Pikler Climbing Triangle

The baby goods continue. I saw this one as part of a way to give kids something to help work on standing when young, and an acceptable indoor outlet for climbing urges when they get to be toddlers. It folds up pretty easily, because we wont be using it for a while and I don’t need big furniture taking up space. It has colored rungs, and three ramps that can sit on any rung to make them more or less inclined. One is a slide, one a rock climbing wall with 3D printed climb features, and the other has rungs stuck down to make crawling up easier.

I used poplar for the sides of the climbing structure. I rounded the ends and drilled spots for each rung.

Once again trying to make everything a different color took a lot longer and was more tedious than I had originally thought. Still, every rung is different and it looks great!

To attach rungs to the climbing ramp front I flattened them by hand. I was going to make some kind of sled to go through the planer, but I would have to adjust the planer multiple times for each rung, and they didn’t get pulled through well. By hand ended up being the easiest. I used a combo square as a depth gauge to know when to stop removing material.

I attached two rungs to the back of each ramp so they would fit around the ones on the climber. They probably won’t do a good job on the highest rungs, but it holds really well on any of the lower ones.

Those two mounting rungs are where I made my only big mistake on this project. While finishing all the ramps I noticed an orientation issue. I used a forstner bit to drill recesses for the t-nuts that all those climbers attach to. The side with all the big holes should be the back, but I put the mounting rungs on the other side. I could rip them off, but it would really tear up the plywood surface. I glued and nailed them down. Instead I just lived with it. The holes are ugly, but sanded well enough to not be a hazard.

I rounded over the edges of the sides, finished them all individually and assembled the two halves. To hold the two segments together I shaped a triangular piece of plywood. It screws fixed to one side while using a set of screws as a hinge on the other. A bolt and t-nut allow it to be locked in the open position. Removed, it pivots around the one set of screws and folds up.

Our little guy will be battle testing this design eventually. Maybe there will be an update in a year or two where he has figured out how to collapse it from jumping or something. Successful designs will have to get a #BabyProof update.

Table Saw Zero Clearance Insert

Not that long ago I went to great lengths to make zero clearance inserts for my table saw. I had fancy (expensive) phenolic resin plywood, set screws with brass threaded inserts, and anything else you could want. While working on my baby bookcase, I noticed the old store bought insert was getting wallowed out and needed replacing. “No worries” I thought, I made my own inserts. After messing around with the level of it, I realized there was a problem. It wasn’t flat.

It had a pretty strong cup in the center. I don’t know if it started like this or gradually shifted since I first made them, but I can’t use it with that much of a gap (red arrow shows flashlight shining through). I needed something, so I nailed down a flat piece of 3/4″ plywood to the back where the motor wouldn’t hit it. That reduced the cup, but it still wasn’t perfect.

That was a band-aide let me get past the worst part of the problem and on to other projects. I needed a better solution though. The plywood inserts I made weren’t flat, and they wore out quickly. They plywood is just not going to stand up to any blade wobble. Gaps create tear out. I thought about buying more of the professional inserts. They are very well made (100% phenolic), but also kind of expensive.

Instead I thought about taking some of the 1/4″ material I bought for making miter saw inserts, and adapting that. After trying fancy plywood, 3d prints and pure phenolic, the phenolic wins hands down. My miter saw insert is still going strong 6 months later after lots of use. The printed ones were shot after a month or two.

Speaking of 3D printing, I printed a template to go onto the professional insert and guide my router to make a pocket just deep enough for the 1/4″ sheets. It sticks on and lets me use a router bit and bushing to make an exact cutout.

With a recess pocket milled out, (I forgot the picture) I was able to use another printed template to cut out the insert. It uses a template cutting bit that follows the printed part with a bearing and cuts away the extra phenolic below.

The holes in the brown printed plastic let me use a transfer punch to set the spacing for a few countersunk holes for 4-40 screws to bolt my insert to the store bought plate.

I again used a transfer punch to transfer the holes from the white insert into the larger store bought throat plate. Transferring holes like that means it will always fit and line up.

Top View
Bottom View

The only thing left to do was try it out. I sat the plate on top with everything adjusted in, moved the fence over to keep it from skipping out, and slowly raised the blade. I just so happened to buy a brand new blade at this time, so witness the birth of a new blade! A 20 dollar sheet of the white phenolic material can make a few dozen inserts, so I should be set for life with this system assuming the larger insert never gets seriously damaged.

Baby Bookcase

Our household bookcase is already pretty full with regular adult stuff. A new kid will require more book space. I always like those ones that would face all the covers forward. They of course sell for a lot, but with a bit of plywood I can make my own. Final product first, so you can see where we are going.

Our small collection of baby books ready to go! The only thing I would do different next time would be to make each pocket shallower. Lots of kids books are only 4 or 5 inches high, so they get half obscured.

I wanted to make a locking rabbet joint to hold the bottoms of each shelf on to the back. I used a slot bit on my router table and had numerous issues. This plywood tears really badly without any kind of support around the small diameter slot cutter. Those Jagged edges are really nasty and will be a pain to deal with. Good thing I cut a spare shelf to experiment with.

The other problem I was having was that my joint didn’t seat up very tightly across the wide shelf. I re-did it twice and still had odd gaps. I started looking at my router table and found the source. That is a straight level on the table, and the red arrow is pointing to a very large gap where the flashlight beam is shining through.

The router table is made of MDF, and the center plate that attaches to the router is plastic. Both had sagged after 10 years of weight and humidity. No wonder my cut wasn’t straight, my table isn’t flat! I will have to fix that later. I setup the tablesaw with a 1/4″ dado blade and cut all the joints. I hate having my table saw tied up for doing joinery, but it did make the cuts a lot cleaner than the router did.

With that solved I assembled all 5 shelves. Each one has pocket holes in the base so it can screw into the shelf in front of it, and more pocket holes along the sides to screw into the uprights. I finished all the shelves and cut out the two outside uprights that everything else would screw to. Other than the locking rabbet to attach the back and bottoms of each shelf everything else is pocket holes. Not glamorous, but effective.

For finishing I decided to try my hand at spraying shellac. I broke out shellac for the first time in a while on the stacking block project, but picked up a compact HVLP spray gun to try this out with. I reduced the shellac down to a 1lb cut and sprayed away. I didn’t have the gun setup right the first round and wasted a lot of finish. The second time I got it tuned in and was able to apply a few coats in a very short amount of time.

After Shellac

The shellac is dry to the touch in a few minutes, and with a little buffing, the next coat is ready to go on. Once the solvent evaporates it is set. Each successive layer will re-desolve the previous a little, so it always sticks. Not the most durable finish, but kid friendly and easy to repair.

Colored Stacking Blocks

Some big changes are coming to the household. We have a tiny kilt coming soon! He will be born in September, so it is time to start making some toys and baby/toddler furniture. The nature of this blog will probably still mostly focus on my projects, but it might eventually include collaborations between me and the offspring. How old do you have to be to start learning to use power tools? 4 or 5 maybe?

Until then, I have a lot of time in the shop now, due to the pandemic. I won’t once the baby comes, so let’s get started on a bunch of stash busting projects and make some toys and furniture. My first project is something simple. A stacking block game. I found a board of poplar that would suffice. Each block is about 1/2″ smaller than the previous. They get a hole drilled in the center and all the edges rounded over.

I bought a variety of craft paints to make these and other projects more colorful and appealing to kids. Truth be told, this was the hardest part. Painting everything with multiple coats, cleaning the sponges, keeping the paints separated and whatnot.

I wrote a little note on the bottom of the block set base, but the spray coat of shellac I threw on there mostly blurred it away. As it turns out, even the industrial sharpies are susceptible to ethel alcohol. Next time I will have to spray lacquer over any ink-work to preserve it before using shellac. My wonderful wife’s grandfather would always write notes on the things he built, so I am going to take up the tradition. The wood, paint and shellac is all kid friendly and benign should someone start using these as teething devices.

BBQ Sign

I have a cooking corner on the porch. It has my grill, smoker, and the griddle cook-top out there. I wanted a kind of old western style sign to help indicate the area. Blacksmithed letters and old wood are the look I was going for. I don’t do much metal work but figured I could cut some basic letters if I had to. I started by 3D printing a B and a Q in the font I wanted. The print only acted as a tracing template, but it help me set the scale of the project and pick the right wood. I started with a jigsaw, but had trouble with the sharp turns I needed.

I tried using a friend’s plasma cutter but got pretty rotten results. Also I am not very good with a plasma cutter as it turns out. I found a cheap nibbler and ended up going that route. The nibbler is a little round punch that oscillates in and out and is powered by your drill. It can start from and edge and cut a swath, or if you drill a starter hole it can do inside curve work. It is hard to get right up to a line, and often you are left with little round cutouts as shown below.

I slowly went through and cut all the pieces out. I was showered in a sea of little crescent shaped metal debris. Those things are sharp as heck! A good magnet sweep is a must for a nibbler. After the roughing pass I used a carbide bit on my dremel to take everything up to the layout lines. The final result was pretty good. Only a few errant nibbler bites were present. To help add authenticity I heated the letters up with a torch to darken them.

After the heat treatment I picked out a piece of cypress and coated everything in boiled linseed oil. The letters got drilled out at points so I could hammer them home with cut nails for the final touches. The firing and oiling got the color of the metal letters about right. As it sits outside on the porch it will continue to age and darken. Overall a pretty nice project once I got the basic metal cutting figured out.

Cherry Entry Table

A little over a year ago some good friends of mine got married. I promised them a wedding present, but seeing as how we had just moved, I told them it was going to be a bit late. A bit late turns out to be a year and a few months. I did finally deliver though!

It is a cherry entry table that sits in their foyer. I made it somewhat tall because you would be standing next to it when you put things down, and narrow so it didn’t obstruct their entrance. I spent a lot of time at the drawing book coming up with ratios and ideas. I mostly stuck with them as well, only adjusting the width of the frame slightly.

It all started with a large 8/4 piece of cherry. I wanted this thickness for a bookmatched table top, thicker legs, and wrap around apron that all matched. I had some sapwood to deal with, but was able to mill most of it away and hide what was left on the inside of the aprons. Below are the three hunks that made up the entire table.

I cut the legs out first and milled them all square. I put down painter’s tape and marked out the location of the mortises. The tape is a copy of Mike Pekovich’s blue tape trick for dovetails. I still haven’t cut dovetails that way, but it sure does make mortises obvious. I mark everything with knives, then peel away the center section that will get cut.

Next I went around with a paring chisel and undercut the edges to help the chisel register on the sides and not cut any wider than is needed. Then it is just a matter if slowly chopping from one side to the other and back until you start to reach the proper depth.

The mortises all went pretty well. I made the legs extra long so I could cut some test ones and chop off the excess. After I had all the mortises cut I did the tenons. I used a similar tape technique to help visually guide the cuts. I cut a number of test ones and was happy with my progress. When I finally got to the last round I was going to shoot pictures of the process. Everything fell apart. Despite all the practice I couldn’t cut straight to save my life. I ended up cutting the whole frame down a little from the original plans because of the screwed up tenons. These two pics are all that remain of the process.

Once I finally decided they were good enough, or just gave up on trying to cut more, I dry fit everything together. Some of the fits are looser than I wanted, but It ought to hold together. Baby baby hold together.

With the legs cut to length I could go about tapering them. Probably a quick job on the bandsaw, but I went for the scrub plane. It made a huge mess, but was a good workout.

The outside two faces of the legs are straight, the inside two faces taper in almost up to the mortise at a ratio of 2:1. This gives the tape a really slim light appearance and guides the eye to the top.

Speaking of the top, I glued it together early in the project. The top side is bookmatched and has a lovely pattern that looks like angel wings. To further lighten the design I did an underside chamfer. The ratio was 2:3 with the thickness of the table top being subdivided into 3. Two units were removed from the edge leaving a thinner profile, and the slope went back 3 units. The layout is done with dividers and a marking gauge, so I don’t know the actual dimensions, just the ratios.

This chamfering was tested with the table top left extra long so I could get the hang of it with a few extra practice cuts. With a bevel up plane it was really easy. I made super thin (around 0.01″ or just a few sheets of paper) edge grain shavings. I have focused a lot on learning to sharpen in the past, and it is paying off now.

With the lines drawn I was able to accurately plane away the material and hit both marks just by eye. No special jigs needed! I did the end grain sections and proceeded to the long grain portions.

The last thing I had to do before finishing and assembling was put in some hardware to hold the table top down. A big flat sawn piece like the table top will want to move with the seasons. Trying to stop it is folly. Using the figure 8 brackets with oversized holes, I can attach the top to the apron and allow it to shift slightly with moisture movement. I started by drilling the first one on the outside face… DOH! Probably my only permanent mistake of the project aside from some slight dimension changes.

With everything setup I could glue the parts together now, then apply finish as I have often done in the past. Instead I finished everything in pieces. It made finishing easier because the small parts are all simple and don’t have hidden corners. As long as you keep it off the glue surfaces, everything will be fine. As a bonus, if you get glue squeeze out it comes off the finish easily. Waterlox’s wipe on varnish is a joy to work with.

After that all that was left was to screw the top on, buff with some wax, and deliver to the still happily married couple.

DIY Cleaning Wipes

Everyone seems to be in clearing out the store of all available cleaning products. Specifically the disinfecting wet wipes are GONE! I am no health expert, but the CDC says that general disinfectants and anything with alcohol over 60% is effective against covid19. Where does one get that now that the stores have all been cleaned out?

Easy, go to the hardware store and get denatured alcohol. From what I have found, any of the “green” denatured alcohols available from hardware stores are 80-90% ethanol. The non-green versions are about half ethanol and half methanol. Probably decent at killing germs, but not as safe to be using on yourself. Our local Lowe’s sells the Jasco brand and their SDS lists the ingredients. A small amount of that on a paper towel or rag should act as a highly effective cleaner for a really cheap price. I just picked a quart up for 7 or 8 bucks, though the website doesn’t seem to have it. They had a full shelf of the stuff when I was there.