Tag: woodworking

Fifty: Toys

Over the last few years, thanks to friends and family, the number of little children getting about in our house has increased. Occasionally we spot really nice toys at op-shops and we now have a modest collection we can pull out when we have little visitors. One of our favourites is a wooden duck walker thing that has feet that flop when it’s pushed but sadly one of our nieces was a little bit rough with it and snapped its axle in twain.

Luckily it wasn’t too hard a fix. First, I sawed off the broken dowel flush with the wheel. Then I was able to carefully drill out the centre of the wheel. After that all I had to do was cut a new piece of dowel to length and reassemble with a little bit of wood glue.

And there you have it, a lame duck no more!


Another wooden toy we have picked up is a little rainbow xylophone. However it was a bit hard to play as it came without any mallets. So I made some.

I was able to buy the spheres pre-drilled which saved me a lot of hassle, so all I really had to do was cut my dowel to the correct length and glue it in. After a bit of a sand with some fine sandpaper they’re good to go!

I really like having toys that I can repair.

Forty-Eight: Kitchen Shelf

When we set up our kitchen in our new house one corner felt a bit crowded. A few months later and I finally got around to solving that problem with a simple shelf to make better use of our bench space. 

I have had some fir timber languishing in storage, leftover from a long ago project. I purchased it at Urban Salvage in Spotswood. They mostly deal in salvaged timbers for flooring but have a great section of “scrap” timber which I used to enjoy browsing through when I lived closer. The selection was much more interesting than the Bunnings standards of pine or “Tasmanian oak”. They were also pretty cheap; my couple of metres of fir was only $5.

I decided that I would take the opportunity to practice my joinery skills and attempted a simple box joint. I wouldn’t say it was a raging success but it wasn’t a complete failure either; it’s just not the tightest fit. I thought it prudent to reinforce my work and luckily had a couple of metal brackets leftover from another kitchen storage project.

After a few coats of clear varnish to protect the timber from everything a kitchen might splash at it my shelf is complete. The corner is much tidier now!

Forty-Two: Door Marmalade

In the winter of ’17 I pruned our orange tree. Most of the cuttings were predominately leaves, but there were a couple of nice straightish branches. As usual I was reluctant to just throw away timber, so I squirreled it away in the shed to dry out a bit.

Our house is built to have air flowing through it to keep it cool, so keeping the front door open is important. I figured I could use the biggest branch to make a door stopper but the gap at the bottom of our front door is pretty hefty; about 3cm. So it required me to put two pieces together to get enough height to properly wedge the door open.

A quick bit of sawing and an overnight gluing and I had my door stop.

It is not perfect, nor exactly what I had in mind when I started, but working with a raw natural material was interesting. Finished with a light sanding and some orange oil it looks fine, and it works a treat.

It’s a door jam, made from orange wood: door marmalade. Get it?

The smaller sticks I have used in the garden to keep some of our tomatoes upright.

Forty-One: I Can Fix That!

While the main focus of this project was to create things, the original manifesto also mentions mending things—something which we seem to have mostly forgotten about. But fear not, I have fixed some things and will now briefly tell you about it.

Thing 1

On a recent weekend away we had plans to do some baking, so we packed some flour. Sadly the box that held the flour jar also held many other things, until it gave way and held nothing (something which we had both seen coming, but did nothing about..).

Luckily the damage was not catastrophic; only two neat chips broke away from the lid. A pretty simple fix. My main takeaway from this fix (and others before it) is that ceramic adhesive is good stuff. It is easy to apply as it doesn’t set quickly and allows you to manoeuvre the piece(s) into the perfect position. It also is easy to get a clean finish as you can just wipe away excess with a damp cloth, or once it has set, using a razor blade to scrape your joins clean.

Thing B

(Sorry, no photos for this part. I took some but they’ve disappeared.)

A few months ago I dropped my phone one too many times and cracked the screen badly enough that the touch stopped working. This made me pretty unhappy, as while it was not a super-expensive nor new phone, it was perfectly serviceable and I was not planning on retiring it any time soon. Apparently, the average working life of a mobile phone is 7 years but worldwide the average consumer changes their mobile every 11 months (Sharpe, 2005), which I find quite disturbing considering the environmental impacts of the mining, manufacturing and transporting of these little pocket computers. Not to mention the horrific consequences of dumping e-waste into countries ill-equipped to handle it.

Sadly greed and a lack of regulation means that most things built these days are not easy to repair, even though it would be relatively easy to do (or we could use our awesome technology to just make phones that don’t break, but where would the profit there be?) </rant>

Anyway, I should get back on track. I ordered a new screen from the eBay for about $25—roughly $175 less than I was quoted for repair in a shop—and when it arrived I set about pulling apart the old Nexus 5.

Long story short, www.ifixit.com is awesome and I was able to swap the screens without much trouble.

My take-away from this fix was to do one’s research. As previously mentioned, phones are not really built to be repaired. I got lucky as the Nexus 5 is pretty good in that regard, however I also started to pull apart my old Nexus 4 (the screen on that also died an untimely death) and quickly found that it was going to be a fair bit of work and require a heat-gun to soften the glue. I recommend you watch a disassembly video before you buy the parts and decide if you’re capable.

Thing Ⅲ

I’m not entirely sure where this little table came from, but if I had to guess, I would say an op-shop. Sadly it wasn’t really built to last and the hinges that are vital to its structural integrity were pretty flimsy and have mostly given up on life.

So off I went to The Big Green Shed and bought some new hinges. Made from solid brass, these hinges are a lot sturdier than their predecessors and should last considerably longer. The new hinges were a little bit bigger than the old, so some chiselling  was needed to get them to fit, but nothing too difficult.

They were a little pricey at $2 a pop, but for the cost of two coffees I’ve kept alive a table to put my two coffees on.


Sharpe, M. (2005). “Climbing the e-waste mountain.” Journal of Environmental Monitoring 7(10): 933-936.

Thirty-Seven: Curbside Chairs

Many moons ago I came across a pair of much loved chairs by the side of the road just outside our house. It appeared that someone else had had given up partway through a reupholstering attempt and I thought I would pick up where they had left off.

After quite a while taking up a lot of space in our garage that we didn’t really have to spare an ultimatum was set; either work was to commence or the chairs needed to go. So we began to finish the task of stripping back the chairs in preparation to reupholster.

Partway through, I discovered what I assume was the reason the previous owners halted work on the project; a nasty crack in one of the chairs. But I wasn’t about to give up that easy. So I measured up and set to creating a brace from some leftover hardwood I had lying about from some other long forgotten project.

Meanwhile, Zara had taken the old vinyl covering and made up a paper template for our new upholstery. Using her sewing skills she was quickly able to cut out and sew the top layer to a calico backing for extra durability.

Then life got busy.

But after a hiatus of some more moons, work continued. I threw a lot of elbow grease into sanding back the timber before getting a few coats of stain/varnish on, giving the old chairs a fresh breath of life.

Now the end was in sight and we set about powering home. Some heavy duty cotton webbing stapled on, cut the high density foam to shape (tip: foam is the same texture as bread, so use a bread knife to cut it!), then it was time to put everything together. Some more staples on the underside and some nice brass tacks for the top and the chairs were finally complete!

From hard rubbish to comfortable spare chairs.

Thirty-One: Shelf Desk

Living in a smaller house has its limitations. For instance as much as I would love to have a huge desk to put my computer and accompaniments on I really do not use them enough to justify the space it would take. So I set up on the edge of a shelf and it actually worked pretty good, except that there wasn’t enough space to have the mouse on the same shelf as the keyboard, which was a little awkward.

So I devised a solution.

Using scraps and timber reclaimed from past projects no longer in use  I was able to put together a shelf pretty easily and only needed a few bits of new hardware to get it built.

The design is pretty simple, with a single piece of MDF serving as the desktop and a length of sturdy timber running from left to right at the front and back. The back hooks onto some dowel in the holes on the shelf unit and the front is supported by a pair of adjustable arms.

The adjustable nature of the support arms made the connectors a little fiddly to make, but were totally worth it as I can now ensure the desk is level no matter what height I set it at.

A couple of cabinet hinges to attach the other end of the arms to the desk and it was done.

The result is not perfect. The main issue is that it bows a little in the middle as I did not brace it from front to back, and it could be improved aesthetically. But considering it is probably only a temporary set up it certainly does the job.

Twenty-Eight: Boxes

A while back we bought a new bed. It’s great, but we immediately  found that the cardboard boxes we had previously stored things in under the old bed were just a little bit too tall to fit. Annoying, but fixable. Our first thought was to look for plastic tubs that would fit under, but after a fair bit of looking around the closest we could find was still a couple of millimetres too big. Then I thought: I could build that!

So I measured up the space and drew up some boxes that would fit perfectly and maximise our storage. They’re a very simple construction, using cheap pine lining board I chiselled off one of the edges of the groove to allow for the base (with the added bonus of making the finished product look a lot neater). I then made a simple butt-jointed frame from the boards before dropping in the plywood base and stapling it in place. Here’s a diagram to help explain how the base is attached:


They worked great but because I had made them such a precise fit they were very difficult to grip and slide out; they needed handles. I had a look at Bunnings, but to buy enough for the 8 boxes we had made would cost way more than we had already spent to build the boxes. As luck would have it, people throw these things out, and after a few weeks of scoping out our local streets for sets of drawers in hard rubbish I had procured the requisite handles.

From this point some time has passed. We moved house and in the move a few of the bases dropped out from some of the boxes (turns out the staples we used were not long enough) and the handles still had not made it onto the boxes. One night last week we had a spare half hour and decided it was about time we finished these off. So out came the drill and the longer staples I had finally got around to buying. We got a bit of a production line going with myself measuring and drilling holes for the handles, and Zara re-stapling and installing the handles.

The original cutting and assembly of the boxes did take quite a bit of time, but between the two of us it wasn’t too bad and we now have some very solid, custom sized under-bed storage. 

Twenty-Four: Yarn Bowling

For Zara’s recent birthday I decided to get her a yarn bowl. A yarn bowl is a bowl that you put your skein of yarn in to allow it to pull freely as you knit (or crochet). I wanted to get something nice and vintage however I quickly discovered that most are either modern plastic rubbish or very expensive ceramic antiques. Neither really seemed right, so I thought I would make one.

Ceramic appeared to be a silly choice of material for something that I thought is so likely to fall to the floor at least once in its working life, plus it is a little out of my skill-set. So I settled on wood. As I have no lathe I went searching for a ready made bowl and got lucky at Savers where I found a perfectly sized wooden bowl.

A bit of research showed that many designs use spiral cut into the bowl for the yarn to run through, so my next step was to work out how to cut that. I borrowed my brother’s rotary tool thinking that’s what they’re designed for, but had very limited success (or no success really). With Zara’s birthday looming, and very little time to work on the project with her out of the house I needed a solution. Turns out in the days before cheap power tools people used coping saws for this kind of work, so after a quick stop at everyone’s favourite monopolistic hardware warehouse I was in business.

With the groove cut I thought a lick of paint would help with the final look, so on went a few coats of paint.

During this whole process I was a little worried about the weight of the bowl; it was very light and just didn’t feel like it had enough heft to stay still while yarn was being pulled. I really wasn’t sure how I was going to correct this. I thought I could add some weights of some kind recessed into the base of the wood, or put some kind of heavy metal disc onto the bottom as a kind of base but I couldn’t find anything that would be heavy enough and small enough to fit (let alone actually not look hideous).

Then on an impromptu trip to Savers I came across a great metal base to some object that had since been bought by someone else. I managed to purchase it while Zara was looking elsewhere and concealed it in a pocket until home.

It was a perfect fit and added a good bit of weight (and much needed flair). After a very fragmented building process I am pretty happy with the result, and Zara says she likes it, so that’s good too. Nothing like a hand made present.

Four: So Crates!

Separate to this venture I finally began brewing my own beer at the end of last year. I enjoyed both making and consuming my first batch of pale ale and I plan to continue the practice into the foreseeable future. But beer needs bottles and bottles need a neat and orderly method of storage. So I decided some beer crates were in order. After a little thought, I came up with some initial criteria:

  1. Stackable — my crates needed to stack on top of each other for convenient storage and be relatively stable when stacked.
  2. Sturdy — my crates needed to be hard wearing and last a lot longer than my beer.
  3. Simple — my crates needed to be easy enough for me to build and use minimal materials: to reduce costs and tare weight.
  4. Smart — my crates needed to fit my bottles.

With this in mind I began the lengthy design phase. I quickly checked what the internet had on offer as far as guides and instructables had to go, but could not find anything that fit the bill. I did find this photo however, and based my drawings from the design of these made by Dan B.

I took my time measuring bottles, drawing my plans, labelling dimensions and checking my maths. I really did not want to be making these up as I went. After getting my initial idea down, I spent a bit of time on the Bunnings website checking out my timber options. I find it best to design something after working out which timber is the cheapest and best fit, and work that timber into the design from the beginning.

I currently have two different size bottles—330ml and 750ml—so I wanted to make a small and large size crate for each. With a bit of number crunching, I was able to design the crates so that two large crates equal the height of three small crates, which I was pretty happy with.

With my design sorted, a trip to Bunnings for supplies, and a handy borrowing of Zara’s Dad’s drop saw, I set to work on the prototype/first crate. As I had spent so long getting my design spot on I made sure my cut lengths were as accurate as possible, and when I began assembly I was pleased to find that everything was very precise and square. I did however have to adjust for one design oversight and made one other slight change on the fly, but other than that everything went to plan nicely.

In the end I am very happy with how they all fit together.


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