First steps

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Blog entry by David Craig posted 12-19-2009 02:28 PM 1519 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I started working with wood a couple years ago. My job gets pretty demanding and I haven’t had much time in the shop since my initial beginnings. My wood hoard mostly consists of boards from things I have taken down and apart since I purchased my home. I have never been much for throwing items away. I bought a planer a couple months ago so will start making some trips to a sawmill in Chesaning for some better wood for projects. In the interim, I am getting back to some woodworking promises I made some folks back when I started and everything seemed like it would be a breeze to put together ;) One of these being a lap easel for my Mom.

My mother had hurt herself at work a couple years ago. She has nerve damage due to a disc in her back pushing against a nerve, so she is not as active as she used to be. We have been working on a list of potential hobbies she might indulge in to keep herself busy. One of these hobbies is sketching, since she does appear to have some natural talent in this area. Since, when she is sitting, she is more comfortable with her legs up, I have been trying to come up with a form of lap easel. This is my first attempts in the making.

Design number 1 will be a box with two lids. The left side will be the easel with a smaller compartment on the right. The idea is that the lid of the box will open towards her and stay at a 45 degree angle so that she can put a sketch pad on it and sketch, while the top on the right will open away from her so that she can set her pens and pencils in it and have it handy for selecting her media. The construction will be pine because (for starters, that is all I have right now ;) it is a light wood and will not press hard on her lap.

The easel is 14 inches wide, so I had to make a panel that I can use for the wider board. I am working with construction grade pine. I couldn’t really work on planing it flat, otherwise I would have a bunch of wedges to glue together, so I just edged planed the boards and used a doweling jig to edge glue them. The panel I documented in my review of the Wolfcraft doweling jig. Since the box will also be holding sketchpads, drawing books, pencils, etc. I wanted the joints to be strong. The wood would probably look better as a rabbet, but my preference leaned towards box joints because of the strength. The wood was 3/4 thick, so the joints are not so pretty, but effective. I built the jig here to space the cuts out evenly. My concern with working with this wood is that, since the boards are not perfectly flat, the joints can be difficult to line up fully square for a box. The results so far are not too bad. It probably will not be ready in time for Christmas, but I did make my first panel and my first box joint. I will keep you all posted on the progress.

Happy Holidays,


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

4 comments so far

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4455 days

#1 posted 12-19-2009 05:02 PM

It looks to me that you are doing a fine job on this project David. Especially when you are using materials that are recycled. What I see makes me think that if you are just starting out, that it won’t be long before you are doing some highly skilled work. One question about your project comes to mind though. Will the easel be light enough for your mom to have it on her lamp for long periods of time? You have probably already considered this question and are satisfied that it’s not an issue, so I hope you don’t mind my asking.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Randy's profile


395 posts in 4568 days

#2 posted 12-19-2009 08:38 PM

looks like you are on th right track david. Just out of curiosity, how are you cutting you box joints.
good luck

-- RKWoods

View Wayne's profile


10 posts in 4225 days

#3 posted 12-20-2009 01:11 AM

2 years, huh!? Congratulations! I’ve been working with wood for almost 50 years and love the artform as much now as I did way back then. Your project sounds like a fun one. Soft wood like pine isn’t nearly as forgiving as hardwood (soft wood is so easily damaged during and after construction), but it has two major advantages. One: it’s available practically everywhere… and Two: it’s cheap! So it’s not such a heartbreak when I miss-measure and cut the piece wrong (which I still do, even after 50 years). What kind of woodplaner did you get? I’m thinking about up-grading from my 12” DeWalt, but I’m not sure what I want to get.

-- Wayne, Utah,

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 4229 days

#4 posted 12-20-2009 07:30 AM

Mike, the home center wood I am working with is pretty low density pine. I have been testing it as I worked on it to get a feel for the weight. I will probably work on the design some more and try to make something for the bottom of the box that might be more ergonomically correct for her lap, rather than just a square box. Thanks for the kind comments.

RKW, I bought a Freud 6 inch dado set a few months back and a Ridgid saw at the end of last year. I made a box jig to align the cuts so that they would be spaced properly and ran them through the dado blade. Wood Magazine credited the set as being the best value for cost and quality of cut. I am inclined to agree with them. The whole setup Worked pretty well. Thanks for the words of encouragement.

Wayne, thanks for the comments and I agree with you wholeheartedly on the negatives and positives of pine. My local homecenters only carry 4 types of wood. Ridiculously expensive good faced pine that is partially damaged from reckless stacking by the workers, even more ridiculously priced good oak, crappy pine, and crappy poplar 10 foot boards. Not much variety. There is a sawmill that is not too far out of my area, but I couldn’t take advantage due to lack of a jointer/planer. All the wood sold is rough cut lumber. I picked up a Jet bench jointer/planer 8 inch combo due to lack of space in the shop and lack of budget at the time. Not a bad machine for the sized boards I would normally work with, but I can already tell that I will eventually move to the Ridgid planer and a jointer as well. When funds allow. The combo unit would still be useful for most small projects, but the larger units would be necessary for any real furniture work.

It is all a learning process. I have found myself stalling for the right lumber or the right machine, or the right blah blah blah. What I found lately is that I just have to work the boards with what I have and that I won’t gain or learn anything without actually working the wood. No big revelation to you folks I am sure :). Some things I have done have made a big difference in satisfaction and confidence. I exchanged my large carpenter’s pencil for a thin engineering pencil. I have noticed a big difference in cut accuracy already. I replaced my Johnson plastic combo square with an ancient stanley and a 6 inch metal swanson. The rigidity of the squares make a big difference in accurate measurement and marking. Add the calipers and the setup bars, and I am finding myself much more confident on the router table and tablesaw.

Thanks for reading and the kind responses. Happy holidays to you and your families.


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

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