Studio711.com – Ben Martens

Woodworking

But First, Pray

Elijah’s school has a charity auction every year. Last year I made coasters with the school logo on them. This year I thought I’d make a sign since those are so popular. I ended up with a sign that says “but first, pray”.

I didn’t want to just make a painted sign. I wanted the words to stand proud of the surface. A laser cutter would be the right tool for the job, but I don’t have one and our maker space is closed while the pandemic rages. I bought a handful of cheap 1/16″ CNC bits assuming that I would break a few of them in the process.

My first attempt was cutting everything out of MDF. That worked ok for the large “pray” word but the smaller individual letters didn’t hold up. The MDF wasn’t strong enough to hold together at that scale. I then made them out of 1/4″ poplar and they worked fine. I sanded and painted everything, but then I realized that I didn’t have a great way to keep those tiny letters stuck on the wood. I was nervous that one little bump might knock some of them off. After trying a few things, I decided to use my Cricut to make a stencil for the individual letters and then I glued on the bigger word.

I finished it off with a keyhole slot on the back so that it could be mounted easily on a wall. The keyhole bit I have is a 1/4″ shank so normally I put a different collet on the router in my router table, carefully measure and align everything and then pray that it all works. This time I realized that I could just stick the keyhole bit into my CNC and manually drive the machine to get the cut exactly right. It was so much easier!

The end result looks pretty simple but it took a ridiculous amount of time, especially when spread into the tiny amounts of free time that I’ve been able to devote to it. Hopefully it raises a few bucks for the school.

Office Supply Organizers

We have a cabinet upstairs that we call the office supply cabinet. It was a mess but it had batteries, printer paper, printer ink, tape, and a whole bunch of other things in it. When I finished the dresser project, I tackled three quick organization builds in order. They were built out of scrap wood and aren’t much to look at but I get a smile on my face every time I need to grab something from that area!

Chest of Drawers

I wrote previously about the culmination of a year-long project (previous post). Now I’ve also completed the video showing some of what it took to get there. I edited that year down to about 17 minutes. Apologies for not wearing a mic during the speaking parts but hopefully it’s good enough to convey the basic idea.

This was a labor of love and I hope that it serves Elijah for many years to come. And Elijah, by no means are you required to keep this around forever, but if you decide to replace it, please let me know so I can come retrieve it!

Chest of Drawers

Most of my projects wouldn’t qualify as “fine woodworking”. I use screws to put things together and there isn’t much fancy joinery. Last fall, I set out to create an heirloom quality dresser that Elijah could theoretically keep for life.

Marc Spagnuolo is probably the godfather of YouTube woodworking videos. He’s been doing it for a long time and he offers paid videos which walk through complex projects in an incredible level of detail. For example, this project had five and a half hours of video along with a Sketchup model and cut list.

After a wallet-deflating trip to the hardwood dealer to get the supplies, I carefully set off on my adventure, and what an adventure it was. I knew it would be a challenge but it seemed like I had to learn a new skill at every step. I would hem and haw and think about it and the whole project stretched out for month and months.

But I’m happy to report that about a year later, I’ve finally finished! When I look at it, I see a hundred flaws, but I’m still proud of it. The major issue right now is that the finish I used still smells too much to put clothes inside so I’m going to let it sit for about a month to hopefully get the smell completely gone before we start using it. If it still smells then I’ll probably apply a coat of shellac to the drawers at least to seal them a bit more.

Because people have already asked how much this project cost and some have half/mostly joked about me making another one for them, let me share the rough estimates:

  • Wood: $600
  • Finish: $100
  • Drawer Pulls: $50

So we’re at $750 before any labor and it was an enormous amount of labor for a dad/husband hobbyist woodworker. I’m not building another one. This was my marathon and I’m done.

Along the way I also tried shooting some video and I’ll be editing that together. It’s not going to be any kind of viral hit, but I thought it would be fun to put it on an SD card and tape it to the back of the dresser for him to find at some point down the road.

But for now, I’m very excited to move on to new projects!

Grandpa’s Clock

Both of dad’s parents have passed away and one of the things I remember from their house was a clock made from a painted saw blade. As I remember the story, Grandpa got it the saw blade from a local painter and made the wooden part around it. After they both passed away, I was very happy to be offered that clock!

Getting it back to Washington was a story in itself. I decided to bring it home in my carry on instead of shipping it. As we took our bags through the TSA checkpoint, I got pulled aside. “Sir, do you have a saw blade in your bag?!” Me: “What? No! … Oh dear… Yes. Yes I do.” The TSA agent had to check with their boss who had to check with their boss. Finally it was decided that I could bring it onto the plane since it was artwork and the blade was firmly attached to the wood. Phew!

I proudly hung that clock on the wall in my shop for about a year even though the time was never correct. The hands would move but no matter how many times I set it, they would be randomly wrong all the time. I eventually ordered a replacement clock movement and new hands and got it repaired. Now I have the clock in my shop and it even works! I think about Grandpa and his woodworking a lot while I’m out in the shop doing similar things and now I’ll have one more (working) reminder of him.

School Auction Coasters

Back in October when I started Elijah’s dresser build, I thought for sure I’d be done in plenty of time to build something fancy for Elijah’s school auction in the spring. Nope. That dresser is the longest project I’ve ever done and I’m not anywhere close to finishing it. So I scaled down my dreams, but I think I still landed with a fun idea.

I started by gluing up a bunch of scrap pieces of random types of wood and planing them flat. Then it was off to the CNC to cut out circles. That ended up taking hours longer than I thought it would due to a comedy of errors. In retrospect I should have just cut them by hand, but I eventually ended up with 5 circles. The planned sixth one was ruined twice and it was unsalvageable.

From there I headed to work to use the laser cutter and after carefully aligning the laser with the reference marks that I made on the CNC, I engraved the Zion logo into the coasters. The walnut ones are my favorite and I think it’s especially neat how the “Since 1901” is perfectly lined up with the small strip of purpleheart.

I’ve never been to an auction like this so I don’t know if they typically have lots of small items or bigger ones, so hopefully this fits in ok with the other things that are available. I’m very interested to see a stranger attach a price tag to something that I’ve made.

Wooden Spaceship

Back in June, Tyla and Elijah got me a copy of the Wooden Toy Spacecraft book. It was one I had my eye on for a while, but it took some time to finally dig into a project. A couple weekends back, I had some time with Elijah in the garage so we started building a spaceship. It turned into one of the best afternoons I’ve had with Elijah in the shop! He was engrossed with taking all my offcuts, telling me where to make additional cuts, and sanding until it fit the vision in his head. After a couple hours, his six year old nature got the best of him and he lost interest so his spaceship still isn’t quite finished, but mine is!

I built this completely out of wood in my scrap bin – walnut, padauk, sapele and pine dowels. If I was doing it from scratch, I think some woods with higher contrast might have looked better, but I still love the way this turned out. The only problem now is figuring out where to display it!

Name Toy

Last fall, one of the last projects I did before my CNC arrived was a name toy for Emelia. I really liked how that project came out so when it came time to make a gift for another child, I decided to do the same thing again but this time I used the CNC. That dramatically simplified the project and reduced a lot of errors but I did struggle with cleaning up the milling marks left by my slightly out of square CNC machine. I used the same paint colors because I still had a lot left in the can and I liked how the enamel paint created a nice coating on the letters. I used a piece of walnut for the backing and finished that with spray lacquer.

Modern Rogue Sign

I’ve mentioned the Modern Rogue YouTube channel in some past “Best of YouTube” posts and they’re still going strong. In fact, they recently built a huge new building on their property to ramp up their production capabilities. At one point, Brian mentioned that he thought it would be neat to add fan submitted stuff to some of their buildings on the property. I don’t know if he was serious or not but it seemed like a good excuse to try making a sign on the CNC.

Since Brian has a fire eating stage show and they do a lot of fire stuff on the YouTube channel, I decided to start by burning the wood with a torch. Then I used the CNC to carve their logo into the board and I finished it off with some spray polyurethane to keep the black ash from getting all over. I filmed the project and put together a short timelapse on my woodworking Instagram account.

KenC is friends with Brian on Twitter and helped me get a mailing address. I shipped it off and thought that would be the end of it, but a couple weeks later, they did a special Instagram post to show it off and say thank you!

Loft For Elijah

Elijah has been asking for a treehouse for quite a while. Despite my best efforts, I can’t find a good spot to put one in our tiny yard. So much of it is covered with French drains, irrigation lines, etc. But I still wanted to give him something fun to play in and to climb on.

I was putting him to bed one night when I looked up and realized that the vaulted ceiling in his room left a lot of space above his bed. So I chatted it over with Tyla and then build a platform above his bed.

Since this will probably be torn down and thrown away in 6-8 years, I wanted to keep it simple. I used Jay Bates’s bunk bed plans and basically cut out the bottom bunk. The whole thing was designed to fit around his existing bed.

The 2x4s and 2x6s that I got from Home Depot were pretty bad. After a lot of picking, I was able to find some fairly straight boards but they were going to require a lot of sanding. So I had the bright idea of running them all through the planer to skim off a little bit on each side. That worked well but man did it make a huge mess! There’s no way my little shop vac could keep up with that so I just let the chips fly and cleaned up the mess later.

Elijah stayed in the shop for a lot of the build. It was fun to have him helping and seeing how it all went together.

I wasn’t looking forward to painting that beast but I didn’t want to leave it looking like dimensional knotty lumber so I finally pulled the trigger (pun intended) on an HVLP paint sprayer. I chose a fairly simple one from Rockler but it still has a detached turbine unit. I originally thought I’d move the loft into the back yard to paint it but the forecast was calling for rain. So I tried setting up our pop up kitchen tent thing in the driveway with tarps underneath and on the sides. That wasn’t terrible but the loft was too big to be able to spray comfortably. I did the primer but them moved it back inside to do the paint by hand. I’m looking forward to trying the spray again on something smaller. The photo below shows the setup before I added the final two walls of plastic. The side of the loft facing down did not need to be painted as it was going to end up against the wall in his room.

This loft is starting out very simple but I’d love to build a little house up there at some point. We’ll see how much he uses it. His favorite part right now is the bar I added on the bottom for him to swing from. I think we will definitely need some pillows or a pad up on the top. It’s hard on our knees!