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The right way to screw (and glue)

I learned a few things building Monkey’s toddler tower. Things that perhaps should have been blindingly obvious but somehow escaped me until after the fact.

The right way to screw and glue. Yes, there is a right way. I was all about drilling pilot holes and countersinking with my fancy countersinking bits that I bought especially for this project. But every time I tried to screw the pieces together, they would separate. I couldn’t get them to sit together nice and tightly, and the glue just dripped out everywhere instead of actually glueing anything.

Google, being the fount of all knowledge, gave me the answer.

Drill the hole in the first piece of wood bigger than the threads of the screw. This seemed totally counterintuitive to me, but having the screw bite only in the second piece of wood and not the first causes them to pull together as you tighten it. Before I did that, the thread of the screw actually pushed the pieces apart. Who knew? Lots of people, actually.

Too much power is not a good thing. Not for a drill anyway. Our battery operated drill would have been good if I knew where the charger was. But it went flat, and I had to switch to the electric drill because the charger is still missing amongst the boxes from moving house 5 months ago. It is variable speed, but even the lowest of the low settings was way too fast – I stripped two Philips head drive bits screwing the tower together.

Use a vice or clamp. Obvious, no? Except we don’t own either, at least not any I could find in the boxes from the move (sensing a theme here?). And I was too cheap and lazy to go buy one. But I should have – it would have made things much easier! And also a lot safer.

Blunt tools don’t work. One of the drill bits I used was so old and rusty that instead of actually drilling anything it just snapped off inside the hole. This is not ideal. I bought a shiny new drill bit and surprisingly to no-one at all, it made a huge difference. The rasp I inherited from my Dad was so blunt I may as well have been filing things with a rock.

Don’t double screw. The plan I followed didn’t specify how many screws to use for each joint. Probably because it should be self evident. So I though I’d make my contraption nice and strong by putting two screws in each of the ladder rungs. I didn’t want it to fall apart and hurt my precious Monkey! However, this was a Dumb idea. With a capital D. One screw would have been plenty strong enough and way less hassle. With one screw, there is only one hole to line up. If you put in two screws you have twice as many chances to botch it up. I suppose technically this item depends on the size of the joint, because the 1’x6′ needed two screws, but for a 1’x2′, just don’t. Trust.

Which brings me to my next point.

The metric system. For the love of all that is chocolatey, America, will you please join the rest of the world in using the metric system?? Did you realise that there are something like 200 countries in the world, and America is one of only 3 whose official units are not metric?? The other two are Liberia and Myanmar, in case you wondered. Quiz night anyone?

And that’s not the only trick. Apparently wood sizes are before shrinkage, or something. So a 1’x2′ which would literally be 25.4mm x 50.8mm is actually 19mm x 38mm. Here is a great reference. But of course Bunnings doesn’t actually stock that size. The nearest they have is 19mm x 42mm. Confusing much?

Wood isn’t square. Even the machined planks you buy straight out of the shop. And if you go wood shopping with a 10kg Monkey strapped to your hip, and you decide its too hard to check the boards you buy, you will end up with twisty bits.

Outdoor table does not equal woodworking bench. Yes, I used the outdoor dining table as my workbench. This is not a smart plan. I got away with it and managed not to cut/drill/glue the table, but I think that was mostly thanks to a hefty dose of luck. Lacking a proper woodworking bench I can’t actually think of an alternative, but I still don’t think its a good idea. Maybe that will be my next project…

And finally: MESS! During the building process (a few weeks, in this case, thanks to Monkey-wrangling) there was stuff everywhere. Not just sawdust, although there was plenty of that.

I got the drop saw out to start with, but decided it was too noisy and it wasn’t big enough to cut the widest boards anyway. So I got out the handsaw and mitre box. Set square and pencil. Jigsaw. (Yes, without a clamp!! I realise this is crazy. See above.) Battery operated drill, which went flat and was replaced by the electric drill. Screws, glue, wet rag. 5 different drill bits. A rasp and a sanding block.


I had a great time building the tower though, and Monkey absolutely loves it. I can’t wait to start something new – there’s such a fabulous sense of satisfaction and achievement to use a piece of furniture you built yourself!


One comment on “The right way to screw (and glue)

  1. glumbunny
    November 21, 2012

    Excellent information. It almost inspires me to attempt something with wood. But then I think about my adventures with the mitre box… And yes, we Americans are so stupid with our stupid units of measurment. Perhaps when China buys us.

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This entry was posted on November 20, 2012 by in build it.
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