Category Archives: Wood Working

Office Desk Part 1: The Desk Top

Recently, I started working from home. I’d like to have a dedicated desk just for work stuff in my home office so that I don’t have to re-arrange my desk every time I switch back and forth between laptops.

This is as good a time as any to figure out how to make a desk, and I saw a farmhouse-style table at a local antiques store that got the creative juices flowing. In this video, I build the desk top out of 3/4″ tongue and groove upcycled pine barnboard. I glue it all together, cut it to size, do a lot of planing and sanding, round over the edges, and finish the desk with Danish Oil.

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Pallet Wood Craft Beer Paddles

Every year in my hometown, there’s a craft beer and barbecued meat festival called RibFest, where they give out beer samples in little 5oz glasses. I’ve saved up all of the glasses from past years and in this video, I build a couple of beer paddles that each carry four of the sample glasses.

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Floating Captain America Shield

My wife bought this beautiful 1:1 scale Captain America shield replica, and we figured that it would look great hanging on the wall of our living room. I researched a couple of methods for hanging shields, but none of them gave the floating effect that I wanted, so I designed a french cleat style hanger. In this video, I show how the hanger is made.

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Making a Narrow Painted Bookcase

In this video, I make a narrow painted book case out of 3/4″ plywood with 1″ wide pine face trim. The back of the bookcase is made out of pine boards that have a chamfer cut on both sides to give them a bit of visual flair.

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Rebuilding a Broken Kitchen Drawer

My brother in law had a kitchen drawer fall apart on him after years of use. The drawer was built with mitered corners, which don’t make much sense in this application, because they’re essentially butt joints. As such, every time somebody pulls the drawer open, the entire force of the action is put on the glue that holds the side and front of the drawer together. Glue is strong stuff, but the drawer box was made out of particle board, which isn’t, and over time, the joints let go.

I tackled the repair by rebuilding the drawer box out of 1/2″ MDF, using drawer joints (yes those are a thing) in place of the mitered corners on the original drawer. Here’s an image that I blatantly stole from the internet that shows the type of joinery that I’m talking about:

As you can see, the two sides of the drawer hook together with a sort of mortise and tennon joint. The uppermost board in that image would be the front of the drawer that I made, while the lowermost board would be the side. Whenever somebody pulls the drawer open, the force of the action is distributed throughout the joint, and the wood that makes it up, instead of being focused entirely on a glued butt joint.

My brother in law was really happy with the way that the drawer turned out, and I got a chance to try out some new joinery that will definitely come in handy sometime down the road.

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Fixing Broken End Tables

Awhile back, I made some end tables out of a couple of old pallets that were hanging around my workshop. Unfortunately, due to an inherent flaw in the design of these tables, one of them developed a pretty serious crack after just a few months of being inside of my house:

In order to fix the crack, I had to cut the table top apart and replace the broken pieces, and then rebuild the mitered maple frame that encircles the piece. Speaking of the frame – commenters on both Reddit and YouTube helpfully pointed out that it’s actually the cause of the issues. Basically, the laminate pieces that make up the table top will expand and contract across their grain as the humidity in the room changes. The maple frame that encircles the table top holds them in place, preventing them from moving. If the forces within the table top get too strong, the wood will crack to relieve the pressure. So, stay tuned for part three of the end table saga wherein I totally rebuild the table tops? We’ll see how long they go before cracking again.

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Wood Working Basics: Table Saws

After my first couple of project videos, I got some feedback saying that I was using terms that viewers weren’t familiar with. With that in mind, I decided to make a series of videos that serve as introductory pieces to various wood working topics.

The goal is to highlight a particular tool or technique, explain its vocabulary, and why it’s useful in the shop. This is a good first shot at that concept, but I think I can improve on the idea in future videos.

Let me know if there are any terms or tools that you’d like to see in a future Woodworking Basics video.

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Apprentice Marks Makes: Fancy Record Crates

Like many hipsters, I’m not just a computer programmer who practices woodworking on the weekends, maintains an excellent beard, and spends far too much money on craft beer. I also collect records, and my original record storage solution has recently overflowed into a pile of records that are sitting on top of my record player. It’s time for something new.

The design, pre-finish, and without the end cap panels installed

The design, pre-finish, and without the end cap panels installed

To accommodate my collection, I decided to build three boxes. Two with inner dimensions of 13″ cubed, and one with inner dimensions of 13″ x 13″ x 18.5″. The larger crate is about 1.5x wider than the smaller crates, and was intended to stack on top of the two smaller ones, which would sit side by side.

To make the crates visually interesting, I decided to make the ends like picture frames, with a different colour panel inserted into them to break up the negative space.

Cutting the frame edges to length

Cutting the frame edges to length. I chose 13″ as my inside dimension, because it would allow the boxes to accommodate even my largest box set records.

The frames were made from some rough poplar that I got from a tree that my dad cut down some time ago. The poplar was rough sawn when I got it, so I jointed it, planed it, and cut it down into 13″ x 1.5″ x 1.5″ strips that would form the frame edges.

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The jig is made of some 1/2″ plywood and is glued and tacked together. In retrospect, it should probably be longer, to prevent it from tipping forward or backward as it is pushed.

With the edges cut to size, I used a simple jig that rides on top of my table saw fence to cut the mortises on one end of each strip. This jig allowed me to clamp the piece vertically, so that I could push it through the saw without fear of it rotating, and without getting my hand anywhere near the blade. It’s basically a super-cheap homemade version of a tenoning jig.

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I have two crosscut sleds: One for my 1/8″ blade, and another for my 3/8″ dado stack

I cut a tenon on the other end of each edge using a simple crosscut sled with a stop block and a dado blade. To make sure that the joints fit together tightly, I started the dado blade lower than necessary and snuck up on the perfect width for the tenon. Just to cover my ass, I cut one extra edge for testing so that I didn’t have to fear ruining one of my production pieces.

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There are only five frames in this photo. I have no idea where the sixth one went.

With all of the joinery complete, I assembled the frames with some carpenter’s glue. One nice aspect of assembling a frame with mortise and tenon joints instead of mitred corners is that it’s dead simple to get the frames square. As long as the joinery is square, once the frames are clamped together, there is very little adjustment needed to ensure that each of the interior angles is 90 degrees.

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Once the glue dried, I used a chamfer bit at the router table to soften the outside edges of the frames. I could have used a round-over bit here, but I wanted to leave the hard lines on the work, because they are meant to look sort of industrial and heavy, and I thought that soft edges would ruin that look.

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Next, I used a rabbeting bit to cut a 1/4″ square rabbet along the inside rear of each frame. This is where the insert will sit, similar to the glass in an actual picture frame. If I were doing this again, I think I would have cut this rabbet at the table saw. The router made a real mess out of some of these cuts, chipping and tearing the wood away from the finished edge.

I asked a woodworker friend about it, and he told me that the cause might actually be the variety of the wood that I was using. He said that there are some varieties of ash that are often mistaken for poplar, and that they have a tendency to chip and tear. I guess that’s a risk that you take when using free lumber.

An assembled panel

An assembled panel

With my frames complete, it was time to build the panels that were to sit inside of them. I picked up some cheap knotty pine wainscotting from my local Home Depot, cut the pieces to a 10.5″ length, glued them into panels, and then cut the panels to their final size. I used a dado blade to cut a 1/4″ rabbet around the outside edge of each panel, which will correspond to the rabbet that I cut into the frames, giving me two flat surfaces to glue together.

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Now that I had all of the pieces assembled for the ends of my crates, I needed some way to tie them together. I bought some 1″ x 8″ x 6′ clear poplar boards and cut them down into strips 1.5″ wide and 1/4″ thick. The two smaller boxes required 42 strips cut 14.5″ long, while the bigger box required 21 strips cut 19.5″ long.

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I used a 3/8″ wide piece of scrap to ensure that the spacing between strips was correct

I used carpenter’s glue and 3/4″ brad nails to tack seven strips to three sides of each set of frames. This was easy enough, albeit time consuming, once I figured out how to jig my frames up to keep them square to one another during assembly.

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After a thorough sanding, I stained each of the boxes a deep red, and then glued the wainscoting panels into the frames. A coat of spray-on fast drying polyurethane will protect the boxes from incidental bumps and scratches.

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After letting the finish cure for a day, I brought the boxes inside and re-organized my collection. They look great, and leave me plenty of space to fill up with even more records.

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Stay tuned for the inevitable follow-up project, wherein a I build even more storage space for the records I will definitely buy over the next year or so.

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Apprentice Marks Makes: Pallet Wood End Tables

This project started with a couple of hefty solid wood pallets that I got when my local Home Depot delivered some renovation materials to my home. They were each around 40″ square, and were made of what seemed to be a range of hard wood varieties.

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I started at the pallets with a hammer and a crow bar, but soon resorted to cutting the deck boards off with a circular saw, as my prying was doing a lot of damage to the dry wood. Two pallets yields quite a few usable boards:

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After a few hours of jointing, planing, and table sawing, I had processed most of the deck boards into thin strips, about 3/4″ square, that would be glued together to form laminate tops for my end tables. I made sure to hold a few boards back for building the frames of the tables.

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The goal was to make two end tables, each with a table surface of about 24″ x 24″. since I intended to put a 1″ mitred border around the outside of each table top, I needed to make two 22″ x 22″ laminate pieces out of the strips that I had cut from the deck boards. I wanted to use my bench planer to clean up the laminate pieces, so I started by gluing the strips into four 22″ x 11″ boards.

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After letting the glue cure overnight, I ran each of them through my planer to ensure a smooth surface and a uniform thickness. Next, I ran one edge of each piece across the jointer, and then glued jointed edges together to form two larger boards, each approximately 22″ x 22″.

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Level added for rigidity. It turns out it’s hard to keep a seam in the middle of a 22″ piece properly aligned. I guess that’s what biscuits are for.

After letting the glue cure again, I cut each table top to its final dimensions. Because the boards that I recovered from the pallets had nail holes and other imperfections in them, my table tops inherited some “character”. To ensure a smooth surface, I filled the nail holes with epoxy and sanded them flush.

Next, I cut some strips of hard maple out of some scrap that I had up on my stock shelf. These strips got mitred corners, and were affixed to the edges of each table top using glue and brad nails.

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With the table tops finished, I moved on to the table frames. The original intent of this project was to use reclaimed pallet wood for every aspect of the tables, but getting the nails out of the pallet stretchers (the big heavy pieces that separate the deck boards) proved to be a real challenge, and I didn’t want to risk missing one and ruining a tool with it.

The scrap maple that I used to edge the table tops had originally been cut from some much longer pieces that I got as a part of a used tool purchase back when I first started building out my workshop. I have been saving it for a worthy project, and figured that my first piece of real furniture was reason enough to rip some of it down into 2″ x 2″ table legs.

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I wanted to affix the table aprons (or stretchers – whatever you call the boards that run between the legs) to the legs with a mortise and tenon joint. I cut my mortises at the router, which left a rounded end to the cuts. I went back in with a 1/4″ chisel and squared them off. In the process, I learned that there’s a bit of technique to precision chisel work, and that I need a lot more practice at it.

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With my legs in good shape, it was time to turn my attention to the aprons. The apron boards were cut from some of the pallet deckboards that I had set aside when cutting up the laminate strips. At the tablesaw, I ripped them to 3″ in height, and used my box joint blade (sort of a simple dado stack) to cut a simple tenon on each end.

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With the fit looking good, I added an 1/8″ dado along the top inside edge of each apron. This slot will accept some table top fasteners that I bought off of Amazon. The intent of this hardware is give the wood grain that forms the table tops room expand and contract without cracking.

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The glue-up for the table frames was a bit stressful. I worked as quickly as possible, and tried to remember to wipe away all of the excess glue. My first timer joinery was mostly hidden in the process, which is probably for the best.

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Once I had the frames assembled and squared up, I clamped them to the bench and added some corner blocks to prevent them from twisting.

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After another overnight wait for the glue to cure, it was time to affix the table frames to the tops. Before doing so, I sanded everything down through 120 grit, 200 grit, and 000 steel wool to prepare for the finish.

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One of the things that I love about this project is the contrast of all the different varieties of wood that make up the laminate table tops. I didn’t want to lose this contrast when applying a finish, so I didn’t stain the wood at all. Instead, I just layered up some wipe-on polyurethane.

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Each table got two coats, and the table tops got a third coat for good measure. I sanded with 000 steel wool between each coat to remove any imperfections.

The finished tables look great in our living room. I’m really proud of the way that they turned out, especially considering that they’re my very first large furniture project. Now I just need to find time to build a coffee table to match.

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Faux-Vintage Picture Frames

For the past three years, my wife and I have been attending Fan Expo in Toronto. In the past, I’ve described it to friends as Canadian ComiCon, which is a bit confusing, because there actually is a Toronto ComiCon, but it’s smaller and less well-attended than Fan Expo.

One of the features of Fan Expo is the Artist Alley, where local artists and more well known comic book artists sell prints of their work. Over the past two years, my wife and I have purchased eight large prints at the event, but until now, they’ve been sitting in a pile in our office, because we haven’t had any picture frames large enough to hold them.

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I started out with some clear pine boards, all cut to approximately 22″ in length, jointed, and planed to around 5/8″ thick.

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Next, I ripped the boards into 1.5″ strips, and cut them to length. Four of the prints were 11″ x 17″, while the other four were 12″ x 18″. Since the bezel on each of my frames is 1.5″ wide, I added 3″ to all of those dimensions to determine the final length of the strips.

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With the strips cut to length, I mitred their ends. I also used my box joint blade and a sacrificial fence to cut a dado that would hold the glass along the short edge of each strip. Unfortunately, I neglected to take a picture of that step. Ah well.

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With the cutting done, it was time to glue all of the frames into their final shapes. Since I don’t have enough clamps to secure eight frames all at once, this step took awhile to complete.

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Mitred frames look cool, but glued end grain butt joints aren’t particularly strong, so I wanted to strengthen the corners of each piece. I used a simple jig to run each frame across the blade of my table saw, with its wide sides perpendicular to the table, and its long edges angled 45″ off of the table surface.

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The result of this operation was an 1/8″ wide slot cut into each corner, running directly through the plane perpendicular to the mitre joint.

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I glued a thin slice of pine into each of these slots, ensuring that the grain in the slice ran perpendicular to the mitre joint, strengthening it significantly.

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With the glue dried, I cut away the excess material, added a chamfer around the edge of each frame, and gave them all a good sanding down to 220 grit.

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After hitting each frame with a coat of Minwax pre-stain wood conditioner, I applied a coat of this Classic Black stain and polyurethane combination with a foam brush.

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One coat in, this finish looked awful. The stain component of the product soaked into the wood unevenly, leaving a splotchy finish, and the polyurethane part of the product made it thicker than most of the stains that I’ve worked with, which really only made it harder to work with, and left an overly glossy finish behind.

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In an effort to even out the finish, I sanded with 000 steel wool, and applied a second coat of the stain product. When that dried, I used steel wool to take the gloss off of the frames and wear down the edges, giving the them a sort of faux-worn look. Finally, I hit them with a satin spray polyurethane to seal the exposed wood.

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While this was undoubtedly the long way to accomplish the finish that I ended up with, I’m pretty happy with how they turned out. My mitres are tight, my corners are square, and the worn edges look pretty cool with some of the art that we bought.

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To finish the job, I ordered some 1/16″ thick glass panes from a local supplier that does custom cuts. The prints are sandwiched between the glass and a sheet of 3/16″ foam core, which is pinned in place with a few small brad nails.

This job has been taking up space in my shop for a couple months now, so it’s good to finally get it finished, and to get the prints that we bought two years ago up on the wall. They look great, and I’m really happy with the results.

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