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More Stair Construction: FastenMaster HeadLOK Newel Install


I’m working on the finished loft stairs in the master bedroom, focused on newel construction. One challenge I’ve had to address is scaling up the newels and constructing a hollow core box newel using Fastenmaster Headlok lags.

l’ve had factory-built newels on hand for sometime. It is from them that I scaled the loft pony wall end newel, since they all have to line up. It would have been easier if the previous stair builder had been more conventional, but our stairs have a mini-landing of one tread at the top, creating a need for a double top newel. about 6″ apart. Not ideal, but what we’ve got….more on that later.

It’s been a challenge to get all the cuts just right and level up a newel. I’ll put out more later on the complete stair install. Previous to this I’ve glued up a humongous outer skirt/stringer.

Below are a few photos, showing the core of the newel, clamping, and the mostly finished newel. The top fastener is just a temporary screw to aid in leveling. The newel is counter bored to the depth of the head with a 5/8″ paddle bit. Not visible, a block has been cut to fit into the hollow core between the box newel and the stair stringer.

Newel Sleeve Clamp

Newel Sleeve Clamp

Fastenlok Fasteners Newel Post

Fastenlok Fasteners Newel Post


Mostly finished newel with HeadLOK fastener

Loft newel finish details


I’d hoped to completely finish trimming the loft this week, but still have base trim to go.

The top newel/end cap of the loft half wall consumed a LOT of time to make the trim and do the installation. I’d done some planning when I built the wall, but had not done the complete details of the build for the trim. Because I had planned for a rabbet to cover the drywall ends where it terminated at the newel core, I opted to use rabbet joints for both sides of the newel rather than 45 degree joints. A rabbeted joint provides more gluing surface than a 45 degree joint. The exterior box trim also has to be made just slightly larger than the core to allow fine tuning for leveling. Basically, this is three-sided box newel. The pieces were cut out, glue applied, assembled around the core, and clamped. Once the glue was dry, the final nailing was completed.

Shims were applied (using drywall cardboard shims) as needed to the top of the half wall framing to bring the area into level prior to adding the wall cap. The wall cap is 1 X 8 finger joint stock, bullnose on the router table. The newel cap was bullnose at the same time to match the profile. The wall cap wraps the newel to provide a decorative detail, as does the band trim under the cap.

Pics –
Loft rail before

​Note the slight gaps around the newel core and the wall cap to allow fine tuning of level and reveal. No problem in paint grade work since these will be caulked and painted. But, it gets to be even more of a PITA with stain grade work.

Newel box and wall trims were assembled with polyurethane quick grab adhesive, wood glue, SS nails, and SS pin nailer.

A Simple, Small, non-Gigantic Entry Sideboard


I’ve made all of three pieces of furniture in my adult life.

My first project, a workbench, lasted almost four years before disassembly and reuse as scrap.   My second project, a small, two-shelf bookcase based on a Kreg design remains in the corner of myson’s bedroom – still quite stout, functional, and dutifully holding two shelves of books.

Most of my time doing projects has been spent on remodeling projects focused on finding storage in a tiny townhouse in the DC suburbs.  In light of the challenge of storage, and a home with a small footprint, it may seem ironic that I was inspired by anything with “Gigantic” in its title. Yet, browsing for design inspiration for an entry sideboard, I came across Hillary’s The Friendly Home and Gigantic Rustic Sideboard design.  It meshed with the desired, Pottery Barn-ish, design aesthetic and my modest woodworking skills.

Completed sideboard.

Finished entry sideboard. Approximately 38x40x26″.


An hour or so with pencil and paper, and I downsized the design and came up with a design and cut list that reflected the finished proportions.  All lumber, including sheet goods, came straight from Home Depot.  Hardware, on the other hand, required a trip to my local Woodcraft as did the wax for the finish, which was a 50/50 mix of clear bowling wax and Tudor Brown Briwax. As most of my ‘woodworking’ has been outdoor-oriented carpentry projects such as fences and decks, and I didn’t own a chop saw or radial arm saw, I relied on my sidewinder fitted with a finish blade, a steady hand (assisted by clamps), and methodical approach to cutting to include taking the time to ‘gang cut’  ‘matched’ parts of the frame.  I worked in the elements (this was late summer 2014).

Doors & drawers-completed.

Finished entry sideboard.

If you have access to a chop saw or radial arm saw, so much the better – I recommend using one and setting up a stop in order to get good, uniform cuts. Otherwise, primary tools included a Kreg jig, a standard assortment of framing and carpenter squares, Titebond, and a Bosch Colt handheld router (although designed more as a laminate trimmer, this router – equipped with a new Bosch bit – was more than powerful enough to cut and route smoothly in the the whitewood that forms the frame and stiles of the door and back). I’m a huge fan of a Dewalt variable speed R/O sander that I purchased for this project – and the sideboard received a standard progression of sanding from 80 grit up to 220 grit (3-4 complete sandings). I relied heavily as well on my Makita impact driver and Makita 14.4V drill.  Clamps – Bessey H-clamps, Kreg clamps, and an assortment of other clamps also made possible the assembly of the case and other components.

Framing & Case Assembly. I basically followed instructions for the sideboard’s ‘gigantic’ cousin except for insetting the doors and the back with ¼” baltic birch plywood (Hillary discussed this in her article). I opted to inset the back simply because it looks beFrame and case.tter and our sideboard would be positioned near the front entrance of the house. The side assemblies are straightforward – joined with pocket holes with the assistance of the Kreg jig. I assembled the interior divider separately. The proportions of the interior divider were key to the overall design: the interior divider comprises six compartments. Three small compartments for shoes (7.5” high) and 28” upper compartment to accommodate backpacks and large pursues. Unlike many projects with face frame assemblies, the face frame and the back – which again was inset – were the last components assembled.  The H-clamps (Bessey pipe clamps) should receive an honorable mention.    Although I had the actual clamps for a few years before this project, it was their first use in accordance with the design.  The H design allows for the clamps to “stand”on their own feet, as seen in a few photos, easing the process of alignment and clamping.

Inset back of sideboard.

Visible inset and overhang.

Top Assembly.  The top is the easiest part – but I would recommend leaving assembly of the top for the next step after the case (or even the last step).  The sideboard’s top is simply comprised of 2X6″s and 2X4″.  I only left a 3/4″ overhang all the way around my sideboard.  Although a modest amount of contortionist endeavor will be required, the top should be attached to the case only after drawers are installed.

Drawer Assembly. Another moment of honesty: this was my first time building drawers. I kept them simple, and relatively strong, albeit not highly attractive. I knew that it was important to know the dimension and method of operation of the sliders before designing the drawer. I opted for ball bearing slides that would more than accommodate the likely weight of any items (my backup plan for the project was to use it as a replacement for the aforementioned dismantled workbench – so heavy duty slides made sense).  My slides were pretty rudimentary – Richileu 18″ sliders from Lowes.

The front and sides of the drawers are whitewood.  To assemble the side, I routed grooves to accept the bottom panel of the drawer (I ran the groove using a 1/4″ up-cut router bit and edge guide.  I ran the groove, full length, in the 1X4″ before cutting the sides to length, ensuDrawer assembly.ring that the groove would be uniform for each drawer).  The back of the drawer actually rests on the bottom – and the bottom slides into the assembled drawer.  Pocket hole joinery came into play, yet again, as the sides were screwed and glued to the front and back.  The actual front of the drawers is a false front, sized and screwed to the actual drawer box close to the final steps of assembly.

Door Assembly. The doors on the sideboard are relatively tiny compared to the design, and insetting the panel within the door seemed like a prudent approach to ensure a stable, basic, attractive door. This time, however, the challenge was that I was working with ½” whitewood – not a particularly forgiving dimension with the Kreg setup. Pocket holes also would’ve likely made the inset unnecessarily complicated. After some experimentation, and some delicate clamping and drilling, the frames ended up being butt-joined and received a ¼”x ¼” shoulder to accommodate the inset.  I opted for hinges that didn’t require mortising.

Finish.  I sanded — progressing with from 80 grit to at least two final passes with 220 grit sandpaper.  As mentioned, the finish is an approximate 50/50 mix of clear bowling wax and Tudor Brown Briwax.  The clear wax lightens the brown in the Briwax and makes for a harder, more enduring finish than Briwax alone.  The combination also yields a smooth, almost caress-able finish, as it fills the voids and pockets in the surface of the wood.  I experimented with the specific ratio on pieces of scrap.  Enough elbow grease and its also quite possible to lighten and even out the coloration across the piece.

Thoughts? AA.



5 Steps to Trim a Door Bottom


Five steps to trim the bottom of a wood exterior door in order to get it to the right length.  With the door resting on sawhorses:

1. Accurately measure up from the bottom of the door with a metal ruler, preferably a carpenters’ square, not a measuring tape. Tape ends move. Do it again. Measure twice at least. This measurement will identify where you need to do step 2.

2. Fully mask the area of the cut line with blue tape. Include the area that your saw base will travel over (or tape the cut line area, and separately tape the saw base to prevent it from marring the door). The tape on the cut line is to help prevent splintering, particularly at the door stile sides where you will crosscut, not rip. While most saw blade blowout will occur at the exit side of the cut, I like to tape both sides of the door for good measure.

Note: Depending on the type of threshold, it may be necessary to bevel the cut. Usually a slight bevel, with the outside of the door lower than the inside is helpful to keeping the weather out and makes for a tight fit against the threshold seal strip. 3-5 degree bevel is sufficient.

3. Repeat step 1 – marking the masked tape. Using a metal or otherwise crisp straightedge and a utility knife, score the cutline once it is marked out on the taped door. Using a utility knife to mark the cut line will assist with minimizing the splintering by relieving the surface tension of wood fibers.

4. Clamp a straightedge to use as a guide for the saw at the appropriate offset from the saw blade cut line. It is usually about 5.5”, but check against your circular saw. Make certain you have allowed for the saw kerf width to the correct side of the cut line. I like to use 60 tooth blade for door cuts, but depending on the door finish, 40 tooth or 80 tooth may be fine/needed. Rockler has a saw blade 101 to review blade types.

5. Once setup, pucker up, goggle up, and make the cut……. Sand all edges to finish and breathe…..

Good luck! Hope all goes well……

Closet, first cabinet carcass assembly


This is the carcass for the drawer base. Had to get it together since all else installs on top or around it. Kreg system worked well. Used a little glue during assembly. The wide board lying on the table is the front stretcher that gets installed under the top drawer slides.

Good thing I did this, ’cause I quickly found out that I’d made the shelf unit side panels that go on top too long – misread my own plans when I transferred from the plans to the cut sheet. A couple of quick cuts solved the problem – sure better than looking for the board stretcher!

Router Table Tweaks


Yesterday I changed out router bits in the table to setup for a 1/16″ roundover bit for all of the solid edging on the cabinets/shelves. The refinements at such a small dimension get critical, so it was also time to pull out the router mounting plate, draw a template, and drill a hole thru the plate for the topside fine height adjustment key.

This is the Bosch 1617 mounted in a Bosch router table specific base. It is similar to a fixed base without handles, but has the ability to use the top mounted height adjustment (note the knob on the right).

Here is the router and top in profile. Here you can see the feather boards added to the fence to hold down the cabinet panels for smooth flow past the cutter head. The feather boards fasten to the fence with t-bolts (toilet bolts with heads filed to fit the track, and cut to length).

…..and here is the fine adjustment – a t-hex wrench that fits into a female fitting in the router base adjustment knob.




Solid Wood Edge Banding Prep/Finish


For the closet organizer project, I’ve designed four cabinets that will integrate into a combined drawer base, shelf, and hanging rod system. I’ve chosen to use poplar solid wood edge banding applied to the exposed 3/4″ birch plywood edges. Poplar, and other stock hardwoods available locally come just slightly oversize of 3/4″, but less than 1″, and all of it wider than 3/4″ plywood, which is really 1/32″ less than 3/4″.

Once glued on, the edge banding stands proud of the plywood and must be brought level with the plywood surface to be finished. I attempt to glue one side close to the plywood surface, and run most of the excess to one side, but as a practical matter I find that there is some excess of edge band on either side, so both sides of the banding need to be leveled. You could use a belt sander to bring the edge banding into level with the plywood and risk sanding thru a veneer layer, but there is a better way, use a pattern bit on the router table. Here is how it is done:

The rough edge after glue up

Router table high fence is made up of 3/4″ birch ply, rabbeted on the bottom facing edge approximately 1/8 X 1 1/4, and secured to the router table fence using 3/4″ 10-24 bolts countersunk into the fence and Tee nuts that fit into the router table fence slots. Fence is about 12″ high since I’m making 16″ to 21″ wide component parts.

The router bit I’m using is a 3/4″ pattern bit with a bottom bearing. The bearing rides on the surface of the plywood stock, while the cutter blades trim the edge band down nice a smooth to very close to the plywood.

The result leaves a nice, clean surface to surface finish, ready for sanding with just a random orbit sander to ready the stock for sanding sealer prior to finishing.