Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Making a Tool Bench out of 2x4s

"A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week." - George S. Patton.
"An okay plan now is better than a perfect plan never." - Toy Making Dad's version.

So, since the nature of the work space is to have a space to work, I needed to get tools out of my friend's basement and into my new utility room. The main working area of my space is this 6'x7' corner. Once there, they need to be on "things." Shelves, tables, the floor, etc.

During my exile from toy making, I read a lot about work surfaces. In one of those "Duh" moments the idea that kitchen tables (meant to sit at) and kitchen counters (meant to stand at ) are different heights for a reason really struck home. I knew I needed something higher to put my stationary tools on for easy use. But how big, what shape, what material, all that needed to be worked out.

First off, I realized that I had more stuff than I remembered. I have a table saw and a full size band saw. Both of these need to live on the floor and I'll get to them in a later post. I also have a stationary belt sander, a drill press, a table top bandsaw and a scrollsaw. Those tools are responsible for about 80% of my toy making. In my old setup they resided on my dad's ridiculously cluttered (by me) workbench and a Workmate. It was an OSHA nightmare of cords, clutter and sawdust. In retrospect, some days I spent more time looking for stuff than actually making stuff.

Two wildcards came into play at this point. I inherited a rolling Craftsman tool chest that while great, didn't fit my needs. My space is only a few feet wide, I don't need my hand tools to be mobile and I don't have the wall space to just park it. The other piece is a mini fridge that we purchased during our recent renovation. I don't really need it. It's nice to have... but again, I don't have a good place to put it.

I had the mini fridge on top of the tool chest for awhile. While maybe being marginally safe, it looked goofy and still took up a lot of space. Grrrrr.

In staring at the fridge and tool chest, it suddenly hit me that I could build the tool bench over them and I'd be all set. The tool chest would become the drawers and the fridge could sit in one of the bays. Now they weren't taking up space; now they were helping me make better use of the space I have. I removed and stored the caster wheels from the tool chest so it would be the right height. The casters may end up on my bandsaw in the coming weeks.

So, now I had something to design the bench around and needed to settle on size. 
The distance from the outside wall to the edge of the dryer is 7'3". I wanted a depth of 2' because I knew that the focus of this bench was a place for stationary tools and not assembly, clamping, finishing etc. The tool chest pretty much dictated the height - 41". (I'm sort of on the tall side, so this is a decent height for a work surface you stand next to in order to work on.) I also knew I wanted to use 2x4s since they are cheap and they are strong. (Hey, they build houses out of the suckers.)
What I came up with a structure with 4 walls that created three bays with a 7'3"x2'x7/8" OSB sheet on top with 1/8 hardboard glued to the top of it. The 7' long horizontal boards end butt against the vertical 2x4s of the outside walls making a total length of 7'3". Here is the general idea:

The middle is open across the bottom so the caster-less tool cart that weighs 87 quadzillion tons didn't have to be lifted up and the bench didn't need to be nearly 4" higher. The left and right bays have a 2x4 lip with a piece of OSB attached to make a shelf.
The two outside walls are constructed like this with the horizontal 2x4s facing in towards the bay:
The inside walls were similar but not as wide. The horizontal 2x4's also faced in toward the bays giving me the maximum room for the tool cart.
Building these was actually pretty easy. I just measured 37 times and cut once. A borrowed chop saw and speed square made short work of most of this. I used 3" screws that were offset for almost all of the basic construction. (Totally worth a couple of bucks more for the coated star drive screws. Just saying.) I used a scrap 2x4 to make sure I was allowing enough space for where the long 2x4 stretchers would attach on the outside walls.
Here they are all done along with the OSB I had them rip in half at the big Orange store. I was a fool to ever buy giant boards and try and cut them myself. I can trim a foot off the end with my circular saw but trying to rip a 4'x8' sheet when I don't have the space was stupid at best.
I also picked up some peg board and had it ripped so that I could make panels for the walls. This allows for at least some air circulation. The mini-fridge can benefit from it now but once that goes off to college, a vacuum can move in and breath a bit in the bays.
I attached the front kick plates to start assembling the two bays and used scrap blocks and a few strategically placed 5 gallon buckets to hold the walls vertical while I started screwing them in. I just focused on making each corner square one at a time. As long as it was square, the next one would be easy.
Putting the 7' long runners was straight forward as well. I just set the bays on their backs and ran the top horizontal board and then flipped it over and put the two long runners on the back. Again, just making sure each joint was square, one at a time. Once that was done I flipped it upright and was pleasantly surprised to see how sturdy it was even without the top and bottom shelves.
I used a bunch of drywall screws to attach the OSB to the frame. Why drywall screws you ask? Well.. that's what I had. Besides when the four legged inspector came by to check my work, he approved. After that, I glued the 1/8" hardboard to the top and secured it with all the clamp I have and put my socket sets, drill press and small band saw on it to weigh it down overnight.
Now the moment of truth... would it fit in the space between the wall and the dryer. Short answer - yes. Longer answer - yes, but only just. The outside wall of the room is at an angle so there is more space as you go back. So it fit but right before I have 7'3", I only have 7 '2 and 3/4" if you catch my drift. I had to unhook the washing machine and dryer. Move them. Get the tool bench in place and then hook the appliances back up. (Because of a in-wall vent and very tight space, they really need to be exactly where they are.)
Within moments, I had all sorts of junk on it and in it. Mission accomplished!
I think my total cost was around $65 or $70 bucks. The OSB being the most expensive piece. (The hardboard wouldn't ring up so they gave it to me for free. I asked if I could go back and get four more sheets...)
Is it perfect? Ummmm...nah.
Does it meet all my current needs? You betcha.
I mostly make toys. I don't land airplanes. No one is expecting perfection. Good now is better than perfect never.

I promise to not keep putting pictures of my cats in every post but a funny dynamic seems to be taking place in our house. We now have two boy cats. Both are relatively young and they help me out during guy time. They are fascinated whenever I am in making stuff. I guess one never knows when a mouse or can of tuna is going to pop out of nowhere. One is an orange tabby. The other looks like a bespectacled balding middle aged man-child.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Making a Wooden Fokker Triplane (Legends of the Air Kit)

I'm a sucker for $1 Store wooden toy kits. Most are "meh" but some are a bit of a pleasant surprise. If you don't take them too seriously with a little bit of work they can be fun and turn out a neat little toy. Like the cannon that really shoots.

So with the shop space still coming together, the little one and I toyed around with "Legends of the Air Fokker Triplane" kit. I picked it up at a Harbor Freight a couple of months ago for the wallet busting sum of $1.29 - American. To sweeten the deal - It is made in Taiwan not the OTHER China like 99.8% of everything else in the country for under two bucks.

First the prerequisite Toy Making Dad puts his History degree to use paragraph:
The Fokker DR1 is certainly an iconic airplane. It is instantly recognizable as being "the Red Barron's" plane probably thanks more to Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts Gang than anything else. The Germans had developed the DR1 in response to a British tri-plane that had been introduced late in 1916. The three wing arrangement made the Fokker triplane incredibly maneuverable but there were real tradeoffs in other areas like speed.  Throw in the fact that there were construction issues that lead to structural failures and that faster, sturdier, biplanes were available meant that its operational life was pretty short. Only 320 were made during the war.

Now back to the kit. The box contains three little sheets of plywood that have the parts stamped out on them as well as a one sided sheet with the "instructions", a square of sandpaper and a little bottle of white glue. Not bad for $1.29.

Having built enough models in my day I know you need to familiarize yourself with the instructions first. So I was pretty much out of luck with this kit since the instructions are awful. There is a five bullet point list in eight different languages (six on the sheet, two on the box. One may be Klingon.) that has general pointers like use the sandpaper to smooth rough pieces and the glue to hold things together (Whoda thunk it?!) but the only way to know how it all fits together is with an exploded view of the parts. Some of the parts need to be bent and how the bottom attaches is a mystery based on the instructions.

Now having said that... the kit does go together reasonably well as long as you accept that this is just a toy and that you are going to need to keep the general shape of the plane in mind as you build it.
I glued the ribs down the sides of the long keel of the plane. I used painters tape to hold the pieces in alignment while they set. I also went straight to the yellow glue and left the white glue in its tube. I figure if I'm going to put a weekend into this build, I want it hold together for a bit.

The bottom of the plane (piece 12) needs to follow the curve of the keel/backbone of the plane. The plywood seemed sturdy enough that the only way I saw that happening without breaking the wood was to  boil some water and throw the piece in. Let it soak for about 1/2 an hour. Lightly dry it off and then glue and clamp it in place. I let it set overnight before taking the clamps off.
The soaking
The clamping
Next the three top piece went on and since I live in a house with four females and NO RUBBER BANDS ANYWHERE, I used ponytail holders. (Necessity is the Toy Making Dad of Invention)
The long sides went on next and were clamped and banded together until the glue set.

I then set to work on the engine. If you ask me, an airplane model without a spinning propeller is a statue not a toy. So I departed a bit from the kit here. I assembled the engine block and then drilled a 9/64" hole in it so that a 1/8" dowel will spin freely in it. I drilled a 1/8" hole in the prop and the one in a little disk (actually part 27 since I replaced it later) that was sanded down to reduce its thickness to be a stop. I test fitted it and then after it was all painted up, I glued the shaft to the prop, slipped it through the engine block and then glued the disk the other side so it couldn't slip off.
Test fit of the shaft and hub
Final test fit before paint and glue.
Wheel on the right looks closer
to the real deal
Last bit of tinkering with the design involved the wheels. While I wish they could roll, that would have been a bit too much of a redesign. I didn't like that part 27 was supposed to be used for the hub caps because they are too small. The engine was supposed to have two spacers (parts 28 and 29) but I thought that was overkill and used one for the hub cap. I then trimmed and sanded down the inside disk of the engine cowl (which was just waste now and not needed.) Actually, worth the effort because if you look at a real Fokker DR1, the shape of the wheels is a distinctive feature especially when painted white.
Little one and I started painting things up before final assembly. This always leads to cleaner lines. I used painters tape to mask off some areas, paint them white and then masked those off as I painted the rest of the plane in crimson.
There is a hole in the sides that the bottom wing slides through. I needed to trim up the inside with a razor because it was a pretty tight fit but it eventually found its way in. I had some touch up painting to do but then I could glue the landing gear in and make sure the plane would sit level.
The middle wings are in two pieces and have the struts through them. This goes together pretty well you just want to check their alignment as best as you can. The machine guns go in as well at this point and I just couldn't resist doing my bit to them. While not museum quality reproductions of  German IMG 08's... they were detailed enough for Mrs Toy Making Dad to give me the "I married a 12 year old" look that I so crave.
Final assembly used slightly larger clamps and healthy dollops of wood glue. I trimmed the struts up a bit to ensure level contact with the top wing. I only clamped it after I got the alignment as squared away as I could. Again, I let it sit overnight to cure. While building other kits like this I rushed this step and have had to constantly repair the wings.
I tried to paint the crosses and while the first one wasn't awful... the second one was. I painted over those and printed out markings from the inter-web and then cut them out with an X-Acto knife. A very thin coating of white glue attached them to the plane. Several coats of spray acrylic later.. all done.
Basically a weekend project. I picked up a SPAD kit that same day so soon I should be able to stage a mock battle or two.
Okay. The box says "Easy to Assemble Wooden Aircraft." They are half right. It is a wooden aircraft but I wouldn't say that it was easy to assemble. Granted, sometimes I treat these projects like the people from "Better Homes and Dollar Store Wood Kits" are going to pop by at any moment and judge me harshly but snap together this isn't. It is a pretty neat kit but I can't imagine it going together well without some clamps, rubber bands and a whole lot of repeating to yourself to "Relax, it's not a real airplane. It just needs to look pretty much like an airplane at the end... no one is going to get hurt... EXCEPT MAYBE THE CLOWNS WHO WROTE THE INSTRUCTIONS.
 Clearly a lot of thought went into the engineering of the kit and it is a great value. It is shame that it is short changed by the instructions' lack of detail and clarity. Still a fun dad/kid project as long as dad doesn't mind being helping out a bit more than usual.
Also, it helps to have someone (or something) lend a paw as needed.

Just Saying...

While we don’t necessarily need more objects, we just might benefit from more making.
- John Dunnigan


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Regular guy who likes to make stuff who lives with a very patient wife, three daughters and three cats.