Friday, November 2

Making Stopper Racks

It was my plan to spend today fitting case parts for the steamer trunks, but it was brought to my attention that month end just crept up on us and there is a need to finish a couple of small projects – today if possible. So I’ll be working on those today.

I started off with Mark’s cremation urn. Well, it’s not for Mark, it’s for Marks Grandmother. Seems she saw born and raised here in the Smoky Mountains, she lived about 6 miles from this very spot. She left as a young woman and went to Massachusetts where she married, had a family and lived a long life. But her heart always belonged to the Smoky Mountains. Grandmother died recently, was cremated and her family wished they could bury her back in her ancestral homeland, but that just isn’t possible. So they thought of interning her ashes in a box made of wood from her beloved mountains.

They contacted a number of woodworkers, but none were able to accommodate their wishes. Finally an internet search brought them to Smoky Mountain Woodworks. They presented their wishes and we agreed to build them a wooden urn for Grandmother, and use locally harvested wood. We decided on some locust I have on hand. Locust is a favored wood for farmers and homesteaders because of it’s longevity. We’ll give a shellac finish and use no metal hardware so that the entire box will be biodegradable.

So, I start off by milling the rabbets that will house the box bottom and lid into a plank made up the other day. I set-up the saw fence carefully, I dare not mess up; I’ve got only the one plank to work with. The first cuts are made with the plank laying flat on the saw table. Then I install my “tall fence” to lend additional stability as I flip the plank up on edge to complete the rabbets. When done I have a pair of recesses where the other parts will fit into the edges of the box.

Now it’s time to set up for the mitered edges. I never trust the angle gauge on the table saw, so I set the angle with a large plastic artists triangle and cut a test piece from a thick piece of scrap stock. Using an engineers square I test the angle. If it’s not right I adjust the angle and test it again. When it’s dead-on square I’m ready to cut the box sides.

The goal here is to cut the pieces sequentially from the plank so the dramatic graining flows smoothly around the corners of the box. That means the saw kerfs between each piece must be kept as thin as possible – again, each cut must me right the first time through; no do-overs here.

Once the four sides are cut out I fit the parts together to see how I did – looks good. That completes my morning shift.

After lunch I got going on the stopper racks again. The parts blanks for these were cut and trimmed over the past couple of days. First up: I stack five shelf blanks, square them and bind them securely with wide masking tape. This will hold the pack in position and keep them from shifting.

Then I use the lay-out template to mark the centers locations of the 5 holes. And bore the holes with a drill press, round the front corners with a stationary belt sander, and pull the tape off to separate the shelves. By boring the holes and rounding the corners as a group I save time and insure uniformity over handling each shelf individually.

This jewel is the sled I built to cut the dadoes in the side pieces so they are perfectly square and evenly spaced. It has runners underneath that slide in the miter slots of the saw, a dado head is installed on the saw to cut each dado in a single pass. After the first cut I slide the side piece down and hook the dado I just cut over the key in the sled and cut the second dado, slide it down again and cut the third, repeat until all five are done. The result is a set of side pieces with the recesses that hold the shelves perfectly milled.

The next step is to round over the front edge and the insides of the holes for each shelf using the router table. Then I break out the sandpaper and make all the parts pretty and smooth. I also test fit the parts. If they’re too tight I sand a little more: don’t want to crack anything.

At the end of the day Rafik’s shelf is done, as is a prototype of a knick-knack shelf based on the stopper rack design and made of Honey Locust cut-offs from Grandmother’s Urn. The urn is not done yet but I’m out of time. I’ll work on that some more this weekend.

See you Monday,

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