Spice Drawers

spice drawers

spice drawers

A spice rack is a bit of a clicheéd woodworking project, but it was a fun, quick, Christmas present, to help make the most out of our small kitchen and bring some much needed organization to our spices.

jars o' spice

jars o’ spice

The fronts and backs are made from baltic birch plywood, the runners are made from solid maple, and the sides, bottoms, and dividers are made from a strange red softwood plywood that gives an attractively spicy two-tone look to the project.

bags o' spice

bags o’ spice

Finished with 2 coats of water-based polyurethane, this project produced epic amounts of storage and has made cooking more user friendly and enjoyable.

My Desk



For a long time I’ve wanted a really nice, really large desk. I’ve long been using a saggy hollow core mdf skinned IKEA desk, so an upgrade was long overdue.

In my mind, the key qualities of a desk are:

  1. it must be huge. In this case, 8′ long, as big as I can fit in my apartment, to use all of the available space to the fullest. Even in pieces, I was barely able to get up the stairs
  2. it must be solid enough to stand on, with no deflection in the middle, and no long term sagging
  3. it has to have ample clearance underneath for my knees, filing cabinet, and paper shredder
  4. it has to look good, and if possible promote clear thought and focus.

I had a large quantity of solid Douglas fir tongue and groove flooring, left over from when I helped to build Zee’s Tiny Community Center, so I began with the labor intensive process of resawing it all and hand selecting the 150 pieces needed to make up an 8′ x 29″ table top.

Glueup involved frantically stapling rows of wood strips to the adjacent rows, with the challenge of getting it all together and under firm clamping pressure before the glue dried too much. The first and last row were carefully selected to present attractive grain. The underside of the desk is pretty rough, with lots of knot holes and tearing, but that’s OK since the only time I’ll see it is if i need to plug something into my computer.

desktop glueup

desktop glueup

After glueup, the top was sanded smooth and flat(ish) with a handheld belt sander, since the shop I work at doesn’t have a 30″ planer. Too bad! Sanding took many hours. It was then trimmed to size and the leading and trailing edges were rounded over with a router to be gentle on the wrists and ankles (I like to slouch with my feet up when I’m thinking.)

The finish is 3 coats of water based polyurethane.

finished desk top and frame pieces cut

finished desk top and frame pieces cut

With the top complete, it was time to fabricate a frame. I welded up some 1 1/4″ square mild steel tubing, planning for tabs to through bolt to hold it all together. The frame is made of 2 side frames, a back truss to prevent racking and flexing, and an additional mid crossbar, which was overkill, to ensure things are super stiff. After welding, grinding all the welds flat, clamping it all together and pre-drilling for hardware, the frame was primed and painted in a flat white from a couple of spray cans, which turned out much nicer than I had hoped.

desk frame painted

desk frame painted

I also made a matching shelf, again from the reclaimed fir flooring, which was screwed to the wall using some simple and sturdy powder-coated brackets purchased from the hardware store.

desk shelf

desk shelf

The sanded fir top has a lovely lightly textured surface, since the early wood and late wood are of different hardness and porosities, and the subtle ripple contributes to the tactile experience of working at the desk. It is fastened with screws only through the top of the rear cross brace, in order to allow the wood to expand and contract as it pleases with changes in temperature and humidity.



Open Wardrobe Shelf

Another practical, solid, minimal project for making the most of living in small Vancouver apartments. There’s room for numerous shirts and jackets, and a shelf for shoes and infrequently used items.

open wardrobe shelf installed

open wardrobe shelf installed

The shelf was made of pine plywood, glued and screwed together, with the edges sanded and filled for a smooth finish.

open wardrobe shelf under construction

open wardrobe shelf under construction

The body of the piece was painted with a high-gloss water based enamel, and the dowel was finished with a water based polyurethane to add a contrasting warmth and allow it to stand up to scratching from the metal hooks of hangers without looking worn out.

open wardrobe shelf ready to install

open wardrobe shelf ready to install

I installed the shelf with countersunk screws, and filled and painted over the screw heads for a seamless finish. Notice how the piece was designed to interact well with the IKEA dresser below, in size and finish. The dowel extends through the end gable, and has a subtle indentation to allow a bag to be hung without slipping off.

open wardrobe shelf

open wardrobe shelf

Simple Softwood Desk

A friend of mine needed a compact desk to fit in a narrow spot beside her bed. Rather than spending days shopping around, why not get something custom? She wanted something clean, elegant, and affordable. I think this desk delivers.

softwood desk

Constructed of a pre-laminated knotty pine shelf panel and resawn spruce 2x4s. I had to buy some extra material and resaw more than I needed to get clean straight quartersawn sticks for the legs and bracing, but I’ll use the extra pieces for something else.

Lap joints are clamped by Chicago bolts, which like many designers I am inordinately fond of. The side frames are glued but the back cross brace is not so it can be flat packed for moving if required.

The desk measures 42″ wide x 19″ deep x 28″ tall. I made it a bit lower than a typical table because it is more comfortable to type on a lower surface.

Minimalist Molded Plywood Coffee Table

In 2004, I took a class on furniture design at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, as part of a design certificate program I completed. As part of the course, I constructed a molded plywood coffee table, and while it is only a rough prototype, I have used it ever since. The elemental form and natural durability have been admired by many of my friends, and raw plywood surface has gradually acquired a grungy but attractive coffee-stained patina over the years.

molded coffee table mk 1: many years of faithful service

My girlfriend was perceptive enough to notice her mother also admired the thing, and asked me to make another one as a birthday present. And so I set to work, with the benefit of the experience of making one already and considerably more patience than when I first made it.

The first step was to make a mold. I used scrap plywood from the pile in the garage shop.

scrap plywood mold

Glue-up is a harrowing half-hour of frantically muscling things into place with tangled cargo tie downs, blocks, and whatever clamps are on hand.

glue up: clampity-clamp-clamp

When I removed the shell from the mold, there were some issues along the edges. More glue, perhaps with the assistance of cooler temperatures, would help get better clamping. There are also adjustments to make to the mold to ensure even pressure. Fixing the edges is easy: thin out some glue and let it soak in between the layers, then clamp it up again. The old woodworking adage is true: you can never have too many clamps.

tuning up the edges: you can’t have too many clamps

After tuning up both ends, I clamped the table to a custom jig to rip the base square on the table saw, and then some careful handiwork with a jigsaw to trim the ends nice and flat.

Final finishing requires a few more hours hands-on to steam out any dents, sand out  any saw marks from the ends, and prep those curves for a Danish oil finish.

nice curves

These tables are available to purchase, made to order, custom finishes available.

out to pasture

Transforming Table: Flexible Furniture for Small Spaces

My good friends Scott and Tania recently moved into their shiny new laneway house. Tania wrote a nice review of my work on her blog, and includes a good picture of the piece in its home.

Flexible furniture is one way of making the most out of a small space. A flexible piece of furniture embodies similar materials and energy to a conventional piece, but is more valuable to the user because it fits their life better. Further, something that fits a space well and is built to last is less likely to be replaced. In this way, design effort, meaning human attention, can make a dramatic difference in the real world value of an end product.

I started with a consultation and lots of sketches, and moved on to CAD to sort out the geometry, estimate the materials I’d need, and make sure everyone was happy with how it would look.

CAD plans

I settled on birch ply for the casework and top surfaces because it’s strong, dimensionally stable, and straightforward to work with.

The legs are solid alder, to match the casework in their home. I machined custom aluminum plates to reinforce the leg joints and add a bit of industrial bling.They swing on heavy-duty gate hinges, which were needed to minimize swaying due to slop in the hinge joints.

under construction, nearing completion

The two draw-leaves are brought even with the main table top with a custom lift mechanism that uses UHMW plastic ramps and a pull handle, one for each side. The leaves and legs are mounted on heavy duty ball bearing slides, so the footprint of the table expands as the surface area does. This leaves the center free for people to comfortably stretch their legs, which was a major usability design goal, and also makes the table look surprisingly svelte in the ‘up’ configuration.

underside: how to cram a full-size table into a tiny space

The legs were finished with clearcoat, and the top was hand painted a glossy white, to match the interior of the house it lives in.

coffee table

This is a one-off and a bit of a prototype, but it still performs as expected. It’s quite the puzzle to account for the intersecting and overlapping geometry in different positions, and give sufficient tolerances for things to move without having the mechanism be loose. Doing a full set of scale drawings was invaluable: I managed to build the entire table without wasting any wood to wrong cuts.

full size dining table!

I suspect I’ll be making a lot more of these kinds of pieces as urban living gets increasingly cramped, and people come to expect more from their objects than a single static use.