Magnetic Knife Holder – Walkthrough

Years ago a friend of mine had a knife holder in his kitchen that was a simple strip of wood with magnets embedded in the back. I always liked the look and could never find something similar. After completing my last build I was searching for another small project and this seemed like the perfect fit. Plus it would let me test out a few joinery techniques I hadn’t yet tried: laminating (i.e., gluing) boards together, and butterfly/bow tie joints.

I’ve already posted a few initial designs and my many mistakes, so it’s about time for the actual project walk through. I took a lot of pictures during the build. If there are any steps you have questions about, let me know and I can elaborate with a few additional images.

Finished Project First

Overall I’m pretty happy with the finished product; although I don’t love the final design (maybe it’s the wood color?), I’m pretty proud of how the piece came together. Also, I was initially concerned about the wood wearing out too quickly with the metal constantly rubbing against it, but after a few months of use the hard white oak is holding up exceptionally well.

2016-02-21 17.59.17
Terrible lighting, but a nice magnetic knife holder

Prepping the Wood

As usual, I started off with rough saw lumber and some pieces of scrap I had from other projects. This meant my first task was to get the pieces to their proper dimension and make sure they were all flat and square.

The perfect combination of hand tools, hard lumber and lack of skill means this always takes a lot longer than I initially expect.
The woods I decided to use were white oak, for its durability, and purple heart, for its color. The contrast between the woods really makes the butterfly keys stand out.

It may seem a bit foolish but, since I wanted to practice, I had to cut the piece of oak in half so I could join them back together. To make it less obvious that the pieces were from the same board, I rotated one of the pieces so that the grain patterns didn’t align. I was worried this would make planing them more difficult since the grain would be oriented in opposite directions. In the end it didn’t cause any problems as long as I kept my blade sharp and only took light shavings on each pass.

Once the pieces were cut, I planed them down to the proper thickness and made sure the sides were square and flat. It’s really important to get the sides flat so they will be flush together and create a strong bond with the glue. I struggled to get them perfectly flush and relied on the glue and clamps to close any minor gaps that existed. (This is something I continue to struggle with.)

Butterfly Joints

While the glue was drying I made three small blocks out of the purple heart that would eventually become the butterfly keys. Technically the butterfly joints weren’t necessary since the glue holds the pieces together but, again, this was just for practice.

The blocks were pretty small, which made squaring them very difficult. Holding them steady on the shooting board was a challenge and I don’t think my shooting board is perfectly square and that became an issue. As with most of my woodworking, I was able to get them good enough by being patient and going slow.

Once the blocks were prepped, making the keys wasn’t too difficult. I drew the shape on the block, cut down to the middle and chiseled the rest away. The most difficult part was making sure the newly chiseled sides were straight and square.

After the keys were made I laid them out on the now glued together oak pieces and traced their outline so the insert would be a perfect fit. (One quick tip is number the keys and the board position so you know the location and orientation of each piece)

I saw a video on YouTube that recommended using a drill to remove most of the waste before using a chisel for the final bit of waste removal. I tested this with a practice piece of wood and it definitely made the process easier. One thing I realized though was when your chisel is oriented with the grain (not cutting across it), it’s very easily for the wood to split. The best way I found to avoid this was make score marks on those edges so the wood had a natural stopping point.

After this it was pretty easy to push them in with my rubber mallet, and make them flush by removing the excess height with a coping saw and my small hand plane.

Inserting the Magnets

So this is where everything really started to fall apart… aka I learned a lot.

This was my first time using the router plane to make a grove, which is where the magnets would sit. Because I was going across the grain of the keys it was causing an awful amount of tear out to occur.  I was actually worried I would completely ruin them (and it was very close). Again this highlighted the importance of scoring the wood before you work and going slow. I eventually had to rely on the epoxy to hold one of the keys in place.

I also discovered that since the groove didn’t run end-to-end through the board, it was hard to get the blade to catch when starting. I also wasn’t sure how deep to make the groove for the  magnets to hold the knives firm but not too firm. I decided not to think too hard on this and instead rely on trial and error to find the right dept: make a few passes with the router, place the magnets in the groove and see if the knives stay in place.

The worst mistake occurred  when I was lengthening the groove to the fit the magnets. The end walls became so thin it split the two boards apart. Thankfully, the ornamental butterfly keys became practical butterfly keys and held the pieces together and prevented it from fully splitting. To fix this I decided to cut a small square notch on each inside and glue in a small square of purple heart. It was a delicate process and I was worried it wouldn’t hold, but it lasted long enough to put the much strong epoxy in place.

Once there magnets  were in place I used Loctite’s two-part epoxy to secure them. This was much simpler than I expected and worked very well. I’m not sure if it was necessary but I used blue painters tape on the front of the piece to stop any epoxy from leaking through.

After everything was all dry, I took the tape off, rounded the edges slightly with a block plane and applied some wax polish I made.

Final Thoughts

This was definitely a fun project and, like my other projects, highly practical. I learned a lot through these process and it highlighted my need for a real work bench.

Having a surface I can properly clamp wood to and one where I don’t need to worry about hitting the surface with a chisel would help tremendously. — Which is why I’ve started building a small work bench for myself.

It’s going to take a while but I’ll do my best to keep you posted along the way!

Magnetic Knife Holder – Mistakes

As I mentioned in my previous post I’ve been thinking about making a magnetic knife holder as a way to practice different joinery techniques. Since this is supposed to be a learning project I thought I’d share some of the horrible mistakes I made. If you’re impatient though the TLDR of this post is I definitely needed the practice.

Mistake #1

2016-01-23 23.02.52My plan was to join two smaller pieces of wood together with glue and butterfly joints. Realistically though this was all unnecessary since the wood I had was perfectly wide enough. But, I decided I would cut the wood in half, rotate one of the pieces and join them back together. This way the grain patterns wouldn’t line up and I hoped the two pieces would look distinct.

My mistake wasn’t in the plan but in the execution. I was so focused on making sure I cut and planed the pieces to the exact same shape, and in getting my first glue up right I forgot about rotating one of the pieces. After spending far too long getting everything perfect I ended up with such a precise glue up you couldn’t even tell the board was ever cut. Normally this is a good thing, but this time it was definitely not what i was hoping for. (Seriously, look at the picture. Can you even tell that board was cut in half and put back together?)

Mistake #2

2016-01-30 10.51.09My next mistake occurred when making the butterflies; combining a lack of patience with a desire for perfection never turns out well.

I decided I could remove the last bit of wood by quickly pairing across the grain with a chisel. While there are techniques to do this they require patience. You are never supposed to cut all the way across because this causes blow out and rips the wood apart, and this is exactly what happened.

Thankfully this occured pretty early in the butterfly making process.


Mistake #3

2016-01-30 22.41.28This was the worst of my mistakes and occurred when cutting out a slot for the butterfly key.

Cutting out the slot required me alternate between hammering a chisel into the wood around the edge, to keep the line sharp, and slowly chipping away the interior. Because I need to the hit chisel it was a little noisy, nothing terrible but it was getting late in the day and I was worried about disturbing my neighbors. Instead of putting it aside for another day I decided I could speed things up by just hitting the chisel really hard and cutting the line deeper.

This was working well until I got down far enough into the wood that it started to weaken. I hit the chisel too hard and it split the wood along the grain all the way through.

It may not look to bad in the picture, but it opened pretty wide and even with clamps I wasn’t able to get it back together. At this point there was no saving the piece; I had to scrap it and start all over.

Hopefully one of these days I learn to be patient.

Project Sketches – 1

Before I start a project I often spend time thinking through the design, and sketching out plans.

I’m currently thinking through two different projects, and thought I would show a glimpse of what my planning looks like. As you’ll see below I have terrible handwriting and no artistic talent whatsoever. Thankfully those skills aren’t required to learn woodworking.

Magnetic Knife Holder

IMG_0458In my kitchen I currently have a metal bar that uses magnets to stick to my fridge and hold several knives. (Not mine but pretty similar.) It’s nothing fancy and I’ve been thinking about replacing it for a while with a wooden version. Although I could simple get a small plank of wood and put some magnets on it I decided this would be a good small project to practice a few new techniques. Specifically I wanted to practice laminating boards together and joining boards with butterfly joints.

If you aren’t familiar with those types of joinery techniques laminating is just another term of gluing the boards together, and a butterfly joint is when you inlay a dovetail key (which looks like two dovetails connected at the narrow end) to hold two pieces of wood together. Butterfly joints are also often used to hold together a slab of wood that is cracking.

In the sketch below I start laying out the rough dimensions of the piece, and then playing around with a few different designs. The bottom section of the page is a bit unfinished; I was planning on drawing the three different designs to scale, but ultimately I decided I liked the first one the best and stopped there.

I never sketched out the back of the knife holder, but my current plan is to use  a forstner bit to inlay a few circular magnets that will hold the piece to the fridge, and then cut two small groves near the top and bottom to inlay some magnets that will hold the knives. I need to do some tests to see how deep these grooves need to be, but that’s the current (rough) plan.


Table Top Workbench

IMG_0455The second project I’ve been thinking through is a table top work bench; I got the idea from this video. The bench in the video is placed on top of an existing workbench to create a raised surface to make it easier to do detailed work. I don’t have an existing workbench, but I figured the idea could be used to create a table top work bench I can put on my bathroom counter.

I don’t have much to report yet since I’m still early on in the design phase, and there is still a lot I need to think through. The two biggest elements I’m still thinking / working through are: how modular should the bench be, and where to put / what type of vise to get.

Since this is a more complicated project, and I want to make sure my bench is useful for a wide variety of future projects, I’m sure this first design will only bare a small resemblance to whatever the final bench looks like. That said, putting down my initial thoughts and being able to reference them later is always helpful.

Arm Rest Coffee Table – Tools

Since several people have asked me about this I thought I would do a quick post listing out the tools I used for the Arm Rest Coffee Table.


I’ll do my best to go in order from top to bottom and left to right.

  • Router plane – I used to this create the inlay for the marble. As I said in a prior post, I probably could have gotten away with just using a chisel and some patience.
  • Mini power saw – One of the few power tools I own. It definitely made cutting the marble quick and easy, and while I didn’t test it I’m pretty sure a hack saw would have worked just as well.
  • Low angle jack plane – I really need to buy a number 4 plane, but in the mean time this is my go to tool for squaring, planning and smoothing wood.
  • Try square – Used in the beginning of the project when I was preparing the word and wanted to make sure it was all square.
  • Clamps – These were used for a lot of different tasks, but the most crucial was clamping the final pieces when they where being glued together.
  • Saw – A lot of people have strong opinions about Japanese style pull saws. I just like this one because it comes apart and fits in my tool box. It was used for the initial cutting of the paduk board.
  • Marking gauge – Very important when laying out the dovetails.
  • Razor – Most people have special knives, I just use this when making a knife line in the wood.
  • Chisels – I doubt I needed all three of these for the project, but having multiple meant I didn’t need to sharpen them as often.
  • Rubber mallet – Fun fact, my wife bought this for me as a Christmas present while we were still dating. Having a mallet is essential when chiseling out the dovetail waste.
  • Dovetail saw – For the initial dovetail joint cuts.

There are a few things I used not in the picture: my vise, shooting board, file and dovetail markers. The vise and shooting board, which I made, are used in pretty much every one of my projects. The file was just a basic metal file which helped get the marble to final shape needed. The dovetail markers help get consistent sized dovetails. Some people like free-handing the layout since they prefer the irregularity of it, but not me.

So there you have it, a complete list of all the tools I used. It may seem like a lot at first, but with the exception of the dovetail markers, all of the tools have a wide variety uses and will come in handy for almost all of my future projects.

Arm Rest Coffee Table – Walkthrough

As promised many months ago I’ve put together a walkthrough of my arm rest coffee table project. I did my best to capture as many of the steps as possible, but if you have any questions about what I did let me know in the comments.

Selecting the Wood

I’m still not very knowledgeable about different types of wood. My current strategy is to go to my local lumber yard, wander around looking at the smaller pre-cut pieces and pick which one looks to best to me. Once I select the type of wood I look for a board that isn’t badly warped, cracked, or has knots that would interfere with the project.

For this project I ended up purchasing a piece of paduk that was a decent length and thickness. When cut or sanded paduk has a nice orange color, but over time and exposure to sun it darkens to a rich brown.

2015-05-06 15.48.06

Prepping the Wood

The board I bought was about three feet long, so I needed to cut it down to the appropriate size. To figure out the proper size I held two hardback books on either end of the arm rest and measured the distance between them. I then took some measurements for how low down the arm rest I wanted the sides to go. Finally I added how deep the dovetail joints would be (ie how high above the arm rest the sides would be), I based this on the thickness of the wood. The “formula” is simply: wood side a + wood top + wood side b + thickness of wood top x 2

2015-05-07 10.50.29

This is also where I made two mistakes.

My first mistake was not pressing the books tightly enough against the arm of the sofa. I was worried about making the fit too tight, but this caused the piece to be a little loose on the arm. The second, and very annoying, mistake was cutting the wood into 3 pieces too soon in the process. My reason for doing this was so I could plane the two sides thinner than the top. The extra effort of planing, sanding, and verifying all the proportions matched was not worth the extra effort. (And to add insult to injury, after I finished the piece I decided a thinner top would have looked better).

2015-06-15 13.05.03

This next picture isn’t very important to the process. I was just very pleased with how straight and accurate my cut was. All the practice I’ve been putting into learning the basics was finally paying off.

2015-05-07 10.53.34

The next step was making sure all the pieces were square, which was the hardest part of the whole process. It was hard because I don’t think my shooting board is 100% square, and shooting end grain is very difficult. Also, at this point in time I hadn’t learned how to properly sharpen my blades, and I didn’t have the proper sharpening tools. A lot of elbow grease and time was required to shoot 6 end grain sides. The time and effort was definitely well spent though, without having square boards the final piece wouldn’t look nearly as nice.

2015-05-07 12.38.32

This was also when I realized how much I hated sanding, and bought a hand held power sander.

2015-05-16 17.52.38



This was the scariest part of the whole process. While I was getting better at making dovetail joints, I had only done it on small scrap pieces. My designed called for a lot of joints, and if I screwed any of them up I would have had to start all over.

I tested out a few different methods to make sure the joints were all level, such as clamping a board to the base of the joint before cutting the waste out (pictureed below). The best method was, unsurprisingly, what almost every woodworking site suggest, starting with a marking tool and then going slow and careful with the chisel and mallet.

2015-07-11 13.15.01

After slowly and carefully removing the waste the tails were looking pretty good.

2015-06-28 13.50.27

Now that the tails were finished it was time to mark the pins and waste sections.

2015-07-11 12.53.54

When I was doing a test dry fit of the boards I was having a very hard time figuring out which sections were not fitting properly; there were too many joints to feel where exactly it was getting stuck. This is when I finally realized what a few blogs and videos were trying to explain about putting a small notch in the pin.

On the top edge of each of pin use your chisel to cut out a small angle, creating a funnel for the tail to slide into. When you do this you can easily see which tails are fitting into the wedge, which are not, and which pin is getting compressed once the tail is sliding in. Once I figured out that technique the whole thing came together a lot easier. (I was planning on planing the pins flush afterwards anyway so a small notch wasn’t be a problem)

The final result was pretty good, but not perfect. I had to use some saw dust mixed with glue for a few small gaps, and make two small wedges for two wide gaps. After the fixes it looks half way decent. I need a little more practice using the glue and saw dust though. I wasn’t able to get a good even spread across the gaps.

Cutting the Marble

I had never worked with marble before, I wasn’t even sure where to get any. I had initially looked for a piece of marble tile at Home Depot, but wasn’t able to find the proper size. In the end I found a long piece of marble at a used goods store and bought it for 50 cents.

I set up a simple guide for my small power saw to cut a square section off. I was surprised how easy it was the cut through marble.

2015-06-17 17.13.35

I’ll spare you the details, but I wanted to marble to be hexagonal shape, but I didn’t have a compass or protractor; I had to figure out how to make a regular hexagon with only a ruler. After a lot of internet searching and trial and error I confirmed that geometry does indeed work. I drew out the figure on a piece of paper, and tapped it to the marble square and started cutting.

I also unfortunately learned how porous marble is. I had used a blue pen to mark off a few measurements, and the dots were quickly absorbed into the marble.. It took me a lot of sanding to get rid of them. In the future I’ll stick to wax pencils which were easy to clean off.

2015-06-17 17.41.41

The last couple of steps involved refining the shape, and making sure it was roughly square. To do this I clamped a file to my square and rubbed the marble piece back and forth.

2015-06-21 16.06.58


Inlaying the Marble

This is one step I definitely didn’t capture as many pictures as I should have.

Given the limited number of tools I had (have) I was expecting inlaying the marble to be very difficult, or at least difficult to make it look good. I used an extra piece of paduk as a test and after a little trial and error discovered it was actually pretty simple to get a half way decent inlay. All I did was hold the marble steady while I cut a shallow outline, then carefully used a chisel (bevel down, cutting across the grain) to slowly dig out the pattern. (aka, all the steps I didn’t take pictures off). Since my hexagon shape isn’t perfect, I also used a piece of tape to mark the proper orientation, which saved me a lot of guess work every time I needed to do a test fit.

2015-06-21 18.49.19

The only problem I was having with this method was getting a flat surface on the bottom that was level with the top. I probably could have achieved the desired results with a bit more practice, but I had been meaning to purchase a router plane anyway. Once the router plane arrived I moved on the real piece and the inlay came out looking great.

Testing the Wood Polish

I went back and forth if I wanted to use polish or lacquer on the final piece. After a few tests I decided to go with polish. I liked how it really highlighted the color and grain of the wood without giving it an overly shiny appearance. Plus, I haven’t worked with lacquer and had done enough learning for one project.

From left to right on scrap below: un-sanded, sanded, sanded and polished.

2015-05-14 14.55.36

Final Piece and Comments

Overall, I’m very happy with how my first woodworking project turned out. One change I’m going to makes is gluing some thin rubber matting to the inside so the piece doesn’t move around as much on the arm rest.

Also, now that I’ve finished the question is “what next?” Technically this project came about as a test before making something similar for a friend. That was over a year ago, I should check to see if she still wants / needs one. If I do make this again would change two things 1) make all pieces a uniform thickness 2) use fewer joints. Both of those changes will save a lot of time, and I think make it look even better.


2015-09-12 14.12.53


Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event

IMG_20150919_151907This past weekend I went to a Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event that was being hosted in the Bay Area. If you aren’t familiar with the company, Lie-Nielsen is a high end hand tool company based in Maine. Their tools are a bit pricey, but they are beautiful. (Or as they put it, they make “heirloom quality tools”)

Normally I’m all for getting cheaper tools. In my opinion, if you know how to use a tool properly you can make pretty much anything work. The problem for me was (is) I’m just starting out so I wanted to make sure the tool was “perfect,” that way if there were mistakes in my work I knew it was my fault and not the tools.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the event, but I’m definitely glad I decided to go. There weren’t any official demonstrations, but they had all of their tools out for you to use, and they had plenty of staff walking around for you to ask any questions you might have. I was finally able to get some straight answers about the difference between a jack plane and a bench plane (jack planes are more versatile, and bench planes are good for smoothing near the end of a project), and have someone walk me through the proper tools and technique for sharpening my tools.

If there is an event in your area I highly recommend going.

Arm Rest Coffee Table – My First Project Completed!

2015-09-12 14.12.53

After many long months my first project is finally complete. It’s not perfect, but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. Plus, it feels very satisfying to complete my first project. 8 months ago I started with basically no woodworking knowledge, and after a lot work and effort I’ve learned enough to make this.

I think the next phase of my woodworking journey will be less about a project, and more focused on honing some basic skills; sharpening my tools, sawing in a straight line, etc.

Also, over the course of this project I took a lot of pictures which I plan to turn into a DIY guide of sorts. So, look out for that!

And for fun, one more picture of the arm rest coffee table, sitting in the sun right after being polished.

2015-09-04 17.10.18


Mini Project – Phone Stand

After all of my practice joints I had a growing pile of dovetail corners lying around. While I didn’t initially have any plans for them, one of my more recent pieces seemed like the perfect candidate to turn into a phone stand.

It was a pretty simple project, but it allowed me to use my new wood polish and also try using wood glue for the first time. Also, it felt good to actually make something for a change, instead of just practicing.

Check out the rest of the posts to see more details on how I made it.

Continue reading “Mini Project – Phone Stand”

Power Sanding Lessons

As I mentioned in my last post I recently purchased a power sander.

Because I live in an apartment building I was really concerned about how much noise it would generate. I ran a few tests by turning it on, and then standing in the hallway to listen for any noise. Thankfully the sander was quiet enough that I’m pretty sure no one will complain as long as I don’t sand very late at night.

With that in mind a few days ago I decided to continue working on my first project, and sand the boards smooth.

As usual I did the work in my bathroom, and I learned a few things.

  • Sanding is now so much easier
  • I should probably wear a mask since I’m in a small enclosed space
  • The dust was pretty well contained.

After a few minutes I was finished and very happy with the end result. It wasn’t until about an hour later, when I walked back into the bathroom to wash my hands, that I realized how wrong I was about that last point.

You can’t see it very well in the picture (i was mid way through cleaning), but there was a very fine layer of wood dust on EVERYTHING: the walls, the floor, the shower head, the mirror, the toothpaste tube… everything. I frantically started scrubbing the bathroom. My wife and roommate are pretty understanding about me doing work in there, but even they have limits.

Since then, I’ve decided sanding is best done on the balcony.

Sanding No Longer Sucks

Sanding gives you a lot of time to reflect on life. My most recent reflection involves how long and tedious hand sanding is.

Which means, I present to you my very own random orbital hand sander.


I decided to buy the DeWALT D26453K. It had great reviews on Amazon, and fit all of my criteria; small, good dust collection, variable speed, and easy to change sanding pads.