Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Boxen

People sometimes are surprised that the van work doesn't progress faster than it does.  Between my full time job, writing about the van, being  a Facebook political troll, plus there are several bars I am trying to keep in business...  I try to keep my evenings pretty full.  The Wife from time to time teases me of having a girlfriend over here in the big city. My only thought is “when would I have time to fit that in?”

Blogging might slow down a bit for a few days.  This week the space bar broke on my laptop… or more precisely, the space bar became sticky and I watched a YouTube video on how easy it is to fix this minor problem.  The rest as they say is history.  I now have to send it to Apple and do my writing on my iPod. 

Finally, now that I have some finish on the floor I can look into the next project I am really excited about.   Building the under-bed storage.  I knew what I wanted, I wasn’t sure just exactly how I was going to do it.  In my original drawings my plan was for some large drawers under the bed.   Four of them.  I wanted these drawers to be able to pull out fully so maybe they could have some trays in them.  They call this “over travel” where the drawer pulls out even beyond the point it starts at.   Though I figured they would mostly be clothing and other textile storage, I wanted them to be able to hold lots of maybe heavy stuff too.   I wanted them to have slotted front hand holds.  Like from the apple boxes of my past life in the film and photo business instead of knobs or pulls.

The walnut draw front with the inch and a
half holes cut into them.  The lines are drawn
for me to cut with the jig saw.

That was my total design criteria.  Here is how I started to look at it.   Logically when you think of cloths storage containers you think drawers, right?  For drawers you need what are called “slides” or the metal pieces that go on each side of the box.   The Rockler company sells drawer slides of all sizes so I visited one of their stores and found a good selection of standard sizes and you can custom order other lengths.   Some of them are really nice with a smooth feel from ball bearings.  The slides they have also meet one of my design criteria in that they over-travel.   (I have also heard these called 110% slides.)  They slide out enough the drawer actually hangs out in space a little bit when you pull it all the way.  This feature would be handy for drawer trays, they wouldn’t get hung up on the edge of the base when you lift them out.  The over-travel slides would also be great for removable drawers, pull them all the way out and then you can lift the drawer straight up, out of the rails, to take it in the house and pack it.  

But here are the negatives of using slides.  First off, $$$.  Nice slides.  Yeah, but expensive.  I am thinking for the size I need I would have spent $200 on four sets of slides.  The other thing is space.  Each slide is going to take about 3/4” off  each side of your drawer.  Plus they need to attach to something.  So I would have to attach some vertical boards between each drawer. Maybe half inch plywood.  So with these dividers and the slides I lose seven and a half inches.  You don’t really think about it so much in your house but in a van where storage is limited am I really willing to give up (7.5x11x24) 1980 cubic inches of space just to have expensive drawer slides?  And finally, drawer slides are very single dimension devices. They slide in or out in a straight line. So to use them the space directly in front of the drawer must be free of obstruction.  

After the jig sawing and before the sanding.

No.  It was mostly the space I didn’t want to give up but honestly it was this issue of keeping the space in front of them open as well that tipped the scales. If I build drawers that “dry fit” together, basically just wooden boxes inside a slightly larger frame, I would not lose hardly anything space-wise.   Sure, they are a little trickier to get back in if you pull them all the way out.  But not losing that space is valuable too.  The thing is, if the table is in the down position it’s legs would be blocking one of the drawers.  No problem with dry fit drawers, pull out the one in the middle and slide the blocked drawer sideways before you pull it out.  Can’t do that with drawers on runners.

I spent a long time mulling over the technical details of how dry fit drawers could work.  We have some of them in our house, though they are not the best example. They are set within a buffet frame in our kitchen.  In the summertime the whole thing swells up with the humidity and if you don’t remember to pull all the drawers out about an inch by the end of June you won’t be able to open them until the middle of October.  

But in the case of theses boxes, if they were dry fit on the bottom they would scratch my floor.  I was thinking about putting wheels on them, but that would lose space as well.  Plus, I could imagine them rolling around back there as I drove.  It wasn't until one night walking through Johnny Menards, I found they sold six inch square felt moving pads.  The idea of theses pads is if you have to move some furniture, throw a pad under each leg.  Then you can just slide it over your wood floor.  They would slide easy, but not near so easy as wheels so it shouldn’t be like a demolition derby back there while I am going down the road.

The three drawer fronts with the matching
front grain.

Seeing those felt pads I knew in an instant how these drawers could be built.  

I had a four foot hunk of 3/4” walnut from the Amish mill that was twelve inches wide. I planed it down to about half an inch just to conserve a little weight.  With this being a four foot board it was just shy of being long enough to build all four drawer fronts. To build the last one I edge  glued up two six inchers and ran that through the plane at the same time.  The grain of the left three drawers match and this fourth drawer front will mostly be hidden anyway by the floor to ceiling shelf. 

I cut a rabbit around the edge to accept some 6mm craft plywood.  Actually I setup the saw for exactly that depth but then at the last moment I bumped it a touch deeper.  That inset the drawer sides by 1/8” and allowed me to have a little bit of play between the drawer bodies themselves.  That turned out to be a really good thing.  I ended up shaving most of that lip off later because when I got all done with them the drawers fit a little tighter than I really wanted.  It wouldn’t have taken much humidity to bind them up good the way I first built it.

Gluing up one of the drawer boxes

To make the slot handles in the front I started by drilling two inch and a quarter holes, then used a portable jigsaw to cut straight line between them.  I then took the drawer face over to the spindle sander.  I couldn’t actually figure out how to change out the spindle.  Sitting here now on the safety of this bar stool I am asking myself why I didn’t just google it?  I don’t have the answer to that.  Anyway, the shop has a one inch drum but I couldn’t figure it out so I used the smaller 3/4”  Using this sander I was able to take out some of the jiggles and joggles left by my unsteady hand at the jig saw. After I got them all smoothed out I used a round-over bit in a router to give a nice smooth edge.  

With the drawer fronts complete I looked at building the box behind it.  The drawer bottoms are made from half inch plywood.  I built the sides from 6mm craft plywood.  If you want to cut corners and build it out of quarter inch plywood that would certainly work.  The craft plywood is much stronger and has much tighter grained wood.  Plus it tends to be flatter and more constantly the thickness it advertises to be.  Beautiful stuff to work with, but I am paying about four dollars a 12”x18” sheet.  Three sheets per drawer.  No vast fortune or anything but with regular 4’x8’ sheet of quarter inch plywood you could build four drawers for the price of one built from the craft plywood and have most of a sheet left over.  The sides and bottom are attached with glue and 3/4” pin nails.

Two drawers with trays in place.  These are
the trays with the longer, thinner format.

So these drawers that I have built are eleven inches deep.  Sure, you can stuff a lot of things into a drawer like that and then have to dig every time you want something.  But instead I got to build something I have also been dreaming about since the beginning of this project.  Drawer trays.  I built three of them with two long side by side containers, the fourth drawer under direction of the wife I built two almost squarish containers she felt would be better able to store the format of clothing she would be storing. I built a couple more shallow, one deeper.  I thought it would be good to have a variety.

At the front of the tray I put a finger gap for the hand hold.  Part of this is looks, so I can look at my nice lined up drawers and see just the plywood inside the handholds.  Part of this is also practical, if the try is stuffed full of clothing it is tough to pull out and return the tray because of the clothing that will ooze out of the finger holes.  Having this gap wastes just a bit of space, but makes it so I can always reach my un-impeded fingers into the slot and pull the drawer out.  And, who knows, having this little slot, it might collect things of that size I want to have a safe home.

The more square format drawer tray. This size
is great for laying out t-shirts.  

Once the boxes were all done I gave the fronts a coat of linseed oil so they will match the floor.  The sides and bottoms I coated with a couple of layers of shellac.  I cut the four inch felt moving pads in half and put half on each side both front and back.  They slide real nice on the wood floor but yet not so super easy like if I had wheels on them.  I keep a rug in front of them and that seems sufficient to keep them from sliding around.

The drawers packed up and ready for travel.
When this photo was taken I didn't have the
square format tray built yet and Herself
didn't want to use the other tray so only
two of them are in use here.

The whole project of under bed storage turned out great.  Exactly what I was going for.  They look beautiful and function perfectly.

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