Making things: a place for things and a place for making

I have a couple of woodwork projects on my making-things list, but haven’t been making much progress with them. I realised the other day that part of the problem was the lack of space in the garage to start on a project, put it down, and come back to it later. Given that I expect to get interrupted about every hour or so when I’m at home (that’s roughly how often Leon feeds), I can’t necessarily finish a project same-day, and tidying away is daunting.

So before making places for things*, I made a place for making the things. I’ve done a bit of Freecycling and charity-shopping, moved some storage around, and now have a lovely space in the garage, near to the door for maximum natural light, where I can leave the workbench set up and a project stacked up on it.

I’m hoping to make a start on the toybox tomorrow as I think I have enough spare wood for that already. Really looking forward to it! I’m also hoping to get a bit of sewing done before I have to return M’s fabulous sewing machine on Tuesday. Now, it occurs to me that I could also do with a place to keep my own sewing machine… but perhaps best to stick to one thing at a time.

* My current projects are all storage-based: drawers for under my desk, a toybox for Leon, and perhaps a small set of shelves for Leon as well.

Making a laptop caddy

In our household we have a tendency to leave laptops lying around the living room. It occurred to me, as L began rolling and trying really hard to crawl (he is currently managing whole millimetres at a time, often backwards), that this might not be a good long-term strategy.

So I consulted the rest of the household (the dog wasn’t that helpful), did some sketches, dug around in the piles of miscellaneous wood in the garage, and spent last Sunday afternoon making this between bouts of feeding L:

Wooden laptop holder with four upright slots

We have three laptops and a couple of tablets, so 4 slots seemed like plenty, with a box at the end for power cables. The original design was altered a bit when I established what wood I had readily available, but I think for the better (I was a bit too generous with the original sizing).

The short ends are a couple of bits of 3/4″ pine shelf offcut; the long sides and the dividers are plywood left over from a flooring project. The other ends of the dividers are held by a 1″ batten, because I didn’t have another piece of the 3/4″ pine:

Close-up of inside of laptop caddy, with wooden batten

To cut the slots for the dividers, really I could have done with a router[0], or failing that, a chisel which hadn’t been wrecked by being used to prise up carpet nails. I also realised afterwards that a hacksaw would have been a better tool than a regular saw. All in all, then, they’re not the neatest ever, but they do the job:

Close-up of top of laptop holder, with plywood sitting in roughly-cut slots in the end piece of wood

I’ll probably paint it sometime soon (we have some nice grey linseed wood paint left over from the same flooring project as the plywood) but the natural wood looks OK for now. And it’s doing the job, for the total investment of a dozen screws and an afternoon with the power tools and a manky chisel.

[0] After chatting to my Dad later, I will be getting a router next time I’m at B&Q. He says he’s spent 30 years repeatedly thinking that a router would be useful but not quite worth it for any given project…

Making raised beds from pallets

Last week I made a fourth raised bed for the garden; like the previous 3, the wood came from a couple of deconstructed pallets rescued from a nearby skip. It took me just over an hour (with power tools: a hand-held circular saw and a drill with screwdriver fitting; add about another 30-60 min if using hand tools), which did not include the time to deconstruct the pallets. Here’s how I went about it (apologies for the lack of as-you-go photos; I wasn’t thinking of blogging it at the time!).

Another of my raised beds, with some broad beans growing in one side. (The other side needs some more compost…)

The basic construction is 3 pallet-planks per side (for a total of 12 needed), cut to the size needed (in my case, 3 paving slab widths on the long sides and 2 on the short, to fit the intended gap). Measure up your planks, and cut them to size.

Long side of raised bed (once complete); 3 135cm planks.

Short side of raised bed (once complete); 3 90cm planks.

The next step is to attach everything together. It’s possible just to nail/screw the planks directly to one another at the corners, but that won’t be very stable. A better bet is to use a thicker piece of wood as a brace at each corner, and screw the planks to that. Happily, pallets are constructed with a couple of nice thick ribs down their middles which are ideal for this. Cut 4 corner braces from this. The length of each brace should match the width of 3 planks, so that it’s the same height as the plank-sides of your raised bed.

Take the first set of three long planks, and two of the corner braces, and screw the planks to the braces at each end. Repeat with the other set of long planks and the other two corner braces. You now have two long sides of a rectangle, each held together by the braces, but not attached to each other.

The bracing piece, shown from the inside (with both long and short sides attached).

Now screw the two sets of three shorter planks into the braces at each end, to make the short sides of the rectangle.

From the outside, planks on two sides screwed to the brace. As a rule, the long and short sides should be the same height, but my planks were slightly different widths and that didn’t quite work out. Aesthetically suboptimal but still perfectly functional!

That’s it! These should be pretty sturdy, especially once filled with soil to strengthen them. You can rest them on existing soil (in my case, where I’ve levered up the paving slabs from the garden), or, if you make them slightly deeper, you can put them straight onto concrete, put cardboard at the bottom and shovel compost in at the top, and treat them as a very large container.

Note on tools and fixings:

  • You can do all of this with a hand saw, and I have done in the past, but a hand-held circular saw makes it all a lot quicker (and in my case, at 7 months pregnant, makes it feasible; I’d have struggled to construct this on my own by hand).
  • Nails can substitute for screws, but they won’t be as secure.
  • Whatever the packet may say, screws go in quicker and easier if you drill pilot holes first. The screwdriver fitting on a power drill is also a godsend, but again, hand tools do the job, just a little slower.
  • A set-square is useful to get the cut lines straight. If you don’t have a set square, all hand saws have a right-angle marker and a 45 degree marker on the handle.