I’m reassured that intelligent people often change their plans when better ideas present themselves. So I’m not wishy-washy, I’m just a thinker.
My plan for many months after we moved into our current home was to build a set of shelves like I had done in our previous home. But when I contemplated what that would do in my garage and my limited space, it became pretty obvious that neither the storage I’d planned nor the workspace I’d hoped to save were going to be adequate.
Then, some months ago, while perusing a magazine, I saw an article and a fellow who had perhaps far more engineering capabilities and money than I have at my disposal, for he installed on his garage ceiling some sort of device that allowed him to pull out shelves. He built these four foot deep by two foot wide by eight foot high shelving units that were hung from some sort of ceiling rack that allowed them to glide out and glide back into place. I looked at the idea and figured that there was nothing good that I could glean from it.
Then I started to think. And I thought what about, rather than hanging them from the ceiling and therefore limiting their utility, what if I started bottom up by putting the things on wheels? Basically I’d build shelving units that rolled around. It’s done all the time. Then I thought, rather than making them open shelving units and having stuff fall off as I roll them about, what if I built sides on them – you know, big old doors. The doors would be shut when they move, but when time comes to look around in them, you open the doors from either side.
And that idea really ran away with me. I had all sorts of plans for these rolling carts. Then I started thinking about moving them. You know, what if I moved, or what if I needed to move them out of the garage and store them elsewhere? That seemed unlikely to work if I have to rent a large U-Haul truck in order to relocate, no matter how temporarily, these things. After all, they were going to be just about six feet tall, with the wheels, two feet wide, and four feet long.
So this was the operating idea until earlier this week when I started thinking what if I made the cabinets modular? You know, instead of one giant five foot eight inch tall box with wheels under it, instead, I build a short cart with wheels, and then on top, I stack footlockers. Boxes that could be opened on the top, or the front (because you know if they’re in a stack, you’re always going to want the stuff out of the bottom box).
So I’m back at the drawing board, sort of, redesigning the whole project. Instead of relying on 3/4″ and 1/4″ plywood and a light frame inside, I’ve come up with a design that has boxes that are made out of 1/4″ plywood with 2×4 frames inside. The boxes are 42″ long, 24″ wide, and about 20″ tall. They’re not a full two feet tall because I want to be able to stack them 3 tall and still get out the garage door – and my garage door is sort of short. I can’t park my Expedition in my garage because my Expedition is slightly over six and a half feet tall – and my garage door is slightly under six feet three inches tall. So like the fellow who built the boat in the basement, I’m careful not to exceed that door height.
But the idea I came up with that I thought was particularly good was the framing on the top and bottom of the boxes. On the top, about an inch and three-quarters in from the edges, I’ll put a “rim” of 1×2 lumber (which is actually going to be an inch and a half wide, and three-quarters of an inch tall). On the bottom, going all the way around the perimeter of the box, will be a similar border of 1×2.
Which means that the bottoms are going to have a frame that is going to fit right over the frame on the top of the box – with a quarter-inch to spare all the way around. And that means I can stack the boxes up one on top of the other and they’ll sort of interlock with one another so that when I push, they won’t slide apart.
And so I can also stack them in a pick up bed and tie them down and they’ll stay stacked so long as someone doesn’t take a corner at 80 mph.
After all of that figuring, it occurred to me if I were a better programmer, I had a million dollar idea. Odds are it already exists, somewhere, but not in my price range. I want to build a piece of software that’s a combination CAD program and database.
I know, I’m hearing you say “Huh?”
Think of it this way. When I draw up a design, I use a program called CAD STD Lite. It’s a 2D drawing program that is not much more than boxes and lines and curves. What I’d do is extend this, slightly. Instead of boxes and curves and etc., I’d attach the CAD program to a database. And in the database I’d have pre-defined blocks of wood. You know, things like 2x4s, 1x2s, 2x2s, 2x10s, etc – essentially all the common lumber types one finds at a lumber yard.
When it comes time to design something, I would go into the program and select 2×4. Then tell it I need four pieces 17″ long. And then draw another one 38″ long as a cross brace. Add 1/4″ plywood pieces, etc., etc., etc. Until I finished my design.
Then what I’d do is select a button, and a report would come up that would tell me all of the parts, by dimension and type, I’d used. 4-17″ 2x4s, 3-38″ 2x4s, 4-16 1/2″ 2x4s, etc., etc. And I could poke another button and get the “cut list” which is the pieces you’d have to cut. Now that would be the fun part to do because you would need to figure out is the most efficient method for cutting your parts.
Over the years, I’ve developed a method using a spreadsheet where I identify each part I’m going to need. Here’s a screenshot of a part of the spreadsheet from a recent idea/plan for a workbench I’ve wanted to build.
Each part is given a letter name in the column “Part ID” and then identified by the type of “Material.” As the material will typically tell me two of the dimensions – such as a 2×4 – then the next column identifies the overall “Length” of the piece. Then I have a column to identify how many I “Need.”
After that, I get fancy with the spreadsheet. I have a column which identifies how many pieces I’ve “Done,” and how many I “Still Need.” I also like to sort pieces by length – the longer ones first, then shorter – but sometimes I want to sort differently – so I have a column titled “Serial” to allow me to number the parts and sort them. Then a “Description” of the piece – as in where it fits, as I don’t have the drawing right there on the screen.
Below that, I have the business part of the spreadsheet. Most 2x4s and other dimensional lumber that I typically use come in standard 96″ (or eight foot) length, or what’s called “Stud Length” which would be used to build walls. Those are 92 5/8″ – or for the purpose of my spreadsheet, 92.625.
So I look to see what’s on sale, if anything, then I build the bottom part – my “Cut List”.
The first column is titled “Remaining.” Then “Used,” “Part Length,” “Saw Kerfs,” and “OAL.” OAL stands for Overall length – which is where I put the 96 or 92.625. The next columns are titled “What” to tell me what sort of Material, and “Count”. Then the columns are numbered 1 through 10.
How it works is I enter the part letter in the numbered column. Further over on the spreadsheet, out of sight for when I’m working directly on the overall parts, is a section that looks up the letter in the section where I identify the parts. If it finds the letter, it replaces a “0” with the number from the length column. And those numbers are what are used for all the math.
Going back over those first columns, backwards, is Count – When I start putting pieces into the Cut List, I identify each line in that part of the spreadsheet as to the material. Which allows me to keep track of how many of that type of lumber I need. For example, I keep all of the 2x4s together so the Count column looks to see if the contents of the “What” cell in that row match the What cell in the row above. If it does, then it adds one to the number above in the count column. If not, it restarts numbering.
The OAL column doesn’t change, unless the part length I’m planning to get does. The next one is rather important. It tells me how many parts I’ll be getting out of that 2×4. And since a saw is not like a knife, and removes a part of the overall length of the piece in order to separate the pieces, that column is pretty important. The “Part Length” column adds up the values for the length of the parts, but the Used column multiplies the number in the Saw Kerfs column by .125 – to account for the width of my saw blade, about 1/8″ wide, which is what becomes sawdust. Which is why if you have a 96″ long 2×4, you can’t count on getting 2 48″ lengths out of it, because you’re taking 1/8″ of the piece and making it into sawdust to separate the other two parts.
Now, one thing I’ve discovered in some 45 years of woodworking is that a 2×4 that is sold as 8 feet long is rarely 8 feet long. For most of my early years, you rarely saw anything other than 96″ long. On very rare occasions, you would find lengths that were 1/16″ short, or sometimes even more rare, the extra 1/8″. Lately, as in the last ten years or so, I very rarely find an 8′ long 2×4. They are almost always 96 1/8″ – some are all the way up to an extra 1/4″.
And while it would be nice to stand next to the 2×4 pile and pick the longest ones, these days, I more importantly have to select for straight and square. That’s because, all too often, I find 2x4s that have a huge chunk missing down the length of one edge, or are twisted or curved. Some are so badly curved I could make snow skis out of them – or barrel staves, if I want. Sometimes I can use the curved or twisted pieces because the shorter parts I need won’t be affected by the overall change – but sometimes I find pieces that are unusable – but contractors could probably use them in walls. I wouldn’t, but this is why I’m not a contractor.
And I know at least one of you says “well, why not look at something other than pine for your 2x4s since pine is such a problem wood?” Pine is a fast-growing wood – which is why it’s a softwood. And because of that, pine is commonly used because it’s “strong enough” when grouped with a large number, and covered with other material. Sure, I could go over a few aisles and pick up an oak 2×4, as the lumber yard I regularly goes to has them. But because oak is a much slower growing hardwood, my lumber yard gets pine 2x4s in skids – which is a block of 2x4s 12 deep by 30 tall – or a block that’s 8 feet wide, 42″ deep, and 45″ tall – 360 at a time, and from what I’ve seen, they’ll go through a couple of those a week. At current prices of about $2.49 each, that’s not bad. Oak 2x4s, on the other hand, come individually plastic shrink wrapped, and for $27.99 each, they’re all straight, square, and far too expensive for me to use on internal framing that no one will ever see.
Anyway, once I’ve reached the Used column, I’ve added my pieces up, then used my saw kerf column to figure out how much of the wood will disappear into sawdust. And I subtract that from the OAL column to tell me how much is left of that particular piece of wood.
And so, back to my programming idea, what I typically do is start with the longest pieces, and put them into the cut list. Then I’ll add shorter pieces if there’s enough of the 2×4 left to do anything. I try to come up with the least amount left over in the “Remaining” column because that’s scrap – or parts I use for other projects when I can.
So anyway, my rolling cart idea is gone, and I’ll probably be building a stack of rolling footlockers to store my stuff. It’s a better, more portable idea.