CNC, Maker, Woodworking, X-Carve

CNC-ing a Stepstool out of a 1×12

My wife requested that I make matching stepstools for our hall bathroom so that the smaller children could reach the faucets. I used the opportunity to design a stepstool that could be carved out of a 1×12 and assembled in minutes.

I used Inventables’s Easel software to design a stool that would be 12″ tall and 14 1/2″ deep.  Everything except the step treads can be cut out of a 30″ long 1×12, which is the longest board that can be carved on the 1000mm X-Carve. (You can make a copy of my plans at the Inventables project page I made for this stool.)

Here’s the X-Carve in action, cutting out the third stretcher. Clamp placement was tricky, but in the end, there were no issues.

Here’s the finished carve of the bottom of the first stool.  Each piece is only held in place by small tabs that snap off and then disappear during finish sanding.

The three stretchers fit into the mortices on each side of the stool, so in just a few minutes, the base of the stool can be assembled:

You could carve the treads out of another 30″ length of 1×12, but it’s easier to just cut them at the tablesaw.  Each tread is 14.25″ long; the top tread is 6.5″ deep, and the bottom tread is 7.5″ deep.

While I was assembling the stool, I clamped too hard and cracked it along a pre-existing check in the board. Just as the Chinese use the same word for “crisis” as they do for “opportunity,” I used this crisitunity to make my first butterfly key inlay.  It’s a method of inlaying a piece of wood with the grain going in the opposite direction to strengthen the cracked wood.

After a couple of coats of paint, you can’t see the butterfly anyway, but I know it’s there.

Here are the finished stools, just waiting for some little kids to stomp all over them.

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Woodworking

Refinishing is Better Than Restarting

I’ve been busy with projects lately, but most of them are just cleaning up furniture that my wife Christina found at garage sales. Here’s a summary of all of my refinishings over the last few months.

Christina found this rolling wooden cart at a garage sale, and I refreshed the finish on the top and bottom shelves.

This cradle was given to us by the previous owners of our home. They used it when their children were born ~35 years ago, and we plan to use it for very young foster children. I replaced some of the mismatched hardware and the insert for the bed, and I painted it a glossy white.

This desk came from a garage sale and was in rough shape. Christina wanted it to look like it was in rough shape, but in a slightly different color.

My son found this machete in our yard, so we cleaned up the blade, sharpened it, and made a wooden handle for it.

For this phone chair from the 1960s (also known as a gossip chair), I repainted it, reupholstered the seat, and then weathered the edges.  Underneath the coral-colored fabric shown in the photo, there was another layer of seafoam green fabric.

We bought this playset on Craigslist and moved it across town. Before reassembling, I powerwashed and restained it.

I coated this rocking chair with enamel paint to match another enameled rocking chair we already have.

I don’t have a before picture of this, but it looked basically the same but in a dark brown finish. I painted and weathered it to match the other painted and weathered furniture my wife has asked for.

I repainted this bookshelf for a friend but not before adding a flat solid top in place of the moulding that probably used to hold up some sort of granite or decorative top.

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3D Printing, CNC, Maker, Woodworking

I Built a Set of Cabinets with CNC-Carved Doors

The area above our washer and dryer (not pictured) was mostly wasted space, so my wife asked me to build some custom cabinets. (Actually, she said, “Can you just buy some cabinets for above the washer and dryer? You really don’t have to build custom ones. I just want something better than this shelf. Anything. “) I designed some cabinets that would use up all of the available space, resulting in a rectangular box about 57″ long, 37″ tall, and 18” deep.

I originally built a single MDF box, but when I realized how heavy it would be, I split it into two boxes so that we could lift it into place without a crane.  Pro-tip: Don’t build something that will weigh a hundred pounds if you’ll have to hold it above your head while you’re screwing it to the wall.

I added boards to the top and bottom of the back of each box to increase stability as well as provide a place to screw the cabinet to the wall.

I saw a tip online about covering the edges of MDF with drywall joint compound to achieve a smoother edge after painting, so I tried that. It seemed to work ok, but it was kind of a hassle.

After painting, I drilled a series of quarter-inch holes two inches apart to allow for adjustable shelves. I originally meant to cut all of these with my CNC router to ensure that they were precisely spaced, but I forgot until after I had assembled the boxes.

We hung the cabinets without any trouble. There would have been trouble if we had had to lift the entire thing up there all at once.

I built the face frame out of thin MDF strips and pocket screws and attached them to the cabinet boxes with wood glue and a brad nailer.

In order to make the doors, I wrote a program that reads a cross-section profile of a cabinet rail and panel, like this:

and tells my CNC router to carve that style of cabinet door in 3D (more on that in a future post). Unfortunately, my wife only wants Shaker-style cabinet doors.  I still carved them on the X-Carve as a proof of concept for more complicated future doors.

The doors are 35″ tall, which meant that I couldn’t cut the recessed panel in a single session, so I had to carve out the bottom half, carefully move the door without losing the x-axis alignment, and then carve the rest.  It worked out pretty well:

FYI, if you’re going to be pulverizing five liters of MDF, empty your ShopVac regularly.

I chose hidden European-style hinges with a half-inch offset. These require drilling 35mm holes in very specific locations, so I 3D-printed a jig to guide my drill press…

…and then promptly drilled all the way through one of the doors. Thank you Bondo for sponsoring this portion of my build:

After I finished repainting, you couldn’t tell at all, and as long as I don’t tell anyone else, no one will ever know. It will be our little secret!

Now that the cabinets and doors are in place, the useable space above our washer and dryer has increased by 480%. Buying finished cabinets with this much storage space from Home Depot would cost about $430; I spent $100 in materials and 11.5 hours of my time (mostly painting, since my paint sprayer was acting up).

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OpenSCAD, Programming, Woodworking

Generating Dovetails in OpenSCAD

I’ve written an OpenSCAD library for generating dovetail pins and tails. No longer will beautiful dovetail joints be solely in the domain of skilled woodworkers; now, anyone with a 3-D printer or CNC router can participate too.

Include it in your OpenSCAD script like so:

use <dovetails.scad>;

dovetail_pins() will generate just the pins of a dovetail joint. dovetail_tails() will generate just the tails of a dovetail joint.

board_with_dovetail_tails() and board_with_dovetail_pins() are much more useful; they will generate boards with pins or tails cut into each end.

If you render dovetails.scad on its own, it will output a pair of example boards with pins and tails.

There’s a second file in the repository called dovetail-box.scad. This file is an example of how to generate all of the boards needed to create a dovetailed box, and it shows how they’re oriented when fit together.  It’s also an example of generating pins and tails of different thicknesses.

The library is available on GitHub.

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CNC, Maker, OpenSCAD, Woodworking, X-Carve

Today’s CNC Carving: Doll Bunk Bed Insert

My wife and I decided that we were spending far too much money on factory-carved objects, so we bought our own CNC router — a 1000mm X-Carve from Inventables.

I finished setting it up today, and the first carving on the agenda was a replacement insert for my daughter’s doll bunk bed:

The bed broke when someone stood on the bed to reach a shelf they weren’t supposed to reach. It would be a simple matter to cut out a new insert with a jigsaw, but where’s the fun and repeatable automation in that?

Continue reading

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Woodworking

I Built a Tool Rack and Custom Tool Holders

We moved into a new house this summer, and it has a separate workshop with a built-in workbench. As I unpacked my tools, they ended up on the workbench in no particular order:

If I ever wanted to be able to find any of my tools or have space to use them, I needed to get organized. I started by removing two cabinets from this wall. (The first step in getting organized is not usually removing cabinets, and it took some time to convince my wife that this would work out.) You’ll have to take my word that the cabinets were up there, because I forgot to take a before picture.

Here’s an after picture of the cabinets. They were on the wall, but now they’re on the floor and will soon be in our laundry room.

I planned to build an 8’x8′ rack between the windows, comprising horizontal slats across a vertical frame. Here’s the architectural plan for the rack very professionally done on the back of a circular saw blade sleeve.

I built a simple rectangular frame out of 1×2 pine and then ripped 27 2 1/2″ slats out of half-inch plywood. The frame is screwed into the studs along the top and bottom; unfortunately, the middle vertical 1×2 wasn’t lined up with a stud, so I had to screw through a couple of the slats into the stud about an inch off of center.

Here’s the frame after attaching the first few slats around the outlet.

I re-used the 1×4 ledger board that was supporting the bottom of the cabinets to frame around the outlets. It’s already painted the same color as the wall, which is good, I guess.

(The outlet is crooked, not the frame.)

At this point, all slats are attached, and both outlets are still accessible. I left an inch between each slat, but if I were smart, I would have done the math necessary to adjust the spacing so as not to have extra space at the top of the frame. No one will ever look up there though.

Where this style of rack really shines is in the types of tool holders you can make, and the fact that they’re all essentially free. Try saying that about Slatwall.

The simplest one is the peg:

It ended up holding my level:

It’s just a dowel in a piece of scrap wood, with a half-inch groove in the back that fits over the slats.

Here’s a pro-tip that you won’t hear anywhere else: cut your grooves at a slight angle, like 3º or 4º, and your tool holders will point up ever so slightly, offsetting any sag from the weight of the tools that will be attached to them.

(This groove was cut at 5º, which was probably a little too extreme.)

Now for more example tool holders! All of the ones I’ve built so far were made from wood that’s been floating around in my scrap bin and was probably destined for the campfire.

Cut a few slots in wider stock to hang clamps! Ooh, ahh!

Use a Forstner bit to make a hammer holder! Unbelievable, but true!

Hang your mallet with the dignity it deserves!

Do you have surplus coat rack dowels? Not anymore — now you have earphone hangers!

Whatever these are called fit right into this oblong hole!

Wrenches! On pegs!

Files and screwdrivers can be dropped into appropriately sized holes!

This was going to be a saw holder, but I didn’t like how some of the saws hung, so I repurposed it as a scraper holder! How environmentally-friendly!

All this square needs to be happy is a slot for its straightedge.

These planes are hanging out down at the bottom on simple shelves, but I have a feeling they’ll be movin’ on up real soon.

Every tool can get a custom-designed holder, which should help keep the rack organized and encourage me to actually put the tools back on the rack.

Speaking of the rack, here’s the current state of the rack. I’ve only built half of what I planned, and I’ll eventually get to the rest, but I got the workbench about half-cleared off, which was just enough for me to get distracted by the extra space and start some new projects, so the rack will have to wait.

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Life, Woodworking

I Built a Treehouse

After we moved into our new house last month, my kids started asking for a treehouse.  I told them I’d need to see some plans before I could get started, and the next morning, I found this on my workbench:

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Fair enough.  The previous owners said that there had previously been a tree fort built in these trees, and some of the detritus was still visible:

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These trees didn’t look so hardy, but there is no shortage of other trees to choose from on our property.

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We settled on this one. V-shaped, about 200 feet from the house, and with good views in all directions.

The most important thing to consider when building a treehouse is that the tree will move, especially in a strong wind.   To account for this, the main supports should have slots where the bolts attach the beams to the tree so that a swaying tree doesn’t tear apart the entire structure.  (You can also use special hardware like Garnier Limbs or treehouse attachment bolts.) I used 2×12 treated lumber and started by drilling holes about 5″ apart.

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Then I removed the wood between the holes to create a slot for the bolt to slide in.

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The bolt holes need to be pre-drilled, otherwise you’ll never get them in all the way. I drilled 9/16″ holes for the 3/4″ bolts.

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As long as you only put a few holes into the tree, it should be able to survive. It’s actually worse to put a bunch of small holes in a tree by using nails or screws than a few big holes for bolts, since many small holes may cause the tree to compartment that entire area, causing the wood between the small holes to rot.

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Here’s the first beam attached with two of the 10″ long 3/4″ bolts. It’s about 5′ off the ground on the left side, 8′ off the ground on the right.

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I put up the other beam and attached the joists above them to support the treehouse floor.  Here’s a side-view that shows better the shape of the tree and the main support V.

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The ladder on the ground means “Kids, don’t try and climb up there yet.”

At this point, I was able to put in the floor boards. There’s nothing complicated about this; just leave space around the trunks so that the tree has room to grow.

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With this kind of support system, the platform will be wobbly without additional support, so I added the first of two corner supports and bolted them to the trunk near the ground.

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The kids brought up some tools to help out.

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I started on the railing and added a second vertical V support.

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A view from behind the treehouse, looking down the hill.

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I added a ladder, built out of 2x6s. It’s steeper than a stairway but shallower than a vertical ladder.

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I trimmed off most of the floorboards, but the kids asked me to leave this one long.

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I don’t know if their original intention was to mount the disembodied head of Vader on it, but that’s what they did.

To avoid too much weight and too much work, I went with a canopy roof. If I had planned ahead, I wouldn’t have had to replace the railing posts on both sides with taller ones to support the roof, but I did not. I was able to reuse the shorter posts anyway, so the only thing I lost was a bunch of time and energy.

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I used a big PVC pipe as the peak of the roof, and I think that was probably dumb. I wanted to avoid using something that would wear out the tarp if it rubbed against it, but a sanded 2×4 probably would have been fine, and stronger too. Oh well.

The canopy is tied down using horn cleats. This worked well, but I should have planned their spacing a little better to get the roof as taut as possible.

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Time for glamour shots!

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And here’s a before-and-after shot, taken with Reenact, of course.

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