Cassandra’s Bench

May be an image of turnoverI met Cassandra in 2019 at a client’s conference. She is a Black Studies professor at UC and as it turns out lives near me. She is also the owner of Sugar Tin Pies (her hand pies featured on a SGwS charcuterie board), the most delicious pies I’ve had. Covid reared its ugly head the very week of that same client’s 2020 conference. I was attending again, but decided about two weeks prior to drive versus fly to Atlanta. I reached out to Cassandra to see if she’d like to share the drive and she did. We had 16 hours roundtrip to fill the air and of course I talked about my house and DIY skills, which led to her asking – Do you think you can build a window bench??? I replied, Maybe???

I told her I couldn’t get to it until I finished my house and a couple of build projects I was working on (i.e. my dining table, desk, headboard, and beverage station). She was not in a hurry. I had everything but the beverage station complete, but when my headboard design changed and I used all my bead board for the foot and side rails that project was nixed. I had already bought and cut the plywood for that project, so I gave Cassandra a call and told her I could start her project and that I might already have most of the wood needed if the size worked out. I went to her house and took some measurements and sketched out my thoughts. With plan in my mind’s eye I went to work.

My design idea was to create two boxes, which would keep the area between her heat register and wall outlet free from blockage. The top would be cut in three sections that would be hinged for lids that would open for storage. The box to the right would be wider than the one on left, so I decided to put a divider in the center of it, just to make sure the lid wouldn’t sag over time. I would also add a support piece to the opening area, so that top would also not sag. First step was taking all my plywood boards to the Manufactory to rip them down to the right lengths and width. I need to either invest in a real table saw with outfeed table or figure out how to build one and attached to my work site table saw. I can’t cut long pieces at home, safely. Even though I have the Kreg jig system at home I used theirs to drill all my pocket holes. I’ve never used a dado blade on a table saw, so I decided to use it to create the channel that the divider would set in. With everything cut and drilled I did a dry fit, everything fit, so I went home for the final assembly. Once the boxes were complete I topped the exposed edges with 3/4″ pine trim.

With the boxes built I turned my attention to the lid, which I decided to make out of 5/4 x 8 x 10′ Select Pine Board I had Cassandra order from Menards and I picked up since it was near the Manufactory. I wanted solid wood for the top and wanted it thicker than the 3/4″ plywood I used for the boxes. It would mean I would need to join 3 boards together in order to get the needed width of 21″. I used the Manufactory’s joiner on the edges, but returned home for the glue up. I have added to my arsenal of tools a Makita Plate Joiner purchased at Rockler. The drive to Manufactory for quick jobs is getting old, although if I had glued it there I could have done the full 10′ at one time. I didn’t have enough clamps for that, so I cut enough for the small box and glued them and then glued up the remaining.

I am in a couple Facebook groups for HGTV shows I watch and another member posted a dresser she painted with Valspar Cabinet Enamel Semi-Gloss Enamel Interior Paint found at Lowes. Her project looked good, so I told Cassandra to buy that, thinking it would save money. I intentionally did not include a link to the product as I thought it painted on thin and the price difference between that and Sherwin Williams’ All Surface Enamel Oil Base, when on sale at 30% off, was only a few dollars more. I treated the Valspar as the primer and used Sherwin Williams for the final coats, 3 on the boxes and lid bottoms and 4 on the lid tops.

20210117_134714After applying the Valspar to the first side of the box panels I noticed that it really absorbed into the plywood, which was a mix of Birch I bought for my project and Pine left over from Funmi’s project. It was rough and the cracks in the grain was very evident. Luckily I painted the side I had planned to be inside of the box, so I hoped the layers of actual paint would make the surface smooth. Not wanting to take that risk on the outside I sanded the opposite side with 120 and 240 grit paper. Remarkable difference in smoothness and it showed once I applied paint.  Hugh and needed difference.

Before starting with the Sherwin William’s paint I attached 1×4, ripped down to 3 inches, primed pine trim pieces to the face of the boxes to tie-in to the trim around her windows. Since I had the small lid done I decided to take the small box and lid to Cassandra’s for a semi rough fit. Height was perfect, but upon seeing it she asked if the edges could be rounded as to not be so sharp. She lives in a cute 1920s bungalow so she no longer had sharp edges and didn’t want the contrast. It would have been easy to make that happen prior to attaching the trim by running the boards through the router table, which I’ve grown very comfortable using. This would have to be done controlling the router with my hands, I was nervous, and not sure it could be done.

I’ve joined the Cincinnati Woodworking Club and have gotten to know one of the members, Gene Wiggs, who actually came with his wife to tour my house after reading about it and also extended an invite from me to tour their home and his fabulous woodshop. I sent him pics of what I needed to do and he assured me it could be done with my router so I went for it. Fear of using my router free hand is gone. I gave Cassandra a choice of a 5/16″ or 1/2″ round over and also showed her my plans for the top’s edge; a 1/2″ round-over with a drop. She selected 5/16″.

With the edges complete I turned my attention to the lid once again. I bought Flat Tipped Butt Hinges w/Removable Pin, 2-1/2″ L x 2″ W, in Nickel from Rockler. When I was hanging the final door for my office I purchased a hinge jig. I pulled it out for this project and it worked like a charm. I used my clamp guide to cut off the excess length with my circular saw. When I first started using a circular saw I couldn’t cut straight to save my life. I never used a straight edge as a guide, duh! With the lid cut to size I used the 5/16″ round over bit along the edge of the underside and the 1/2″ round over set to step down depth on top. I cleaned out the can of Valspar to prime the lid before starting the final coats of paint.

I started the final painting during the snow and cold days Cincinnati was experiencing. My basement didn’t get warmer than 60 degrees, so each coat needed a full 24-hours to dry. I used a 6″ foam roller to apply the paint. Oil-based paint stinks, but after 2 coats they were pretty, the third made them absolutely beautiful. Since it was so cold I had Cassandra help me transport the pieces to her house so they could cure in a warmer space. I gave it about a week.

Friday I put them all together. It looks like it was always part of her house. All total there was less than $400 in material. She was my guinea pig. I plan to build two more and place them in my dormer windows of my garage project. I may be open to taking orders in the future. I am very pleased with the final results. Not bad for my first window box.

Shoe Box Greeting – My First Box

During the Jim Crow era, trains were segregated and Black people were not allowed to visit the dining cars. Many passengers would pack a meal in shoe boxes when traveling to southern cities. Road trips by automobile also present challenges for blacks looking for places to eat along the way. Planning a head with boxed lunches became a tradition. My friend Carolyn Wallace, owner of Perfect Brew Catering, resurrected this tradition as part of her business offerings. She krafted her own moveable feast box, adorned with artwork by Artistry T. Design, for her clients looking for boxed meals vs. a traditional catering setup. A friend of hers, Kashara, wanted to immortalize Carolyn’s paper box in wood and asked, given my newfound skill set, if I could make one. I took the challenge.

I have a boat load of oak wood from the failed first version of my headboard.  It’s coloring was close to the brown kraft paper of Carolyn’s paper box, so I decided to use it for the project.  Since I had never made a box my first step was to study the box Kendall Glover made for me.  I could clearly see he mitered the corners.  I knew the top was an inlay, but wasn’t 100% sure how he made that happen. Whatever the process I would need to do similar to attach her logo. My lid will come completely off, like a shoebox, so I didn’t have to worry about hinges although the lip (for lack of the proper term) he created that his lid fit around reminded me that my lid needed to fit over the entire bottom. Time to dive in.

No pics, but my first step was using a ban saw to cut the thickness of my almost 1″ thick board in half. My target finish thickness would be 1/4″. I could have ran the board through the planer until it was the desired thickness, but what a waste of wood, time and blade that would have been. I was a bit nervous since I had not cut anything that thin or tall. I didn’t hit the half way mark, my two sides weren’t the same thickness, so now I used the planer. With two equally sized boards of 1/4″ I headed home as I have all the tools for my next steps, building the bottom box.

I ripped one of the boards to the proper shoebox height and cut out the bottom of the box. I learned well after I completed the box that the next step I did was create a rabbit joint for the sides to rest in. I knew to do it, but only after watching Ben Napier’s new show Home Town: Ben’s Workshop did I learn the name of the action. With the cut made on my router table I was able to get the measurements for my side miter cuts. I was spot on with both the short and long sides on the first cut. I used my table saw instead of miter. I find my sides meet up tighter. With all cuts made I was ready to glue up the the bottom. I clamped the hell out of it, perhaps overkill, but I thought better too much than too little.

With the bottom complete I could measure the outer dimensions to obtain the size of the top. At this point I could have made a deeper rabbit joint to recess the lid enough to accommodate the logo, but my mind was fixated on using the CNC router at the Manufactory, so I returned to the shop. No pics of the process because the 2″ spoiler bit I used finished the process in seconds. I was poised to hit the kill button in case I made the cut depth setting too deep, but I did not. The 2″ bit made large curved corners which I had to use a chisel to clean out. I clamped my lid down. The first chisel I used was super dull, so I asked Ben (owner of Manufactory) if they had sharper or could he sharpen the one I had. He gave me another set. Clearly I’ve never used super sharp chisels (mine at home aren’t either) because I promptly managed to slice down the side of my index finger on my right hand, major blood flow, but not deep enough for stiches. Another reason for no pics. I did finish cleaning up the corners and returned home to glue up the top.

With lid complete it was time to test the fit……too tight, so what to do? I needed to shave wood from either the outside of bottom or inside of the top. I did both. I had a set of hand scrapers that I was able to use. I scraped and scraped until I had the perfect fit. There were a few subtle gaps in my glue up on the bottom, so I was able to use the scrapings and wood glue to fill them in. It was beautiful, I pulled it off, except for one issue. The lid slid on perfectly but only in one direction. If I flipped it around it would catch on one end. Not sure what was not in alignment, but I’d just have to give it to Karshara with instructions. I decided to add natural Danish oil as my finish. Once it dried I added the SGw/S brand. As long as the logo and brand were both upside right the fit was perfect.

The final step was adhering the logo in the recessed area I created in the lid. To protect and seal it in place it was recommended to me to use ArtResin, Epoxy Resin. After watching their video many times, I psyched myself out. The project sat for days as I feared messing the lid up and needing to start over. Kashara called concerned I’d miss the Christmas eve deadline and talked me off the edge. I had to buy a mini torch for the bubbles the mixing would produce. I decided to practice by making myself a couple of coasters for my office desk. I rinsed out a plastic cup, dried it, but not thoroughly enough as when I mixed the two parts it almost looked like foam it had so many bubbles. With torching I still couldn’t thoroughly remove all the bubbles. I returned to the ArtResin website and found in the FAQ section a response that said mix container must be completely dry. Even a small drop of water will cause excessive bubbles. Armed with that knowledge I went for broke. The pour and bubble removal went flawless. My first box was now complete.

I was invited to Carolyn’s to be there for the reveal. She was on a Zoom with all her family, so they were able to see it too. I grinned all the way back home. I amazed myself again. I truly have found a new skill set that I absolutely love, woodworking. I’ve joined the Cincinnati Woodworking Club in hopes of meeting people that can help me grow in my new craft and now dream of buying a warehouse to have a proper woodshop of my own.