Practice box.

I’ve been working for about two weeks off and on now on this project and I was so engrossed with that I didn’t even remember to post my regular blog updates.  Oops.   So this is a big catch-up post….

It all started with my desire to practice skills.  I had a pile of scrap laying around and one afternoon it hit me (the design, not the scrap).  Here’s the design:IMAG2288

As you can see, it’s just a simple box.  But I wanted to work on my joining skills, I wanted to use nails instead of screws (just for grins) and I wanted to make it look nice.  As a bonus, I wanted to use nothing but scrap and somehow work my scroll saw into it.  I have never had an opportunity to really use it since Dad donated it to my shop back in October and I figure now’s the time.

It started innocently enough: a simple pine box with some left over 1″x10″ cut to length.IMAG2268  I opted for butt joints (I was going to do half-lap joints and then peg them a la Peter Follansbee but I cut the bottom out first, then realized I’d have to make twice as many joints to get it to fit right…chalk that up to knowledge gained and move on).  Plus I’d have to go buy some dowels…this was supposed to be a scrap-only project.

I started by clamping (yay leg vise!  so glad I built this thing!) a short side in the vise, then used the bench top to support the back and nailed them together.IMAG2275   I used plain ol’ finishing nails for fasteners.  And you know what, it held together just fine, was nice and square and the world didn’t end.  Huh.  And it was fun to beat stuff with a hammer!

I worked my way around all the sides except the top and bottom and had myself a nice empty square.

Next, I cut out a nice piece of 1/2″ plywood scrap and nailed that to the box frame to make a real box.  Then I sanded all the joints so everything was as flat as I could get it.  Which was no where near perfect, but for the purposes of this exercise, it was good enough.

The design I had in mind was a bit fancier than just a simple box though.  I had seen on the Woodsmith Shop and in a couple different magazines techniques for making “fake” panels on the sides of bookcases using milled boards and quarter round molding.  I thought that’s neat, let’s do it!

So I dug in the scrap bin and found some 3/4″ poplar and pine boards of various lengths.  Turns out I had just enough to make some rails and stiles on the front and sides, but not the back.  Ah well, so be it!  I made some measurements and used the scroll saw as a table saw to cut up all the boards to length.  Practice, practice, practice…I actually got pretty good at making a real straight line with that little saw.  So much fun!

Once all those pieces were attached with tiny nails I found in a picture hanging kit (this project screams Fine Woodworking, right?) I set to work on some left over quarter-round trim from when we were working on the house in the summer.  There is a bundle of it out in the rafters of the garage so I pulled some down and whipped out the ol’ Stanley plastic miter box and saw.  After a few screw ups with measurements  I got the hang of it and made me some mighty fine mitered joints, if I do say so myself.  I’m quite pleased with my learning curve on this project so far.IMAG2281

With the trim nailed into place, I went over the whole box again with sandpaper blocks (100, 150 and 220).  Once I was satisfied with the look of the box, I turned my attention to the lid.  I didn’t have anything big enough to cover the box in one piece other than an off-cut of aspen…so why not?   I got out the router and gingerly made my way around the rim of the lid with a fancy looking bit and only had one piece where it tore out a bit, by the front right corner (of course).  So…that will be fixed with a little putty, or maybe some glue and sawdust.  Either way, I want to practice my finishing skills so this thing will get a coat of stain in the end.

Now I decided to break-in the scroll saw (which my dad bought new in the mid-1990s), a Craftsman direct drive 16″.  It uses only pinned blades, which I have come to discover, don’t seem to be as popular (and therefore come in as many styles) as the plain/universal blades.  So, getting a converter kit is in the works.  Maybe after Christmas.   Why the rush?       Because I came up with a design to dress up the lid of this box a little and tried to drill holes in some aspen to practice.  A few things I learned: use the Dremel drill next time…aspen is very fibrous, thin, soft wood…use the Dremel next time…the hole I have to bore to fit the pinned head of the blade through for interior/fretwork is so big it really limits the designs I can practically cut.   I found a workaround on the big scroll saw forum that suggested to knock out the pin in the blade, then make smaller holes (much smaller!) and attach a safety-pin through the blade to secure it to the saw.  It seemed daunting and more than a little dangerous but I thought about it a while and finally gave it a go.  I’m so glad I did because (a) it wasn’t that daunting at all…took maybe 30 seconds to knock out that tiny little pin and (b) the safety pin method was actually quite secure!

So let’s review.  Here’s the process for every (and I mean EVERY) cut that has to be inside a design.  Turn off power (duh) by unplugging or removing safety key.  Undo the tension.  Pull blade out of the upper clip thing.  Remove safety pin.  Remove wood.  Remove blade from lower clip thing.  Insert blade into the new hole.  Insert the blade back in the saw, attach to the bottom clip.  Reinsert the safety pin in the top of the blade.  Reattach to the upper clip.  Adjust tension to a nice “c” note (all those years of concert band is finally paying off!).  Restore power to the saw.  Start cutting.   After a while I got all that down to about 10 seconds.  But it adds up.

Here’s the design I ended up cutting out—scroll compassI didn’t create it, I found it on my computer, captured from the internet from who-knows where and when.  So, if I could, I’d credit the artist—I can’t draw Celtic stuff to save my life but I love it.  This has been inverted so I have a nice pattern to follow on the print out.

I used the popular packing-tape and adhesive spray method to stick the pattern to the wood and it worked flawlessly!  Easy to remove too!  A neat trick.

An hour later, I had this: IMAG2280

Kinda rough around the edges, but you get the idea.  I was STOKED.  The previous two attempts at scrolling in the past few days have ended in horrible, dismal failure.  The difference was switching from aspen to poplar, and doing the whole drill a smaller hole after removing the pin trick.  Amazing.  I can’t wait to actually get some reverse tooth blades.  Everything I have is original from when my dad bought it, so all the blades are rusted and a little scary looking but there is a nice assortment of large and fine teeth available to me.  It tends to tear the back a bit, though.  I hear that’s what reverse tooth blades will fix.    To fix it, I decided to break out another fun tool, the belt sander!

After attacking this thing with the belt sander, I had the pattern nice and smooth, only 1/4″ (not 1/2″ as originally cut) and tapered points.  Here it is on the lid: IMAG2285

Exactly the simple decoration I was going for!  But, on that big ol’ lid, it looks a little…little.  I should have doubled the size.  Oh well.  I’m happy with it and this is just a box for practicing technique anyway.

Speaking of the box, here it is as it stands today:IMAG2284

I need to get the feet cut, sand and stain everything, glue the decoration to the lid and attach the lid and she’s done.  Maybe by Christmas at this rate…


About Steven M. Vaught

A native son of Delaware, now living in Illinois, Steven is a writer, family historian, amateur astronomer, sometimes-gardener, woodworker, father to three wonderful children, husband to a wonderful wife, and caretaker of one cheeky vizsla.
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