Quickie project: New tool shelves

A couple of years ago when we started crafty club on the moorings, I found myself without any boy craft one night while we were hosting on Hendrik. The ladies in attendance decreed that treats and snacks were only available to people actually doing craft, so I needed a quick knock-up project using the materials to hand, which were hundreds of 4×30” bed slats and a load of reclaimed screws from tearing down the drywall.

So began my first ever woodworking project: the crappiest tool shelves known to man. I was in an hour and a half and I got my snacks, but even from the first moment they were built, they were wobbly, dodgy and ugly. On Monday I walked past them and noticed they were on the verge of collapse.

This was really part of a wider problem: we never reorganised the tool storage even as we bought more and bigger tools. Now there’s a drill press, chopsaw and workbenches down there and nowhere for any of it to live. Project builds now happen in the old corridor and finding tools is as hit-and-miss as before we had the shelves. Clearly, something had to change.

And then a wonderful thing happened. On Tuesday, the amazing multi-talented Ana White over at Knock Off Wood posted about her new toy, a Kreg Jig. If you’ve never heard of a pocket-hole jig before (and nor had I 48 hours ago), it drills collared holes at the perfect angle and depth to join two pieces of wood at almost any angle. You use a self-tapping screw with a wide collar to join the two pieces and it clamps it up as you screw. The joint is supposed to be as strong as a mortise joint but without nearly as much work. In the picture below you can see the screw head all clamped up in its pocket hole.

We have an awful lot of wood working coming up this summer, as we need to rebuild one of the side steps in hardwood, replace the leaking skylight frames, build a replacement barbecue table before the old one rots away and build a sink unit in the back cabin. So to my ears a tool like a kreg jig sounded like it was too good to be true.

Well, there was only one way to find out.

That’s my Kreg Jig Jr. which was delivered yesterday. In preparation after ordering it on Tuesday, I’d already cleared the mess in front of the pegboard organiser and dismantled my crappy shelves.

I have big plans for this area. We’re bidding on a bit of cheap solid wood Ikea furniture on eBay (though we’re not about to pay more than a fiver for it) and if we win that, I’ll reclaim the wood it’s made from and build a nice storage workbench to sit beneath that pegboard. But meanwhile I was itching to try out the pocket-hole jig and I had a big pile of wood hanging around that used to be some crappy shelves. This morning I woke up with a plan forming.

First I built three squarish frames from four bed slats each, jointing the corners at right angles.

Then I joined those three frames together across their flat edges to make a frame 12” deep. What really impresses me about pocket hole joints is they’re just as good at joining planks into panels as building angled joints. Finally I put another three bed slats together to make a shelf, jointed that in, and added some slats across the back to brace the whole unit and stop things falling backwards out of the shelf when we roll.

And so in less than two hours, a pile of wood became this:

The finish is crappy (you can see it particularly in the closeups) and not every joint was perfect – it took a lot of experimenting with drill torque until I managed to find a setting that clamped up the screws but didn’t over drive them, but as an learning experience and something that’s not on show, it was invaluable. I am absolutely sold on the pocket hole joint now and I feel like building a kitchen from scratch would be entirely within my capabilities.

I also have to say, I know consumer electronics companies that could learn a thing or two from the Kreg out-of-box experience. They have a tool-owners’ section of their site with plans, video walkthroughs of different techniques and really helpful FAQs that got me up to speed on using the jig amazingly fast. Between the plans on their site and a couple of Ana’s plans at Knock Off Wood, we’re now planning to build an outdoor coffee table and a couple of benches to go with it. And the big brother of my Kreg Jr. is definitely on the wedding list.

Disclaimer: Neither Kreg Tool nor Knock Off Wood sponsored this post. But if anyone at Kreg feels like throwing a K4 my way, I promise to post about every single bit of furniture I make with it. And that’s going to be a lot.

- posted by James O'Brien on 22 April 2010, 13:22 in