Twin Cradle Series, Part 3.1 : The Build

I must say it’s taken me four times longer to spit out this blog post than it did to actually build the cradle!

I learned several fundamental lessons on this project. The key lessons having to do with biscuits, filling knots, layout and what I’ll call the order of execution.

The Sides:

I laid out my templates and copied them onto the wood.  Careful to mark out orientation, keeping the wood grain parallel on my ovals.

The Layout

I then cut my pieces on the band saw…

Rough Cut on the Band Saw

The sides

Smoothing the sides with my Rigid Oscillating Edge/Belt Spindle Sander (looks like an ad for Rigid!)

I cleaned up the edges on my Rigid Oscillating Sander, I then routed the sides with a 1/8″ router bit before smoothing it out by hand:

My new Moxon Vise got a good workout for smoothing the edges.

The Base:

I dry fitted my boards together and then laid out the base using my templates. I then cut each piece individually.   Given the round tenons and the foot boards I thought it would be easier to work on smaller pieces rather than the final base size (I wish I had that forethought on the side pieces, but more on that later).

The Footrest:  I designed the cradle so that it could be rocked easily with your foot as you sat in a chair. Each side needed a comfortable edge that contoured to a foot.  This operation left me know choice but to invest in a set of rasps for TFWW.  What was I to do?  I was thinking of my families comfort after all!

I am lucky enough to live about a mile from Tools for Working Wood.  I read all I could on rasps, to decide which would best suit my needs.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, when I got there, tried them out and chatted with Tim, I over did it and bought a set of four.  I went with the Gramercy Tools Hand Cut Cabinetmaker’s Rasps and I have no regrets.  It has changed how I approach projects.

There are others that are much more schooled in the nuances of the rasps.  I suggest you check out these articles:

Jointing and Biscuits- I know biscuits are one of those things that half the folks say you don’t need them and the other half uses them because that’s what Norm did. Well the truth is I never watched that much Norm, but it was the way I was taught to joint two boards together, and well I’m just more comfortable doing it that way. No harm, no foul. And besides- what else would I do with that biscuit joiner I bought!

So I jointed my boards together before laying out my templates. Then I learned a valuable lesson regarding biscuit placement. While Inset the biscuits about 6″ from the edge I forgot that these rectangle boards I created were going to be shaped into an oval and a rectangle with tenons. See where this is going? I got lucky though– on the side ovals I cut out 4 biscuits at the corners and missed the others. Not so much for the bottom piece– lucky again though since that edge will never be exposed. It’ll be our little secret!

In the interest in getting this out, look for part 3.2!….

to be continued…


pro-to-type [proh-tuh-tahyp]


pro-to-type  [proh-tuh-tahyp]

Noun  1.the original or model on which something is based or formed.

This weekend I decided to jump into a small project: two picture frames. For Christmas I bought my wife two small paintings for our kitchen.  I loved the paintings, but the frames were a bit too formal for our kitchen.  So, I thought “no problem, I’ll just build two new ones.”  As always: easier said, than done.

I’ve never built a picture frame before, but how hard could it be?   Now normally when I come up with a project I do as much research as I can on the subject.  I Google, I hit the forums, WoodTalk Online, Lumberjacks and the like, not only for inspiration but for advise and instruction. I would even hit Amazon and buy some book like ‘Picture Frames and You’.  But this time I decided to just jump right in.

The frames I wanted would be simple outlines of wood around the paintings. No mitres, no fuss. Just give the canvas something thing to conceal the edges where the painter’s brush had stopped and trailed off.  I had an idea in my head, so I decided on Sunday I would just head to the shop and jump right in.  Not a big project, I imagined it would take me the afternoon, and it probably would have,  if I had done my homework and actually laid it out.  I was able to build a the frame in a couple of hours, but I was not satisfied with the result.  The frame was not as deep as I had wanted (due to the size stock I started with), I had not thought through how my joints would come together, nor had I thought through how was going to glue and clamps the pieces together (but besides that, it was perfect!…).  I did build something on Sunday afternoon, but I didn’t build the frame I wanted, I built a proto-type of the frame I wanted.

I think I’ve been shy of the concept of building a prototype in the shop, mostly because I don’t have enough time to build the actual project, never mind a crappy mock up of one.

When I was in scenic design school we would stay up for a week building scale models of the assigned production and then bring them into class for critique.  By critique I mean, watching the professor physically rip apart the model and say “maybe like this, or maybe not”, as you stared at your shredded weeks worth of work.  Perhaps I am scarred.   But on Sunday I really had to step back and say “hmmm, I really need to figure this out, and come up with a plan.”  Even for a simple frame. It’s just part of the process, even for a hobbyist.

So Sunday afternoon was not at all a waist.  I made a prototype of an idea I had for a frame.  I have already come up with a half dozen ideas on how to make it better, more unique and how to use better woodworking skills.  It may be firewood, but it was a great way to spend the afternoon.

Twin Cradle Series, Part 1: Design

As many of you know my latest project was a cradle for my new twin nephews who were born shortly before Thanksgiving. I was certainly inspired and motivated by  Vic Hubbard’s cradle for his granddaughter Gretchin.   I quickly learned that the good thing and the bad thing with building a cradle are the same:  a deadline!  Babies wait for no man.  Twins have a tendency to come early, so the pressure was on.

As a trained designer (not a furniture designer, however) I tend to put a good deal of thought into a project before delving in.  I do as much research as possible.  What are all my options?  How can make this project unique? What are the practical aspects I need to consider?  I obsess about such decisions.  I go over and over them in my head.  On our long drives back and forth to the country I get into the zone and mull over every aspect of a project.  The big joke in our house is that I like to take long showers in the morning.  I design everything in the shower.  I figure out everything for the day.  Crazy I know, but it works.  So out of the shower and back to the topic at hand!

To start,  I made a laundry list in my head of all the things I needed to consider.

#1:The babies.  That’s a no brainer. But the truth is, as any parent knows, a baby will sleep almost anywhere, given the right circumstances.  Tired enough a baby would sleep in a cardboard box, but that would be a boring thing to build, to blog about, and the parents might get bad looks if they put them in a box as if they were kittens.

Which brings us to consideration #2: The Parents.  Probably the single most important consideration.  While this may be  a gift, the parents are the ‘clients’.  This piece of furniture needs to meet their needs.  Luckily, as a parent of two children, I have ALL the answers and know exactly what all expecting parent needs and am able to predict the future for them (it drove me nuts when people would say ‘just wait…’).  Anyway, the cradle really needs to meet the needs of the parents.  Being able to rock the babies to sleep and the ability easily to put them in it and feel comfortable walking away. Parents are so overwhelmed with safety regulations these days surrounding cradles, it would be unfortunate to present something to the parents that they were not comfortable with.

#3: The Aesthetic.  As I said earlier, babies will sleep anywhere. Ian & Betsy (the parents) were using several pack & plays.  Certainly functional, and you still need them to raise children, but maybe not in keeping with the living room furniture.  I was setting out to create an heirloom piece of furniture that they could put in their living room and be proud of. After all, if you think about it, it is kind of funny to present a huge piece of furniture as a gift to someone and say “Here!  Put this big honking thing in your living room!”.

#4: Practicality.  Size was obviously key.  It had to fit two babies and leave them room to grow.  This was not going to be a tiny piece.  While I wanted to create an “heirloom” quality piece, let’s be practical: this is a cradle for twins.  Ian & Betsy may not have more children, let alone a set of twins.  So what do you do with this “museum quality” work of art in a year?

#5:  My skill level and time.  While I am obsessed with woodworking, I am an amateur.  I do this on the weekends, in between family activities and obligations.  I needed to design a piece that was within my skill set.  While I love to push myself, I had a deadline.  These babies were on the way and they would not always fit in the cradle.  They certainly would not wait for me to struggle though new techniques.

I naturally took to Google images for inspiration.  One of the very first images I came across stuck with me.  It’s a rather modern piece that has a bit of Swedish aesthetic to it (read: Ikea look).   As I kept researching, my thoughts kept bringing me back to this piece.  The cradle I found answered several considerations, but above all I was sure I could actually build it.  Then the designer in me took over.  How could I improve upon this utilitarian design?  Building it out of a wood other than fiberboard and plastic veneer was a start.  I love cherry.  So I chose: Cherry.  Already this was looking better!

1st Scribbles

I start scribbling out some rough sketches, really to get some overall dimensions.

Rough dimensions

I made a flat mock up of the side to get an idea of the angles.  This was very telling but I still felt I needed to really have this completely conceptualized and designed before I started cutting cherry.

I laid out sticks of scrap to get sense of scale, angles and proportion.

I did not have the luxury of time to be creative, in that sense, in the shop, and let’s face it- cherry’s not cheap.  That’s when I decided I needed to finally take the bull by the horns and learn Sketchup.  I had dabbled with it before, but this was an opportunity that would force me learn it.  I was an excellent hand draftsman and did pretty well with Vectorworks, but 3D was something I just never had to do.  So, I signed up for a two night class at 3rd Ward in Brooklyn.  They offer amazing classes in all sorts of creative fields, including woodworking.  The class gave me just enough to go on. I wasn’t a master, but I finally felt really comfortable. I spent a week fiddling around with different ideas.  Sketchup really helped me land on some key design aspects.   For me, who spends the entire week in the city, far from my shop, Sketchup was going to be my friend.

So what did I discover?  The first thing was that this was going to be a sizable piece of furniture!  Thats when I decided it needed to be able to break down easily, both for our trip to New Hampshire, but also for storage once it has outlived it’s sole purpose and is retired to the basement.  I then decided that I wanted it to go together without any hardware.  It needed to be able to fit together with wood, and wood alone.  I decided to create through tenons for the bottom, as well as the footboard and headboard that could easily slide into the sides.  I worked on the symmetry and to be honest it all came together rather quickly.  If anything it was my sketchup skills that slowed me down! I decided to lose the oval handles my research had provided.  That seemed clunky and I could not see how they would be comfortable or useful for the parents.  I pictured my brother-in-law, Ian, drinking beer and watching football, with the cradle in front of him.  I decided it needed a foot rest that he could rock the cradle while chilling out on the couch.  So I extended the base so it would make a comfortable foot rest.  At this point I was really feeling good about the design.  I did leave a few decisions up in the air to see how things progressed.  I needed to decide how to make the center divider come and go easily and I needed to fine tune the thru tenons and what I would use for pegs to hold them together.

Overall, I was pretty excited.  It was time to start building!…..