Kitchen Organization

This post is a round up of small kitchen organization projects, inspired by a few recently completed ones, but including some projects from years ago.

Organize a Bottom Freezer

This one isn’t very interesting as a woodworking project, but might be interesting to people looking for a solution to the problem of organizing a bottom freezer. Our old refrigerator had a top freezer, and I had containers in the door, labeled on the side, and shelves in the freezer space. The new freezer has a big open cavity and a sliding top drawer. How could I use this space effectively? When I looked around online for ideas on freezer organization, I didn’t see anything that looked both effective and efficient.

For the sliding top drawer, my solution is to use these air-tight containers that can be turned sideways and labeled on their sides.
For labeling I find that the Pentel Wet Erase Chalk Marker works well. It resists water, but can be washed off of smooth surfaces easily when desired (though it mysteriously does not come off in the dishwasher). The only problem is that these particular containers have a rough area on the side, from which the pen does not clean off.

For organizing the bottom some people put things in containers, but this wastes scarce freezer space. I made wooden dividers to partition the big, open space into sections sized to quart freezer bags.


The left side is divided into six spaces. The right side is divided into four larger spaces.


I cut these dividers from quarter inch plywood using my band saw, but a jigsaw would work too. There is no need to finish them.  Observe how the dividers fit into the gap in the freezer frame at the far right and left sides.


These are the dividers for the right side. The top one is cut to match the slope of the back send of the freezer. The lower piece, which runs left to right when assembled, has a small notch to fit onto the plastic divider that came with the freezer.


Measuring Cups & Spoons

We have a lot of measuring cups and spoons. Some of them hang on hooks from holes in the handles, but we had a plastic set with no hang holes that I hung using magnets. The nice thing about the magnets was that it was very easy to hang them or grab them. The troublesome thing was that adhering magnets to the polyethylene measuring cups required an expensive adhesive and they would eventually fall off. I got new stainless steel measuring cups and their different shape and increased weight made the magnets a more troublesome solution. So I came up with this approach that exploits the little tabs on the ends of the cups. (However the one cup measure has no tab and requires a little support bar underneath.)


This measuring cup rack is angled 45 degrees to the wall. It might be slightly easier to use if it was a bit closer to horizontal.

I attempted to drill the large holes using an expansive auger bit. These tools seem to be plentiful on ebay but they  don’t seem to work. (Why did they make so many if the tools didn’t work?)  In each case the center hole cut by the lead screw would grow until the bit could wobble around in the hole with nothing guiding the cut. The deepest I could cut was about 3/16″ before it became impossible to make further progress. I had to cut out the centers with a coping saw and finish the edges with a drawknife. With a drill press and a circle cutter this job would be easy, in theory, but when I equipped my drill press with this unbalanced cutter the lateral forces caused the chuck to fall off.  The chuck continued to fall off periodically after that, until I learned the trick of freezing the arbor.

I marked the sizes using punches and then inking them with pens.  Curiously some pens, like the Pigma Micron, seem to be ruined by writing on wood.  They never started writing again after I used them for this job.

For years we hung the other measuring cups on a store bought rack, which really didn’t work well. The hooks would fall off, and it wasn’t well organized. So to go with the rack above I made a rack with designated hooks:


For the measuring spoons I made this rack by attaching veneer to a square foot sheet of plywood:

Pen and Paper on the Fridge


We need pen and paper available at the fridge. To make a pen holder I started with a small scrap of cherry.  I used the router to cut out a recess in the block of wood and I installed some magnets on the back.  If I was going to make one of these today, I’d probably glue together two layers to avoid using the router.

To hold paper we used a plastic rack for many years, but its weak magnets resulted in frequent trips to the floor, and it eventually cracked beyond repair.  I made a much nicer wooden replacement from quarter sawn cherry I had left over from the file cabinet.

Now we just need to figure out how to keep people from walking off with the pens.


Room for four pens.


Five quarter inch rare earth magnets keep this firmly in place on the refrigerator.


Look at the fantastic quarter sawn fleck figure.


This needed to be thicker than the pen holder. I made it from several pieces rather than hollowing it out by router. It is also much newer than the pen holder. Is the lighter color due to fewer years of darkening? Or is it a lighter colored tree?


Next time I think I would use a smaller number of larger magnets. But this holds securely even on the slightly curved surface of our new refrigerator.

Hanging Utensils on the Wall

We bought a rack for hanging utensils on the wall, but then we ran out of room. So I made a pegboard out of oak. I built it using frame and panel construction with oak plywood for the panel. I used a piece of pegboard to guide the drilling of the holes in the oak plywood.


The Talon pegboard hooks hold utensils well, though I did have to clip off some of them with wire cutters to get a good fit for some items.


From the front the oak frame blends in with the cabinet. The non-woodworkers don’t notice the change in grain.


Cooling Rack

For mounting cooling racks I made magnetic bars by setting 1/8″ thick half-inch rare earth magnets into 1/4″ thick wooden bars. The magnets hold the bar onto the fridge and also hold the steel cooling racks. They worked well—until we switched to a stainless steel rack that was only barely magnetic. Each of the three bars could hold its own steel cooling rack, but all three bars together barely keep the stainless one on the fridge.  A better design would probably make use of hooks instead of magnets to hold the stainless steel racks.


Three bars with magnets embedded in them.


Barely holding up a stainless cooling rack.

Draining rack by the sink—fail

We have the dish soap and hand soap by the sink and that area stays constantly wet, leading to mold. I tried building a draining rack to improve this situation. I used the router to cut grooves in a piece of ipe.  (I think I killed the router bit.) Underneath the groves are perpendicular so water drains all the way through.  The first problem was that the wood stayed wet underneath.  I discovered that tiny insects had taken up residence.   To correct this problem I raised the wood up off the counter on rubber feet.  This got rid of the bugs, but I now have brown staining coming from the wood.  It seems that wood is not the right material for this application.


Draining soap rack made from ipe.



Rack in use.



Utilitarian Cabinet


This project is a utility cabinet to hold paper and related tools, with a space for the rotary trimmer on top. It seemed like a good opportunity to use up 1.5 sheets of walnut plywood that I bought years ago for a project that got canceled. I also had a walnut board I had bought to use for edging, and some iron-on walnut veneer tape. Of course, the first thing I had to do was hit the lumberyard for three more sheets of plywood and another chunk of walnut. But the plywood I needed to buy was Baltic birch for interior structure.dsc07887_sm

In addition to storing standard sheets of letter size paper, I wanted storage for stacks of over-sized paper, large sheets of Japanese paper that are rolled onto tubes, and assorted bottles of glue and paint.  To do this I decided to put racks on the door. I threw in some drawers because I figured they would be useful.  One odd design element was two skinny cubbies on the left, which are there so that you can open the drawers without having to open the door more than 90 degrees.


The drawers can open when the doors are only open ninety degrees. A friend gave me some leftover quarter sawn sycamore for the left hand rack. I used the some maple scraps for the right hand rack.

For hardware I wanted to give knife hinges a try because I’ve always liked their elegant, minimalist look.  I decided to use rare earth magnets to hold the door closed, with a magnet on the bottom edge of the door and another one in the case.  This would be elegant and unobtrusive.  However, experimentation with this idea suggested that the magnets weren’t strong enough, so I did a direct and inelegant magnet-to-metal closure. Even this seems surprisingly weak: it holds the door closed but it won’t pull it closed. It seems like my kitchen cabinets close more strongly with weaker magnets.  Note also the layout of the drawer pulls:  I placed them all the same distance from the bottom edge of the drawer, which looks a bit odd if you view the cabinet from directly in front, but it looks right when you see the cabinet from a normal viewing angle, where the top of the top drawer is hidden by the cabinet’s case.


This door rack was meant to hold all the bottles. I had a lot of trouble figuring out the right dimensions. What can I put in the tiny shelf in the middle that is empty right now? Another observation is that the rack is full already.


This rack holds tubes with oversized sheets of paper. Plenty of room remains for expansion on this side.


The top provides plenty of space for using the paper trimmer.


The back of the cabinet is finished. This required a lot of extra work. Did it make sense, given that I’m planning to put the cabinet against a wall?

Construction Notes

It’s been a while since I made a piece of furniture out of plywood. I think it will be a long while before I do it again. Plywood and solid wood each call for different tools and impose different design constraints.  I’m not set up for plywood.  I cut my parts with a circular saw and some of the cuts weren’t perfect. Truing up edges of plywood with a hand plane is not a pleasant task. I realized one of the reasons for frame and panel construction beyond dealing with wood movement: all four sides of the panel are (mostly) side grain, which is easily planed.

I decided to join the case together using dowel joinery, so I made a jig by drilling holes in a scrap of wood with the drill press and tried to fit a test joint together. It required huge clamping forces to close the joint and it would pop back open the moment I removed the clamps. I figured the holes must be slightly crooked due to slop from using a wooden jig, so I bought metal bushings and tried again, but I couldn’t get that to work either. I gave up and bought an expensive commercial jig, which worked fine; the need for that extra jig was kind of annoying because I don’t anticipate doing a lot of dowel joinery in the future. (What could I have done instead?)

Another problem I didn’t notice soon enough is that all of the plywood was warped. Once the joints were cut and I fit the case together I noticed that the sides bowed out and the bottom bowed up. I tried to force the bottom flat by gluing a stiffening piece of solid wood on the underside, but my piece of wood was only 1.5″ thick, which was evidently too wimpy to help. When I glued in the dividers I used clamps to force the sides flat. This process was successful. However, I neglected to pay attention to the top, which had previously been the only flat part of the case. Forcing the sides flat caused the top to bow upwards, so the top is not flat.  If I’d been paying attention I could have corrected this before the glue dried.  With solid wood I could plane the top flat but not with plywood. So I’m stuck. It seems like the solution to this problem is to assume that every piece of plywood will be warped and to build into the design some sort of straightening element.

I chose a mitered edging for the doors and I realized a disadvantage of mitered edging: the nice corners of the miter get messed up if you have to plane the door to fit. Of course, the doors turned out to be warped as well. I hoped that attaching the racks would help hold them flat, and I think it did help, but they remain slightly curved, which complicated the fitting of the knife hinges.  I tried to tune the fit of the doors in the opening by shimming the hinges, but this shifted the hinges out of alignment with each other.  They got harder to turn and I found that brass was wearing off into the hinge joint.  I’m hoping that brass will wear until the hinges work smoothly. The warped plywood also created mismatches where the doors met each other. At the bottom the right door sticks out from the case. I tried to conceal this by rounding off the edge of the door. At the top the doors don’t meet. I couldn’t think of anything extra to do that would actually make this look better. At least I was able to get a small, uniform gap between the two doors.


Note the mismatch of the doors at the top. I think this occurred because of the warped case. Efforts to shim the hinges didn’t fix it.


A modest roundover and slight shaping actually hides this problem rather well.


The right hand door sticks out from the case it looks pretty bad.


I worked the edge extensively with a plane and spokeshave to make the doors meet, and the result is surprisingly good. A casual observer doesn’t notice anything amiss.

I made the space for the drawers 18″ deep, but I realized belatedly that once the drawer front was taken into account, a full 18″ long drawer slide might not fit. Fortunately some manufacturers’ slides are 450 mm (17.7″) instead, but this limited my options. I wanted overtravel because the drawers would be underneath a 4.5 inch overhang. Accuride tech support insisted that for twenty inch wide drawers I needed to use their premium slide (7434) because of concerns about racking even though the weights would be very small. The cheaper one is explicitly listed only for drawers less than 16″ wide. I wonder if this is really necessary? Luck was with me and I was able to find exactly the slides I needed on ebay for half price.


The drawer slides cover the dowel pins, but one is visible on the top drawer.

Because the cabinet is utilitarian, and because the drawers are hidden inside, I made the drawers entirely out of Baltic birch plywood. I cut the drawer fronts so that the grain runs continuously across all four drawers, but the grain of the Baltic birch is so mild it’s hard to notice. I made the drawers with rabbets in the front, which I cut on the router table, and I pinned all four joints with quarter inch dowels. Even so, the drawers did not come out perfectly square and true. The process of fitting the drawer slides was long and tedious. I discovered that at least in one case, the reveals changed when the drawer was loaded. It seems like fitting solid wood drawers is a simpler and less frustrating process. (When I installed metal drawer slides in the file cabinet I also found it difficult and time consuming.) I had thought about using an applied front, but wasn’t sure how I could hold them in place accurately enough and long enough to screw them on. I think the applied front is the way to go when dealing with these slides. Maybe three minute epoxy is the answer.


Note the gap between the cabinet wall and the top and bottom shelf. The center fixed shelf has no gap.

I bought some inexpensive shelf support sleeves and pins, thinking that the pins would slip neatly and snugly into the sleeves. It seems that the hardware makers have a different concept: the pins sit loosely in the sleeves. This is not satisfying. Brusso makes expensive solid brass pins and sleeves that I might try in the future, but they seemed too expensive for this project, especially considering that I wanted to have shelf holes every 3/4 inch for fine adjustment of the shelves. I selected some L-shaped brackets. They fit well in their 1/4″ holes, but I don’t really like these either because they force you to leave a larger gap at the end of the shelf. The handles I selected taught me another hardware lesson.  They look good, but they are hard to use because you have to bend down to reach the graspable part of the handle. Even my short kids have complained about this!

I edged all of the shelves with the iron-on walnut veneer edging. This stuff is easy to apply, but trying to get a nice finished result seems difficult unless you like sharp corners on the edge of your work. As I sanded I would start to sand away the edge of the walnut and expose the edge of the top layer of veneer underneath. It’s a good thing the Baltic birch has very thick veneer layers, or I probably would have exposed more than one. I don’t think I’ll use this type of edging material again because of this. Another sanding difficulty was that I found it remarkably easy to sand through the walnut veneer on the plywood, and difficult to notice that I had done so until much later. Advice on fixing this problem involves coloring the wood with pencils or something like that. I must not have the right pencils, because when I tried that it just looked worse. After I realized the dangers I felt very nervous about sanding. Should I just leave that defect in the wood because it’ll look even worse if I sand through the veneer?

I  learned many things with this project, and despite the various problem I have identified above, the cabinet looks decent in the same room with the walnut coffee table, and it meets the goal of being utilitarian—it works.


Roorkhee Chair v. 2


My original Roorkhee chair was comfortable, but it was very low to the ground and deeply reclined. I prefer a more erect seating style, and thought I might raise the chair and make it less tilted. This proved to be considerably more difficult than I anticipated. It was easy enough to test the effect of taller legs by putting the first one up on blocks, but what happens if I decrease the seat tilt? I made some new back legs in pine with holes in different spots for testing and I found that raising up the back to make the seat more level wasn’t enough by itself. It wasn’t comfortable like that. It needed some other changes like a decrease in seat depth. I didn’t have a good way to prototype that. Decreasing the seat depth also leads to decreasing the width (if you want to keep the frame square to avoid complicating the assembly) and it’s not clear that would be a good thing.  In addition it seemed like the location of the pivot point for the back rest needed to change.  What seemed like a small change to the design turned out instead to requires global alterations.  So I gave up and made a chair whose seat is farther from the ground, but with no other changes.


Another change with version two was the choice of leather. For the first one I used discount leather. That leather was too stretchy, especially for the arms. So this time I took a look at leather from Wickett & Craig, which Schwarz had used in some of his later chairs. Schwarz used the Oiled Latigo, but when I looked at the samples, all of the oiled Latigo leathers were almost black. I ended up choosing the English Bridle leather which is apparently the same leather, not oiled. The Latigo comes in a 6-8 oz thickness but the English Bridle is not split, meaning the leather comes off the cow the thickness it is. I could have paid an extra $1.10 per square foot to have it split and re-dyed, but decided to go ahead and use it as it came in a 8-10 oz weight.

One problem with the original Roorkhee was the narrow width of the arms. I noticed that I would try to rest my arms on the arm rests and they would fall off, so I corrected that in this version with arms that are wider.


The wider arm rest is definitely an improvement.

For the first chair I cut the leather and put it on the chair. But I subsequently learned about finishing the edges, which definitely produces a much nicer look. To do this I first beveled the edges with a leather edge beveling tool. Then I applied burnishing compound and burnished the leather vigorously with a leather burnishing tool. Finally I applied edge finish to the burnished edges.


The top edge is rounded and smooth after burnishing and edge painting.


The roundover on the front edges was intended to make the backrest more comfortable, though the leather is so stiff that it may not matter in this case.

For this chair I made the legs from canarywood scraps I had on hand—the only 8/4 material I had enough of. The wood is pretty, but I think it is harder than the ideal for hand powered reaming. (It is a good bit harder than hard maple.) I had more trouble cutting the mortises than on the first chair, and the finished joints were worse. I used maple dowels, and I ended up making the back supports out of some bland apple sapwood. From sitting in the original chair I had noticed that my shoulders and back would rub uncomfortably on the edges of the backrest supports, so for this version I was careful to give them a big roundover, though in the end it may not have mattered so much because of the heavy weight of the leather.

Here you can see the process of folding over the leather of the back rest. On the first chair, this part of the project was a little irregular, so I took more care this time, making measurements, keeping everything parallel, and clamping the pieces together before making the holes for the rivets. As it turns out, this particular measurement produced a very snug fit with the stiff leather I was using.


I determined the fold for the seat back by clamping the rail flush with the edge and folding the leather over for a snug fit. I marked the fold, removed the rail, and then clamped the leather down to punch the rivet holes.

The original design calls for square legs with a turned recess near the top and a turned taper towards the feet.  Schwarz implies that the turned recess at the top is important because it gives you a place to grip the chair.  My first one didn’t have this.  For the second one I cut an octagonal recess.  In order to do this I made a series of parallel crosscuts with the bandsaw and then cracked out the waste.   This produces a rough square recessed area.  Then I smoothed it out with the router plane, chair2_sm and then I marked out the proper edges and used rasps to remove the corners to transform the square into an octagon. The result looks pretty good, but in the end, the only function it serves is that it gives a space for the leather that is wrapped across the backrest to go when the backrest tilts.  I never grab the chair by these “handholds” because the frame just twists.  If I do another chair I think I might just make a single shallow cutout on the inside of the back legs for the leather and skip the rest of them.

Unlike the recess in the middle of the leg, the taper to the feet is simple to do without a lathe. I started by marking the octagon on the bottom of the leg and choosing the length of the taper to be 10.5 inches. Hand planes quickly removed the corners of the legs up to the octagon’s edges, leaving the shape shown below.
legtaper1Next I measured from one triangular facet to the opposite facet to find the spot where the thickness was equal to the 1.75 inch thickness of my leg stock. This is the right spot to start tapering the legs to get a regular octagonal cross section. I marked this starting line and then tapered down to the octagon’s boundary marked on the foot, finally obtaining the completed tapered octagon:

legtaper2When I picked 10.5 inches I figured vaguely that the length of the taper on the square sides would be a bit smaller, perhaps by a factor like the square root of two. But working out the correct formula would have revealed that if I tapered the corners 10.5 inches I would only get a taper on the faces that went up about 4.25 inches. If I do this again I’ll run the taper up much higher. The length of the taper on the flat side is (ST)d / (S2T) where S is the thickness of the full leg, T is the desired thickness at the tapered end, and d is the length of the taper on the corner of the leg stock.

chair3_smSo how does this chair work? Alas, it is not as comfortable as the first chair. One observation I made after sitting in the first chair for a while was that the way I constructed the seat, which seemed initially like an unfortunate mistake, was actually a fortuitous move. The seat came out considerably looser than I had intended, and this made the seat more comfortable by giving it mobility. I was careful to model this second chair after than one in that respect.  (I marked a line eleven inches from each edge and folded the leather to that line.)  However, the stiffer leather makes the back of the chair less comfortable. With the softer leather, the bottom part of the back rest conforms to my lower back and seems to give a remarkably comfortable support to the lower back. With this stiffer leather, the bottom of the backrest is simply too close to the seat and it pokes me on the butt without conforming at all.  This isn’t so comfortable. After giving the chair more use I may try trimming off a few inches from the bottom of the seat.

chair5_smBut if I do that I’ll need to solve another problem first. Often when one leaves the chair the back ends up in a strange position. I have tried various schemes to stop this from happening. A perhaps related problem is the propensity of the bolts holding the back on to loosen themselves. I tried to solve these problems by inserting a lock nut under the wing nut, by using a wing nut and a thumbscrew, by inserting leather washers to increase friction, and by inserting Belleville spring washers to try to create tension that keeps everything together. None of these things worked—it always unscrews itself with use. If I remove leather from the bottom of the seat I’ll be taking more weight from the bottom and I’ll create an imbalance that will be even more troublesome. The only solution I can see is to add weights to the bottom of the seat supports, though that still doesn’t address the problem of the chair unscrewing itself.


The backrest connected using a wingnut and a brass thumbscrew in an unsuccessful attempt to create a locknut combination that would keep the chair from unscrewing itself.

Coffee Table: Finished

dsc02264_smThe table is finally finished.  The finishing process dragged on for an eternity, with lots of glitches and complications.   I filled the pores on the table top using Crystalac Wood Grain Filler.  I found this product to be extremely difficult to use.  Sanding with anything coarser than P600 would pull it out of the pores, but the P600 would clog in 10 seconds.  I ended up finding that a gentle sanding with abranet would work well, but I went through the abranet at a distressing rate.  In the end, I have some areas where the pores aren’t entirely filled, and the filler created some blotching.


I guess you’d call this the front view. Normally this side faces the couch for ready access to the little drawers.


Each end of the table has a drawer under the tabletop, which overhangs nine inches. Some of my mahogany was lighter and some was darker: I used a lighter colored mahogany board for the drawer front and framed it with the darker material.


The drawer on the end holds the small card games. I added a divider insert to keep things organized. Note how the curve of the handle echoes the curve of the tabletop.


The table top is book matched “marbled” claro walnut. Look up at the previous picture to see the end grain, which also has an interesting swirling pattern.


This view shows how I curved the end of the table and the edge. I started cutting the profiles with a flat spokeshave, but found it tricky to get an even curve, so I switched to a roundover plane.


The little drawers below the shelf have small claro walnut handles that echo the shape of the tabletop.


The top drawer has a divider to create the pen and paper storage areas.


Here you can see the top drawer loaded up. We haven’t figured out what to put in the bottom one yet.


In this side view you can see how the handle is flat on top but cut at an angle underneath. This works very well and definitely makes the drawers easier to open and close. You can see the joinery here with the half-tail at the bottom to capture the drawer bottom.


The large drawer also uses the sloped underside on the handle, but here the center mount slide requires a large space below the drawer bottom, so the dovetails have a half-pin at the bottom.


From the side you can see the curve of the handle and the marbling of the claro walnut.

I’ve been calling this a “coffee table” but at 24 inches tall it’s not designed like a conventional coffee table. The prototype plywood on boxes was really starting to sag with a pronounced tilt to one side, so the family was jubilant when we could finally use the new table. Happily the design appears sound and it has been working well for game playing.


Here is the table with Ticket to Ride Team Asia underway. I used Ticket to Ride to determine the required width of the table.

Twisted Dovetail Box

dsc02554_sm dsc02567_smdsc02568_smI’ve been intrigued by the twisted dovetail joint, also known as nejiri arigata.   This joint looks impossible to assemble because it appears locked in both directions.  The secret is that it assembles diagonally.   I needed a small trash can for tissues and decided that this gave me the opportunity to try out the joint.  Here are the before and after pictures showing the cardboard box version adorning a mahogany writing desk, and the wooden replacement:





To make this box I selected some apple wood I had lying around from when our apple tree fell down.  I picked out all the interesting pieces—I’m not sure what I’ll do with the rest.  The next challenge was to learn how to lay out this joint.   Not like this


Everything looked spacious on the edge, but when the lines are carried down the sides that middle section is less than 1/16 inch wide.

I don’t have a chisel narrow enough to cut out that center bit.  It took me a while to learn a method for laying this out, and nobody seems to have written about this in much detail.  First of all, the joint is more like a twisted finger joint than a twisted dovetail.  I guess “twisted finger joint” doesn’t have the same ring as “twisted dovetail.”  The two halves are made the same way.  I set my bevel gauge to a fairly steep angle (12°) to give a well defined slant and marked out along the edge.  Then using the same angle I marked along the surface that is going to go outside the joint:

dsc02092_smThe important thing to note is that you always choose the angle of the cut to make a sharp pointy corner.  I think about it as changing the direction of the line that I’m extending from the top edge.  Next I mark the inside of the joint:

dsc02083_smOn the inside the lines make an obtuse angle.   I think about this as continuing the line in the same direction as the line I’m extending from the top edge.    So here is one side of the joint cut:


First half of joint viewed from the inside corner.


First half of the joint viewed from the outside corner.

To lay out the second half of the joint I mark the first half by lining them up like this.  I would say this is easier than transferring a normal dovetail joint.

dsc02121_smAfter marking the second half this way I extend the joint exactly the same way as for the first half.  The only difference between the two halves is which part is marked for removal.  The finished joint looks like this:


Second half of the joint viewed from the inside corner.


Second half of the joint viewed from the outside corner.

Perhaps you’re wondering how it all goes together.  If you carefully look at the pictures from the inside corner of the two halves you may be able to see how it works.  The joint slides together on a 45 degree angle and when viewed from the inside corner the parts line up like finger joints.  Here it is partly assembled.

dsc02097_smHere are a few observations about this joint.  It doesn’t lock together the same way a dovetail joint does.  Many of the sockets, due to their slope, tend to be trying to force the joint apart even while you’re trying to fit it together.  This is different from a dovetail where the side walls are straight.  When the joint is too tight it goes together like this:

dsc02108_smI think this joint locks less well than dovetails, so it’s probably weaker.  I found it necessary to use clamps during glue-up to ensure that the joint was actually all the way together.  With dovetails, clamps aren’t usually needed, except possibly to coax the joint shut.  When the joint didn’t fit I had a harder time figuring out why than with dovetails.  In the end I think that a non-woodworker probably won’t notice the difference between this joint and a dovetail joint, so it’s probably the sort of thing one does just to impress and puzzle other people in the craft who wonder how it went together.  In other words:  this joint is not worth the trouble.   Another lesson learned: don’t use dark colored glue.  Note that the glue wicked up the end grain and left lines that couldn’t be planed away.

Roorkhee Chair

When Christopher Schwarz started talking up the Roorkhee chair I was intrigued because the project looked so easy.  Why not give it a try?  It would supply a use for some of the mahogany scraps left over from my table.  After completing the table and moving it out of the shop I started tidying up, and ran across those scraps.  In the blink of an eye the joinery for the chair was complete.  (Meanwhile the finishing of the table was proceeding at a glacial pace in the other room and wasn’t even half done.)

roorkhee2_sm roorkhee1_sm

Schwarz says that this project is very forgiving, and I have to agree.  A variety of things went wrong, and yet the chair still works fine.  This chair requires tapered mortise and tenon joints.  The tapered mortise and tenon is  new to me and is nice because the joint wedges together and is remarkably tight without glue.  I made a paper towel holder for the shop to test the joint and the requisite special tools, a reamer and giant pencil sharpener.  These tools enabled me to quickly and easily cut the joint.  Or not so easily.  My wrist got tired of spinning the tenon cutter on the hard maple dowels.  As I was finishing up the last one my eyes fell to the instructions sheet which read, “As supplied, the cutting edge is adequate for rough work in most woods; however, accuracy and surface finish will be improved with additional sharpening.”

After cutting the tenons I made the mortises by drilling a hole (which I did on the drill press) and then tapering it with the reamer.  Schwarz has a video where he shows how to test that your mortise is square using one of the rails you have cut, and how to correct when it’s not.  I carefully followed this method.  Once everything was done and I was assembling the chair I discovered that the tenons weren’t straight.  So in fact my test that the mortises were square was no good, and instead had encouraged me to produce crooked mortises.  Despite this problem, the chair works.

The challenge in making this chair is the leather work. The Popular Woodworking article gives detailed drawings for the woodworking part of this project, but is vague about the leather work. Advice is lacking on how to fit the leather parts to the structure. Schwarz has also simplified the design since he wrote the article, eliminating two straps that are screwed to the legs and substituting a pair of buckles on the wide strap that runs from side to side behind the front rail. In doing the leather work I had trouble cutting the leather the right length. The seat sags. When I made the aforementioned wide strap it was about a foot too long. I kept having to cut the buckle part longer and add more holes. When I made the back rest, I made one side a bit too tight, so you have to force the wooden rail in. Despite all of these problems, the chair works great and is remarkably comfortable: a very forgiving project indeed.

Another gotcha is the choice of leather. I used leather from Brettuns Village because it was cheap and Schwarz mentioned them. Brettuns Village is a leather discounter that gets random shipments from tanneries. The leather I selected was the only one in stock at the time that appeared suitable: it was 6 oz leather available in a “side”—that’s half a cow. I suspect, however, that this leather might be a bit stretchier than the ideal. And it also has a surface that is very easily marked by the lightest touch or scratch. The article gives no advice at all on how to lay out the leather pieces on the side of leather. It seems that leather does have a grain direction and in principle you should line up parts along the grain, which means parallel to the back of the animal. And you should avoid the belly area, which is weaker and more stretchy, and use the area along the back for parts that need to be strong. The leather arm rests are remarkably comfortable because they give a little and can twist and flex. But even though I tried to make the arm rests as tight as possible, you can see in the picture that they are sagging quite a bit. Perhaps I need to try making them from a double layer like Schwarz does in his later chairs. I asked Schwarz about choice of leather and the answer that emerged was that you can’t judge the leather by its weight. Despite being thick, it could be too stretchy or too soft. Instead, ask the leather vendor if the leather is suitable.

Schwarz warns on a blog post that if you don’t use straight grained dowels for the rails they may split.  He said only 10% of the dowels at the home store were straight grained enough.  I ordered mine from McMaster and found that all of them were nice and straight grained.

An interesting property of this chair is that the frame is not rigid and none of the joints are glued, so it can shift and flex. You don’t notice this when sitting in it, but if you pick it up, the structure moves. As a result, the structure can shift to accommodate uneven ground. Even with one leg a couple inches off the ground, all four legs rest solidly on the floor.


No wobbling on uneven terrain: all four legs stay on the ground.

This chair, as designed, is low to the ground. My next one will have longer legs. This chair also has the seat tipped backwards more than I’m comfortable with. I’ll make my next one closer to flat. I wonder if it would work to make a chair with two configurations, a more reclined option and a more level one. In the published design, the chair has handholds turned into the legs near the top. I figured I could dispense with these, since they were a complication to make with no lathe. However, I noticed that without them, the leather on the back rubs against the leg. These spaces provide clearance for the leather on the seat back when the back of the chair tips down. A problem not mentioned in the article is that the chair tends to unscrew itself in use. I asked Schwarz what he does about this problem and he said he puts in a square nut to jam against the wing nut. Why square? Because square nuts are earlier historically—not something I care about. I wonder, though, having deployed hex nuts, if the square ones would be easier to jam tightly without tools. I have trouble holding onto the hex nut.


Display Case

When we came back from Italy with several (expensive) pieces of glass work from Venice,  I wanted a way to display the pieces that would show them off, but make it hard to get to them so they would be safe.  (We have two or three glass snails that each have an antenna broken off.)  I pondered designs using glass or acrylic and finally came up with this one.    dsc01061_smTo make this I used a 12″ square piece of acrylic.  I bent it three times using a heating element designed for bending plastic. (This thing has doubled in price since I bought it!)  I originally had a fancier design with a sloped surface, but when I bent it I discovered that the bend is opaque, and my design blocked the view of the figures.  So I got another piece of plastic and went simpler, all right angles.

The base of the case is simply two pieces of maple glued in an L shape.  It mounts straight to the wall with screws.  (I couldn’t figure out an elegant way to hide the screws.)  I cut slots along the front edge and top edge of the maple.  The plastic slides in from the side.  It is captured in those grooves.

I capped the case off with end caps.

dsc01068_smI made the end caps from scraps of canary wood I had left over.  I planed them to an attractive thickness.  I tapped holes for machine screws into the maple so that I could remove and install the screws repeatedly and have them continue holding.  To get into the case, you have to unscrew one of the end caps.

dsc01072_smWe got only one of the glass figures—the dragon—on Murano, the glass making Island.  We got the bird and hedgehog in a shop on the mainland, but they were allegedly made on Murano.  The butterfly came from a glass maker who lived and worked on the mainland right by the dock where we caught the boat to go to Murano.  He is apparently a world famous glass artist, but he didn’t grow up on Murano, so he’s not allowed to advertise his work as being “Murano glass.”