Friday, November 21, 2014

Project: Custom Foam Systainer Tool Holder

Organizing tools is almost a never ending job for most of us. Even if you have a large workspace with the best organization systems available, unless you're seriously devoted to putting everything back immediately after use - you're bound to have a few tools laying around now and then.

Over the years I have collected a number of tools, and am starting to feel a bit overwhelmed by them. The plan as it stands is to donate some of my unused or duplicate tools to a local non-profit maker space for kids, and whittle down my assortment of tools to a more manageable size, keeping mostly things I need with a few things that I don't really need.

After doing a lot of research about toolboxes, storage systems, and the like - I ended up gravitating towards the German-designed-and-made Tanos Systainers. They are durable, robust, work very well together as a system, modular, and very flexible.

The folks over at Festool have been using them exclusively to house their power tools, and while Festool goods are very much outside of my budget - the idea of well packed tools in Systainers stuck with me.

So I popped down to Lee Valley and snagged a few Systainers, and some "Kaizen-style" foam. (Kaizen foam is an exclusive brand to Fast Cap, the stuff Lee Valley carries in limited stock is similar)

The project started by laying out the tools in such a way where they made the most out of the space, and made the most out of the least foam. The foam was inexpensive, but I prefer to not waste what I don't have to.

Thankfully Lee Valley had templates specifically for Systainers, so I cut those out, and traced the pattern onto the foam.

The Systainers have some odd shaping inside, so there were two patterns, one for the bottom of the box, and one for middle layers. I cut out the pattern into the foam, and checked the fit as I went, making adjustments along the way (and adjusting the pattern, which I found out wasn't perfect.)

After the foam was cut, it was time to draw the cut lines into the foam. This is where the Fast Cap 'needle nose' marker pen came in handy. I placed the tools in the layout I liked, and traced around them with the marker, which resulted in a pretty close outline to the layout of the tools.

After spending a good amount of time cutting out the foam (of which I didn't photograph, I was too focused on cutting everything correctly) - I did a test fit of the tools in the foam. They seem to fit nicely, which was good news.

Now came the part where planning ahead would have been a good idea. The foam sheets are stacked, the bottom sheet and the middle sheets needed to be adhered together to make the cut-outs more stable. But what glue should I use? Hot glue is out. Wood glue? Nah. I had two options (with the adhesives I had at home) - CA glue, or 'construction adhesive' - I opted for the latter.

In the end, I also used the CA glue as well because it held better, and tightened up the edges nicely.

Once everything was glued together, I wanted to make use of some of the excess space in the foam, and since I had some bits that never really had a home in my toolbox, and I didn't want to lose - I made provisions for storing those with my drills.

The charger cord also needed more room, so I made a cutout in the base layer foam for it (as you can see in the picture above). Things are starting to shape up nicely. The construction adhesive takes forever to dry, so I had to wait a while until I could get everything put nicely into the Systainer.

(Above: Almost ready to go)

(Above: I made a custom label for the Systainer)

(Above: In the box and ready to go!)

For about an hour worth of work, I'm very happy with the end result. This will keep my tools organized, safe, easy to transport, and I'll always know where they are. Now I just have to do the same thing with the other Systainers and my miscellaneous power tools.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Project: Reclaimed Barnwood Desk - Sanding, Sealing, and Inserts

When we last left off, the desktop was still somewhat rough, but in a good state for finishing. Normally people don't much like finishing work - and I can understand why. It's a lot of repetitive tasks, and a lot of waiting. Sand, sand, sand, paint, wait, sand, etc...

With that being said, I got to sanding. I started with the usual 80 grit, to knock off the roughness and the epoxy residue off the top and bottom of the desk. Switching to 100 then 120 was a bit of overkill but it also provided a nicer transition between grits. I climbed to 180 grit, and finally settled on 220 grit. As for the carcass/bottom side of the desk, I stopped at 120 grit.

I felt the 120 for the bottom was smooth enough, plus it let me spend more focus on the top. One thing I like about sanding is once you get into a groove, it's almost meditative in a way. Either way, I enjoyed it (except for the hand sanding, I never like hand sanding)

(Above: I might have a sandpaper hoarding problem)

Now that the desktop was sufficiently smooth, I applied some Danish Oil. That was a huge mistake on my part. Why? Because I realized after that I wanted to apply a mild stain. The Danish Oil blocked most of the stain from getting into the wood. So the desk didn't turn out nearly as dark as I would have liked. Such is life, and lesson learned.

This was my first attempt at using anything besides wipe-on polyurethane, so it was a learning experience. I opted to use all Minwax finishes, since it's generally suggested to stick with one 'brand' if you are using multiple finish types.

After the wood stain fiasco, I gave it a very light scouring with some "0" steel wool, and broke out the polyurethane. For the poly finish, I chose semi-gloss, and this was my first go with foam brushes - since they seem to handle more predictably compared to bristle brushes. (And I don't have to worry about cleaning.)

(Above: Very happy with the overall finish in the end)

I sanded by hand with 220 between coats, and before the final coat I hit it with "0000" steel wool. I didn't put too much effort clearing the polyurethane dust after sanding either because I read somewhere with a matte or semigloss finish, the dust actually helps dull the finish. And that seemed to work.

The pipe flanges I selected for the base were proving to be problematic. The screw holes were large, and tapered. The closest size I could come up with was a #12 or #14 wood screw. And that was a problem.

Wood screws of that size are common, unless you want them short. Like, 1 1/8" short (which was about as long as I could go without poking a hole into the other side of the desk - which would ruin the project.) After some research, I opted for the threaded insert route.

(Above: Flanged threaded inserts and 1/4-20 screws)

A quick trip to Lee Valley and a few bucks later, I had my inserts. Except the inserts were too long, and by the time I figured that out Lee Valley was closed until Monday... so I had to cut them, and yeah - myself in the process.

(Above: 24 tpi hacksaw blades are still pretty sharp)

This project now contains both blood and sweat. No tears yet. (There's still time for that) On with the installation of the flanges!

The flanges would be about 1 1/4" inches from the sides of the desk. I also had to tape off my drill bit to go only 1" deep. Again, I didn't want to be shooting a drill bit through the desk and ruining the whole thing. I took careful measurements, marked everything with an awl, punched the centerpoints for the holes, and it was time for some drilling.

The original thought was I would use a pilot hole with a small bit, then the full size bit. It was at this point I remembered I own a forstner bit set, which would be a better choice. Flat-bottomed holes, and no need to pre-drill a pilot hole, the forstner bits were the obvious choice.

(Above: Forstner bits to the rescue!)

With the holes drilled for the inserts - I could work on installing the threaded inserts. I mixed up some two-part epoxy and coated the insides of the holes before threading in an insert. These were relatively easy to install, since the underside of the desk is pine - so the threads cut in easily.

With the epoxy dry, I could check the 1/4-20 screws that I bought. The nice part about those screws? They matched with the holes on the flange plates quite nicely.

And they fit! The flange plates installed like a dream, held on nicely, and everything lined up great. I made sure to take a lot of care to measure, measure some more, check for square, and be careful through the entire process, since there isn't really an undo button.

Thanks for reading, and the next (and final!) article will detail building the legs/frame, and putting it all together!

Stay tuned for the final installment of this build!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Project: Reclaimed Barnwood Desk - Edging and Details

Now that the top was at a reasonable state and the edges were fairly square, it's time to move onto the next step - installing the edging. Because the reclaimed wood was glued on top of a piece of pine, you could see the two different woods, which I didn't want. I wanted to showcase the old/reclaimed barnwood. 

I started by cutting strips to size and gluing up one edge plus some overhang. 

(Above: I cut some thin strips for the edging)

(Above: I started out gluing one piece of edging down)

The reason I glued the first edges with an overhang is so I could flush-trim the overhang to provide an even edge for the rest of the glue-up. 

(Above: Flush-trimmed the excess)

It was slow progress, because I had to wait for glue to dry after gluing down one piece of edging at a time, trimming excess, making sure things fit, trimming more when needed, and so on. 

(Above: You can never have enough clamps)

(Above: Trimming more pieces to fit)

Once that was finished, I then had to trim more 'overhang' - I actually could have made an easier setup for my router, but I was being lazy and doing it the dangerous way.

(Above: One word - unsafe.)

Doing it the dangerous way left me with mediocre results, but I'd be doing more sanding so I was okay with this for now. In the future, I'll do it the right way. 

Once all the edging was on and routed flat, I realized I didn't like how 'thick' the edging looked, so I grabbed a power planer (since my Fathers' power planer was no longer functional) - and thicknessed the edging a bit.

(Above: Reasonable results for a 'budget' tool)

(Above: I made sure I clamped on a chip-out board for the end grain)

Now that I had the edging thicknessed, this was a good opportunity to give it a 1/8"th roundover to break the hard edge. Sure, I could have used one of my many planes, but I needed to practice my router skills, since it's a tool I use very infrequently.

The roundover turned out okay, the bit dug in a bit too much in spots, mostly due to the uneven surface of the wood. (I'm calling the uneven surface a 'feature' now.) 

The edging wood I used was severely cupped, bowed, and even twisted. I mitigated as much of that as I could by cutting the boards to thinner strips, but you can't always get it all. I planed what I could a swell, but I didn't notice that the mating edges were not square. Oops. So that left a small gap between the desk and the edging on the underside of the desk.

Epoxy to the rescue. Aaaaaand since the top of the desk still had some minor imperfections, I filled those with epoxy too. This time I sprung for better epoxy, instead of those tiny $5-8 tubes that have maybe 0.5oz of epoxy in them.

That's all for this round. What I have left on my plate is as follows:
  • Finish sanding of the top and bottom
  • Apply dutch oil
  • Apply stain
  • Apply many layers of polyurethane clear coat
  • Install bolt inserts
  • Build the pipe frame

Stay tuned for more, we're almost done!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Project: Quick Trinket Holder

The greatest source for inspiration when it comes to woodworking projects has been my girlfriend. Recently she had asked me to make her a holder for a handmade glass trinket she bought on a recent trip. She told me it didn't have to be fancy, and basically asked for 'a chunk of wood with a hole in it'.

After toying around with different ideas (including getting an off-cut of birch and just drilling a hole in it) - I came up with a basic idea:

(Above: Not terribly elegant, but it could work)

After showing my girlfriend the general idea, she seemed to like it so I went ahead and started construction. However, I made a few modifications to the original design. (More specifically, I totally redesigned it)

I had a tiny bit of scrap Baltic birch plywood left over, and some 5/8" dowel that I ended up buying and not using for another build. So with that I cut off some of the dowel, trimmed up the plywood, and drilled some holes.

(Above: Can you guess where this is going?)

I drilled through one of the dowels, and partially drilled into the second dowel - which would allow the trinket to slip through one piece of dowel, and be cradled by the lower piece of dowel.

I then countersunk the holes I made in the plywood for the dowels, and the holes I made for the mounting screws. A small application of wood glue to the backs of the dowels, and a couple #6 screws later - the dowels were secure. To make sure everything lined up, I slipped a stirrer through the holes in the dowels.

Some light sanding, and a test fit and the holder looked like it would do the trick.

As a side note - the whole 'laser print / acetone label transfer' thing I've seen on Youtube - did not work for me.

Upon visiting my girlfriends place, she decided where she wanted it to hang, without her cat being able to get at it, but a place she could see it. A couple of wood screws later - here we are!

And in case you were wondering, the trinket in question is a handmade glass stalk of wheat. I left it unfinished - I like the way the raw wood looks.

Thanks for reading!