Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Natvity Puzzle and Storage Box

Another School Project for the Student Auction came my way and my wife had an idea for a "nativity" scene as the theme for the Acution was "Christmas". We racked our brains trying to figure out something we could build that would give all the students a chance to participate in and allow them to put their signature on the project.

We stumbled across the nativity at (click the link for the free plans) and I downloaded those and followed the instructions to make the puzzle pieces which we thought the students could then stain and decorate as part of their contribution.

We also came up with some animal drawings on our own and figured we would make one puzzle piece for each student by adding more angels, shepherds, and animals. As we added the pieces, however, it became apparent that we would need to put them in some sort of box. Then my wife had the idea of making a box with panels that the kids could "decorate" with Christmas scenes. This sounded great to me and my neighbor had a garage full of wood that her late husband had collected. I asked if I could have some of the reclaimed oak he had taken from a stair case. She was happy to oblige and I laid out plans for a storage box.

My wife immediately thought of the copper panels on the treasure chest lid, but didn't like the idea of the copper color. I suggested (jokingly) that we could use roof flashing as it had a gold side to it. I grabbed a piece from the shop and she fell in love with it! We messed around with markers and pens and finally found some that would draw on the metal and dry without smudging. She went to school and had all the kids and the teacher draw scenes. She brought them back and handed them to me. I had the beginning of my box.

The first thing I did was to clear coat all the flashing pieces with the decorated scenes. I applied about three coats on a test panel and I found that it worked perfect and no amount of abuse I would give the panels during construction would mess up the scenes. I used up a spray can of clear coat in the process of coating all the panels with three coats.

I finally determined that in order to get all the panels on the box, I needed to make it 5 panels wide by 2 panels deep on the lid and then 5 panels wide on the front and 4 panels wide on the sides. This would then get all of the 23 panels that we had a scene on exposed on the top or the sides, with the back side having plain panels on it.

I constructed the box using a mortise on the large "posts" in the corners and a tenon design on the upper and lower rails in between. I cut a kerf in the edge of the rails and the posts for 1/4" ply wood and assembled the front panels. The side panels and rails went in and I did a simple bottom using a support rail that I nailed to the sides and the bottom floor panel dropped in. I made the lid using 3/4" planed stock that I biscuit joined at the corners and added the kerf for another 1/4"" piece of plywood. I made some 1/4" trim pieces using the 3/4" stock and ripping to about 5/16" width that I planed and sanded down to make it smooth and routered the top edges. It was at this point that I pre-stained and put on three coats of finish on the box, lid and trim pieces.

I attached to the box with a piano hinge. I then started adding the panels with liquid nails, spacing them evenly. I cut the trim pieces that would seperate and hold the panels in place so there would be a tight fit between the top and bottom rails and glued those in with liquid nails, also.

The lid panels were installed the same way, gluing with the liquid nails and adding the trim pieces after the panels were in place.

It was after the box was complete that my wife stated that we needed a creche. Letting the dimensions of the box be my guide, I quickly made up a design for a creche that would disassemble and fit in the box. I used the 1/4" by 3/4" trim pieces I had made earlier and we added a star of my own design to the top. A little Christmas snow and our Nativity Scene was complete.

Our finished project (click on the image for more detail):

The Treasure Chest

For one of my daughter's class projects for the school's fund raising auction, I was tapped to build a treasure chest that the class would make copper inserts for and then also contribute a toy. I was asked to "make a toy box that would reflect the theme of the Auction Event - Under the Sea". Immediately, my mind went to a treasure chest.

I looked all over the internet for Treasure Chest plans, but I really didn't like anything that I found. They were either all too small or didn't have the image that I thought a treasure chest should have - classic rounded top, tapered sides and possibly some additional ribbing and metal strapping.

I finally drew up a design that suited my tastes and sensibilities. It was a tapered chest that stood 22" tall on the sides with tapers that went from an opening of 32" by 20" to a bottom that was 24" by 12", roughly. Unfortunately, my drawings were destroyed when some "little girls" decided to color and paint the treasure chest for me, and while it was fine art, the usefulness of the drawings became obsolete. The lid drawing survived and I have it here for reference:

As you can see, some of my drawings start out fairly simple with the image in mind and not a lot of detail. I let the project define some of the dimensions for me. With respect to the lid, I wanted to start there to optimize the wood that I had (donated from my local Home Depot) so it made sense to do a 32" + 32" + 20" = 84" frame as they had donated 6' and 7' 3/4" dimensional pine for the project. Those dimensions stuck in my head and stayed there.

Once I had sketched out the top, I went ahead and started construction there. The arc was a best fit and natural looking curve that would also function as a place for "heaped" toys to sit and be covered up. Every toy box I've seen seems to have a flat lid that won't close as more and more toys get crammed in. And my associates on the project needed the lid first for their side of it: the copper plates on the interior.

This finished photo shows the toy box in all it's glory - full of toys and displaying the students handiwork:

As you can see, the copper plates add a wonderful finish detail when the chest is open and I wish I had thought of it - but I have to give credit where credit is due. The mom's I was working with dreamed this part up and did the installation themselves with liquid nails and then leaded the edges with a soldering iron. It came out beautifully.

Once the top was complete, building the box was a fairly simple task. I joined the remaining 1x8" lumber into 27" panels. (7.5" x 3) and made my compound angle cuts on the radial arm and added an angled top and bottom to the panels so the treasure chest lid fit flush to the top and the bottom would be stable. I added some rabbets to the bottom of the panels for a 1/4" plywood bottom, hardware and suppoting hinges so the lid would not slam down on little fingers. I had the gold chain left over from another project and added that for some additional "pop".

Later, after completion, I was asked if I could make a checkerboard that would sit in the top of the box, that could be removed and used on a table. I had some wood left over and I made a "board" that was 3/4" thick using some ply wood and rabbeting the 3/4" pine around that. I added a trim piece that would be around the actual checker board once that was complete. So, it was ready for the squares. I had never done this before, but I had an idea.

I had a 2' length of oak hardwood that I had squared to about 1 3/4" for another project. I started slicing that off into 1/4" thickness squares, making 64 in all. Then I simply did a dry fit into the space, alternating the grain on the squares. It came out (literally) perfectly. I don't know for sure it I just got lucky or it had to do with the fact that I kept the squares in order the way they were cut and I was able to eliminate any squareness error with the alternating sequence. All I know is I was able to glue the squares in place, I slightly planed - sanded down my border trim piece and glued that in and I had a checkerboard complete in less than 2 hours.

In all, the project was fun and easy to build.