Upcycling is a unique branch of DIY in which we try to re-use old, out-dated, and seemingly useless stuff. Check out my upcycling projects here!

A custom blade I made to hollow out a secret compartment book. It cuts through hundreds of paper pages with ease.

Make a Tool for Hollowing out a Secret Compartment Book

 

I just got married, and as is tradition I needed gifts for my groomsmen. I didn’t have the time to get fancy, but I wanted to give my guys something that felt like I was thinking of them when I bought or made it.

I decided to buy a small gag gift and an engraved pocket knife, and present it hidden away in a secret compartment book (or hidden compartment book, or “you put your weed in here” book) that I chose specifically for each of them. I’ll be uploading the video and instructions for that shortly.

Most instructions for making a secret compartment book recommend hollowing out the chamber with an Xacto knife. The process is slow but it’s accurate. The claim is that using any other tool–particularly a power tool–would be too imprecise and leave a ragged edge on the paper. Those folks just haven’t found the right tool yet! My solution was to make a custom blade for my oscillating multi-tool that would handle the task.

What You’ll Need

Make the Secret Compartment Book Cutting Tool

Making a tool for hollowing out a secret compartment book is pretty easy if you have the right tools, and should take you no more than ten minutes.

Step 1: Grind off the Teeth

The first step is to use the coarse wheel on your bench grinder to knock the teeth off the edge of your blade, and create an edge that’s as close to straight as you can.  Be safe!

Step 2: Grind the Edge Smooth

We’re only concerned with the flatness and sharpness of about the last 1/16″ of the blade.  Move to the finer wheel on your bench grinder and continue to grind your blade flat. Be sure to check it for straightness before you finish the grinding step! You don’t want to make a blade with peeks and valleys, or it won’t evenly cut your book.

Step 3: (Optional) Sharpen the Edge with a Traditional Sharpening Method

At this point your blade is sharp enough, but you’ll get far better results if you use a traditional sharpening method to bring the cutting edge to a razor-sharp finish using a traditional sharpening method.  I use the Scary Sharp method, since it doesn’t require a lot of expensive tools to get started. All you need is a flat surface and a few sandpaper grits from 200 – 1,500 or higher.

Secure the sandpaper to a flat surface. Wet the paper with a spray bottle, then proceed to work the tip of the blade on each successive grit. The end result you’re looking for is a tip with a mirror finish that cuts the hairs on your arm.

Step 4: Make a Secret Compartment Book

Now that you’ve made the blade, you’re ready to use it to make a secret compartment book. That process is worth its own article, so stay tuned! But your new blade will slice through paper like a warm knife through butter, saving you hours of tedious work with an Xacto knife.

A set of bench hooks made from two 12" scraps of 2 x 4.

Bench Hooks Inspired by Roy Underhill

The deeper I fall down the woodworking rabbit hole, the more I’m drawn to shop-made solutions. I discovered a video of Roy Underhill of the Woodwright’s Shop making something called a bench hook, and it was a real forehead-slapping moment for me. Woodworkers spend a ton of time and money on work-holding clamps and jigs. This video serves as a reminder that tons of forgotten knowledge exists  about how craftsmen did things before the dawn of the modern clamp. Fortunately folks like Roy feel a responsibility to pass down old but far from obsolete knowledge to schmucks like me who would otherwise solve their problems with an army of Bessy clamps.

A set of bench hooks made from two 12" scraps of 2 x 4.

A set of bench hooks made from two 12″ scraps of 2 x 4.

What The Heck is a Bench Hook?

A Bench Hook is a workbench accessory that uses the momentum of your own woodworking movement to limit your work’s ability to shift across the workbench. A traditional bench hook consists of three pieces of wood:

  1. One piece stretches partway across your workbench and your work rests on top of it.
  2. A second piece is fastened to the bottom of the first which will lock against the front of your workbench.
  3. A third piece is fastened to the top of the first, which will prevent your work from pushing across your bench as you saw, plane, or chisel.

Shown below is a video shot by Roy Underhill for Lie Nielson Toolworks on how to make a bench hook out of a single, foot-long piece of wood. I really like this design, and Roy conveniently offers dimensions such that you can make a bench hook out of scrap 2 x 4 if that’s your wish.  You can see in the picture above that that’s exactly what I did.  Using about 2 feet of scrap 2 x 4, I created a set of bench hooks that should work great, you know… once I finish building my work bench!

Glue applicators cut from wood scrap.

More Uses for Strips of Scrap Wood: Garden Markers, Hand Plane Tuning

In a previous article I talked about how I cut wood scraps into thin strips. Originally I was using them as glue applicators, but discovered some new uses!

One of the primary uses of these strips is as disposable plant markers in flower beds.  I grow most of my plants and vegetable from seed, so I don’t have the markers that come with store-bought plants.  Besides: those little plastic flags never break down, and you end up seeing them poking out of your mulch years later.  These are wood strips, thinner than some pieces of mulch! They’ll totally biodegradable and should break down in a year or so.

The last use I talk about in this video is to use these wooden strips to setup your hand planes.  This was actually discussed by Chrisopher Schwarz of Lost Art Press. As you adjust the lateral adjustment and depth adjustment on your hand plane, run a small scrap of wood across both sides of the plane iron to verify that it’s cutting to the same depth on all parts of the blade.

Glue applicators cut from wood scrap.

Making Glue Applicators with Scrap Wood

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Are you a woodworker? Are you (like me) too cheep to buy high-end glue brushes but also adverse to applying glue with your fingers like some sort of filthy macaroni artist toddler?  Well do I have just the project for you: glue applicators made out of wood scrap.

What you need is a piece of scrap 6″ long or longer in the direction of the grain. Don’t make your applicators by cross-cutting (cutting perpendicular to the grain), and don’t use MDF or plywood scrap either. These materials will be too brittle at the thickness we’ll be cutting to be useful.

I cut the applicator by clamping a block of wood to my band saw about 1/8″ away from and parallel to the blade then repeatedly running the scrap through until I have a handful of 1/8″ thick strips. I suppose you could do this on a table saw too, but cutting strips this thin between the blade and the fence of a table saw is asking for either trouble or injury.

Once you’ve cut all of your pieces vacuum, air spray, or wipe them clean so you don’t get saw dust in your glue when you go to use them.

Tortilla Press with Homemade Tortillas

Wooden Tortilla Press

Tortilla Press with Homemade Tortillas

I used 2 x 4 scraps and some oak for the handle. The only thing I had to buy were the hinges. Total cost: $3.57

Today’s Edition of Brian Makes Crap out of Slightly Lesser Crap: A tortilla press made out of 2 x 4 scrap!t

I adapted instructions from another person’s video so I won’t bother to rewrite them here. If you want to make one, just check out his video and follow along.  All you really need to make one of these is some thick lumber and a table saw.  However I used my planer (to square up the 2×4 prior to glue-up), a router with a roundover bit to smooth the corners, a sander with 80, 120, 220, and 300 grit paper, and a band saw to curve the handle. The additional power tools certainly aren’t necessary, but they make the finished product a little nicer.

I made mine out of 2×4 scrap that I planed down to 1 1/4″ thickness and edge-glued the pieces together into 12″ wide squares.

I made the handle out of oak for extra strength, but that was made from scrap.  The only part of the project that cost me any money were the hinges, for a total cost of $3.57.

You can check out Steve Ramsey’s tortilla press video here.  Thanks for the inspiration!

My New Fence Gate

After months of having zero desire to spend time in my wood shop due to the weather I finally had a few days to complete a project I’ve had in mind for months: a new gate for the fence around my yard.  My dog isn’t thrilled that he can no longer agitate the neighbors at will, but I’m as happy as can be.

Materials

I made my gate out of stuff I had sitting around.  The frames are made of 2 x 4 and the slats are made from some leftover fence material.  I’d like to stress at this point that Lowe’s 2 x 4 stock sucks.  Their lumber is just too warped for something like this.  I bought my lumber at Mifflinburg Lumber and Building Supply. Their prices are competitive and their lumber always seems to much straighter than what the bigger stores offer.

The fence that I cannibalized for the center slats was similar to this one.

Preparing Stock

The first thing I did was cut everything to length, then planes and jointed all of the pieces. As a beginner in woodworking I can’t stress enough how much easier your tools will work and much simpler calculations and assembly becomes when you take the take to ensure that your material is actually square.

I decided to put a decorative edge on the frame using one of the bits from my MLCS 8377 15-Piece Router Bit Set.

Assembly

My original plan was to finally make use of my Dewalt Biscuit Joiner to assemble the frame.  I put two biscuits in each corner to stiffen up the miter joints, after the fact I decided that a couple of screws might be necessary.  I put a single 2″ exterior screw in each corner and hid the holes with plugs made from dowel rod.

The slats were an interesting problem. Each slat overlaps the one beside it by about 1/4″, which left about 2″ of open space in the groove cut into the frame.  This was going to result in water pooling in that area which would destroy the bottom of the gate in no time at all.  I decided to solve the problem by gluing in filler-strips.

The four pieces of hardware that hold the board used to “lock” the gate are simply 10″ strips of pine 1 x 3 glued to 2″ of 1 x 3 and fastened to the gate with stainless steel hardware.

Finish

For the finish I ended up using stuff I already had on hand: Minwax Early American Wood Stain and exterior polyurethane. The hardware is all stainless steel.  I’d like to paint it black and I do have some touch-up to finish on the gate where I removed the old hinges, but overall I’m really please with the way this turned out.

 

 

2 x 4 Scrap Storage Crate

2 x 4 CrateTonight marks the beginning of a new segment I like to call, “Brian Makes Crap out of Slightly Lesser Crap.”  I love reusing everything I can,  and when I needed some storage, I decided to make some crates out of my abundance of 2 x 4 scrap.

The crates are going to go on the ledge above the closet in my bedroom, which has a little over 18″ of vertical space.  I decided to make the crates 16″ tall x 16″ wide by 24″ deep which fits vertically, provides plenty of storage space, and has a pleasant proportion.

Tools Required

The only tools that are essential for this project are a table saw equipped with a good ripping or all-purpose blade, and a hammer. For simpler cuts and a cleaner finish I used my miter saw
to crosscut my pieces to length and my planer to trim the runners to the desired thickness.

Materials

I built my crates completely out of scrap I had sitting around the shed.  You’ll need:

  • 3 pieces of 2 x 4 that are at least 16″ long
  • 3 pieces of 2 x 4 that are at least 23″ long
  • 3 pieces of 2 x 4 that are at least 15 1/4″ long
  • 1 piece of 3/4″ plywood 15″ wide x 23″ long
  • About 80 1″ finish nails
  • Wood glue

If you need to buy materials, a single 12′ 2 x 4 is enough material for the runners and corners. You should be able to pick up a piece of plywood at a home center cut to size.  My crates were built for exactly zero dollars, but if you have to buy materials you can expect the project to just about $8.00.

Constructing the Crate

Preparing the Materials

The first thing I did was use the metal detector to make sure my scraps didn’t contain nails before I starting sawing. If you’re using new materials or leftovers from new construction this probably won’t be necessary, but much of my scrap was ripped out of my house and contained framing nails and drywall screws. You’ll ruin your table saw blade or hurt yourself trying to chew through framing nails, so don’t try it!

Crosscut Parts to Length

Using the cut list above as a guide, crosscut all your pieces to length.  Remember that you’ll essentially be cutting the 2 x 4 pieces in half lengthwise, so each crosscut part will make two from the cut list. Setup stops on your miter saw or table saw for repeatable cuts.

Rip Parts to Width and Thickness

Use your table saw to rip the plywood bottom and the two 15 1/4″ pieces of 2 x 4 for the corners, making 4 total corner pieces. Since the runners are supposed to be 3 1/2″ wide, we don’t have to rip them to a particular width, however we do need to rip them on-edge into 1/2″ strips.  If you don’t have a powerful table saw it will probably bog down if you try this in a single pass, so make 2 or more passes, setting your saw blade a little higher each time. you’ll probably have to remove the splitter if your saw has one, so be careful and make sure you’re using push blocks!

Since I’m fortunate enough to own a small planer I ripped the 2 x 4’s precisely down the center on the table saw, then used the planer to thickness the strips from 3/4″ down to 1/2″.  This method takes quite a bit longer but you’ll end up with much cleaner, smoother runners void of tooling marks from the table saw.

Assembly

I used 1″ finish nails and wood glue to assemble everything.  I started by assembling the 16 x 16″ ends separately, then gluing and nailing the longer sides together.  Finally I dropped in the plywood bottom, glued, nailed, and put on a few clamps to hold everything together overnight.

A Reclaimed Slab Bench

These are my confessions…

I’m a hoarder. Okay, not so much a hoarder as just one frugal son of a bitch: I can’t stand to see things get thrown away when they’ve got potential left in them to be awesome or at least functional.  So when my friend Steve showed me this giant slab of oak from his granddad’s basement that he was going to cut up for firewood I intervened.  Let me make a “thing” out of it!

I decided to make it into a bench to sit at my firepit.  My first attempt was pretty terrible.  I decided to let it look rustic. Which in my mind meant let it look like it’s been in a damp basement being consumed by bugs.  I hastily cut two legs out of some similarly rough-looking thick oak I found in my own basement, pegged them into the slap, and BAM! Bench.

Then my dad sat on it. And then he fell.

Cleaning up the Slab

So I set out to take another stab at the bench.  The slap measure about 20 inches across and about three inches thick.  I drug it into the shop, ripped the edges back to solid wood, and four hours of hand planing and sanding later it looked about half decent.

Reinforcing the Legs

The legs were still a problem.  I decided to hell with joinery: I’m just not all that good at it yet. So I enforced the legs by drilling from above them into the bench and installing some long wood screws.  I hid the screws with a few pieces of dowel rod, glued in and sanded flush with the bench.

The Runner

The legs were vertically stable but if the bench was rocked in either direction I felt they might twist and give into the pressure.  So I grabbed a long fir 4×4 off my junk pile that had been ripped out of the house, planed it smooth, then ripped it to the same length as the bench.  I broke out the plunge router and cut matching 4×4 holes in either leg, then cut two 1 1/2″ x 3/4″ holes at either end of the runner that I could use to install legs which locked it tight against the legs. I cut out four pegs out of some other scrapped and rounded them off with the orbital sander.

The Finish

After everything was cleaned up and I ensured a tight fit with all the pieces, I disassembled and stained it.  I stained the bench and legs with Minwax red oak, the runner with Early American, and the pegs with jacobeen. It was a gamble but they ended up looking nice together.

The Ants… Oh God, the Ants!

I knew there were ants in the wood and I tried to remove them with an air hose and the Shop-Vac.  But after I stained everything… my god. They were everywhere.  The next morning I found a colony of them dying in a circle.  And after each coat of polyeurethane I found find a more crawling around.  Luckily none of them made it into the finished product!

The end result ended up looking  just too damned nice to leave outside.  It’s oak.  Even with several coats of polyeurethane I know on account of how irregular I left it water would eventually pool in the crevices and ruin it.  So it resides in my living room now.