A couple of years ago we got a new cat.
He was a smashing, lively cat, whose arrival immediately set a timer on the demise of our wicker laundry basket. His claws needed maintenance, and that was his preferred means of manicure (caticure?) I had only a limited time to build a slightly less easily destroyable box.
The first decision was quite simple. If I made a new box the same size as the original, it would fit nicely on the landing, and I could re-use the cloth liner from the wicker one. The next decision was, as ever, a little more involved. What should it look like and how should it be constructed? Time for some sketches and a plan.
A solid wood box would be heavy, and probably expensive. So, straight away I thought of building a frame with either wood strips or thin hardboard panels to fill in the sides. My first approach seemed logical, to have square wooden strips along each edge, with recesses cut to hold the hardboard. I spotted a construction problem with this approach, however. The edge pieces would be shared between two sides, which would lead to a difficult assembly. I would need to build the frame completely, then try to secure the hardboard panels from within. A simpler approach would be to build each side as a separate frame, then screw these frames together.
After sketching it out, I realised I’d need a small revision to my design. I was aiming to have two end frames bolted on to the edges of two side frames. The frames would be made from wood that was about 6cm by 1.5cm. If I used the same width wood throughout, I would have a box that, from the front, appeared to have much wider strips at the sides than at the top and bottom – the thickness of the end pieces would add to the widths of the wood in the frames. I thought this might look unbalanced. The solution was to saw and hand plane some of the wood off the four side strips so that the sum of width plus thickness would match the widths elsewhere.
So, I settled on this second plan and went to look for some wood. I headed once again to Oxford Wood Recycling and started looking through their well-sorted stacks of offcuts and surplus boards. I found a lot of pine strips that were very cheap and approximately the right widths and thicknesses. With a tape measure and a lot of arithmetic (and some help from a calculator) I eventually found a collection of wooden strips that would be sufficient to build the four sides and lid. A quick hop over to the local DIY superstore to get some plyboard for the panels and I was good to go.
Now to put my maths skills into action. I needed 20 different pieces of wood from these strips. Ideally with no big knots or other notches in them. I got the measurements just about right – here are the wooden pieces…
…and here are some of the offcuts.
Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of the job of sawing and planing a few of those strips to make them a little narrower. Sorry about that. Suffice to say that I managed to produce edges that were flat and smooth and fitted snuggly against the end pieces.
The next task would be to figure out how the hardboard should fit to the frame. I wanted the panels to be fitted from inside so that the weight of clothes would push the panel into the wood rather than push against the join between the two. I also wanted it to be flush with the inside of the frame so there were no bits sticking out to snag on any material.
So, it was time to get out the Router, and cut a groove down one edge of each piece of wood. For half the pieces, this groove was easy to cut as it would run the entire length. For the other half however, I would have to stop the cut short of the ends. The end grain of these pieces would be visible and I did not want a groove to be seen at these edges. So, for each strip that had a visible end, I would stop the router short of the edge and use a chisel to square off.
I decided to fix the frames together using biscuits. So, the next task was to dig out the Biscuit Joiner and cut grooves in appropriate places in each piece. With 20 runs with the router and 40 grooves with the biscuit cutter, that was a long, tedious, and quite noisy weekend all in all.
The laundry box would need to be picked up from time to time. Since the frames were quite thick, I decided to form handles in them by cutting slots in the tops of the end frames. I found a suitably large drill bit and used it to drill a succession of holes down the length of the slot, then worked with a chisel to tidy up the sides of the long holes. This is another part of the process I forgot to take pictures of. Apologies again, this is the best I can find to show how the handles came out.
Assembling the frames was quite straight forward; a process of gluing and clamping that I was familiar with from any number of previous projects (see here and here for example if you’re interested.) So now I had five wooden frames, and needed a method for fixing them together.
Four frames would form a box. The fifth would make a lid. Hinges for the lid were obvious. For the box I settled on decorative bolts and threaded wood inserts, similar to those I had used on The Banister. This was fitting since the laundry box was to sit at the top of the stairs.
So, I needed to drill some holes in the sides and ends of the box to accommodate the bolts. A quick assembly to test that everything fitted ok, and I was ready to move on to the next part.
The laundry box had sides and a top, and would need a bottom. I didn’t see the value of making a frame specifically for the bottom of the box, so instead I added some thin strips of wood around the inside of the frames a few centimetres up from the bottom, and cut a rectangle of plyboard to sit on top of these. Another quick test to check that the cotton liner sat nicely on this bottom piece.
Now for wood stain. Since the laundry box would sit near the banisters, I thought it made sense to use the same stain to finish the wood, to get a similar colour and effect. A few coats of warm oak satin varnish and the pieces looked very nice.
Once varnished, I could nail the hardboard pieces into the recesses I’d cut in the backs of the frames. They looked good! Now to attach the lid to the box using the hinges and the box is assembled.
This close-up of a hinge and corner of the basket shows some of the details of the construction. First, you can see how the recess could run the length of the horizontal piece but needed to stop short on the vertical piece. The corner of the recess was made square using a chisel. You can also see the choice to use a flush fit hinge. A standard hinge would have two metal parts that came together, giving them quite a thick profile. For this hinge, the two parts fit together one inside the other to make a much thinner profile when closed. This meant I could get away without having to cut recesses for the hinges to fit in. The cotton lining helps to further disguise the gap between the lid and box when it is closed.
Very, very sadly, the lovely cat that prompted this work went on an adventure too far. He went for a roam, stepped out in a busy road and didn’t make the other side. We have another cat now, who chooses to sharpen his claws on the stair carpet. That’ll be another project for the not too distant future then…