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A simple solution

Posted by joeabbott on August 2, 2014

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imageSometimes I relish a clever design; something that may take a bit of skill to execute, but ultimately provides a superior result. An example here is a joint I used when building our chicken coop and was looking to suspend the coop floor between four posts. An inelegant but easy solution would be to just tack a few blocks to the side of the post and rest the floor on top of them. You could knock that out in a jiff and it’d hold just fine.

The direction I chose was to route slots the thickness of the panel in two sides of each of the posts; then to cut-out squares from the corners of the floor panel. To connect them, I’d just nest the cut-out corners of the floor panel into the routed slots of the post.

It takes more time and has some complexity, perhaps requiring a touch of skill, but it’s superior in that it requires no fasteners or extra parts and, when assembled, it allows the posts to stand alone without falling over … something you wouldn’t get if you just rested the floor on blocks nailed to the posts.

The pictures above and right show that design: I’ve colored the post green and, from the 3.5”x3.5” cross section, I’d route a slot that’s 3/4” thick and 1” deep. Then in the red part, the 3/4” thick plywood floor panel, I’d cut out a 2.5”x2.5” square … that’s the size of the material that remains in the post after I’ve slotted it. And, when you nest the floor panel into the post, it’s secure. I’ve also blogged about using this in Constructing the coop.

This brings me to my simple solution.

imageCaring for an heirloom cedar chest

I wrote about driving a cedar chest I was given halfway across country recently and, disappointingly, less than five minutes after getting it out of the car, I broke part of it. Yup, “welcome home”, *crack*!

The chest is mounted on four wheels to allow it to be slid easily across the floor. However, the wheels are small (~1” in diameter) and wooden, so hitting even a small stone will stop it in its tracks. I have an aggregate driveway and so, after lowering the chest gently from the car to the driveway, each and every wheel was resting against the equivalent of a small stone. I pushed, perhaps nudged a bit more firmly, and one of the wheels popped off.

Happily, I’m a (novice) woodworker and a quick inspection told me it was a couple whacks of a hammer away from being “like new”, so I barely skipped a beat. I found a small dolly I’d built for other purposes (with larger, nylon wheels), inserted it under one end of the chest, and with Suzy’s help (and lifting the other end off the driveway), escorted the chest into the garage and onto smooth concrete.

I plan on keeping it in the garage and, maybe, storing some of my tools in it. I’m not sure yet what exactly I’ll do with it, but using it in my shop would be a grand way to get regular use from it. However, knocking a part off it the second I got it home had me concerned that these wheels may not be up for the light industrial work I imagine will occur in the shop.

Time for my simple solution.

Over the next couple days I tried to figure out how to mount the chest in a non-permanent way to a different set of wheels. I want to keep the chest intact and as-is, to protect it from negligent harm, but still get utility from it.

imageMy initial thought was to knock together four 2x4s in a rectangle, attach wheels to the corners, and set the chest on that. The 2×4 base would be smaller than the base of the chest and sit under the skirt, avoiding the wheels on the chest. In the picture to the left, I didn’t add the skirt or wheels to the (blue) cedar chest, but you can see the rolling base is smaller than the chest. I’d make it as small as needed so it fit.

This had the benefit of being very simple to build; but I could already imagine some problems. My concerns here came with finding ways to keep the rectangle square, how to deal with the fact that using a lap joint would only give support on two sides, and raised the question about whether the chest imagehad been designed to have its weight supported in that way. That is, with the weight supported completely on the bottom panel, and not coming up through the side walls.

Undeterred, I considered using butt joints between the 2x4s and using a triangle of plywood as a gusset to hold the joint together and ensure it would stay square. This solved two of my concerns and I realized that if I made this “dolly” large enough, I could just rest the chest feet on top of it so my third concern was also addressed. Nice!

And then I asked myself whether just using a single piece of plywood wouldn’t be superior altogether: it avoided joints, would give a stable platform for the chest to sit on, and if I made it slightly oversized, when pushing it about the shop, I could protect the sides from banging into things.

I liked this a lot and it became my design. But, like all of this sort of thing, the design was in my head, the chest in the shop, and it took a while for these two things to meet.

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Let’s build it!

After work one evening I found the time to measure up the chest and cut a rectangle of plywood for the new base. And, like a lot of jobs I start, I set the plywood aside and it was a couple more weeks before I touched it again. When I did, I realized that setting it on this plywood base would just give the small, wooden chest wheels something to roll around on as I pushed it about the shop. My first thought was to tack a few strips of wood to the top, cradling the chest wheels and acting as “rocks” that would stop the wheels when I pushed it about. That seemed good but then another thought occurred to me: cut holes in the base where the wheels were and allow them to recess into the hole when the chest was set on the base. Again, nice!

I found my hole saw bits and, after a bit of measuring, I now had a board with four holes in it. Time for the wheels.

I save lots of parts from different things and I’d “recently” disassembled a chair that had ridden about on casters. The chair no longer was functional, but the casters seemed fine so I’d pulled them out, put them in a baggie, and stuffed them onto the Shelf From Which Few Things Return™. Yup, it’s the “I could use that sometime” storage place that I put more things than I’ll ever use. But now I had need of some wheels!

I wasn’t sure how I’d attach the wheels as I forgot how they worked. But, fortune smiled on me and I saw the wheels were attached to a post that was nested in a plastic sleeve. I simply ran to the hardware store to get a 29/64” drill bit, punched four holes into the plywood panel, pushed the plastic sleeves into the holes, and followed that with the post on each wheel.

imageimageimage

Ta da!!! While it’s a bit rare for my ad hoc designs, this plan worked flawlessly. I lowered the chest onto the panel, the wheels disappeared into the holes, the legs of the chest set perfectly on the plywood base, and the new wheels worked marvelously … no play, no tilting, just fine.

It wasn’t until a bit later I realized how simple this plan was: a rectangle of plywood from the corner of my shop, four holes cut into the corners, and then four drilled holes nearby. Aside from the ~$8 drill bit, all parts were things I had on shelves or tucked into corners of the shop. While I still enjoy the execution of the design I used for the chicken coop floor, I really like designs like this, too:  both simple and efficient.

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Perhaps not my most gripping bit of storytelling, but this has been on my mind and I find writing here is a good way to flush my head to allow other thoughts to swim about.

Thanks for coming by and taking time to read.

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One Response to “A simple solution”

  1. momma said

    I’m so happy to see my Mommy’s beloved cedar chest in its new home! And all fixed up so nicely, after your clever alteration! I wonder how many hours I sat on that chest, watching my Mom sewing new bedspreads and drapes for me (and a matching “skirt” for my wicker desk and she even sewed fitted and padded covers for my chair). She also sewed us pajamas and the boys shirts! And I also did a lot of sewing up there in that room, including velour bathrobes for you three boys, one Christmas. Jay’s was gold, I think. John’s probably blue, and Joe was – green? Hmmm, I wonder if you remember. I used to hid Christmas presents in the cedar chest too, and I’ll bet someone “peeked” at one time or another! Mom

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