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Workbench Project: Done!

This winter was a fairly productive one for me because I completed two major projects:  a doll wardrobe and (drum roll, please) my new workbench.  This workbench has been a long time coming:

  • In 2002, I started planning to build a workbench.  I bought some supplies and began working on a base, but I had to turn my attention to other projects and I never came back to it.  That base was eventually scrapped.
  • In 2004, I built a fully enclosed cabinet base for a Shaker-style workbench.  I then decided I didn’t like that style of bench, so I converted the cabinet into a miter saw stand instead.
  • In 2007, I built the actual base for this bench in fits and starts while I was working on another project.
  • In 2010, I finally completed the overall bench.

Wow… eight years.  That must be a record of some sort.  There just always seemed to be some other project that was higher priority.  For the past eight years, I’ve used a sheet of plywood on some sawhorses and (more recently) my table saw outfeed table as a bench.  Both solutions were less than ideal.

My workbench does not look like a piece of fine furniture.  It’s not made out of expensive lumber, it has no inlays or decorations, and it’s not named after a long-dead Frenchman.  Instead, I built a workhorse:  stout, simple, and spacious.

Both the top and the base are solid douglas fir.  I used a knockdown  base design; the whole thing is bolted together using lag bolts.  Someday I might move; if that happens, I’ll be able to break this monster down and bring it up out of my basement.  In the picture, you can see how the base is constructed and how the top is attached.  The top stretcher sits in a bridle joint at the top of the legs and is secured with lag bolts.  The top is attached with a single lag screw in the center, which allows it to expand and contract freely.

The bench top is 24” deep, 84” long, and 3” thick.  Flattening the top with handplanes was surprisingly easy… even for a newb like me; it only took me about 90 minutes from start to finish.  I used a jack plane to knock down the high spots first.  Then I gave my jointer plane a workout by planing across the grain, then diagonally, and finally with the grain to clean things up.  I ended up with a few areas of tearout, but I didn’t spend too much time worrying about it since this is a benchtop, not a dining room table.

I decided to use 3/4” round dog holes because they are more versatile than square dog holes.  I spaced the holes 3.5” inches apart.  I used Glen Huey’s router jig method for drilling the holes:  a plunge router, a simple alignment jig, and a 3/4” upcut spiral bit are used to drill as deeply as possible. I then finished the holes off with a 3/4” spade bit.

My front vise is a Record 52 1/2ED, and my end vise is a Record 52.  I bought both of these vises back in 2002 when Record was still in business, and they’ve been languishing in their boxes ever since.  It felt great to finally get them bolted to a benchtop.

Even though it was a lot of hard work and heavy lifting, I’m glad I built my own bench.  I enjoy working on it just a little bit more knowing that I built it myself… and I guess that’s something you can’t put a price on.

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Doll Wardrobe Project: Done!

It was a lot of work, but I completed the doll wardrobe in the (Saint) nick of time:  I finished applying the final coat of clear coat around 11:00pm on December 22.  Here’s a summary of my finishing process:

  1. Take the doors off the carcase and remove all hardware.
  2. Fill all imperfections and nail holes.  I used a combination of wood filler and light spackle for this job.
  3. Sand down the entire piece until the surface is smooth.
  4. Prime the entire piece.  I used Kilz 2 for this step and it worked great.
  5. Guess what?  More sanding.  Sand down the primed surfaces until they’re smooth again.
  6. Spot prime any areas where you might have sanded through.
  7. Apply two coats of “buttercream” paint to the interior of the carcase and the drawer bins.
  8. Apply two coats “sage green” paint to the exterior of the carcase and doors.
  9. Apply three coats of Minwax Polyacrylic.  You should always use a water-based finish over paint since it dries crystal clear.
  10. Reattach the doors and the hardware.

Painting a piece of furniture is a lot of work, but I think it was worth it in this case because the finish looks great.  This project was a lot of fun to build, and I’m glad to have it out of the shop and in its permanent home.

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I finally finished construction on the doll wardrobe project.  All the woodworking is complete, so now I just have to prime, paint, and clear coat the whole piece.  I am going to paint the interior a cream color and the exterior a sage green.  I have a week and a half left before Christmas to complete the finishing process, so wish me luck… it’s going to be tight.

In my original plan, I had the wardrobe raised up on a base which was supposed to be about four inches high.  I ended up eliminating the base because it made the whole piece too tall.  I want this piece to double as a nightstand next to my daughter’s bed, and raising it another four inches is a bit too tall for that purpose, and I was worried that she would roll over in the middle of the night and hit her head on it.  Without the base, this guy is the perfect height for a nightstand next to her bed, and now it can also be placed up on a dresser or table if she ever decides to repurpose it when she gets older.  So, I guess in this case, function won out over form.

This main carcase is birch plywood and is joined using rabbets and dados.  I used 1/4 inch thick solid poplar to cover all the plywood edges.  I also trimmed out the sides and back using 1/4 inch thick poplar.  The doors are poplar frames joined with stub tenons and 1/4 inch thick birch plywood panels.  If you look real close you can see two empty holes drilled up at the top where the doors meet the case when closed.  I have a couple of rare earth magnets that will go in those holes to hold the doors shut after the carcase is painted.

The interior has two removable rods for hanging doll clothes and three bins for storing other loose items.  The bins are hard maple joined together with rabbets reinforced with a couple of brads.  The bottoms of the bins are 1/4 inch thick birch plywood trapped in dados cut into the four sides.

I’ll have one more post on this project once the finish is on so stay tuned!  Once this project is done, I should have time to record a new episode of the podcast. 🙂

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I’ve been busy lately working on the doll wardrobe project.  As I discussed in Episode 52, this project is a wardrobe designed to hold the clothes and accessories for my daughter’s American Girl doll.  It’s going to be a Christmas present and I’ve still got a lot of work to do.

A quick peek at my sketchbook will give you a frame of reference on what the finished piece will look like.  (Yes, that’s the extent of my artistic abilities… stop laughing.)  The finished piece will be approximately 28 3/4” tall and it will double as a nightstand next to my daughter’s bed.  The three main subassemblies are the top, the main carcass, and the base.  The main carcass will have two frame-and-panel doors.  Inside it will have three cubbies on the left-hand side for removable drawers to store loose items and two rods on the right-hand side for hanging clothes.  The main carcass will be attached to a base with moldings that run around the entire piece, and I’ll attach a top with a slight overhang.  I’m planning to paint this piece: sage green for the exterior and a cream color for the interior.

This afternoon I completed construction of the main carcass.  I’m trying to keep this project inexpensive, so I built the main carcass with some Home Depot birch plywood that was taking up space on my lumber rack.  The box itself is built with 3/4” ply and joined together using rabbets.  The vertical and horizontal dividers are made with 1/2” ply and are joined to the box with stopped dados (they are set back about 3/4” from the front edge).  The back is also 1/2” ply which sits inside a rabbet cut into all four edges of the box.  The back itself isn’t permanently attached yet; I want to remove it to make painting the interior a little easier.  I edged out all the plywood with 1/4” thick poplar.

The glue-up process for this guy was a complete nightmare.  No matter what I did, I could not stop this cheap plywood from warping and twisting.  I broke the glue-up process down into five separate sub-assemblies and I glued them together one step at a time.  In the end I managed to wrestle the plywood into submission.

I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how I wanted to attach the dowel rods in the right-hand side.  In the end, I fabricated some wooden brackets (made from some soft maple in my scrap bin) that are glued to the plywood.  The dowel rods can be easily removed if they get damaged or if my daughter decides to repurpose this piece later.

The next step is to prime, paint, and clear coat the interior while I get started on building the base.  After that, I still need to build three drawers, two doors, a top, trim out the main carcass, and prime, paint, and clear coat the exterior.  Yikes, I better get back to work.

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Sometimes you do whatever it takes to keep a project flat and square during a glue-up.

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Adjustable Dado Jig

As I discussed in Episode 52, I’m currently building a doll wardrobe as a Christmas present for my daughter.  I’m using 3/4” birch plywood for the main carcass, and 1/2” birch plywood for the interior dividers.  The interior dividers will be housed in stopped dados.

My original plan was to use a plywood-sized router bit and an edge guide to cut the stopped dados.  Unfortunately, my test cuts showed that even my plywood bits provided a very loose fit for my 1/2” plywood.  My fallback in situations like this is usually a dado stack on the table saw, but that doesn’t work in this case because the dados are stopped.  I had to find another alternative.

A quick Google search and a few hours in the shop provided me with the perfect solution:  an adjustable dado jig.

This jig allows me to cut perfect-fitting dados for any work-piece using only a handheld router and a 3/8” straight bit.  The jig has three basic components:  A fence to register the jig against the work-piece, a fixed router support, and an adjustable router support.

Using the jig is really easy.  First, take the work-piece that you need to fit into a dado and place it between the two router supports.  Move the adjustable half until the work-piece is held snugly in the jig and tighten down the wing-nuts.  Now place the jig on the board that you plan to cut the dado in and clamp it down.  The fence holds the jig square to the board.  On my jig, I drew a square on the fence that is calibrated to be precisely perpendicular.  Now you’re ready to cut the dado.  Notice the runners on both sides of the jig.  Run the router along one runner and then back along the other runner.  This gives you a dado that will fit your work-piece exactly.

There are two important facts to note.  First, notice the arrows that I have drawn on the fixed router support.  I have a corresponding arrow drawn on my router base.  When using this jig, the arrow on my router must always point at the runner with the arrows drawn on it.  This ensures that the router is used in the same orientation every time, which eliminates any slop that might be introduced by a router bit that is not exactly centered in the router base.  Second, this jig is calibrated to work with one specific router bit.  In my case, that’s a 3/8” straight bit.  That bit must always be used.

This jig is by no means original.  You can find plans for similar jigs all over the internet.  It’s a handy tool to have in your arsenal, though, and it’s an elegant solution to a tricky problem.

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In this episode, I give an overview of the holiday projects I currently have going in my shop, I explain my plan to control the avalanche of woodworking magazine back issues that are filling my house, and I introduce a new mailbag segment where I answer listeners questions.

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