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Thread: New to woodworking - looking to make large play cube for daughter

  1. #1

    New to woodworking - looking to make large play cube for daughter

    Hi All!

    My first post on this forum! I've recently started to do a little woodworking after building a couple of small things for my daughter and I'm enjoying the process! I'm hoping to get some help with the design of a Christmas present I want to build for her (here's a similar image I found online). The idea is that I could put this with a small ramp to the pickler triangle we have. etsy example.jpg

    Here's what I'm thinking of for the build but would love if someone could provide feedback or advice!

    Material:
    • I'm thinking 3/4 in premium pine plywood (home depot associate said I could do 1/2 in but I'm worried about weight if an adult was to try it for some reason.)
    • For the "ladder" piece I was thinking 1 in dowels but may be to 1.5 in? Suggestions?


    Design:
    • I was thinking 2 sides with a circle in the middle, 2 sides with the dowels like shown here. Solid top. No bottom?
    • Sides would be 2 feet by 2 feet (circle TBD)
    • top is 2 ft x 2 ft
    • Dowels would be either 25 in (if I cut 1/2 in forstner into the side) or 25.5 in if I cut a hole straight through. I'd probably cut straight through as I don't have a drill press.


    Cutting Material Tips: I bought a used router recently and want to try it for this build. Here's what I'm thinking:
    • Cut the circles using an upcut spiral router bit --> The plunge router I have came with a freud bit. Do I cut 1/8 in of material at a time for the circle or can I do it in one pass? Is an upcut spiral bit better than a straight bit?
    • Use a roundover bit on all the edges so it's not sharp
    • Any tips on smoothing the corners where the boards meet?


    Fastening Material:
    • I read screws can sheer but nails may fall out over time. What would you use for this build?
    • I was thinking of using pocket holes drilling up from the sides to the top so the screws would be vertical? If I did the pocket holes side ways from the top to the sides would there be a risk to sheer?
    • For the Dowels: Will 1/2 in hole in each plywood be sufficient to hold the weight of a child? Do I need to reinforce with screws?


    Anything else I've missed? I'm excited to try this build. It looks "simple" enough but also looks like a stretch goal for myself!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Columbus, OH
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    Hi Luis, welcome to the Creek! Here's some thoughts I have regarding your project.

    Quote Originally Posted by Luis Reyes View Post

    Material:
    • I'm thinking 3/4 in premium pine plywood (home depot associate said I could do 1/2 in but I'm worried about weight if an adult was to try it for some reason.)
    • For the "ladder" piece I was thinking 1 in dowels but may be to 1.5 in? Suggestions?
    Plywood is going to difficult to end up with smooth edges, even with roundovers and sanding. Plywood can have voids as well. If you paint the piece, then plywood edges can be filled with joint compound, sanded, primed and painted, and will be pretty smooth. But solid wood is going to give you the smoothest finish on the edges, whether you paint, or leave natural. Plywood can be edged with solid wood, but that inside circle is going to be tough (nearly impossible?) to edge.

    The needed dowel width is tough to gauge. Maybe someone here can do a good analysis. But bigger is stronger, straight grain is stronger than angular grain, and some hardwoods are stronger than others.

    Quote Originally Posted by Luis Reyes View Post
    Design:
    • I was thinking 2 sides with a circle in the middle, 2 sides with the dowels like shown here. Solid top. No bottom?
    • Sides would be 2 feet by 2 feet (circle TBD)
    • top is 2 ft x 2 ft
    • Dowels would be either 25 in (if I cut 1/2 in forstner into the side) or 25.5 in if I cut a hole straight through. I'd probably cut straight through as I don't have a drill press.
    On the last point, I would drill a recess about 1/8" - 3/16" deep the size of the dowel. Then run a strong screw thru the front, (deeply countersunk) into the end of the dowel. You can then use a wood plug to cover the screw head. If you look closely at the image you provided, that is what they did. You can use a different wood species for the plugs to give a highlight. Or cut plugs from a scrap of the project wood to match color and grain.

    Quote Originally Posted by Luis Reyes View Post
    Cutting Material Tips: I bought a used router recently and want to try it for this build. Here's what I'm thinking:
    • Cut the circles using an upcut spiral router bit --> The plunge router I have came with a freud bit. Do I cut 1/8 in of material at a time for the circle or can I do it in one pass? Is an upcut spiral bit better than a straight bit?
    • Use a roundover bit on all the edges so it's not sharp
    • Any tips on smoothing the corners where the boards meet?
    Upcut spiral bits leave a fuzzy edge at the top, downcut bits leave a fuzzy edge at the bottom. There is a combination bit, called a compression bit that gives you the best of both. I might be tempted to use a straight bit in your case with the router on a circle cutting base. Since the outside of the cut is your keeper piece, you need to make sure that is well clamped to your work surface so that it doesn't shift as you route the final pass. I would probably use double sided tape to keep the inner circle from moving on the final pass.


    Quote Originally Posted by Luis Reyes View Post
    Fastening Material:
    • I read screws can sheer but nails may fall out over time. What would you use for this build?
    • I was thinking of using pocket holes drilling up from the sides to the top so the screws would be vertical? If I did the pocket holes side ways from the top to the sides would there be a risk to sheer?
    • For the Dowels: Will 1/2 in hole in each plywood be sufficient to hold the weight of a child? Do I need to reinforce with screws?

    Good quality stainless screws of the proper size will hold up. Pocket screws would have to be plugged and even then they will be noticeable. I would cut a short depth mortise to catch the top, glue it, and then run screws thru the sides to secure it. Plug the screw holes as for the dowels. If using solid wood, make sure the grain of the top and sides is running in the same direction.

    As a second thought, you could just glue the top in the mortise, and the dowels would hold the unit together. No additional screws necessary as todays glues are good enough to have good strength on the end grain. There's been a bit of discussion lately about end grain joints.
    Last edited by Brian Tymchak; 10-18-2021 at 8:51 PM.
    Brian

    "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger or more complicated...it takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." - E.F. Schumacher

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2016
    Location
    South West Ontario
    Posts
    1,272
    Welcome Luis,

    Your location is not given but hopefully you can find some Baltic Birch plywood (Russian Plywood). The knots are filled, quality excellent. Comes in 5’ x 5’ . Cut the openings in 2 passes, a rough pass then a final pass. Yes some sanding required but it’s wood!

    1” dowel should be plenty given your dimensions. Depending on the thickness you can find you can use a Forstner bit to drill the holes. Drill from one side almost through then drill from the other side to avoid tear out. If you saw across the dowel end you can glue and wedge the dowel then trim with a flush saw.

    All sanding/rounding is done before final assembly. Two coats of varnish will remove the splinter risk and improve the appearance, not to mention keeping it clean.
    ​You can do a lot with very little! You can do a little more with a lot!

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Tymchak View Post
    Good quality stainless screws of the proper size will hold up. Pocket screws would have to be plugged and even then they will be noticeable. I would cut a short depth mortise to catch the top, glue it, and then run screws thru the sides to secure it. Plug the screw holes as for the dowels. If using solid wood, make sure the grain of the top and sides is running in the same direction.

    As a second thought, you could just glue the top in the mortise, and the dowels would hold the unit together. No additional screws necessary as todays glues are good enough to have good strength on the end grain. There's been a bit of discussion lately about end grain joints.
    Hi Brian, thank you for the great feedback! Can you please explain the short depth mortise in more detail? I tried googling it but I'm not sure I understood it.

    Quote Originally Posted by William Fretwell View Post
    1” dowel should be plenty given your dimensions. Depending on the thickness you can find you can use a Forstner bit to drill the holes. Drill from one side almost through then drill from the other side to avoid tear out. If you saw across the dowel end you can glue and wedge the dowel then trim with a flush saw.
    Hi William, thank you for the advice! If I'm reading it correctly I'd create a hole the same size as the dowel, put the dowel through and flush trim the excess? Would the glue be sufficient to hold this?

    On another note, I don't have a drill press... is this going to be difficult to do without one? I may see if my neighbour has one although I've been thinking of buying a used drill press anyway.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2016
    Location
    South West Ontario
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    Luis no drill press needed. Most forstner bits are fairly long and sit flat at the start. The end of the dowel would be cut across the end grain to the same depth as the wood thickness and a small wedge driven in after glueing. This creates a very strong joint. Baltic birch plywood is a joy to work with, no voids, high quality.
    ​You can do a lot with very little! You can do a little more with a lot!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Columbus, OH
    Posts
    2,420
    Quote Originally Posted by Luis Reyes View Post
    Hi Brian, thank you for the great feedback! Can you please explain the short depth mortise in more detail? I tried googling it but I'm not sure I understood it.
    Sure. A mortise is just a slot cut into a piece of wood to accept a tenon, a "tongue" if you will of wood, on another piece of wood. If you google Mortise and Tenon joint, you will find a ton of info on it. In your case the top would be the tenon fitting into a slot, or groove, milled in the side piece near the top edge. Tenons can be "full", iow the same dimension as the piece itself. Or they are often a smaller dimension than the overall piece, being a tab that fits into a mortise that is cut to fit it. Hopefully that conveys the notion I was writing about but let me know if you have more questions on that.

    The term "short depth" was my attempt to convey that the mortise needs to be just deep enough to capture the end of the top, maybe only 1/4 of the thickness of the side piece.
    Last edited by Brian Tymchak; 10-21-2021 at 10:59 AM.
    Brian

    "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger or more complicated...it takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." - E.F. Schumacher

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