a divider. 

I set up my table saw with a 1/4" dado stack and raised it to 1/4" above the table. I then set my fence so I could cut dados in the top and bottom of the sides. Then I moved the fence and cut dados about 9" up the sides for the shelf. I then adjusted my fence to cut dados for the divider in the shelf and the bottom. I decided to make that dado a full width dado in order to get it centered. I very carefully snuck up on the size of the dado, then cut all four.

Then it was just a matter of fitting all the pieces together and gluing them up. Once glued I took them up and fitted them into the closet. Thinking ahead I'd create two separate boxes that I could insert them individually. Anyway, they fit perfectly and are working out great so far for organizing our stuff.

Monday, January 4, 2021

It even looks like a bench

Where did we leave off? I had placed the benchtop onto the base. My workshop was a mess. The first thing I did getting into the workshop on Saturday was to clean up the shop. It's not a terribly large shop but I could spend a lot of time carrying single items back and forth to put them away. Most items get used near to where they are stored but a few items get stored on the back wall. 

My cleaning method is effectively a bubble sort. I pick a single spot and move everything in reach towards the direction it needs to go. After everything in reach has moved in the direction it needs to be, I move to another area and do the same thing. Eventually I end up with a pile of things that are a short step or two from where they need to be, then picking that spot I can put the pile of stuff away. I'm sure many/most people/some people do it this way also; however, it is also my way.

Anyway, I've got pictures:

Much better...  I'm not a neat freak but I don't like my shop being slovenly either. I also don't let tidiness get in the way of finishing a project. I basically make a mess while building a project, pausing now and then to tidy, then when the project is completed I clean everything up and put everything away.

Today I couldn't wait. Too many things had gotten piled around because I couldn't easily get to their drawers. Everything got put away, the floor got swept, I remounted the grinder in the far back corner of my shop. I don't know if that will be the final spot but it is out of the way for now. I found someplace to store my table saw cross cut jig.

This weird bump out is protecting my water main. Before I'd put the walls up I'd once grabbed a board leaning against the wall, turned and tried walking away. The board got stuck and pulled out of my hand. Looking back I saw that it had snagged behind the water meter. The vision of breaking one of those pipes and not being able to turn off the full city water pressure as water gushed into my shop terrified me. The basement was already partially finished, I just cleaned it up and put a closet around the water meter to protect it from getting smashed.

Cleaning the shop took me an hour and a half or so. But with that done I turned back to the workbench and set up to cut the top to length.

I used my Milwaukee corded circular saw. It's probably been years since I used it last. My Makita cordless has been my go-to circular saw for breaking down plywood or even cross cutting two-by stock. However, I think it has a smaller blade and it is certainly not as powerful as my Milwaukee. 

Unfortunately, I don't have guides for the Milwaukee anymore. I've cut them all down to use with the Makita. So, I went old school. I set up a straight edge 5" from where I wanted to cut, clamped it down and used it to trim the end. I used a framing square to make sure my cut was relatively perpendicular to the front/back.

My circular saw isn't so big that it could make the 3 inch cut in one pass. What I had to do was make an initial cut on the top side, flip the bench top over, transfer the cut line to the bottom (now top) and after resetting the straight edge clamp, make a second cut. To transfer the cut line I used my try square and a marking knife.

My first one of these was about 1/8" off on the far end after making the cut.

On the other end instead of trusting the framing square I transferred the cut line from both sides to the bottom (now top) and aligned both ends of the straight edge with that. Came out much better. I'm not happy about the sloppy end but it isn't going to affect the utility of the bench so I'm going to leave it. If it really bothers me some day I'll fix it then.

With the top trimmed to length I was able to slip in in between the water meter closet and the miter saw.

With the bench in place I was able to check the height of the bench in relation to the miter saw. Unfortunately it wasn't perfect.

That's about a 1/4 inch gap. Curious I checked to see what was level and what wasn't. Turns out the last 1/3 of my built in bench slopes downwards a little bit. That's kind of irritating because I thought I had done a better job leveling it. Regardless that explains why the miter saw can be coplanar with the built in bench but miss aligning with the new hand tool bench. I'm either going to raise the stand the bench is on, or more likely I'll just add some shims under the left side of the saw to get it to be the same height as the bench.

The other thing I did before calling it a day in the shop on Saturday was fix my drill press. It wasn't broken yet per se but it wasn't fully functional either. My drill press is a Grizzly Radial Arm drill press. What's a radial arm drill press you ask? Well, it is a drill press head that is mounted on an arm so I can change the swing distance. Interestingly since the arm is a round tube I can twist the head to drill at an angle instead of building an angled sled or tilting my table. Of course I've never done this in the 20 years I've owned it but I could if I wanted to.

The part that wasn't working was the ability to change the swing distance. There's a small plastic hand wheel on the right side of the drill head that engages a track on the bottom of the head tube (the tube the head rides on...). It wasn't turning and wasn't moving the head in an out. Instead of having a moveable fence I have a moveable drill. If I cannot move the drill head I cannot change the distance my holes are from the fence.

I sprayed a little WD40 on both ends of the T-joint that holds the head tube to the vertical column. When that didn't work I found more things I could open up to get WD40 into the mechanism. Namely the set screw that keeps the head from moving after everything is in place. That's the little red handle on the side of the T-joint in the picture below.

And then under this nut I found on the other side.

And no, I don't actually know what that nut is for. I'm sure it is something important. I'm going to have to look through my manual and see what it says.

In any case after squirting some WD40 into all the spots I could find and then twisting the head around the longitudinal axis I was able to get the little hand wheel working again. I think the twisting helped the WD40 get into whatever was binding. I also think I need to thoroughly clean to head tube and either wax it or oil it. Just another shop chore to add to my list. I need to clean the top of my table saw again too.

Anyway, with the drill press fixed I was able to start working on a drilling guide for my dog holes. The first step was to square the drill with the table. One of the downsides of this kind of drill press is that pretty much any adjustment requires squaring the drill again. To be honest, much of the time I deal with a little inaccuracy but since I am drilling a 3 inch hole through a block that will be a guide to drill 3-1/4 inch deep hole through the bench. Since there's always going to be some error just because I am drilling by hand with a guide block, I don't need to start with a guide that isn't as good as I can make it.

I took some of the leg off cuts and marked a center on the top and the bottom. After using a try square to get the drill as perpendicular as I could I drilled a test hole. It was off by a slight amount so I went back and did a better job with the square and the second one was close enough to perfect.

I used a wooden hand screw clamp to hold my block of wood while I was stilling it. With the brand new brad point bit the drilling went very easy.

I found a piece of 1/4 inch plywood in my scrap pile that will become the base for the dog hole jig. I'm going to add a fence that will ride along the front of the bench and keep the dog holes 5 inches from the front. I'll also have an indexing peg that will space all my dog holes 4 inches apart. 

I was hoping to get this jig completed yesterday and get my dog holes drilled but instead I played Dead of Winter with some friends using Tabletop Simulator - and yes, between all of us playing we have purchased multiple copies of the game. There's always more time to do woodworking, family and friends come first.

I still haven't fastened the top to the base. Hopefully sometime this week I can get the dog holes drilled, the top fastened, and the miter saw table aligned with both the New Yankee bench and my new traditional workbench. I'll still need to flatten it but that's going to be phase 2, along with the leg vise.