Thursday, December 5, 2013

The long awaited closets

Yes, so it has been quite a while since my last update. To be honest, I have had the closet organizers (yes, both of them) finished for quite some time now, so here I will be going over the final steps I took in their construction.

I left off last time with an applied finish. I mentioned that I used fine steel wool for the final finish. I found in later cases that I got a similar, yet nicer finish (i.e. without the streaks) by simply progressing through 320, 400 and 600 grit with my random orbit sander, so this is the method I used for the majority of the surfaces in the end.

Following the finishing steps, I needed to make some grooves in the upright pieces to accept the shelf standards I intended to install. In order to do this, I used a new toy (well, new at the time), a router table (shown below).

The router itself is a Mastercraft (Canada's Canadian Tire brand) 1.75 HP fixed base router. I got the router and table along with a ~36 piece router bit set off of an add on Craigslist. It was hardly used and overall cost maybe about a third retail. It's not the best table, but it works, and the router runs well enough. From my experiences so far, the high speed steel router bits it came with suck, so I've been replacing some of the bits with better, carbide bits as they wear out (which doesn't take long). Using this router, I made the required grooves which are shown here.

Of course I bought oversized shelf standards, so I needed to cut them to length with another new toy my wife got my for my birthday (quite a while ago now though), a fun Dremel rotary tool. This is the type of tool that always brings a smile to my face when I pick it up. It has many uses for these types of small jobs.

And finally the standards were installed. Unfortunately I did not end up taking any photos of the assembly of the organizer units (nor any really of the construction of the second unit), but I will say that it went together quite smoothly using simple screws to hold the pieces together. Below you can see the finished product of this closet organizer. The cart underneath the large shelf is a laundry organizer. The second unit is very similar except instead of the large middle shelf, there is simply a taller set of shelves to the side, and two layers of hanging rods.

I hope you enjoyed this build, it is the reason I got into woodworking to begin with, so to have the finished product is really a source of pride with me since it was also the project which conveyed the message "See? I CAN make nice things!" (there was indeed some skepticism when I began these projects, but the support was always there nonetheless).

On a more up to date note, I have been working hard on several projects, but unfortunately I won't be able to reveal any of them until after December 25th! Until then, I hope to have another post or two with perhaps some other miscellaneous updates.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Applying the finish

And now we are onto a very exciting step in this project (and in most others as well). Many people do not appreciate this step in woodworking, and that step is the finishing, which includes sanding and application of some sort of protective coat. This can be very exciting because once you apply that first coat of finish, you get a glimpse of what your project is going to look like when it is finished. Because I am using plywood, the surface is nearly ready to have a finish applied right away. I simply did a light sanding with 220 grit using the random orbit sander (ROS) to smooth out the surface, and remove and pencil marks. When dealing with solid wood, the sanding process is a bit more lengthy, usually beginning at 80 grit to remove milling marks ...etc.

After the light sanding, I gathered some necessary items for the finish, a brush, the finish itself (I am using a satin water-based polyurethane finish by Varathane) and a container, all shown below. Not shown are some other things such as masking tape and gloves.
Simple supplies needed for finishing
I use the container to pour a small amount of finish. This way, any contamination is limited only to this small amount, and not the entire can (this stuff isn't the cheapest). Next, I prepare the pieces for finishing. When I apply the finish, small droplets may drip down the edges of the piece, and then adhere the work piece to the bench, or make their way onto the other side. Neither of these events are desired, so I do two things. To deal with the first issue, I need a way to keep the work piece slightly elevated, so using double-sided tape. I attach a few pieces of cardboard to one side. The soft cardboard will not mar the surface, which is also a plus.
Cardboard to give the piece some lift.
To address the issue of droplets running onto the opposite surface, I used masking tape to tape of the areas I want to avoid getting finish on. Of course, I will be finishing both sides, but having droplets drying onto the surface will be noticeable in the end.
Masking tape to keep the spread of the varnish under control.
Finally, I gather all of the pieces together in a convenient location. Yes, that is our deep freezer underneath the pieces. It is conveniently located near my workbench as shown in the following photo. When you have limited space, any surface becomes fair game to set things upon.
Getting organized.
A conveniently located freezer.
So why am I using a water-based finish? I am no expert on finishes, in fact, this is the first one I've done in many years, so my reasoning is a result of a chat with a very helpful employee at the store where I purchased the Varathane. Water-based finishes have nearly zero odour, and when dry, leave a crystal clear coat, whereas an oil-based finish stinks and will develop a yellow hue over time. This is not to say water-based is better, it simply fit the bill for the look I was going for. I have read in many forums that oil-based finishes are much easier to apply. Sometime in the future, I hope to experiment with different finishes.

Another fact about water-based finishes is that they easily become bubbly. Thus, I cannot shake the can, or stir very vigorously. It also means that it is not a good idea to wipe it on with a cloth or roller. So as shown below, I give the varnish a gentle stir, and start brushing it on.
Stir gently and apply with brush.
Going back to my statement about all surfaces finding some use in the shop, I really had to be creative in finding places to set these pieces while they dried. Below are some places I found:

Both shelves of my workbench,
A pallet I found at work,
And the table saw. Wait what? Where did THAT tool come from? That is an adventure for another time!
Here's one more photo for your enjoyment:
Can you find all of the pieces?
Using a test piece (in this case an extra drawer), I figured out the process I wanted to use. I tried diluting the varnish with water to about 1:3 water:varnish hopefully allowing me to wipe it one. This worked out all right, but since each coat went on so thin, I needed somewhere around 6-8 coats. I used this method with many of the pieces, but towards the end, after developing my technique, I found that three coats with the brush worked just as well (and actually ended up with a slightly thicker overall coat).

To do the final finishing, I used 600 grit sandpaper on the ROS and then finished with steel wool (#0000, the finest available) which gave the piece a nice satin finish. I found out near the end, that I should have started with 400 grit, followed by 600, but in the end all pieces ended up looking quite nice. With the conclusion of this step, the closet organizer can finally be assembled. I will talk about the steps leading to this next post.

Once again, thanks for your continued interest in my various activities involving wood!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hidden layers: applying the edge banding

So I left off last time with all of the pieces being cut to their final size. All that's left now is beautifying the pieces and then assembling the unit. The first step in the beautification of plywood is the application of some kind of edge banding. The purpose of this is to hide the layers that make up the plywood sheets. This can be done usually one of two ways, 1) by gluing a piece of solid wood to the edge, or 2) using commercially available iron-on edge banding, which is a wood veneer with a heat-activated glue attached. The first method, in my opinion, usually looks nicer since you can turn this process into a design element, rather than simply a tool for hiding the plywood edges. However, a table saw and more experience than what I have is required, thus I will be using the latter option (which can also look really good when done properly). Below are shown all the tools and materials necessary for this process.
Only a few simple tools are required for this task
What you see here are a couple of clamps to hold the work piece, of course a roll of iron-on edge banding I bought from Windsor Plywood, a pair of scissors and a utility knife for cutting and trimming the banding, an iron which will be used to activate the glue, and a small plane and sandpaper to trim the banding to width and create a finished look.

The first step is to mount the work piece in a vertical position as shown below. Ideally this would be done maybe in a bench vise, but this setup sufficed for me.
Okay, a bench vise would have been better, but in the end this worked out
This overall process really showed me how bad these Mastercraft Turbogrip clamps are. I bought them during a sale at Canadian Tire (60% off) along with several other clamps, so I'm glad I didn't pay too much for them. Several times the clamps gave way, dropping my work piece. No real damage was done fortunately.

On nearly the hottest setting, I then ran the iron over the edge banding. Immediately following this, I applied pressure with a block of wood to ensure a good contact between the banding and plywood.
Apply heat then pressure: the two ingredients needed for a good bond
Once cooled, I used the utility knife to score the ends of the banding flush to the plywood. The excess pieces then snapped off with ease.
After scoring with the knife, the excess piece will snap right off
The edge banding is quite a bit wider than the thickness of the plywood, so sanding all of the excess off would be very painful. Instead, I found a small, inexpensive trimming plane to do this job. I am actually very happy with this plane, for its price it does a very good job. Once I have trimmed the banding as close as possible to the plywood surface, I used a makeshift sanding block with 150 grit sandpaper to take care of the rest, and ease the edges.
The plane removes the bulk of the extra banding, then the sandpaper gives it finesse
As you can see below, the clue in the banding really clogged up the sandpaper. I went through quite a few squares by the time I finished.
Glue can really mess up the sandpaper
Overall, I was pretty pleased with the result. If you don't look too closely (like in the photo below), it looks like a solid piece of wood.
Even this close it almost looks like a piece of solid wood
With all of the pieces edge banded, I am ready for the next step of beautification: applying the varnish, which will be a story for the next posting.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Finishing the cuts: bench top gets a workout

Hello again! I realize now that these posts are getting more sparse lately. Unfortunately, I've been a bit busy with life, but even so, I have managed to get quite a bit of work done despite all that. It just happens that a lot of the work I've done has been a bit repetitive  thus I have decided not to post all of it (I think you have all seen enough of me simply cutting plywood sheets apart). So yes, I will admit that my project has progressed significantly past where I am with the blog, but that's par for the course with these types of things.

Anyways, it's time to get down to business. Since last time, I have a few more finishing cuts to do. I especially want to cut out the smaller pieces (e.g. shelves and supports) and square everything up, and make sure the pieces all have consistent dimensions. Since I am now working with much smaller pieces, I get to use my workbench!

There was still one issue that I was concerned about. If I were to simply clamp my piece to the edge of my bench, and cut it, then one piece would fall to the floor. This creates two problems. The first is that the piece which falls to the floor might get damaged (in many cases I want to use both pieces from the cut). The second, when the cut is nearly done, and only a tiny amount of wood is left supporting the piece, it is likely to break apart, creating an unclean cut. I could try holding the off-cut piece, but this is awkward and potentially dangerous, and I don't have any other stands or supports I can use, so I developed another idea to fix this.

I clamped two strips of wood under the edges of the piece, perpendicular to the cut. I clamped the plywood to these strips on both sides of the cut. I then made sure the entire assembly was clamped to the bench. I adjusted the depth of cut of my circular saw such that it would not cut all the way through the strips. Thus, once the cut is completed, the strips will continue to support the off-cut piece. This process is shown in the photos below.
Here I am preparing to cut this piece of plywood. I have wooden strips clamped on both sides of the cut.
Here is a closer look at the clamping and set-up.
With the depth of cut set fairly shallow, I don't have to worry about cutting through the support strips.
The result: a nice clean cut and no damaged pieces.
This method worked very well. I was left with very clean cuts. I also remembered to keep the good side facing downward, such that the cleanest part of the cut was on the good side. This method even worked for a larger piece, as shown below. In the future, I may try something similar to this even with a full 4x8 sheet of plywood.
This also works well with the large 2x8 piece shown in this photo.
For smaller pieces, such as the 2-1/2" wide supports, I had to place an extra piece of plywood against the piece being cut in order to be able to use my cutting guide. In the photos below, you can see how I did this. I cut three strips from the one small piece.
In order to use the saw guide on smaller pieces, I need to clamp it to a spare piece as shown in the above left. The cut goes just as smoothly as shown to the right.
Always be mindful of where the blade will travel. This was a minor issue in this case, but could have just as easily been very serious.
Oh no! As you can see in that last picture, I lost track of where the saw blade was travelling and accidentally cut a slot in the end of my bench. It's okay, no harm done, this bench was designed to take some abuse. I don't believe work benches should be made such that you feel incredibly bad when you mar the surface.

Finally, after all the cuts where made, I squared and evened up the shelf dimensions. In the photo below, you can see on the left that they don't line up very well when placed atop one another. After ganging them up and cutting them once more, you can see the alignment is much better on the right.
One quick cut and all the shelves are even (on one edge anyways).
In continuing with these methods, I managed to get all of the pieces cut and sized for one of the closet organizers (the one with the large shelf in the middle). I don't really have any more pictures to show for this, since I really wanted to just get it done. But I will say a few words about it. To make the curves for the larger shelves, I simply used a jigsaw and the sanded the edges until they were smooth. I used a new toy of mine to help a bit, but I will introduce THAT another time. I also used the jigsaw and some sandpaper to shape the large shelf supports. Again, these didn't seem that interesting so I don't have any pictures to show.

Next time, I will show my progress in banding the plywood edges and preparing the pieces for their protective coating. I anticipate the coating process will take a while sine multiple coats will be required, and drying time adds up!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Cutting down the plywood sheets

I'm back finally with some slight progress on the closet organizer project. I haven't been posting as frequently for a few reasons. One is that cutting down the plywood sheets took longer than expected. It's one of the drawbacks of living on a strata that you can't use power tools too late in the evening if you wish to be respectful of your neighbors. If I were to make regular posts, they would get quite boring since all you would be seeing is more pictures of me cutting wood with relatively no dialogue. It is likely that I generally wont be posting as often for this same reason, especially when it comes to finishing the pieces, since I expect this to take a loooooong time.

That said, let's get right into the next step: cutting down the 4'x8' plywood sheets into more manageable sizes. Shown below is a 'cut list' diagram made in SketchUp showing all of the pieces I need for the project. As you can see, 2 sheets of plywood are plenty for this project (I actually bought 3 sheets to be on the safe side, since they were on sale). There may be more efficient ways to lay out the cuts, but this seems satisfactory for me.

Cut list including materials for both closet organizers.
I don't really want to cut out each individual piece from the larger piece, so my goal in this step is to cut out a few pieces just small enough that I can start working from my newly made workbench. I started with the upper piece, cutting down the length of the sheet to give the shelving unit sides. Since a sheet of plywood is too large to cut on my workbench, I decided to do this on the floor. To accomplish this, I laid out some sacrificial boards to prop it off the ground. I will then adjust my circular saw to give a shallow depth of cut so  the blade will not contact the cement, as shown below.

Sacrificial pieces of wood are used to raise the plywood so that it may be cut.
My method for making measurements was to take a long measuring stick in combination with a framing square to yield an accurate measurement. With a few marks made, I could then connect them with the measuring stick.
A simple method to make accurate and consistent measurements.
Below are shown two saw blades. The DeWALT saw blade is the one that came with my saw. It is an 18 tooth fast cut blade. This was fine for the workbench, since I didn't care too much about how clean the cut was, but in this case, the plywood has a more delicate surface, so I picked up the 40 tooth blade to the left. The results were probably as good as I am going to get without spending more money on a finer tooth blade. I've found that as long as I keep the 'good' side of the plywood faced down, there is very little damage to the good surface.
Different saw blades excel at different tasks.
You may recall that I was using a cutting guide for some of my cuts during the workbench build. But what you may not know is that this came in two equal length parts that can be combined to form a ~100'' long guide capable of reaching the entire length of the plywood sheet. This came in very handy for the long cuts shown here.
The extendable cutting guide came in handy for these long cuts.
I made these first cuts before I realized which side I should have facing up. When cutting along the wood grain as shown above, it is not a big of a problem, but when cutting across the grain, the surface of the wood can 'tear-out', as in the cut shown below.
Now I know for next time which side to face up when cutting.
As a result, I needed to do some clean-up trimming, which will mean that the depth of the shelves will be slightly less than originally planned. Fortunately, this is not a big problem, as long as the depth is made consistent across all pieces, which I will get into next time.

With that, I transformed two large pieces of plywood into several smaller pieces (shown below) which I will be able finish up using the workbench.
The plywood has been cut down to more manageable pieces.
Next time I will further cut these pieces to their final dimensions using my workbench (which should be much more comfortable for me).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The project that started it all!

Hello everyone! It has been about a month since I last updated anything on this site, but with the start of my next woodworking project, I intend to jump right back in. I mentioned in my last post that I would post details about my projects in the 'Projects' tab. For the time being, I have decided to defer this to a later date, namely, when I figure out how exactly I want to go about doing it. For now, since I have relatively few posts here, such a 'directory', if you will, is probably not really necessary.

So what am I working on next? Well, if you have read the 'About' page, then you may remember me mentioning a set of closet organizers. The home my wife and I recently moved into has a pair of his 'n' hers closets, which is nice, except that they are quite small (less than 4 feet wide actually). With such limited closet space, we want to try and maximize the 'packing efficiency' (such terms probably are a result of my exposure to crystallography). This is a very special project, because it is what got me into this whole woodworking thing to begin with. We knew we wanted some sort of organizational system, but there weren't many store-bought ones that would fit into our small closets very well, so I thought, "This CAN'T be that difficult to build", and now here I am, building a set.

To begin the project, I made a couple of sketches using SketchUp (freely distributed by Google). Below are a couple of images showing roughly what they will look like inside our closets. I also made an image excluding the closet, to give a clearer picture of what exactly I am building.
The closet organizers inside the closets.
A view of the organizers without the closet to better illustrate what I will be building.
I originally wanted to have some drawers, but the lip on the closet precluded that idea (if the closet were larger, than a set of drawers could go in the middle, with plenty of space to use on either side). Although I didn't show them in these images, there will be three poles for hanging clothes, two in two layers in the left hand closet, and one in the top section of the right hand closet. In the large space below the shelf in the right closet will be a laundry organizer. I have made the height of the shelf sufficient to house this organizer. Each of the full-width shelves also will have a slight curvature purely for aesthetics.

For the materials, I purchased 3 sheets of 4'x8'x3/4" birch plywood from Windsor Plywood. I chose a high grade that will look nice with a clear coat (I'm a fan of having he natural look of wood shine). As you can see below, it happens to have some nice grain patterns, which I think will look quite nice once it's finished.
One of the three pieces of birch plywood I will be using for this project.
I am looking forward to beginning this project, as it will be my first 'finished' project, and stand as my motivator in getting into this woodworking hobby. Next time I will begin cutting down these large pieces of plywood.

Monday, February 18, 2013

My first workbench: Finale!

Yes, you read the title correctly, in this post I will be finishing the workbench! Last time I left off with a completed frame, so logically one might think that all I need to do is attach the bench top. Unfortunately, due to the monkeying around I did trying to get the legs level despite the uneven floor resulted in an uneven top. When I place the bench top onto the frame, it would wobble from side to side. At this point, my only real option was to remove material from the high corners until the top would sit flat. So after a few hours of sanding using my random orbit sander, I managed to achieve this. Was this the most efficient method possible? Probably not. I think using a hand plane would have been much better, but I do not have one (and even if I did, I hear they take a bit of a time investment before you can actually use them properly).

I was reluctant to glue the top to the frame, because I thought it would be a good idea to leave open the option of removing the top should I need to in the future (for example, maybe I want to install some drawers or something), so instead I cut some 1-1/2"x1-1/2" scrap wood into small chunks as shown. I used my skill saw because it was easier on these small pieces than dragging out the big circular saw.
I cut six small pieces from this scrap wood using my jigsaw.
Before I continue, I think it is worthy of note that even though it is not completed, this is my first use of the workbench ever! All of my other tools are jealous of my jigsaw for being a part in this momentous occasion. With that out of the way, I clamped the pieces to the inside of the top of the frame, making sure the tops of these pieces were flush with the top of the frame. Following this, I drilled a series of pilot holes and then drove in some screws like so.
I clamped the pieces to the frame, making sure the tops are flush.
To mount these pieces, I first drilled a pilot hole and then used screws.
Because, again, the frame is not perfectly straight, I positioned the bench top in such a way as to maximize the amount of overhang on each end, then clamped the bench top down.
The top was then clamped to the frame.
Screwing the bench top to the small scrap pieces was a bit awkward as you probably can imagine when looking at the photos below.
The top was then screwed in place.
With the bench top mounted, it was time to add the centre supports I cut out near the beginning of the project. Because of its thickness, the bench top feels very sturdy, so perhaps it doesn't require this support, but I had it cut already and the original plans called for it. Plus it's not a hassle to install anyways. To begin, I placed the bench upside-down, and positioned the support in the centre. In retrospect, I probably should have turned the frame upside-down when mounting the top, it probably would have made things easier. With the support in place, I simply screwed it in as shown.
I then added the centre support for the bench top.
I did the same thing for the support for the shelf. In this case, the support is of higher importance since the shelf is much thinner (about 1/2"), and will have a seam that you will see later. Since this part of the frame is 'floating', I needed a way to make the centre support flush to the rest of the frame, so I clamped a small piece of plywood as a reference for the support piece, as shown below. The following photo shows both supports mounted.
Next the centre support for the shelf was added.
Here is a photo showing both supports in place.
The shelf is made from a piece of plywood which will have the corners notched out to accommodate the legs. But how do I know where to make the cuts for the notches? I used a very simple method: since I knew the plywood piece was oversized significantly, I simply placed it on top of the legs (with the bench still upside-down), and traced around the legs as depicted below. Using a straight edge, I extended to relevant lines to the edges and cut out the notches with a jigsaw.
I used a fairly simple method for determining the cuts. Measuring is sometimes over-rated!
I then extended the relevant lines to the edge.
A jigsaw is ideal for this cut.
With the notches cut, I determined the final dimensions of the shelf and used my circular saw to trim it appropriately. Following that, I made a cut down the centre. This was necessitated by the fact that there was no way to get the shelf in place without doing so (in order to achieve this, I would be required to install the shelf while assembling the frame. It wasn't worthwhile in my opinion). Finally, I screwed the shelf down, completing the assembly of the workbench.
I trimmed the shelf to size, then cut in in half to facilitate installation.
Screwing the shelf down marked the final step in the bench's assembly.
But that doesn't mean it's over! I found the plywood I used for the top to be a bit rough, so I used my random orbit sander to smooth it out (about a half hour of sanding). I also took this time to sand down some of the rough areas of the frame (i.e. saw marks, glue, etc.).
With a bit of sanding, the project is complete!
This concludes this simple workbench project. I look forward to making a lot of use of this beast. From the few cuts I did on it here, I can say that it is lightyears ahead of using a wooden pallet on the ground! For your viewing pleasure, I have some pictures of the completed project below.

I hope you have enjoyed following along on my first real woodworking project on this blog! If I don't have it up tonight, then soon I will post some details about this project, including the final schematics, on the 'projects' page. I hope you will join me again when I begin my next project!