How I began woodworking

Creative marbling machine prototype

There are many marbling machines on the internet. Most of them are table top. Shawn Yeo, who founded VINCO, an educational company that specializes in  creating environments that develop students to be independent learners, leaders and thinkers through tinkering approached me for this project.

Shawn explained the project to me enthusiastically. He wanted a marbling kit which could be attached to a whiteboard via a magnet. A marbling machine allows a marble to go through a set of obstacles, making a little noise in the process. They are also very interesting to watch.

The challenge of this project is the very very thin pieces. There are a lot of parts that are only 3mm thick.

Wave like wooden structure

This wave like structure was interesting to make. The shape was first cut on a scroll saw before being glued together so that the front and back are identical.

Diagram showing 2 grooves routed on a back of a maze like obstacle.

These 2 grooves are where the magnet will sit in.

Maze like structure

Parts were individually cut before gluing it all together with wood glue. Realised that the trick to doing 3mm cuts on a table saw is to cut on the other side, not between the blade and the fence.


With the circular part only 3mm thick, it was a feat to cut. The trick, use a very slow speed, <500rpm on a drill press. I did spoil quite a number of them before getting it right.

Triangle shaped block with grooves on each side.

The triangle has a drain on each side.
Note the very thin front.


This was quite interesting to make.I had to drill the hole at exactly the correct spot, then shape the rounded top on the router table.

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Machine tool workbench

Cross saw sled from the front

Simple cross saw sled which is

Workbench with cross saw sled

Workbench front view with cross saw sled

Workbench front view

Workbench front view

Circular saw

A circular saw mounted on a zero clearance insert

Sanding table

A vac is attached to the table to draw air downwards.

Machine table top

Saw, sanding table and cross cut tracks

Pic showing hole for vac in sanding table

Hole where the vac is attached to for sanding table

Clamping stiles to clamp the workpiece using F clamp. Can't  afford a vice

Clamping stiles to clamp the workpiece using F clamp. Can’t afford a vice

Front view

Front view

Pic showing isometric view of the machine bench
workbench with cross saw sled

Crosssaw sled

This machine workbench came about when I needed a workbench at my workplace. My boss’s instruction was simply not to spend too much money.

I figured that I needed something to saw with. So the best thing I could do with the limited budget and space was to overturn a circular saw. Then sanding was a dusty affair as there’s no dust collection system so I designed a sanding table in as well. I couldn’t afford a vice to clamp my stuff so I simply added two stiles where I could F clamp my work to. I sometimes have long pieces so a table extension was also needed. The entire thing is on wheels and allow some form of extra storae.

Well, that’s what I use in my assistive technology workshop. It’s a small lift lobby outside a storeroom as you’ll see from the photos above.


Opened drawer with dovetail sides and solid front.

Dovetail drawers

Kapur drawers in a white carcass on wheels. Chrome pull handles

My tool chest

Picture of flat bench top with a M ten 7 inch vice

Bench top, dog holes and vice


That part on top is actually what’s going to be a drawer.

I made this workbench sometime last year or the year before. The bench is made from solid Kapur wood. It measures 4 feet wide and 2 feet across. The top is a solid top with 3/4 dog holes to hold pieces for planning.

The legs are 10 centimeters by 15 centimeters thick giving it a really heavy base. There was a mistake on one of the legs and I tried to save money by gluing up 6 pieces of smaller timber to make up the thickness. The glue up was A LOT lighter than the solid piece.

The legs are held together by mortise and tennon joinery. There are 2 rails on each side. The one at the bottom is done in mortise tennon. Believe me, you wouldn’t want to do M&T in a 6 inch piece of wood. So for the top, I cut a dado and then glue and screw the rail there.

The two ends are held by another mortise and tennon at the back. This one is not glued. It would allow the bench to be taken apart.

The top is held to the legs with M&T. The top was simply dropped down. Using this construction, the bench can be taken apart and transported in 3 pieces: The top, the two sides and the back rail. I was hoping that one day I can have a real studio workshop doing my hobby as

3 planter boxes on a wall shelf

Wall shelf

3 planter boxes on a wall shelf
L shaped with a digonal across shelf bracket

The L shape was constructed using dovetail joint. The diagonal piece was attached with dowel joint.

This was another project I did early in my woodworking hobby. I needed a shelf in my belcony to house my plants. My belcony was also my wood workshop so I cannot afford a large space for my garden. As I live in an appartment, my belcony measures a mere 14 feet by 5 feet. Small for a workshop by any standard. And I have to share it with my plants!

The top was a slap of Kapur wood. It is used to make doors and window stills so I guess they would hold up and age well.

The shelf brackets are very strong. The L shape is done with dovetail joint construction. Normally, there is no need for such a strong joint in a simple shelf (butt joint will do) but I was practicing my dovetailing technique. The dignoal is held to the L by dowel joints. Do note how the grain of the diagonal runs. It should run along the length of the diagonal.

The shelf is finished with 5 coats of polyurethene varnish on each side.

The whole thing is mounted on the wall using plastic wall plugs and screws.

Tool chest made simple

Isometric view of the tool chect
Tool chest with drawers open

The four drawers are of different sizes. No drawer guide that waste space.

Country style tool chest with uneven staining of drawer front for a country style look.
Front view of tool chest

4 drawers of differing sizes help organise my tools well

I was thinking how am I to organise the tools my workplace have acquired. The person before me simply kept all the tools in a drawer. It was a maga mess. I had some plywood left over from another project and decided that a four drawer tool chest might be the answer.

The tool chest should have a tray on top of it that I can leave the tool in it without fear that it would roll off the top and stab me in my foot! The drawers ride on invisible runners that save space. Cost was kept low by drilling holes to make the pull handles for the drawer.

All holes are in alignment for that neat look. Now a new home for tools that can be kept safely, brought out to the worksite, and great looking too.

Greene and Greene style of woodworking is very special in the sense that, when you take a first glance at it, looks like most other furniture: Simple lines, squarish. It doesn’t yell out at you like earlier styles, such as Queen Ann with lots of carvings or Chippendale with its curves. But when you take a closer look at the details, it’s a whole new world. That was when I was blown away. The magic was really in the details. Simple inlays, cloud lifts, proud pegs, proud finger joints, stuff like that really made the difference.

After reading a few books, I decided to give it a go at designing and making a Greene and Greene inspired furniture. If you read my earlier post, I wrote that I started off furnishing my own flat with Ikea furniture. I decided to make a bookcase to fit under the Ikea table. It would sit at one end facing outwards. That would leave the back exposed, giving me a good reason to finish the back to the same high standard as the front.

I started out milling my lumber and joining two six inches wide board together. Then they go through the planner one more time.  I used Kapur as I had a good supply on hand. It’s a tropical hardwood usually used for window still and door frames. They are strong but not as beautiful as say teak, and it comes with a rather economical price tag.

I used a table saw to cut the finger joints. Dado stacks aren’t common in Singapore. I used a sled with a stop at one inch to make two cuts, one on each side of the panel. I moved my stop another inch to cut two inches from the sides. I then slide my panel across the saw blade using my sled as a fence to clear the wood between the two cuts.

The exposed finger joints are then rounded by hand with a rasp, chisel and sandpaper. The edges were rounded using a block plane. One swipe at fourty five degrees and another two rounds off the corners. It was surprisingly fast.

Holes were then drilled into the fingers to take a screw and a wooded plug. The panels were joined with glue and screws. The screw holes were then covered with round wooden pegs. My feel is that it is a lot easier to make round holes than square ones and it doesn’t compromise the aesthetic value of the piece too much. And I certainly wanted something easy to do as this is my first Greene and Greene piece.

I had some problems cutting the rebate on the back. Because of the small edge, my router kept slipping and cutting into the sides which didn’t give me the clean edge that I wanted. I ship-slapped a back on.

My inlay was made from white oak on the base. The based was joined to the main shelf using pocket screws. The finish is wipe on varnish and two layers of wax.

After constructing the shelf, it looks too good to be placed under a cheap Ikea table. The two just didn’t go together. I gave them to my kids, aged 3 and 5 to place their books and jigsaw puzzles.

Do give me your comments. This is my first piece in G&G, so your comments would help me a great deal to improve.  I’m now making a coffee table and a wall cabinet. I’ll write them when I finish. In my next blog, I’ll write on a chest of drawers for my tools.  Thanks for reading!

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Chest of two drawers

After having written quite a number of posts about my adventures finding shop made assistive technology solutions, I’ll come back to my hobby and passion: woodworking. You may notice that I’ve yet to write anything on Greene and Greene furniture, and start to wonder why. It’s simply because I’m still working on my G&G woodworking projects, My first project is a small book shelf for my kids and I’m now working on a coffee table. I promise to write on my bookshelf in my next post.

This is a project that I made for a friend. I charged her $160 for it and it certainly does not cover my labour cost. It was more for learning than to make money.

It was simply a box made from 3/4 inch thick plywood held together with pocket screws. The back is rebated into the carcass. The carcass is finished with walnut colour laminate. The drawers are made of 15mm blockboard which is finished on one side. The other side is finished with white plastic laminate. They are on standard drawer guides. The drawer based is dadoed into the sides.

I felt that pocket screws made the job a lot easier. It was easy to assemble the carcass, but I felt that the joint was not strong enough. I would have preferred it with glue but that would make alignment a nightmare. The glue also will not stick to the PVC laminate on the inside.

Applying large pieces of laminate was difficult, espicially when I wanted the grain to run. It didn’t. For the sides, I tried using the laminate trimmer. It sucked big time. My preference will still be my trusty old bastard file.

Fixing the drawers was a breeze.  Overall, I would say finshing was the most difficult of problems. Scratches on the laminate was most annoying. So be careful with that bastard in your hand ( I mean the file).

Customised seating

I was working with a five year old boy who had cerebral palsy. He moved about quite a bit due to his athetoid movements. His mother needed a chair that she could put him in. The chair must be sturdy enough to withstand his athetoid movements and not fall over. It should keep him in the chair and allow him to engage in activities with his hands.  I placed the child in a simulater and adjusted the angles till I thought it met my therapy goals.

The problem is there was no commercially availiable chair for the child to try. This is important in AT prescription because the child needs to try sitting on the chair for a reasonable period of time. I ended up fabricating a chair for him. The chair has a flat base that extended all the way from the toes to 5 inches past the backrest so there is little danger of it tipping over. The armrest are removable so the chair will be wider as the child grows. A removable footplate allows for growth in leg length. The lap tray is also provided so that the child can engage in a table top. The seat is tilted 20 degrees backwards to prevent him from sliding out of the chair as seen in the first picture.

Transfer board

These pictures show a transfer board with a backrest. I made this for a gentleman with cerebral palsy. His mother was having quite a bit of trouble transfering him from chair to chair. He also feels more confident with a short backrest. This is made from plywood. There are two handholds that could either be used as handholds or when placed over the handle of a brake, it works as an anchor. The back is joint to the main board with dovetail joints, a very strong joint.


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My woodworking journey

My journey in woodworking started with finishing Ikea furniture in my new home. The next stage was to modify Ikea furniture. I bought an Ivar shelving unit and modify it by putting in the sides and the doors. It’s now a display cabinet sitting in my living room. The construction was simple. I cut the shelving unit down to 6′ and cut rabbets on the outside to hold pine 10mm thick. The pine was joined by lap joint on the sides. At that time in 2007, I didn’t know how strong butt joints along the grain were. Now that I know this fact, butt joints along the length of the wood is my preferred choice.

Thereafter I started to try my hands at sheet goods. The main type was plywood. I did a build in for a fish pond. This was my first build n with very little tools. Initially, I tried to hold the parts of the cabinet together with plastic corner brackets, which on looking back, was a very foolish thing to do. They just came apart! So I decided to screw it, which was much stronger. I also tried my hands at wall panneling. I made the lines by sawing midway through the plywood with a circular saw.

My next project was a bed. This time, I wanted to try joinery. The main joint that hold up the frame of the bed was the bridle joint. I also made an drawer unit that fit under the bed.

Other projects I did in my earlier years include a sofa, a cutlery tray for my home.