(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)
Second Jig – Drill-Press Jig
If you have a pneumatic stapler, which greatly speeds up many nailing tasks, you can skip this section. Once you have the first slats cut, you’ll need to drill guide holes for the 4d nails using a 3/16” drill bit. If you try to nail without a pilot hole, not only will many of the slats split, but it’ll slow down your nailing time considerably. This is where jig number two comes in.
As seen in Photos 10A and 10B (inset), this jig positions stacks of five slats so you can quickly drill the nail hole in each end without having to mark the spot first. It attaches to the deck of any drill press and the wooden “L” holds the stack in just the right position while you drill five holes at once. You then spin the stack around and drill holes in the opposite end.
The simplest way to make and use this jig is to cut out the base, attach the right-angle “L” made from 2 x 4 scraps, and then use clamps to fasten the jig to the drill press in the precise spot. Using a slat pre-marked with the hole position will help you line up the drill bit with the jig before clamping everything down tight. In addition to my regular drill press, I have a small $59 drill press dedicated to this task alone, so I have the jig permanently attached to the drill press plate with bolts.
After you drill the first slat, test out one of the 4d nails to be sure the fit is correct. Once your slats are cut and the nail holes drilled, you are now ready to cut the end boards for the crate.
Preparing the End Boards
Each end board is cut from 1 x 6 lumber to a length of 11¼”. If you have a drill press, hole saw, jig saw, and router, the handles are quite easy to construct once you get the rhythm of it. If you lack the tools and you have more time than money, you can also use a hand drill, spade bit, coping saw, and sandpaper. But again, the handles are not necessary and a solid end board will work just fine. Both options are shown in Photo 11.
[JWR Adds: If someone wants to make and sell jar crates for profit, then the handle slots will give them much more eye-appeal, and probbaly generate many nore sales.]
End Board Jigs
You’ll want a jig (actually a template) for marking the lines and pilot holes which you’ll use to cut out the handles. You can make a simple one out of paper or cardboard, or use ¼” plywood for durability.
The purpose of this template is twofold: to draw lines for the jigsaw to follow and to mark two dots as guides for drilling holes with the hole saw or spade bit. My template (Photo 12) hooks over the top of the end board to automatically align itself. Then I eyeball it so it’s more or less centered on the board horizontally before marking the holes and lines with a pencil. I make six different crates with this single template so I use the eyeball method instead of making six separate templates. Since these are just Mason jar crates and not fins on a nuclear missile, we can probably get away with it.
Photo 13 shows how to use the template to mark the hole-saw guides and the jigsaw lines.
Once the pilot holes and lines are marked, use a drill press with a 1⅛” (+/-) hole saw to drill two holes in the end board (Photo 14.)
Drill only three quarters of the way through the board so you don’t get splintering on the other side, then flip the board over to finish each hole. Going three quarters on the first side leaves most of the wood sticking out of the hole saw when the hole is complete, giving you something to grab onto in order to clear the hole saw for the next cut. (Photo 15.)
Now with a jigsaw, follow the lines to enlarge the hole (Photos 16a & b), then use a router or coarse sand paper to smooth the edges of the handle as seen in Photos 16 c & d.
Lastly, line up all the end boards side by side, bottoms up, and draw a line across the ¾” width in the center of each board. This will be a guide for lining up the slats on each crate for before nailing.
With all the pieces cut, it’s time for the final assembly. You’ll need some wood glue or even just plain old Elmer’s. I suggest wood glue such as Titebond II since sometimes the crate will be heavy with full jars. You cannot put these crates together without glue or they will quickly loosen and fall apart at the worst possible time, like when you’re carrying 12 quarts of freshly-canned pasta sauce to the pantry. Wood glue is cheap compared to losing 12 quarts of pasta sauce and having your Italian mother-in-law cut you out of her will.
To begin, make sure you have 4d finish nails. These aren’t the good old days and sizes are no longer standard and consistent, even within the same box of nails, so don’t worry if some of them are looser in the pilot holes than others. Remember to test one of your 4d nails after drilling the first slat holes to be sure the fit is good and doesn’t slip clear through the hole. The nail isn’t going to hold the slat for long, it’s just going to act as a clamp for 24 hours until the dried glue takes over, so don’t spend all the extra money on small nails with bigger heads. Locally, those only come in small expensive packages whereas 4d finish nails come in large economy-size 1- and 5-lb. tubs.
Begin by putting the two end boards bottoms up, handles down, on your work surface (Photo 17a). Take the six bottom slats side by side and line up all the holes, then run a single line of glue down each row of nail holes (Photo 17b).
Attach the two outside bottom slats first to ensure that all the center ones line up properly. Now take two more slats (glue side up) and using the ¾” wide pencil line you drew in the bottom center of each end board as a guide, place the two slats to get a rough idea on the spacing of the four middle slats as shown in Photo 18a. Once you know the spacing (~⁷̸₁₆”), then attach the third slat as shown in Photo 18b, followed by the fourth, fifth, and sixth slats as seen in Photo 18c. If they’re not perfectly spaced it won’t make any difference unless you’re entering these in the county fair woodworking category.
Once you have the six bottom slats in place, tip the crate up on one side and apply glue to the set of six side slats. Nail the topmost slat first, then the bottom, followed by the middle as seen in Photo 19. Flip it over and do the same on the second side.
That’s it, you’ve just finished your first crate! Let it sit for 24 hours so the glue can dry. If everything went hunky-dory with no tweaking required, you can now go into mass-production mode.
This is where you have done your calculations for the 10 quart-size crates you want to make so you know how many of each component you need. The secret of mass production is to set the table saw up for the first cut and then make all the cuts needed with that setting before moving on to the next setting. Once you start using each jig, you’ll get into a rhythm which will also speed up the work. By setting the table saw up once for each cut and getting into the rhythm of the jigs, you’ll also get a more consistent finished product.
So, to make those ten crates, first, cut out twenty 1 x 4 x 11¼” ends. Second, cut all 10 (+ a few extras) of the 2 x 6 x 16⅝” slabs at the same time. Third, cut all 120+ of the slats using about a 5% overage to account for any unusable slats. Fourth, drill all the nail holes in the ends of the slats and finally, prepare the 20 handles in the end boards. Once you have all the pieces cut out and handles made, get the glue out, put on your most lively bluegrass CD, and start nailing. And nailing, and nailing…
Good luck on this project — and have fun!
In the table below are the dimensions for the six different sizes of crates that I make. Double-check the numbers to be sure they fit your actual jars before you go into mass-production mode.