Wood Working

    Wood Working (11)

    I don't know about you, but if you're checking this web site out, then you've probably got an email address too. Over time, you sign up to newsletters, buy things online and register customer accounts, you correspond with friends and family, and along the way your inbox gets an ever-increasing deluge of "junk" email which is called "Spam". Interestingly few people actually talk about the "good" emails, which is actually called "Ham". Given the name sake to me, it's nice for this Wayward Ham to be considered "not junk".. at the very least.

    Wisdom can be found anywhere. While seeking reliable sources are all good and well, there is also potential for informational source snobbery that shuns a lot of good advice. A little thought and creativity can learn complex or useful ideas from a paragraph or two... often more so than a dry, long winded thesis of narrow focus, using poor communication techniques.

    I've done a lot DIY projects in the last few years using largely, self taught techniques. I started with a near empty garage back in 2015, and a handful of tools, and been slowly building up a workshop as I do things around the house. Naturally, I've bought stuff wherever it was most appropriate/affordable to do so, and ended up on numerous DIY/wood working mailing lists.

    Once in a while, though, an email has a surprisingly well-thought-out and helpful message that could apply to anyone, and this came in today:


    Do It For Yourself

    DIY is accessible to everyone. Making something from scratch or breathing new life into Grandma’s sitting room cabinet is a deeply satisfying and rewarding experience. Anyone can the pickup the tools and embark on their very own creative journey.

    That’s not to say that the path to DIY success isn’t a rocky one. Knowing where to start and dealing with procrastination throughout the journey can pose major barriers for both new and experienced makers.

    Here are some tips to get you started with your own DIY projects…

    Start small

    Making something from scratch can be hard. If you are a raw beginner, start small and see it to the finish. Your projects will grow along with your skills and abilities.

    Know what you want to make

    This is key to your success. Knowing exactly what it is you want to achieve will help decide things like the space you need to complete the tasks, and kind of tools and materials you will need to source.

    Plan your projects

    It’s important to spend the time planning out your projects. Make sure you have a clearly drawn design. Use cutting lists and plan each step of your project through to completion.

    Hone your skills

    Learn the basics well. Invest time in practicing fundamental skills such as measuring and marking and using the different types of tools. When it comes to your project, you will be more confident and the chance of making errors will be a greatly reduced.

    Expect the unexpected

    You will hit some roadblocks. A clear plan and knowing how to deal with some of the obstacles can be the difference in your success. The important thing is to just keep going and get your project done.

    The secrets to success

    So, you now know some of the secrets to successful DIY. There is one more thing – the tools you use. Tools for successful DIY must be versatile, durable and easy to use.


    Now this particular email comes from a specialist wood working tool shop. Despite the goal of selling tools, there's nothing actually incorrect about their statements. Starting small, avoiding procrastination issues, working through the obstacles to overcome, and planning is sound advice.

    Versatility, durability, and ease of use are important qualities to look for in tools, and they do help with "getting the job done". However, with a little thought, I'll go a little further.

    I will say that there are always exceptions, or perhaps people will put differing levels of priority to each quality. I'd also add some more. How about "feasibility of purchase/use". If a tool requires a ton of power and you don't have a 3 phase circuit, that's obviously a problem. If a tool is too expensive, too heavy, too large to fit, and expensive to maintain, those are also issues. Return on Investment (ROI) is a useful concept. Don't spend a fortune on tools you use rarely, but invest where the upgrade will do the most good. (The tools you use most often)

    Now I don't think any beginner will be buying industrial tools, but size and weight are always important considerations. Also, there's nothing wrong with borrowing tools, or seeking help. Sometimes there are low cost alternatives to buying everything in sight. Improvisation and creativity can lead to success too.

    Fortune cookie wisdom... is still wisdom if applied to great effect. Take what you can get out of any information source.

    Just a little thought for the day.

    Take care!



    Thursday, 27 June 2019 02:13

    The slippery slope, my initial investment into Festool

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    I do like my better quality tools, but until recently, I'd always balked at the cost of Festool because I honestly doubted that the finished result would be two, three, or even five times better than a commensurately cheaper brand of sander. I mean, the wood is still ground against some sand-like grit glued to some paper. The engine isn't noticeably more powerful, nor is the overall shape different to my old Bosch GEX-125-150 random orbit sander (ROS). However, my Bosch had problems, and while it was getting repaired under warranty, I needed something "that just worked, right then, and right there". So I bought the now somewhat out-moded ETS-150/3 since it was on sale.

    I have to say, that while you do not need to buy the most expensive tools on the planet to do some really nice work. I have been very pleasantly surprised by the combination of things which does make using the Festool easier on the user, and it would have the most benefit for those who use it every day. If you're a professional wood worker of any type, then you can not only save money in time, but also in consumables as well. If you're a light DIY-er using a sander once or twice a year.. then this is not the sander for you.

    The ETS-150/3 is a dedicated 150mm ROS, as opposed to the Bosch, which is a 125mm sander that can take a bigger sanding pad. I honestly believe that this Bosch model only has problems when pushed to the 150mm for long periods of time. Both are great tools, it's just that they are built to different price points. While the Bosch is also a higher-end model, it is priced at half the cost of the Festool.

    What do you get for another $300 on a sander?

    Options... lots of options... some only at the time of purchase though:

    More specifically, there are different models of Festool sander with specific orbits which vibrate either 3mm or 5mm as the pad rotates. I opted for the 3mm model so I could get into corners more easily. However the 5mm model is a bit faster/aggressive. There are also models with fixed or for a little extra cost, detachable cables, which is nice if you damage your cables. You can also use backing pads of varying softness/hardness (purchased separately). So you can choose a pad with an appropriate "firmness" for the task. Many other sanders have only one size or hardness available in Australia.


    There's a three year warranty but the best part is a 10 year guarantee that parts will be available after the model ceases production. You've spent $600 on a sander, it's nice to know that you can get the $10 part to fix it, right? Festool also offers pickup and free postage of faulty tools from your workplace/home... so no more taking it to the shop, and waiting for middle men/womenfolk to get around to it


    This is the big one for me. Most sanders have 6-10 holes in the disk so that dust can be sucked up to the bag/dust extractor. The Festool's has a LOT of holes of varying sizes more evenly throughout the backing pad and paper, and the engine blows air through some, while the dust extraction sucks through others. By doing this push/pull combination, the amount of grit and gunk that clogs up the sandpaper is substantially reduced. This means that you can sand for longer without having to clean up your sandpaper. It also means the paper doesn't get "cooked" by friction heat when it's clogged, which makes it last even longer.

    The Festool branded sandpaper is also better than the stuff I typically get in Bunnings. Being designed for the hole-ridden Festool pads, the sheets have the matching holes, to facilitate the extra airflow. Despite having less sanding area overall, Festool sheets clog less often than cheaper brands. Furthermore, while Festool sheets cost about 30% more, I've used the same three (different grits) sheets of Festool sandpaper for the same amount of time I'd go through an entire 10 sheet packet on cheaper sanders. Of course, your mileage may vary, especially if you are stripping paint/glues/plastics more than the unvarnished, aged, low-resin hard wood that I've been sanding.

    A piece of advice:

    Everyone gets bored of sanding. However, like most sanders, this sander works far faster (and better) when you have a relatively light touch. Pushing it down may seem like a way to remove more material, but this also restricts airflow, puts more wear and tear on your sander's motor, and undermines this rather expensive sander's features that keeps the abrasive surfaces, abrasive. So don't be tempted to undermine yourself and the longevity of your tools with impatience. Even with the Bosch and other cheaper models, avoiding unnecessary pressure is recommended.


    Buying tools can be a very slippery slope. Who doesn't want to be able make/fix/adjust more while doing it more easily? However, keeping yourself grounded, and your expectations about what you're actually doing realistic, is important when deciding what to buy and how much to spend.

    If you're doing a lot of work, go and ask for a demonstration of Festool equipment at your local retailer. Then do some research, and decide if the extra (yes it's an optional extra) cost is worth the benefits. I can only attest to this sander, but Festool have impressed me with a tool that seems, at first glance, hard to differentiate from other brands.

    I'd like to finish up with an update on the Bosch. It turned out that the orbital gearing was slightly "imbalanced" which caused enough vibration when working to break the bolt attaching the pad to the motor on several occasions. That has been fixed, I also replaced the Bosch pad with one that wasn't damaged (by being thrown off a broken bolt) for $21.95, and then I went to my local "Specialty Fasteners" shop and bought the strongest "high tensile" bolt to replace the broken one, and it cost me a princely sum of $1.00 (Australian). Now it works well.. and without any problems. However, even though it doesn't have all the clogging reduction of the Festool, I just use a standard "abrasive cleaner' stick on my sandpaper when needed. I don't want you to think that the Bosch, or other brands can't deliver an amazing result, and I have used ancient, cheap, and hard-used tools to make beautifully smooth surfaces. You can get similar results with any brand of tool and careful use! It just isn't quite as easy, or necessarily comfortable. Ultimately, if I find myself using the old Bosch rarely, I'll either sell it on Gumtree or give it to a family member.

    I hope this helps you with your tool purchasing decisions, whether for or against. Just remember, it's not the tools you own that make you a better wood worker (although they can certainly help) but the skills you learn from using them. The more you do, the more you will improve, so go have fun making sawdust, shavings, and whatever you leave behind must be your finished project. :-)

    Have fun, and stay safe!









    Work is slow when you're short-handed... or short one arm for that matter!

    Ok, so after my close call with falling off a ladder, I actually did fall off while assisting the electrician run some wiring, and fractured my shoulder. Well... more specifically, the part of the humerus in the shoulder joint. Needless to say that involved  hospitals, doctors, X-rays, specialist advice and medical "procedures", waiting rooms, slings, with a note of interstate travel and copious amounts of pain with a side of sleep deprivation. I managed to do two job interviews in my pained-yet-manageable state. Then things got a bit interesting when it seemed things weren't healing like it should.

    So after too many weeks of being in a sling, I'm finally allowed to get rid of it. However, there's still a lot of work to do both in the garage, and in healing my arm. The bone is stable, but not fully healed, and muscles... (what's left of them) need a lot of work. But that doesn't mean I have been idle.

    Tidying up makes a much needed space to do more tidying....

    Even a one-armed lunatic such as myself isn't completely useless. I managed to pull out some frost covers for the garden, use up the bags of potting mix strewn around the garage, I also threw some boxes of long-forgotten stuff out, tidied up the wood stock, and put the finishing touches on my vacuum silencing box. Speaking of the silencing box, wow has that made a difference! I had a vacuum that screamed louder than most of my tools, and now I hear a dull hum, where most of the noise is the sound of the air rushing into the vacuum hose. Unfortunately, I still haven't integrated the cyclonic separator on a 44 gallon drum yet, but I have attached the separator to the lid, and spray painted some parts of it.

    When you can't do the work yourself, enlist helpers and professionals... to do almost anything but work on the garage.

    Apparently, Wren's fear the cold may exacerbate my shoulder pain has overcome her long-standing inertia about making the house more energy efficient. I guess there's a silver lining... of sorts.

    When Wren asked my opinion about this, my argument for this house upgrade had nothing to do with my shoulder, but more of where to put some of our hard-saved cash. We dabble in investments but in the end, we're just middle class professionals trying to get by while developing as few grey hairs as possible.

    A side note about investing:

    Investing is a very personal thing, and I am not giving you financial advice because I am not qualified to do so. If you need help, go see an accountant. Do not ever go to a financial planner that works for a bank. You do not want a "commission based" advisor, (who charges you a percentage of your investment, even when it loses money). Commission based advisors may not be bad, but there are some who get "kick backs" or benefits for encouraging people to invest in particular funds/companies, which is clearly a conflict of interest because that is not necessarily the best place to put your money.  What you do want, is a financial planner/accountant that charges by the hour. This is called "fee for service" in Australia. Arrange to meet them once a year, and if things are going well, you'll want to come back to them so adjustments can be made as needed. If things aren't going well, then you talk to them about why things aren't going so well, and if they can't fix it, you can choose to take your business elsewhere. Remember: It's your money, and you ultimately take the risk and reward. You are shopping for advice, and nothing more. You are not putting them in control (and should not, either). If you aren't comfortable, or don't understand absolutely everything, don't invest! Just walk away. If you aren't confident, or shy, or have trouble speaking for yourself, find someone you trust to consult, or even come with you. In the end, don't sign anything without getting a second opinion, or shopping around.

    Back to my rationale for upgrading the house....

    However, at the time of writing (June 2019) with record high share prices overseas, the growing concerns about recessions, even possible "corrections", give me pause on investing "large" sums  (well, large to us at least) in the current share market. Holding some back for potential opportunities coming up is something I'd recommend if you can. The down side to this level of errr... "restraint?" is the ever-lowering interest rates environment make bank accounts an-often negative return after tax and inflation. Also, after assessing our costs, we found that rising prices of gas and electricity are a major expense for us here in Canberra. Finally, considering the fact that property prices in our area is on the rise again, this makes the sale price for our home a possible future consideration. Modest upgrades to the house, (especially double glazing) can yield property price increases of 150-200% of the upgrade , and have ongoing cost reduction benefits.

    So, using these rationalizations, Wren has approved upgrading the place, and I'm and dealing with the admin... given my lack of work, I will be here when the work is done.

    Update: So where are we at now?

    After a day and a half of work for two nice labourers, have done as much as they can while politely rebuffing all my attempts to offer them tea. The double glazing is partially installed, but we're awaiting delivery of the custom cut panels to complete the remaining windows and doors. The biggest heat leaking window at the top of our light well (roughly 5.5 metres from the ground) has been completed and I must say, it hasn't looked this clean in years.

    The doors have had new seals placed around the frame work, and I am hoping that the panels come in sometime in the next few days.

    As for the insulation, our current R2.0 insulation will have the gaps filled, then R4.0 batts will be layered on top, effectively tripling our existing insulation. That's all scheduled for early next week.

    How about that garage?  It is the entire point of this post... isn't it?

    You might be wondering... "How did we get here? Isn't this supposed to be about getting the garage on track?". Yes dear reader, the point is that the garage was delayed by my injury, and it is part of our household's greater levels of rationalized insanity. We all do what we can, but never fear, I plan to build more storage for the garage, reinforce and store stuff in the garage's ceiling, oh and I'm avidly waiting the delivery of a shiny new toy for the workshop.... a bandsaw! I'll be making an industrial grade trolley for that beast.. but I have to get my welder back from my friend first.

    Then I'll not only have to start up, but catch up with my garage stuff. I sense a busy time may be coming.

    I hope you're all well, and having fun!



    Monday, 20 May 2019 13:45

    Garage Liberation Part 2: Ceiling and Electrical

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    I seem to have injured myself, so my progress has come to a grinding halt. As such, the garage is very much "A work in progress". Highlights of the achievements so far include:

    • The ceiling has been entirely removed.
    • Battens formerly used for the ceiling have been removed in places. A few have been left for structural support while some minor frame repairs are underway.
    • The Gyprock has been properly disposed of. (Much more work than anticipated).
    • Electrician has been hired to:
      • Remove/move existing cabling in the ceiling to allow easier access to the roof cavity for storage.
      • Move the two existing lights to the roof cavity space.
      • Install 4 new independently switched light sockets.
      • Install 5x double power sockets on the walls
      • Install 2x drop-down power sockets from the ceiling.
      • Put the garage on an 15A independent circuit.
      • Add safety switch (RCD) to the garage circuit.
      • Re-wire a few pieces of existing circuitry (external lights and power points)
    • I have also purchased 4 LED panels, which is an article all to itself. Each panel is 40W, producing a rather large 3800 Lumens. (That's almost the equivalent of 300W of incandescent bulbs).
    • The lumber has been used to build/stored into, a lumber storage trolley.
    • Dust extractor noise was too loud, so I built a vacuum silencing box. Planning to install an oversized cyclone separator.
    • 2 chests of drawers were constructed.

    Yep, I still have plenty to do, but I'm forbidden doing anything until the risk of further injury has subsided.

    Take care everyone!



    Friday, 22 March 2019 09:34

    A question about saws.

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    I've been using power tools for a while. I don't have any particular brand loyalty, but I appreciate the quality of better-made tools. So I have a range of Hitachi, Bosch, Makita, DeWalt, Ryobi, and Stanley power tools that I've collected over the years. It never really occurred to me that I might know more than some, even though they've been doing wood working far longer than I had. This isn't really what I've been aiming for on my site here. So let me regale you with my tale of two days ago... :-)

    An old friend of mine asked me a few days ago. "Are you happy with your table saw?". Since I've beaten my DeWalt DWE-7491-XE contractor-style/portable table saw on a lot of stuff ranging from extremely hard wood sleepers, all the way down to pine and even balsa wood, it truly forms the beating heart of my workshop. I pondered this for a moment, and since I couldn't make any complaints about it, I surprised myself in how happy I was to say "yes".

    My friend lives on a farm, and he has an amazing range of tools, (or access to them). So he surprised me when he mentioned that he didn't have a table saw. I mean, he's a farmer, he's got many other saws, I just assumed he'd have a table saw laying about the place somewhere. He had a small mitre saw, but no table saw. This struck me as odd, but then I realised, I got my mitre saw first too! (and while it suited my needs at the time, it's not necessarily the order I'd recommend).

    My friend surprised me further, stating that he wasn't sure if he should get a track saw or a table saw. He'd been considering both, and asked my thoughts on the matter. It really comes down to moving the "lightest/smallest" items necessary to make the cut. In some cases, it's the wood, in others, it's the saw.

    Let's start with the track saw....

    Track Saw: (the saw goes to the wood)

    The track saw is (to put it crudely) a glorified circular saw with a straight edge (or track). Track saws are particularly handy when you want to make long straight cuts on large sheets of wood like ply, particle board, or MDF, particularly at unusual angles. Similarly they're great at cutting into decks, flooring, or even plaster walls in a pinch. Track saws can also include dust extraction ports (no circular saw I've ever seen has it), and the ability to cut extremely cleanly with a finer blade than any circular or table saw. In short, you take both the track and the saw to the wood, clamp the track in the right spot on your lumber, and make your cut. Easy, right?! These are best used when handling the wood itself is too difficult to be safe/accurate to move and manipulate while cutting.

    The down side for a track saw is they're often more cumbersome to use than a table saw, and particularly long tracks are irritating enough to move around, assemble, use, and constantly adjust, pack up and store. Track saws are also a more specialised too, used mostly for cutting sheet stock. You're not going to use a track saw for small cuts, or precise dimensions unless you have a lot of time on your hands. Track saws often have less-deep cutting options to table saws, and the motors are often considerably less powerful and/or durable. They're designed for intermittent use, not regular use like many table saws.

    In short, most wood workers use track saws to break down large sheet stock, then use the table saw on the more manageable pieces for precision dimensions and squaring. Frankly, because I am stingy (or value oriented) I just use a straight edge, clamps and a circular saw to roughly cut my sheet stock, and tidy up on the table saw. However, your needs may well differ wildly from my own. But before you ignore my opinion, let me tell you why I prefer the table saw.

    Table Saw: (the wood comes to the saw)

    I have both western and Japanese-styled hand saws, jig saws, circular saws, mitre saw, reciprocating saw, oscillating saw, and scroll saw. None get used as often as my table saw. It's the sheer simplicity of use of a precise parallel fence, the ability to angle my blade and use mitres to form compound angles. I like the dual dust extraction ports on my mere contractor style table saw, the ability to rip up to 830mm wide, the ability to resaw deep cuts into wood, and use dado blades to rebate/rabet/groove/lap joint/box joint/even dove tail on it (with jigs of course). If you're cutting anything other than unwieldy pieces of wood, then the table saw is a much better solution for the average wood worker's daily needs. Repeatability is perhaps the biggest benefit to a table saw, because once set, you can repeat a cut over and over again. If you make a cut with a track saw, the track must be moved for each cut.

    So do I like my table saw?

    Absolutely. However, you should always do your homework and choose a model based on your needs and constraints. My constraint was space, yours might be your partner's approval, or cost, or the fact you want to cut huge pieces on a regular basis... then you might want a track saw, or even a panel saw. Don't get me wrong, I'd like a track saw too, but in terms of sheer practicality of my everyday use, a table saw is an easy choice to make for my needs.


    I hope this helps!


    Sunday, 10 March 2019 10:41

    Discussions with an older woodworker.

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    I went to an "artists and/or craftspeople cooperative" today. As you'd expect, the inside was adorned with pottery, sculptures, cards, metal and wood pieces, some mosaics, as well as the ever-present paintings found in places like this. Two people were looking after the store for the "morning shift", a woman whose name has completely escaped me (sorry) doing some knitting, and somewhat unusually, a man named Ted who was spinning wool.

    While Wren was busy elsewhere, I decided to sit down and chat with Ted as he spun his wool. Ted was many things, not just a wool spinner, but a carpenter who made and restored spinning wheels. He also made some lovely small turned wooden items found in the store. We chatted on many topics, but the discussion on wood working was particularly interesting.

    As a relatively new wood worker, (a novice in comparison to Ted who has decade(s) on me, and likely, a more spacious and efficient workshop than I do, living on a farm) he made some really interesting comments on the way wood working has gone in his time. We discussed the quality of wood, which unless you have your own forest and milling equipment, has decreased significantly over the last 50 years. Fast-growth plantation based timbers, disposable wood-based products, logging of old forests, and a global population growing out of proportion to the supply of timber, means we're using lower and lower grades of wood (and many other resources) as they become increasingly scarce.

    Now, I'm proud of my tea shelf made with pallet wood. However, when I showed Ted a photo of it on my phone, he pointed out the flaws in my spotty pine panels, and explained how that is a sign of low quality wood. Thinking on how wide-spread pallets are, and the ever-shortening life expectancy of modern pallets, I can't help but wonder about the future of pallets and wood in general.

    Later, I pondered another comment made by a former antique store owner to me several months ago,  that "you can't sell old furniture for love or money, since younger generations with massive mortgages, and ever smaller dwellings aren't exactly rushing off for a bit of "antiquing". As a person still in their "accumulation phase" of life, I can safely say that I see a lot of antique shops which are starting to include all sorts of paraphernalia, dust collectors, and even electrical appliances of bygone eras as less "antique", and more "hoarder dens of stuff your grandparents chucked out when they downsized". I'm sure the "hipsters" love it, but they're perhaps the only ones taking advantage of this situation.

    Antique furniture restoration is another topic Ted and I discussed. He recalled his difficulties when to restore a spinning wheel made in the 19th century in the US from wood that had beautiful grains, burls, and natural beauty that is so rare or prohibitively expensive, it might as well be completely unavailable today. Going further, Ted said:

    "The only way I can restore it is to completely hide my repairs as best as I can". Now, that left me wondering: "How on Earth do you hide a repair on a spinning wheel? They're not exactly known for their "nooks and crannies" to hide stuff in. It's a peddle, a spoke wheel, a spindle, and a stand! With so many moving parts, there isn't really much room for "hiding it in an obscure place" like many stain instructions tell you to do when first trying it out. I'm sure modern stains are great, but they simply cannot do the complexity of high quality timber, no matter how you slice it.

    Frankly, I didn't get a chance to discuss everything, but it's rare for someone like me to be able to chat and see things from a much better wood worker's perspective. I'm just trying to do what I can, and I'm sure I'll make a lot of mistakes along the way. At least I've got some ideas on how to identify some nicer timber. Thanks Ted!

    To everyone else, good night and keep doing whatever it is you need to do to have fun, stay safe, and make something awesome.




    Wednesday, 06 March 2019 12:22

    When things go wrong in wood working.

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    It's inevitable. You're going to make mistakes. Regardless of whether you're doing wood working, or sometimes (if you're like me) get up in the morning using only the most uncoordinated and painful of manners. There's the temptation to give up, and perhaps go back to bed.

    I once read somewhere, that "courage is not the absence of fear, but the strength to carry on regardless". However, in a surprisingly similar statement, that a great wood worker isn't defined by the absence of mistakes, but the quality of their solutions to fix them. I wonder how many similar sayings are out there for other interests and topics?

    I've spent the last few days between job interviews, re-purposing my old planing jig, several planks of wood, and more than a few 90x45mm boards to build.... a trolley. Not just any trolley, but a lumber storage trolley. So admittedly, it's not going to be a piece of fine furniture, but it is shaping up to be very, very sturdy. The base is an old 1800mm x 600mm x 18mm sheet of pine, reinforced with over 12 metres of thick struts of wood. Every piece is glued with maximum coverage, and reinforced with screws as long as 125mm. Then I really went to work, and added three full sheets of 18mm plywood to reinforce the base with a fancy torsion box which also doubles as shelving and storage bins for my timber.

    While I've made a lot of progress, I've been much slower than I'd have originally thought possible. I've made many mistakes. Some of them as simple as not accounting for imperfections in my wood. Some of them as complex as putting parts in the wrong place and leaving it until the glue has well and truly dried. The worst is one that is both utterly avoidable, and yet... not. My worst mistake, was going into this with an idea, but not a plan. Needless to say, I've had a few lessons learned (or perhaps "earned" ) along the way. That's life isn't it? You get punished first, then it's up to you to learn from your mistakes.

    My goals were simple. Copy a well-thought-out design for a lumber trolley, and make it smaller to fit in my workspace.... using as much stuff laying around as I could. This not only fixes my "lumber seems to be everywhere" problem by using up the aforementioned lumber in the construction itself, but also creates a place to put all of the remainder using a smaller footprint that what it does now. Hello to some much needed shop space!

    The first mistake, measure twice, cut once.

    Ok, strictly speaking, I actually did that. I measured the pine sheet used in my planing jig twice. When they didn't correspond between measurements, I thought I'd merely done the first attempt wrongly. It turns out, that the rivet holding the clip at the end of my tape measure failed between attempts, resulting in a shift of nearly 10mm. Having also worked with pallet wood so much of late, I just assumed upon checking the second measurement, that the board was indeed less wide at one end compared to another. So I cut my support struts accordingly.... and wrongly. Repairing this involved shimming the short end, then reinforcing with a dance I call the "glue and screw two-step".

    The second mistake: Flat does not necessarily apply to all faces.

    I built the base, upside down on my work bench. While I freely admit that my bench isn't precision-ground to within 1/1000th of a millimetre, it's more than flat enough to ensure a decent level of accuracy of properly thicknessed and jointed wood. (For example, wood that indeed has gone through a thickness planer and jointer). However, as I mentioned, I've been re-purposing the vast bulk of the wood in my trolley, with previous stresses and abuse from previous roles all too often evident. Despite picking the best parts, there's every wood-bourne problem present (outside of rot and liquid exposure makes). Cupping, warping, crooking, bowing, non-parallel faces, splits, not to mention the holes left by nails and screws.

    It turned out that after I attached four industrial-grade castors to the base (I splurged here because wood gets heavy very fast), that despite the top of my base being flat, it was not flat when rolling on the wheels. So some creative planing and building up of certain wheels needed to be done.

    The third mistake: context is important!

    Hindsight may be perfect, but you can only work with the best information that you have at the time. As I have mentioned, I was using pocket holes to put this together quickly. The speed of construction allowed me to start construction even before I had finalized the plan, and because of that, I changed the design mid-way through construction. This resulted in severe delays while dismantling occurred, and even some deprecated construction choices that ultimately ended with less-than-ideal aesthetics, and even some minor weakening in the joints. My solution to this was to fix up what I can on the aesthetics, and reinforce the joints where needed. Alas, even more time was lost. Speed of method, is not necessarily speed of result.

    But are all mistakes, actually mistakes? Or are they merely trade-offs for the choices we make. Find the way that's right for you. To do that, you have to stray from your known path.

    Making something is a journey. Even if you do make irretrievable mistakes, you'll hopefully know what not to do next time. Assuming you don't do any damage to yourself, at the very worst, you can always start again, or replace a part, or cut out a broken piece, shape and attach a replacement. Your creativity and careful execution is all important here, and while I'd love to say you are limited by your imagination, those of us working in the real world are limited in time, access to certain tools, perhaps knowledge of better methods, or simply money. Those who are constrained in one way or another, are forced to come up with more creative solutions.

    Assembly order also has an impact on your end result. It certainly had some on mine! In construction, pieces often need to be assembled in a particular order if you do things logically. However, delaying some assembly steps can make your life a lot easier in some ways, and not in others. I chose to build to trolley from base up, and the front bins toward the back (without the front panel). This meant I could use the sides of the bins to reinforce the back of the bins (which is also the vertical side of my A frame in the middle. Then using pocket hole joinery and spacers cut from scrap, add the shelves to the vertical on the other side, and reinforce them with support rods. Then once that was all dry and lined up, glue and screw the final sloped part of my A frame. (The side to hold the sheeting) to the base and each shelf. Then all that remained was attaching the front and rear-most panels.

    Some may have made the entire A frame shelving first as it's located in the middle. I'd highly recommend it if you knew your wood was reliably straight, even and true. However, I would never have been able to deal with the warp caused by the base so easily if there was a giant torsion box attached.

    Doing it my way kept my options open. By not attaching the wood at the very front and back, I could access many of the areas I might have needed to. Adding the sides and back of the bins perpendicular to one another immediately started to straighten each other out which made lining everything else up much easier. Working from the base up ensured that I could make the most of the strength already built into the base and use it stabilize everything else.

    However, it was very difficult to design and build each shelf to the right dimension and required a surprising number of clamps to hold it into position. The sides of the bins made attaching some shelves quite a bit more cumbersome, and the spacing of the shelves limited the type and size of clamps I could use. So there's no ideal way after all.


    A lot of my fellow self-taught and beginner wood workers have pieces that didn't go to plan. However, you're doing really well to finish a project. Even if it doesn't work out as well as you hoped, you will definitely improve as you continue to practice.

    Monday, 18 February 2019 11:40

    Pocket Hole Joinery: An Initial Foray

    Written by

    Pocket hole joinery is a surprisingly strong and very fast construction method that is most often used in cabinetry. However, it is not without it draw backs, nor is it short of criticism in the wood working community. Whether you love it or hate it, depends on many factors, but I'll talk about my first use, and what I found.


    It makes no sense for me to make a video when so many are out there on YouTube. So here's a good starting video if you're so inclined:

    Getting Started: Buying a Jig.

    There are many jigs out there. Some people even opt to make their own. Given the disappointing options at my local Bunnings, I had to drive across town to my local Total Tools store, and pick up a few things.

    • Kreg K4 Pocket Hole Jig Kit.
    • Kreg Doweling Jig.
    • Kreg Pocket Screws of varying sizes.
    • Kreg Corner Clamp (x2)

    What? Is this some sort of promotion for Kreg Products? No, it's just what this store happened to have. I also stuck with the brand to ensure compatibility. What I can tell you, is that the screw sizes you need are determined by the thickness of your material. So if you're unsure, or if you're using some wood 36mm thick like I was, you're going to need a 51mm (2") screw.

    The Kreg jig is mostly plastic, with metal reinforcement in the holes to stop the bit from eating your jig. You're given a specialist bit, with an adjustable stop collar, (complete with small hex key to lock it in place). Also in my kit was a vacuum attachment, some adjustment screws, a clamp to hold the jig down/face clamp my work piece. The instructions are important, so keep those handy!

    Using the Jig, (or should that be "Doing the jig?")

    Using the jig itself is easy. Adjust your drill bit stop collar using the jig's guide in the base. Adjust the depth of the jig itself, based on the thickness of your wood, clamp your work piece to the jig using the inbuilt clamp, and then start drilling. For more information, see the above video.

    My initial impressions from using the Kreg K4 jig.

    Firstly, it does work as advertised, but I feel that the base of the jig itself is very narrow, so when doing wider panels, it might be best to add support to either side for easier work piece clamping. I believe the K5 model has this wider base, but I haven't used it.

    I also found that the stop collar for the drill bit needs to be tightened up quite a lot to prevent slipping the first time. The locking screw actually dragged and gouged a line into the drill bit itself making the stop collar jam. I had to hammer out the bit using a mechanic's vice and a hammer to get it out, then file the ridges down on the bit, and then inside of the stop collar. Now it works beautifully.

    Joining the pocketed work pieces.

    Pocket holes require the correct pocket-hole type (and length) screws. In the manual, the instructions are reasonably clear about what length of screw you need for a given thickness of wood. However, in true "wayward" style, my first joint involved two pieces of wood, and of course, they were of different thicknesses... not much... only 18mm (3/4") different. There is no information whatsoever about multiple thickness situations at all in the manual, believe me, I looked! If in doubt, I suggest that you use the thinner piece's thickness to configure the jig, and determine the correct type of screw to use. I can assure you, that worked for me.

    Direction matters!

    Pocket holes are large oval-shaped holes which many people think are ugly. It might be tempting to put your pocket holes on the inside of corner joints to hide the holes, but this actually reduces the amount of wood available to drill into, and thus weakens the joint considerably. Many kitchen cabinets made with pocket hole joinery are installed against walls and against the sides of other cabinets, so holes on the outside are hidden from view. If your work piece is not going to have it's sides hidden, then you can fill the hole with dowel and sand it flush to the surface. But you'll still get oval-shaped interruptions the wood grain, even if the colour matches. Alternatively, you could veneer the entire side if needed.

    Clamping is not optional. Clamp it well!

    Pocket holes are diagonal holes. As the screw tightens, the diagonal direction will shift the wood parts out of alignment. To stop this, you need to ensure that there is no movement whatsoever by clamping the pieces firmly before you screw the joint together. In fact, glue the pieces, clamp them together, wait for the glue to dry, and then screw the pieces together to avoid drifting.

    Right-angled clamping.

    Kreg's corner clamps involve a clamp shaped to use one of the pocket holes on one side, with an adjustable flat pad to lock right-angled joints together before screwing. Of course, this assumes that you have put your pocket holes on the outside of your right angled joint. This is the strongest orientation.

    Ok, so what was the result?

    How strong is it, really?

    I've done a lot of simple and small projects using screws going into the end grain of my timber. However drilling into the end is a very weak joint unless you add glue, and better yet, glue with some sort of surface-increasing jointing method. However, using the pocket screws alone, going in the correct direction makes a surprisingly strong joint. I used 6 pocket screws on every right-angled joint and I could easily stand on the completed dry assembly of my router cabinet with minimal movement or sagging. Gluing everything eliminated noticeable movement and sagging altogether.

    Drifting is an issue:

    It is extremely difficult to get everything aligned on right-angled joints the first time. However, the worst drift I had was only 3mm or so. Clamping and waiting for the glue to dry first, eliminated the drift problem entirely. However, I feel this does diminish the quick assembly times that pocket hole joinery is renowned for.

    Is it as ugly as they say?

    Ok, so there's a lot of strong opinions about pocket hole joinery. It's extremely fast (if you have the clamps and use them well). However, when you cut circular holes at a diagonal to your wood face, you get an elongated oval hole that is an inch long. If you want continuous burls, or beautiful uninterrupted grain, then this is not the method for you. I think this is great if you're using cheap wood, ply or MDF.... but I certainly wouldn't use this on your expensive wood. So it has it's place, if you work like that.

    Dealing with the holes....

    You have a few options:

    1. The easiest option is to fill in the holes with wooden or plastic plugs that are commercially available. Remember, that when you're gluing the plugs in, you need to leave the plugs a little proud of the hole so you can sand them back.
    2. You can make your own plugs using the doweling jig. If you make the dowels out of scrap pieces of the wood you're using. You can get a much closer match to colour than you might otherwise get.
    3. For projects that are ultimately getting painted... you could just fill the holes with your filler of choice, leave it proud, sand it down, then paint it.
    4. Veneer the entire project. I particularly like this for speaker building, but I've used it when I had some nice thin wood to work with.

    While I opted to buy the doweling jig so I can make the plugs from the scraps of matching wood, I chose not to use it the first time. Since I am building a mobile stand for my router table, there weren't any hidden sides on the outside (except maybe the bottom?), and because I was using ply, I actually chose to veneer the entire hole-ridden exterior with another thin sheet of marine-grade ply. I think it looks nicer this way, and makes the cabinet stronger still. Of course, this also takes more time.


    Honestly, I could probably have done this in the same time using other methods. However, for a first go, I can say I've learned a few things. I'm sure I'll get faster at it once I'm more experienced. I can see why it is popular in commercial cabinetry and there's certainly a lot of potential to "get things done". I just think I need to be more careful with my clamping and.. perhaps getting a couple more clamps might actually help as well.

    I'll post some pics when I get a chance.


    As always, have fun and be safe!






    Saturday, 02 February 2019 05:39

    When is it time to upgrade your tools?

    Written by

    It may seem like a strange question to ask. To some it seems obvious, to others... it's as clear as mud.

    I think upgrading has a lot to do with issues like safety, intended purposes, design, ease of use, cost, space, approval from your better half, and frankly the list goes on and on from there.

    One aspect that probably isn't mentioned anywhere is confidence. No only to learn and use tools, but to recognize where you're heading with your hobby and to a lesser extent... when you probably shouldn't be using your existing equipment. Trust me, I get it when people use what they have. However there's a point when it becomes a hinderance more than a benefit. I think this also happens when people get stuck in a rut, not knowing that things could be done much better, or just haven't expanded their horizons in a while, so people keep doing what you've always done.

    Like everyone, I started with a very rudimentary tool kit. As my goals, skills, knowledge and confidence increased, my original tool box, then workshop has changed quite considerably over the intervening years. I have a home that needs repairs, and I've worked on everything from gyprock ceilings, building furniture, repairing bicycles, minor plumbing, electronic diagnostics, PC repairs, building ponds, repairing cars, and trust me.. each activity brings a whole range of specialized tools that you could buy. Whether you're just starting out, or upgrading a long held kit... the question is: How far down that rabbit hole, do you want (or more importantly, need) to go?

    Starting a workshop vs upgrading one:

    Getting Started...

    Starting a tool box, or workshop is one thing that many sites love to talk about. (Everyone has a different idea of "what is essential") Some of the more helpful sites outline suggested tool combinations for a variety of different budgets. I think this is very handy, because you can understand what you can get for $250, $500, $1000, or even $5000, and why things get added, upgraded or even swapped out entirely for different equipment as you go up in budget. Also important is setting realistic expectations for each kit. For $250, you can get some serviceable hand tools, and maybe a cheap electric drill, which is a basic but really handy kit! However, you won't be doing anything that requires large-scale or specialist tools.

    Please bear in mind that your goals are important here, as are your expectations and intended use. Obviously, as you go up in budget, your toolbox/workshop should become more capable, easier to use, and generally more versatile. However, the storage and work space, knowledge and skills required also go up. I should warn you that it is indeed a very slippery slope between wants and needs. Especially for one-off jobs where renting might well be a better solution. For example, jobs like tiling a bathroom isn't something the average DIY-er does on a regular basis. As such, renting a tile cutter is often a good choice. However, for the very basic tools like a saw, mitre box, pliers, hammer, chisels, screwdrivers, clamps, measuring tape, duct tape, some different glues, some rasps/files and a tool box to put it in... you'll find yourself coming back to them, over and over!


    Upgrading your toolbox or workshop is a similar process to starting it in some ways, but is often more involved for a variety of reasons. Aside from the questions about whether to upgrade, what to upgrade to, and how much benefit there is, there's the old tool(s) to consider as well. "What to do with my old stuff?" is a question with many potential answers... which may involve repairing, re-purposing, gifting, or in worst case, tossing your old equipment. Lets not forget that not all new shiny tools are actually beneficial for you... especially if you use them intermittently or even rarely, or don't have the skills to use them wisely.

    Deciding to upgrade:

    Where worketh doth happen, breaketh doth follow

    Upgrading can be an expensive and wasteful experience if done poorly, or more commonly, for the wrong reasons. There are many good reasons to upgrade. Some people find that their equipment breaks and cannot be fixed. Others find that their tools are simply not as safe to use as they should be. While a different band of people may find that their equipment still works perfectly well, but no longer has the ability to keep up with projects that they regularly do. Another common reason is that the tools in question just make the process of making stuff harder than it ought to be. Let's face it, loose components, bluntness, calibration drifting, and the classic problem of being "jammed up" not only makes things much more dangerous, it adds the downward spiral of frustration and disappointing results which just sucks the fun out of the experience. Frustration can lead to mistakes and safety issues as much as poorly maintained/used tools.

    My rationale for upgrading my old router table (a.k.a. justifying shiny new toys):

    Last year, I bought a very cheap second-hand portable router table, just to see if I would use it as much as I thought I would, and to learn the pros and cons of using the tool itself. Wow did I use it! But... it was far from ideal in places.

    I attached my router, and used it heavily for a few relatively major projects. However my router didn't fit perfectly into the mount, which meant that the controls were hard to reach, I found myself struggling to raise and lower the router depths, and changing the bits. The top of the table flexed under heavy loads, so my routed edges were occasionally out of alignment, and at other times, the work pieces "caught" on minor imperfections of the surface, which lead to issues with the finished project as well. When you need to constantly adjust things, and straighten unintentional curves out, your time gets completely sucked up into avoidable repairs that just really slow your progress down.

    Fundamentally, I think my old router table is a great piece of kit for lighter projects, but I just keep using heavy or large pieces of timber, and then the weight of a very powerful router makes the work surface flex even more.  Consequently, things just keep going awry. On the plus side, since I bought the kit second hand, it's entirely possible that I'll sell the old table for the same amount that I paid for it. So I've lost nothing by deciding to upgrade.

    Requirements for the new and improved table:

    My requirements shouldn't be all that surprising, basically that it does what the old one did and addresses the issues I've found with the old one. So my desirable features are:

    • Much more sturdy table top. (Cast iron/thick coated wood is a good choice)
    • Easier adjustments (in my case, a router lift, which needs to fit into the the router table top).
    • Dust resistant motor (in this case, a water-cooled CNC spindle, again, ensure that your router DOES fit into your table and/or lift as appropriate)
    • Easier to reach controls (in this case a conveniently placed height, switch and throttle control)
    • More efficient use of space (I've chosen to go with a table-top router table configuration, to be built on a custom chest of drawers so the exact height of the table matches my workbench (for in feed/out feed purposes).
    • Better dust collection options
    • T-Tracks for mitres and fence stops.

    Side benefits of this upgrade are:

    • Learning to install and use a CNC spindle with VFD (Variable Frequency Driver.. or speed controller) is a step closer to me building a full CNC router table when I get more space.
    • Safer, easier, more accurate routing.
    • Better air quality.
    • Gain space by building storage underneath.
    • Maximize workshop flexibility by combining the existing workshop furniture for a variety of tasks.
    • Tidier looking garage overall! (Important for appeasing the all-important Wren).
    • Get jobs done faster! Increasing woodworking enjoyment and sense of accomplishment.

    Cons of the upgrade:

    • Obviously the cost. I've chosen to go with a matching brand of table, router lift, and CNC Mill kit to ensure compatibility. The CNC spindle (or router motor) is an industrial-grade solution with a expected lifespan of 10,000 hours (as opposed to 1000 hours of continual use offered by even high quality routers). After much thought, my decision came down to: Could I build it myself? Sure, but time is a factor and I could not build it with the accuracy of a properly machined kit.
    • Additional costs for water cooling equipment, materials for the custom chest of drawers, time to build (If you don't consider your time as "free").
    • A professional grade router table (complete with spindle, lift, etc, etc) that's pre-made can run for $3000-7000 easily. I expect my space saving option will be of similar quality, will last me for my life time and probably come in at under $3000.

    A quick side note for context:

    I live in town at the moment, but I'm planning to start a small scale farm once I can sort out my new business. As such, aiming for reasonable value while getting industrial grade equipment seems to be appropriate for the longer term requirements of a farm.


    This was just a basic outline of my thought process, and why my choices suited me. However, your needs will likely differ from my own, but if you have good reasons to upgrade something, you should do so with the most appropriate, safe, and reliable equipment you can get.

    I hope this helps! Happy wood working!


    Tuesday, 15 January 2019 20:48

    Custom Kitchen Cabinetry; The Epic Saga

    Written by

    It all started with an idea... ironically... from Ikea.

    After our Christmas-time binge on Ikea, and having looked at the joinery and materials of Ikea's range, my inner DIY goblin went "Pffff, I can do that!". The road was long and melamine-coated chipboard dust went everywhere, but it's done.

    If you've read the cheese making parts of my web site, you know I like making cheese. However, when you have large, larger, and huge polycarbonate tubs, filled with moulds, hoops, pressing plates, followers, presses, thermometers, curd cutters, etc, etc... most kitchens don't really have the spare cabinetry space to store all that. So in our chaotic "stick it wherever it fits" mentality, we naturally put it on top of our piano. It all sat there like that in an unstable and heavy tower for say... six months, interspersed with cheese making use of course. But it looked ugly.

    Setting up the goals... Ikea was never going to achieve this:

    The goals were simple, but heavier-duty than Ikea's gear would allow, and they included:

    • The ability to hold upwards of 50Kg of cheese equipment.
    • Must hang on the wall stably.
    • Must house the cheese equipment with room for other stuff.
    • Must have shelves to hold the two rear speakers of the home theatre system.
    • Must allow for cabling for speakers.
    • Must be adjustable.
    • Must fit above the piano, between two shelves.

    Ok, so in the end, I designed a 0.8m (800mm) high, 1.7m (1700mm) wide set of cabinetry, made in three parts.

    1. The left speaker shelf,(300mm wide)
    2. The central cabinet with doors (1100mm wide)
    3. the right speaker shelf. (300mm wide)

    Because there's a piano underneath, I chose to use 595mm wide (16mm thick) white melamine boards (for a deeper cabinet) from the local hardware shop. I bought it in three very large sheets (3m x 0.595m) and got them cut down to transportable sizes which minimized cutting for my design.

    Shaping pieces.

    Assembling each of the three components separately, I cut a groove into the sides, top and bottom for the backboard. Then used a biscuit joiner for alignment of the remaining pieces. Once I'd done a "dry fit" (without glue) I'd separate the parts, apply melamine edging to cut surfaces.

    Adjustable shelf holes were added while the pieces are apart. I used a commercially-made Kreg jig to do this. However, remember that you need to ensure that the holes are level on both sides. so arranging the pieces side by side in a mirror image helps to ensure this works!


    Then assemble, gluing and clamping the pieces together, ensuring (with some mixed success) that they were square before it dried. Then I just screwed it together for good measure. In an ideal world, I would have trimmed any excess with a flush bit on my router, but it was 41 degrees, and I'd loaned my flush-cut bit to a friend, and more importantly, Wren wanted her garage back, so I had to obey the matriarch for fear of being pecked to death. :-)

    Adding the doors using your typical kitchen cabinet hinges uses another jig, a 35mm forstner bit, a few screws. Kitchen styled concealed hinges come in three types.

    1. Inset (meaning the wood of the cabinet surrounds the door when closed)
    2. Partial overlay (meaning the door sits in front of the cabinet, but doesn't cover it all the way to the edge.
    3. Full overlay (you can't see any of the cabinet because the door covers it all).

    I found that someone had dropped a hinge in the wrong part of the shelf at the hardware store, and didn't read the labels carefully, so I ended up with two different types. Not good. Also, consider the hinge's angle of travel. If you need to run drawers, you should ensure that the hinges don't obscure the function of the drawer opening and closing.

    Read the hinge instructions, and ensure you're putting holes where you should be! Once the doors are aligned, THEN put in your handles (if you have any).

    Wall mounting

    I used a split-cleat system (Americans call it a "French cleat" for reasons unknown to me) to create a nice detachable system... although I hope I don't have to detach anything soon. You can look that up. However, I found it is easiest to locate and mount by:

    1. Mount the top cleat to your cabinet, (obviously avoid screwing anything into the sloped parts of your cleat)
    2. Measure your bottom (wall) cleat's dimensions while pushed up underneath the newly mounted cleat on the cabinet. Note how far down, the bottom edge of your wall cleat, is from the top of the cabinet. Also, mark on the inside of the back wall, where the wall cleat will be for locking screws later (step 7),
    3. Mark the leveled horizontal line on your wall where the top of the cabinet must go. (Use a level, this is not optional).
    4. Using your measurement from step two, mark another level the line where the bottom of the wall cleat should go.
    5. Considering any side edges of your cabinet, screw the wall cleat into place, using appropriate anchors. (Use a stud finder or masonry anchors.. just make sure it can handle the future load).
    6. If it's a little too low, you can add tape to the cleat surfaces, or if it's a bit further off, I've been known to place a thin slice of wood to shim it up.
    7. I usually put a locking screw into the back of the cabinet, into the wall cleat... which should be in a known location. This stops the cabinet from being unhooked from the wall cleat. One or two screws is usually enough.

    What could I have done better?

    • Ensured I had the right hinges. I thought I'd installed it incorrectly.... and it wasn't lining up.
    • Made the central cabinet a little more square. It's slightly off.
    • Used a cleaner iron when "ironing on the melamine edging".
    • Asked for help to mount the middle cabinet to the wall... It was very hard alone.
    • When drilling the holes for adjustable shelves, I was running on a low battery which slowed my drill. This meant that the melamine flaked off, instead of ground down.. which needed repair. So when drilling into melamine coated boards, start with a high speed, and light downward pressure. Take your time.
    • Bought better masonry anchors. I destroyed a couple when I hit something hard that the stud finder didn't indicate.
    • The 1100mm wide cabinet has only the bottom, and one shelf.  With the load and distance between supports, this is likely to sag a little over time, so I'll probably reinforce it along the bottom.
    • Put handles on doors after re-adjusting the height of the right-hand door. That was silly.



    Ok for my first melamine-coated kitchen cabinet, it will do all the tasks I designed it for. Obviously, I'm not a professional, but I've seen far worse-looking assembly jobs of Ikea kits. I'm still kinda proud.

    All the best!






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