Thursday, November 12, 2009

French Frames: Part 1

I mentioned in an earlier post an idea I've been toying with regarding a way to store, display and basically keep organized all of my tools. I've thought about cabinets, about shelves, etc... but I keep coming back to an idea I got from a picture in a magazine, and a commercial shelving system I've seen in several stores.

First basic concept to understand is the French cleat. A French cleat is basically a board with one long edge trimmed at an angle. (I've discovered that 30-degrees seems like a good angle that compromises strength with holding power) The board is screwed into the studs with the angle facing into the wall, so the wider face is outward, and the narrower face against the wall.

The second part of the French cleat is a mating piece that is also cut at the same angle. This is affixed to the cabinet, or shelf or whatever you're hanging from the French cleat on the wall. When you slip this angled piece down into the slot formed by the piece screwed to the studs, the hanging shelf or cabinet is held close against the wall and secure, yet able to be moved quite easily. You just lift it up and move it. This wonderful, and simple, invention is the basis for the whole design.

The basic idea is to make a frame about 24" wide by 36" tall. This frame will have a french cleat in the back and hang off of a cleat running around the perimeter of my shop wall. Each frame will also contain a set of french cleats running across the width of the frame. These will be used to hang various forms of holder and even shelves to store, display and basically keep organized my tools.

In this way, I make a series of interchangeable, flexible, hanging frames that allow me to create all kinds of various solutions for hanging my tools on the wall. And as I add more tools, or change the place where I want to store them, I can easily move the individual holders.

I like the idea of my chisels all hanging together in graduated sizes. But what if I get more chisels? What if I decide to get a new set, or get carving chisels and want to store them in the same place? If I've created a fixed cabinet, then I have to either make a new cabinet, or re-arrainge the old one. Both of which are much more labor intensive than making a new holder for the new chisels and shifting the current tools around to find room for the new hangers.

I've been thinking about this for quite a while but I've had my Roubo bench to finish. Well, now I'm mostly done, at least for this work, and so tonight I had the opportunity to get some shop time in and I began the process.

I'm going to first create a prototype out of a bunch of 1x4 southern yellow pine. It's not pretty wood, but I have a lot of it, and if I screw up this wood, it's not a big deal.

One of the keys to building this system will be standardization. If I had a table saw, I could set it up for 30-degrees, set the fence and go. I don't have a table saw. I did try cutting the boards with my rip saw. I can do it, but it's a real pain because to cut at an angle, I can't use the sawing bench very easily and get a good, consistent angle. I have to put the wood upright in my vise. Again, it's difficult to get a fairly consistent result.

What I do have is a circular saw. So, what I did tonight was to build two jigs. These are my first jigs ever. I've built appliances for hand tool work, but never a jig for power tools. One of the jigs holds the two-foot section of 1x4 and includes a fence for my circular saw. I plop a piece of wood in the jig, fire up the saw and saw right through. I still need to take a pass or two with a hand plane to make the surface nice, but this gets me consistent enough results.

The second jig I created is for construction of the frames. I took a piece of fiber board and nailed some cleats on it exactly parallel and 24 inches apart. I can then place the side stiles of the frame in this jig and it has the locations for the French cleat rails that extend across the frame marked on the side cleats to facilitate affixing them to the sides.

I cut up the wood for the first frame tonight and got it laid out. It works out quite well. My next question I will hopefully answer with this prototype is how exactly I will affix the French cleat rails to the frame. I'm thinking of a dab of glue for luck, and either nails or screws. Nails will look better, I'm thinking screws will hold better. But I could, if I wanted to go to that much effort, do a clenched nail since the frame will stand out from the wall at least the distance of the thickness of the French cleat on the wall. I think I'll have to look up clenched nails again and see if that's what I'd like to do.

Tomorrow I should be able to get this frame put together and work on making some holders. They may not be pretty to begin with, but I've got to start somewhere, and this is only a prototype. Right?

Update: After doing a little research online, I think I'm going to try and clench (aka clinch) nails to hold the cleat rails on. I'm going to have to look for some good nails that are about 1.75" long with a wide head. Nails can be incredibly strong, we usually underestimate them, and this technique supposedly can increase the holding power quite a bit. We'll see tomorrow.

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