Thursday, March 9, 2017

Campaign Style Bookcase

Before I started following Chris Schwarz I had never formally heard about campaign furniture although I always knew I liked the furniture stylings of the Indian Jones movies and the vignettes at the ride in Disneyland is the most interesting part of the ride for me. I followed Chris' blog closely in the months leading up to the release of his book 'Campaign Furniture' and bought it as soon as it came out. It's one of the few woodworking books I've ever read from cover to cover rather than just using it as a reference.

The project I had in mind when I heard about the book was a bookcase for my son. I will admit I was temporarily disappointed when I saw the bookcase in 'Campaign Furniture' since it was much smaller than I had in mind. That disappointment faded quickly however for two reasons.
1) The bookcase Chris did would be perfect for a complete set of Hardy Boy books so it's on the list for a future project.
2) The book focused as much on techniques as it did on specific pieces of furniture so it gave me everything I needed to design and build my own.
The design process for me ranges from detailed measured full size drawings to sketches on a piece of scrap paper. This project was the latter. I knew three 'units' would give me good height and storage capacity and the measurements flowed quickly based on the size of the wood I had available. In this case it was 8 foot lengths of African Mahogany ranging from 8 1/2 to 9 inches in width. That put the width of each box at a little under 32 inches and the height at 16 inches.

With basic measurements in hand the boxes came together quickly with half blind dovetails. 'Campaign Furniture' preaches full blind dovetails and I do like the idea, however I don't get to do as many woodworking projects as I would like and if I'm going to do dovetails I want to show them off at least a little bit. All three boxes are identical and I toyed with different designs for the insides. I drilled shelf pins in all three but only the middle unit has a shelf. The top unit got a bank of three drawers and the bottom unit has a pair of doors.
I had a few crazy ideas for the base of the unit. At one pint I was considering stealing the brass kick plate from my front door and replacing it with a stainless steel one from the home centre so that I had a piece of brass to cover the front of the base. In the end I had the perfect amount of wood left over to do a simple dovetailed frame with a couple of cross members to allow me to bolt it to the bottom. I went with full dovetails here and at first I wasn't sure you'd even notice them but in the end they elevate the case nicely and are fairly visible.
The drawer unit in the top gave me an opportunity to add a few fun bits. In this case three hidden compartments. The first is simply a small recessed area in one of the drawers. The second is a false bottom on the middle drawer and the final one is a small box behind a short drawer. As with many secret compartments, once you know they exist they aren't hard to find however if you don't know to look there isn't anything obvious indicating the treasures hidden within.

I will admit that the scariest part of the build for me was all the inset hardware. I fretted over creating jigs and various other options but in the end I went with a relatively straight forward approach.
1) Mark the heights with a marking gauge and the roughly mark the width.
2) Use a handheld trim router free hand to route out the bulk before cleaning up with a chisel.
3) Hold the hardware in place to mark the width and finish up with a chisel.
All 24 pieces were done in an evening.

The finish I originally had in mind was a darker stain and pre-aging the brass. When I did some test samples of the African Mahogany with a wipe-on poly however I liked the look and decided to keep things simple.  I figure after a few sea voyages to India it will darken on it's own and develop the patina I am looking for.

This was a fun project and I'm hooked on Campaign Furniture.

Shut the Box Times Six

Each Christmas I try to make at least a few of my Christmas gifts, especially the ones for the kids teachers. In the past they've been simple cutting boards, small boxes and clipboards. This year I saw plans for a game called Shut the Box which fit with my theme of trying to build a game for the kids each Christmas. It was a bit more involved then a cutting board but I figured if I batched them out it would be worth the effort. In hindsight, even batching them out takes time when you are doing something like this six times. I got the two for the kids school done on time but the rest didn't get mailed quite in time.
Construction is straight forward with finger jointed corners, plywood bottom and floating panel solid top. I have a jig that is permanently set up for 3/8 fingers on the table saw with a flat bottomed dado blade so set up is quick. Making the box is actually quite quick. Most of the time is spent in the glue up and finishing. For the prototype (a 7th box) I hand wrote the numbers but for the next six I bought an inexpensive set of stamps for the numbers. Felt bottoms on a 1/8 inch plywood substrate, brass piano hinges and a wipe on poly finish things up. Easy construction and should last a life time of fun.

For plans you can go to

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Small Part Storage

This was a quick project done in the 'one day build' style of

The build itself was inspired by a video on that site that showed a simple solution to small part storage. ( That product was too expensive for me so I started looking for some cheaper options that served the same purpose. I settled on some relatively cost effective containers from Stanley and Mastercraft. They have many small containers and you can mix and match the sizes.

The cabinet was sized around efficient use of 1/2 inch and 3/8 inch plywood and the containers themselves. It's on wheels so I can move it around the shop easily and it's great being able to bring the parts to my bench when I need them. The clear container tops help too. It may seem tall and skinny but it's surprisingly stable. I don't think I'll have to worry about it falling over and even if it does, all the containers lock so nothing spills. I haven't bought all the containers yet but will purchase more as I need them.

The finish was just some left over outdoor stain from my fence.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator

About 12 years ago a friend of mine from university approached me about building an arcade cabinet. It seemed like a fun project so for about a year we periodically got together and pretended we knew what we were doing and in the end we had a very presentable Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) cabinet for him to take home. At the time I had no interest in the electronics so he took it home to finish after we were done the woodworking.
Over the past few years the Raspberry Pi and the Maker culture has taken over and I begin to regret not having helped with the electronics. After a bit of research I realized there was a wealth of information on what to do and it looked pretty straight forward. I've started a tradition of making the kids a game each Christmas and although I was a few weeks late this seemed like a good project. (Let's just pretend I made this one for the kids.)
Almost every post I've found on how to make one of these things seems to include the line "I am not a woodworker so you'll have to excuse my construction methods." Luckily this is the one part I did understand at the start of the project. There are plenty of posts out there on the intricacies of creating a MAME controller so I'm not going to make this post be a step by step. Instead I'll detail the experience of going from idea to finished product.
I really had no idea where to start though I did know I wanted to do the following;
1) Try out wiring.
2) Not build the entire cabinet.
3) Try out a Raspberry Pi.
4) Keep things cheap.
As mentioned there are a lot of great resources out there for this kind of thing. was a great location for the software for the PI and had several good posts with the necessary steps.
I did spend a lot of timing trying to figure out the best place to buy the buttons, controller module etc. had some packages for the buttons but it included a wiring harness and that seemed like cheating. I quickly learned there are very few local electronics stores anymore so online seemed like my only option. I eventually came across which caters to the various Playdium's across the country and they had everything I needed. This was when I realized this was going to be a pretty simple project. The IPac2 is pretty much idiot proof.
The measurements for the case were a mix of online research and a cardboard template to figure out what I liked. The plan was for a two player game with joysticks and not too much clutter. I'm not much of a gamer so I didn't plan on downloading any 8 button arcade games or needing a trackball which was rather expensive. This gave me the general layout and a few random measurements for the height and I was ready to build. The case was finger jointed poplar and the top was baltic birch which is a high quality plywood. (I had a scrap piece lying around.)
The button install was very straightforward. I had to buy a pair of wire crimping pliers and I splurged on a better wire stripper. The automatic ones are way better than the manual pair I had. The Pi setup was relatively painless. The hardest part was trying to image the memory card from my Mac. Everything was locked down and it took a bit of time to figure out which security settings I had to turn off. The only issue I had on the inside was that I put in a full plugin and the PI DC converter was offset by 90 degrees so it didn't fit until I added a 90 degree adapter.
I put a few vent holes in the bottom though I don't expect the PI to get very hot. I also had to add an extra hole for the HDMI cord. I do plan on putting a proper HDMI port on the outside but haven't found one I like.

This whole project took about three weeks  of evenings from planning start to completion so it really doesn't take a lot of time to get something functional. So far I've managed to install Super Mario Brothers which was my favourite game as a kid. Now I don't have to share with my brothers.

The Book That Started Everything

There are three things that got me into woodworking. The first is that my Dad is a carpenter and I was around tools my entire life, the second was a simple finger jointed box that I used as a cash box when collecting money from my paper route and the third was a book called Box Making Basics that had this box on the front cover. I started woodworking in the late 90's in my third year of university as a hobby. Small boxes seemed like the perfect place to start since I didn't need a lot of material and they require all the basic skills you need to do fine woodworking.
I made a box just like this for my wife before we got married and now my daughter is old enough to have jewelry lying all over her bed room so it was time to make one for her as well. The construction consists of mitred sides on base that is glued on and the top is a solid panel with a lap jointed frame. This project took about a week of evenings and was made of Sapelle. The big lesson learned on this box was that I need to be more careful with how I store my velvet. It's gotten quite wrinkled and I"m not even sure how to get the wrinkles out. I don't know if I can iron it. The box still turned out great and was a big improvement over the one I did 15 years ago.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The One Day Bench

I wanted a quick project I could start and finish in a day. It just so happens that the older version of this bench had reached end of life and needed replacement. (I had made it with pine and 12 years in the Vancouver rain ended it's life prematurely.) I really like this particular bench for a few reasons.
1) It's sturdy.
2) It uses dimensional lumber you can pick up at the home centre.
3) It's construction is simple. You could make the hole thing with a hand saw and a hammer if you wanted to.
This particular bench design has some sentimental value for me. Portions of the original are at my Grandmother's lake property near Prince George. I replaced the legs on it about 15 years ago. The story I have is that several of them were made for a company softball tournament and she got to take one home. (I could have that story completely wrong.) As I mentioned, I built the whole thing in a day including the finish. This time I made it out of pressure treated so I think it will last a lot longer. The whole bench cost me $50.00 to make.
I don't have plans but I'll explain as best I can and detail the measurements and it should be enough. The size I made used 7 2x4's.
1) The bench is 48 inches wide. You can vary this up to 8 feet.
2) The front legs are 16 inches.
3) The middle stretcher is 28 inches. (This was the only improvement over the original. Gives it more lateral support.)
4) The piece that defines the back height is 25 inches with a slight curve at the top for aesthetics.
5) The back leg is 17 inches with a 15 degree cut for the bottom and a 60 degree cut at the top.
6) The seat supports are cut at a 15 degree angle with the long part at 21 1/2 inches.

Construction is very straight forward. Most pieces are simply cut to length. The only tricky pieces to cut are the 15 degree angles on the four seat supports and the back leg. The back leg starts with the angle cut on the bottom and the 60 degree cut starting from the long side on the other end. It's this angle that defines the angle of the back rest which is 15 degrees. I cut it with a chop saw but it's tricky since the saw only goes to 47 degrees so you have to shift the piece 90 degrees and make a 30 degree cut. A skill saw would work too. I assemble the inside half of each leg and attach the cross support before adding the second set of seat supports. Just remember that the projection beyond the seat supports of the back leg needs to match the projection of the front leg so that the bench sits flat. The location of the backrest piece becomes obvious once you have the back leg screwed on. The location of the seat and back slats on this version is 5 inches in from the ends though you would increase that as you make the bench bigger. I place the front seat slat with about a 1/2 inch overhang, the bottom right against the back and the two middle pieces equally spaced. The back slats start by adding the top one first and the bottom one about a 2x4 width up from the seat. The middle slat is then centered in the remaining space. Be sure to square up the seat when you assemble it. I also pre-finished all the pieces before assembly.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Giving a Christmas Tree a Second Chance

For the past 15 years we've had a fake tree. As a kid we always had a real tree but when I moved out my wife got her parents old tree and we've been using it ever since. This year we decided it would be fun to head to the Christmas Tree farm and get a real tree. My daughter wasn't too happy about cutting one down but she didn't mind 'saving' one from the tree lot. When Christmas was over however, sending the tree to the chipper wasn't a happy thought. Instead I took some time to hone my turning skills with a few simple projects.
The first project was pretty simple. A pencil holder. The centre was drilled out with a 2 3/8 forstner and the outside turned to about 3/8 of an inch thick. A bit of felt on the bottom and a shellac finish and it was done.

The second project was much less practical. A baseball bat made from a noble spruce isn't going to stay straight for long but it was a fun project. I wasn't sure on dimensions so I winged it by splitting it into thirds. One third for the thick part, one third for the thin part and one third for the transition. It turned out pretty well.
The final project was a simple vase for Valentine's Day. Centre was drilled out with a 3/4 auger bit and the outside was finished with wipe on poly and wax. I also had a small plastic insert so it can hold water for the flowers.

This was my first time turning green wood which is much more enjoyable. The only issue was the sap which was mostly in the bark layers. It left a film on my turning tools that was a bit of a pain to get off. Other than that, this was a great way to give a Christmas Tree a second chance at life.