– Ben Martens


Custom Card Boxes

We play quite a bit of Uno and Phase 10 in our house, but just like when I was growing up, the boxes for those games are barely holding together. I thought it would be an interesting project to try and build boxes to hold the cards, and it would be a good way to use up some scrap wood too.

My first attempt used a method that I learned about from Steve Ramsey, though I’m sure he didn’t invent it. With some careful router work, you can end up with a lid that perfectly fits onto the box. The corners were 45 degree miters while the top and the bottom fit on with some rabbets. The router cuts technically worked ok, and one of them was sufficiently snug, but the other one was way too loose. There’s a very fine line between not fitting and too lose. Since the lids flopped off and I didn’t feel satisfied, I finished the boxes with spray lacquer and gave them to Elijah.

I wanted to try again, but instead of just remaking the same thing, this time I decided to make box joints. And instead of having the top and bottom overlap the sides, I set them into dadoes in the does so they’d be flush. The lid didn’t get glued in and was able to slide out the shorter front piece. That plan worked better and those box joints are really solid, but I still had fit issues. One lid fit very well and I got too cocky on the second one and sanded just a hair too long. It was good enough to use though. I thought it would be fun to put the logo into the top of the boxes and I tried making a paint mask with the Cricut as well as using a mask for a Scorch pen, but the paint didn’t look great and the heat for the Scorch pen ended up warping the wood. In the end, I used the laser cutter at work to engrave the logo on the top of the boxes, and they got finished with boiled linseed oil.

Is it overkill? Of course! But I enjoyed making all four and learned lessons that will help the next time I make a box… and a lot of woodworking is a variation on making a box.

While I was making this, I counted our Uno cards and we were missing quite a few so I ordered a new set on Amazon. The day after I wrapped up this project, the cards arrived… in a nice tin case.

Custom Murphy Bed

(Somehow I forgot to blog about this project from December of 2020 so I’ll make up for it now…)

I often walked past our guest bedroom and thought that it was kind of a wasted room or at least a luxury. We had entire room of our house that got used maybe a week out of the year. Then COVID hit and it was clear that we weren’t even going to have house guests for even that one week of the year. We decided it was a good time to put in a murphy bed.

It’s not a cheap project though. First I had to buy a hardware kit. There are a number of similar items on the Rockler website, but I chose the Vertical Deluxe Murphy Bed Hardware Kit. I chose that one largely because it had a tension adjustment so that the spring could be tuned for the weight of our specific mattress. There was a lot of wood to buy for the project too, but since it was going to be painted, we saved some money with pine plywood and poplar for the trim.

I looked at a few designs around the web and we liked having bookcases and drawers on each side of the bed along with some extra trim and hardware on the front to disguise it a bit.

For the bed itself, I used the plans that came with the kit. I didn’t want to mess with that at all as the pivot points need to be very exact for everything to fit. For the side pieces, I mostly used some plans from a different murphy bed kit on Rockler’s site. It was a big build but nothing was too complicated. It was a bunch of boxes inside of other boxes, but I suppose most woodworking projects could be described that way.

I usually use random paint from the big box store, but this time I decided to try an water based acrylic alkyd paint from Sherwin Williams. You can read up on that kind of paint yourself, but it was supposed to give a nicer finish than a standard latex paint. The weather was too cool to paint in the garage which meant our bonus room got turned into a painting zone. I laid out drop cloths and painted as many pieces at once as I could fit. It probably would have been even nicer if I could spray it on, but it looked great even brushing it.

I had a difficult time getting the rectangle around the bed to be square (the part that stays upright.) I could hide the gap difference with the trim on the front/bottom of the bed, but it was very obvious when I put the bookshelves next to the bed. I ended up caulking the gap and voila, problem solved.

The bed and the shelves cover up an outlet so I added some recessed power strips to the bed-height shelf on each side. They have two power plugs and two USB plugs each which should be enough for people who are charging their phones at night. We’ll add a small lamp to each side as well, but we haven’t gotten around to that yet.

After painting everything and attaching the pieces to the wall so they wouldn’t tip, I moved on to the trim pieces. Everything on the face of that bed is fake. The whole bed folds down as one piece, but the trim and extra hardware pieces make it look more like cabinets and less like a murphy bed.

Elijah slept on it one night and declared it a success, but otherwise, the bed has remained folded up and we’ve been enjoying the extra space. It’s our Room of Requirement! Most often it has been used for puzzles so we can easily close the door and keep the cats away when we’re not in there.

This was a big project but I knocked it off in just a few weeks. I had a lot of vacation time to use up at the end of 2020 so this project kept me busy and made me feel like I wasn’t just wasting my vacation away.

Desk for Elijah

Elijah’s room doesn’t have a lot of storage space and with him having more homework to do in the coming years, a desk felt like a natural project. I looked around at some different ideas and designed something from scratch (though the design is anything but groundbreaking.)

We decided to paint the project so I built the whole thing out of poplar. In each project I try to tackle at least one new skill and there were a few new ones in this project:

  • I wanted solid wood for the top so that it’s easier to sand down and repair if it gets some dents or gashes in it. I’ve done a few big panel glueups in the past but I never feel like I’m good at it. It’s a challenge to get everything smooth and flat while avoiding cupping. This one turned out pretty well. I used biscuits to help with the alignment.
  • I love pocket hole joints, but they would have been very obvious for many of these joints, so I wanted to do some kind of mortise and tenon joint. I got a Beadlock system from Rockler and had a good time learning how that worked. It’s so much faster than traditional mortise and tenon and cheaper than a Domino. If I was doing this for a living, the Domino would be worth it, but for a weekend warrior like me, Beadlock was perfect.
  • I sprayed the paint on. I have a Rockler sprayer, but I’m always hesitant to use it. I went for it this time and was extremely happy with the result. I sprayed Sherwin Williams water based acrylic alkyd paint. I had good luck with that same paint on the spraying it worked well too, though I did thin it with some water. I sprayed in the garage with the HomeRight spray tent and it worked really well at keeping overspray from getting all over everything.

The final step was figuring out the drawer pulls. I looked through various options but ended up finding penguin drawer pulls on Amazon and they looked great when I installed them!

Note that the Amazon links are affiliate links so I get a small kickback if you use them at no extra cost to you.

Wood American Flag

Over the last year or so, I’ve made a handful of wooden flags and after a bit more learning curve than I expected, I think I finally have it mostly figured out. Some stumbling blocks along the way were:

  • I did all the math for how wide each strip of wood should be and programmed my CNC accordingly but I forgot to account for the actual size of the union before cutting. It’s never EXACTLY what I had planned so I need to scale that before cutting.
  • I finally found a couple stain colors that work well. I settled on Varathane classic water based wood stain tinted to Navy Blue and Scarlet by Home Depot. I just bought a quart of each one and I could probably make at least a hundred flags before running out.
  • Staining first and then scorching with a torch has worked well for me. While I felt weird about adding burn marks to a flag, I like the way it looks and it does a nice job of hiding imperfections.
  • Gluing up 13 strips of wood makes it easy to bend. Use at least 3 vertical strips on the back to hold the shape. Four is probably better.
  • To get a nice clean line between the union and the stripes, I pound in a razor blade. It severs the fibers so the stain won’t bleed across and I can stain right up to both sides of the blade without waiting for anything to dry.
  • I generally try to avoid the knots. They really stand out when burning the wood. It’s fine to have one or two but I’m a little bit strategic about where I put them. I do all the math about how many 1×4, 1×6, 1×8, etc boards I would need so I can adjust my plan based on what boards are available. There is a different amount of waste with each size of board though.

I made one of Elijah’s school auction and priced it at $100 since that seems pretty consistent with Etsy prices. They have a “buy it now” feature in the auction where you can overpay by 50% and that happened almost immediately.

It’s a fun project and while I like letting the CNC cut the stars for me, there are plenty of templates for painting them on or you could hand cut them with a router or even a chisel.

Strawberry Planter

We’ve gone through a variety of attempts at having a garden over the years. It’s tricky with the lack of sun on our lot, the local wildlife, and our inability to make things grow. In 2019 I made a strawberry planter for the back yard. In 2020, the birds were eating all of the berries so I tried to make a cage around it but it was too bulky.

I had a lot of time to think about how to design a better cage and I think this year finally hit on a winner. While the frame is held to the planter with screws, I could remove about 4 screws and the whole thing would fold flat. I didn’t really want it up all winter because I don’t think it would hold up to snowfall.

The front face is held in place with some hooks I bent out of wire and bird netting covers the whole thing. We’ve seen zero birds in there and we got a lot of strawberries! We’ll never recoup our investment in the planter even ignoring all the time I put into the cage around it, but it’s still enjoyable to grow something and eat it. The picture below shows the front face pulled off and leaned against the cage.

God is Here

Rewind to March 2020. We had just entered lockdown. As a church leader, I was scrambling to figure out how to do services online. We didn’t know what was happening (like we have any idea now!) I remember sitting down as a family and watching a video from Time of Grace called “God’s Got This!”

During that, Pastor Mike talked about reminding ourselves that God is here. He’s right here with us guiding us and protecting us, whether there’s a pandemic or not. After that video, we sat down as a family and made “God is here” signs. We taped those signs to the wall in our kitchen and they stayed up until very recently.

As we took those signs down, I decided to make a more permanent version. I used the cedar circle leftover from the fire pit project. I drew some words, cut them out of 1/4 MDF on my CNC, painted them, and glued them on.

Fire Pit

I’ve been bad about completing projects, posting them to Instagram (@martenswoodworks) and then never posting most info here. So this project was completed back in May, but I thought it deserved a post.

We have always talked about whether we want to get a fire pit for the back yard, and when I was offered a nice Firegear burner, I decided to go for it. I built the simplest stand for it that I could imagine. I used tongue and groove cedar boards because that’s what was available and I glued them on to 1/4″ plywood. I cut the center hole out on the CNC partly for practice and partly because I thought I might use the wood for something else later.

The main trick was finding room for all the hoses underneath and mounting the key/valve piece. I put threaded feet into the bottom of each leg so that the wood wouldn’t directly contact the ground and so that I could make quick adjustments if it was wobbly. The final step was finishing it and I used fence stain in my spray gun for more practice with that sprayer.

Building a fire pit out of wood is probably not the smartest idea, but I’ve checked the wood temperature after running it for 15-20 minutes and it’s only around 140 degrees. Do I recommend it? Nope. But it will probably work for us.

We’ve only used it a couple times. Tyla and Elijah have attempted to roast marshmallows with some success. Hopefully we’ll get a little more use out of it when the weather cools off, but even if we don’t, I made it to fit under the bench in the back yard so it’s out of the way.

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!