Three Phases of Projects: Phase 3-Build


After you’ve designed and tested your project, you’re probably sick to death of it. But now is the time the work really begins – building and applying a finish.


This is the time you need the most patience and attention to detail. You certainly wouldn’t want to have wasted all the effort of perfecting the look on paper and making sure it will work in the real world with your testing.


Carefully select the lumber you plan to use (buy it a week or more before you plan to build so the lumber can acclimate to the conditions in your shop). Sort through the bins at your supplier for the best possible pieces. If your project is going to be stained, look for consistent color and grain patterns. Buy a little more than you’ll need too – just in case you have a mishap or two, and for testing the stain you plan to use.


Which leads me to the next item – don’t jump right into apply a stain on your project. Test it on the a scrap piece from the build – a cutoff or a scrap rip – so you’ll know how the stain will look.


I won’t get into the assembly too much – your test build should handle that – but be sure to cover the basics like checking for square (if applicable), proper sanding (with the grain, progress from coarse grit to a finer grit), and scraping off and residual glue. Any glue left on the project will cause discoloration once the stain is applied.


Be sure when you fill nail/brad holes, etc., that you use a wood filler that’s close to the color of the stain you plan to use, not the wood. Wood filler does not absorb stain as well as wood.


Use a pre-stain conditioner (follow the directions on set time) to achieve a consistent stain finish throughout the project, and shine a shop light across the project to make sure you’ve applied an even finish. One last little finish check – position the project in the location you plan to keep it in your home and see how it looks. You can sand and re-stain if necessary.

The projects below are the final versions of the project sketch and test build in the previous blogs. Notice that they combine both stain and paint.

Published in: on March 30, 2010 at 9:57 pm  Comments (1)  

Three Phases of Projects: Phase 2-Test


Test building is something I do constantly, especially for pieces destined to become published project instructions. Over, and over, and over, particularly if the project is something I’m designing for a beginner to build and has the look of a project requiring more skill. 

And it’s another reason why I tend to keep and store scrap wood – scrap wood use #2 if you’re keeping a tally. 

Odd bits of plywood are may favorite pieces because I can cut them to any length and width. Any scrap will do, although I tend to not keep much scrap treated lumber around, and I wouldn’t test build it except for very specific circumstances. 

Below is the test build of the sketch I posted from the last blog. 


Notice that it is all plywood, and is darn close to the sketch. Well, it didn’t get that way on the first try. I played around with a couple of different ways of making the step and the bottom of the storage area in the back. I settled on one solid piece extending from the front to the back. 

And that’s what test building is all about – toying around until you come up with the best (strength, accuracy, ease) solution for the project and for yourself. Some woodworkers recommend test building in a smaller scale than the final project will be. I’m not a big fan of that – I’d rather build as close to the original size as I can. I feel there are subtle differences that could become an issue when jumping around from one size to another. Besides, that’s extra work to convert the size of a project. 

Hold onto a bit of scrap to have a ready supply for your test building, and by all means make notes and keep them close at hand in the shop – a building bible if you will. Every project I build has some sort of notes associated with it, and are filed (maybe not as neatly as I would like) so I can access them right away. 

Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 9:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Three Phases of a Project: Phase 1-Design


Woodworkers of any skill level will benefit from thinking of projects in three phases: Design; Test; Build. 


I rarely touch a piece of wood without first sketching out a plan. On occasion I will simply scribble something out on a scratch piece of paper (sometimes I’ve used scrap wood), but most of the time I play around with a design on the computer using SketchUp. 

I won’t go into detail now about SketchUp, but I think it’s the greatest development for woodworkers since power tools. The bonus is that the basic program, which gives the average woodworker all the tools needed, is FREE. I’ve been working in it for years and don’t go a day without using it. Go Google it, which is appropriate because it’s a Google product. It’s easy to use and won’t take you long to learn. 

Sketching a project first seems like a no-brainer, but I can recall not so long ago that I would just go out in the shop and work at a project just because I had the “itch” to build something. Sometimes I would walk away with something worthwhile. Plenty of times I walked away very frustrated… 

In this design phase, you can work out all the kinks of the actual design. In a program like SketchUp (or any CAD program) you can view the project from every angle and perspective and know what it’s going to mostly look like when finished. You can work out proportion and size without cutting a single piece of wood. It’s the best starting point you can have for a project. 

Make sure you know some general standards for project proportions first – there are plenty of resources online, or you can simply measure some examples of what you want to build and start from there. I’ll follow up in a different blog some standard measurements for chairs, tables, and benches. But don’t be afraid to experiment with proportion, sometimes subtle changes can make huge differences and create a whole new look. 

And I recommend you always sleep on a sketch/design, then show it to at least three people for their opinions. I use that as a rule of thumb for my personal and professional projects. Check your ego though, because your perfect project may turn off some folks. 

Below is an example of a sketch (done in SketchUp) of a personal project that eventually made its way out of my shop. In the next blog in this series, you’ll see a photo of it in the Test phase, which will help illustrate the progression of a project. 


Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 2:46 am  Comments (1)  

Hide Them Screws


I’m a major fan of pocket hole joinery – I use it in both personal projects and in projects destined to be woodworking plans. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s relatively free of frustration, and it encourages beginners to build. 

Another great benefit – you can “hide” screws. Take a look at the bench below. 


Now, there are four visible screws, on in each corner, but all of the other screws used to build this bench are completely hidden. If you’ve used pocket hole joinery before, you’ll get that the long and short rails have pocket holes drilled on the ends of the back faces, and that’s how they are joined to the legs. 

What you may not get is that there are pocket holes drilled on the sides of the back faces of the rails (and on a center stretcher not visible in the photo). This allows the pocket hole screws to drive into the seat slats, securing them to the bench assembly. 

This isn’t a new technique at all – many table projects in particular use this method, either via countersunk holes in the frame or with modified corner braces of one type or another. But I find pocket holes to be much easier, and a much faster. Just make sure you properly measure and place the pocket holes so you don’t run into any surprises during assembly. 

“Hiding” the screws gives you a much cleaner appearance and no holes to fill on the outer part of a project. 

Here are the plans for building a similar bench

Published in: on March 22, 2010 at 12:33 am  Leave a Comment  

Quick Tip: Cheating a Gloss Paint Finish

Notice how semi-gloss or gloss paint seems to take FOREVER to dry on a wood project? Try this little trick. 

Use a satin sheen paint instead, allow it to dry, then continue with a spray can of gloss clear coat. You’ll spend a little more (not much if you by a cheap clear coat), but you’ll save tons of drying time. 

Always be sure to prime your project, sand it smooth, wipe it down, then apply your paint coats. With a satin or duller sheen paint you could even sand in between coats for an even smoother finish. I’ve found that an enamel undercoater works really well on wood projects. 


Published in: on March 19, 2010 at 2:08 am  Leave a Comment  

Scrap Wood Use #1: Templates

Nothing could be more frustrating than measuring a marking a complicated part of a project, and then having to do it over and over for multiple parts. Or worse yet, completely forgetting how you did it. 

That’s where templates come in. Production shops use them – how else do you think they can be production shops? 

For any project that I make that requires a series of arcs or a long diagonal line, I’ll create a template. Before I do that, I make sure I hone the part as perfect as I can get it, then trace around it on a piece of scrap. 

Below are two templates cut form 3/4″ stock. I’ve labeled them on one side using a permanent pen. On the other side I made a couple of notes that apply to them. Cutoffs (the small ends leftover from crosscut stock) are great for templates such as these parts. 


Most of the time for large project parts, I use scrap 1/4″ plywood, or even poster board. With 1/4″ ply, be sure to store the templates flat to minimize warping as much as possible. 

I try to apply a “catch and release” program on scrap. If I think it’ll be large enough to use as a template, or even a spacer, I’ll hold on to it for a while. If not, I toss it out, or (depending on the species) try to save it for the firewood pile. 

Published in: on March 17, 2010 at 1:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Make Your Own Detail Sander

Those hard to reach spots on a project are nearly impossible to sand with a power sander, and sometimes are even difficult to manage with a rotary tool. My solution is a shop-made hand-powered detail sander. 

I took some scrap that seemed to fit nicely in my hand – roughly 5/8″ x 3/4″ pine – and cut it to about 7″ long. Then I placed one end roughly in the center of the palm of my hand and positioned my forefinger on the 3/4″ face. I marked the position of the end and first joint of my forefinger, and marked a “dip” on the 5/8″ edge that I felt corresponded with the curve of my finger. Next, I marked a rough “spearhead” shape on the end nearest the finger mark (3/4″ face), then on the 5/8″ edge marked a slight angle.

Then it was over to the band saw to shape the piece. After some hand sanding, it was ready for some self-adhesive sandpaper. I cut a piece slightly wider than the “spearhead” and a couple of inches long, put it in place, and trimmed off the excess.

This will be great for detail work, and I now feel confident that I could make one any size or shape I needed for any specific job. When the sandpaper is worn out, I’ll just peel it off and cut more to fit.

Published in: on March 14, 2010 at 3:54 pm  Comments (5)  

Use Wax For A Screw

I use a lot of small hinges on projects and often have trouble with the screws, especially when it’s brass hinges and screws. I’ve snapped off quite a few brass screw heads because of too much tension.

Besides the obvious drilling pilot holes for the screws, there’s a quick and easy step for effortless driving.

Apply a little wax, whether it’s paraffin wax or wax from a tea light, to the threads of the screw. It acts like a lubricant and you’ll be able to drive the screw with relative ease.

The picture below shows a well-used piece of paraffin wax. It’s been used on drawer sides and runners, hence the groove in the middle.

Published in: on March 11, 2010 at 2:13 am  Comments (1)  

Drawer Bottom: 1/4-inch Plywood or 1/4-inch Solid Wood

Today I built a drawer as part of a project, and for the bottom I used 1/4-inch solid wood instead of 1/4-plywood.

I’m using 1/4-inch stock because the drawer carcass parts have a 1/4-inch rabbet on their bottom edges, which allows for the bottom to set fully flush.

I did this for two reasons: 1) I’m trying to meet certain specifications for a client, and 2) I didn’t want a lot of leftover 1/4-inch plywood lying around, which usually gets tossed or maybe gets used in a jig or as part of a template.

The challenge, though, was that the widest 1/4x I could get was 5 1/2-inches wide (1/4×6) and the drawer bottom needed to be 9 inches. Why the problem? My drawer bottom wasn’t going to be one solid piece, which I would have with the plywood.

So to solve this problem, I came up with an alternate solution to another component of the drawer.

The drawer is very shallow, so I couldn’t use standard drawer slides. I needed to create my own system, which simply became a series of runners on the bottom of the drawer and the case in which the drawer will be placed. (This project is for beginners/intermediate skill level.) The runners (three total) on the drawer then became the substructure for the two bottom parts.

First, I attached the bottom parts to the drawer carcass using glue and brads. Then I attached the runners to the bottom of the drawer carcass parts using glue and brads. I marked their position on the inside of the drawer (other side of the bottom parts), then flipped the assembly over and nailed brads through the drawer bottom parts and into the runners.

The case runners were centered with the middle drawer runner and offset so the drawer front sits flush with the case opening.


Published in: on March 9, 2010 at 1:59 am  Leave a Comment  

DIY: Mailbox Refresh

Today my honey and I took care of a honey-do that amazed us with the result we got.

Our mailbox and post have been in sad shape for a while. But really, how important is that in relation to other things you normally have to take care of around the house? The post (metal, ornate, huge, and quite attractive) was in need of some scraping down and a new paint job, and the box (plain ‘ol black) needed new numbers (they were faded) and a little touch up too.

I had purchased new reflective numbers and paint several months ago, but let time slip by (plus we’ve had a lot of rain), and just forgot about it. Today’s great weather inspired us to action.

Now, we could have tossed the mailbox and picked up a new one (as I think most folks would), but I wanted to give paint a try. After a bit of elbow grease we were prepped. Then – Rust-Oleum Universal ( Gloss spray paint to the rescue! I used a piece of cardboard as a shield for over spray and went to work. In just a minute, I had what looked like a brand new box!

Then I went to work on the post. It has a lot of detail (a sort of Victorian-looking post), so there was a bit of a challenge getting all the nooks and crannies covered. This is where the Universal is great. You can pretty much spray in any position (I had the can nearly upside down) and have consistent performance. I have used it on a lot of small wood projects, but not on a large, vertical piece.

Our next door neighbor stopped as he was driving by and was amazed at the result we got. He even joked (a bit too fervently) about my wife and I working on his post and box when were finished. I hope he’s not still waiting for us to stop by…

Published in: on March 7, 2010 at 1:25 am  Leave a Comment  
%d bloggers like this: