Basic Projects

Sorting Things Out

It’s been approximately six years since I started woodworking. Once and for all, I’ve grown out of the nylon tool tote I bought from Rings End all those years ago. So it’s time for a DIY toolbox.

I’m actually not here to talk about dovetails in reclaimed mahogany (for once).

It goes without saying, but any tool storage container should be sized to fit the tools it’s meant to hold. Specifically, the interior length should allow the longest tool to easily enter and exit (phrasing?) and the interior height should accommodate the tallest tool and any racks or tills. The interior width, however, is determined based on all the tools to be held.

In this case, the interior dimensions of 21.5″ x 9″ x 9″ accommodate a half-back saw that is about 21″ long and the combined height of a No. 5 jack plane and chisel tray. The width is based the till for that half back saw, plus that No. 5 jack plane, plus a large router plane (with 1/4″ spaces for French fitting in between to keep everything snug).

I went back and forth on how to do the floor of the tool box. I briefly considered 1/2″ plywood captured in a rabbet or groove, but I was impatient and assembled the case before plowing the groove. So tongue and groove pine nailed to the carcass it was. It doesn’t match the case, but this is a utilitarian piece.

Dovetailed nails for strength.

I find the most joy in the repetitive tasks of hand tool woodworking. Sawing, chopping and shaping are great, but planing is where my heart truly lies. And none is more enjoyable than the process of planing tongues and grooves with the specialty tongue and groove plane. It has an opposable fence and cuts both parts of the joint.

I could use this plane for hours.

In prior projects with tongue and groove floors, I typically work with the boards that I have and then trim off any extra. Which is fine when there is a skirt to hide the unevenness. But there is no skirt here, so I matched the width on the outer boards, and then matched the width on the next two boards, and I’ll size the middle board to fit. It will be rather narrow, but symmetrical nonetheless. You know, for my neuroses.

I’ll send pics when it’s further along.


Basic Projects: Wooden Straight Edge

It’s been a very long time since I did a Basic Project.  But on this snowy day in February, I think it’s a good time to pick them up again.  This time, it’s a wooden straight edge that is a long overdue project for me.  I admit I only got inspired to make this because I saw it on the blog of the By Hand and Eye guys.


Hanging holes for convenient drying.

This one is pretty straightforward (teehee).  It’s a single piece of wood, approximately 33″ long, 3″ wide and 5/8″ thick.  I used a piece of mahogany with particularly straight grain, but any piece of reasonably stable, straight-grained wood of approximately the same size will do.

There is also a very short tool list:

  • Hand plane, the longer the better
  • Combination square, any size
  • Rip cut saw, preferably panel
  • Pencil and a ruler

Start by planing one side of the board straight and out of twist.  This reference face is very important to the overall project.  Clearly mark it with a face mark and a direction arrow, so you can keep track of it in the future.  Then bring the opposite face reasonably into parallel with that reference face.  Exact precision is not essential on the opposite face, however.


Flattening a board with a try plane is easy mode.

Then bring one edge into square with the reference face, as straight as you can (but we’ll fix it to be perfectly straight later).  It’s not essential for the ends to be squared.  Just measure up 1″ from the straight edge and then cut an angle on each end.  I used 15°.  You could leave it at that, but remember that wood exchanges moisture with the air through its end grain.  That means the more end grain that’s exposed, the more stable the straightedge will be.  So let’s now taper the whole straightedge along its length.

Measure 2″ up from the reference edge on each end and mark it with a pencil.  Find the center point along the length, measure a few inches out from either side, and draw a line between each of those points and the marks on the end.  Saw down each line and clean up the tapers up with a plane.  It is not essential for these tapers to be perfectly square, but do your best.


This cut exposes additional end grain.

And that’s it for the main shaping.  Break the arrises all around and bore a couple of hanging holes, about 2″ in from each end and 1″ up from the reference edge.  These hanging holes are more my preference than anything.  They make the straightedge easier to grab.  An alternative would be to use a gouge to cut a couple of fingertip grooves.

So all that’s left to do true the bottom edge.  If you’ve got a known straight edge (like a metal straight edge), just use that.  But if you don’t have a straight edge, you can use a trick that I saw on Lee Valley (which is apparently a Christopher Schwarz article).  Lay the square down and trace the edge, then flip it over and see how well you did.  Any undulations will be apparent.  Plane them down and do your best to keep it square to the reference face.


Without the hanging holes.

That’s it.  Slap on a coat of boiled linseed oil and you’re ready to go.  A 36″-ish square is pretty easy if you have a No. 5 or No. 7.  But if you only have a block plane or a No. 4, perhaps start with an 18″ square.

In any event, check it now and again to see if it’s gone out of square.



Basic Project: Rabbeted/Nailed Box

Today’s basic project, a rabbeted and nailed box, is a sub-project of my new traveling tool chest.  Although I alternate between through dovetails and rabbets/nails for carcases, when it comes to sliding trays for tool chests, I always go for rabbets/nails.  It’s faster, holds almost as well, and is a great way to practice hand-cut rabbets.  The project can be scaled to any length, width or depth you desire .  The tray pictured below is 8″ wide and 22 1/2″ long by 4 1/4″ high (4″ not including the tray bottom).


Easy as can be.

moving fillister plane (with scoring spur) is great for cutting cross-grain rabbets, but I still enjoy the hell out of hand-splitting rabbets.  Hand-splitting is definitely not faster than using a dedicated plane, although in my experience it can be more accurate both in terms of depth and shoulder squareness.

Materials and tools for this project were as follows:


Carcase ends:  4″ x 8″ x 5/8″ eastern white pine
Carcase sides: 4″ x 22 1/8″ x 5/8 eastern white pine
Tray Bottom: 8″ x 22 1/4″ x 14″ red oak
Carcase Nails: Dictum 40mm door nails
Bottom Nails: Tremont “Fine Finish” cut nails
Hide Glue


Wide chisel (I used 1″)
Chisel Mallet
Marking Gauge
Router Plane (if you don’t have one, you can just use a chisel)
Dividers (a ruler and awl will work just as well)

After you’ve prepared the pine stock for the carcase, first set your marking gauge to the thickness of the carcase sides.  Mark the inside face and the sides of each end board.  Then reset your marking gauge to exactly half the thickness of the end boards and finish laying out the rabbets on the end boards.  Chop the rabbets with the wide chisel, same as when making a dado.


Until your relief cut gets down to the line.

Next, split the rabbets, just like you would with a tenon.  Keep an eye out for grain direction and don’t be afraid to leave a little bit of waste to paring away later.


It’s nice to use a metal vise once in a while.

When you are reasonably close to your gauge lines, break out the router plane.  I recently upgraded my small router plane, which I unboxed just for this operation.  Set the depth to your gauge line and pare the rabbets to depth.  A chisel works just as well if you don’t have a router plane: just go slowly and pay attention to your depth lines.


An huge upgrade from my previous small router plane.

At this point, you should have all four rabbets cut and parallel, resulting in two identical end boards.  If for any reason the shoulder lines on the two boards aren’t identical, pare down the shoulders until they are.  Cut the carcass sides to length, square up the ends and get ready to glue and nail the boards together.  Pre-drill your nail holes and assemble the carcass with glue and the 40mm door nails.  Three at each corner should do the trick.


Level the seams if you have to (I did).

Once the glue is set, it’s time to attach the tray bottom.  A bit of glue on one carcase side will control the direction of expansion and contraction.  Assuming the tray carcase is leveled, clamp the tray bottom and tray together (against the bench) and pre-drill your nail holes every 3-4 inches or so.  I like headless cut nails for tray bottoms, so be sure the nail is oriented with the grain to prevent splitting.


Add nails along all four sides.

The ends of a tray bottom in a tool chest extend slightly beyond the ends of the carcase (for clearance when sliding), but you should at least level the bottom to the sides of the carcase.  If you are making a stand-alone tray, skip the overhang and flush the bottom perfectly to the carcase on all four sides.

And there you go.  As Christopher Schwarz would say, when done right nails are not “second class joinery”.  They can be beautiful and functional.  And very quick to throw together (the above box took less than 3 hours, including stock preparation by hand).



New Sharpening Jig

It was time to make another depth stop jig for use with an off the shelf Eclipse/Record-style sharpening guide.  My current version of the jig, made of 2×3 offcuts, is way too bulky for carrying around in my traveling tool tote.  I don’t freehand sharpen my plane irons, so this is an essential piece of shop equipment for getting consistent edges across multiple sharpening sessions. I did not make one for chisels, though, because I freehand (or machine, if available) sharpen my chisels.


The sharpening guide in question shown in the middle.

I had considered making this a “Basic Project”, but it’s been done so many times I don’t want to take credit for the plans.  This new version is just a variation of Christopher Schwarz’ design.  Please note that if you don’t use the Eclipse/Record-style of sharpening guide, the depths listed below won’t work for you (but the numbers can be adjusted to fit whatever sharpening guide you use).


Instructions for the full-size, benchtop style seen top left.

There is no real joinery in this project, which I love. Each stop block is CA glued in place and tacked with brads once the glue is set.  What makes this project a little tricky, however, is the need for perfectly square edges. Once you have a straight reference edge (planed or factory, if using sheet goods), the shooting board really gets a workout squaring the ends of the stop blocks and the base board.

I could not find a link to the instructions pictured above, but the depths are as follows:

  • 25° = 54mm
  • 30° = 40mm
  • 35° = 29.5mm
  • 40° = 21mm
  • 45° = 15mm

One thing I didn’t realize before this build was how quickly CA glue sets on white pine (spoiler alert: VERY quickly).  Even so, CA glue does not have great shear strength, so pre-drilling the brads was important.  Two brads per block seems to be more than enough.


I put the depths I use the least on the underside of the jig.

I eschewed the 1mm shim on a string for creating 1° microbevels (seen in the full-size instructions pictured above).  Mainly because using the same metal ruler I use for the David Charlesworth Ruler Trick works just fine.

It may only be quartersawn white pine, but this thing should last forever.  And if the CA glue gives way, I’ll just scrape it off and use hide glue (the nails will guide the block into place again).  Or I could preemptively drive a third, larger nail into each block and be done with it.


Basic Project: LN-style Saw Vise

This new “Basic Projects” segment is a Lie-Nielsen-style saw vise.  A good saw vise is essential, hand-tool woodworking shop equipment. This saw vise is simple to make from a few scraps and basic hardware and can be held in a bench vise during use.


The materials list below is for a 12″ saw vise, which I’ve sized to fit my dovetail saws (and therefore pretty much everyone one of my other saws).  A larger 16″ version is fantastic for my panel saws and larger tenon saws, but not so great for saws with smaller plates.  Please note that all materials were what I had on hand, so feel free to mix and match what’s available to you.

Materials list:

  • 2x birch plywood (1/4″), approximately 12″ x 6″ (for the sides)
  • 4x white pine blanks, approximately 12″ long and sized to fit your saws (for the upper and lower jaws)
  • Metal hinges
  • Wood screws/Cut Nails
  • Wood glue
  • Suede leather strips (to line the jaws)

Tools list:

  • 22″ panel saw
  • Low angle block plane
  • Hand drill and screwdriver/hammer
  • Scissors, chisel or razor blade (for trimming the leather jaw lining)

First, make the plywood sides.  Mine came from some craft store birch ply I picked up at the same time as the suede to line the jaws.  Saw them to length and width and plane to equal size with a block plane.  You can shoot them if you’d like, but exact squareness is not critical.  All that matters is they are identical and the long sides are roughly parallel.

Then, to size the upper jaws, take your smallest saw and subtract 3/8″ from the height of the saw plate at its narrowest point (probably by the handle): that’s the height of each upper jaw.  Then make each upper jaw about the thickness of the saw tote (or 2x overall) to accommodate different size saws in the finished vise (but there is no magic to this measurement).  Using my Vertitas dovetail saw as a reference, each upper jaw is 7/8″ high and 1″ thick.

When you glue the leather lining onto the upper jaws, you can use pretty much any type of glue when bonding leather to wood.  I use hide glue for the longer open time.  Either glue the leather down proud of the wood on all sides and trim flush with a chisel and mallet (like I did), or cut the strips to size before gluing.  Either will work.


In scales this small, a hand plane is a good as a granite slab.

Height on the lower jaws is not critical, but they should be substantial enough to take wood screws or nails.  Depth on the lower jaws is more important: they must be overall pretty close the upper jaws (including the leather lining) so the upper jaws will close tightly when clamped around the saw plate.  If you can, leave the lower jaws larger to accommodate the leather jaw lining on the upper laws (which can add up to 1/8″).  I always forget that part and make all four jaws identical.  So instead, I added leather to each of the lower jaws also.

Now glue and screw one upper jaw and one lower jaw to each plywood sides, driving from the outside.  Three screws for each jaw should be more than enough.  Cut nails will work also.  I actually used 1″ headless cut brads (from Tremont Nail) because I don’t have a No. 8 countersink bit handy.  If you use nails, remember to orient the head of the nail with the grain of the top piece.


Light pressure from the holdfast keeps everything cinched while driving the nails.

Then clamp the assembled halves together in a bench vise or with some F- or spring-clamps.  Mount the hinges on the outside of the lower jaws, about 1″ from each end (and in any event, clear of the screws or nails holding the jaws onto the sides).  The hinges I had on hand were overkill for this application, but I wasn’t about to buy more.  Finish is optional


Good thing I added leather to both sets of jaws; I installed the hinges on the wrong side!

And that’s it.  You’re ready to sharpen your own saws.  If you’d like, go ahead and chamfer the top front edge.  Although not strictly required, this detail will save your knuckles in the long run.

I will be hand-flattening the core slab of the new workbench this weekend, so wish me luck.


Basic Project: Sushi Tray

As a new segment here at The Apartment Woodworker, I will be documenting some of the smaller projects I find interesting and which I think are good for skill-building.  I’m not one for CAD, so the focus will be on the (sometimes extremely) limited set of hand tools these projects require.  There may be basic cut lists as required, but most of it will be rough dimensions.

This isn’t about teaching people how to woodwork.  There is a body of instructional material out there far better than I’m capable of producing.  Just Google “Paul Sellers the three joints” and go from there.  The goal here is to inspire people to pick up some hand tools and make something, without breaking the bank on a tool collection or materials.  So without further ado:

I love sushi (specifically, spicy salmon rolls).  I’ve always wanted wood sushi trays (I see them called “geta”).  So I recently decided to build a prototype.  I like this project because it requires friction-fit dadoes, which are my favorite joint to cut.  Mine was built from scraps, so I’ll make more as I have the materials.


As far as first tries without plans, it’s not bad.

It’s true that similar items retail for under $20 each on  But you know what also costs under $20?  An eight foot select pine 1x 8 from the home center, and you can get four trays out of a single board.  You’ll need some food-safe finish (like butcher block oil) and food-safe glue (like Titebond II), but that’s still about half the cost of paying someone else to make you a set of four.

Use harder, food-safe cutting-board woods if you’d like, but they probably aren’t necessary for the amount of abuse these will take.  That having been said, everyone has allergies, so go with whatever food-safe wood works for you.  And regardless of wood, I also like to surface plane every board I get from the home center.  I have no idea what kind of gunk it’s been exposed to, so I always feel more comfortable with clean fibers showing.

The essential tools for the project are as follows:

  • 1/2 and 3/4 chisels, plus mallet
  • No. 4 or No. 5 bench plane
  • 9-14 TPI Rip cut saw (panel or tenon is fine)
  • Combination square and marking knife
  • Tape measure
  • Sandpaper
  • Food-safe glue (I used Titebond II)
  • Food-safe finish (I used Goddard’s butcher block oil)

Optional tools (which will make the work easier) are:

  • Router plane (any size will do)
  • Wide chisel (1″+)
  • Shooting board (if you don’t have one, walk away from this project right now and make one)

The top is made from a 15″ length of 1×8.  The feet are made by ripping a 7.5″ length of 1×8 into thirds and squaring everything up with a bench plane (you need two feet per tray).  There is no magic to the height of the feet, but anything between 2″ and 3″ should be fine.  For aesthetics, the feet are slightly longer than the top.

There are two dadoes on the underside to accept the feet.  Because the top has a 2:1 ratio, for symmetry I started the dados 2x their thickness from the outside edges (in this case, about 1.5″).  Each dado is supposed to be 1/4″ depth, but if you’re like me, you always end up deeper because of errant depth chops on the sidewalls.  If you have a router plane, awesome.  If not, pare the dadoes with a chisel (and go slow, being careful about uniform depth).  None of the above measurements are requirements, but I have found that dado depth probably shouldn’t be more than 1/2 the thickness of the top piece.


And be sure to label your parts.

Break the corners everywhere (except where the feet fit in the dadoes) with a plane or sandpaper.  A bead of glue on the floor of a friction fit dado is more than enough for a permanent joint.  If you need to, drive the feet home with a mallet and a piece of scrap and leave them for an hour.  Then lightly sand the top, clean off the dust and finish all over with a thick rub of butcher block oil (the pine will be thirsty).  After a wash or two, reapply more butcher block oil to the top face.  It should be good for many uses after that.  And if you used a PVA glue, it should be dishwasher safe.

And that’s it.  Repeat as many times as you like.

Congratulations! You now have practice hand-cutting open dadoes, which you will use in woodworking forever.  And the trays are quite multi-purpose, working just as well for cheese and crackers or as coasters.

I hope this has been informative.  If not, keep it to yourself.