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Ant Smith
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Cosmetics Caddy: Design and Construction Concerns

This project built a cosmetics caddy from reclaimed pallet wood and explored:

  • Multiple different woodwork joints

  • Creating my first mortice and tenon joint

  • Gang cutting

  • Adding photographic decor using wax-paper ink transfer

image showing the final cosmetics caddy in use

As I was dismantling another pallet that had arrived my wife (Christine) suggested she could do with a tray/caddy for organising her make-up. She simply loves trays. And I love making things that will actually get used. So I was very pleased with the request.

So I stole her make-up for a couple of days to work out a suitable containership for it all. It was immediately apparent that I would need sections of varying heights, so I made a design that was deep in the centre sloping down to shallower edge compartments; as you can see in the photograph.

In my initial design I only used inclines for the outward facing edge sections, with the inner plywood dividers otherwise running level at half the full height of the caddy; as so:

image showing initial design of the compartment arrangement

This arrangement presented two challenges. The first was a concern regarding use; long thin items (such as brushes) may be prone to toppling out of their section. The second challenge concerned construction; The edge-piece dado channels into which the dividers slot need 'stopping' (they do not run edge to edge) - which would require the dados to be hand-cut as opposed to being cut by my compound mitre saw.

Things would be simpler if the dividers all rose to the full height of the caddy.

I didn't want to make all of the inner sections the full height of the caddy though, as that reduces its flexibility; medium sized items (such as nail-polish bottles) would be tricky to retrieve. Sections have a wont to be shallower in order to make it easier to retrieve items whilst also wanting to be deeper in order to securely contain those items (whilst the items themselves have a wont to be all different sizes..!)

So I adapted the dividers to the final design:

image showing final compartment arrangement

None of the sections are of a definitive height, since the items to be contained refuse to be of definitive sizes. The outer sections will happily accommodate small to medium items, with medium to large items fitting the inner sections; the sloping walls ensuring that all items can be both securely contained and yet accessible.

Whilst the divider design has the happy happenstance of making the groove cutting simpler, since all the grooves that are to be cut will run edge-to-edge, it clearly complicates the cutting of the dividers. However the dividers are 6mm plywood and none of the cuts are greater than 8cm, so that ought to be straight-forward enough with my handsaw, I hope. (It was).

The inclines on the edge pieces I cut with the mitre saw. Since I'm using reclaimed pallet wood it's easy to imagine that there will be some degree of slight variance in the precise angles that I end up cutting. To alleviate this risk I will gang-cut the end pieces – i.e. create the four inclines with two saw cuts by cutting each side of the two end pieces together, one stacked atop the other.

An end piece is not symmetrical, since it has grooves cut on the inner face and it sports laterally sloping pegs for the corner dovetailing. I will gang-cut them back-to-back – i.e. with the inner faces touching. This means any inaccuracy in the cut of the incline will at least be matched side-to-side; as one of the pieces will not need to be turned around after cutting.

image showing orientation considerations when gang cutting

I used a mortice and through-tenon joint for the centre piece, in fact my very first mortice and tenon joints. You can see in the photograph that they're a bit scruffy due to various bits of tear out when I cut the mortice all the way through from one side. What I should have done (and in fact did on the second two joints) was to cut the mortice from both sides in towards the centre – just like they made the channel tunnel. I was worried though, that a minor error between the front and back mark-up would mean that the mortice cuts didn't meet-up correctly. So I cut straight through and suffered the tear-out problem. For the second two mortices, I cut through to the middle from one side, then turned the piece over to cut from the other side. To avoid the cuts not joining up properly, on the second side I started to cut from the centre gradually enlarging the mortice out towards the edges. This allowed me to see how the two cuts were lining up as I worked on the second face. As It happens the mark-up was accurate, and maybe I should have just trusted it in the first place...

Although simple in concept this caddy uses lots of different joints, so it was a great project for someone (like me) just learning the skills; the major joints being:

4 dovetails

  • 4 mortice and through tenons

  • 10 dado cuts (cross-grain grooves)

  • 6 groove cuts

  • 4 mitre (sloping edge) cuts

  • A whole bunch of fine cuts into the plywood

image showing exploded view of caddy component pieces

To finish this piece off I decided to use a new (to me) technique of printing images and text onto the wood. This is very simply achieved using a bog standard home ink-jet printer. I got hold of some kitchen wax-paper (actually by asking Christine if she'd ever heard of such stuff, which she had and promptly acquired a roll of it for me). I cut a piece large enough for the image I wanted on the caddy and using Pritt Stick I tacked it to a normal sheet of A4 paper (wax side up), so that it would feed through our ink-jet printer without slipping and smudging the print. I then horizontally flipped the image before printing it onto the wax paper.

As soon as the paper came out of the printer (before the ink dried) I placed the paper ink-side down onto the caddy and used a bank card to rub across the back of the paper, so that the pressure transferred the ink to the wood, making sure that the paper did not slip at any time. The result is quite effective, and with a coat of varnish should last well. The technique is quite simple, the only thing to remember is to flip the image before printing, or else it will turn out back-to-front on the finished piece.

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