Saturday, November 14, 2009

French Frames: Part 2

I got some time yesterday in the shop and was able to put together the first prototype frame and make a couple of holders for it. I learned some drawbacks from the design and I learned some of what I need to keep in mind when designing holders.

Overall, I think this might work, but I can see that I may need longer frames. Three feet may not be long enough to hold everything since a lot of tools hang down and so you're not able to use every rail on the frame.

Ok, so here is what the frame looks like when it's built.

I had a small cabinet hanging on this wall over my over-stuffed book case so I took it down and hung a cleat on the wall for my testing area.

As you can see, it's nothing much to look at in southern yellow pine. God, that stuff is ugly. Anyway, here's how it looked going together.

As I wrote last time, I first made a jig to standardize the cleats going across.

I merely have to put the board in the slot, run my circular saw up against the fence, and voila! I have a cleat for the frame, and a matching cleat for a holder.

So, after I did my first board to show that the jig worked, and it works great except if the board is particularly warped, I started cranking out two-foot sections for all the cleats on the frame.

This is faster to do on my bench hook with my disston backsaw. I guess I could set up another jig on the end of my other one to cut two foot sections on my circular saw, but I just don't like the screaming machines and only use it when I absolutely have to.

So, once I got my rails together and cut them into cleats I built my second jig, the one that will help me construct the frames square and consistent. What I needed was a simple board that kept the two sides straight and parallel to each other and I wanted a quick reference to place the cleats for nailing. I used an old piece of woodstalk fiber board for the base, and a couple of 1x2 for the side rails. I ran my gauge up one side of the board to get a reference line then nailed one of the side rails in place. I then measures where I thought the other line should be and drew a line on the board. I then took my cleats and used them as a reference to double check my line, and it was right on. I then nailed the second side rail in place.

I worked out spacing for the cleats and figured that about five inches between the bottom of one cleat and the bottom of the cleat below it would give me enough clearance for whatever holders I might use. The top cleat didn't need to be down so far from the top, so it's just four inches. You can see my spacing on this next picture.

Now, my jig is only twenty-six inches long, so I start with the two side pieces of the frame pushed up against the front of the jig and line up my cleats down to the 24" mark. After I nail them in place with three 1 1/4" bright finish nails on each side, I move the frame so that it lines up at the bottom and because there are two inches left on my board at the bottom, and two inches left on my frame at the bottom, I can use the last two marks, the 19" and 24" marks as the 29" and 34" marks for the last two cleats. This may help with the explanation.

Here you see the 19" mark is also marked as 29"

I turn it over and nail on another cleat to the back that will allow the frame to hang on the wall and Bob's your uncle.

Here you can see the nails and how I put them in to try and minimize splitting.

So, the next step was to try and make some holders. I decided to try a chisel holder first, and somehow got the idea of drilled holes, with slots cut in to go back to the holes which would then hold the chisels.

A couple of problems.
1. It was a really stupid design that didn't work.
2. The wood was really brittle and kept breaking off in between the cuts
3. It was a really stupid design that didn't work.

So, I moved on to something to hold my squares. I settled on a board with slits cut in it to hold the blades of the squares. I ended up pulling out my tiny 1/8" pigsticker mortise chisel and cutting the slits. It worked pretty good, but it's very difficult to get a clean mortise in poplar at 1/8". But it was good enough.

I glued and nailed it to the mounting cleat and hung it up.

I discovered one the shortcomings of this frame design. When you have a weight hanging out away from the frame, you must stabilize it in front or else it tends to tip out of the cleat. I also realized that since there is no back to the center of the frame (remember, the cleat, being merely nailed on, stands 3/4" out from the wall) I also need to either to use only full width cleats so that it touches the side rails in back, or need to add something to give it a back or front when I make something that could tip out like this one. Later in this post I'll show you a kind of holder that doesn't tip out, even if it was short enough to fit between the sides.

To try and counter the tip-out I did a quick and dirty nail-glue some small pieces along the front of the hanging cleat to see if that helped.

It did help, but not by much. I need to have a more substantial front piece. So, I'm in the process of re-doing this holder.

Meanwhile I made another holder, this time for my chisels. I have a bunch of odd chisels and one unified set. I tried to decide if I wanted the set all by itself, or to mix it in and arrange them by all by size. Since my set is just a cheap Czech.-made set (but they're good chisels, just not terribly fancy) I decided to just add them in and keep them all by size for now.

I was not going to go back to the really bad design I started before, so this time I remembered what I had originally thought for a chisel holder way back when I started thinking about this system. I took a 1x4 of "clear pine" and started cutting out grooves. The only measuring I did was to put the chisel down on the board, get it fairly straight with a small square, trace along the edges of the chisel and then cut down a ways with my back saw, then chisel out the groove. When I do this again, I'll set the depth of cut with a reference line, but I was pretty much freehanding this to see if it worked.

The wood was soft enough that I used my mallet to do a controlled cut at each end, but the middle stuff I could take out by just pushing the chisel along. These went very quickly. I only had a couple of pieces between the grooves chip out, but I just put a dab of glue on, pressed it down for a few seconds, and went on. It all got sandwiched in later and is fine.

Here's where I made another mistake. In my desire to keep my bench as clear as possible, as I cut a groove for a chisel I would put it away. The problem I encountered is that by not having all the chisels there as I cut, I ended up not taking full consideration of handle width as blades got narrower and narrower. I kept a fairly consistent distance between blades, but what i really needed to do was keep a fairly consistent distance between centers of the grooves. As the blades got narrower, the total distance between the centers of the grooves got smaller and smaller so in the end I couldn't fit two of my chisels into the holder as I had planned. Lesson learned.

After cutting the grooves, I glued on a wider piece of poplar to the front. I used a wider piece in order to hide some of the sharp edges of the chisels that were longer than the 1x4. This gives a more finished look and helps avoid any accidents as I reach for something on the frame.

You can see towards the end with the small chisels they're pretty crowded. Bummer. Otherwise, it worked out great. Since this picture was taken, I have started to use this blank space on the front. I have hung my sliding bevels on small nails, and cut a rabbet into a small piece of poplar and glued it to the front so I can put my steel rulers up there as well. Pictures on that later.

Here's how it looks hanging on the whole frame, and then with my sub-standard holder for my squares.

And here's the back of the chisel holder to show you the ends of the chisels hanging down out of the 1x4 and why I put the wider piece of poplar in front.

So, with this kind of holder, where the weight is pulling straight down, and there is a piece that is flat against the front of the cleat on the frame, it works perfectly. I can see that for other kinds of holders, such as the shelf holders I'm envisioning for my planes, I will need to makes sure the hanging cleat is enclosed in a way that keeps the whole from tipping out of the angled connection. It's a good lesson to learn now, with my crappy SYP prototype.

I'm getting the hang of just what works and what doesn't and just what goes into making a holder for these frames. The tricky parts will be making hanging boxes or other types of holder for small things I've got in boxes on shelves at the moment. But that will also be some of the fun. And right now I may end up creating a frame for a whole shelf, but in the end I may not want all of that stuff that's currently on one shelf to be together. That's where the flexibility of the system comes into play. Once I have all of the frames together, then I can move the stuff around to fit how I work.

I'm excited to start making some more holders and figure out what works and what doesn't and get this party started. I think, in the end, that if I make the frames longer, and get creative with the holders, this will be quite a fun system for holding and storing tools. It kind of reminds me of the Shaker system of pegs where they could hang coats or whole cabinets off of pegs. It's flexible, easy and cheap to make and allows me to change my mind, add tools and change around my shop. It's not as beautiful as some of the gorgeous furniture the real joiners make, but I think it will work for me and my shop.

Update: Here's a picture of the addition of a ruler holder as well as the sliding bevels hanging from the front. Not sure if I want to keep these two types of tools with my chisels, but I'm just experimenting with different kinds of holders.


  1. This idea looks like it is working out well.

    How about scaling it up? Instead of having frames that are 3 feet wide, why not extending them to the full width of a wall? Make the rails the full width and verticals as many as you think are needed for good weight distribution. There are some commercial storage systems that do exactly that. They run their hanging rails the full lengths of walls, making a very flexible system.

    Lookin good!

  2. I had thought about full-width wall systems, but again, one of my criteria is flexibility. If I make a set of frames all with the same dimensions, then I have essentially made a wall-sized system, but one that I can still take down and move around easily. I could decide that I want to make a wall cabinet for my full set of hollows and rounds. (I wish!) I could take down one of the frames and instal the cabinet there. Or I could hang the cabinet from a frame.

    Let's say I move to a house with different sized walls. I can easily move this whole system with me and the most I would have to do to adapt what I have is fill in a gap that's less than 2 feet wide.

    One suggestion I've had is to make the members smaller. I don't need 1x4's when I could use 1x3's. That may be, and I may end up doing that. Right now I have plenty of 1x4's sitting around. But before I make a commitment for using these I had better try it out with a 1x3 prototype.

    I don't want to go with 1x2's on the cross cleats because I think I need the surface area downward in order to stabilize holders like the chisel holder I just made. It may be just as stable with a 1x3, but I can't imagine a 1x2 working quite as well. I could easily see 1x3's as the side pieces, but I suspect 1x4 is what I need for the cross cleats.

    Looks like I will have to experiment.

  3. Do you find you need a cross piece at the bottom of your frame (same thickness as the cleat) to make the frame stand parallel to the wall?

    Mike Hamilton

  4. Actually, that was in my original plan, but I forgot in my excitement to get the prototype put together and so far I haven't noticed a problem with it. I'm sure I'll have to once I start to make shelves upon which I just set stuff. I don't think I want my big ol' planes sliding off onto the floor. Perhaps a lip on the shelf?

    But you're right, I need the compensating blocks on the backside of the side stiles to keep it parallel to the wall.


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