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Blog entry by Troy posted 04-23-2010 08:28 PM 1574 reads 0 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

It hasn’t taken long to get too much work to keep me busy. Unfortunately, circumstances and administrative distractions took a toll on my time in the shop lately. It became apparent that I needed to hire someone to help me. The last thing I want is to turn away work, if possible. I spent the week looking for an employee and got several great responses. After many interviews, I was contacted by a woman, Miranda, who seemed very eager to apply and interview for the job. We finally met and talked and I learned that she was easily the best person for the job. I was impressed by her the fact that her father had taught her a solid set of cultural values and a great work ethic. Her Native Alaskan small island community upbringing proved very interesting and admirable. She also had a good amount of woodworking experience as well as other skilled experience. Above all, she loves woodworking and it’s apparent. We are thankful that she is part of our venture now.

To begin with today, we built a much needed dead-flat surface for the shop. There are plenty of surfaces in the shop, but none were reliably flat and they are advantageous for many reasons like wider assemblies and projects like door construction, among other things.

The idea was to make it light so it can be stored easily when not in use. That made it easy to choose torsion box construction. For those not familiar with torsion construction, it is basically a hollow- type, grid or honeycomb core, often using cardboard material. It’s light, and it’s incredibly stable and strong. Since there is no nearby, reasonable source for honeycomb core material, we had to decide what to use. My first thought was 1/8-inch hardboard. It’s cheap and easy to work with. Just to make sure it was strong enough, I cut 4 pieces @ 3″ x 12″, interconnected them, and stood on top of the little assembly which was rock solid – no racking or give whatsoever. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my Freud industrial 24-tooth rip blade was just the exact width required to fit the interconnected slots also.

Miranda Preparing the Frame Stock
After a trip to my supplier for hardwoods (frame) and HD for the rest, we got to work. First thing required was to prepare the hardwood frame. We bought some of my suppliers “Hit and Miss” red oak since it’s economical and an excellent hardwood. The frame was going to fit on full sheets of construction plywood.

Since the frame is going to be “locked in” with sheathing, it wasn’t necessary to worry about creating strong corner joints.

Basic Frame Butt Joints
Once the frame was fastened together, we secured it true and square with a sheet of 4′ x 8′ x 7/16″ OSB. Since it was the bottom, I wasn’t concerned with the process used to attached it, so we just drove a healthy amount of screws every few inches along the edge.

Cutting the Interconnecting Slots
After that was finished, it was time to prepare the grid. The inner-part of the assembly is 3″ deep so we ripped an entire sheet of hardboard into 3″ strips. I pulled 7 aside from the pile of nearly a couple dozen and trimmed them to fit long ways, 94″ to be exact. We took the rest and cut them to fit across @ 46 1/8″. That gave us one more than enough to interconnect every piece at under 5″ spacing between all points.

Assembling the Grid
It was much quicker to cut them in bundles which went well, esp. with assistance. It also ensures even spacing and assembly, which is, at the least, far more difficult when cutting individually. We were able to cut the longer ones in one batch. The rest were much easier to cut in two batches. This presented a problem with ensuring exact cuts between the two batches. The answer came to me though. Take one from the first batch and trace each cut slot onto one from the next batch. Next, cut through the tracing accurately. This worked perfectly.

Assembly went well and it was very satisfying to have a perfect fit on the first try.

Close Up of the Grid
Once the grid was set, we sheathed the top, smooth side up, further locking in the frame. This part required a bit more accurate attention to ensure a good, flat fastening. We didn’t want to work from the ends toward the middle cause that could cause a bit of possible creep inwards from slightly skewed screws or other reasons. The way to prevent any issues was to simply work from the middle of each side, set each screw one at a time towards an end alternating each side, return to the middle and then work to the other end.

A Nice, Dead-Flat, Strong Surface
The overall result couldn’t be better. The top will likely get a sheet of hardboard and we’ll put handles on the sides to move it around easier.

All in all, this was a much needed, excellent build. Having a dead-flat surface in the shop is a total bonus. The total cost is minimal, the weight is nominal, the strength is considerable, and the utility is priceless.

Thanks for reading!

Your Arctic Woodworking Friend,

-- Troy Bouffard || Master Sergeant, US Army (Retired) ||

11 comments so far

View degoose's profile


7234 posts in 3381 days

#1 posted 04-23-2010 10:53 PM

I have seen David Marks make one and often thought of doing one myself but keep putting it off… can I borrow your assistant LOL
Nice torsion box..

-- Don't drink and use power tools @

View lew's profile


12102 posts in 3781 days

#2 posted 04-23-2010 11:02 PM

Looks like you didn’t waste any time having the new assistant earn a pay check.

Great instructions!


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Russ's profile


142 posts in 3225 days

#3 posted 04-23-2010 11:21 PM

looks like you are doing good! congrats!

-- Happiness is being covered in sawdust

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 2997 days

#4 posted 04-23-2010 11:26 PM

Is the grid attached to the top and bottom surfaces? How?
Sorry if you explained and I missed it.

View Troy's profile


186 posts in 3089 days

#5 posted 04-23-2010 11:43 PM

Thx guys. It’s a great project.

Crank, there is no need to attach it. Fit it side-to-side, top-to-bottom with about 1/8” to spare. The only thing you need to do accurately is get the height of the grid exactly that of the inside of the walls.

It is somewhat a pain to cut a full sheet of hardboard perfectly straight at first. Don’t worry about little dips. There is so much grid covering surface area that any tiny dips are negligible.

Same with the slot cuts. You can go a touch over half so they seat fully. You do not want any short cuts cause that would cause a part of the grid to not fully seat and end up a little higher than the wall height.

Russ, how long now bud?

Lew, she is really eager to work and learn. Like me, the time in the shop is easy to lose track of for her.

Sry Larry, she doesn’t speak Aussie! :)

-- Troy Bouffard || Master Sergeant, US Army (Retired) ||

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 3329 days

#6 posted 04-24-2010 12:50 AM

hey troy…glad to see youve gotten some help..and a good worker at that..tell miranda we welcome her to your wood working business…and maybe she can make some things and become a jock..we need pretty ones…to many old ugly guys here….good job on the torsion box…it will be a nice addition to the shop… getting ready to make a new front door for my house and my work bench is sorta like your torsion..and it comes in very handy all the time…..good luck with your business…having some help will aleave you some stress and you can concentrate on shop time…...grizzman

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View ND2ELK's profile


13495 posts in 3800 days

#7 posted 04-24-2010 02:32 AM

Glad you decided to hire a woman. Don’t sell these woman short when it comes to woodworking. I had to hire woman for prison industries and decided to set up a wood shop for them. We used to throw out garbage trucks full of scrap wood every week. They made smaller items and furniture. The talent and craftsmanship was outstanding. They simply loved working with the wood. So you Dads that have daughters, they might surprise you what they can do.

-- Mc Bridge Cabinets, Iowa

View Troy's profile


186 posts in 3089 days

#8 posted 04-24-2010 08:34 AM

Thanks again guys. A few days into it and I am pretty relieved that Miranda wanted to be part of the team. I could care less if she is male or female. She loves woodworking and has the aptitude to excel. An exceptional atitude and heritage just makes things that much better. I look forward to posting continuous works from us.

-- Troy Bouffard || Master Sergeant, US Army (Retired) ||

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

4179 posts in 3190 days

#9 posted 04-25-2010 06:35 PM

Read this when you posted, but didn’t have time to comment. This is a great description of how to make a torsion box. The details are particularly important to hobbyist’s like me. Sooner or later I will need something like that, or at least some fixture that uses torsion box construction, although yours is too big for my shop. You already answered the same questions I had about fixation.

Congrats on the new employee. I hired a new nurse 18 months ago, lucked out, with the first person I interviewed just perfect for the job. So only had to interview one. My previous nurse had been with me 24 years, retired and moved to Idaho. It took me about 5 minutes to figure out my new nurse would be a perfect fit and I hired her on the spot. I have been very fortunate over the years with nurses, they seem to find me, rather than the other way around.

Decided I needed a good surface for routing, clamping, construction, etc, needed to be flat, and have a lot of slots for hold downs and such. It is slightly greater than 2 feet by 4 feet, and can be flipped over, since it lies loose in the frame of the table, one of three I that I built 20 years ago, and where 99% of the shop work occurs. I am in the process of putting it together, it has one side smooth except for slots in various areas for hold downs. The underside has a couple of risers running down it lengthwise, and I am going to put a flat clamping surface, again with slots on top of those. Then make some fences for both sides.

I found that it is dead flat on the smooth side, not surprising since it is 1” thick, made of two layers of 1/2” MDF with the risers on the underside glued to the top 1/2” piece, forcing the flatness. Now I have to build a quick and dirty panel sled, this thing is too big even for my super sled, and make the sides absolutely square. That is going to be easier said than done I fear. I will route more slots in it and finish it with the inevitable WATCO.

Then I will have a flat square worksurface with slots for holddowns, and risers when needed for through routing or clamping. Then I will have to figure out what to do when I replace the tops on the other two tables. That will give me some other possibilities. The advantage of this system is that I have one side that is smooth, and the other side with risers that can be hidden inside the table just by flipping it over. In other words, self storing.

I plan to post it when done, but I will probably not be able to do so untill late May, going on vacation.

Thanks again for the description of a simple shop appliance, complete with construction details. A lot of useful construction techniques there to be used in multiple ways over time.

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View Troy's profile


186 posts in 3089 days

#10 posted 04-26-2010 06:22 AM

Jim, very glad this project is useful for you. Thanks for the info on employees. I am really hoping to be as fortunate as you with reliable help. It’s a considerable task to get someone up to speed on safety and skills. I am trying to figure out an effective method of teaching wood and tool fundamentals.

Where ya going on vacation?

-- Troy Bouffard || Master Sergeant, US Army (Retired) ||

View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

4179 posts in 3190 days

#11 posted 04-26-2010 06:51 AM

Going on a road trip for about 10 days, after about 4 days with my kids and grandkids in Chicago and Peoria. We like to meander through the countryside during off season so you don’t need reservations, we frequent small inns, and large bed and breakfast places.

Teaching safety, and wood and tool fundamentals. One of my buddies, can’t remember, maybe Lew, taught woodworking in vocational school. But it isn’t listed in his personal info. Must be some books about teaching the basics out there… did we do it. I learned some in shops classes. Mostly I learned by doing, but that is not fast or reliable.

Perhaps just listing the skills and knowledge required, kinda like a table. Then as you come to a project see which items you can check off for the person at that time. Some basics you might need to have some written background material, book chapters, internet sites, etc. Simple things like measurement, wood characteristics, design and planning. Gees….there is just a whole lot of stuff to learn. Neatness and order, fire safety, electrical safety.

Hmmmmmmmm. It is a broad arena.

Teaching is tougher than learning…..

Don’t think I have a lot to offer. Have you talked to others who have or had shops, with employees?

If you are going to have employees, especially with limited skills, might as well get organized. You need a policy manual, skills list, perhaps a check off sheet, resource list for self learning, etc. And of course, every employee is going to be different.

Good luck. We have 40 employees in our clinic of all sorts. Many of them come with a lot of skills, a few with none. Employees can be a real source of headaches. Remember to have policies, stick to them, be fair, and be firm.

Military should have given you a good background there.

Well take care, signing off for tonight….......I am slowly winding down my career, while you are starting a new one….........


-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

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