I Made A Ladder!

Yes, I did.

Please note that I did not title this post “how to make a ladder”.

This was for my daughter’s play set in the back yard, which has had my 6-foot stepladder leaning against it for a few weeks now.

I started by leaning a 6-foot length of redwood against the play set to figure out what angle the ladder should lean at.

Ladder
This was close enough to 30-degrees, so I used 30 as my number.
I cut two lengths of redwood to length with matching 30-degree cuts on the top and bottom edges.
Ladder

Then I used a tape measure to mark intervals on both pieces to note where the center of each step should be.
Ladder

I used the table saw and the miter gauge to cut slots at 30-degrees to make the edges of a mortise; and then used a router to freehand cut the insides out (working carefully, the kirf of the table saw cut is enough of a buffer to rout this out freehand).
Ladder
Ladder

Since I’m not very good at measuring, the mortises were all too narrow, so I slapped together a little tenoning jig to trim the ends of the steps (this was easier than trying to cut all the mortises a little wider).
Ladder
Ladder
Ladder

I successfully got all the steps installed on one rail of the ladder (glue and screws), and then realized that I was not going to be able to get all of the tenons to line up on the other rail. There were little imperfections in the wood and construction, and all together across all the steps this was enough to make it impossible to line everything up at once.

So I made a little router jig (read: “I cut a piece of plywood”) to shave a little more wood off each tenon’s width (the tricky part is that the steps were already installed on one side).
Ladder

Meanwhile I was doing a lot of stepping over and around the half-assembled ladder and managed to catch the corner of a step with the underside of my knee…
ladder

REALLY?!?! Not only am I supposed to wear “close-toed shoes” in the garage, but now I have to wear pants too?!

Next you’re going to say I should be wearing gloves!
Lathe compound repair

Whatever.

Ladder

In any case, that last bit of adjusting with the router worked, and I finished the ladder… and then put on some pants and ate dinner.

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Router Table Adapter Plate Modification

I had a little free time this weekend and used it to address a couple of things in the garage.

1. I got my motorcycle running again

  • I’m actually very proud of this. After watching a friend do it once, I took out the carburetor, took it apart, cleaned it, reassembled it,  and re-installed it in 2.5 hours.
  • When the bike STILL wouldn’t start, I hooked it up to my truck battery and jump-started it, now it runs like a scared bunny.

2. I modified my router table adapter plate

I make the adapter plate a while back out of 1/4″ thick aluminum sheet. The center hole I cut was 2 1/4″ in diameter, which was sufficient for any router bit I owned.

But then I came across a large raised-panel bit on clearance at Rockler and bought it, only to find that it was too big to recess into the hole in the adapter plate.

I bought a set of large diameter hole saws from Harbor Freight to address the issue.

The drill press powered through the cut without any significant problems (just a lot of screeching and vibration), but the result was problematic.
Router Plate - Cutting
Router Plate - Cut
My thought had been to keep the inner portion of the cut with the original smaller hole to use as a bushing to support work pieces when using a standard sized bit; but with a large gap between the inside of the new hole and the outside of the old one, I needed a way to fill this gap and keep the inner bushing secure.

So I traced the new hole onto a piece of plywood and cut it out on my scroll saw.
Router Plate - Outer Diameter
After confirming a snug fit on the large hole, I placed the bushing on top of the plywood circle to trace it and removed the inside of the circle with the scroll saw.
Router Plate - Inner Diameter
Router Plate - bushing

After a bit of quick sanding I had a completed solution: The wooden ring fills the gap between the large hole and the inner bushing, allowing the bushing to fit securely inside the larger hole.
Router Plate - Small
Router Plate - Large

All in all, I was happy with this fix, but I may still thread a screw through the inner portion and into the router base, just to make certain the new bushing doesn’t turn into a hypersonic projectile the next time I use the router table. Although I do like hypersonic projectiles

Hide-Away Router Table

One of the first projects I took on after buying a welder was making a router table.

I made it 36″ tall, 18″ deep, and 32″ wide with a 10-gauge steel top and an aluminum insert/adapter plate. Shortly after completing it, I realized that it was too big for my garage.

Even though it is a lot smaller than my table saw, I will not be using it nearly as much as the saw, so I am not willing to dedicate as much floor space to it.

I considered making the table short enough to slide under the workbench, but this would have made it too short to work on comfortably.

Another idea I had was to use drawer slides mounted on the bottom of the workbench, but again, this made the table surface too low once it was set at a height that would accommodate the workbench frame and the router table fence.

And so I came up with a solution: Hang the table from the bottom of my workbench and swing it out when I want to use it. This would allow me to store it away when not in use, and bring it up to a usable height for use.

Here’s the concept in sketchup:

To accomplish this in reality, I basically cut up the legs on the router table, and bolted them back on upside down, and then hung the whole thing from the bottom of the bench.

Since the table is made of metal, it’s heavy, so I added two 30lb gas springs to the back to help lift the table into position.

Once the table is raised, I have two pivoting legs that I drop into position to hold the table up at a comfortable working height.

Here is the finished product:

Zero-Clearance Insert

After completing the riving knife modification, I needed to replace the blade cover insert to accommodate the knife’s position behind the saw blade.

I had been using the stock insert, which has a full opening to accommodate a dado stack. This setup does not support the wood fibers along the edges of the cut, and will allow tearout along the ends of the cut pieces, resulting in a frayed edge on the final product, particularly when cutting across the grain.

A zero-clearance insert has a slot that is only as wide as the blade itself, and thus the wood fibers are fully supported all the way up the the blade itself (almost as if with a pair of scissors), making for the cleanest possible cut.

Not only are zero-clearance inserts preferable to factory inserts, they are the easiest type of custom insert to make since the slot for the blade is created by simply cutting through the blank insert with the blade installed in the table saw.

I started with a set of phenolic zero clearance kit from Rockler. This kit is about $30 and contains two rectangular blanks from which you can cut inserts to fit your saw. I could have purchased a pre-shaped insert but they are more expensive ($30 for one insert) and this seemed like a fun project.

Per the instructions that came with the phenolic blanks, I started by tracing the stock insert and cutting the the blank close to the final size. The instructions recommend using a band saw for this cut, but I don’t have one yet (regularly refreshing my search on Craigslist) so I used my scroll saw. This was marginally successful, but I burned up a good blade and the blank was jumping all over the place. Honestly I think this step would be better handled with a hacksaw if a band saw is not available, or at least by switching the blade on the scroll saw to one without any reverse teeth.

The idea of the first step is to leave minimal material for the the router bit to remove in the next step, which is to use a copy-bit and the stock insert to finalize the shape.

I used turner’s tape (fancy double-sided tape) to attach the stock insert as a template to the rough-cut blank and used a 1/4″ copy-bit on my router table to remove the extra material and bring the outer diameter of the phenolic blank to its final shape.

I almost had a minor disaster while doing this. I noticed a slight change in the sound coming from the router bit, so I shut off the router and realized that I the bit was slowly lifting out of the collet and was begining to cut into the metal of the stock insert. There was no visible damage to the router bit (Carbide is tough!), so I re-seated the bit and really tightened it down. I was able to finish the routing without any other issues. On a side note, I’m now convinced that I need to set up some dust collection on my router table…

The phenolic blank is thicker than necessary for my saw, so I set up my drill press with a large forstner bit to remove enough material for the insert to sit flush.

Once I had achieved the correct thickness, I drilled out and countersunk the holes for mounting the insert.

I stripped out one of the screws while testing the fit, which gave me a chance to use a screw extractor bit that I had never tried before.

The extractor worked well enough, bit it really guts the screw so I cut a slot in the screw to re-use it as a flat head until I find a replacement.

After this, I re-installed the blade on the table saw and cut the slot in the new insert. This had to be done in 3 stages:

      • I very cautiously lowered the insert on to spinning blade to remove enough material be able to set the insert fully flush with the table top with the blade installed. Since the insert is unsecured, it is very important to do this slowly from BEHIND the saw. This way if the insert is ejected it flies away from you. since, at this point in the process, the top of the insert is completely symmetrical, I actually started cutting with the insert backwards and had to flip it around and start the cut over:
      • I secured the insert and raised the blade with the table saw running until the blade reach its full depth:
      • I extended the cut to make room for the riving knife. I actually did this with a hand saw, Stanley FatMax:

With everything finally installed, I quickly cross-cut a piece of rift-sawn white oak to see what sort of cut quality I would get. I made the cut freehand, with the blade set too deep,, but still got a decent quality cut with minimal tearout.

I’m happy with the results, and I am done with this project.

Hello World

My friend told me last week that his new year’s resolution was to start blogging. Since I didn’t have any resolution of my own, I stole his.

I am a Husband to a wonderful wife, the proud Dad of the cutest 7 month old girl in the world, a project manager at Qualcomm, a homeowner in San Diego, and a somewhat compulsive and ADD tinkerer.

I’ll be posting mostly about the projects I’m doing around my house and in the garage, sharing tips, tricks, and screwups.

I’m currently working on:

Other projects I will be starting/continuing will be:

  • The Backyard
    • Applying stone veneer to my BBQ installation
    • Building planter surrounds for the palm trees
    • Installing sprinklers and drip irrigation
    • Laying grass sod
    • Installing lighting
    • Building a pergola and childproof railing
  • The Front Yard
    • Installing sprinklers
    • Laying Sod
    • Installing lighting
  • The Inside
    • Making a cabinet for our printer and office supplies
    • Making a barn door type sliding door system for the master bathroom
    • Installing a ceiling fan in the second bedroom
    • Figuring out how to configure my gaming setup (xbox and projector)
  • The Garage
    • Figuring out how to store a wheelbarrow and a lawn mower and get them out of the way
    • Making shelves and drawers under my workbench
    • Making room for my wife’s car and my workshop to coexist in a 2-car space

Overall, I should be able to manage to keep myself busy…