A Toybox For Mollie

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I began my first woodworking project in several years this week, while enjoying a rare weekday off from both the library and teaching a photography class. I am building a toybox for Mollie the Maltese, who has quite the collection of dog toys and seems to enjoy every one of them. Like an ambulatory toddler, she leaves them scattered throughout the house. One of my jobs is to pick up after her and stuff them into the dog bed she no longer uses, now that she has discovered the joys of sleeping on a couch.

We enjoy watching her prance over to the toy pile, stick her nose into it, and pull out one to run about the house, shaking her head fiercely, or bringing it to one of us to toss and her to retrieve once we pry it from her clenched jaws. But the dog bed turned toybox is over capacity, so I am building one for her that will be large enough to hold toys, low enough in height for her to reach, and a good beginning step for me to regain my woodworking chops.

I’m starting with a slab of black walnut I put together for a table top several years ago, for a friend who never followed through on his plans to replace a patio tabletop with it. Years ago, I used a biscuit joiner to attach four 1×6 boards into one wide piece. On a yellow legal pad, I sketched out a scale drawing of the toybox plan. When I told my Beautiful Mystery Companion that I was making a toybox for a dog out of black walnut, she looked askance. “That’s fancy wood for a dog’s toybox, isn’t it?” Hey, nothing is too good for this joyful little pup. Besides, the wood is ready to use, and I don’t have to buy anything.

Soon, I will retrieve the rest of my lumber cache, piled under a storage box at my brother-in-law’s house for the past four years or so. Here’s hoping insects haven’t done too much damage to the walnut, red oak and cedar planks I have dragged around for about 20 years after buying them out of people’s barns and sheds. I have plenty of wood to handle this first modest project, but lots of projects down the road await the remaining lumber.

I am rather rusty, so I approached this project slowly and cautiously. Measure thrice, cut once became my mantra. I managed to correctly cut the six pieces that will comprise the toy box, then pulled out the dado blade for the table saw. I haven’t used this blade, which is used to saw wide cuts into wood to form interlocking joints, in nearly a decade. They can be dangerous, since many woodworkers use them without a guard, but I bought a guard for my saw when I got the blade. I plan on retaining all my digits during this resurrected woodworking gig.

I put the blade on backward the first time, so it didn’t cut into the wood, just burned it with its rapid rotation. I unplugged the saw (always unplug power tools before changing blades, bits, whatever), flipped it around and reinstalled it. Getting the dado blade to cut the precise width and depth needed is by trial and error. That’s why I keep a supply of sacrificial wood pieces handy to get the cut just right before using the real pieces.

In a few hours, all the pieces were cut and fitting perfectly. Plenty remains, however: gluing them together, drilling small holes to put pegs inside both for added strength and decorative purposes, lots of sanding, several coats of Danish oil to make the walnut’s grain pop, then some light coats of satin varnish. I told my BMC that Mollie the Maltese was going to have the most boojie toy box in East Texas.

While in the shop, I took breaks and examined all the power tools. The band saw blade needs adjustment; the planer and jointer/planer (separate machines) need new blades, and I’ll have to use WD-40 or something to remove the rust from most of these machines. Good thing I have the owner’s manuals to refresh my memory on how to adjust blades and belts. Now that the weather is cooling, those tools and I are going to get reacquainted.


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