Although I still can’t claim much expertise even now, I can call myself a long-time woodworker. Over fifty years, in fact. While casting my eye about looking for a new project, I saw something I’ve had since my high school days in Queensland, Australia: a slide-top box made in woodshop class using hand tools, mostly. It’s not much to look at and the dovetails are really crude, but it’s lasted fifty years and the top still slides open nicely.
My thought was – why not duplicate it except not with dovetails? I suck at dovetails and even donated my jig to the local DIY place. I’ve been looking for an excuse to use my box joint jig and this seems like the ticket.
Having no clue what wood species the original was made from, I decided to just use white oak because I not only had some pieces left over from one of the air filter projects, I also had leftover white oak veneer.
I’ll jump ahead and post the final results. Finish is a wipe-on poly, lightly applied.
I was a little worried how the oak would do in the box joint jig, anticipating some chipout but it did quite nicely. Helps to have sharp router bits. The jig being a newish addition to my tool inventory, I was somewhat unfamiliar with it. Lessons would be learned. The first lesson involved the highly recommended step of setting up the jig using test pieces. I did that with some scrap hemlock but I sort of ignored the part about the test pieces needing to be the exact same width. Mine were close but not exact. Well, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, as they say. I had to repeat the test setup using correctly sized test pieces. I did gain some experience with the jig however and the small box I made with hemlock was nice enough that I made a trinket box out of it.
Results with the white oak – very clean fingers.
After some routing and dadoing, check for square and glue up:
After applying the veneer to the 1/8″ plywood top, I needed to fashion the end piece.
Had to fill in a couple of spaces with scrap oak. I probably could have designed it not have to do this but, as is my practice, I was winging it.
The only things remaining were to attach the bottom and apply the finish. One improvement I made from the original was to rabbet the bottom edges to accept and hide the plywood bottom. The original did not do that, so you can see the bottom from the sides. I also did not exactly match the overall dimensions as you can see (photo before I applied finish). The new is about the same width, a little taller and significantly shorter in length:
This was a fun project both from the standpoint of doing box joints and because it recapitulates an object that represents one of my earliest memories.
Last summer, Central Oregon – along with a large swath of the western US – experienced yet another season of raging wildfires. And with wildfire comes smoke, lots of it. It got pretty severe in here in Bend, very unhealthy. In recent years, I’ve combated the problem by making air filtration units equipped with near-HEPA filters and ultra-quiet fans. So far, I’d made three such units. Along with the house forced air unit (the furnace), we kept the inside smoke to a minimum. My next door neighbor also suffered from the smoke so when the air was at peak unhealthiness, I quickly cobbled together a portable air filter to help out. It was basically just a wooden frame sized to fit a filter and then attached to a fan. It worked but was obviously a temporary solution.
After the smoke cleared, I took the filter/fan unit back and proceeded to construct a proper one. My initial thought was to make it into a bedroom end table but the space and dimensions weren’t right so option B was to see how small a piece of furniture I could squeeze the fan and filter into and go from there.
Here’s the result:
It’s almost exactly a sixteen inch cube, with the body and legs made from hemlock and a flip-up top from alder. There’s a 12″x12″x1″ filter that sits inside held by gravity. A wood frame with a screen sits on top of the filter. It serves no function other than to hide the filter from view. As with the last two units, the electrics include an outlet in case you want to set a lamp on top, or a phone charger, or whatever. Air is drawn in through the gap on three sides and exhausted out a port in the back. The gap on the fourth side is blocked with a piece of hard white oak, necessary to attach hinges.
I’m happy with the result but, like with all my projects that I build without a set design (winging it), I made mistakes – some I had to correct, some I decided to live with. I’ll mention those in the build details.
Sizing things up:
I started with the wood frame piece I built for the temporary unit, seen here sitting unattached on top of the fan (a Broan bathroom fan). It was sized to hold the filter so there was no reason not to re-use it. The plywood on the bottom was cut to the same size as the filter frame with the idea I could ‘simply’ slap four side walls around the fan. Mounting the fan to the plywood and the frame to the fan seemed trivial but actually was quite a finicky operation given that the frame had to be lined up exactly with the bottom.
This is the result (above). I first attached a piece of 2×4 to the bottom to provide a secure mounting surface for the fan’s side flanges, and also screwed it to the bottom directly. The filter frame is then attached to the flanges on the fan body – the finicky operation that required keeping the frame exactly lined up while I drove screws in from the bottom. It took like an hour to do that.
Unlike with the living room end-table piece I made a couple years ago, for which I used nice white oak pieces, I was looking at lighter, cheaper wood for this unit, preferably available from the local big box hardware store. My choices were poplar and hemlock. I’d not made anything with hemlock before and I saw the store had 1/2″ stock available in that species, so hemlock it was. The thinner stock would cut down on weight and wouldn’t require me to plane 3/4″ pieces down to size. And hemlock is fairly cheap.
The easiest way to fashion the sides was to glue three long boards together using a spline joint and then cut the individual sides to size.
One side needed a bit more work to accommodate the exhaust port and power switch/outlet. And it’s here I made my first mistake, which I didn’t recognize until much later in the build. I think the exhaust port should have been on a panel adjacent to the power switch. That way the unit can sit against a wall hiding the switch and cord, while the air is free to flow out the side into the room. As it is, the unit will have to sit away from the wall to ensure proper air circulation or the switch and cord will have to be visible. Not a huge issue.
To hide the end grain at the top of the side pieces, I glued a thin slat of hemlock. Then a round of sanding and a couple of coats of wipe-on poly.
Before attaching the sides, I installed the switch/outlet, ran the wiring and also fashioned a short duct to channel the fan exhaust to the outlet port. There’s a screen over the port to keep critters out.
Also made from hemlock, the legs are two pieces glued in an ‘L’ shape designed to ‘capture’ the side pieces against the plywood and filter frame. Besides being lightweight, the design accommodates my goal of being able to disassemble the unit in case the fan malfunctions or the outlet fries. For additional support, I glued blocks inside the legs; the body of the unit actually sits on these blocks with long screws coming up from the bottom. Before attaching the legs, I put screws through the middle of the side panels, top and bottom. The screws are a nice-looking square drive type I found at Lowes.
We arrive at another of my mistakes; this one I had to correct. Originally, I sized the leg pieces to overlap the sides by maybe an inch. That wasn’t enough as it would mean driving the screws too close to the edge of the wood. I had to trash them and start over using wider pieces.
Here’s where we are with sides and legs attached and wiring complete:
For the top, I judged hemlock to be too soft. I wanted wood that would be at least a little impervious to scratches and dents, but not heavy white oak. A couple of years ago, I rebuilt the bay window shelves in my dining room and used alder for the top. Alder is also sort of soft but not like hemlock. It’s also a light-colored wood. So, off to the local wood supply store to fetch some alder.
A gratuitous shot of the bay window build:
I used a familiar method to join pieces to make a wider panel: biscuits. I like my biscuit joiner, although it’s probably not the choice for more accomplished woodworkers. And here I made another mistake. Not having decided on exactly how big the top would be – that is, how much it would overhang the sides – I glued up a big enough piece thinking I’d just cut it down to size. But I didn’t think about where those pesky biscuits were and ended up cutting through them on one side. It’s not an issue structurally but you can see the biscuits (that edge isn’t seen in the below photo but you can see it in the first two photos I posted).
The top is just a flip-up deal with hinges on one side. I needed a stout piece of wood to attach the hinges to so I inserted a piece of white oak on the back (what I’m calling the back – the side with the switch and outlet port).
You’ll also see in the above photo where I decided to glue blocks inside the part of the legs that stick up, thinking they would provide a nice surface to attach felt pads. I eventually removed them, which involved taking the legs off and running the table saw blade along the inside. It was that or toss them and make a (third) set of legs. The table saw did the job nicely.
Removing those upper blocks became necessary because of a design element. With the sides open to allow air in, the filter was visible and it didn’t look right. Initially, I tried to design side screens but it just didn’t work. The solution was to build a screen frame to sit on top of the filter and hide it. For added interest, I attached a cool pig knob to the screen.
So here’s the final unit:
The tale of the 4th air filtration unit is not complete without one more mistake. Not a mistake, per se, but a minor design issue. I was real proud of how the top came out – it was absolutely flat and sits on the legs perfectly. But over a couple of weeks, I noticed it was warping slightly. It still sits on the legs nicely but the front to back edges are a bit bowed now. It’s not real noticeable but might get worse. After contemplating ways to fix the issue – or at least halt further warping – I decided to leave it be. The top is not designed to be strong – you can’t sit or stand on it, so a bit of bowing is OK. Probably the reason it bows is because I failed to alternate the grain patterns of the three pieces I glued to make the top. Rookie error. Next time I’ll be sure to do that, and to incorporate some sort of strengthening pieces.
A friend of mine had a wedding planned for the spring of 2020 so I decided to make a trinket box as a wedding gift. Well, we know how 2020 went and the box ended up sitting in my living room for two years. I sent it off last week.
The box is made from wood salvaged from an old black walnut tree that stood in Decatur, Georgia until it became a hazard and had to be felled. After the main trunk and big pieces were cut up and sold, the property owner offered the scraps to whomever wanted them and I grabbed some of it. Walnut is a hard wood to work and I didn’t make anything with it for years, even transporting the lot from Atlanta to Oregon when we moved. The trinket box seemed like the perfect opportunity to use the old walnut and it was fun to make even if the wood was difficult to work (quite a few failures due to the wood cracking and chipping). All of the scrap pieces were/are very rough cut with absolutely no straight edges. My table saw, band saw and planer got a real workout in getting pieces to the right size.
Initially, I wanted to use some sort of interlocking joinery but found the walnut was just too brittle and difficult to deal with, so I ended up with a lot of glue joints. Not ideal and I hope it hopes together for a good number of years.
About a dozen years ago, I decided to build a TV console to help de-clutter the various devices feeding our television. It wasn’t meant to be a super nice piece of furniture, mainly because I decided to build it mostly out of scraps of various species of wood I had on hand. Except for the top – that would be from a really nice piece of wenge I obtained years earlier for a project that never came to fruition. The basic design came from an article in a woodworking magazine:
Here’s a few photos from the build:
And the finished product (probably should have dusted the top before taking the photo):
So that’s the starting point for this latest air filter project. In an earlier post, I detailed how I built an end table filtration unit using an ultra quiet bathroom fan and a 12 x 12 near-HEPA filter. That worked out pretty well – we get a lot of wildfire smoke in central Oregon. In the bedroom, I’ve been using the first filtration unit, which is a stand-alone piece that doesn’t double as a piece of furniture. But, although it probably works better than the end table unit because of its larger filter (12 x 24), it’s kind of ugly. We’ve moved since I built the TV console and it now serves as an end of the bed … cabinet, table, whatever you call that sort of thing. A couple of months ago, I was staring at it (and I think I will just refer to it as a TV console) and thought that we really didn’t use the four baskets that sit on the lower shelf all that efficiently. And I looked at the ugly filter unit. What if I replaced two of those baskets with a fan & filter and installed a door? Yep, I’m doing it.
I’ve learned a bit from the first two filter projects (the ugly one and the much nicer end table) so installing the fan and filter in the TV console went a lot smoother. The challenges are two-fold. First, I had to figure out how to orient the fan so the exhaust port points in a direction away from the filter – doesn’t do any good to promote a circulation loop – and where I could easily breach the side panel of the console. The other units had four inch dust collection fittings installed to accept a hose. This one would just exhaust directly out the side with no hose. Second, I had to figure out how to mount a filter so it could be replaced easily. The first unit – with the bigger 12 x 2 filter – kind of failed that criterion as it requires removing several screws to get at the filter. The second unit – the end table – has the fan sitting horizontally with the filter resting on top in a custom frame. Very easy to change out by opening the louvered front door. The TV console couldn’t use either of those configurations. The depth of the console is less that 12 inches, so the fan had to be aligned vertically and the 12 x 12 filter had to be angled to fit. Took a little experimentation but I think I managed to nestle both inside the console nicely. The air is drawn from the right side where the two remaining baskets sit, and is exhausted through a port in the left side. There’s a screen covering the port. As with the end table unit, along with an on/off switch, there’s an electrical outlet for convenience. Not sure what we might plug in but it’s there.
There was actually a third challenge, one I couldn’t manage quite as well. Because the TV console was built with several species of wood, I tried to get them all to ‘blend’ by using a dark stain. Either black cherry or walnut, I forget. It worked out OK, not great. But now I was adding a front panel door of yet another species. And as I mentioned, I couldn’t remember the stain I used. The final result is also just OK. Given the bedroom is usually fairly dark , it’ll do.
The filter is easy to change. Two strips of wood are dado-ed to loosely accept the filter and I installed weatherstripping front and back to seal it in fairly snugly. A wooden dowel holds the filter against the rear weatherstripping and the door latch is set to seal the front weatherstripping against the filter frame. Just open the door, pull the dowel and slide the filter in or out. All the other avenues of air leakage are sealed as well, so essentially all the air drawn through the fan goes through the filter and out the exhaust port. A little might leak out around three sides of the door but not much.
The finished product:
Having the console down in the woodshop opened up the bedroom a bit, so I decided to place the finished piece against a wall until we need it. It’s easy enough to slide it over the the end of the bed when the air quality gets bad, as it inevitably will again next summer, and the summer after that.
Next up, a filtration unit for my neighbor. When the air was really bad this year, I quickly cobbled up a fan-filter for her to help alleviate headaches and such. Her unit will essentially be a copy of my end table piece, sized to fit.
Years ago, I built a portable air filter to help with allergens in the house. It isn’t much to look at but it moves a lot of air. Basically a 1 ft x 1 ft x 2 ft box, it has an ultra-quiet bathroom exhaust fan inside that draws air through a standard home air filter in the front and pumps it out through a 4 inch port on the side. From there I can attach a dust collection hose to pipe the air to the other side of the room to promote circulation. Other than the on-off switch, that’s it. And the unit has worked well – it’s still quiet and based on how quickly the filter dirties up, it’s effective. Pretty ugly though – because I made it out of scrap wood, it needed to be painted instead of a nice wood finish. Not sure I chose a good color.
I decided to build another one but this time, it would be more of a piece of furniture and better looking. More of a woodworking project. After considering our needs, we decided the air filter could be a sofa end table. The current table is too small and too low. I’ll cut the suspense and show the final result now.
Same basic setup: an ultra-quiet fan drawing air through a standard filter and piping out through a 4″ port. This time though, the filter would be wholly inside the cabinet, smaller (12″ x 12″), and would draw air in through a louvered door. After playing around with fan orientation, I settled on having the filter on top with the fan mounted horizontally. That setup would allow room above the fan/filter for two narrow drawers. Additionally, because it is meant to be an end table, along with an on-off switch, I installed an electrical outlet to accommodate a tabletop lamp.
I like to use the wood I have on hand for projects if I can and I had a sufficient quantity of white oak, so that’s what I chose. For the side panels, which are 1/4″ plywood, I bought some white oak veneer. I had not used veneer before so that was new.
Mistakes were made. The biggest being a failure to properly account for the four vertical posts when I did the top piece, which was made from the best, most attractive cut of wood. The top turned out to be too small so I had to use other pieces to make a bigger one. The first top piece ended up being cut down for use as the two drawer fronts. The next biggest mistake was a goof in installing the door. The louvers ‘point’ up instead of down. That’s not so bad – it may even be beneficial in terms of drawing air from the room rather than the floor. But it wasn’t what I had intended.
Here’s the new top. I failed to take a photo of the original.
And some miscellaneous build photos.
One final note. This summer, Oregon had horrendous wildfires, as did Washington and California. The air quality in my town reached and stayed at ‘extremely unhealthy’ levels for a long while. Because I use near HEPA filters in my units and the house’s FAU (forced air unit), they’re effective at capturing smoke particles. So along with the FAU and my first portable unit, I pressed this new one temporarily into service before the cabinet was complete.