New Video Project – Record Racks Box-Boy Is Lose In The Woodshop

Regular readers of this blog already know that I’ve been trying my hand at making videos. I’ve published ten of them on YouTube so far. All but one of them has been autocross recordings using a GoPro as an in-car camera. The other one was a time-lapse session of the gang raising our carport so that we could park The Ritz under it. That video is the only one so far that’s gotten more than a hundred views because it appeals to a broader audience. (If you’re curious, you can view them here.)

I’ve finally come up with a storyline that I can use to make my first video in earnest. It happens to involve music and woodworking, which are two of my other interests. My video will be ‘how-to’ on making some record racks (yes, Virginia, they still make records).

To give you some background, I a fair-sized record collection. I bought my first album when I was in high school, and I’ve been adding to it ever since. I started storing them in a neat system designed by Per Madsen that he sold as part of his RACKIT system. His bright designs efficiently solved media storage while fitting together to make an attractive media center that put our stacked cinder-block shelves to shame. As I collected more records, I’d just order another rack and add it to the pile.

Per Madsen facks loaded with records.
The Per Madsen style racks store up to a hundred records neatly. Yes, they are in alphabetical order.

Out of the blue one day, I got an email from him saying that he was going to retire. He said that he wasn’t going to make any new units and that all of the existing stock was on closeout. I bought up all that I could use, and then they were gone; that was over a decade ago. In our old home, I bought some IKEA shelves that worked, but those didn’t fit in our new home.

We’ve been in this house for over a year now, and Queen Anne has harped about the two unpacked boxes of records still in the dining room. After staring at my media center one evening, I decided that if I couldn’t add more storage horizontally, I needed to stack them higher and decided to make my version of the Madsen racks. I have enough woodworking equipment to replicate everything but his joints. I believe he used hidden glued dowels, but I can get around that with another type of fitting that’s at least as secure. Another significant advantage of making my own is that I don’t have to use red oak. I can use any hardwood that I want.

There are abundant videos on YouTube featuring artisans far more capable than I. It amazes me how some of these guys (and women) produce intricate wood pieces, sometimes without seemingly measuring. I guess that comes with experience. So, my video will be how a journeyman goes about making multiple pieces of furniture that have to fit together precisely.

Per Madsen's rack design.
The rack design is two healthy rectangular ends connected by rails along the bottom and back.

The first step in this project will be measuring and dissecting Per Madsen’s design and make some working drawings. Then I’ll need to come up with an outline of the steps. Finally, I will lay out a storyboard of the shots before I do any filming. I’m guessing that it will take a month to shoot, but then there’s post-processing, so give me till summer before I post it on YouTube. My goal is to have a video that gets more than a thousand views. I’ll update the blog with progress.

Update 05/13/2020

If you’ve been waiting on YouTube to see this video, it never happened. I’ve decided that although I’m competent behind the camera, I’m a bumbling idiot on stage. But, I have completed some of these record racks, and I’ve had traffic because of this post. Here’s how I made my version.

My Record Rack Version - This is the finished version of my record rack - well except for the wire separators.
My Record Rack Version – This is the finished version of my record rack – well except for the wire separators.

I made some minor changes in my design. First of all, I use mortice and tenons for the mainframes. I believe that Mr. Madsen used dowels to connect his, and I don’t have a precise tool to do that. The large surface area of the tenons provides a strong glue-joint, but I pinned each corner with a walnut plug to be sure.

Second, I added a back rail and spaced them equal to the bottom rails. I was afraid that at my age, I would mix them up, so this way, they are interchangeable. I also changed the way they attach to the mainframe. Instead of two wood screws at each joint, I used cross dowels. That means the rails will rotate if forced, but once the records are in, they work fine.

Finally, I drilled holes in the stiles so I can connect units. The significant advantage of using cabinet connectors is that the stacks don’t get unsightly gaps. Without those, the whole grouping has a professional look.

I used birch instead of oak because I prefer the wood to stay white instead of the nasty yellow that you get with aged oak. Besides, with Danish design, Baltic Birch is a natural choice. If that’s not your style, the racks could be made from walnut, cherry, oak, or something more exotic if you have the money. I have the dimensions on pdf if you’re interested. Just contact me via the contact page.

Today, I’m building a set of CD drawers that fit into this system. I have three of the originals, but I never liked how they looked. I changed my design, so the CDs sit like books on a shelf, but with two rows. That makes it easier to flip through my collection. It works better for me. If anybody’s interested, contact me, and I’ll post photos.

Till then . . . jw

Frame Making Part II

Murphy’s Law strikes again (you really didn’t see that coming?), and as a result, my three frames turned into two. I’m generally pleased with how they came out, but as you would expect, there’s room for improvement. It’s that strive for perfection that keeps us going.

In the last post, I had concerns about getting the size right, because I already bought mats and glass cut to 28×20 inches. I could shave a little off of the mats, but not the glass. I wanted them to drop in the ¼ inch rabbet, but not be too sloppy. Figuring out the cut length of each side was straight forward. If you managed to stay awake in high school geometry, you’ll remember that the sides of a rectangle add up to 360°, so the four corners are 90°. The cut angle on the frame ends is half that, or 45°. The geometry teacher also went off on something called The Pythagorean Theorem, you know, the square of the long side of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.

By now I’ve made Queen Anne’s eyes roll into the back of their sockets. Don’t worry, you don’t need to know any of that, nor do you need your calculator with a square root key. Just remember that 45° is the magic number where both short sides of the triangle are equal. Since the width of my frames from the rabbet to the outside edge is exactly ½ inch, I need to add ½ inch to the length . . . at both ends. In my design, the frames outside dimensions are 29×21 inches. Since I wanted them to fit loose, I added another 1/32 inch.

Now that I had all the calculations out-of-the-way it was time to cut some wood. The first thing it did was to set my saw’s miter gauge to . . . 55°, and made two 29 inch cuts. Then I laid them out on the table, and like a dork, I tried for fifteen minutes to figure out why they weren’t square.

After I discovered my mistake, I thought that I could salvage the two cuts by cutting them again for the short side. About my Incra miter gauge; . . . it’s very precise with stops that can be set to 1/10°. I’ve added a Incra fence to it that helps me make repetitive cuts, but it’s kind of thick and its measuring tape pivots in front of the miter gauge, so it needs resetting each time the angle changes. It’s simple enough to do; I just set the stop to 10 inches, cut a piece of scrap wood, measure the actual cut length, and then adjust the tape to match.

Cutting The Frame Sides
With the Incra miter gauge and fence, it’s easy to make accurate repetitive cuts. The trick is getting the set up right in the first place.

Now, I’m already recovering from one mistake and I’m mentally beating myself up, so I’m not thinking about if I change one thing, how it affects another, and I’m rushing. I set the miter gauge to 45° and double checked it and made sure all the fine adjustments were set to zero. I set the stop to 10 inches, grabbed a piece of scrap off the rack and began my test cut. As the blade goes through the wood, I notice that my brand new Tenryu carbide blade is also cutting off the corner of my Incra aluminum fence. At 55° the fence cleared the blade, it didn’t at 45°. Fortunately, the blade went cleanly through the aluminum without exploding, but I’m sure it took a beating in the process.

Missing Fence Corner
Notice the 45 degree angle cut on the gold fence. It wasn’t there a minute ago. Fortunately, the carbide tipped blade took the cut in stride.

I had to take a moment and step back for a breath and a few well placed words normally spelled with symbol keys. When gathered, I adjusted the fence to clear the saw blade, and cut another piece of scrap. After correcting the tape, I was ready to shorten my first two pieces. I ran the piece through the saw and realized that I held it against the fence backwards. Now it was too short.

Believe it or not, I actually did wind up cutting the rest of the pieces correctly. Once I had everything set it was easy. I just had to focus. And with the fence stop, I could take a cut off a longer piece, by cutting the first miter, flip it over and cut the other side. They came out perfect. As I said, I wound up with enough for two frames and some pieces I can eventually use for smaller frames.

Glueing Up The Frame
The jigs that I have let me glue up two corners of the frame at a time while the other corners are held in place with right angle aluminum corners. A better solution would be a clamp that added lateral pressure while holding the miter in place.

The next step was to glue the four sides together. I have some aluminum jigs to hold the corners together at right angles. They work really well except they don’t exert any lateral pressure to the joints. The glue has to set up without pressure. End grain joints are not very strong, so I planned on making a spline joint after they dried. That would be strong enough to hold the glass.

Cutting A Slot For A Spline
This jig was the first that I made a couple of years ago. I didn’t expect that it would take this long to use. It holds the frame upside down so a slot is cut into each corner.

After getting a table saw a couple of years ago, the first jig I made was one for cutting spline slots in frames. It’s simply two pieces of plywood attached to a couple of mesquite runners. It holds a frame (or box) at an angle so you can run it through a saw. Then you cut wood in 1/8th inch slices and glue them into the open slot. After they dry, you trim off the excess, sand and finish. Since this was the first time I used it, I set the depth of the saw blade too deep. It needs to be less than the thickness of the wood piece you’re slicing. I was using standard one by (4×4), so I shouldn’t go any deeper than 5/8 inch into the frame.

Inserting Spline Into The Corner Slot
A piece of wood, cut to the thickness of the slot, is glued in the corner to reinforce the joint. After it dries, the excess then trimmed and sanded flush.

Finally there’s the finishing fiasco. I wanted to have my frames ready for the Museum Show last week, so I used materials on hand. I wanted a black stain with a clear top coat. The local hardware only had oil based stains on hand and I use normally use a water based finish coat, so mixing the two isn’t possible. I decided I could spray some shellac and lacquer for the last finish and bought a couple of cans of both. When I put a coat of shellac over the black stain as a sanding sealer, it looked good . . . until I started sanding it. The sandpaper took off the shellac and most of the black stain. It looked retched.

I didn’t have water-borne black stain, but I did have a very dark brown. I mixed it with the acrylic sanding sealer in a one to one mix and brushed it on the frames. After it dried, I tried sanding it, and even that quickly got down to the base wood. The stain hadn’t penetrated the poplar enough to keep the color during sanding. As a last resort, I applied two coats of the colored sanding sealer letting the frames dry after each coat.

On close inspection, they look awful, but are good enough at a distance. Fortunately they weren’t lit up with a hot spotlight at the show, so they looked good in the dark. After the show, we hung the framed prints in the bedroom where they look just fine.

Finished Product
Well, . . . they’re finished until I get the process under control and make better ones. I wouldn’t sell this pair, but as prototypes, they do what I wanted . . . raise the print away from the wall and simply set off the image.

I’m going to try another type of wood on my next frames. I’m thinking about birch or alder. They’re in the price range of poplar and neither of the former has the green streaks of the latter. I’m leaning towards the birch, because I understand it’s easier to work with than the maple I’ve worked with in the past.

I’ll keep you posted as I learn more.

Till then – jw