A Review of Grandpa’s Workshop

Her first reading

Her first reading

It was a day or two after Christmas 2012 when I first read Grandpa’s Workshop to my then 2-year old daughter. I didn’t realize it then, but I may’ve been reading the most overlooked and unheralded book in the Lost Art Press catalog. At the time, I was exactly one year into our new life in Cleveland. My wife was 8 months pregnant with our second, I was in the midst of a serious job scare, and this was one of the only gifts under the tree.

She didn’t take to it like a duck to water but she didn’t reject it either. She sat down in her toddler bed looking at the pictures and listening to me tell her about the tools. Her unsteady and exuberant hands didn’t tear the pages or destroy the binding.

IMG_1305It’s now over three years later and we’ve read it in earnest many, many times – especially in the past six months. My heart skips a beat when she asks to read it before bed. She points out the different tools and references them later during the story or when we’re in the shop. She even corrected me the other day when I called a something a hammer instead of it’s correct name: “it’s a mallet, Daddy – like the one you made me.”

The book is a series of mini stories, which makes its format perfect for little ones with short attention spans. You don’t have to labor through the entire book when one or two pages suffice. At first I thought it might be a bit scary or grotesque but it’s proven to be none of these. Sprinkled throughout the story are pictures LAP readers will find charming like tool chests, workbenches, saw benches, etc. She notices these things and either recalls a time in the shop or asks to see something the next time we’re down there. She even peers over my shoulder while on Pinterest or on a blog to point out things she’s seen in the story.


Employing the lessons…

And, to me, this is where this book is worth it’s weight in gold. It’s a visual map into her father’s world and tiny peek into his soul. It reinforces the lessons I teach and it makes Sylvain’s adventures tangible, and relatable, to her. She knows what it’s like to get a bunch of scraps and put them together into something magical. She asks to go downstairs and work on things constantly. Last month she asked to make a clipboard. She painted it purple and does her homework on it everyday; I was flabbergasted. She see things and asks to make them; buying is her second option.

I didn’t know this when I bought it, but Grandpa’s Workshop is a book for makers. It’s not just there to solely read to your grandkids. It shouldn’t be pigeon


Maker II

holed into anything other than a great sets of stories to inspire the next generation. My oldest daughter is a maker. She works in countless media but her greatest creation, although unbeknownst to her, is her making of an inspired father every time she asks to read this book.

I’d like to see it on the shelves of my local library and in the classroom, but I’ll start with a second copy for her understudy. The little one is three now and mostly concerned with pink, purple, and glitter glue, but she’ll come around. And if she doesn’t that’s ok too. In the end, I don’t want just woodworkers (that’s a bit of a lie). I want strong-willed girls who think about the their buying habits and try to make things with their hands at every turn (that part isn’t a lie).

Back in 2012, I snapped a few pictures and sent a heartfelt email to John and Chris thanking them and the rest of the team for their efforts. This post is reaffirmation of that email only with many board feet of lumber and bedtime stories about Pépère’s shop elfs under our belts. My social media is peppered with proof of what this book can do for your budding maker. Here are a few final pics illustrating the power of this book and its message.

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It Takes a Village

In today’s final installment of Colin’s Toy Chest build I’d like to send a special shout out to the many people who made this build possible. ChuckM for helping miter the mouldings on the rickety miter saw at the shop, MarkY for teaching me CNCing, my wife for her steady hand on the letters, and Brian for his wonderful craftsmanship on the handles. Without their help I may have never hit the deadline and made a little one-year old so happy.

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Developing a Fondness for Milk Paint

During my last project I was extremely perplexed with the consistency of my milk paint. I think it was inexperience more than anything. This time I had a strange clarity, which gives credence to the old adage about getting off your duff and getting into the shop.

I’m not sure if it was the slightly modified ratio or the extended setup time but I developed a strong love of milk paint during this build. I think Schwarz’s recipe (2:1 water to paint) is a bit too running for my taste. I like the 1:1 ratio a little better but with a moderately heavy hand on the water. Plus, I let the mixture set over night this time and the consistency was perfect and easy to use.

I started with a base layer of the orange persimmon from my previous bench build. This was good in theory but if you followed me on IG during this time, you’ll note I put about 100 coats (or maybe six) of Federal Blue to get the top color I desired.

With the color finally right, I called in the steady hand of my wife to paint the letters using white acrylic from Michaels. She’s a perfectionist and normally really good at these things, but the uneven textures, cheap brushes (?), and slight imperfections of the CNCed letters made this impossible to get exact. She was mortified at the job she did but I assured her it was fine. I took some 220 sandpaper to each letter and got rid of all the areas where her hand wandered. It looks a little rustic but that’s kinda the vibe I was after.


You can make out the less-than-perfect details (if you squint)

If anyone has experience painting letters like this, please leave a comment below. We tried strategic blue taping but that was tedious. I really got into every nook and cranny with sand paper and modified plastic scrapers to make the lettering areas as smooth as possible. Also, I’m not opposed to finer or higher quality brushes but this is a new area for us and I simply don’t know the tools.

So, with sandpaper in hand, I selected a few areas to sand thru to the orange layer. Then it was time for some polyacrylic top coat.

In my next, and final post, I’ll show off some glamour shots and give a few shout outs to those that made this possible.

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Working on the Top

Two years ago I tried my hand at online ordering of wood from Shannon over at Hardwood to Go. I got one of those Surprise Packs hoping to get some small pieces to make cutting boards at our community woodshop. What I received was a few boards for doing such along with an 8ft tall piece of mahogany measuring about 12″ in diameter. This was not going to become a cutting board.

The big one in the center

The big one in the center

I broke the boards down with Grandpa’s saw and figured out the best grain match. I threw in some dominoes and glued it up.

With the panel glued up, I turned my attention toward breadboard ends. I’ve always like the aesthetics of breadboard ends and on the previous toy chest I tackled this for the first time. You can read about it here. I used a technique from Marc over at The WoodWhisperer but after doing some digging, I found this video from Brian McCauley. I’m partial to doing this with the Domino because I think it’s easy and doesn’t take up much time. In revisiting some of the comments from both videos I noticed comments about wood movement issues. Now, both Brian and Marc were making large dining tables whereas I’m making a lid to a chest. I think size matters here but still, it got me thinking…

One of the complaints was even at the “sloppiest” setting for domino width, there is only 3mm of movement on each side. The claim is this isn’t enough space allotted for wood movement. I really don’t know the answer but I think I came up with a solution by “elongating” the mortises. The method is pretty easy: plunge in at the widest setting and then move toward the center. Don’t plunge and move at the same time. Instead plunge, recoil, move, and plunge again. The picture below shows the results. You’ll note a bit of discrepancy in the height of the holes but it must’ve been user error; I honestly don’t know how this happened but it didn’t affect the glue up or the results.

Elongated Holes

Elongated mortises

Next up was gluing them on, pinning the dominoes, and putting on some finish.

The last, and final step, is finishing the case.

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The Case for Screws

With the butterfly keys safely keeping the panels in tact for the next hundred years or so, I moved on to putting the case together. Before we get into the details, I want to go through my case joinery thoughts. I liked the simplicity of the cut nails used in my previous version of the toy chest but I didn’t want the look of the nails. Brian and I talked about the construction methods on our way to get wood back in December. Later that night, our conversation made me pick up my Campaign Furniture book and read the section on the Strong Trunk. The brass, although cool, was of no interest to me in this design. My plan was to cut rabbets and then fill the screw holes with face grain plugs.

Now onto the building. I first turned my attention to the shape of the recess on the front board. My Pinterest page was full of ideas for how to incorporate a recess for little fingers and still adhere to good design principles. I sketched a few ideas on the actual front with the case dry fit. Several french curves later, I went to the bandsaw at the NCCW shop. Later that week I was back at home and busted out the spoke shave and a flexible sanding block to smooth the recess. By the way, my flexible sanding block is just a piece of 1/8″ craft board from Michaels with handles glued on and adhesive backed 120 grit paper. Easy-peasy.

With all the pieces sanded, the insides shellac, I moved on to the glue and clamps.

Post glue up and screw up (with no screw ups)

Post glue up and screw up (with no screw ups)

After trimming the plugs and sanding everything to 150, I leaned a portion of the moulding against the case. Then I grabbed the rough top panel to get an idea of scale. I wasn’t sure the moulding was too tall so I slept on it.

That'll work

That’ll work

The final step for the case was attaching the moulding. When I did the sitting bench I only went around three side with the moulding. I wanted to up my game and challenge my miter fear; I went for a four-sided miter. I had lots of trouble but I snuck up on the cuts and everything turn out work; at least nothing a little Timbermate couldn’t solve.

Ready to top it off

Ready to top it off

In the end there were a few things I’d do differently. I’m providing this list mostly for myself, if I ever build this in future, but I hope you’ll find it beneficial.

  • I’d make the rabbets shallower because I didn’t give enough clearance for counterbores needed for the wood plugs. This required much more skill with the drill than I’d planned.
  • The circles from the counterbores didn’t dissolve seamlessly even after many coats of paint. I’m not sure of the reason other than maybe there was a small discrepancy between my plug cutter and my counterbore.
  • Mitering the moulding was a challenge using the chop saw at our community shop. Next time I think I’ll use the Festool TS55 in combination with the MFT. Or maybe I’ll get that mitre saw I picked up on craig’s list tuned up.

Next up is the top. If you have any idea on how I could’ve done this differently, I’m all ears.

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Incorporating CNC Technology

Inspirational Starting Point

Inspirational Starting Point

One of the most attractive aspects of the inspirational toy chest was the personalization. I’ve never carved anything and I really wasn’t interested in doing it anyway. It’s a skill for another time.

At the community shop I belong to (NCCW) we recently incorporated a pretty large scale CNC. I setup a meeting with the member who owns and operates it to figure out if this was going to fly. I was hesitant to say the least, since everything was ready for assembly and then it was just a matter of adding the base moulding and finishing. I put my nerves aside and started taking measurements for the input file.

The software was pretty intuitive. If you’ve made a powerpoint presentation or “drawn” anything using a Microsoft Office product you can get by for a good long while. It was hard to visual the scale so we played with a few fonts and spacings. Everything is based on centerlines so once we had a rough idea of the center we decided to test on a practice piece.

I was completely shocked this only took seven minutes to complete. The first run showed the font was a little too big and the delineating line was too deep so we made some adjustments and went for the second try.


Second try

The second attempt went swimmingly so I took another deep breath and put the real piece on the platen. Seven very long minutes later things looked great.


I couldn’t be happier with the results. I am so glad I took the chance to try something new. I highly recommend you try incorporating CNC into your work. The world is awash in many maker spaces, both public and private, where you can experiment with CNC. I’m not giving up my hand saws and rasps any time soon but this sure does change the way I look at potential production work in the future. Who knows, maybe this device will fund the purchase of hand tools in the future. That’s a juxtaposition I’m willing to explore.

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Butterflies on the Inside

Once the rabbets were cut, the next step was to assemble on the case. The wood had other ideas. I noticed the some additional checking in the middle a panel. Combining this with the bow I mentioned earlier, and the repair I’d already made to another panel, I really questioned this batch of poplar. Maybe I didn’t let it acclimate enough? Regardless of what happened, a voice in my head kept whispering the story from Schwarz’s ATC about “if he had to ask the question…” I knew I couldn’t just leave it.

[Incidentally, when the thought ran through my head this post didn’t exist but it does now and it hit home when I read it. This story affirms how my journey has crossed over from rank amateur into something much better.]

So, onto the fix. I’ve always liked the look of the butterfly key (a.k.a fancy dutchman) and thought it would be a nice touch to anyone opening the chest in the future. I’ve cut them a few different ways (by hand and by jig). Knowing my time crunch, I thought I’d use the jig to cut out the mortises and the finesse the butterflies in by hand.

This method proved difficult. I rough cut the keys with the community shop’s bandsaw because it’s more convenient to just use up a small scrap of walnut; however, that same scrap is difficult to work on with a bulky jig attached. I ended up tossing a few of the keys and using one I had lying around from a previous build. The scale was a little off but it works.

This was good practice for the upcoming dining table build where I plan to use the butterfly keys again. If you haven’t tried this technique, I encourage you to give it a shot but make sure to start with the keys as it makes everything else easier. Finally, I sanded up the panels and hit them with a coat of amber shellac.


Ready for glue up

The next step is assembling the case.

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