Wood Moisture Content, Explored

I talk a lot in my blog and my tutorial plans about how important it is to get properly dried and acclimated lumber. If you don’t have a large lumber yard that you trust, like I do, how do you make sure what you’re getting will work?

I knock home center lumber a lot on here, but I understand that for a lot of you it may be your only option. The biggest problem with lumber from Home Depot, Lowes, and Menards is that it’s kiln dried to general construction standards. That can mean it’s “dried” but only to about 20% moisture content. In a house, where the entire frame is nailed and screwed with large fasteners and hidden behind drywall, you’ll never notice or care if the wood shrinks or cracks. In furniture, it makes a huge difference.

Here are links to two amazing (but incredibly technical) resources on wood movement.

Click to access chapter_04.pdf

Click to access chapter_13.pdf

I’ll summarize the main ideas as it relates to this recent bargain load of lumber I got.

Lowes had this entire cart of mostly yellow pine for about $22. They graded it as mostly “unsuitable for use.” We woodworkers know better. While warped and knotted, this would be the perfect wood for a workbench. A few trips on a jointer and planer and it would be indistinguishable.

They told me, from the get-go, that they’d accumulated this lumber over the course of a few months. I had a suspicion then that it had already done most of its acclimating. But, there was also an easy way to verify it.

I took the lumber home, let it sit a week, and then tested it with my moisture meter. Every piece registered right about 7-8% moisture. Using the resource above, and knowing that my humidifier keeps my house consistently between 30-40% moisture, I know that the wood is already at equilibrium in my home. Perfect!

But what if it weren’t? If I bought all brand-new yellow pine, I’d expect it to be about 20% moisture. The USDA chart tells me the tangential coefficient is about 0.0026 for long-leaf pine. So, as the moisture content drops to 7% from 20% (a 13% difference) , I can expect my 2×12 to shrink by 13 x .0026 x 11.5″= 0.3887 inches, or about 3/8ths of an inch!

Is 3/8ths of an inch a big deal? Absolutely, especially when combined with bad DIY building technique that constrains the wood. Lets say you made a kitchen table using popular DIY plans. It’s 40″ wide yellow pine, and you took it straight from the shelf, screwed four boards together, and used Kreg screws to fasten it on all sides to the table base.

Using the calculations above, we know the wood is going to move. In this case, you have 13 x .0026 x 40″ of movement, or 1.35 inches! In other words, by doing absolutely nothing but sitting there, your table will become 1.35″ narrower in a matter of just a few months.

OK, so who care’s about an inch of width though? Will your dinner party be any less comfortable with a 39″ wide table? Well, because you fastened the table-top to the base with a rigid system of nails, as the wood tries to shrink it’s not going to be able to do so; the screws holding it to the table apron won’t let the boards shrink. Instead, either your table will warp substantially as the wood curls in on itself, or you’ll get large cracks in the top as the wood violently splits at its weakest points.

Truth be told, even if you DID use proper table fasteners, like figure-eights or z-clips, I’m not sure they could help with a 1.35″ degree of shrinkage.

Here’s a fine assortment of examples from the web of people that were burned by wood movement:

Image result for diy tables warped
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Image result for farmhouse table cracked
Not pine, but an example of what happens when you don’t respect wood movement: https://www.woodworkingtalk.com/f2/slowly-cracking-farm-table-top-83513/

So, if the only option you have is to use lumber from Home Depot or Lowes, get yourself a $30 moisture meter. When you select your lumber, bring it with you and pick the driest boards you can find. Then, let them sit until they’re at LEAST 10% moisture, preferably less, before you work with them. It takes patience, and planning, but it’s much better than putting time, effort, and money into a project that ends up like the ones above.

Build your own Puzzle Coffee Table!

I’m going to do something a little different than I normally do for my tutorials: I am going to show you how to build one of my best selling items! About a year ago, a friend asked me if I could build a puzzle table that would have a fold open top and a few drawers, based on some inspiration she’d seen from other puzzle boards, easels, and tables. This being DIB, I said “Yes! But, I am going to do it better.” Properly built tabletops (NOT held together with pocket screws), mortise and tenon joinery, and inlaid, continuous grain drawers instead of partial overlay drawers.

This is my fourth or fifth table build, and I decided to partner with Osborne Wood Products again on this. Why? Well, the tapering process on the legs can be intimidating (and downright dangerous) if not done correctly when you build your own. And, frankly, Osborne has the same two-sided taper legs I made myself, plus about two dozen other options, so the design options are endless.

(As always, Osborne paid me nothing. They sent me the legs for free, but I discounted the price of the table accordingly to the customer so I didn’t profit from that freebie. This is just an honest, helpful tutorial!)

This entire project can be built with 4/4 lumber (if you’re buying the legs from Osborne) and half a sheet of pre-finished, 1/2″ plywood. I’ll describe the hinges and hardware I use, and post links at the bottom.

If you need more detail than this blog provides, you can buy a copy of the detailed, measured drawings here. If you do, read the disclaimer on the bottom of the page regarding using OWP legs instead of shop-made ones.

My standard puzzle table is square, and the measurements are 35.5″x35.5″x18.75″ tall. Since the legs are 18″ tall, you want each half of the top to be slightly narrower so that, when it folds over, it will clear the floor. Hence, the half inch smaller dimension than a 36″ square. You can adjust these dimensions as much as you want, but don’t make the width more than 35.5, otherwise it won’t fold open properly (without also adjusting the height).

The aprons will be 4″ tall when finished, but we want to start by ripping down 3/4″ thick lumber to 4.25″ wide and about 34″ long. I chose red oak here, as one of the more affordable options, but Osborne has almost a dozen different wood choices across all of their leg options.

The extra 1/4″ allows us to rip out the drawer faces to create “continuous grain” drawers. Set the rip fence on your table saw to make a one inch cut. Cut one side of that board. Then, flip the piece to cut 1″ off the opposite edge. This will leave you with three pieces; a 2″ piece sandwiched between two 1″ pieces. Where’d the other 1/4″ go? The saw blade’s kerf is 1/8″ thick, so it is now in your dust collector!

The drawers will each be 11 inches wide. Carefully mark each drawer. I like to mark the center and drawer lines on all three pieces of the apron. This way, when I reassemble everything, I know exactly how to put it back together to make the grain match.

Use biscuits to align the pieces, if you’d like, but it’s not wholly necessary. It just helps with these small pieces.

This next step is very important for a clean fitting drawer. Because you made two cuts to cut the drawer piece out, your drawer face is actually 1/4″ too narrow if you glued everything back together as it was. To accomodate, glue the center piece in first and clamp it:

Next, put the drawer faces in the slots (No glue!!) and scoot them toward the center until you get about a 1/16th inch gap. Now, take the two side/middle pieces, scoot them in until you get the same gap.

You’ll notice that the line on the left (the original layout mark before cutting) is now shifted about a quarter inch right on the center piece.

Each side apron of the table, then, will be 28.5″ long. Add 2″ to this measurement so you can put a 1″ tenon on each side of the apron later. Measure equally off your center line to mark where your board should be cross-cut.

Now, let’s talk mortises. For the table hinges to function properly, the aprons must be flush with the legs. Since we have 3/4″ legs, we will make a 3/8″ mortise and start it 3/16th’s of an inch off the edge of the leg. It should start 0.75″ from the top, and be 2.5″ long. My written plans call for a 1/2″ shoulder on the tenons and mortises instead of 3/4″. It’s fairly arbitrary. Do two adjacent sides on all four legs. You can look back at my King Bed project for instructions on hand cutting mortises, or either of my Lift top “wild” cherry side table for machine-cut mortise options.

(NOTE: With these legs, they were identical on all four sides, so the mortises could be on any two adjacent sides. If you get something like a two sided taper, then you’ll have to make sure you carefully choose which edges receive mortises)

On each apron, make that 1″ tenon that is 3/8″ wide and fits the mortise.

The next step is one of my secrets, and it helps make a really quality piece of furniture without using pocket screws to attach the recess. Make a 1/2″ dado, 3/8″ from what will be the top of each apron. This leaves a 3/8 inch lip to support the plywood, a 3/8″ recess for the puzzle to be concealed within, and makes for a clean look.

Before moving on to the next step, glue up a table top. I always make mine a little large, say 40″ square. That gives me plenty of room to true it up and dimension it. Just glue the edges and clamp.

While the top is setting up, start staining and finishing the legs. The sanding on these was tedious; all by hand in the little grooves.

I always sand and finish before assembly on these tables. There are a lot of tight spaces, and it will be hard to remove glue squeeze out from them. Better to apply poly, which the glue won’t stick to, then glue everything together.

Take your pre-finished plywood, and cut it to fit the space PLUS an extra amount for however deep your dados are (1/4″ in my cases). Put glue in the grooves, mortises, on the tenons and clamp the whole thing together like crazy, making sure to check for square.

I won’t lie, this is really tough to make perfect. I’ve tried about 4 different ways to get it so there aren’t any gaps around the legs (which don’t have dados and just butt together) but it’s never come close to perfect. The solution I’ve come up with is to rip 3/8″x3/8″ stock, put a roundover on it, and place it in those corners to cover the gaps.

The only downside to these Osborne legs is they ALL have the lathe chuck marks on them. I always forget to chop that 1/4″ off though, which is my fault,

Now that the top is dry, square up one edge and then crosscut it halfway down the middle (17.75″ in this table’s case). It’s VERY important that your folding joint, where the two pieces meet, runs perpendicular to the boards. Wood doesn’t expand or contract along the length of the grain, so your seam will remain snug throughout the seasons.

Take the 18″ piece, being careful to keep track of the top, and flip it over; set aside. Take the other piece and, using a router, place a roundover with a slight shoulder on it (right side below). We’re going to use what’s called a “rule joint” to provide a nice seam that should help keep dust and grime out of the recessed area.

On the BOTTOM of the piece you set aside, make a cove cut with your router to match the roundover. Make sure the cove bit matches the roundover bit you started with. Start at a cut you know is not big enough, then sneak up on it to get the fit just right. When you flip this piece over, it should match the roundover.

I know, ugly tear-out. Even using shallow passes, my cove bit did some damage. Time to get a newer, sharper one.

On the piece with the roundover, which should be longer than 17.5″, measure 17.5″ off the SHOULDER of the roundover on the top, and cross-cut there. Now, once everything’s cut, stain and finish as you please.

Before attaching the top, I find it’s easier to fit the drawers. Once the top is on, it gets quite heavy. Start by flipping the table over, cutting some slightly shallow plywood pieces, and glue and nail in some corner supports. This helps keep the legs square, and adds more support to the top.

Now, using 13″ long strips of 3/4″ plywood, we want to make rails for the drawer slides. Since it’s a ply-to-ply connection, pocket screws are great here. Apply glue to an edge, make sure they are square to the drawer opening and flush against the edge, and screw them down.

There are about 1,000 ways to make drawers, and we’ve made them before on the Nightstand build. For these, I went with “false fronts.” Basically, the drawer is a prefinished plywood box, and the drawer faces we cut out in the beginning attach to the box. I go with 12″ deep drawers, as 12″ slides are abundant and cheap.

Simple rabbets for the drawer connections, with a 1/4″ groove to accept a plywood bottom. If you want, you can use your 1/2″ ply to save on costs.

When you make the drawers, measure them from each drawer face exactly. Even a 1/16″ size difference can make the drawers hard to fit. The slides screw into the rails, and then the drawers. Instructions on this step are abundant online!

The best way to attach the false front is to push the drawers all the way it, place the face in, dry fit, and use two pin nails to hold it in place. Pull the drawer out, clamp, and use two wood screws to attach the front.

I looked at about two dozen different kinds of hinges to see what would work, and there’s really only one option: gate or “strap hinges. Fold the hinge to 90 degrees, drill pilot holes, and screw in like below. Be careful, it’s easy to torque the screw heads off. I put two on each half of the table top, 6 inches off each side. I believe these strap hinges are 11″ long; the most important thing is that the gap from the corner to the first screw on each side must exceed 3/4”. I have hinge recommendations, below, in link form.

A spring loaded punch is really excellent for marking the pilot whole spots. Lining up all of the screw slots, or “clocking” them, adds an extra sign of craftsmanship.

I’ll be honest, I had a lot of concern about wood movement with these table tops. You’ve got a potential for some substantial movement perpendicular to the hinges, and I was worried that screwing down the top on hinges would constrict it and cause cracking.

So far, none of my tables have had that problem. I think it’s because the hinges have a bit of lateral slop to them which is allowing the wood to move more freely than I first worried.

Here’s the finished product! The only thing left is to crack open a puzzle and get going!

A version of my original plans in a natural finish

Product Links:

NONE OF THESE LINKS ARE AFFILIATE LINKS. I don’t receive any revenue, discounts, or other compensation for putting them here. These are just my honest-to-god top choices for this table, take it or leave it.

Legs for this table: https://www.osbornewood.com/1345.aspx

Hinges: https://borderlandrustichardware.com/collections/door-gate-furniture-hinges/products/10-75-strap-hinge (ask for a few extra screws, they heads can snap and are very difficult to find in stores)

Ring Pulls: https://www.amazon.com/Ring-Cabinet-Drawer-Wrought-Black/dp/B07517XY54/ref=sr_1_7?keywords=iron+ring+pull&qid=1571853989&s=hardware&sr=1-7

Notes on Plans:

If you buy my plans, they’re made for 2.25″ shop-made legs. Osborne Wood’s legs tend to be 3.5″. So, make the aprons each 1.25″ shorter than the plans specify. You can either subtract this from the shoulders around the doors (that’s what I did) or make each drawer 5/8 narrower. It’s your call.

The plywood will be smaller as well for the recess.

Free Baby Doll Bed Plans

When my daughter asked if I could build a baby doll bed for her doll, Bella, I was thrilled.

This was such a fun project to build, and I was even able to involve her in the whole process.  This design was selected by Sophia; she picked one from a catalog that she liked.  Then, she sketched some crayon schematics (basically, taller headboard than footboard).  Finally, she sketched the double heart that she wanted on each board.

I am making these drawings and designs 100% FREE so that you can build one with your child.  The templates for the head and foot board are here: baby crib plans.  If you print each one on a full sheet of paper, you’ll be able to trace out this exact design.

The template shows the location of each shallow mortise.  Here’s what it looks like.  I found the best way to do it was to make the mortises on the footboard, clamp it to the headboard so the bottoms line up, then drill a hole through to locate them on the headboard.  Cut the heart with a scroll saw or jigsaw.
I used a chisel to create a groove for the bed bottom to sit in.  1/4 inch wide, use a chisel to pare it out.  This is sloppy along the bottom, and that’s OK.  Making the top line of the groove as clean as possible is more important, since it gets seen.
The groove in the bottom rails has to be cut at an angle.  Use an angle finder, bevel gauge, or protractor to figure this part out, then use a table saw to cut the groove. 
To locate the sprindles, I drew a line 3/4 inch from each end.  The rails are about 17″ long.  Then, use dividers, start on one line, and mark out 9 equally spaced points.  I used a 5/16 drill bit and 1/4 inch dowels.  If you have a 9/32 bit, that might be better; these were a bit loose.
The 1/4 inch thick bottom slides in those grooves, no glue.
As a woodworker, do I love the visible screws?  No.  As a father, totally.  This was a really accessible thing for Sophia to do.  And, since they’re visible, she’s always reminded of one of the parts she played in building this.  Use glue on each rail joint, but not on the dowels.
Canned spray paint is your friend here.  Take light coats.  Sophia is going to use acrylic paint to draw flowers on this, and then I’ll seal it with a water based poly.


The Wonders of Shellac

I’ve posted about shellac, previously, as part of my finishing regimen.  However, I’ve never truly talked about how amazing this finish is, and how truly simple it is to use.

Let’s start with what shellac is: unlike polyurethane, laquer, and most other commercial finishes, shellac is 100% natural.  It’s actually the secretion from the Lac insect.  Yes, it’s basically bug poop.  But before you let that gross you out, you should know that you’ve actually eaten this stuff before!

Image result for jelly belly
That shiny glaze on your jelly beans?  You guessed it, shellac!  Bertie Bott’s has nothing on regular Jelly Belly

The flakes of lac are collected and processed.  In that form, they can come in a few different tones (amber, garnet, blonde).  Each of these colors has its own unique coloring effect it will add to the wood.  The flakes are mixed with alcohol, and can be applied using a brush, rag, or sprayer.  Importantly, at this point, they still contain a substantial amount of natural wax.  Each subsequent coat of shellac slightly dissolves the underlying coat, which makes the shellac build a finish quite well.  One of the most prized finishes, the French Polish, is accomplished using shellac.  The wax, however, means that no other finishes will stick to shellac in this form.

Liberon garnet flakes, from Rockler

Sound complicated and the opposite of the “simple” finish I promised?  Don’t worry, there’s an alternative.

Premixed shellac is widely available!  Home Depot and Lowes carry the Bullseye (Zinsser) brand in both Amber and Clear.  The Amber shellac is a waxed shellac.  The clear is dewaxed.  Both are available in quarts, gallons, and spray cans.

While nothing will stick to waxed (amber) shellac, the dewaxed stuff is practically a miracle finish.  EVERYTHING (practically) sticks to dewaxed shellac, and it sticks to everything.

One of the biggest struggles in finishing is compatibility; say you want to use a colored stain or dye, but it’s water based.  If you try to use an oil topcoat on a water stain, you can be asking for trouble (watch homemade salad dressing after it’s settled, as an example of how that combo works).  Water and oil don’t mix!  You could use a water based finish on top, but they often look dull and they aren’t typically as protective.

The solution?  Seal Coat shellac!

Image result for seal coat shellac

After the water stain has dried a day or two, put on two or three coats of this heavily thinned shellac (sanding in between, lightly).  The shellac adds warmth to the otherwise dull water stain. And, it acts as a barrier between the water and oil finishes.

What else do I love about shellac?  From the can with a brush, it is ready to recoat in about an hour; from the spray can, they say as soon as the first coat is tacky (5 minutes, tops).  That’s an exceptionally fast finish!  I’m sure denatured alcohol isn’t exactly healthy for you, but it’s much less caustic, I think, to breathe than the oil based finishes (I still wear a respirator mask).

Since it’s all natural, it’s basically edible once it’s cured.  I don’t recommend chewing on your new bookcase, but if you’re making a kid’s toy, I’d go with shellac.

Image result for kids wooden toy
Credit:  The Bump

What else?  Well, it is a crazy good stain and odor sealer.  Many primers are even shellac based, specifically because of that quality.  A gallon of amber shellac is about $40 at Home Depot right now.  That’s about on par with a cheap polyurethane like Minwax.  The equivalent amount of Arm-R-Seal, my favorite oil varnish, is about $60.

Are there downsides to this miracle finish?  Well, yes, of course.  For one, it’s alcohol soluble, do you won’t want to use it on a dining table, bar, or coffee table.  Because it’s mixed with alcohol, it’s highly flammable; maybe even more prone to spontaneous combustion than an oil finish.

But wait!  Both of these things are secretly benefits, too.  The solubility means you can repair scratches and such in seconds, seamlessly.  And even though it’s more combustible in the short term, it dries way faster than oil based finishes.  You can lay it out flat, in within about ten minutes the whole rag is dry; a linseed oil based finish may take 6 hours to fully dry.  Alcohol is also water soluble, which means you can dunk your used rag in a bucket of water before you lay it flat to dry; that helps reduce the spontaneous combustion risk.

So, have I sold you on shellac yet?



Build a “Rustic-chic” coffee table the RIGHT way

Looking back on the last year and a half, I’ve done a LOT of fun projects. I’ve had collaborations with Osborne Wood, personal projects with exotic lumber, etc. But, looking back at the original purpose of DIB, I welcomed this next commission as a chance to tie in my custom business with the blog!

What if you don’t want ebonized, inlaid, or acrylic furniture? What if you just want some Pintrest-worthy “rustic-chic” furniture? If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you’ll know there are tons of issues with how those DIY websites design and build their furniture.

When my client asked me to build a table similar to this, I knew there were some things I would have to do to make the project last.

I used these legs for the coffee table and these for the end tables. They are “knotty” pine, which I was told is a white pine in their case.

The first thing I did was buy high quality lumber, from a lumber yard. Pictured are sheets of white pine veneered, 3/4 inch plywood and slabs of 2″ thick, locally cut white pine. I ended up needing one extra slab. This stuff is kiln dried; when pine is fully dried, it’s really stable, unlike the hardware store stuff that has to continue drying out. If you absolutely can’t find a lumber yard that carries white pine, you COULD use construction lumber from a hardware store. If you do, buy it a couple months early and let it sit in your basement to dry out. It’ll warp, but better to do it BEFORE you surface everything than after it’s built.

Instead of using pocket screws to create the top, which would cause warping and cracking as the wood moved seasonally, I used the plywood (very stable) as the base. I cut a rabbet cut (which is just a groove that’s on the outside of a board) that the plywood would sit in.

The mitered corners were reinforced with biscuits on the inside of the miter. You could use mails, splines, dominos, etc.

Picture taken with wet poly on, that’s why there are some weird effects on the finish

To attach the top to the legs, I put pieces of 4/4 pine on the bottom of each leg, glued, with a single deck screw going in to add extra support. That glue joint has end grain on the leg, which doesn’t hold as well, so the screw gives the glue some added strength. The 4/4 squares are glued to the top and bottom and held with 23 gauge pin nails while the glue dries. Those glue joints are all “long grain” and are very strong.

By using scrap MDF pieces to fill in the depth under the tables, I provided a stable basis with a very strong glue surface.

For the stain, I used General Finishes Antique Oak. It’s a water based stain, which reduces the blotching that pine characteristically shows when stained with oil stains. The pockets of pitch and sap in the pine become dissolved by the oil solvents, and you get uneven coloring. With water-based stain and poly, this is almost eliminated.

No full walk-through on this one; it was a commission piece, so I don’t give away the full process there. But, these general guidelines will give you a “Shabby Chic” looking table with long-lasting construction techniques.

Acrylic leg coffee table: Part 2!

It’s time for the exciting conclusion to this coffee table build: the ebonized walnut top with inlay banding. I know, it sounds complicated! It really isn’t though; you can do all of this build with a circular saw and a router, if that’s all you had.Start by ripping some 4/4 walnut into strips that are 1 5/8″ wide. This will allow for a 3/8″ deep tongue that will go into the plywood, and a 1.25″ solid frame for the plywood. The plywood piece should be 50″ long by 27″ wide. You’ll note that this is a bit different from the measurements I put in the last part for the total dimensions. It’s going to actually be 52.5 x 29.5″ wide. I was originally planning on a 1″ board but 1.25″ looked better. Plane it to be exactly as thick as the plywood.

Using a slot cutting bit with a 1/4″ tall cutter, cut a groove on every edge of the plywood that is centered. Try to get as close to centered as you can when adjusting the bit depth; my plywood had a 1/4″ thick MDF core I used to line everything up. To ensure it’s dead centered, flip the plywood and route again from that side.

Now, create a matching, centered tongue on the walnut lumber that is 3/8″ deep. You can use a router table; I used a dado on my table saw. You could also use the same slot cutting bit, using the bearing to guide it. You have options!

I decided to add a really, really subtle to the bottom of the walnut frame. The legs have a 4 degree slope on them, so I added a 4 degree chamfer to the underside. I used a featherboard to hold it tight, and put that slight chamfer on with the table saw. Barely noticeable, but trying to pull elements together on this design.

Using the miter sled on your table saw, cut mitered corners on everything. Make sure they’re as tight as you can get them and dry fit everything together. Once it looks good, place some Titebond Dark glue in the groove, put everything together, and clamp.

Sometimes you have to get creative with your clamps

I like to put a spline on all my mitered corners to reinforce them. Miters are mostly end-grain joints, so by adding a spline you add a method to connect them with long-grain, which glues better. The easiest way I’ve found to do this on a large piece is use two cutoffs to create a flat reference edge. Then use the slot bit.

You can either immediately glue in a walnut spline, or wait until after the ebonizing to add a contrasting wood.
Here’s how it looks once it’s all put together!

Now comes the truly magical part: ebonizing! Take that solution we set aside a week ago, and strain it through a coffee filter. I tried a few different dilution rates, and I settled on 50% of the mixture plus 50% more vinegar. This gave it a deep, rich black color but allowed some of the grain to still show through.

The reason this works is the mixture we created is actually iron-acetate. It’s a chemical that, when it reacts with tannins in wood, turns the wood black. Any wood with a high tannin content will work; oak, cherry, or walnut. Since walnut is already pretty dark, you may have better results. The grain is also more subtle than oak.

Apply it with a clean soft rag, making sure the walnut is uniformly damp, but not soaking wet. Here’s a video showing me applying some!

Just immediately after applying the solution you can start to see the effects
After one full night of drying. The wood will look less purple once it receives a top coat.

To protect the thin veneer on the plywood for the next stage, coat the top with two coats of a dewaxed shellac sanding sealer. This will keep the ebony from being removed as well.

Mark out your corners. I decided to use 1 inch in from the edge of the walnut plywood. These lines are there to tell you when to stop your router; you’ll use a sharp chisel to clean up the corners.

The inlay banding comes in 40 inch sections. We will use four of them for this table, using a scarf joint to create the longer sections. It’s 13/16ths of an inch wide. You’ll need a straight cutting router bit and a router with a guide fence to route the channel. My router came with a guide, but you may need to buy one depending on your model. You can also clamp a straight edge to the table and use that to guide your router. Make sure you check the depth of cut on a scrap before attempting it on the table.

You can see the marks the router guide left; they will easily sand off from the shellac with a light hand sanding

The only tools you need for cutting the inlay are a sharp knife and a straight edge. In theory, they should be 45 degree angles on each corner. I found the fit turned out better if I used the knife to mark the inside and outside corners, then connected them with the straight edge.

With a funky pattern like this, you’re shooting more for a close match on the miters; it’s very difficult to get an exact pattern match. I was happy with the results. Glue them in using Titebond liquid hide glue. It is urea based, not water based, meaning it won’t swell the inlay and make it warp. Put a straight piece of wood with painters tape on top and clamp it down to hold everything flat.

On the two long sides you’ll need to splice a small strip of veneer in to get the length we need. This is a good place for a scarf joint. The pattern lends well to it as well. Cut a line along the slope of one of the shapes, match it to the other piece, glue in tight for an almost invisible seam.

You can barely tell this was a joint

Splines getting glued in

This is a good time to attach the frame. Use 1″ pocket screws. The guide on my kit says I can use 1.25″ but I found they almost punch through.

Sand, very lightly, with 220 by hand to remove the router marks. Then apply topcoat as usual. I did 3-4 coats of General Finishes Arm-r-Seal in Semi-gloss.

And here’s the finished product!!!

Acrylic leg coffee table Part 1: Building the frame

If you’ve been following my blog, you likely saw my post a few months back about the collaboration I did with Osborne Woodworking on their new acrylic leg line. If you didn’t, here’s a link!

They’ve asked me to do another write up, and I am incredibly thrilled to do so! In the interest of unbiased disclosure, I am making $0 on this project. Osborne provides me with the legs and inlay, but the table is going to a friend’s home. The friend paid only for the additional materials, and I make nothing for my time!

Now that we’ve gotten THAT out of the way, let’s talk about the project. Osborne asked me if I could incorporate inlay strips into a project, and I requested these acrylic legs as well; I’d had a design for those legs marinading in my mind, and I thought these inlay strips would be a perfect fit.

This is the table that was my beginning inspiration. There really aren’t a lot of examples of acrylic legged coffee tables out there. What I liked about this table was the way it uses the acrylic legs to elevate the beautiful wood and granite on top.

Credit:  Allan-Knight Showroom

Now, I have no idea how to cut or process granite. And while I COULD get zebrawood, it seemed a little busy, especially with the brass that would be on my table legs and the inlay on top. Instead, I opted to use African Mahogany for the aprons and ebonized walnut (plywood and lumber framed) for the top.

I’ll post the final measured drawings at the end of the next post! I want to emphasize though that, unlike the last acrylic project, this project requires a bit more lumber processing. The apron height needed to be four inches in order for the threaded rods to line up on the legs, and you won’t be able to find 1x stock in four inch widths. Instead, you’ll need to rip the lumber with a table saw, circular saw, or even a hand saw.

Before you do ANY cutting though, we need to prep the ebonizer. It sounds ominous, but it’s super simple. Take some 0000 steel wool, rinse it with dish soap and water to remove the rust inhibitor. We want rust! Then put it in a jar with some normal white vinegar and let it sit for a week. By doing this now, we make sure they ebonizer is ready once we need it; more to come in the next post!

0000 Steel wool, washed and ready to corrode
DIB Woodworking, proudly sponsored by Heinz…well, not really.  It’s what I had.  I’m sure any 5% vinegar will do.  Foodies, restrain yourself from using cider or wine vinegar!
The chemical reaction creates gas, make sure to add a few holes.  Pro tip:  corn holders are the best for poking baking potatoes too!
Let this sit for a week, then strain through a coffee filter and store.

I was able to build the entire table frame using just two boards of mahogany. Both boards were about 12 ft long and about 5 inches wide. Rip them both to 4.25 inches. In my case, the mahogany was only available in S4S at about $5 per board foot. It was pretty darn straight, but I jointed and planed it down to about 3/4″ thickness before ripping to the final 4″ dimension. The customer’s couch was 78″ long, which meant the coffee table should be about 52″ long. I knew I wanted an inch overhang on each side of the legs, meaning the frame should be 50″ long overall. Subtract out 5″ to account for the combined thickness of two legs, and you get a 45″ apron on each long side. Cut that from the mahogany.

The width of the table was a bit more subjective. I looked at a few examples available online, and most were around 60% as wide as they were long. That seemed a little wide for me, so I opted for 28″. It’s completely arbitrary within the confines of what you think looks best. Subtract 2″ overhang, 5″ for legs, and you arrive at 21″ aprons on each of the short sides.

Mahogany aprons (left and top center) and mahogany corner brackets (bottom center)

The legs attach to the aprons using corner brackets. Rockler sells these, pre-made, in galvanized steel. For almost any other application that needed corner brackets, I’d buy those in a heartbeat. Since the legs are clear acrylic, though, I don’t want the galvanized steel to be visible when you are looking at the table. That means creating your own corner brackets.

Note: This is by far the most complex part of the project. If you lack the tools, or are simply uneasy about it, I think the Rockler brackets would likely work fine with very little impact on the overall look.

The brackets need to accomplish two things: 1) they need to give the legs a firm place to attach and 2) they need to be firmly attached to each adjacent apron to secure the entire frame together. This means putting a 45 degree miter on each edge of the bracket and putting two holes in the center for the bolts to attach.

I wanted the aprons to align just behind the end of the brass band on each side. It required a decent amount of geometry (hello Pythagoras and 64ths of an inch!) to make sure I got everything where I wanted it to be. To save you the trouble, all you need to know is this: the back end of the bracket (the long face, where the miter points are) needs to be about 5.5″ long to accomplish this.  I’ll put the final dimensions in the plan, but my wood came in right at 11/16ths thick instead of a full 3/4″ which is why I’m saying ABOUT 5.5″.  You could do this on a miter saw, but using the miter sled on your table saw will give you much better results; less slop.

The holes in the center of the bracket need to be 1.25″ and 3.5″ from the top, respectively. The bolts are 5/16″ thick, so I went with 3/8″ holes. The extra 1/16th gives us a bit of wiggle room. If you have a drill press, make sure the table is square and drill away. If you don’t, you’ll need to use a drill guide. It’s essential that they be square and plumb, otherwise the miters won’t contact the aprons correctly.

Test the fit.  You want the corner bracket flush to the top of the leg, and the miter sitting flush against the apron.  These were my test bolts, the real bolts are less random.
Tops completely flush

Using a hand drill, make 4 small pilot holes, one inch off each side.  You want these to angle the opposite direction of the miter so that the screws will enter the aprons at 90 degrees.

Now you need to create the rods that will attach everything together.  I couldn’t find any pre-cut 5/16″ rods in the length we need, so I had to cut my own.  I started by inserting the rod all the way, adding 3/4″ for the bracket, and then adding the length of the wingnut, washer, and lock nut.  Overall, 2.5″ seems to be a good length.  You’ll need to cut them by hand with a hacksaw and file the cut ends to fit.  Tip:  thread a wingnut on before you cut the rod, then twist the wingnut so that it goes over the threads you just cut.  Most of the time, that corrects the threading.

Do a test fit on everything.  The brackets may feel a little wobbly; mine did.  Two things will help with that.  First, we’re going to use glue on the miters.  Second, the frame will be attached to the top as well.  That should keep everything snug.

I chose to use hide glue for this project for two reasons: 1) I could easily undo it with water if I needed to fix any of the brackets and 2) it’s urea based, not water based, so it won’t cause warping or waves in the inlay we use later.  If the idea of a cow hide based glue rubs you the wrong way, you can use regular wood glue; just make sure you fit everything really well first.  I’ll address the inlay in the next post.

Drill small pilot holes into the apron being careful not to go through the finished side, glue, and then screw everything together.  1.25″ kreg screws were just right.  I also had good results with 1.5″ #8 screws.  Just be careful not to over drive them.

Add some pocket screws on the sides.  I know, I know: I’ve been a very vocal critic of Kreg screws before, but this is really the perfect application for them.  We want a hidden fastener that will be going into a dimensionally stable top (plywood) and will have no shearing force exerted, only pulling force.  All three of those things add up to pocket screws!

Placement is relatively arbitrary.  I chose 10″ off each leg on the long sides and one in the center.  On the short sides, I did 7″ off each side.  Completely arbitrary.

Check for square by measuring the diagonals before the glue dries.  Let it sit.  We will apply the finish later, once the top is attached and the legs (which will dissolve if the finish touches them) are removed!


A new favorite finishing regimen

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. I guess having a baby will do that to you? Slowly, but surely, I’ve been getting some work done, and I wanted to write a quick post on a new regimen I tried on some white oak that I really like. If you’re looking to accentuate the natural character of the wood, and not stain it, this is a great process:

  • Sand the entire piece to 120, then 220 grit with an orbital sander
  • Coat with Danish oil in “natural” finish. Follow the directions carefully, and make sure to rub out all the excess so it dries properly.

  • Let it sit for 3 days to fully dry.
  • Coat with two coats of shellac sanding sealer, sanding at 220 in between.
  • Top coat with your favorite wipe-on finish. I like General Finishes Arm-R-Seal or Minwax wipe-on poly.

That’s it! A great, natural finish that is durable as well. Here’s how it looks on a finished product!

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:

Related image


Image result for civil war ammo box


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:



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!

Image result for civil war ammo box

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.


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!


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