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Woodworking Without a Shop

by Anthony Ward
Berwyn, IL

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

Hi, my name is Anthony Ward Sr. and I am or at least I try to be a woodworker. When I owned a house I used to do many projects. Now I am retired and a widower so I live in a 2 bedroom apartment with my cats, and am still able to do woodworking, just in a different way. I got back into woodworking to build a Toy Chest for my grandson Brady’s 6th birthday. I did this project in my apartment without any major power tools, only a jigsaw, cordless drill and belt sander. I do have other tools but they are out at my son's home, as I cannot store the larger ones like my table saw, router table, miter saw etc.

For this Toy Chest project I had the panels cut at a big box home store, where they ended up not being 100 percent square. I planed, sanded, and adjusted them until the box had a square carcass within 1/32" (and yes you CAN lightly plane plywood). The carcass was glued and screwed together with reinforcing panels with nylon glides in the bottom corners held by tee nuts. After assembling and trimming all of the parts, they were screwed and glued together with three different moldings. The first was a 1/4-inch "Screen" mold, which I used to cover the edges of the Plywood where it was going to show, such as the top of the case and the edges of the lid. The second was a Countertop Edge that I use on the lid top. And the third was a 1-5/16 x 1/4 molding that I used to frame the sides and front. I purchased these at the store in a large length and then had them cut in the store to 4’ pieces so that I could carry them home on the bus since I do not drive anymore. After cutting them down with a "Plastic Miter Box" the moldings were glued, finished, and then nailed on.

It was no easy feat but I got it done. I sanded it by hand to 220, wiped it down with a damp sponge many times to help remove the dust, and then applied a finish of Medium Walnut Watco Danish Oil and numerous coats of semi-gloss water bourne polyurethane applied with an HVLP sprayer. This worked great and there was almost no odor and it dries in about an hour, unlike oil based which takes almost a day to dry and will show every hair or flaw you get. The water-based polyurethane can be recoated in about 1-2 hours and is very forgiving. Then I spent about a week of putting on several coats of paste wax and hand rubbing that down.

I was as pleased as I could be with the final product. I was concerned that someone would spot flaws and be critical, but after completing it and delivering it to my Grandson's party, my Son said, "Dad, it looks absolutely great" and that to me was the highest praise, indeed. No one noticed anything wrong about it and all of the other guys thought it was beautiful. I was elated that it looked great and my Grandson was so happy.

I then started the second one for my second grandson, Austin, for his 3rd birthday. I learned my mistakes from the first one and made this one even better. For this one I upgraded somewhat and I purchased an all new R/O Palm Sander and a Nobex Do-It 110 Miter Saw, and what a difference they made. Although it is their cheapest miter box saw, I think it works great. It makes cutting the miters almost child’s play. I can cut off the finest amount to get them to fit almost perfectly and the 45's are as perfect as I could ask for, and almost no wood filler is necessary. Naturally, this takes both patience and practice.

On Austin's Toy Box I installed lid supports, causing no chance of smashed fingers or closing the lid on himself, since I installed the medium tension supports, which require a good deal of force to close.

In June for Father’s Day I purchased a folding portable Tablesaw and then made a 24 x 30 sled, which after tuning both the saw and the sled, allows me to make square cuts without some of the fight I had previously. Though I still cannot handle a full sheet of 4' x 8' Plywood, it allows me to cut square without almost any splintering as before and I can control the cuts. I just have to have the sheets cut oversized to what I need by 1/2 an inch or so and then can come home and trim off any splintering and make sure it is as square as can be.

After posting photos of my first two toy boxes online, I changed my plan and started Toy Box #3. For this one I got very picky and tried to make it as perfect as I could. I added a back rail made from 1 x 4 oak stock, which I cut with a jig saw. Then using my router I rounded over the top edge and made returns hand mitered in order to include a cushion to sit on. I reinforced the top with some scrap stock (see the "H" shaped form inside the lid), which added strength to it. I tested it out by having 2 guys with a combined weight of 325 lbs. stand on it, and it didn't squeak or bow or anything!

My next Project is a set of living room tables in the same chest style and made with a tabletop that someone was going to throw away. The top is 36 x 54 and is 1" thick butcher block.

My overall philosophy is that if someone wants to get into woodworking but is afraid due to not having a shop or garage or even a basement to work in, you can still do it! If I did, then you can too.

So get cutting and let the chips fall where they may.


You can email Anthony at Awardsr1@att.net.

Are you a woodworker without a workshop? We'd love to see what you've created in your spare room/backyard/driveway and help inspire all the other potential woodworkers who are holding back just because they don't have the ideal workspace. We invite you to SEND US PHOTOS of your woodworking along with captions and a brief history and description of your woodworking. Receive a $50 store credit if we show your work in a future issue!

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