Project Summary: Steak Knife Block

This project started when my girlfriend’s dad was searching the internet, unsuccessfully, for a block that would fit his brand new set of extra large steak knives.

I took this as an opportunity to try my hand at making a custom one.

Custom Knife Block: Finished Result

Custom Knife Block: Finished Result

Reclaimed wood stock from old ceiling joists

Reclaimed wood stock from old ceiling joists

The story starts much earlier, however. This entire project was created from reclaimed wood taken from some massive old ceiling joists I salvaged from an old art studio in Jersey City that was moving out.  The wood seemed to be a softwood like Pine but It’s still unknown what specific wood type it was.

The joists were sectioned off into planks on my Radial Arm Saw (this was before I had my Planer, which I will explain the difficulty that caused later). It generated a huge amount of sawdust, which is an ingredient that can be used to make excellent fire starters for camping and the like. (When i find the picture of the original board, I will post it also)

Each of these balks were made about 3″ x 1.5″ and ranged from 24″ – ~28″ when they finished up. Some of them had knots and nails, though the carbide 80 T blade barely slowed down going through the nails. (Just a spark and a momentary jolt).

NOTE: I don’t recommend going at nails with a wood sawblade unless it is a fairly new carbide blade and it’s completely by accident. Always go over the workpiece with a strong magnet first to identify any metal foreign objects (Nails, Staples, bolts, etc). The nails I encountered were buried too far in the surface to be detected easily. Always wear safety gear, especially when using a radial saw, including goggles, N95 rated dust mask, long sleeves, and heavy work gloves.

The blocks mitered and shown for size

The blocks mitered and shown for size

The pictures here show the initial bulk shape. Since i wanted a setting for eight to be possible for one of these blocks, I decided that four boards would need to be arranged in rows of two, and there needed to be some angle on the block for ease of pulling knives in and out. These knives were also 5 – 7/8″ long and over 1″ thick at the widest, so they were fairly large.

The initial angle on the bottom was created with a mitre saw at about 30 degrees. This later turned out to be a poor choice and I had to modify the block so the heavy knives would not topple it over. Also, a steeper angle takes up less counter or table space.

Concept of the Slots and bracing for the knives

Concept of the Slots and bracing for the knives


The plan I had was to cut a slot wide enough for the blade down the center ish of each board and add a few thin strips of wood across the openings of the slots to keep the knives in there. I eventually opted for two braces instead of the one shown to the right.

When it worked with one blade, I moved on to make this work for the rest of the blocks. I set up a work stop to get the center of each block. In the end, this wasn’t the greatest solution because some of the thicknesses of these boards varied slightly and since I didn’t have a dado blade and I just flipped the board a few times to widen the slot because the 1/8″ slot didn’t give enough clearance to freely insert and remove these massive blades.

Test Fit of the parts

Test Fit of the parts

The depth of the slots had to be down about 2″ or so to accommodate these wide blades plus the 1/2″ little stopper, which I had to do a lot of passes with a 1/8″ saw blade to achieve. I did all the blocks on each side at once to make them exactly the same size and in the same position. 

Test fitting the pieces together is a critical stage. This helps to plan the glue-up, which I did in two stages, clamping each tier of slots together. Then separately in a subsequent stage, I added the small cross-braces.

The multi-stage glue-up also allowed me the ability to sand in between stages and clamp everything fully without clamps interfering with other clamps.

After Sanding from 60 grit to 80 grit to 100 grit to 120 grit to 150 grit to 220 grit...whew!

After Sanding from 60 grit to 80 grit to 100 grit to 120 grit to 150 grit to 220 grit…whew!

After the glue-up comes all the sanding. Sanding is a step that’s dreaded by all and yet it’s what makes something professional quality and adds that feel required for good finishes. It’s my opinion finishes on projects separates the good from the great, and the great from the best. I’ve paid attention to try to make good looking finishes an important part of any piece I make, because the only real enemy here is impatience. These things are simple, and they are time consuming, and they are tedious. But the results are usually worth all of that extra concerted effort.

I will one day post some notes on wood finishing as a separate post. in this project, I used tung oil because of the color and to use a natural oil. It’s also one finish that can be used on things that may come in contact with food (because it will be holding knives).

Custom Knife Block: Finished Result

Custom Knife Block: Finished Result

I ultimately had to add little wedges beneath the block to change the angle to make it more upright because of the heavy handles and blades of all eight knives caused the block to tip over. This delayed the project as I went through a couple of variations on how to fix the thing. The final result as pictured here shows the feet. These were scraps cut off the bottoms of the original mitered pieces, and they were screwed and wood glued into place. The knives you may notice have changed too. Because it took me until after Christmas to negotiate all of these changes and fit it into my cutting board workflow, the client had already gotten a better solution (he got a new innovative magnetic block for Christmas). However, this proved to be a nice way to display an old dining room set for parties.

In summary, one can build anything from wood, and wood literally grows on (or in?) trees. It can be found anywhere, and most often some good used or junked pieces of wood may still have life in them, for those willing to put in the time and work to salvage them. Usually old furniture is a treasure chest (or table or chair) of solid hardwood that will be cheap or free and have a good story. I hope to make a few more projects from reclaimed wood, but after the saw dust settles, I think my next knife block will use virgin lumber.

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Christmas Cutting Boards

This post really goes out to all my prospective students for the Wood Burning and Image Transfer class, recently re-scheduled for February 1st at 1:00pm at Hoboken MakerBar.

This year, I decided to make handmade cutting boards and personalize them as christmas gifts for a list of people on my nice list. Part of the intent of the project was born from a desire to use my latest addition to the shop; my new planer power planer. Also, i wanted to give meaningful christmas gifts which would last and be useful and also have a personal thoughtful touch, and yet not put me in the poor house.

Any cutting board's dream: to have the finest parmesan and mustard

The cutting board and the holiday cheese

The process is a fairly simple one which only gets slightly more complex when you try to make ten at a time. As I learned, it’s always best to have a process worked out. Each of these boards was made from about 8′ or 9′ of hard maple to make a 12″ x 15″ board (or a 9″ x 15″ board in some cases), costing only about $1 / ft from Home Depot. Each of these boards cost about $8 or $9 in materials, therefore. Comparable cutting boards can sell for $15 or $20 in a store. The size of the board I took particular care to decide for many reasons. One reason was simply the amount of wood i would require to make ten copies, and the workspace limitation in my shop and the 12″ max width of the planer. Another reason, however, was to make the board small enough to easily wash in a normal sink and dish drying rack, and to fit on a table for a cheese/bread board without crowding out the plates too much.

I even fiound some birds eye maple and some other variations on the grain figure. you just have to go to the hardwood isle and take a look.

Maple Wood from Home Depot

Using the chop saw to cut the strips to length, I then clamped up my pieces with a pair of bar clamps and let the glue dry overnight. Subsequently, planed down the boards and trimmed the edges flush with my radial arm saw.

The next steps involved routing the edges with a roundover bit, cutting out a handle with some forstner drill bits, routing the inside pocket of the handle, and sanding all the way from 60 to 220 grit.

I had wanted to get better at the art so I decided to do all these boards freehand. I created a unique logo for each board in the top right corner by the handle whereas the rest of the corners all had similar holly leaves (though they are all a little varied). I tried to keep the art to the corners of the board away from the working areas where the knives could ruin the artwork.

In conclusion, like all projects, I wish I had started a week or two earlier. But it was a rewarding experience and those who got the boards seemed to like them a lot, and I felt my objective was achieved. The best part of the whole project was seeing the board be put to use for dinner during the holidays and knowing it will last for many holidays to come.

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Intro to Wood Burning

A chicken I made for my grandmother

A chicken I made for my grandmother

I am pleased to announce i will be co-teaching an introductory class on the art of wood burning with a friend and fellow MakerBar member. We are excited to get this class into the lineup before the holidays so you can think about making holiday gifts for your loved ones and the burning iron is included in the cost of course materials.

We will be hosting this class at MakerBar on Saturday, December 14th at 1:00 pm and I will be preparing a few wood working examples with more step by step visual guides to show.

The link to sign up on Meetup is

I hope to see you there, and I will use this blog to post up some relevant articles and notes to pre-read before the class, specifically on types of images that can be ideal for burning, as well as how to edit others to create line art and other more burn-able grayscale images.

Happy Monday,


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Wood Working Projects

It’s been an eternity since my last posting, but I am going to use this site for sharing pictures of woodworking projects.

At some point I will expand this post possibly to detail the individual projects, but for now i wanted to show these to a few of you. my captions will hopefully give you a rough idea what each picture is depicting.

Amplifier Header Cabinet

Picture Frame for a Christmas Gift

Wood Burning

Router Pantograph and Signs made from it

Crankie Moving Puppet Show


Majora’s Mask replica

Note: this one is still a work in progress and the pics are only half the story. we are working off this instructable:

These have been all the wood working projects worth any mention. there’s a few more in the planning stages and I may be gearing up to collaborate on a series of introductory courses.


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Current Projects Dashboard

I thought now would be a good a time as any to set out a few things in black and white that are on my proverbial to do list. Some of these are in varying stages of completion and others are simply wild ideas i never really had a chance at being able to find time to do at the time i started.

Here’s a few projects, in no particular order.

Guitar Tube Amp: Finishing Touches:

I have all the materials to make a finishing covering out of a Tolex material, as well as protective corner brackets to install. These will require radiusing the edges of my header cabinet box. Also, I wish to do the same type of work to the speaker cabinet to make it match the bright red tolex I bought for the header. I have the adhesive, I have the tolex a plenty, and I recently got a router with a full set of router bits to make the radiuses (and any other joint under the sun). Now i’ve just got to find a weekend I can spend to make this thing happen. I have to sketch out the shape needed to make the cutout from the tolex material, and plan it all out. Should not be too difficult, but it would be my first tolex work, so I’m going to try it out on a test piece of something before i accidentally ruin my nice box. the project was documented more fully in a previous post here:

Gibson Falcon Amp Repair

I promised I’d look into this, and it turns out all that was really wrong was a bad fuse. However, now it seems like the tremolo feature is stuck on. A friend told me it might be a bad capacitor somewhere, but i’ve got to track the bugger down and that involves taking all the caps out and testing them individually. It’s going to be a long and tedious process. I could just alternatively replace them all but this is just as painstaking. This amp isn’t mine, so this project should take priority once the Pong game finishes. Its a beautiful amp, and I know it can work well again. All the tubes are in great shape and the speaker really kicks it.

MakerBar Pong Game Table

We are constructing a Pong game that can be played physically, with spinner wheels, and a pinball. This will be software controlled, and we are hacking up a prototype currently. I won’t give too much away, but it’s going to be a push to get it to work in time, but I know we can find a way to make it work. More info here:

Desktop Sized Laser Scanner

So I have always been trying to find an easier way to generate 3D models of objects than the digitizing probes we use at the lab. These tend to scratch the hell out of the parts, as well as needing to be clamped, and being time consuming. Also, it can be difficult to maneuver the probe in tight spaces or over odd shaped objects. I want to make a small laser scanner the size of a microwave (I have a spare microwave to use in fact) and use it for reverse engineering purposes. Platforms like DAVID laser scanner are appealing options because of their availability. I welcome a design for software using Arduino + Processing, but it’s going to be a challenge. Yet nothing worth doing is easy. I need to procure a new line laser for this project, and dissect the microwave for making room for the electronics to house the laser (FIRE ZEE LAZZOR!!!) *ahem*. It would be cool to hack the LCD display and button panel to to control the scanner. More info on David Laser Scanner here: EDIT: What about kinnect? this could always be a compelling option.

Custom Guitar

The next logical step after building a working tube amp: build a guitar to play through it. I have plans already from a book, and I can work together a bill of materials. It’s going to be a costly project, but i can acquire parts gradually while the wood sits in the workshop drying and adapting the moisture levels of the room. This is a long term project. I also need to acquire additional tools to complete this, most importantly, a planer, drill press, long clamps, joiner (optionally use long router trimmer bits for joining), and a few custom tools related to the finishing touches on the hardware. This project once all the tools will be assembled will be one where i’d want a few people to work with.

ROVIO wireless Robot Repair/debugging

I got my hands on a ROVIO not that long ago. It works, but I have a problem where the battery always dies instantly (or very very quickly). I want to hook him up with a battery pack that rocks his socks and makes him run for hours. Perhaps he can be the MakerBar’s new security guard. I have gotten it to work on a wifi network from outside of my home but the only issue again is the battery life. i’d love to play with it more, and it shouldn’t take too long to fix0rz. Info here:

I’m sure there are many other projects i’ve got on my plate. But most of them are lower priority or less progressed than these listed. I just thought i’d make this list for myself for the time being (it surely is enough to keep me busy for months and months and months).

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Bottle Rockets Launch Video

The Summer program I launched bottle rockets with this past week put together a short video of the event that can be found here:

Although no animals, rockets, or children were harmed in the making of this video, only one car was impaled by a wayward rocket (the car survived with just a tiny scratch), one rocket lost over the top of the trees and never to be seen or heard from again (probably submerged in a nearby pond), and two or three rockets got permanently stuck in trees. All in all i think there were 27 rockets, and 8 the previous day (the younger kids, not in the video).

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Bottle Rockets: Launchers

Mk 1 Launchpad

Today has been a day of Bottle Rocket fun. There are a lot of bottle rocket launcher designs out there, from the simple, to the complex, and the cheap to the costly. I remember in middle school my science teacher and Science Olympiad coach gave me the designs for a small launcher I could play with on my own. I since modified it to be able to take higher pressures and launch higher and straighter. This design is a hybrid between two designs that he had used: one that he build himself with a car tire valve and electrical box, and the one design that was given me as a PVC Tee and pipe nipple launch tube.

The resulting hybrid (pictured, left) uses the two concepts in tandem. The  electrical box is hooked to a base constructed of 2 x 4’s and uses a pin to hold down the flange of the bottle onto the launch pad until the pin is pulled, allowing pressure to be built up before release. The wooden base gets staked into the ground to hold the rocket relative to the PVC assembly.

The PVC piping is used to be a pressure vessel and one end of the PVC Tee has a bike tire valve cemented into the end cap. This acts as a one way valve and delivers pressure to the rocket. The PVC tubing is all 1/2 inch diameter, the size that fits insude a 2L soda bottle.

The longer launch tube (12″ nipple) allows for more stability of the rocket as it goes off the pad, and also puts the entrance of the tube above the rocket’s water line, and less water will be leaked this way. (key word, LESS; this doesn’t *prevent* water leaking).

The Mk II is designed to not need stakes into the ground. We needed to develop a laun ch platform that could be deployed in a parking lot. So a piece of scrap plywood screws down a Mk 1 base to act as the ‘ground’, and the launcher is ready to go.

In addition to the longer nipple, this year’s bottle rocket launchers include a removable screw-on cap for the one end, so that water can successfully be drained from the pad before storage. This was very difficult on the Mk I launchers.

of course, a lot of this piping may be unnecessary, but it’s a simple tried-and-true design that I implemented by upgrading the primitive ‘pump till it flies off’ version (just the PVC alone with no hold down mechanism). There are more sophisticated designs out there too, that are very elegant. The best by far has to be the NERDS Launcher (Nebraska Educators Really Doing Science, Their launchers are machined aluminum with O rings for extra super duper sealing power, and they have fully integrated pneumatic triggering of the launcher. Magnificent tech–for $300. Perhaps a future investment. I was able to build the Mk II for around $20 in parts and ordinary household

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