131 – How to Build an Advent Holiday Calendar (Part 1 of 3)

Voiceover:The Wood Whisperer
is brought to you by Powermatic, the Gold Standard since 1921 and by Rockler Woodworking and Hardware, Create with Confidence. Marc:Well, I'm feeling
especially jolly today so we're gonna build a holiday project. This year, it's the Advent calendar. ♫ Oo, it's the Wood,
Wood Whisperer special making stuff and making things that we give to people ♫ Marc:An Advent calendar
has its roots in religion and it dates back to the 19th century. But ask any kid that's got
one of these in the house and it's really just a
Christmas countdown calendar where they can open each of
these little compartments every day during the month of December and there's a little
gift or little, you know, piece of candy or something inside there.

This is one that we bought, I think we paid about 75 bucks for it and it's nice, it's pretty busy, you know, very gaudy holiday looking with this imagery on the front here so what I started to think about, and actually I had a
viewer contact me, Roberto, and asked me if I could
help him plan the build. And he sent me one picture of a very simple-looking Advent calendar. And I was going back and forth with him and realized, you know what? This is the perfect project for the show. So let me show you the prototype and we'll talk about what works and what doesn't work and then we'll get started on building our own.

Now as you can see, my
prototype is not quite finished, but I got it far enough along that it gave me some valuable information for modifying the original plan, but I can still show you how this thing goes together so you understand the basic principle. Let's start by taking it apart. The structure is basically a grid work. Take it apart here, you can see we've got a bunch of dados evenly spaced and each one of those houses one of the partition pieces
which is the dividing wall between each cubby. You'll also notice that we
have a little rabbet here on both sides of the front edge and that rabbet helps to
stop the door so the door doesn't go in any further
than we want it to. Really this is just a lot
of cutting with a dado stack and, of course, you need to do this with absolute precision and accuracy.

Now there's a few things that the prototype showed me
that I wanted to change. First of all, look at the door down here. This is one of my prototype doors and watch what happens here. When the door is open, there's really kind of a very small space. The cubby is an inch and a half by an inch and a half yet I only have access to
about one inch of that space because this door is just too thick. So that showed me that not only are my doors too thick but really all of the parts for this project are too thick as they are right now. So we're gonna downsize. The horizontal pieces that are 3/4 now, we're gonna bring those down to a 1/2 inch and our doors and dividers,
which are a 1/2 inch, we're going to bring
those down to a 1/4 inch. Now the other thing is this
prototype was made from poplar. I don't really think, especially
for a painted project, I just don't think there's
any reason to use solid wood when we can buy some sheet goods that are going to be consistent
thickness throughout and it's gonna save us
a huge amount of time in terms of milling the stock down.

So what I'm gonna use is Baltic birch. You could certainly use
MDF if you wanted to or just regular plywood, but I find the Baltic
birch is nice and stable, it's consistent, there's no voids, it's very high quality,
and once it's sanded it takes paint really nicely so let's get started making some cuts. So for right now, all
I'm really gonna focus on is our 1/2 inch thick horizontal pieces and the next step, once we cut them to length and width based on the plan, the next step is to cut the dados. Now I said that those dados
need to be very precise. We can't mess around with that. If it's even slightly out of alignment, these pieces aren't going to go together when we put the whole frame together so what we're gonna do is make a sort of one-time use jig for the table saw that's gonna take some
influence from a box joint jig.

Let's check it out. So first things first, we need
to set up the table saw blade so it's making a 1/4 inch wide cut. I have a dado stack that I've adjusted so that it's not exactly 1/4 inch because a lot of these sheet goods are sold just undersized so if it says 1/4 inch chances are it's gonna be a little bit less than 1 /4 inch so adjust your dado stacks accordingly. I make a test cut and
then I can test the fit. And once I have the width set properly, I can adjust the blade
up or down as needed to make sure that I'm only
going an 1/8 of an inch deep. Now to understand how to make this jig, we need to take a closer
look at the work piece and see exactly what we're
trying to accomplish here. So I'm using our bottom
piece as an example here. The first dado is at an inch and 5/8 and then from here on out,
the gap is an inch and 3/4.

Now that inch and 3/4 is our magic number. We need all of these internal spaces to be exactly the same all the way across. How much we have left over at the end is not quite as important becauase we'll be cutting some of that away later. So we're gonna basically
measure the inch and 5/8, draw that line, cut without any guides, and then the jig is gonna help us, once this first dado is cut, it'll help us register
the rest of these cuts. Now that'll make a lot more sense when you see the jig,
but I wanted to make sure you understood exactly what
the goal is at this point. Now this jig really could not
get any simpler than this.

I'm basically taking a stock miter gauge and attaching an auxiliary fence to it. This fence is just made
from 3/4 inch plywood, it's about 22 inches
long and 3 inches wide. Really all I'm looking for
is enough fence material so that I have some material to the left and some to the right. 22 inches was what I
happened to have on hand and it's gonna work out just fine. So I'm gonna clamp this
to the miter gauge. So the first thing I'm gonna do is make one quick cut in
this position right here. So now what I wanna do is measure from the little cut that we just made, we want to measure over as precisely as possible an inch and 3/4. And once we have that
inch and 3/4 measured, this is the area where we want to make our next cut. Now at this point, the jig is no touchy. You don't want to mess with it because if you move it at all we're
gonna ruin the registration.

So make sure your clamps
are down nice and tight and don't mess with it. What we need to do now is cut a little peg or a little insert that's gonna fit into that first slot that we cut. So you take a bit of your 1/4 inch stock, because we know the width of it should be at least the
exact width of our material and we know that the depth
of cut was 1/8 of an inch, so I really just need
to go to the band saw and cut myself a little 1/8 inch sliver from a piece of scrap.

So now just take the
piece that we just cut and put that into the first 1/4 inch hole and essentially what we
have is a removable stop. Now let's do a few test cuts and that will really sort of hammer home the concept and what
this jig actually does. So I'm gonna sort of mimic what we have on our bottom piece here
using a piece of scrap. So that first cut was an inch
and 5/8 in from the edge. I'm just gonna set my
adjustable square here, inch and 5/8, and I'm gonna put a line. Now I'll be putting this line on the side because when I set it
up and line it up by eye I need to be able to see it. If I mark it on the
face, I can't see that. Okay, so at an inch and 5/8. Now to make this first cut, we're basically just gonna
align with our jig here and I'm gonna eyeball it. That looks pretty good. Turn the saw on and we'll make the cut.

Now we have our first dado cut here so what we can do, and we can just double check and make sure, that looks good, inch and 5/8. It's a little bit over but again, we do have some wiggle room here. Now is the part where it really counts so let's make sure that this pops right down onto that peg. As long as we're sitting flat, there's no side to side motion and we're flat against
the back fence here, start it up and we'll make another cut.

Let's continue along the path and I'm just gonna keep going until I get to the last one. That's looking pretty good. You can measure each one if you want, but as long as things didn't shift on you, all of these measurements
should be exactly the same for all of these middle compartments and that's really the key
to this whole thing working. Now honestly, that's
everything you need to know to get all of these dados cut perfectly. Again, it's not such a big deal where the starting point is. As long as you're pretty close, the rest of them will just fall in place and then the very last step
is us taking a nice cut off the edge so we'll be removing some of that stock anyway. There's a little bit of extra
slop built into the project there. So the thing that I want
you to pay attention to is going into the Sketch Up drawing and looking at each individual piece because it's very important
to note where it starts.

Some of them are going to start an inch and 5/8 in on the bottom sides. Some of them are gonna start 5/8 in and on other pieces up near the top you've got some that go in 2 and 5/8 before the first dado starts. So it's important to have your pieces very clearly labeled and then have that starting dado labeled nice and accurately so that you can just come to the saw, make your first cut, and then use the jig and the pin for the rest of the cuts. As long as that first
one is indexed properly, every other one is gonna be perfect. Now you can see that this method puts us in a situation where we're having a little bit more of a close encounter with this blade than we normally would.

So I think it's probably worth the time to sort of dissect exactly what I'm doing and make sure that you're doing it in the safest way
possible but still getting the best results possible. Take a closer look. All right, so when I'm
making these passes, what I wind up doing is putting my hands pretty close to the vicinity of the blade. The one thing that I'm
absolutely not doing is having my fingers in
the path of the blade. Now technically this blade is not going to come all the way up through, we're only going in an 1/8 of an inch, but I don't want to take any chances. So when I push down, I'll be putting a good amount of force on both sides while also holding the jig itself and pushing this guy forward. But my fingers will never be
in the path of that blade.

They're in a controlled position to the left and the right of the blade. Now once I push through, you can come right back if you want to. Personally, I just feel better
once I'm all the way through, removing the piece, bringing it away out of the path of the blade, and then back into position
and start over again. Sometimes when you come back through, if anything should shift a little bit you could either widen
this dado a little bit or if it shifts a lot you could very well have some sort of a kickback event, which we want to avoid too. So I always bring it around, I'm not going to bring it back
over the path of the blade, I'm gonna bring it around this way and start over again. So once all of those dados are cut, you need to confirm that
everything was cut properly. Here's a quick way to do it. So lay all your pieces in the order that they're supposed to be from top down and if everything was cut correctly and all the pieces are aligned correctly when we center everything properly, all of these dados
should line up perfectly and create these little squares.

And really, there's no need to measure because even if things
are a little bit off as long as all of our dados
line up, it'll be invisible. Now if all of your dados look good, you can start to cut the rabbets and it's a good idea to do it now before you change the
setup at the table saw because right now the blade is exactly at the height that we need it. All we need to do is adjust the fence, add an auxiliary fence and bring that right up against the blade and then this way we can kind of run each one through
and make those rabbets without changing any
other settings at the saw. So I've got mine set up. Like I said, I've got a
sacrificial fence here that the blade just barely touches and will take full advantage of that entire 1/4 inch blade
that we've got in there. Now for our vertical dividers, I took some 1/4 inch stock and I ripped it down to 2 inches wide and I've got probably way more material here than I need but I'd rather have extra than not enough.

So now that we have the 2 inch width, we have to cut them
down to an inch and 3/4 and that's the other dimension
for those vertical dividers. Now, of course, there's a lot of different ways that you can do this. We're gonna do it at the table saw. One thing I want to point out though first of all is you never want to do this. You never want to have
the miter gauge set up and your fence set up so
that when you make this cut your off cut sits between
the blade and the fence. That's a recipe for disaster. That piece will become a
missile almost every time so you want to avoid that if possible.

So the way that we do that is
by using an auxiliary stop. The idea with something like this, and by the way, this is nothing more than a little shop-made fixture out of three pieces of plywood and some of those bolts,
I get these from Rockler, basically it's a wingnut and it fits into a standard 1/4 inch bolt, so this pops on my fence and then I can tighten it down with
these bolts on the side. The idea here is we can
now reference from this and then once we're at the point that we're being cut by the blade, this is no longer a factor and we now have some room to breathe between the fence and the blade itself so when that the piece sits there and it starts wobbling around, it's not going to shoot back at us, okay, 'cause it's got room to move.

So the idea here would be to
slip this guy on the fence, set up the distance here at 1 and 3/4, then bring it on back and
tighten it up back here. So I've got three pieces
stacked together here. This way it'll save me
a little bit of time. I'm gonna push it up against the stop, put downward pressure with my right hand, and we should be able to push through. Now I am going to stop the
blade after I make the cut so I can safely remove the material that's just gonna be kind
of sitting around there. It makes me a little bit nervous and I'm certainly not gonna
remove it with my bare hands while the blade's moving. I tell you what, if this
exercise highlights anything, it's the fact that I really need to build myself a new cross cut sled.

A cross cut sled makes
an operation like this much safer because the pieces are moving with the sled and they're not actually sitting on the table surface itself so processes like this
become a whole lot easier so I think you can expect to see a cross cut sled video
from me in the future. Now I took some of the partition pieces and assembled the bottom section here because I want to measure for my doors. The compartment is an inch
and 3/4 x an inch and 3/4 and, of course, our door needs
to be a little bit undersized. Now here's just a piece of scrap that's obviously too big, but you can see the method that I'm gonna use for my hinges. This method here only requires about a 1/16 of an inch clearance
in the vertical dimension. Depending on what you decide to do, you may need to do something diferent so just be prepared to
cut these doors to fit based on whatever method
of attachment you have.

And for me, that's a 1/16 of an inch. Now with our door stock cut, we can turn our attention to
actually hanging these things. You guys on the blog were awesome. I posted some progress pictures and discussed some of the problems I was having in trying to figure out a good way to hang
these little baby doors. Got a lot of great suggestions from you, but the one thing that I think that is gonna be the easiest way to go here is using these little double-sided nails. They're very tiny, but I
think they're perfect for this because they have this little flange that basically stops it from going too far so makes the process a lot simpler. But I'm not gonna sugar coat it here. This is still going to
be a difficult process and you have to be very
careful about how you drill. But I'm gonna show you a way to do it with a hand drill so you don't
have to have a drill press and hopefully, with any
luck, most of the doors will hang with no problem and they'll be nice and centered in their opening.

Let me show you the details. So we take our door stock and basically I predrill
a couple holes in here. I take the double-sided nail and use the longer end of the nail,
insert that into the door, and then, of course, I
have to have a hole here so that it has something to sit into and we'll need an adjoining
hole on the top piece. And if everything is aligned properly, you should have a reasonably nicely swinging hinged door. Now the key to this, and
the way to get this to work, is to have these holes located in very precise locations. So on one of my door pieces here, I'm just gonna set it
into the bottom piece so I don't have to hold it up, I want to create a cross hair that shows exactly where I need to drill. It'll be centered along the thickness and an 1/8 inch in from the end so I'm gonna set my adjustable square here for an 1/8 of an inch, put a line there, and then I'm gonna use the same setting, since this is a 1/4 inch thick material, an 1/8 of an inch on the adjustable should give us roughly a centered line.

So now I have a cross hair to work with. Flip it over, I'm gonna do the other side. Now I take this tool that came with these double-sided nails
and you just insert the shorter end into the tool and this is magnetic, which
is very, very helpful, and I'm going to eyeball the center point and use the nail itself to sort of give me a starting hole for my drill bit. And once I know I'm at center here, just kinda push in a
little bit, wiggle it, just so that I have a nice starting divot. Now I've got a very tiny drill bit that's really just big enough so that these nails just kind of slide in with some friction. So let's go ahead and drill that hole. This is why you need that starter 'cause otherwise that bit
just wants to go everywhere. Now for our horizontal pieces, the numbers unfortunately are a little less fun to work with. We need to put a line 3/32 of an inch in from the front edge.

So I've got my adjustable set for that. Put a line here. We also want to be 3/16 of an inch in from this dado so I use
a little scrap piece here, one of my divider pieces, and put my little ruler
there up against it, move this outta the way so
I can get my hand in place and measure over one, two, 3/16 and now I'm gonna just extend that line up and there's my cross hair. I'm going to do the same thing on the adjoining piece that goes above it. And now same deal as before, just using the nail to
create a starter hole. So let's drop a door in
place and see how we did. Put it on its back and now I'm just gonna add a couple more little dividers here to help square things up and then we can kind of assess the fit. Of course, the two most important are the ones adjacent to the door itself. That's not too bad. Pretty even opening all the way around. The gap on the back end of the door here is a little bit greater
than the one in the front, but honestly, on a project like this, as long as that door is relatively square, I'm a happy camper.

That looks pretty good. So it's gonna be a little bit tedious, but we've got a lot of holes to make, a lot of drilling to do. Now one more thing I
want to warn you about before I start on the rest of these doors is this one area right here. We have a door right
on top of another door. Everywhere else the doors are staggered so you shouldn't have a problem, but look what happens right here.

If we have a door in this location and a door in that location, and then we have the pins, one from the top and one
coming up from the bottom, they're gonna make contact. There's not enough room for two in there. So what you need to do is take the short end of the nail
and just clip it off. What you're left with is a little stub, but that's certainly
enough to go into the hole that you drilled and the
door should still work and you should be able to have one here and one there and they won't ever contact one another.

Voiceover:Next time on The Wood Whisperer. (jazz music).

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