Building a Better Reenactor’s Ammo Box

A while back, my brother offhandedly asked me about building him a replica ammunition box for his Civil War reenactments. At the time, he sent me a link to a YouTube video and a written tutorial on how to make these by hand. Here are some pictures of munitions boxes from that period:

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And here’s a link to the article I’m referencing for reproducing these.

Here’s a link to a site that sells reproduction crates.

The first thing I want to emphasize is that this article was a great guide for starting out, and the author admits his goal was to create a pseudo-ammo crate that was really double stacked to help hide his modern accouterments. 100% historical reproduction was not his goal. But, it is mine!

Right off the bat, I noticed a few issues with the way the box was built. First, the author mentions that the dimensions for the box should be 14.75″x 10.75″x 6.38″, but that 1×6 stock could be used with only minimal loss in height. Presumably, the author was assuming a 1×6 was truly 6″ tall; as those who follow this blog know, that’s simply not the case these days! A 1×6 board is actually only 5.5″ wide, meaning this replica box would be a full 7/8″ too short. The first thing you need to know about Civil War reenactors is that they’re (more often than not) sticklers for accuracy; I couldn’t see that large of a difference being acceptable.

The second issue I noticed was that the author mentioned the sides needed to be dovetailed together, but then proceeded to use what I guess would be called large finger joints? This is an important distinction, because while a finger joint can be strong in modern joinery, it’s only strong because of the large amount of glue area. Modern glues are very water resistant, but Civil War era glues would have been made from cow hide, and water soluble. Meanwhile, the historically accurate dovetail joint gets all of its strength from geometry and does not rely on glue at all! You can see the trapezoidal shape of the dovetail in the first picture above where the wood has chipped off.

Both the tutorial article and the merchant site both reference the Union Army Ordinance Manuals from the time. So, I figured that’s a good place to start. Here’s a link to the full text on Google Books, but I’ve posted some pictures here too of the relevant sections:

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There’s a lot of really great information in these two images, but let’s just break down the essentials:

  • White pine boards
  • Dimensions for the .58 Caliber box are 14.75″x 10.75″x 6.38″ (6.38 is that same as 6 and 3/8ths, rounded up)
  • Should contain 1,000 cartridges (this is from the sentence on the previous page I had to crop out)
  • Dovetailed and nailed
  • Wooden handles nailed and clenched
  • Lids (plural, I take this to mean top and bottom) attached with 1.75″ screws.

In the interest of full historical recreation, I also opted to do this using only hand tools. Even my hand tools are certainly more advanced than what they had at the time (they would have used wooden bodied planes, for example), but they’re still the same in form and function.

Let’s start with the dimensions. The article’s instructions say to cut each piece of wood to those dimensions. However, I found references to the fact that these would have been interior measurements, not exterior. CS Cutlery mentions this in their dimensions (though theirs, curiously, still don’t match the manual…). As a woodworker, these dimensions being interior measurements makes a lot of sense to me. The lumber they were working with was by no means universal in any way, shape, or form. Each piece would have been individually surfaced, by hand. As such, there would be no way to know that each box would contain the same amount of ammo if exterior dimensions were given as each board would be a different thickness.

I was able to double check this using the dimensions for the 10 cartridge bundle listed in the manual as well. Each bundle would be approximately 8.67 cubic inches, for a total volume of 867.1 cubic inches of volume per 1,000 cartridges. A box with exterior dimensions as listed above, with side panels of 0.75″ thick (about the thinnest you could reasonably go) would have interior dimensions of 13.25″ x 9.25″ x 4.88″. This gives only 598.11 cubic inches, whereas the interior measurement method would give 1011.63 cubic inches; plenty of room for 1,000 cartridges and paper lining.

Enough of the historical referencing for now, how about some woodworking?

I chose to start with rough cut lumber, since it seemed a bit liked cheating to tout doing this with “hand tools only” if I had it surfaced before I bought it. This board is about 12.5″ wide, 4/4 rough, and 12′ long white pine. If you aren’t a stickler, you can get pre-surfaced pine at any home improvement center; this would simply be 1x material. I doubt Home Depot or Lowes would carry it in this width though, so go to your local lumber yard like I did (thanks WunderWoods!). What you get at HD would be SPF which means ‘Spruce, Pine, or Fir.” I’ll let your degree of accuracy dictate whether or not you care about that.

Big bonus of using Wunderwoods? St. Louis had a major Union arsenal during the war. All of the white pine they used would have come from this area. Since I know Wunderwoods harvested this locally, is it the progeny of a tree that was at one time cut down during the civil war to also make ammo boxes? I’d like to think so!

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This wood ammunition box with lid is for .58 caliber rifle musket ammunition. The crate is stamped “Fabricated St. Louis Arsenal January 1865.” http://www.civilwarvirtualmuseum.org/1861-1862/missouri-enters-the-war/st-louis-arsenal-ammunition-box.php

On a board of rough cut lumber, no matter how good your lumber yard is, there’s no good straight reference edges.

You can do all the dimensioning of these boards with four tool(s): A crosscut saw (this is the one I have), a rip saw, a #5 plane (#4 would also work), and a set of chisels. If you get a two sided Japanese Ryoba saw, you can actually get away with just one saw! A dedicated, Western style rip saw is almost impossible to find these days unless you want to spend at least $80. Antique malls and Craigslist are your best bet, though you’ll need to sharpen it (which is a whole ordeal on it’s own)

I’m going to cross-cut everything at least two inches longer than I need to account for more waste when I square everything up. Since we’re working off interior dimensions, add 1.5″ to that to account for the width of the sides (we’re shooting for about 3/4″ thick sides). Then add 2 inches to that to account for waste. This 12 ft board came up JUST short of doing the box on it’s own, if so make sure you buy more like 14 total feet. Coincidentally, 12.5″ is almost dead on the width we need for the top and bottom, so if you can get that width, do! If you can’t, you’ll need to edge glue two pieces together.

Use a square to make a line off one edge as a saw guide, knowing that it won’t be your final cut

After you get the boards knocked down, you need to get to the proper height; in this case, 6.38″. You COULD try to go right to rip cutting, but you still don’t really have a reference edge, so it might not turn out well. Instead, I put the boards in my vice and plane on edge dead flat and approximately square to the face. That gives you an edge from which you can measure off parallel lines.

My phone’s camera was on the fritz, so I lost a few pictures; you should be able to follow just via text. Off that edge you just planed, mark a line the length of the board, parallel and 6.5″ from the flat edge. Use your rip saw to cut just on the outside of that line; that will leave room for final planing.

Now that you’re almost at the width you need, you’ll need to surface both faces flat and parallel to each other. If you have a woodworkers bench, you can use the various clamps and vices on there to hold the board. I just have a regular work bench, so I needed to make bench hooks to help hold the piece while I plane it.

Here’s the process I followed:

  • Plane one face, checking for flat with a ruler or, in my case, a perfectly flat surface like a cast iron table saw top. Make sure it’s also square to that first edge you planed.
  • Plane the other edge square to that face, making sure not to go past the 6.38″ line.
  • Plane the final face, using both edges to check for square. If your edges are square to the first face, and the second face is square to the edges, both faces will be parallel.

After surfacing your first board, repeat with the other three, using the first as a reference for thickness.

This is maybe a quarter of the shavings I made

Now we need to know how thick our sides will be so we can measure the final length of the boards. The best way to do this is put each pair of opposite sides together, measure the total thickness, and then add this to the adjacent length (width) depending on which set you’re measuring. In this picture, my long sides measure about 1 and 13/16ths thick. So, my short sides (10.75″ interior width) need to actually be 10.75+1 & 13/16th long. This is to account for the dovetails (this will make more sense soon).

Using your square, cut a perpendicular line off one side of each board. Then, measure the length you need off that edge, and crosscut the other side to your final dimensions. Use your hand plane to get the width down to 6.38″ if you haven’t done so already.

I use the “dividers” method for laying out my dovetails. Here’s a video of that process for you.

I’m gonna level with you; I’m not great at dovetails, at least not great enough to pretend I can instruct you how to do them. Here’s a video from Paul Sellers on how to make them. Here’s a link to an inexpensive dovetail saw. You can mark the dovetails using only a combination square, but a dovetail guide, marking wheel, and marking knife make this easier. I got all three as a kit from Woodcraft around Christmas for $25. The cut lines made by the knife and wheel help guide the saw blade.

Dovetails are difficult on hardwood. They’re really, really difficult on a soft wood like white pine. Don’t beat yourself up too much, I’m telling myself it adds to the historical character.

I found examples of munitions boxes from that period that had the dovetail “tails” on either the long or short boards. I chose the long boards, the geometry of the tail providing a strong force to keep the box from pulling apart if one were to drag it by the handles.

Here’s a pic of the rough fit for the box bottom/lid. Mine was the exact width needed by pure chance. Surface this just like you did the other boards.

Time to add the screws. The manual specifies 6 screws per lid. Presumably, both the top and bottom lid would have been screwed on, only to be opened at the battlefield or camp. There didn’t need to be a mechanism for closing and reopening these boxes frequently.

For the sake of “hand tools only” I went and bought this old egg beater drill off Facebook Marketplace. It was about $15 and, though it didn’t come with bits, readily accepted a normal brad tip drill bit. A brace and bit setup would likely be more accurate, but my brace only has auger bits, which would be too large.

The screws used at the time would have been slotted, or “flat head” screws, since the Phillips head wasn’t invented until around the 1930s. While they COULD have been brass (as some use in their box construction) I find it unlikely, given the added expense, and whatever you find at your hardware store will likely be zinc coated. The only option I could find was Kennedy Hardware. They carry flat head, slotted, steel wood screws in a bunch of different lengths. Unfortunately, not in 1.75″ (when I was looking). So, I settled for 1.5″; will the reenactors forgive me? Too early to know. (Note: They have No. 12 screws in 1.75″, but those are almost 1/4 inch in diameter, which I was sure was far too large). Before you screw anything together, measure the diagonals. If they’re equal, all your corners are square.

Here’s a look at everything with the bottom attached. Since I am making this as accurate as possible, I will probably ship it to my brother with the top attached too. I’ll also include two little strips of wood and some cut nails so my brother can put them on the inside of the lid, if he likes, to make it more usable for storage during reenactments (see the plans above). Not accurate, but more practical; his call in the end. ATTACHING THE TOP LID SHOULD BE THE LAST STEP YOU DO.

Some gaps on the dovetails, but just as strong. Once painted, you’ll never be able to tell.

The ordinance manual also specifies the dovetails should be nailed. The way a dovetail works, it is very strong in one direction, but separates easily in the other. In the case of this box, it would be very hard to pull the short sides off the box, but relatively easy to pull the long sides off. By driving cut nails into the “tails” of the joint, we ensure the tails will not pull out. Modern wire nails would do a very poor job accomplishing this, as they have very little gripping power. But cut nails are wedge shaped, which compresses the wood as the nail is driven. Here’s an excellent video explaining the advantages of cut nails. Make sure to drill a small pilot hole with these.

I’m going off the original image, above, for my plans. In that image there are handles on the sides, but no rope in the handles. The ordinance manual doesn’t specify rope; an omission that I think points very strongly toward there not being any, given the specificity in all other aspects.

Use the scraps you’ve cut off to make these handles. By looking at the image we can see the handles are about 1/4 of the box height (call it 2 inches), as long as the side, and sit about 2 inches from the top. Use your plane to taper the ends down, then drive some 2 inch long cut nails (3 total) into the handle and through the box. I chose to drill a small pilot hole to aid in this, and prevent the wood from splitting. I purchased mine from House of Antique Hardware. Again, get the plain steel ones, not the galvanized ones.

After the nails are driven through, there should be about 3/8 inch that pokes through the inside. This is where we “clench” the nails. All that means is you hammer the tip sideways until it’s flat. Now that handle will never come off.

Attach the top and that’s it, folks! The manual specifies different paint colors depending on the ammo. This box would get an olive green paint. The manual even includes mixing instructions, but I’d urge caution given the use of turpentine and boiled linseed oil. Premixed, canned paint was not invented until 1866; if you decide to purchase a paint, rather than mix your own, powdered milk paint (not pre-made) would be period appropriate. I’m leaving it raw for my brother to decide what he wants to do with it.

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I hope this is a valuable resource for all the reenactors and woodworkers out there! If you have questions on building the box, please feel free to email me. If there’s anything you think I did wrong in trying to reproduce this box, please let me know!

Update: here’s a link to my etsy store!

https://www.etsy.com/listing/679483392/civil-war-ammunition-crate-1862

If you really want a historically accurate box like this, but don’t have the desire to build one, shoot me an email and we can talk about commissioning a few pieces. dibwoodworkingllc@gmail.com

Lift top “wild” cherry side table

About a month ago, I was asked by Osborne Wood Products to create a step-by-step tutorial for one of their new products: acrylic table legs.

Naturally, I was very excited to take on the task! They provided me with the legs free of charge, but I received no other compensation. I ended up finding some friends who needed a side table for their living room, and we agreed that I’d build the table for just the cost of the remaining materials.

I had a few goals in mind for this build:

  • In the spirit of DIB, I wanted to make this a project that could be done by someone who was moving up from basic DIY skills.
  • The acrylic legs were going to be a bit unorthodox, so I wanted the design of the table to draw on the legs in some ways to bring everything together.
  • It needed to be functional for my friend’s living room. This meant a lid that opened rather than a draw. The additional advantage is that this makes it much more DIB friendly; drawers can be a tough thing to master.

With that in mind, here’s the basic sketch-up: cherry side table diagram

I opted to do the sides (aprons) of the table using what would be called “1×6″ stock, if you were to find it at a home improvement center. I don’t mean construction grade 1×6; these stores will carry craft grade hardwoods in this dimension, most likely red oak and maple. Since I can mill my own lumber, I just went ahead and bought some S2 cherry and milled it to 1×6 stock. In actuality, it’s 0.75″ thick and 5.5” wide. If you’re curious why this these dimensions are different than the label states, revisit my blog post here!

I would have LOVED to have used 1×8 material, because I think the proportions would have come out better. But I couldn’t find any hardwood stock that Home Depot or Lowes carried (and was affordable) in 1×8. Being able to mill to 1×8 isn’t a luxury most DIYers will have, so I stuck with what was common.

Three days after confirming with Osborne, the legs arrived in the mail.

The first thing I did was take them out of their packaging and measure each one. They were all the same length, but there were some varying widths to the wooden parts, at most 1/16th of an inch different from the 2.5″ they were supposed to be. Not a huge deal, just important to know so we can adjust.

This is a good time to lay them out and figure out which legs will go where. I tried to match them so that the front and back legs would have similar widths. I mark them with a BL for back left, and a FR for front right.

I then made marks for each corner so I could keep reference (see the 1 and 2 marked on here.)

Side note: Those four little impressions must be from the machining process, like a lathe chuck. In hindsight, I should have removed them. What I’d recommend is using a miter saw or table saw to take about 1/16th off the end of each wooden block just to remove these.

Next, I cut the cherry boards down to the length I needed (see diagram). Remember, you have to add 0.75 inches on each end of the length to account for the tenons we’re going to cut. You can do this on your table saw, like I did. You can also use a miter saw, circular saw (of you use a carpenters square to keep you at a 90 degree cut) or even a hand saw if you’re careful enough.

As an added measure of safety, I measured the legs in adjacent pairs. By doing this, you essentially multiply the error of each individual leg by 2. Basically, it’s easier to notice a 1/16th difference between 2 combined legs than a 1/32nd inch difference on each. For every fraction of an inch this measures under 5″. add that to the length of the side that will connect those two legs. Ex: If FL and FR together measure 4 and 7/8ths inches across, then the front apron needs to actually be 12.5″ plus 1/8th inch variance (plus 1.5″ total for the tenons).

You always want to cut your mortises first. It’s much easier to make a tenon just slightly thick and then trim it to fit a mortise. Much harder to make the mortise narrow and widen to fit the tenon. I opted for a 3/8 inch thick tenon, which means we need a 3/8 width mortise. I also decided to leave 1/2 inch on the width of the board on each side as the “shoulders” for the tenon.

On each side, mark 1/2 inch down and 5 inches down. These are the lines where we want our mortise to stop. You’ll need to mark this line on all four sides of the legs since we’ll be referencing off them.

Side note: This is a good time to unscrew the acrylic legs. Not only are they cumbersome while we’re doing all this, but Osborne tells me that lacquer thinner will melt them, so they need to come off before we apply the finish anyway.

To do this on a router table, you’ll want to use a 3/8″ straight cutting bit. Use a square placed against the fence of your router table, and mark the edges of the bit on some pieces of tape so you know where to start and stop your cut. I use my calipers to make sure I’m as close as physically possible to being centered. It should be 1 and 1/16th from each side, or 1.0625. You can see on my calipers that I’m 0.0125 inches off. There’s no way I can make an adjustment that accurately.

Instead, what we do is run the piece through, flip it around, and then run it through the opposite direction. That guarantees that slot will be centered. This is also why we cut our tenons slightly thick and trim down; we’ll always end up with something slightly larger than a 3/8 mortise.

Start very shallow, maybe 1/8 inch. Slowly work your way up until you’ve reached 3/4″ in depth. It should look something like this:

The other way to do this is with hand tools, if you don’t have access to a dado stack on your saw. Here’s a blog post where I showed how to do that as well!

To cut the tenons, I decided to use the dado set on my table saw. This is essentially two 1/8 inch wide blades put next to each other. I could have done a 0.75″ thick dado cutter, but then I’d have to move down to 1/4 when I cut the grooves in the sides, and I’d rather just do one setup.

Anytime you are crosscutting (where the grain is perpendicular to the blade) on your table saw, you have to use a stop block on your fence. This keeps the wood from binding between the blade and the fence, which can cause a dangerous event called kickback.

Measure 3/4 inch off the stop block to the opposite edge of the blade, then set the height of the blade to just under 3/16ths of an inch. Use your miter gauge to cut out the tenon on a piece of scrap identical in thickness. Here’s a good video:

The tenon you’re left with will be square edged, but the mortise has rounded edges. Simply take a chisel or utility knife and knock the corners off your test piece.

Try the fit of your test piece. If it looks good, make all the tenon cuts.

If the top of the apron is perfectly flush with the top of the leg, and there are no caps along the joint, you’re set!

Again, here’s a link to the post where I show how to do this by hand. In that case, you’d use a 3/8″ chisel.

Now you need to make the groove for the bottom drawer that will fit in. I opted to use pre-finished plywood on 1/4 thickness. I think anything larger would be overkill. I made the cut with my dado blade, using a featherboard to hold everything flush (always keep the featherboard in front of the blade to avoid kickback.

You could just as easily do this with a router. If you were going to do this without either of those tools, it would be very difficult. You’d have to use a groove cutting hand plane, or you could mark the lines and hand chisel. This would be a good excuse to borrow a tool or find a shop that can cut this for you.

Now’s a good time to brand your piece, if you have one!

I decided to echo some of the round elements of the legs in the rest of the construction. That meant using a roundover bit on all the corners and the bottoms of the aprons.

Nice visualization of all the parts we’ve milled

Before you start gluing anything, you really need to mark your tenons and mortises to make sure you remember what goes where. I find it’s best to put them on the end of the tenon and inside the mortise, since they’d get sanded off if you put them on the outside.

Dry fit everything together and then measure for the plywood bottom. Remember to add about half an inch to the total length and width to account for the two, quarter inch deep groves on each side.

Note: To make this easier, don’t roundover the inside corner of the legs. It was really hard to get the rounded profile right, and it didn’t turn out as perfectly as it could have with a square corner.

Cut your plywood off the large sheet, leaving a little bit extra so you can give it a final, more accurate cut on your table saw. If you don’t have a table saw, just do the final dimensions with your circular saw; the groove can hide some of the imperfections.

I used a hand coping saw to cut the corners out. You could also use a scroll saw or powered jigsaw.

Dry fit once more to make sure it fits as you’d like.

Once all the pieces fit, set everything aside until we’re ready to sand.

Moving on to the top, I also opted to go with 1×6 material. Here’s why I call this my “wild” cherry side table. Look at that grain! The oil is really going to make this pop.

The most important part of this glue-up is making sure the edges are perfectly flat (jointed) and perpendicular to the flat faces. This will ensure that the top is flat(ish) once glued up. Here’s how we’ve done this in previous builds.

My phone deleted the pictures of this piece being clamped and glued, but it’s the same as the process in the previous link. No special joinery or screws needed, just flat edges and glue!

If you’re glue-up came out perfect, skip this next step. But, if like mine, you find it’s a little less than perfect, you’ll need to pull out your hand plane again. I held a long metal ruler over one side of the table to identify the peaks and valleys. Then, I used my hand plane to gently remove those spots. Once I was satisfied with that flatness, I clamped it to the flattest spot in my shop: my table saw top. Then, plane the other side flat and parallel.

Use a table saw, circular saw, or bandsaw to cut to final dimensions.

At this point, you’re in the final stretch! With a powered sander (or a handheld sanding block) start at 120 grit, then go to 150, 220, and 320. The legs from Osborne actually come sanded to 150 already, so I just went to 220 right away on them. 320 is probably overkill for most woods, but cherry can get very blotchy when you finish it, especially if sanded to a low grit. So I went to 320.

For the finish, you have a ton of options available. The least expensive and most user friendly is wipe-on formulated polyurethane; I’ve used this in previous builds. I wanted something that would really penetrate the cherry though, so I went with Minwax “tung oil” varnish. Despite what the name says, there’s no actual tung oil in there; it’s just a wiping varnish. DO NOT buy 100% tung oil for this project; it never dries, and it will not work well in this case.

After two coats of the finish had fully dried, I applied wood glue to the tenon and inside of the mortise, assembled everything, and clamped it in place. The most important thing to do is make sure it’s on a flat surface so you make sure it doesn’t wobble. Also, make sure to measure the diagonals; if they’re equal, you know the table is squared.

I put the legs on during glue up to make sure the table didn’t wobble

I opted to use polished brass “non-mortise” hinges. All that means is you don’t have to chisel any wood out to make the hinges sit flush. Here’s a link to the page on Rockler where you can order them; I think Home Depot may carry them as well.

Mark pilot holes, and use a hand screwdriver or battery screwdriver (not a drill!) to put the screws in.

Turn the table top upside down, place the hinges on there so that the back will overhang by one inch. Pilot holes, and screws. I also decided to add one of these brass lid supports to hold the top open. I may add a second, but one seems to hold well.

Here’s what it looks like when it’s all done!

Finishing the nightstands

The first step to installing the drawers is adding the drawer slides.  Here you can see where I cut 3/4″ wide strips of hardwood (poplar in this case, because I had it sitting around) and made sure it was flush with the side of the drawer front.

I ended up needing to add a little strip of polar to the inside of the fronts to give me a place to attach the slides.

IF THERE’S ONE THING I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY:  I would have just bought metal drawer slides.  10 inch slides would fit here, with the cleat installed.  If you go that route, just make it so the drawers are 1/2″ narrower on each side than the drawer face.

I put some tape on the side of the drawers so I could mark the top and bottoms of the dado, then transfer this to the frame.

Here it is with all the slide rails attached.  18 ga brad nails hold everything in.  I’m not gonna lie, this was a huge pain.  It took a lot of sanding and re-positioning to get everything to slide smoothly.  Yet another reason metal slides would have been better.

That being said, once these were lined up and waxed (see below) they actually slid really well.

 

I used this handy jig from Rockler to line up the drawer pulls.  You can definitely do this with just a square, measuring off each drawer.  If you do, make sure you’re consistent.  Always measure center from the top, and center from the left, for example.  That way, if one drawer is slightly taller or wider, the drawer pulls will still form a straight line.

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This was just a demo, not my final line up.  Obviously, this is nowhere near on center.

We’re going to use figure eight fasteners to hold the top on, just like I did in my table build.  The instructions say to use a forstner bit.  I find it’s much easier to just take a router, make the cut depth identical to the thickness of the fastener, and then route out the spots.  We’ll want four total, only on the left and right sides.  This will allow the wood to expand front-to-back on the top, or in the width of the grain.  

Grease everything up with some paste wax.  I use Johnson’s.  It’s cheap, effective, and also works great at protecting the cast iron on your table saw, jointer, etc.  Apply liberally to the slides and the dados in the drawers, let dry, then buff smooth.  

The drawer pulls came with two different lengths of #8 machine screws.  One too short, the other far too long.  Luckily, most electricians pliers have a handy bolt cutter specifically for #8 machine screws.  Trim to length.

And here’s the finished product!

Building the nightstand drawers

We’re almost at the finish line of yet another project. Luckily, these drawers are pretty straight forward. Just be patient, and make sure to mark all the components so you don’t forget which pieces go together since each drawer will be fitted to each opening individually.

I couldn’t really find any drawer slides that would fit with the design we’re using. The stands are just slightly too deep for a 10″ slide and too shallow for a 12″ slide. So, we’re going to use hardwood rails that will slide on a dado cut into the drawer sides.

Start by milling up some lumber. I measured each drawer individually, and they were all right at 6 and 1/8th inches tall. I had about enough room for a 10 inch deep drawer as well. Alder rarely comes in widths greater than six inches, which meant I needed to glue pieces together to get the width necessary. Most hardwoods will come in wider sections, so you may be able to avoid this step by using another wood.

The drawer faces will be 5/4 alder to start with. Glue the pieces together, and then plane both sides parallel to a thickness of one inch. My jointer is only six inches wide, which initially presented a problem flattening the pieces. However, there’s a cool work around I learned recently. Joint six inches of the face flat (you may need to remove the blade guard, be careful!). This will leave you with a tiny notch of wood on one side (see below). Clamp a piece of plywood to your planer table, and then put the piece down so the six inches that are jointed sit atop the plywood. The notch will overhand the plywood. The rollers on the planer will push everything flat, leaving the entire top surface deep flat and parallel to the portion you already jointed. Then, simply flip and plane off the notch. Here’s a video as well.

Repeat the same procedure with some 4/4 pieces. Final thickness should be either right at or just under 3/4″, depending on how much flattening you need. Don’t go less than about 5/8 though, we need to make a dado into the side and still maintain enough thickness that the drawer won’t break.

At this point, using the measurements you have from each drawer opening, rip the drawers down to width and square the edges. We’ll be making a 1/4″ inch deep sliding dovetail in the drawer faces to attach the sides, so the sides should actually be cut to 10.25″ in length.

Make sure to mark the pieces and group them: one front and two sides per stack.

This is really tight, but I did that intentionally. We’ll do final trimming later.

Use a 1/2″ wide dovetailing bit in your router table, and set it to cut 1/4″ deep. On each drawer face, make a cut through the entire width, on each side, with the outside edge of the dovetail 1/2″ in from each edge of the drawer.

Then, set the router up to take a 1/4″ deep cut that is just about 3/32nd’s of an inch into the wood on one side. In my case, this left the dovetail a little thick and I had to experiment to get the right fit. Just be careful, and use scraps to test the fit.

Now, on the outside edge of each drawer, make a 3/4″ wide groove that is about 1/4″ deep that runs the entire length of the drawer. Make this about 1″ up from the bottom. I used a dado blade on my table saw, you could use a router table as well.

Finally, add a 1/4″ groove on the bottom inside of the drawer sides and the drawer front that is 1/4″ off the bottom of each piece. Here’s how it should look afterward.

Now, cut a piece of 1/4 plywood for the bottoms. I had some leftover pre-finished birch plywood, which is a godsend for these kinds of projects. It looks nice, and it’s one last step. However, you should have quite a bit of 1/4 alder plywood left that could be used here too. Simply dryfit the drawers, measure the dimensions, and then add the depth of each groove on each side (minus a bit, so it can float as the seasons change).

For the drawer back, I opted to use some 1/2″ alder plywood I had around. You could use solid wood here too, but I opted to reuse some scraps. The groove on the bottom is the same as the one on the sides.

Apply glue to the dovetail slots and slide the sides in.

Apply glue to the sides of the plywood. Fit it in place, use a square to make sure everything is good, then use some 1″ 18 ga brad nails to fasten the sides.

Once the glue has dried, dry fit your drawers. They’re going to be pretty snug. That’s OK, it’s easier to remove wood than to add it back! The best way I could find to trim the drawers is what I show in the picture below:

Since you have to remove the blade guard, be very careful doing this. It did a really good job fine tuning everything though. I tried my thickness planer, but it destroyed the side of one of the drawers. Lesson learned!

And now to apply stain and finish (don’t forget to sand first!). I am only going to finish the drawer front pieces, so I used tape to partition everything.

Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t pre-finish these pieces like I have done every other piece of the build. I knew the drawers would need lots of fine tuning, and the only way that can be done is once they’re assembled. I didn’t want to cut a finished edge off and have to refinish it, so I figured this option was best in the long run.

Creating the nightstand legs and rails

Now that we have the top of the nightstand finished, it’s time to consider the frame. Let’s look again at the plan:

Nighstand Plan

The nightstand has four primary legs. You want the final height of your nightstand to be the exact same as the height of your mattress, ideally. In my case, that was 30″. Since my top was about 3/4 of an inch thick, that means each leg needs to be 29.25″ tall.

I chose to go with 1.75″x1.75″ for the legs dimensions partly for aesthetics, but also for convenience; the 8/4 S3S alder I am working with is already dimension to just over 1.75″. All it takes to make the legs, then, is to cut them to rough length (30″), rip them down to width, and cut them to final length.

If you have access to a power jointer, I highly recommend ripping the pieces to an initial width of 2″. Joint that edge, the place that edge on the fence of the jointer to joint the adjacent edge. Only take off a very, very small amount though; about 1/32nd of an inch. The S3S lumber should be really close to flat, we’re just making sure we have two, adjacent, parallel surfaces. Mark these so you don’t forget them (I put a small “J” in pencil on the sides that have been jointed) then run everything through your planer at 1.75″. You should get a perfectly square piece!

If you DON’T have a power jointer, just rip the pieces to 1.75″ in width. There aren’t any glued edges like there were on the bed posts, so you’ll be fine.

Image result for mark multiple pieces of wood at once
Credit: Wood Magazine

Making sure they’re all exactly the same length is important; it will help keep the piece from wobbling. Start squaring off one end of each leg at the miter saw, being careful to keep the long edge flat against the saw fence. Now you can either 1) place all four legs so that the squared ends are even, measure 29.25″ off that end, and use a long carpenter’s square to trace a line across all four pieces or 2) using a stop block on your miter saw. My Ryobi miter saw actually came with stop blocks on it’s stand that are adjustable, which is handy! So, I went that route.

Now that we have those pieces, we’re going to do the same plunge routing technique we looked at in the last post to make the mortises. Each post will have at least four tenons on it: There are a top and bottom tenon on one corner, and a top and bottom tenon on the adjacent corner. You can see why this is on the plans above; the green rails will need to connect to the blue posts, and since the posts are on a corner, they will share a rail with two other posts.

The posts used on the front will have two additional mortises each; these will support the rails that frame the drawer faces. It’s really hard to explain how I came up with these measurements, so instead I just have pictures, which speak a thousand words. Essentially, we want a 4″ elevation from the floor to the bottom of the bottom rail. That will match what we have on our bed. Since the rails are 1.25″ thick, we want the tenon to be about 1/3rd as thick. 3/8 of an inch, in this case, since I have a bit that’s that width. The width of the tenon is going to be 1 & 1/8th wide (there was a reason, I can’t honestly remember what it was, but it seems to work!). Finally, the mortise (and tenon) will be 1″ deep.

Measurement from the bottom of the leg to the first mortise. All four legs get this mortise.
Measurement to the second mortise from the bottom, which only the two front posts will get.
Measurement to the third mortise from the bottom, which only the two front posts will get.
Measurement from the bottom of the leg to the top mortise. All four legs will get this. Note: Yes, I’m barefoot. Not, I wasn’t using tools at the time, this was before bed when I realized I forgot to take pics

Make sure when you do this that you mark each post before you cut any mortises. I like to use abberviations: FL would be “Front Left” and BR would be “Back Right”. I built a pair, so they were marked FL1 and FL2, for example. Put the mark on the top or bottom of the post, though we’ll sand it off eventually anyway. This will help you make sure you position the mortises correctly.

Using the same technique in the last post, set the router bit to be exactly centered on the post. Put tape on the table, and use a square to mark the cutting edges of the bit. Transfer those measurements above onto the wood. Now, when you’re routing, you reference both those lines to know where to stop. Here’s a video again, if needed.

One of the front posts with all the mortises routed out.

Now we want to put a 1/4 inch groove down the posts, approximately 3/8 inch deep, to accept the plywood panel. IMPORTANT: Do not put a groove on the sides that have 4 mortises, the fronts will not have paneling but drawers instead. Use the stop you marked out for the bottom mortise as your stopping point for the groove, although realistically you’ll know when you hit the mortise cause the bit will stop cutting.

To make the rails, use the lengths shown in the plans but add one inch to each side so that we can create a tenon. Use a dado blade and miter gauge, again, just like we did in the last post for the breadboards to cut out the tenons. Round over the edges with a chisel so they’ll fit in the rounded mortises from the router table.

We also need to add a 1/4 inch channel to all the rails that will go on the sides and back. The four rails on the front will not get grooves. If this seems confusing, just look back at the plans and carefully mark all the pieces so you don’t lose track of your cuts.

Notice in the picture above how A few of these have the tenon in the center of the width, and a few have the tenon at one edge. For each nightstand, the four top rails will all have the tenon on the edge like that (shown two images below). The rest will all be centered.

You’ll notice as you’re doing this that the routed channels will actually connect and overlap at the top and bottom mortises. To accommodate this, we’re just going to cut the end of each tenon that will to into those slots at 45 degrees to make a mitered tenon. See below.

BEFORE YOU GO ANY FURTHER: Now is the time to apply the finish. You’ll never be able to get all little corners and nooks once it’s glued up. Sand everything to 220, apply gel stain, and then a minimum three layers of wipe on satin poly. After it’s assembled, we’ll scuff sand and poly again for added durability.

Do a dry fit of the pieces, sand the tenons lightly as necessary for a snug fit. Then measure for the plywood panels.

This plywood was surfaced on the opposite side with alder. This side is lauan plywood. Though it won’t be seen, I still sealed it with some poly and shellac.

Disassemble everything. Using an acid brush, spread glue on each tenon and inside each mortise. Then, reassemble the piece (don’t glue the panels, they’ll float) and clamp everything together like so!

Before it dries for too long, make sure to measure the diagonals of the posts; so, BL to FR and BR to FL. Make sure these measurements are even; that’s how you’ll know all your edges are square.

Chessie Puppy for scale

Stay tuned for drawer construction!

Nightstands: The beginning

Well, about 8 months after I said I’d build some nightstands, they’re finally happening! Not that I haven’t been busy during that time!

Here’s a rough plan for what we’ll be building:

Nighstand Plan

IMPORTANT: These plans do NOT show the various joinery techniques. So, when it says a rail pieces is 9.5″ wide, the piece will actually be about 11.5″ with a one inch tenon on each side.

You should be able to make a pair of these with the following:

-Two 8 ft pieces of 8/4 alder

-Two 8 ft pieces of 6/4 alder (I was actually to use scraps from the bed build and didn’t need these, but you may not be as lucky depending on how wide your scraps are)

-A total of 8 ft of 5/4 alder, 6″ wide. In my case, I could only get pieces that were about 5″ wide, so I had to buy a second, narrow board to glue panels up.

-A total of 8 ft of 4/4 alder, 6″ wide (see note right above)

-One sheet of 1/4″ alder plywood. Don’t spend extra to get two sided ply, only one side will show in this project.

As I mention in the materials list, you should have quite a bit of scrap wood left from the bed project. This is the time to use it!

Start by taking some 6/4 Alder and cutting to about 18 inches in length. Width doesn’t really matter much; in fact, random widths may look more natural. You’ll want a total of about 15″ of width. We’re going a little bit longer than the final dimensions to leave room for squaring everything up and adding the tongue for the breadboard ends. Joint both edges, either on a jointer (which I have bought since doing to bed, such a time saver) or, as I did with these pieces, by using a hand plane.

Dry fit the pieces together to make sure the edges are flush against eachother.

Now, glue everything together with clamps and cauls. The cauls, clamped on both sides of the piece, help hold the piece flat. We’re going to plane this down, but the flater the surface, the easier.

I lost a lot of pictures when I changed phones, so here’s the gist of what we’re doing next. After everything is glued, use a power or hand planer to get everything down to about 1″ or 3/4″ thick. The thickness doesn’t matter much, depending on how warped everything is you may or may not need to take more. Don’t go less than 3/4 though.

Joint one of the long edges flat with your hand planer. Use that edge against the fence of your table saw to cut the top to 14″ in width. Then, use the miter gauge on your table saw and a stop block to make one of the side edges perpendicular to the two long parallel edges you just made. Finally, using the miter gauge again to keep everything square, make the final cut at 13″. It should look something like this at that point:

capture

We left it at 13″ wide because we’re going to have two breadboard ends, one on each side. They will be 2″ wide each. We will take a half inch off each side of the top we built to create a tongue, which will combine with the four total inches of breadboards to give us a 16″ wide finished top. Here’s a brief video on doing breadboard ends. You can also look at my table building process for a much larger scale version.

I did, however, find a few ways to make the breadboard end process simpler using a table saw for these small pieces. You can use the miter gauge and stop block, as we did before, to make the tongue. Use the stop block on the rip fence to set the blade so it will take a 1/2 inch cut. Then, set the depth. We want to take 1/3 the thickness off each side. In my case, that meant a 1/4 inch deep cut. Start this video at about 1:30 for a visual explanation. A breadboard end, after all, is essentially a giant tongue and groove joint.

Another thing I did differently was I did a stopped groove to conceal the tongue on the breadboard. That would look like this.

Image result for breadboard ends on table

I cut the groove using a 1/4 inch bit in my router. I marked the edges of the bit with table on my router table, and did a plunge cut, in several passes, to do the internal groove. I didn’t bother hauncing the tenons, I just left the tongue one uniform depth. But I did use drawbore dowels.

Here’s what the top should look like when all is said and done! I stained exactly the same as we did on the bed: Bartley Brown Mahogany Gel Stain and multiple coats of wipe-on polyurethane.

Dining table: The Finished Product

Well, the end is nigh!  In a good way though.  Once you’ve finished part two of the table top build the rest if very simple!

Start by using a chamfer bit to get a 45 degree profile on all of the corners.  This will reduce the sharp edges, and give the table an elegant edge profile.  I used this great cordless trim router I got for Christmas, but literally any router will work.  If you’ve managed to make it this far in the build without the use of a router at all (wow, serious kudos if so) then just use a block plane to add the chamfer.  Sand everything down to a universal smoothness, starting with 80, then 120, the either 180 or 220 grit (this will depend on wood type and stain type, a whole separate blog post on its own…).

Vacuum everything, then apply stain.  I used General Finishes Antique Oak, in a water based formula.  This causes it’s own unique issues, since the water in the stain will raise the grain some.  You can either 1) wipe the whole table down with a damp cloth, let dry, then sand to final grit again (essentially pre-raising the grain) or 2) apply the stain, apply sanding sealer, then sand.  I went with #2.

The shellac based sanding sealer does two things; it helps protect the stain from being removed when I lightly sand the raised grain off.  It also keeps the Aquacoat (see below), which is water-based, from reactivating the stain.

The table after stain and shellac

For the finish, I elected to do multiple steps, in an attempt to reduce the rough texture you can get from the coarse grain of oak.  To do this, I opted to use Aquacoat clear grain pore filler.  Lightly scuff sand the table after both coats of shellac go on with 220 grit sandpaper.  Apply Aquacoat to directions on the container.  I did two layers.  If you use a less grainy wood, like Maple or Cherry, this step won’t be necessary.

After the Aquacoat, allow to dry for a minimum of 72 hours before applying an oil based finish.  Finish with a three coats of General Finishes Arm-r-Seal.

You’re remember that the frame looks like this after being built:

IMG_20181119_195116.jpg

On each of those four short braces, we’re going to put four figure eight clips.  These clips allow the table top to move freely as the seasons cause it to expand and contract.  Mark out four spots on each beam, far enough into the taper that a 3/4″ #8 screw can go in.  I chose to put all 16 fasteners facing the space between each set of beams so they won’t be seen.  Use a router or forstner bit in a drill to make a small 3/4 inch diameter cutout that is the depth of the figure 8 clip.  Predrill holes, and fasten them to the table base and table top!