DIY Toy Chest

There are certain things that dad should be able to do – make a brilliant chili, pack for the end of the world, deliver a proper wedding speech, and complete basic repair and DIY projects, like this cedar DIY toy chest.

I am not a professional handyman, I’m not a contractor. I know which end of the nail gun to point at the wood, and the appropriate drill-bits for pilot holes, but from there I pretty much make it up as I go along. When K mentioned she wanted to buy a toy chest to help organize the nursery, I jumped at the opportunity. Why buy one? I can build it!

DIY: Toy chest
How hard can it be?

What followed was an educational series of “huh”, “ah crap”, and “oh that was lucky” moments.

DIY Toy Chest
DIY Toy chest – Black and Decker Matrix system comes with everything you need for this project

Not having a lot of space in our condo, I don’t keep a lot of tools, I typically borrow what I need from my parents. Unfortunately they are on holiday for the next 6 months, so I’ll have to pick up some basics. I found the Black and Decker Matrix system, where you can power a circular saw, jig saw, drill, driver, sander, oscillating tool, pneumatic pump, and hammer drill all in the same unit, just by swapping out the attachments. This is not a sponsored post by the way, I genuinely wanted to try this out.

The reviews aren’t stellar. It’s not going to  frame a house or cut anything deeper than 1 inch dimensional lumber, but I figure for this, it can’t be SO bad.

1) Cut the lumber to size with the circular saw. I decided to go with Cedar, and cut 25 foot boards down to length. With my planned dimensions of 36″ x 18″ x 18″, all of the pieces fit nicely in the back of the car, and I went home to square up the edges.

20161118_1603422) Square the boards with the circular saw. Lumber typically has a nice rounded edge which helps prevent splinters, however because I’m gluing the boards together it’s important that they have the most surface area available. Trimming the rounded edge off the board was easy enough, use a simple square to mark off where you want to cut, measure the width from the blade to the edge of the guard on the circular saw and lock a fence down, then trim away.

20161118_160740I left my straight edge at home, but fortunately the manufactured edge of Plywood will always be perfectly straight. Flip the cedar board over and do the same thing to the other side. Well, kind of – It is important that both edges aren’t just square, but they’re also parallel. Measure across the board from the side you just cut to mark the other cut line. I turned my 1×6 dimensional lumber into a 5 inch board so the math would be nice and clean.

DIY: Toy Chest
Precision is crucial for this step. Measure twice, cut once!

3) Cut the box joints with the Jigsaw. I’m offsetting each board to ensure there is overlap at every level. This means the weight of the box (and anything inside) is distributed along the lumber, not just on the glue. I went with a 1 inch joint pattern. The smaller the pattern, the more cuts you have to make, but the more secure the box will be (more surface area to be glued). Always make sure you measure from the same side of the board to ensure everything will line up.

DIY: Toy Chest
Starting to look like a box!

4) Dry-fit and glue. Pick the right pieces to go against each other, make sure your box joints line up correctly, and get to gluing.  Since we used a circular saw to rip the edges of the boards, they won’t be perfect, so check all the combinations you have to find the best matches. Run a line of glue along the edge, then use your finger to really spread it out. You want the entire surface to be covered in glue. Too much just means more to remove later, but too little means it’ll fall apart.

DIY Toy Chest
I used so many clamps my family has started calling me Francis.

Once everything is glued together, clamp it down. Clamps should be spread at most 10 inches apart (and 5 inches from each edge) and alternate which side of the board the clamps are on. Use two sacrificial 2x2s to keep the boards from sliding or warping out of a straight piece; clamp them down as well.  If you put packing tape on the 2x2s they won’t get glued to your final piece, so you will have much less sanding to do. Tighten the clamps until you get a bead of glue squeezing out the entire length of each joint. In about an hour you can scrape that excess glue off so you don’t have to sand quite as much. You can really see each side coming together now. *dad joke*

DIY Toy Chest5) Once the glue dries, get to sanding. You’ll have to sand off all of the excess glue and try to get the boards to line up as cleanly as possible. If you’ve done everything right you may not be able to tell they were ever 2 boards to begin with! It’s a lot of work, but it really makes a big impact. The Random Orbital Sander attachment made short work of the boards, but the Oscillating tool’s sanding attachment really did a number on the glue. For now just use 60 – 80 grit sand paper. We’re taking a lot of material off, you’ll be at it all day if you use a higher grit.

20161126_150004 6) Dry fit and assemble! Not all of the sides will line up perfectly, so match the best corners and number them for reference. If you’ve done your box joints correctly you won’t need to use any screws. Unfortunately the Circular Saw and Jig Saw just aren’t accurate enough, so I will need to put some extra support in.  Apply glue along the box joints on each of the two pieces coming together and press the corner together. Once the joints are interconnected, glue a 2×2 into the corner and clamp it. This will hold it in place while you drill the pilot holes and screws. I don’t want to use too many screws, they are just there to help the glue take hold, so I’ve put in one per board. 20161126_152442Mark out a straight line (preferably both square AND plumb, but if you can’t do both, it’s up to you how you would rather it line up), and drill/screw along that line.
It was helpful having the drill attachment to run the pilot holes and the impact driver attachment to put the screws in. Switching the attachments is MUCH faster than switching the drill-bits.  Also, this is where having 2 drills definitely came in handy.  Due to a communication error on my part (I told K I wanted one for my birthday, then I put one in the shopping cart – two weeks later I’m dual wielding Black and Deckers!) I ended up getting two of the base units.  Best mistake I ever made.

7) Base and Lid! Sorry, no photos of this bit. I attached 1 inch by 1 inch strips of lumber to the inside of the chest near the bottom, all at the same level. This will provide a framework for the plywood to set on. In this case I’d suggest using nails (typically better angular holding strength than screws) and glue. Once these are in and set, cut the plywood to the right size, and glue it down to the frame you just made.  For the lid I used a piano hinge and a safety hinge. This should keep the lid from slamming down on fingers. Screw the hinge onto the base first, then the lid. If you want the hinge hidden you may need some extra hands to support the lid.
20161203_1030408) Trim. Initially I decided to put a 2×4 trim around the base, but after dry-fitting it looked a little clunky.  I’ve gone with 1x4s instead. This hides the gap at the bottom from offsetting the boards, and gives it a little more style. Instead of doing box joints this time I did a half-lap. This overlap provides plenty of surface area on each board to glue to the next board in the corners.  I am also gluing the entire trim to the chest itself.  The trim is not structural.

9) Round out the edges. Using the router attachment I rounded each corner to prevent any sharp edges and give it a cleaner finish. I also sanded the absolute crap out of every surface. The random orbital sander worked great for this, much better than the oscillating tool. We’ve already taken off the excess material, now we’re just smoothing the finish – first with a 120 grit sand paper, then 240.  I also cut down the top boards to minimize finger pinch points.

10) Finish. I’m using Teak oil to bring out the shine and grain of the cedar. You can use a lacquer or other sealant, but since this is going to be inside there really isn’t any need. Plus, this will seal in the smell of the cedar.

10) Finish. I'm using Teak oil to bring out the shine and grain of the cedar. You can use a lacquer or other sealant, but since this is going to be inside there really isn't any need. Plus, this will seal in the smell of the cedar too...
You can really see the impact the Teak Oil had on the Cedar.

This project took about 15 hours of work to complete and cost around $120 for the materials (lumber, glue, screws, hinges).  I hope this gave you some ideas, or at the very least a sense of what the Black and Decker Matrix system is capable of.  I’m really happy I bought it, and can’t wait to get started on the next project!  Any ideas? Questions about your own projects? I’m not an expert, but I’m sure we can brainstorm some solutions together!  Leave a comment and let me know what you’re working on!

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