Router Masterclass Tea Caddy

Wednesday 11 July 2018

The project

1. There are certain things that are quintessentially English, such as cricket on a Sunday afternoon, triangular cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and a cup of tea served on a saucer.

Ah well, I love my tea but I'm quite fussy having made workshop tea for many years. It's got to be the right shade of cardboard, not too much sugar, and have a sticky bun with it. I'm happiest among the dust and shavings, so it seemed like a good idea to keep the leaf tea somewhere safe and in good condition – yes, a tea caddy!

As an ex-antique restorer my idea of a caddy is a tropical hardwood at the very least, with a brass knob, a hermetic lid seal and a lead paper lining. Now, lead is unobtainable, so with a little thought and experimentation, I found aluminium kitchen foil will do just as good a job.

The jig

2. The caddy box uses finger joints for their looks, while being strong enough to hold the box together. Finger jointing requires a special jig that once built, is easy to use and can be used time and again. The jig resembles a small router table

3. Cut out the pieces to make the inverted U-shaped table. The dimensions are not exact but you need to take into account the unplunged height of your router with a fine adjuster fitted. The table needs to be wide enough to support workpieces and long enough for the sliding fence to move forward each time you cut a slot

4. Assemble the table with blocks underneath the top joints to reinforce it, as only butt glue joints are used. Once dry, mark and drill to accept the fixing holes on your router. Mount your router, minus fine adjuster, with the straight cutter you will use for the finger joints, and plunge-cut through the surface. Unplunge and switch off

5. Demount the router and use a 19mm straight cutter and straight fence to make an accurate slot to the side of the cutter hole in the table. This slot will accept the batten on which the fence is guided, so it needs to be a good fit

6. Make up the sliding fence using a butt joint and glue. Check it is at 90° with a square and leave to set. Now make a batten that fits closely in the table slot and screw it underneath the fence, checking it is at 90° to the fence face. You need slots to take a sub-fence in front which bolts in place and must be adjustable, hence – the slots

7. The last and rather vital component is a peg that is the same width as the cutter, and a height just slightly less than the finger height of the joints. This is mounted in the sub fence at the fingerjoint width to the side of the recess to take the router cutter. When making both the cutter slot and peg slot, hold a thin piece of ply tight to the sub fence to avoid any breakout. Finish the peg slot with a fine handsaw and glue the peg in place

The cutters

8. The fingerjoints are cut with a 10mm Titman straight cutter; the table slot with a 19mm Trend gold edition straight; the rebates started with a small 4mm rebate Wealden cutter followed by an 8mm rebate Trend version; and lastly the top of the box is separated with a 1.5mm Wealden groover acting as a saw with a bearing in place to limit the cut depth – all shown left to right.

Making it

9. Prepare all material to thickness and width, excluding the top and bottom which stay over width for the moment. Note the box is made over height to allow for cutting the lid off and forming a rebate. Cut all four box sides to length and perfectly square. Set up the finger jointing jig with a 9.5mm straight cutter in the router. The jig works by holding the workpiece against the peg and pushing the fence forward to cut the socket. This socket then locates on the peg and you cut the next socket, and so on, until all the joints are cut

10. As you can see on this test piece, I found that there was roughly a half joint left over at the end of the fingers. I decided to leave this on all the pieces and cut it off later when the box was assembled

11. Mark the joint pairs so you ensure the halves all match together correctly. And once you have cut all the joints, do a dry assembly to confirm all the pieces fit together nicely

12. Before gluing the box up, use spray mount adhesive to stick kitchen foil, matt side out, on all the inner caddy box faces. Trim it off the actual fingerjoints. Glue and clamp the box together using pads narrow enough to sit inside where the fingers are so the box will close up properly. Repeat on both sides, check for square and remove glue with a soft damp cloth. You then need to level the sides, front and back

13. The top and bottom are rebated in. Set up the router table with a small rebater at about half the depth of the top. Place the box over the static cutter, switch on and push the box against the cutter in the direction of cut, working all round, then do the same on the bottom. Then fit a larger rebater and repeat for the top and bottom – two cuts make the operation much easier

14. Round the corners of the top and bottom components so they will sit neatly in the box rebates. Rebate them, this time using a lead-in pin to start the cut. Take care to check the top and bottom will fit tightly into the box sides and flush when fully inserted. Glue the top and bottom in place

15. Decide where to separate the lid section, preferably on the join between fingers. Do this with a 1.5mm groover so removing a minimal amount of wood. A bearing should be fitted that has a diameter sufficient to prevent complete separation – this avoids the box dropping onto the cutter and spoiling the job. Complete the cut with a fine handsaw and clean up the meeting faces carefully

16. The lower part of the caddy needs a lip to be formed with a rebate on the outside using a through fence on the router table. Once done, repeat the earlier rebating operation on the underside of what is now the lid, using the two-cutter approach – in retrospect, it is probably easier to do the lid first as the table will be already set up for rebating from step 5. With lid and base rebates cut, check the fit carefully and round the corners with a sharp chisel until the lid sits neatly onto the caddy box. Round over the outer edge of the lip on the caddy body so that the lid is easy to put on and take off

17. Sand the exterior flat with the lid in place so the whole of each face is truly flat with the grain, using medium abrasive stuck to a board, then fine abrasive. Lightly sand the box lip and each exposed edge (arris) of the box and apply a stain evenly, avoiding the foil lining. Once dry use light aerosol coats of clear satin lacquer, again keeping it off the foil lining, until a sheen is built up. Flat off between coats and wax after the top coat and fit a suitable knob. Time for tea!