Weekend Woodworking

Over the weekend, I selfishly took advantage of the Father’s Day sales and bought myself a sabre saw (or, as Kim calls it, the sabertooth saw), even though I am not a father (that I’m aware of, at least.) I have been starting to get ideas for things to build that were just a bit beyond the hand-powered cross-cut saw and coping saw in my tool repository. It was time for a power saw, even if it was a low-end one.

I have not done much woodworking since junior high school. The stuff I have been doing recently around the house has amounted to surface and trim: punching holes in plaster and drywall, cutting and attaching baseboards, replacing part of an old casement windowframe. It was about time for a little project.

I have been saving up newspaper, magazine, and web clippings of little bits of furniture and such that would make simple projects. One such thing was a stepstool. You see, we have a window in the front of the house that gets a lot of sun and overlooks the bird feeder. This is prime cat real estate, but Charlotte — the oldest of our cats — has been having trouble with his back legs in recent years. Arthritis is setting in and he does not jump quite as well as he used to. I thought it might be nice to put a little stepstool there to give Charlotte easier access: a cat-sized wheelchair ramp, if you will.

Over the weekend, I designed a basic little stepstool based on remnants I had in the garage. Certain pieces of the design — the depth of the steps, for instance — were highly influenced by what scrap wood I have available. Other pieces of the design were influenced by the environment it will be used in: the height of the table, for instance. Overall, it turned out pretty well and the black paint job gave it a sort of piano bench elegance. There is a minor wobble that can only be felt on a hardwood floor (fortunately, this is on carpet for now.) It can likely be fixed with a bit of shim or planing, but since I forgot to check for wobbliness before putting on some 2×4 braces, planing down an edge is a bit more difficult of an option that it should be. In the photo, it looks like there is a bigger step between the top step and the tabletop, but that is an illusion — they should all be equidistant: from the floor to the first step, first to second, second to top, and top to table.

Kitty Stairs

If there’s interest, I can scan and post the plans, but it’s a pretty simple design. The steps themselves are 5″x0.5″ (leftovers from bathroom baseboards.) They were routed to be curved on three edges. The side pieces are thick plywood from a cabinet that was in the basement when we moved in (which could only be removed by disassembling.) It’s about 0.75″ thick. The three “corners” (front, lower back, upper back) as well as the mid-back have 2×4 cross-braces to hold things together. If I was making this for people as well as cats, I might have also put smaller cross-braces under the steps themselves, but they’re actually pretty sturdy as-is. It was then sanded and painted.

Not bad for not having touched a power tool since the mid 80s, eh? I’ve learned and re-learned a few lessons and will be that much more proficient with the next project. I find the toughest part is realizing a conceptual design into a concrete implementation. A design that is 100% on paper can be perfect. The corners are square, the measurements are exact, and pieces fit together nicely. When translating that into the real world, nothing is ever a perfect 90 degrees. Measurements are only as accurate as the thickness of your pencil lead or saw blade. Straight cuts are not. (Admittedly, they would be if I got myself something like a radial arm saw, but I’m not ready for one of those yet.) Things don’t quite fit together correctly. It’s the same sort of real-world quirks you get when going from pure conceptual physics to applied physics and engineering. The perfection of a design can only be as good as the tolerances of the components and tools. This is life.

Posted in: Dear Diary

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