Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Dyanmics of Planning

I don't make detail plans because that would require a lot of time and experience. That two things I don't have enough of. That's why many amateur woodworkers buy project plans, all the unexpected problems are exposed by the designers, this makes the craft very predictable (boring).

Encountering the unexpected and solving problems as they arise is one of the joys of designing. I always feet I don't have enough experience to plan things to the finest detail, so following that inexperience to the end of the project just escalate any problems that WILL arise. So, I plan just enough to get started. The priority is not to waste money or wood, have a good function and proportion, but after that, I make things up as it the project progresses. This also gives me a chance to go into my scrap wood pile and make use of it somewhere in the project.

This is one of my first project, a cabinet loosely based on the traditional Japanese step tansu. I created the usual sketches and thought about how it would look for a while. While assembling the cabinet, I realized I had made a measurement error where the top was ¾ inch narrower than the bottom, resulting in a slight trapezoidal shape of the main box. I planned the project from one sheet of plywood, so there's not enough wood to remake the top. I decided to live with the mistake and trimmed the two doors to fit the now unsquare box. The surprising result was that the pair became self-closing doors because they tilt inward. By creating an equal reveal around the door, most people can't see the error. I then decided to short cut the project and put my tool box on top of the cabinet to get the step tansu look. It now sits next to my entry as a shoe cabinet and a place to put my keys and wallet upon entry to the home.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Economy of Wood

I have pieces of wood stashed all over the house. They are left overs from past project, off cuts of plywood panels, dimensional lumber and moldings, just big enough to keep for that one chance a future project would have a spot for it. They are stashed in the closets, in the laundry room, stacked on the floor of the living area. Some days, I would hit my threshold and throw them away. I just don't like to waste wood, after all, I'll find a use for them eventually, besides, what is a woodworker with out wood? With left over plywood from the book case job, I was able to make a make an art niche over the fireplace. That's why it is made of oak instead of the usual birch. With such a small place I had decided to start building things into the walls. Removing the mantel and redoing the fireplace added another 1% to the room's usable area. A rejected cabinet door frames the oil painting we bought at the street market in Hong Kong. I was careful to make sure the back of the art case has enough distance from the chimney vent since I burn scrap wood in the winter with this fireplace. Left over rubber tree wood from a discarded baker's rack gets a new life as the top of this built-in. It was not deep enough, so I jointed the back side and glued in a piece of pine reinforced with biscuits. You can't see it, especially with the tool chest blocking everything. The doors came from a kitchen I had designed. It was slightly warped as you can see and was rejected by the customer. I thought it look fine, but too small for the old linen cabinet space I had decided to re-do. The solution to using an undersized door is the over sized frame. To make it look well thought out, I extended the frame to the floor and cut out the legs. Now it has a good proportion and looks like it belongs there. The same customer rejected the glass doors because it has the discoloration. In the wood worker's world, it is sought after for the popping grain pattern. In a row of plain doors, one would see this as a defect. Placed this door by itself and the doors has characters. I extended the styles to the top and trimmed it off with a left over piece of basket weave molding from the kitchen job. An acquaintance gave me two pieces of padauk left over from her interior design class. After some thoughts, I found there were more than enough to make handles for the kitchen. With a draw knife, spoke shaves, some simple hand tools, and about 20 minutes each, I was able to make some pretty decent ones, my carving skills aren’t great, but you have to start from somewhere. Robertson head trim screw hold the two pieces to the cabinet doors. Proper placement of knobs on the doors is a personal thing, I like my handles to extend the horizontal line of the styles and rails of the door. I think it's more fun to resourcefully use left over pieces to make new ones, the boundaries and limitations of the pieces make it more challenging than having access to everything.

Friday, September 28, 2007

$3000 Kitchen Makeover

It cost $3,000 to renovate my kitchen. What I saved in money, I paid triple the amount in time. I don't have a table saw, so the 68 lap joints needed to make the doors took a week with my Japanese handsaw. I would take a couple weeks off from the project when hand cutting plywood panel became tedious. With proper planning, I was never with out a sink or stove for more than 24 hours. The kitchen still isn't done, I have some small details to take care of, but it's not important and I'll get to it when I'm in the mood.

Here are some cost saving features.

The back splash and the four square door panels are special order pre-finished maple flooring I got at the at the clearance pile at 75% off. The dishwasher and microwave are clearance store display. Saved $400 The two wooden shelves are scratch and damaged doors with tempered glass on top, glass came from a discontinue kitchen cabinets display, free.

Flooring is cork board tiles with stain and polyurethane glued to the slab with vinyl adhesive. 99 cents per tile, add labor and four coats of polyurethane.

The counter top is made of concrete with about $150 of material, add one week of laborious grinding and polishing.

The cabinets are made with ¾” birch plywood, cut and assembled in the living room. I didn't want to waste money but, I believe in building things that would last. so I spent the money in good plywood, at $42 per 4x8' sheet. It took six sheets to make the carcass and the shelves, careful planning minimizes waste. The doors and cabinet frames are poplar dimensional lumber, this mixes well with pine and birch color wise. As for workability, I recommend this wood to any beginner craftsman who favors hand tools, it cuts, planes and chisels easily, and still hold a decently sharp edge.

The handles are hand carved padauk and pine, made from scrap wood.

Doors are joined with half laps and gorilla glue. I routed a rabbet after the joint dried then silicon a ½ plywood panel. I made a similar door in the bathroom a year earlier and it still held together in the steamy bathroom environment. Each doors cost about $15 instead of $70. I may go back and put shaker details putting staggered pegs to each joints.

Front of Drawer boxes are hand cut dove tails, back are dowel, dry erase board panel make water resistant drawer bottoms.

Here are some features of a homemade kitchen

Cabinet sits on a cedar base, making it resistant to water damage.

Cork is soft on the feet, durable, does not promote fire, is self healing to cuts, is hypo allergenic. Canned goods has been noticed to bounce twice when dropped from the five foot level shelf.

Concrete counter top gets stronger with water, is distressed finish so it would look better as it shows wear and tear, the perfect match for the sink side of the kitchen.

Butcher block counter top on the other side does the same for the dry side of the kitchen. Oil splatters only feed the wood counter top and gives it a nice patina. Excellent for quickly chopping herbs for the last minute addition to a dish.

By fitting the 18 cubic ft. fridge, in the old pantry, I gained 9 more square feet of counter . and created a more efficient pantry. I figured we live don't need enough food to last the winter, so a large fridge and pantry is excessive.

Finally a place for the dogs’ food bowls.

Tilt out rice and grain bin.

Pull out pantry unit next to range for sauces.

Tea and packaged spices and food organization.

One cubic foot holds 10 bottles of wine and sauces.

Counter top on book case reaches over and ties the fridge to the kitchen.

Lattice work on sink base keeps the condensation under the sink from getting clammy and moldy.

Exposed side of wall cabinet turned into cork board.

Freezer door is now a chalk board.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Table for Two

My wife and I came to Texas with whatever fit in our two cars. We needed a table. I knew was going to build a table, I didn’t care that I didn’t know how. Soon, I was learning how to create the glossy finish for the table by reading the label on the back of a polyurethane can. Eventually I built my kitchen cabinets. There’s plenty of information out there about woodworking, taking a class is just one of them. Woodworking has been around for thousands of years. The trees hardly changed. There are only so many ways to join two pieces of wood together. Learn and master the few essentials and you can build anything you need. The “wants” takes more effort, time and resources. I may or may not get there one day, but this little table is how it all started. You can build this coffee table with the list below.


(Qty 1) 24x48x ¾ cabinet grade plywood, I used birch with wild grain

(Qty 2) 2x4x8 pine stud, the highest quality and straightest piece

(Qty 1) packet of ¼” dowels

(Qty 2) ¾” x 8 ft. screen mould

(Qty 4) pre-made tapered pine furniture legs


Drill/ driver

¼” drill bit

Wood glue

Finish nails


Larger nail as nail set.

Crosscut saw

Hobby saw and miter box

Oil borne polyurethane


220-grit sandpaper

I’m not going to tell you how to do it, since it’s really not my goal to do step by step instruction on this blog. There are so little materials here, you are either going to end up with this table or a trough to feed a pony. The main idea to get hands on experience. Sure, I didn’t understand the idea of wood movement, classical proportion, a ripsaw from a crosscut then, but this project got me to the point where I understand it now.

Monday, September 24, 2007

No Longer an Amateur

I had a budget of $800 to build this pair of book cases that flanks the fire place for a client. It was a remodler who had too little time and too much to do. I figured I had about two days to work on this project before I'm in the minimum wage category.

With the proceeds, I bought a Festool plunge cut circular saw which did short work of cutting the shelves to size once it was at the work site. This German made circular saw rides on an aluminum guide rail and cuts perfectly straight line every time. It lets one person rip and 8' long panel and takes up very little room in the hatchback, so I didn't even need a table saw, that's good because I don't have one. The Rockler 32 mm shelving jig made fast and accurate work of drilling the eight rows of shelving holes. This allows the home owner to adjust the shelves' height to display art.

Roll of tape became the radius of the curves on the shelves. This complements the curves on the existing mantle and made the bookshelves look less bulky. I cut the first one, with my handsaw and used the spoke shave to smooth it out. (I don't have a jig saw). This became the first shelf and the template for the other five shelves. Careful planning, left me with just a little waste in materials. A 21 gauge pin nailer attached the template to the next shelf securing it for the router with the flush cut bit. Pin nailing the template to the work is secure, fast and the resulting holes are undetectable when the project properly finished. I don’t have much time, so I stained all the pieces with Minwax stain, set them in a secure place and let it dry for a couple days. On the last day I put put two coats of wax on all the parts. Flat pieces of wood are easier to buff then having to wax the book case installed. The owners were just going to put books and art on it, so a super durable finish was not needed and wax was a safe and easy protection to apply in a dusty remodel site. As you can see, I buffed it to a shine. Then it's carefully assembled on the stone veneer base with screws and liquid nail. The crown molding was added last and cut on site since it needed to be scribed into the stones of the fireplace. That took a compass and a coping saw and an understanding of compound scribing along two axis.

Now, it's not the prettiest nor the best built book case, I think the proportion could have been better, but given the time constraint, the limited budget and the fact that there's no other people who could do it this fast for this cheap, it's the perfect bookcase. What's more important is that the homeowners likes them and they will last until the next remodel.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Table for More

It took me about 20 hours to make this dining table. Pinned mortises and hunched tenons attach the long apron to the legs, glue and 3/8” diameter dowels hold the shorter aprons and the legs together. The legs may look thin and fragile, but it’s strong enough to hold the very dense solid core flush door I bought at Home Depot as a top. I was lucky enough to find a nice looking grain pattern after only going through three doors. At about 100 lbs each, I couldn’t have inspected many more doors in that stack. I was also careful to go through the stacks of 2x2 oaks and found four 36” pieces that had quarter sawn cuts. Dig long enough at this big box store and you'll find some treasures like the quarter sawn oak I used for the apron. That’s the fun of making my own furniture, you get to choose your wood.

The 1 ¾” thick door gets a 1 ½” thick oak edge treatment, which thins it down a bit, but still too thick for the tapered legs I had made. I had wagered that using a luan solid core door would save me over 6 hours worth of work to make a perfectly flat table top as well as $100 extra dollars. One hour with a jackplane produces a 3/8” bottom bevel on the oak edge. This makes the awkwardly thick top look thinner. Look carefully at the legs and you’ll notice the grain runs along with the taper of the legs, half an hour of visually inspecting all 32 sides to cut the 8 tapers was worth the time. Even though the table looks simple and plain, there are plenty of attentions to detail here.

At 37-1/2" x 61-1/2" x 30" tall the custom table fits the scale of the room nicely as well.The walnut finished dining table goes perfectly with the mismatched collection of seatings I already have.