Woodworking Around the House

Filling in the free time around sick kids, travelling wife, and other such mundane, but necessary parts of life, as well as using some time getting wood from the source, colonial style, means small projects around the house.  A couple of  projects I had on the to do list: replace a broken baluster on an old staircase (circa 1880) which I broke in half bashing into it with the shopvac, and make a corkboard for the kids artwork, calendar and other trappings of modern life.

Where 5 years ago, I’d have gone for the epoxy to fix the baluster, and pre-made trim to wrap the cork tiles my wife brought home from BJ’s (8pack), today, with a fully functional shop, and a neurosis for over-complicating things, I decided on turning a new baluster spindle, and making an inlaid frame for the corkboard.  Overkill, on both counts, but that’s who I am.

The Baluster:

Broken Baluster

Broken Baluster RemovedThe original was fir, stiff and strong.  I looked through my piles of reclaimed fir, much of it from earlier renovations on this house, coming across some awesome saw blades, but  couldn’t  find any sufficiently sized stock in sufficiently usable condition.  I had a perfectly sized piece of basswood (Linden) which I’ve never worked with before, and thought I’d give that a try.  It is  soft, really soft, and  known for its good carving qualities, it doesn’t seem to turn remarkably well, somewhat  fuzzy and prone to tearing instead of cutting (at least this piece was).  I super-glued the old one together to make a template for the new, and used it for reference sizing for the features.

With a little sanding the fuzz cleaned up (mostly), and after cutting the round tenon on the bottom, I removed it from the lathe, and marked and cut the angle of the top using the old one as a guide.  Installed it in the tread and nailed the angled top to the rail with some finish nails, and primed it with Zinnser BIN Primer (shellac-based white primer, good stuff).  It still needs a coat of semi-gloss paint, but other than the sheen and the packing tape I used to mask the tread, you can’t tell it isn’t an original.  Trim painting is the wife’s department. Can you see which one is new? The best part: all finished during naptime.

new baluster

On to the corkboard frame:

The corkboard itself is ~2’x4′, nothing special: 12″ x 12″ cork tiles available pretty much everywhere (drugstore, staples, grocery store, warehouse store…) glued to an MDF backer.  To get the joints as tight as possible, I used blue tape to pre-assemble it into a sheet before gluing, similar to how you might use veneer tape. Rolled on a bunch of Titebond to the MDF, lay on the sheet of cork, another piece of MDF on top of it, and a pile of ash waiting to become stairtreads on top to apply pressure.  On to the frame.

The wife specified dark wood (the room is painted yellow, and she wanted high contrast).  I have a small stash of African Mahogany: Khaya Ivorensis and Khaya Senegalensis, which I used in some other projects (like these). In this case, the latter was used. (Thanks to Shannon Rogers for identifying and explaining the difference).  She also specified plain, as in, no decorative moulding or edge-treatment. I decided I wanted to spice it up a bit (with her approval, of course) so added a figured maple inlaid border. I’ll save the details of inlay for another post.

Corkboard - inlaid frame

A couple of notes on it:  The stiles and rails are bookmatched (top and bottom are mirror images, as are right and left) including the inlay pieces.  Its probably not quite visible in the photos, but the stripes in the figured maple are identical left and right, so it looks a little like they go all the way across.

Inlay mirroring

What I really wanted to show here was the product of the miter shooting board I made a video about recently.  The miters came together really nicely but clamping this piece was a pain in the neck…I really must find a good technique for this sort of clamping.


Both of these woods are really hard and really figured and tear-out prone.  And sanding, while an option, often leaves stains of dark wood embedded in the light maple. This meant no sanding for me, just planing with a 4 1/2 with a 55 degree angle (standard angle with 10 deg back bevel blade installed), followed by some cabinet scraper to deal with a couple severely tear-out prone areas.  The finish: Boiled Linseed Oil, followed by somewhere around 6 coats of clear shellac, rubbed out, and waxed.

My only regret is that this frame is for a corkboard.  It merits at least a print of fine art or faux antique map, or something a little more….distinguished.

Fun little project to make, and I may use this combination again, it really looks sharp.

About Nick

Nick Roulleau is founder, craftsman, designer, joiner, finisher, floor-sweep and all of the other roles at Mansfield Fine Furniture. A woodworker for more than a decade, Nick started the company with the goal of filling the need for heirloom-quality furniture hand-made from premium woods. Every piece is designed to suit the customer's needs and desires, hand-picking each piece of wood, and built one piece at a time, using both modern and centuries-old traditional methods to yield furniture to last for generations.