Desk Caddy

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This article is from Issue 77 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Keep it together with an organizer you can make from lumber leftovers

When my box of lumber scraps starts to overflow, I’ve got two choices. I can dispose of the excess wood or find a small project to utilize my favorite pieces. The latter option is always preferable, and that’s how this small but useful project came into being. My desk caddy holds the everyday items that otherwise get misplaced in pockets, drawers, and elsewhere throughout the house: loose change, odd screws and hardware items, pens, eyeglasses, my cell phone and a stack of square Post-it notes. The square note pads, which I consume at an astonishing rate, actually dictated the size of the two outer compartments. You could easily adjust the dimensions to suit your particular storage needs.

Building this project is an opportunity to try out a couple of tricks for routing dadoes precisely and making hand-cut dovetails with a shop-made guide. If you’ve got enough wood scraps to make two or three of these organizers, go for it. The jigs will speed your production, and you’ll have some useful gifts for friends or family members.

10 pieces, 12 dadoes, 4 dovetails, and 1 bottom groove

After selecting the stock for this project, rout a test dado with a 1/4"-dia. straight bit. Then use this dado to test the fit of your parts as you plane them to finished thickness. If you don’t have a 7/16" O.D. router bushing like I used here, it’s easy to make a dado jig like mine to fit a different-size bushing.

Order of Work

  • Mill dadoes in upper and lower sides.
  • Rout groove in lower sides; then rout openings to create feet in lower sides.
  • Trim top edges of upper sides at 10° angle.
  • Cut dovetail joints in lower sides and end pieces. Make rounded access slot in one end.
  • Dry-fit the caddy, then measure and cut the dividers and bottom to fit. Cut the top of each outer divider at a 10° bevel.
  • Glue up, then finish.

Have it your way

This project lends itself well to combining different wood species. For the caddy at left, I combined quilted maple and walnut. The caddy at right is cherry and maple, with round-head brass escutcheon pins installed as accents. The version in the lead photo was made with bocote and curly maple.

Rout dadoes on a work board

For speed and accuracy, I set up a work board that holds a lower and upper side in place between wood strips. This enables me to quickly rout dadoes using a router equipped with a 7/16" O.D. bushing and a 1/4" straight bit. When your first set of sides is set up in the work board, take care to lay out your dado locations carefully, so that outer dadoes are equidistant from the center dado.

Rout 2 sides at once. With an upper and lower side positioned on my work board, I can rout dadoes in both parts using a right-angle routing jig sized for a 7⁄16" O.D. bushing. As shown in the photo at left, I glued 1⁄8" plywood to the underside of my jig so that a preliminary cut would create an exact dado location for foolproof alignment. Set the router to make 1⁄8"-deep dadoes, and make three cuts to complete the six dadoes in these two sides. When you position the remaining sides on the work board, align your jig with the dadoes you cut in the alignment strips.

Rout bottom grooves and complete the feet

The same bit I used to dado the sides will work in my router table to mill the bottom grooves and rout recesses in the lower sides to create the feet.

Match the dado depth. Adjust bit height to match the depth of dadoes milled in the sides. Then set the fence 3⁄16" from the bit, and mill the bottom grooves by running the bottom edge of each lower side against the fence.

Creep up on your feet. Making a couple of shallow cutouts on each lower side will create feet, giving the project a graceful appearance and solid stance. This technique requires levering the side’s bottom edge into the bit, making a shallow cut (aim for 3⁄32"), then stopping the bit at the foot layout line.

Cut dovetails by hand with a simple saw guide and some sharp chisels

To highlight the dovetail joints at the ends of the organizer, I allow the dovetails to extend 1/8" beyond the end pieces. To create this detail, I use a marking gauge to scribe dovetail baselines 1/8" deeper than the thickness of end pieces. As you scribe baselines, make reference marks on the inside faces of your pin and tail pieces so that you can keep track of which parts go where.

As shown below, I use a square plywood box equipped with a pair of fences to hold these small workpieces for cutting and scribing. To make a dovetail guide block, start with a board about 10" long, 2-1/4" wide and 1" thick. Cut the rabbet and the clamp groove on the tablesaw, then make the 10° cuts on the chopsaw.

Cut the dovetails, then scribe the pins. Clamp the lower sides together so their dovetails can be cut at the same time (left photo). A guide block clamped to the sides keeps the blade on track when making the angled tail cuts. Complete the dovetails by cutting out the waste at each corner. Then use the dovetails to scribe pin cuts in end pieces (photo above). Make the pin cuts just inside these layout marks.

Create a shallow shoulder, then chop out the waste. When pin cuts have been made in end pieces, it’s time to remove the waste between pins. Clamp an end piece flat, as shown above, and deepen the baseline with your chisel. Then remove small wedges of waste to create a shoulder that will guide the chisel as you chop down. Follow vertical cuts with horizontal taps to remove narrow pieces. When you’ve gone a little more than halfway through the joint in this manner, flip the workpiece and repeat to clear the space between pins. Test-fit the joint, pare as necessary for a snug fit, then move on to the next joint.

Four-clamp assembly. Start the glue-up by joining the bottom and ends to the lower sides. Then slide the dividers into their dadoes and attach the upper sides. Position clamping cauls to apply pressure on upper and lower sides.

Prep parts, then assemble, finish, and get organized!

When a dry-assembly indicates that all 10 pieces fit together well, I spend a good 20 minutes chamfering edges with my block plane and final-sanding every piece. Then I get set for glueup by making four clamping cauls that enable me to put pressure on upper and lower side pieces with a pair of clamps.

Alternatively, you can fasten dado joints together by driving brass escutcheon pins into predrilled holes, as I’ve done sometimes. Having used wipe-on poly for my first organizer, I have switched over to spraying satin varnish from an aerosol can, which is a faster, easier way to protect and beautify.


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