Saving scraps: a rare success story
Most woodworkers are guilty of saving a few too many workshop scraps. Whether it’s bits of domestic hardwood, offcuts of sheet goods or the always valuable small exotic offcuts, we could all keep less than we do. But once in a while our hoarding pays off.
This, in turn, only encourages us to continue saving, but that’s another story. This story is about a few medium-sized pieces of 5/8″ melamine I had saved, moved and saved again, along with a dirty old piece of 1/2″ melamine and a small piece of beat up plywood sheathing. This is a rare good news story when it comes to scrap wood.
Necessity: the mother of all invention
Although I moved to a different shop earlier this year, I still couldn’t figure out where my 12″ benchtop planer should live. I’ve moved it around a few times, without any clue as to where it would work best. It’s even spent some time on the floor, though picking it up is killing my back. Compared to other tiny planers, it still weighs over 70 pounds, which is too much to pick up off the shop floor regularly. Thankfully, with age comes smarts.
I’ve been trying to engineer a brilliant solution for a fancy planer cart that I could write about for the magazine and fix woodworkers’ benchtop planer storage problems across the country, but I just kept coming up short. There’s the ubiquitous rotating planer / sander cart, where the top rotates 180°, depending on what machine you want to use. There are also versions of planer carts that have extendable side wings to support your material as you plane. These solutions are out there, but I didn’t really have a desire to use any of them.
What I wanted was something really small and simple. The problem with that is there’s no award-winning article in that idea. After much consideration I finally gave in and made what I actually needed; a very simple cart to store and move a benchtop planer on. The addition of some storage underneath was nice, though I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. Hmmm. Maybe I need another router, but that’s yet another story.
Keeping it simple meant this cart almost designed itself. After measuring the planer, I started out the door to the local lumberyard. Before I got in the car it hit me that I might have something stored away that could work nicely. I went to my offcut rack to check, and bingo!
I found four random pieces of melamine particle core all about 4′ long x 16″ wide. I then noticed another piece of incredibly dusty and dirty 1/2″ material that was perfect for a back panel. The cart was going to be just under 16″ deep, about 24″ wide and 32″ high (34-1/2″ high with casters). I would have preferred it a bit deeper for stability, but 16″ was okay.
A few rips, some crosscuts, a handful of rabbets, a healthy application of glue, eight quick pins and some pressure from my clamps brought everything together in about an hour. I bought four casters for this exact project about eight months ago; glad I was thinking ahead! Once they were installed, the cart was flipped upright, the planer bolted on and I rolled it into place against my table saw to pretend to plane a board. It was going to work wonderfully. And best off all, it had absolutely no bells or whistles whatsoever. It really couldn’t have been simpler.
I designed it so it could be pressed up against my table saw when in use so it wouldn’t go anywhere if I need to apply a bit of pressure to push a heavy board through it. I made a very simple support that could sit on my table saw to keep the ends of long boards from dropping downward. Though I’m not sure right now, I’ll likely rig something up so the cart won’t move at all during use. Maybe it will be just a few short strips of wood that could be quickly and easily attached to the table saw once I’ve used it a bit.
Trying too hard
I often try to add things to projects to make them cooler, work more efficiently or just look better. It sometimes works, but it often doesn’t. Many times I should have pared the design down — removed something, as opposed to add something — to end up with the best design.
I’m sure many of us fall into the same trap, asking ourselves, “What more could I add to this design to perfect it?” This approach may pay you back with strong dividends from time to time, but just don’t forget about removing things if you’re not hitting a home run with your design. Sometimes it’s better to have less than more.
I honestly have been designing this planer cart in my mind for the past eight months. At times, it was elaborate. It was going to have some sort of mixture of hidden hinged surfaces (nearly invisible) yet super strong, supports, and cool storage devices. The list went on. In the end, I used a few pieces of scrap and spent an hour making the type of simple planer cart I needed.
The moral of this story, you ask? Well, save those scraps, obviously! You just never know when you’ll need them.
Simple and Effective
Though it won’t wow any shop visitors or magazine readers, this simple planer cart just does its job well on a daily basis. The table saw keeps it from going too far when in use.
Clamp It Up
Clamps in both directions help secure the back while the glue dries.
Ease the Edges
A small roundover bit in a router eases all the sharp melamine edges and creates a cart that’s comfortable to grasp and roll around.
5/8" plywood makes a pretty solid shelf, even if it's rough around the edges. A few cleats and screws keep it in place nicely.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.
Good use of scrap melamine!
But it might be even better if it was a bit shorter and the outfeed table of the planer matched your table saw table (since your planer has a fixed table)!
I saved an old book shelf’s parts and they floated around my shop for years. Then I had the same need, something simple to hang on the wall for my ever growing selection of sharpening tools. Out came the scraps and an hour later I was hanging it on the wall. Functional and simple gets the job done when we tend to over think things!
Great article. Thanks! My shop is full of different sized boards which I use as judiciously as I can. I get most of my wood from a local skidoo shop discarding the crate material used to ship all the machines they sell. I also get heavier material from two granite countertop shops discarding their crate material. As you may have guessed, I work mostly with softwoods, but when I need hardwood, I get lots of off-cuts from a local hardwood supply store and also from a local sawyer.
Interesting point about trying too hard… I often say to my students, that the act of creating is just as much about knowing what to edit as it is knowing what to add.
Will melamine bond to melamine or did you prep the edges?
Thanks for your message. That’s exactly what I started out aiming for, but when I thought about the actual thickness planing, I realized I would want to be able to grasp the board with my hand as it exited my planer, and if the board was directly on the table saw surface I wouldn’t be able to grasp it well at all. It’s true that the board would be 100% supported while it was being planed, but it just wouldn’t work for me. I’m guessing it wouldn’t work for many (maybe even most) others too.
I might touch on this in my next column.
Yes, saving scraps does work out great from time to time. I guess that’s why we all do it as much as we do!
Great to hear, Jean-Pierre. Softwoods can be great to work with. And free is pretty sweet too!
Couldn’t agree more, Leo!
Melamine will not bond to melamine with anything even remotely resembling PVA (standard white / yellow) glue. I machined rabbets on the underside of the top and the upper surface of the base, that accepted the gables. This way it was 100% particle board on particle board….which PVA glue works well on.
The trick is to remove something.
Something I’ve discovered lately about carts with wheels is that removing two of the wheels helps immensely in making the cart stay put. I attached two steerable wheels to the back of the cart and let the front of the cart sit directly on the floor. Simply lifting the front a quarter on an inch, easy on a 100 lb cart as it only weighs 50 lbs when lifting one side, lets me move it around. This also provides a place to put a wedge if the floor isn’t flat.
That’s a great idea, Wooster! I push my planer cart up to my table saw, but your cart would stay put anywhere you wanted it to. Good thinking.
I have been saving clean, regular off-cuts for decades now, always thinking I would use them for some sort of creative ‘build’. I literally had/have a mountain of bags of off-cuts collecting dust. I own a small art gallery and thought perhaps customers might want to try using them for their own creative ideas? Total success! I can hardly keep the ‘free’ supply ‘in stock’. My mountain is slowly decreasing in size with an added bonus. I attach a note to each bag saying a “small donation to the gallery would be appreciated” and our donation box is healthier than usual.