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This one is for me! I love to tailgate for all sorts of events, but I especially enjoy tailgating for Virginia Tech football games. It becomes a bit of a hassle to keep all the supplies gathered together and organized while still being easily accessible, so I built a chuck box to help out. This would also work great for camping at campgrounds. I began by collecting, arranging, and measuring all of my tailgating supplies so that I could be sure they all fit nicely. I typically tailgate with a Coleman camp stove, two cast iron pans, two small propane tanks, roll of paper towels, cutting boards, coffee percolator, in addition to all the other plates, cutlery, common spices, etc. That’s a lot of stuff! It had to be small, relatively lightweight, and strong.

The body is constructed from 1/2” high-quality plywood with box joints. The front and back panel are the same plywood but fitted into a groove much like a cabinet door. The top has two folding wings that sit on top of the doors that open up on the front for additional working space. I used veneer to cover the exposed plywood edges followed by many coats of a high-quality outdoor paint in Virginia Tech’s own Chicago maroon to make it weather, heat, and spill resistant. All of the hardware is made from stainless steel so it won’t rust. There are two carry handles, four piano hinges for the doors and wings, two buckles to hold the door closed, a lock on the front, and a bottle opener on the back.

It has worked great so far and is easily loaded into the bed of my truck by two people. I can be parked and cooking breakfast burritos and brewing a pot of coffee in under five minutes. I’m still designing a stand to put it on that integrates well with the chuck box. In the meantime, I’ve just used some crates to set it on.

Over the summer, I was contacted by the Christiansburg Community Center (formerly the Christiansburg Industrial Institute) to duplicate some existing 19th century trim around windows to aid their restoration efforts.  The Christiansburg Community Center is on the National Register of Historic Places partly for its role as the African-American school in Christiansburg where Booker T. Washington was once the adviser.  It’s always an honor to work with historic buildings, especially ones that are so important to the local community’s history.

The building had six windows where the trim had been removed previously to accommodate a drop ceiling.  During the renovations, the drop ceiling had been removed exposing the missing trim around the top third of each window.  Given that the new trim would be butted up against existing trim, the match had to be perfect which was the ultimate challenge for this project.

I sourced lumber for this project from Hill City Hardwoods in Lynchburg, Virginia.  I bought 24 board feet of the two widest boards of southern yellow pine they had in stock so I could make the trim from the sides of the board and use the middle-third of the board for scrap.  This gave me the tightest, straightest grain possible which is necessary to prevent the board from warping and twisting as the seasons change.  It also more closely matched the grain pattern on the existing trim.

To begin, I made a rendering in SketchUp of the profile of the board to use as a guide throughout the project.  I then cut the left and right sides from the original boards to the width of the trim then jointed an edge and face before running it through the thickness planer to get a perfectly square board.  To add the grooves on the trim, I used my router table and a 90-degree V-bit and cut four V’s into each segment of the trim.  Using a 19th century 1/4” hollow hand plane, I rounded over the V’s to make the space between each pair of V’s arched.  I went back to the table saw to cut the 45-degree bevels on each side of the trim.  To finish up, I fine-tuned some rougher spots with medium grit sandpaper before going over everything with a fine grit sandpaper to make it smooth to the touch.

Visit the Roanoke Times to read more about the recent restoration efforts.

Special thanks to the Christiansburg Industrial Institute for choosing me to help with this project.  They’re a wonderful group of people doing great work.  Donations to the Christiansburg Community Center can be made through Schaeffer Memorial Baptist Church at 580 N. High St., Christiansburg, Virginia 24073, or by calling (540) 382-0562.

I’ve had a project I’ve wanted to do for a long time to help out around the shop—to make an adjustable height table.  The adjustable height will be useful as an outfield table for my table saw or bandsaw, or to help maneuver equipment to and from the tailgate of my truck, or as an extension to my workbench.  I also wanted it to be super-heavy duty and to withstand several hundred pounds of weight.  The horizontal surfaces are constructed from laminated pine milled from 2×12’s and the legs are made from 3/4” birch plywood.  I used a normal automative jack to raise and lower the table, but I opted for a jack that had surfaces that would be good for attaching the jack permanently and also a socket to control the lift.  Making mechanical pieces from wood is tricky because wood is not very stable, it expands, contracts, twists, and warps.  To accommodate for this, the legs were made from high-quality plywood to resists changes in shape and dimension.  Also the legs are intentionally not extremely tight fitting to prevent possible binding when adjusting the height.  I slathered the legs with floor wax to reduce friction to help movement as well.  Overall, it works pretty well.  It has a lowered height of about 28” with a raised height of about 46”.  The table itself is very heavy, about 150 pounds and it should be able to carry a 500 pound payload with ease.

You can find the SketchUp drawing on GitHub.

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A while back, I saw some vintage P.O. boxes for sale at a flea market and an idea hit me instantly.  I thought it was going to be a unique idea and that I could make a bunch and eventually sell them.  When I got home, I quickly learned that this was not a unique idea at all, but I still loved them and wanted to make one with a little twist.

The P.O. box doors came from a post office in Pennsylvania and were manufactured in the late 1950’s according to the casting stamp inside the door.  I used walnut and two different shades of cherry all from Blacksburg, VA for the body of the piggybank.

The tricky part of this project was measuring the opening for the door just right so that it fit not too tight, and not too loose.  This took a lot of measuring and some trial cuts.  It was also critical that the box joints fit perfectly and didn’t have any tear-out since they would be a focal point of the boxes.  I made seven piggybanks this round and I gave some away for Christmas, the rest will be for sale shortly.  They were finished using several coats of wipe-on polyurethane with a brass coin slot on top and small furniture pads on the bottom.

I was really happy with the way these turned out, I really like the cherry and walnut together and the lighter colored cherry for the back.  In my next batch, I may try a different style to add some diversity.  I also just picked up some older (late 1800’s, early 1900’s), larger P.O. box doors from a cool store in Austin, TX called Uncommon Objects.

I was commissioned to make a pair of portable, transparent dry erase boards for FoxGuard Solutions in Christiansburg, VA.  They were going to live in a corner of the office where there was limited natural light.  This is why the dry erase boards needed to be transparent—to not block the one window where light was available.  It was also important that the boards were mobile, so they were put onto casters.  The space where the boards would reside was recently renovated so my design tried to accommodate how the room was remodeled in terms of space and colors.

The final size of the dry erase boards measures just under six-and-a-half feet long by two feet wide and just tall enough to easily go under standard door frames.  They’re heavy, weighing about 100lbs each because they’re made from solid wood except for the steel casters and the acrylic.

The boards were made from quarter sawn cherry, quarter sawn red oak, plywood, and acrylic.  Cherry was selected due to its reddish-orange hue to help it fit in with FoxGuard Solutions color scheme.  The cherry was sourced locally from Ripplemead, Virginia.  Red oak was chosen to complement the cherry, and to provide a lighter contrasting colored wood.  Half-inch plywood was used to make up the bottom-half of the boards, which was stained a smoke blue-grey color.  Thinner plywood was used to make the orange logos in the bottom-middle of each board.  Quarter-inch acrylic was used for the actual writing surface of the boards.  The boards were finished using light coats of tung oil to help keep the color as light as possible and to bring out some of the really awesome figuring and ray flecking in the cherry.

This project really lent itself to using traditional joinery techniques.  These boards could pass through a metal detector if it wasn’t for the steel casters and the screws that attached the casters.  Everything else is done using through tenons and half-blind tenons.

There were some challenges to this project.  The cherry lumber I acquired had not been professionally cut, dried, or stored.  It had a lot of rot and insect damage that needed to be cut out.  Also, I really tried to help keep costs down by using thinner pieces of lumber and then laminating them together to get the thicker pieces needed for the legs, posts, and crossbeam.  The amount of milling that went into the lumber for these pieces was more substantial than I had planned.  The size and weight of the boards made them unwieldy to work with at times too, requiring two people to lay them down to work on them.  Another thing I hadn’t considered going into the project was even though I was making two dry erase boards, they were double-sided so it was effectively like making the same thing four times over.

I’m glad to have these boards delivered, I think they look good and fit the space well.  Now it’s time to be Santa’s little helper and make some things in time for Christmas!

Before we get started a good tip to help keep your sandpaper organized.  If you have more sandpaper than you know what to do with, use a filing cabinet to store it all.  This has helped to keep my sandpaper perfectly sorted and easy to access.

Just the other day while I was finishing the bench that goes along with the farmhouse table I made I said to myself a few times, “Oh, right, don’t forget to do [finishing technique]” and figured a quick writeup could serve both you and I well!  Following is my process used for sanding bare wood.

  • Identify areas where yellow glue is still visible and focus on those when sanding.  Yellow glue does not take stain and will leave a hideous yellow mark with even the thinnest layer of glue.  A tip for finding these spots is to wet glue joints or use paint thinner on the glue joints to expose them.
  • Using a power sander, start sanding using 60 grit on harder woods (anything above 850 lbf on the Janka hardness scale) and 80 grit on softer woods.  Using a finer grit on softer woods will give you more control by not removing material as quickly and is less likely to leave hard to remove swirl marks.
  • Using a power sander, move to a finer grit like 120, then 220.  Don’t stop with the previous grit until the surface is consistent in look and feel and all swirl marks have become more subtle.
  • Between each phase of sanding, use compressed air to clean the surface.  If this isn’t an option, a lint free cloth will help.
  • Now for a little known trick.  Use a spray bottle to mist the surface of the wood with water.  This step is especially effective for softer woods because it causes the wood fibers to swell a little bit raising the grain in areas.  This step it critical if you’re trying to achieve an ultra smooth surface.
  • Immediately after doing this, sand using the 220 grit again.  Let the surface dry completely.
  • Clean the surface off again with compressed air.  Be sure to blow out any knots as they’re great traps for dust.
  • Sand by hand using an eight inch long piece of 2×4 wrapped with a really fine sandpaper that’s about 300 grit.  This should hopefully remove the last evidence of marks from a power sander and create an ultra smooth finish.
  • If an even smoother finish is still desired, I wouldn’t recommend using sandpaper at this point, but a set of card scrapers like my set pictured below.
  • Before applying any finishes I like to rub the surface down with rubbing alcohol to remove any last traces of dust that have accumulated on the surface due to sanding.

scraper

I have just completed a build of a tall, five drawer dresser for a bedroom!  The final dimensions are 37″x20″x52.5″.  The dresser was made from 3/4 red oak plywood for the case and drawers, red oak edgebanding, solid red oak slats to divide the drawers, 2/4 birch plywood for the drawer bottoms, walnut harvested from a farm in Blacksburg, VA for the top and pedestal, and 16″ soft-close full-extension drawer slides.  The drawer pulls came from Knobs ‘N Knockers in Lahaska, Pennsylvania–near where I grew up.  The faces of the drawer fronts are veneered with walnut to show a continuous grain vertically between the five drawers.  The case is finished with homemade chalk paint and dark wax to provide a clean, but vintage looking effect not fully captured in these photos.

My goals for this project–like all my projects–were to minimize the use of traditional fasteners, cover up mistakes well, draft the original design in SketchUp, be a good steward of materials, and to ask myself at every crossroads, “will this last 100 years?”  I was lucky to be able to meet my goals for this build and come in under budget as well!

This isn’t to say that I didn’t learn some valuable lessons from this dresser build.  If I were to do this project again, I would definitely do some things differently.  Firstly, just because I could make the drawers to 1/64″ tolerance, I probably shouldn’t.  This made it really tough to get the drawers to slide cleanly and evenly.  Another thing, 3/4 material for drawer sides and faces is too thick.  I think 2/4 sides and 1/4 bottoms would be sufficient.  This would also reduce the weight and add a little more capacity to each drawer.

Following is a mostly complete chronological series of pictures of the build.  Now to finish my next project, a pair of mobile six foot see-through dry erase boards I’m being commissioned to build!

I have a very small shop so wall space is at a premium.  I also highly value mobility and rearranging as my needs, tooling, and projects change.  Due to these factors, I’ve really enjoyed installing a French cleat system along one wall in my shop.  The benefits of French cleats are tangible.  They’re easy to make, cheap, infinitely configurable, and strong.  French cleats would warrant a post of their own!

In the constant fight for balancing the triple-point of organization, accessibility, and physical volume, I’ve modified ideas I’ve seen elsewhere to create a clamp rack that can hold 60 clamps and sit on three French cleats.  This clamp rack has three layers that each hold up to 20 clamps.  The first layer is 10” tall, the second layer is 20” tall, and the third layer is 30” tall.  This clamp rack works perfectly for bar and F-style clamps, but what really makes it excel is that it can hold those really deep ratchet clamps on the 10” and 20” layers due to the space between the outside and middle layer and the wall.  Traditional clamp racks that just rest along a wall are often designed only to hold bar and F-style clamps.

I was able to use up a lot of scrap material to build this clamp rack so my actual version differs slightly from the version I recommend you make in terms of material usage but I wanted to be a good steward of resources and knew the compromises I made would still be adequate for a shop project.  For instance, I used plywood for the 4” corner braces and the 2” wide vertical support braces in the back-middle of each section whereas lumber would have been a better choice due to glue bonding strength and solid wood is better to screw into.  However, use whatever material you want, my only guideline I suggest you definitely follow is don’t make the slotted pieces out of solid lumber!  Use plywood, otherwise you risk breaking off the fingers especially if the grain isn’t parallel to the slots (which if using dimensional lumber is almost guaranteed since the grain runs lengthwise).

The finished project is 39.75” wide, by 30” tall, by 11.25” deep.  I used four heavy duty hinges, two for each layer of the clamp rack.  Each hinge costs a little under $5.  The hinges easily support the weight of the rack loaded with clamps when fully opened.  The hinges are secured using 1.5” flat head screws.  Even though I don’t own 60 clamps (yet) this suits my need well for today without having to redo my clamp rack as my collection grows.

I have published the SketchUp plans on GitHub if you’d like to make one for yourself!