CNC, Maker, Woodworking

I Built an Infinity Wishing Well

A few weeks ago, my wife mentioned that she’d like me to find something to cover the septic tank vent in the front yard. I had strategically placed a bird bath next to it two years ago, but I guess people were still able to see the vent.

Where I’m from, when we have a problem we can’t get rid of, we cover it with a wishing well. So I volunteered to build a wishing well… but not just any old wishing well. Keep reading to learn the secret of the well.

I started off with some rough-cut 8/4 cedar.

I cut one of these 2x12s into three boards, each about 3.5″ tall and 1.75″ thick, to use for the base of the well.

From the boards, I cut eight matching pieces (each with a 22.5º miter on each end) using a miter sled I made for the occasion.

I used biscuits and glue and clamped the octagonal base together with a tie-down strap.

At the lumberyard, I also bought a handful of 6′ 1×6 fence boards. I cut each of these into six two-foot 1x3s. Some of the boards were drier than others.

I screwed the cut-down fence boards into the inside of the base, four on each side. I elevated them about half an inch so they wouldn’t have end grain in direct contact with the ground.

I repeated the process I followed for the base to make a collar around the top of the fence boards, and then I added two roof supports. Each support has two 45º miters at the top.

The lip of the well will be octagonal as well, but with the wide sides of the boards facing up. Two of the sides must be notched to fit around the roof supports, so I made a template out of cardboard.

Seven of the lip pieces are biscuited and glued together. The seven-piece part and the remaining piece are each screwed to the roof supports. More on why it’s assembled this way later.

I chose to alternate the wood colors around the lip, partly because I liked how it looked and other-partly because that was the most efficient way to use the boards.

The roof frame comprises two triangles, one attached to each vertical support.

I attached the triangles and added rafters made from leftover fence boards.

Every wishing well needs a place to hang a bucket, so I made handle and spindle out of a scrap of cedar and an old clothes-hanging rod from a closet we remodeled.

I shingled the roof with cedar shingles I picked up with the lumber, and the well is good to go!

Or is it?? (Oh, I also finished all of the weather-facing wood with some spar urethane before continuing.)

This well’s secret is that when you peek inside, you won’t see the aforementioned septic vent. You’ll gaze into an endless simulated abyss, your brain fooled by just a pair of mirrors and a string of lights. Ha ha! Stupid brain!

This illusion is known as an infinity mirror. There are many tutorials online for building these mirrors, but I do believe I am the first person to combine one with a wishing well.  I’ll wait while you rush to create a Wikipedia entry for me, now that I am most definitely notable.

I added supports for the mirror about three inches below the bottom of the lip.  The lip had to be removable so that I could insert the mirror, and, if necessary, remove it later.

The mirror base (and all of the rest of the parts) were cut on my X-Carve CNC router.

The second layer of the infinity mirror is a standard round mirror, twenty inches in diameter. I got this mirror (and the glass for a later step) custom-made by my local glass shop.

The interior of the infinity mirror is two layers of 3/4″ plywood with an octagonal opening (to mimic the inside shape of the well) plus a piece of quarter-inch plywood on each side with a circular opening that fits around the glass.  I glued all of these layers together and then painted all of the interior edges black.

I drilled a hole in one corner where the LED light strip will enter the mirror.

After fitting this section over the bottom mirror, I threaded the LEDs into the frame and used the adhesive backing to attach them around the edge.

Once the LEDs were in place, I added the top mirror, which is actually a two-way mirror. I bought a round piece of glass and applied silver privacy film to one side, creating a mirror that you can look through from one side. On top of this mirror, I added another 3/4″ plywood octagon, a sheet of plexiglass to protect the glass from errant footballs, and a final quarter-inch octagon to hold the plexiglass down.  With the lights on, this is what the mirror looks like at this point:

But what is controlling the LEDs, Chris? Surely this wishing well is not plugged into the wall! That would ruin the illusion!

You are correct. I did not plug the well in to the wall. The LEDs are powered by a battery pack that I inset into the bottom of the standalone lip side. Here’s a shot of it before I attached it to the well:

The battery pack is also a motion sensor, so the lights inside the well automatically turn on whenever someone walks up to it (and turn off 30 seconds later). See for yourself:

Maker, Woodworking

Nelson-Style Cedar Bench

I made what could be called a Nelson-style bench to use as a step next to our hot tub.

It’s about four feet long, 13″ tall, and 11″ deep. The legs are angled out at 10º, and the top is composed of five one-inch wide slats. All of the wood came from one of these cedar 2x12s.

First, I cut the two legs. They’re about thirteen inches long with both ends mitered at 80º.

I cut the sides of each finger joint into the ends of the legs with the table saw, removed most of the inner material with a coping saw, and then cleaned it up with the table saw again.

I cut out five four-foot strips from the 2×12 and then planed them down slowly until they fit perfectly into each finger joint.  Here’s a photo of the dry-fit. (I also tapered the bottom of the end of each slat at 80º.)

I glued the slats into the legs and clamped them for an afternoon.

I cut a chamfer into the edges of the slats in the middle section so it’s easier on the butt (or feet, depending on how the bench/step is being used).

When the cedar-friendly varnish I ordered gets here, I’ll give it a couple of coats to preserve the wood’s color, but it’s otherwise finished and perfectly functional.

Maker, Turning, Woodworking

I built a bandsaw box, and I only made at least eighteen mistakes

I made my first bandsaw box. While I’m very happy with the end result (and pleased that it looks like an ice cream sandwich), I thought that instead of crowing about how great it is, I’d list all of the mistakes I made so that I can avoid them the next time I make one.

  1. I didn’t avoid knots in the wood I chose.
  2. I didn’t use enough glue during glue-up, so there was a gap between two of the pieces.
  3. The blade I used on my first cut was too wide, so I couldn’t get the radius I wanted for the cut.
  4. After changing blades, I didn’t tension the new blade properly, leading to cuts that weren’t straight up and down. Luckily, this didn’t affect the functionality of the drawer, since the back was narrower than the front.
  5. I used a blade with too few teeth per inch, leading to a rough finish that took a long time to sand.
  6. I made one side of the box concave despite not having a spindle sander that I could use to easily sand it.
  7. I didn’t sand the insides of the drawer faces as much as I should have, so they still feel roughsawn.
  8. When cutting the drawer, I didn’t plan my cut in a way that left only one entrance point.
  9. Due to mistake #8, I should have cut the bottom of the drawer blank off before cutting off the front, but I didn’t.
  10. When gluing the box back together, I should have glue the bottom on first (due to mistake #9). I glued the back on first, which meant that when gluing the bottom on, I couldn’t tighten the clamps enough on the back edge to avoid a gap…
  11. …but I tried to anyway and cracked the box.  I undid the clamps and the crack disappeared, and then later I couldn’t find it when I tried. Oh well!
  12. Also during glue-up, I didn’t put a sacrificial piece of wood between the clamps and the box, leading to shallow dents in the front and back.
  13. When turning the knob, I cut off a rectangular piece of stock instead of a square one that would have saved a little bit of wood.
  14. If I had turned the knob with it facing the other way, I could have made the face of it a little concave instead of flat. That would have been neat.
  15. When attaching the knob, I didn’t consider that I wouldn’t be able to screw it on from the inside (because the box is too shallow to fit a screwdriver), so I had to use a screw with a hex head that I could hold with a wrench while I rotated the knob onto the stationary screw.
  16. I didn’t think to fill or sand out a small knot in the upper right corner of the box, and after oiling it, the knot is mostly invisible, but the crack in the middle of it is more noticeable.
  17. I didn’t scrape and sand all of the glue out of the interior corners of the box before it dried, so the oil finish didn’t penetrate in those spots. Luckily the drawer hides all of these spots.
  18. When I started oiling the box, I wasn’t using a lint-free cloth, so it got little lint nubbins all over it.

Hopefully, the next time I make a bandsaw box, I only make seventeen or fewer mistakes.

CNC, Maker, Woodworking, X-Carve

Introducing the Fintendo: My Bartop Arcade Build

I have fulfilled the greatest dreams of my childhood and built an arcade machine that plays my favorite games from the Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and more.

There are many very good tutorials on the Web on how to build your own bartop arcade, so I won’t be going into a ton of detail. I mainly followed this tutorial from I Like to Make Stuff and this one from The Geek Pub.  The basic steps are to get a Raspberry Pi computer, load RetroPie onto it, buy some arcade buttons, and make it all fit into a box.

I already had a Raspberry Pi that I won at That Conference a couple of years ago, but I got my buttons from Amazon. The set came with enough buttons and joysticks for two players to each have eight buttons plus a coin and player button.

The LEDs inside are powered by the USB connection to the Raspberry Pi.

For all of the non-rectangular pieces, I cut them out using my X-Carve. This was especially helpful for all of the button holes, since they were not the same size as any of my drill bits.

After getting the holes cut in the control panel, I wired up the entire system and made sure that it worked. A couple quick rounds of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out confirmed that everything was copacetic.

For the monitor frame, I cut a window the exact size of the screen, then an inlay that would cover the bezel, and a deeper inlay for the area where the screen’s buttons are so that they wouldn’t get pressed by the frame.

Doing the frame this way hides the fact that the screen is a monitor, something that lots of other builds don’t do. I don’t want to be taken out of the moment by a distracting monitor logo and LED light. Ugh! An LED, can you imagine??  I did drill tiny holes in front of each button so they can still be pushed using a paperclip, but the holes became almost invisible after I painted the frame.

The monitor is attached to the frame by a board screwed into its mounting holes. I didn’t do this exactly right, so check one of the linked tutorials for a better example.

I followed The Geek Pub’s example, and attached guide strips where all of the sides needed to be attached. Then I glued and nailed the sides to the guides.

Lots of bartop arcade builders order custom vinyl graphics for their cabinets. I decided to go low-tech and painted a simple retro design on the cabinet and control panel in the same colors as the buttons.

Instead of going the usual route of a translucent graphic on plexiglass for the marquee, I carved a custom Nintendo logo bitmap into some quarter-inch plywood. I did this with a halftone-generator app I wrote for Easel, but it hasn’t been published for general use yet, so I can’t link to it here.

I covered the back of the marquee with red paper so that the logo will appear red when an LED light is mounted behind it.

I lined the marquee box with reflective tape to increase reflectivity. This was probably unnecessary.

The front panel holds the Coin and Player buttons for each player. Coin doubles as Select, and Player is the same as Start.

I also mounted a pair of USB ports on the front panel to allow for easy connection of a keyboard, thumb drive, or USB controllers.

All of the electronics plug into a power strip that feeds out the back of the cabinet.  I was originally going to use the speakers built into the monitor, but they didn’t have nearly enough power, so I stuck some external speakers in the cabinet too.

To allow for heat to vent out, I carved a number of holes into the back in no particular shape.

I also ran some t-molding around all of the exposed plywood edges. This really gave it an authentic arcade feel.

You can find instructions online for loading games onto the Pi, but it goes without saying that you should only use games that you already own a physical copy of.

The final step: invite the kids to play so you can inevitably step in and show them up. Done and done!

Automattic, Christmas, CNC, Maker, Woodworking, X-Carve

An Automattic Bowl

For part of the gift I sent through the Secret Santa exchange at work this year, I decided to make a bowl with the Automattic company logo inlaid in the bottom.  I’ve never made a bowl or done an inlay before, so this was definitely a wise decision that would not backfire.

I started by using my X-Carve to carve out a deep recess in some walnut to receive the inlay.  The plan at this point was to have the inlay visible on both the outside and inside bottoms of the bowl, so I carved it about an inch and a half deep to give me plenty of room for error. (<– Foreshadowing.)

I cut the inlaid pieces out of some maple, since it would have a natural contrast with the dark walnut.

I glued the maple in, flattened the surface, and cut the walnut to a roughly circular blank on the bandsaw.

I mounted the blank on the lathe and carved the outside profile of the bowl. Because I made the blank by gluing two pieces of walnut together (top to bottom), I added three decorative grooves: one on the seam to hide it, and one on either side for good measure. The grain lined up well enough that it’s hard to tell that it’s not one solid piece.

The lathe chuck I was originally going to use would have tightened around the tenon.(In the photo above, the tenon is the protruding portion on the right side that contains the inlay.)  Unfortunately, it broke, and the chuck I ended up using (shown below) needed a recess to expand into, so I cut all of the tenon off (and then some). Because of this change, there wasn’t enough of the inlay left to have it visible on both the inside and outside of the bowl.

I hollowed out the inside of the bowl, being careful not to go too deep.

After finishing the bowl with Watco Danish oil, I let it cure, and then I mailed it off to my unsuspecting coworker along with some treats to fill it.  If he doesn’t like corporate wooden dishware, I hope he at least likes American candy.

Christmas, Woodworking, X-Carve

Wooden’t You Like to See These Christmas Gifts I Made?

Here are a couple more Christmas gifts that came out of the workshop.  The first one is a wall-hanging for my die-hard Vikings fan mother-in-law. I cut it on the X-Carve and hand-painted it.

This one is for my parents to hang up pictures of the grandkids:

If you’re wondering whether making a sign like this makes up for moving 2,000 miles away with the grandkids, the answer is “mostly.”

Christmas, CNC, Woodworking, X-Carve

I Made Some Animal Stools

I made four little animal chairs for young family members this Christmas:

The process for each chair was basically the same: cut out sides on the X-Carve, cut the seat and seatback on the table saw, and screw them together. I hand-painted the elephant and unicorn, and I finished the whale and otter with Danish oil and spray enamel.

If you have an X-Carve and would like to make these, I’ve published projects at Inventables for the otter, elephant, and whale. (The image that the unicorn chair is based on is not freely licensed, so I am not publishing my project for that chair.)