Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wood Butchery - "Free" style

Wood Butchery - v. def:
1. An amusing and self deprecating reference to high quality hand crafted woodwork
2. Rough carpentry, low quality, fast, and cheap

Normally, when I refer to my woodworking projects as wood butchery, it's in the sense of definition one. Frankly, I'm seriously anal about... well, just about everything I do... but in particular I'm anal about doing high quality artisan work.

I spend a lot of time and effort making sure what comes out of my shop, and off my bench, is the best work I can possibly produce; with the highest quality materials and finishes.

...But sometimes, you just need to do a little bit of quick and dirty carpentry... Like today for example.

After a wonderful indian summer here in North Idaho (days have been in the 60s 'til a few days ago; much warmer, much later in the year, than is normal); the weather has finally turned, and it's getting cold.

Although they've been wrong each time, the weather people have been predicting snow the last few days. I was pretty sure they'd be wrong Sunday and Monday (we had cold rain, but no snow), but I'm expecting the snow to show up in the next few days... Possibly tonight, or tomorrow.

As it happens, I've got 2 cords of three year split and seasoned; silver, black, and white birch firewood; sitting stacked under tarps, on top of my shooting platforms (they were convenient when I was dropping the wood off last fall), behind the house.

Unfortunately, behind the house is a pretty bad location for it; particularly when it's been snowing. Also, it gets in the way of the plowing of my driveway and parking area (and takes up a good bit of said area etc... etc... ).

... in case you weren't aware, north Idaho can get some pretty serious snowfall.

So, at this point, we have to get the firewood out of the big bulk pile it's been in, and stack it neatly in firewood racks that are convenient to our entry doors; and we have to do it in the next day or two.

Now, the original plan was to build some firewood racks from dimensional lumber and plywood this spring and summer. I even bought the lumber etc... And had the plywood for six racks rough cut to my desired dimensions (96" width, by 48" height, by 16" depth; enough to hold one face of a cord under the top, plus a benchtop surface to work on, stack kindling on etc... The six would have held both cords).

Unfortunately, my cancer had other plans; and I didn't manage to get the job done before I got too sick to do it; and I haven't got around to it since.

As it happens, we have a local business about a mile down the road from us, that gets a couple hundred pallets in a month. So many that they put out stacks of pallets free for the taking about once a month.

We're not talking the worlds greatest pallets here. They're in all different sizes and all different qualities of construction; but I find a lot of use for them around the property; and worst case, they're good enough to break up for firewood for the cast iron wood stove in my shop.

I've had a stack of about 12 relatively decent pallets sitting in a stack beside my shop for the past couple months; and there just happened to be four identical ones sitting there.

Perfect for making a couple of big firewood bins, with some quick and dirty wood butchery.

The trick to building things out of pallets, is to find ones that are as close to identical as possible to act as bases. The length and width aren't 100% critical, because you can pad those out with 1by, 1by, and 4x dimensional lumber easy enough; but all the pallets on the same side, need to be exactly the same width.

So, I could have taken all four of the identical ones and made the bins from them; but instead, I decided to make two bins, using two of the identical pallets each.

So, step one is to gather your tools and materials:

  • Two identical pallets for the base
  • Two "pretty close" pallets for the sides (more on that below)
  • Ten 8' 2x4 sticks of dimensional lumber (pressure treated is preferred, but not required)
  • One 8' 4x4 (optional, but possibly useful for cutting reinforcement blocks)
  • About a gross of 3" deck screws (about 1.5lbs)
  • A few 4" deck screws (optional, but may be useful)
  • A drill, preferably corded, and with a quick change drill/driver set (or two drills set with one of each)
  • A circular saw, recip saw, trim saw, table saw, flush cut saw, or miter saw; to trim the 2x4s to length

Next thing we do is join the pallets together at the front, screwing a toe rail in to the pallet blocks; and creating a reference plane that all other measurements and angles will be set from.

If you're using pressure treated lumber you can just let the toe rail rest on the ground. For several reasons, I prefer to have it set above ground level; so I blocked the rail up with another 2x4 laid flat, and then screwed the rail in. Conveniently, that put the top of the toerail at the same height as the pallet frame.

I did the same on the back side, but I wanted to have a ledge on the back to keep the bottom layer of wood from sliding out, so I used a 2x4 laid on its edge as the spacer; and I only screwed it in at the center to join both pallets (that's important right now. You only want the side pallets fastened to the front rail for now).

This let me slide the side pallets in, with enough tension to hold them while I screwed them in on the front side (what I was about to do here):

As I said above, the side pallets can be "pretty close", instead of identical; so long as at least one side of each pallet you want to use for the sides, is within about 3/8 of the depth of the base (the advantage of wood butchery over precision woodworking).

Of course, the disadvantage of not using identical pallets, is that you have to compensate for the differences in dimensions.

In this case, I had two pallets that were within 3/8" on depth, but to do so they had to run in different directions. Also, one pallet was 3" shorter than the other when oriented in that dimension

Also, pallets come in many different designs. Some are only screwed (or stapled, or nailed) together with boards; some have boards and blocks. Pallets without blocks (as the smaller pallet I'm using as a right side above) don't give you a lot of surface to join wood to.

So, we pad out the height with two lengths of 2x4 (32-5/8" in this case), screwed into the top rail of the short pallet.

You can screw through both at once with 4" deck screws (2x4's are actually 1.5", giving you an inch of bite on the rail); or you can offset screw them one layer at a time (which is what I did here. Just make sure you offset the laminating screws from where you're going to want to screw any cross pieces etc..):

Then I had to cut some screw blocks. Normally I'd use a 4x4 here, but since I had already cut 65" out of another 2x4, I decided to just cut the blocks from that. I wouldn't use them for a real load bearing structure, but they'll be plenty strong enough for a side wall when used as doubling blocks over an existing rail:

The one thing about using 2x4 blocks, is that you'll definitely want to predrill  to avoid splitting. You might want to do that with a 4x4 block anyway (to avoid splitting, and to make driving the screws easier), but it isn't 100% necessary most of the time.

Actually, in general, you may want to pre-drill for those same reasons; but depending on your wood, your screws, and your drill, you may not want to bother.

Also, on the base corners, you're going to want to double your blocks, pre-drill, and screw through both with 4" deck screws (and obviously, be careful to properly offset your screws, so that you don't hit the screws coming from the side through the blocks, with the screws coming in from the rails):

In general, you would prefer to situate the blocks so that you're not screwing into endgrain in either direction; but this pallet was about 1/8" too thick for me to block it in that direction, and had to cut the blocks to 3-5/8" (then trim them down by like 1/2 a kerf on the blade to actually get them into position).

From there, it's just a matter of setting the rails on the back and top, and screwing the backside corners down.

Set your top rail on your back corners first, then screw a ledger rail on to that, making a 90 degree corner; and screw through that ledger rail into the two side pallets.

Unfortunately, it was getting too dark for me to get pics of that... So I'll finish it up tomorrow morning, and get the rest of the pics up then.