Printer Table: Started and Finished

I finished this project in months instead of years. It’s like I blinked and had a finished project! It went went together so fast it was done and in service before I thought to take pictures.

I wanted to build a table to hold the printer and its various supplies. I also wanted to get some electronics equipment off the floor and tidy things up. So I planned a table using the Festool Domino. It was meant to be a quick project. I had purchased some sapele before the pandemic for the project: a one inch thick board for the top and a two inch thick board for legs. I started by joining the top together with the “dominoes” which are small wooden rectangles that go into the mortise on each side of the joint. The dominoes for a tabletop are just meant to help with alignment, but I must have jiggled the machine because my slots ended up misaligned, so I left many of the mortises I cut empty. The completed sapele top looks like this.

Sapele table top glued up from three boards. The sapele stripe figure hides the board joints quite well.

I cut the legs from the two inch thick wood and then sawed the remaining wood thinner to use for aprons.
I wanted to make the table rigid so it wouldn’t shake while the printer was working, so I made the aprons as tall as the board allowed, and cut out a curve on the front for a more graceful and less blocky appearance.

The apron is very tall but the curve prevents the cabinet from looking heavy. The curve also makes the storage space more usable. Each shelf has a mixture of different woods.

For shelves I drilled holes in the four legs for shelf pins. To make the shelves I used random stock from my wood pile: some cherry, some canary wood, and some mahogany. I lined the front and back of the shelves with sapele pieces so the shelves would look the same from the front. The sapele edge pieces also stick down outside the shelf pins, so they hold the shelves in place on the pins. This turned out to be a great way to get rid of wood scraps that were languishing in my wood pile. Once the shelves are loaded up, only the front is visible, so the mix of woods makes no difference.

I made one design error: the table is a little bit too deep. I made it to line up with the cabinet to the left, but I forgot that there needs to be clearance for that cabinet’s door to open. I had to shift the left-side cabinet forward away from the wall by 3/4 inch so the door wouldn’t crunch against the table top when opened, and this creates a problem of being able to lose things behind the cabinet.

Removing the equipment from the bottom shelf is a lot of trouble, so the wood used there is a secret.
Here it is loaded with the printer and paper.

My next project is a new dining table, and at this point I don’t have a design, just vague ideas. I also don’t have any wood. I think that project is going to take longer.


Bedroom Chest: Drawers

I had special wood selected for the drawer fronts, but before I could start work I needed to select material for the drawer sides. I hunted through my lumber pile and found some cherry that seemed like it might work. It was lumber I originally mail ordered for the file cabinet 20 years ago that was warped. By the time I got the boards flat it was about the right thickness for drawers.  I think it’s a little funny that I have cherry as the secondary wood on drawers: I suspect it’s not very common. 

The next step was to cut the grooves for the drawer bottom and the side rail. The drawer bottom groove (not shown) was easy to cut using my plow plain, but the side rail groove was more troublesome because it was in the middle of the board.  The plow plane fence doesn’t reach, and if it did it seems like it would be awkward.  I cut it using my dado plane.

Cutting the groove for a side hung drawer using a dado plane.

Once the grooves were cut, the dovetailing could begin. I used the “blue tape trick”. I wonder how many so-named tricks exist. I know two for dovetails. This trick is a variation on the rabbet trick for dovetail alignment. Instead of cutting a rabbet you lay down blue tape on the tailboard. You do it carelessly so the tape covers over the gauge line. Then you use your marking gauge to cut away the tape at the gauge line, and this gives a tiny little edge from the tape, which is remarkably effective at aligning the tailboard onto the pinboard for marking. You can simply press the tailboard up against the pin board and get it perfectly aligned. This was definitely the easiest scheme I’ve ever used for performing the marking.

Blue tape on the tailboards for execution of the blue trick for marking the pinboard from the tailboard.

On to the dovetailing. I laid out the dovetails so that the pin on the drawer front (top in the picture) blocks the slot cut on the side. This creates an elegant built-in drawer stop. After laying out the front I transferred the layout to the back as well, and then cut the joint on all four corners of the two large drawers. Only after I had the tails all cut did I realize the problem.

It’s going to be hard to slide this drawer onto its side rail.

Because I unthinkingly transferred the marks from the front to the back the drawer has a “stop” at both ends, which means it will be impossible to slide it onto the side rail. Oops. I had to cut out the pin at the back end. I sawed the sides and tried cutting with a chisel, but could not avoid a lot of tearing out of the wood. My second attempt using the router plane was slower, but produced a better result.

Cutting out the tail using a chisel produces a terrible surface on the end grain.
Using the router plane to do the job gives a much better result.

I didn’t make the same mistake on the small drawers. I laid out the back joint separately. I tried making the pins as narrow as possible. I didn’t find the narrow pins to be any more difficult to cut that larger pins, though I did find that I really needed to use my thin bladed Veritas chisel, which seems to be a discontinued item. I wonder if anybody else sells a chisel with a thin blade like this.

Normal 1/2″ chisel at the top. The Veritas thin chisel at the bottom.
Small drawers, front dovetails, with fat pins.
Small drawers, with thin pins.

After the drawers were finished I found that the biggest ordeal was mounting the side rails so that the drawers would move well and were located in the right position as viewed from the front. Very slight changes in the rails would change the gaps around the drawers. I drilled and filled the mounting holes many times before getting a result that seemed acceptable. I’m not inclined to make side hung drawers again. Here’s an example of a crooked gap, where the space between the two drawers is visibly much smaller on the left than on the right.

Uneven gap between the top and bottom drawers.

Here are the little drawers in their final configuration (after more filling and drilling).

The two center drawers in their final configuration.

I felt like I had created too much vertical space for these drawers. I’m never quite sure how much space I need, but the shop is a humid environment, so the drawers will probably shrink, making the gaps even bigger.

Cabinet with all of the drawers inserted.

The project is nearly done. All that remains to be done is the installation of the back, the shelf pin holes, and the finishing of the case. The drawers are already finished, and I do wonder if the large drawers are going to look odd because they are so light. I used shellac on the drawers and door panels but Polyx on the door frames. The Polyx evidently darkens the maple more than the shellac, because the panel rails are the same wood as the much lighter drawer fronts.

Bedroom Chest: Handles and Pulls

I have completed the cabinet case and finished the cabinet’s top. The next step is to make the drawers, which raises some unresolved design questions: what will the drawer pulls look like and what wood will I use for the center drawers. My original thinking was that I might cut pulls into the faces of the drawers so they wouldn’t obscure the flecking in the quartersawn maple. The sliding doors need inset handles because a projecting handle on the rear door would slam into the front door, so inset draw pulls could help unify the design. Our bedside tables feature such inset pulls, but I do not know how they were cut. To do it with a router would require an extremely long bit, extending very far away from the tool. Maybe a CNC can cut handles like this.

I have seen hand-carved drawer pulls at the Wharton Esherick House so I attempted a carved pull.  The result was functional and I think I could produce a decent looking pull, but I seriously question my capacity to produce two pulls that match.   So I considered a different approach:  I cut out an angled slot with a framesaw and glued a small wood scrap behind. This method also produced a functional pull.   But I didn’t like the look of it.  And this exercise lead me to discover something that should have been obvious: the angled cuts cause the quartersawn fleck pattern to disappear, so the inset handle doesn’t preserve the interesting grain pattern featured on the drawer fronts.

Handle testing: At the top of the board I carved a handle with gouges. At the bottom of the board I cut out a handle with a saw and glued on a backer board. Note that the quartersawn fleck disappears with the angled cut of the handle.

Handles for Sliding Doors

For the sliding doors, cutting inset handles is simpler: because they are used to move the doors sideways without any pulling, they do not need to be angled to the face of the door.   My first idea was to just cut holes with a forstner bit, which makes a flat bottomed hole.  But a quick test revealed that the hole bottom wasn’t as smooth and flat as I would like, and it’s not easy to sand the bottom of a hole.  Maybe I could cut a circular insert and glue it into the hole?  A hole saw would produce an undersized cutout, with the center drilled out by the pilot bit, but Lee Valley sells a tenon cutter that can do the job.  However, it seemed like the tenon cutter might produce a rough edge, depending on the wood used for the insert.

The cabinet top is all angles, with the pointed “backsplash” and the front corners cut off, and the front edge beveled.

As I was testing different sized holes I realized that this project is angled and pointy, not round. Circular holes aren’t right. Hexagonal holes would fit the overall design better. Hexagonal holes also saved me from buying an expensive tenon cutter and resolved the question about whether to use an insert or backer for the holes: if I tried to hand fit hexagons I’d surely end up with unsightly gaps. To cut the hexagonal holes I drilled them out with a forstner bit and then cut the sides hexagonal with chisels. I couldn’t seem to avoid the grain tearing out at the corners of the hexagons, so I had a lot of cleanup to do with rasps and then sandpaper to produce smooth hexagonal holes.

The end grain ripped out along the corner of the hexagon when I chopped the hexagon.

I used fine rasps to get close and then had to turn to sand paper to get the final smooth finish. This work required good illumination, and my loc-line mounted flashlight setup was perfect for the job.

Ceiling mounted flashlight, positioned using loc-line to illuminate the hexagon for rasping and sanding.

I wasn’t sure what wood I would use to fill the holes until I realized that an offcut from the door panels would be perfect. I had a single spalted maple offcut that was just big enough, half the height of the door panel, and a scant two inches wide. Instead of filling the holes from the front, I cut a recess on the back of the door and filled it with the spalted maple insert.

Spalted maple insert applied into the back of the door, with quite a lot of excess thickness.

The back is hidden in use, so the job does not require precision. I therefore cut the recess freehand with the powered router. I prefinished the spalted maple with shellac and carefully glued the pieces in place with cyanoacrylate adhesive, avoiding any squeeze out that would be visible in front, and finally filled the gap around the edges with epoxy.

Spalted maple insert after planing flush to the back of the door.

After planing the inserts flush and finishing they are smooth and cannot be felt by someone who reaches around the back of the door. With careful planning I was able to get four inserts that each featured some of the black spalt lines. This procedure produced crisp, sharp corners at the inside of the handle. The four inserts came out like this:

The sliding doors in the cabinet, with the new hexagonal handles.

Back to Drawers Pulls

Returning to the question of drawer pulls, and drawer fronts I considered various options for different woods for the fronts of the two small center drawers, but nothing I had on hand seemed right. I wanted a single piece I could split in half that would fill the central cavity. So I ordered a piece of slightly spalted maple.

The marked section in the middle will become two drawers for the central cavity visible in the cabinet picture above.

For drawer pulls I started thinking about an applied pull. What shape should it have? On my game table I used a tapered pull, which works well, but really requires a full two finger pinch grip. On my existing dresser I can open the drawers with just fingers underneath. So I tested a rabbeted design, which works well. And to define the final shape I decided to echo the angles of the cabinet top.

Handle shown from the front. The front face and right face are beveled.
End view of the handle shows the front face bevel more clearly.

A question came up about the beveling of the edges of the handle. The cabinet top has its front and the clipped corner edges beveled. In the handle test the front face of the handle is beveled to match, but only the right side of the handle is also beveled. Which looks is better? I’m planning to cut the pulls from the spalted parts at the sides of the board shown above. Hopefully that will bring the piece together, with some spalted components on all the drawers.

For drawer sides I hunted through my woodpile and the best option seemed to be some cherry I originally bought for the file cabinet almost twenty years ago. It was twisted and had a grain pattern I didn’t like, so I didn’t use it for the file cabinet. I went to the local lumber yard but he didn’t have anything cheap that seemed better than the cherry I had already on hand. I wonder how often people use cherry for drawer sides. After cutting the boards to length and then planing out the twist the finished thickness for the drawer sides was less than half an inch. That was some severe twist! The boards have been sitting for over a month now and seem to be stable. The backs of the drawers will be soft maple, also leftovers from the file cabinet. So three different species in each drawer.

Wood waiting to be transformed into drawers.

Bedroom Chest: A Concave Roundover

The roundover is a common treatment for edges. This project has a backsplash which creates a concave corner. A corner like that tends to be hard to finish nicely, and it accumulates dirt and is difficult to clean. It seems like rounding this corner would be a great improvement.

I suppose the normal way to do this would be to apply some molding. I don’t have any molding, but I recently received a pair of molding planes in the tiny 1/4″ size, so I put them to work to create the roundover.

The process using my molding plane is to glue down a strip, cut a rabbet to guide the molding plane, then glue the backsplash on, and finally, cut the roundover.

Above you can see the strip glued in place. Before gluing it down I marked out a 1/8″ rabbet, making sure the top knife line was very well established and going over the bottom line in ink. The top line is important because it will guide the plane to cut the rabbet. I was amazed when I learned how well this technique works without a fence. I started with the edge of the plane resting in the knife line and began to cut. Once I had a groove established, I could level out the plane and work the rabbet down to the highly visible inked line.

The rabbet provides support and guidance for the convex blade of the molding plane. It doesn’t need to look pretty.

Once the rabbet was done, I glued on the backspash. I had a little trouble here because I had cut the front edge of this board at an angle, which meant the clamps were likely to dig into the angled corner edge. I extracted the offcuts from the trash and tried to tape them down with carpet tape to protect the edge, but they shifted sideways and I still ended up with some edge damage. I think the shear forces are simply too large for tape to hold. The final step is cutting with the molding plane.

The HNT Gordon molding plane, with its blade bedded at 60 degrees cut amazingly well in both directions on the wood. Because the molding plane only covers 1/6 of a circle, I had to hold it at different angles to cut a complete quarter round. This process worked quite well, though I got into some trouble with the cut angle shown in the second picture. I had raking light on the flat part but no raking light from above lighting the backsplash, so I didn’t realize that I was overcutting a circular hollow above my roundover. I needed to do a lot of sanding to blend the roundover with the backsplash. And here’s the final result.


Is there any other method that could achieve the same result? I can only think of hand carving with a gouge or maybe a similar approach using a profiled scraper instead of a molding plane.

Bedroom Chest: Case Joinery

Time has been short over the past few years, so progress has been slow, but the case is finally glued together.  It is four feet wide and about 3 feet tall and is dovetailed.  Unlike my file cabinet, the dovetails are half-blind, and will be invisible once I attach the top.  The first challenge was to select the lumber and glue the panels together.   I started with lumber that came in seven foot lengths (from the lumberyard) or 3.5 foot lengths (from the independent sawyer), so I wasn’t sure I had enough material.  The discovery that some of the seven foot material was defective created additional uncertainty.

I decided to glue together panels butcher-block style using my shorter offcuts, and use the resulting boards in the less visible interior parts of the cabinet.  However, I soon realized that this would not suffice: I would still run out of wood.  So I hit the lumber yard and got some plain sawn hard maple to use for the interior panels.


Notice the front panel has two plain sawn boards in the center, flanked by quarter sawn boards at either edge. This will be the bottom of the cabinet, and will always be covered by stuff, so it won’t be seen.

The first joint to cut was eighteen inch wide half-blind dovetails at the bottom of the case.  I laid out the tails using dividers and a bevel gauge, and cut them.  I proceeded next with the pins, which presented several difficulties.  The first one was marking them.  I had great difficulty finding a way to align the boards in my shop for marking due to the four foot length of the tail board.   If my bench were not against a wall this would be simple, but instead I had to balance the boards on edge and clamp them together to do the marking.  At one point during this process the tail board fell off the bench.  You can see the dent at the top right (front board) in the picture.

I sawed the pins and then attempted to hammer the kerfs deeper using a small scraper I used previously for this job.  Evidently the wood species makes a difference for this technique.  This was easy with mahogany, which is soft.  But with hard maple, and the larger scale of the joint, the scraper folded over from hammer blows and became wedged into the kerf so tightly that I need pliers to extract it.   I like this technique, so I bought a specialized tool for extending kerfs.  This tool, with its solid brass back and large handle solved both of the problems.


But my problems weren’t over yet.  Chiseling out the waste can be done in various different ways, but it seems that they ultimately involve taking some thin shavings parallel to the socket wall.  Charlesworth’s clever technique with a slightly thick guide block guarantees a slight undercut so the joint will fit.  At least, that’s the theory.  And it worked great on board number one.  But on the second board the grain direction went the wrong way, and no matter how I tried to execute this technique, the wood would rip up.  I finally gave up and deployed the router plane to try to fix the problem.  (One thing I didn’t try: sharpening my chisels.  I wonder if that would have made a difference.)




After finishing the joint I cut a rabbet along the rear edge to hold a plywood back.  I didn’t do it earlier because I didn’t have the plywood for the back and wasn’t sure about the thickness.  This was unfortunate because it turns out the dovetail should have been cut to accommodate  the through rabbet.

Again, grain direction presented a challenge.  I cut the rabbet on the first board with my rabbet plane and got a nice crisp rabbet.  On the second board the grain went the wrong way for my plane and it reversed.  The result was nasty tear-out.  I tried going in the other direction using various other planes.  I’m not sure if the problem was hard to fix at this point because the existing surface was already so rough, or if it was just impossible to cut the wood cleanly in either direction.   I thought about buying the left handed rabbet plane, but instead I gave up and cut the joint with the router on the router table.  And I found that climb cutting was essential to get a smooth finish from the router.

For the horizontal divider I cut a 1/2″ dado using my HNT Gordon dado plane.  This plane worked very well against my clamped fence.   (Maybe I need their moving fillister plane for cutting rabbets, with it’s 60 degree cutting angle.)



Cutting a 1/2″ dado using a dado plane. The board that will go in this dado is 3/4″ thick.

I only have the 1/2″ dado plane, but none of my boards are 1/2″ thick.  The horizontal divider boards that goes in this dado is is 3/4″ thick.  Two solutions are apparent: widen the dado or trim the board.  In this case, I trimmed the board by cutting a 1/4″ rabbet at each end.   The case also includes a pair of vertical dividers, which are only 5/8″ thick.   In this case, I took the other approach, opting to widen the dado.  This proves to be possible with care by shifting the fence over and cutting again.  (I fails if the extra cut is less than 1/8″—the plane falls off the edge and cuts a slope in this case.)  In all my trials and in 5 out of 6 dados on the cabinet the nicker did its job and the plane produced a smooth exit, but I did encounter one case of spelching, where a large chip pulled off.  I wonder what caused that.

To conserve wood I made the top of the case from three rails instead of a solid panel.   This time I did the dovetail joint correctly to fill in the through rabbet at the ends.   I decided to get a saddle square dovetail marker, and I must say it really did streamline the tail marking.   It is nice to  quickly mark the square line across the edge and the sloping line down the face of the board without having to fuss with lining up the marks.

A dovetail saddle marker like this is helpful because you can mark across the top and then down the front in one step.

The resulting rail ends:

The assembled joint looks like this, with the extra block to fill in the gap in the side panel:

These joints certainly won’t win any prizes. They may be the worst fit dovetails on the internet. I think the first dovetails I ever cut looked quite a bit better.  But these joints, as bad as they look, didn’t rattle around once assembled, and the big gaps will be hidden when the top goes on.  Luckily the chunk that broke out on the right side didn’t break through the surface of the board.  The only part that will be visible is at the back of the case, and that part is tight:

The final step before the glue-up was to cut grooves for the sliding doors. I’ve had a lot of trouble cutting grooves (and rabbets along the grain) on this project, so I wasn’t sure of the best approach. My first attempt was to mark the edges of the groove, and chisel out along the groove. This left a block of waste in the groove, which I attempted to remove using the Veritas combination plane, which I selected because it could be configured for left-handed use as required by the grain (except for the section where the grain is reversed). The plow plane has a circular nicker blade but this plane has short straight nicker blades that are apparently meant to bend outward for adjustment with small set screws. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the nickers needed to be removed for this job. Because I was removing a strip of wood with a space on either side, the nickers weren’t engaged in the wood and they splayed out and started cutting along the keeper material adjacent to the groove. I didn’t notice the problem until the board was badly scarred with many cuts along the side of the groove. I attempted to repair the damage by inserting patch pieces, thinking that the second groove would hide the joint, but I miscalculated the location of the second groove. I may redo the really obvious patch shown here.

Ugly patch, right in the center.

I made a second patch that is several inches long which blends somewhat better. Can you find it?

Less obvious long patch.

I tried cutting the groove undersized using the combination plane and then using a chisel to clean up the side walls afterward, but the walls tended to crumble and it was hard to make them smooth. I did the last groove using the combination plane with its nickers set to the full width of the groove and that worked the best.

Finally the it was time for glue. The resulting glued up cabinet still lacks the back and the top, which I think will make it easier to fit the drawers.

Here it is with the top and backsplash boards resting on the case.

The next step is to decide on the final shape for the top and glue the backsplash and to together. After that, I will make the drawers, and I have to resolve the last major design question: what will the drawer pulls look like?

Charging Station

After a few years of testing and a few changes to the original design, the time came for the final version:  we got more devices and the prototype wasn’t big enough.

I made the final version from canarywood scraps I had lying around.  The space on the wall allowed me to fit a thirty inch wide shelf to hold the devices.  Hopefully this will suffice for all the devices the household requires.  To make the shelf I glued together two pieces of canarywood, drilled holes at the base of each slot, and finally cut out the thirteen slots with a hand saw.   Shaping and smoothing these slots and, finally, sanding them was extremely time consuming.   My saw cuts weren’t precisely tangent to the holes I drilled, so those transitions all needed attention.  I had to round over all of the top corners.  Finishing end grain is always more work, and this design creates a lot of exposed end grain that is hard to get to.   Is there a way to change the design to make the build easier?

I glued a continuous strip of the EPDM rubber along the slots. I punched a 7/64″ hole and then cut a slit leading up to the hole.

My final selection for the cable gripping rubber was EPDM rubber, 1/16 inch thick, and 40A hardness.   I originally used 1/8 inch holes.  The 1/8″ holes are great when they work, because they grip the cables tightly, but they are too small for some thick USB cables.   I had to increase the size to 7/64″ to accommodate these fatter cables.  This does mean that the rubber almost never actually grips the cable.  It just confines it.  For my prototype I glued on the rubber using epoxy, but the rubber peeled off in some places.  In looking for an alternative I found Nexabond, a slow curing cyanoacrylate adhesive, which seems to dissolve the rubber and create a very strong bond.  Nexabond is now sold as Rapid Fuse.  I used the variety marketed for wood.   I found that it’s not possible to clean it off the rubber, so I had to be careful when applying it to avoid excessive squeeze out, but to use enough to secure the rubber all the way to the edge of the wood.

The rubber loosely grips the cables. The USB plug can rest in the space in front of the rubber in each slot.

The cable management box was hard for me to design.   My original design left the wrapped cables exposed.  I found that users often leave the ends of the cables dangling over the cable management box rather than securing them above on the shelf.  The dangling cables combined with the exposed wrapped cables form a very busy visual image, and it is hard to identify the loose ends that you may want to plug into your dying device.  In the prototype, I added a cover secured with a pair of magnets.  Maybe this approach could work somehow, but two problems would need to be addressed.  I was never sure where to put the cover after removing it, and I found it hard to close it because the cover would snap suddenly into place and I had to make sure it didn’t capture any cables over its whole width.   However, a normal hinged door would extend 15 inches, which seems unwieldy.  I  considered doors that swiveled down, but one of them would collide with the USB hub.  Finally, after talking with a friend about my design challenge, I revisited the idea of a hinged door and hit on the idea of a door that folds in half.

Two doors, each with a hinge in the center so they can fold in half.  Note the continuous grain lines across all four parts of the door.

The center section opens first.


If necessary you can open the second section of the doors, which have their own separate magnetic latches.

Selecting hinges was another challenge.   I hadn’t been planning to spend so much on hardware for this project.  The hidden hinges in the middle of each door are Soss Invisible hinges, and I ended up using Brusso brass butt hinges to mount the doors to the frame.   The Soss hinges come in a brass finish, which would have blended better, but when I found these on ebay for half price I decided I’d take them.  I love magnets, but getting the right magnetic force seems to be an ongoing challenge.  In this case, I mounted 3/8 inch magnets using screw in cups.  The resulting magnetic force was excessive.   One solution is to recess the mating washers farther into the wood (to increase the distance), but once the magnets are installed it is impossible to remove them.  In fact, once the steel cups are installed I find that they fit so tightly it is impossible to remove them, even before screwing them in.  Covering the magnets with high friction disks provided some extra separation that weakened the magnetic force enough to make the doors useful, though they do still stick shut a little bit more strongly than I would prefer.

For securing the cables I use a pair of 3/8 inch dowels and wrap the cables in a figure eight fashion.  I have seen quite a few gizmos for managing cables and, from what I can tell, none of them works as well as just wrapping cables in a figure eight; the cables don’t tangle, and you don’t need a special device.  Try it with your earbuds.  A strip of velcro holds each cable in place.  I used a two inch wide strip of white velcro hook material for the back of the box and I secured the cables using 3/4 inch black loop strips.   Reportedly the loop side of the velcro wears out first, so I used it in the more easily replaceable location.   Along the top edge of the box I made small cutouts for rubber cable holders.  These hold the cables up if you open the box.

The doors open all the way out and can tuck up against the wall at the sides. We secure the cables using figure eight wrapping onto two posts, with a strip of velcro to hold them in place. I chose white velcro for the background so it’s easy to see the black velcro that holds down the cables.

Installation of the Soss hinges requires a weird shaped mortise 3/8 inches wide with rounded ends and a deeper center section.  I drilled this using a centering drill guide and a brad point bit.  I had some trouble with hole depth and later found myself trying to deepen parts of the mortises with chisels.  But eventually I got the mortises cut.  For hardware installation I chose to use machine screws, both for the Soss hinges and the Brusso hinges.  Many people recommend machine screws for wood, especially when the screws are small and short.  I thought I would be installing and removing the screws many times, so this supported my decision to use machine screws.  In the case of the Soss hinges, the fit in the mortises was very tight.  They weren’t going  anywhere.  It was hard to take the hinges out after test fitting them in the holes.  Strength of the screws wouldn’t have made a difference.  And since it was so hard to install and remove the hinges I ended up doing it only one time and doing the finishing with the hinges installed.   I also broke two 4-40 taps cutting the threads.  In retrospect, I think this happened because I pre-drilled holes that were a size too small.

I installed the Brusso hinges using chisels and a router plane, a process that I enjoyed much more than drilling with a guide.  And I didn’t break the tap when cutting threads for 2-56 screws.  Using machine screws here seemed like the right thing to do.  The hinges didn’t stay in their mortises from friction alone like the Soss ones, and the use of machine screws enabled me to use longer screws on the frame and shorter ones on the door without having to buy two boxes of screws.  My wire cutters cut easily through the brass machine screws so I could make the lengths I needed.   I did end up installing and removing the hinges several times.

One disappointment is that the Soss hinges have a little bit of slop in them.  I’m not sure if I loosened them up somehow while prying them out of their mortises after test fitting, but if I close the doors without trying to force them upward they don’t create an even gap.

Uniform gap between the doors.

Uneven gap between the doors, narrower at the top.


The final component of the charging station is the hub holder.   As long as we charge devices using cables, the rest of the ensemble can remain unchanged, but this hub is the part most likely to change in the future.  It already changed: I have a new hub with more ports.  I didn’t want to work too hard on this part so I used a simple design that is very easy to make and somewhat adaptable—unlike the prototype it can at least accommodate charging hubs of varying length.  This design requires no complex joinery since the wood grain all runs in the same direction.  I tried to shape it to echo the curves of the shelf at the top, with the the back section sticking out to the sides for easy screw mounting.

Very simple hub holder design with open ends.

I think overall this is a great design for a charging station. It only uses wall space, not desk space, and keeps all our devices out of the way. I’m happy with the final result. The only thing that could be improved is the location of cable holding holes in the rubber. These holes are about an inch behind the front of the slot, and this is a little bit too far. Three fourths of an inch would be better.

Bedroom Chest: First Steps

chestdesign1My latest big project is a chest to go at the end of the bed. We had a bench there, but piles of clothing and linens covered its surface, and hence I could never actually sit on it. Storage in a small, old house is scarce, so I decided to replace the bench with a storage cabinet. The standard chest at the end of a bed opens on the top. If we had such a chest we’d never be able to open it, so my design features sliding doors and drawers. The top remains available for piles of clothing, and a backsplash prevents the piles from dripping off onto the bed.  The current design appears above, though I still have some uncertainty about the drawer widths. Work has been proceeding at a glacial pace over the past couple years.

This cabinet will be made out of quarter sawn hard maple. I had difficulty buying quarter sawn maple. I found a guy with a chainsaw who sold me a small lot cut from one log. It had some very nice boards in it, some up to 11 inches wide, but the boards were only 46 inches long, which won’t work for a four foot wide cabinet.   Nobody has 11 inch wide material; most online vendors said their boards were four inches wide, which wasn’t appealing. I finally ordered some wood that was over 5 inches wide with some nine inch boards.  The length ended up being seven feet, the worst possible length for my four foot wide cabinet.   As I began to work the wood I found that the guy with the chainsaw delivered nice looking, wide boards, but they were pretty badly twisted, so jointing the lumber by hand was a lot of work. But the real lumber yard delivered wood that was riddled with cracks across the face of the boards. I’m guessing this is the drying defect known as “honeycombing.”


This board has several cracks across its surface that you can see if you enlarge the image.

For the panels of the sliding doors I selected some spalted quilted maple material. This too, turned out to suffer from drying defects. I had the option of returning it or working with it and ended up deciding to fill the cracks and move ahead, rather than trying to locate a different panel. I tried to plane the material slightly to decrease the size of the cracks…but they got bigger instead. I chose to fill the cracks with black epoxy, hoping that it would match the spalting lines and blend in. It seems like most people think this looks fine, but I’m less enthusiastic.

As always, the process of selecting wood for different parts of the project went slowly. I began by choosing wood for the sides because I wanted to use the short, wide pieces there. Then came the task of selecting rail and stile material. One thing I love about quarter sawn wood is the ray flecking, but for the rails and stiles I wanted it to be really more rift sawn: straight grained without fleck to provide a good frame to the busy internal panel. Then it was time to get to work. I cut the grooves using my Veritas plow plane.


Note the fuzzy tear out towards the back end of the plane on the front edge of the groove.

I had a lot of problems with tear out while making these cuts. Part of the problem was user error: if I tipped the plane even a bit it could rip out a chunk on the side wall of the groove. But because the wood is quarter sawn, the edge, where I’m cutting the groove, has badly behaved grain. I did find that the front edge of the groove came out worse than the back one every time. I think this is because I can tip the plane toward me but the fence prevents me from tipping it the other way. I switched my reference around and referenced from the back of the panels to get the best looking show side. But it seems that ultimately to get a nice groove in material with reversing grain you have to precut the groove edges with a chisel.

The spalted maple panels were very porous, and when I started applying shellac the liquid quickly vanished into the wood. When the finishing was complete I discovered that the wood had warped considerably. I tried to flatten it by putting some shellac on the back. This helped a bit, but the panel remained warped. People use to say you needed to finish both sides of a panel to prevent warping. Then this idea got attacked as a myth. I wonder if I had finished both sides exactly the same would the panel have stayed flat and made the assembly easier—it’s more difficult to squeeze a warped panel into a groove.


This panel was flat before I applied shellac. Note the shadow of the straight edge on the wood.

I cut mortise and tenon joints to hold the panels together. The joints weren’t my best fitting. I had been wondering whether to drawbore or not, and decided I had better drawbore.  A drawbore is a joint where a peg is inserted through the joint but holes are misaligned so that the peg has to bend a little bit and it strongly forces the joint together.  Based on Schwarz’s recommendation I offset my 1/4” drawbore holes by 3/32” for my first door. I made riven white oak pegs using a dowel plate and cut a taper at the starting end. When I went to hammer the pegs home, though, I had some problems. I had tested the joint with drawbore pins and it seemed to be OK. But the pegs splintered inside the work, with only part of the peg emerging on the back side. Additionally, they forced the joint to come together crookedly so that the door didn’t lie flat on the bench. When I remembered to put glue on the peg it worked a bit better, but I only remembered one out of four times to do that. Application of a mallet and clamping the door flat onto the bench seemed to correct the problem.  The pictures below show four pegs from the back.  The top left is a peg that was lubed with glue and went through neatly.  The bottom left peg opened a gap, the top right peg was somewhat mangled and the bottom right beg lost a quarter of itself somewhere in the hole, leaving a gaping space.


For the second door I adjusted the procedure. I used a 1/16” offset and I put the pegs into a cup of glue so I wouldn’t forget to lubricate them with the hide glue I was using. This door went together much more smoothly, without the problems I had on door number one.  Some of the pegs look bad on the back of the door, but as these are sliding doors, nobody will see them.  The front pegs look good.


The last issue is securing the panels so that they stay centered in the groove if the panel shrinks or expands.  I’ve seen special foam balls sold for this job, but that solution wasn’t appealing.  It sounds like a standard solution is to hammer in a nail at the panel center but I realized I wasn’t sure how the nail should go in.  If I tried to angle it then the nail would almost completely miss the panel.  I had some 1.25″ cut nails handy.  I trimmed them to be about 1/2″ long, oriented them correctly to the grain of the frame and tapped them into pilot holes.  Nothing split, and hopefully they actually pierced the panels, so they should do the job.  I wonder if a dab of glue would have been an easier solution?  Would that hold well enough if I can only squirt it into an already assembled panel from the outside?


Finished door panels. Note that the rails are overly long and still need to be cut flush with the stiles.

Now it’s back to lumber selection. I need to select boards to use for the top of the cabinet, and then see if I have enough wood to make the dividers. I am thinking that I may have to glue up three foot lengths into a four foot long panel butcher block style to use the lumber I have on hand.

I haven’t quite figured out the proportions for the drawers.  Here is a subtle change in the drawer proportions.  Which is better?


Drawers at 2:1 ratio. Center drawer 9″ wide.


Drawers at 5:3 ratio. Center drawer 10.5″ wide.

Another outstanding design question is: can I do something with the drawers to unify them with the much darker spalted panels on the sliding doors below. Perhaps spalted maple drawer pulls would have this effect?

Charging Station Prototype

We have enough rechargeable devices that we needed a way to charge them that was less chaotic, that didn’t leave devices on the floor.  I looked at commercially available options, but nothing seemed to do what I want.  So I started constructing my own wall mounting approach.

My idea was to have a shallow shelf that devices rest on, with some mechanism to hold and organize the cables and a box to hold the charger hub.   I thought initially that cables could rest in slots that were narrow enough so that the plug wouldn’t fall through:


Cables can slip into the skinny slot to hold them in place. The wider part of the slot permits the cable end to stick down when a device is charging.

This approach didn’t work because the cables sometimes pull forward out of the slots.  The next idea was to use rubber to hold the cables in place.  But which type of rubber?  McMaster has an overwhelming number of options, both types of rubber, thicknesses, and hardnesses.   I tested several options:

dsc09092It seemed like the 1/32″ EPDM with a Shore hardness of 40A was promising.  So the prototype looks like this:

dsc00043I realized that velcro alone did not suffice to manage the cables, so I added the cable wrapping posts.  Also it seemed like the EPDM rubber was not holding cables as well as I expected, especially with thicker cables.  So I tried a change in the design with a thicker piece of rubber and a hole to hold the cable.  This seems to work better at holding cables, though it is more difficult to get them in and out.


The black rubber has a hole punched in it to hold the cable. This does seem to be more secure, though choosing the right rubber is still an issue.

We’ve had this in use for a while now, but one problem I’ve noticed is that the users don’t like to leave the cables secured in the rubber slots.  They prefer to just leave them dangling.  Does this mean the rubber slots are unnecessary?

How can this design be improved?

Couch Cabinet

dsc00014After finishing the Utilitarian Cabinet I said I was going to lay off the plywood for a long while. Events conspired against me: we needed a small table or cabinet to fill the narrow space beside the couch and the remaining walnut plywood was just right for the job.

For this cabinet I borrowed a Festool Domino to make the joints for the case and drawers.  The Domino is a lot nicer than dowels. It can make one pair of tight fitting mortises for alignment and loose fitting holes elsewhere, which makes the joint much easier to assemble and disassemble than dowels.  This cabinet went together without the struggles that we had with the dowel-joined Utilitarian Cabinet—I was able to do it without a helper. The drawers went together very easily as well, and the dominos helped in assembling the miter joints in the pedestal and in affixing the pedestal to the case.

I also experimented with the undermounting Blum Tandem-Plus Blumotion drawer slides, which waste less space at the sides of the drawers.   With the drawer cavity only seven inches wide I wanted to make the widest drawers I could.  Understanding the requirements for these slides proved to be rather difficult. Blum is very bad about posting detailed information, and they also sell different products in Canada than they do in the USA, so Lee Valley has products that are not otherwise available in the USA. It wasn’t immediately obvious to me—though it should have been—that the undermounting slides would have a minimum drawer width. It is not easy to figure out what this minimum width is.  Lee Valley didn’t know, and when I asked Blum USA about the Canadian slides they couldn’t find the answer!  I eventually learned that the Tandem-Plus would work on my narrow drawers as long as I used special “locking devices”.  The undermounting slides waste less horizontal space but they consume over an inch of vertical space.   This led to a problem when I positioned the handle without checking the position carefully and the mounting screw hole hit the drawer bottom.


See the recess I carved into the drawer bottom to allow me to attach the drawer pull?

When I went to fit the drawers into the cabinet they worked right the first time. This is a huge contrast to my experience with the side mounting slides I used in the Utilitarian Cabinet where I had to spend hours on drawer fitting.  I had a brief problem with it when I did the final test fit and the drawer hit the case.  It turned out I had accidentally pressed the levers that raised the drawer.  Lowering the drawer back to the correct position was very easy.  The finished drawers open and close very smoothly and much more easily than the drawers in the Utilitarian Cabinet, though we’re not sure we like the Blumotion drawer closing action.  Because the drawers are tall and narrow I used the wood with the grain running vertically and I mounted the handles vertically.


Note the continuous grain on the mahogany drawer fronts.

The corner in which the cabinet sits is not square.  It was necessary to curve the edge considerably to get a reasonable fit.  dsc00021

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.