Spice Racks, Custom, Mahogany, Construction

The spice racks prior to the application of stain and varnish and prior to the attaching of the battens that would hold the contents of the racks in place
If you want to use your sailboat for cruising purposes, then you have to have a functional galley, and if you want to have a functional galley, then you have to have room to store not only essential pots, pans, and utensils, but also essential ingredients, such as herbs, spices, and oils. Oh, and let's not forget the necessary cleaning materials - you know, the dish soap, the bleach, and the sponges, just to name a few things that come to mind. The problem that anyone faces on an Ericson 25, or just about any other pocket cruiser for that matter, is that there is just not enough space for all of this stuff, at least with the way that the galley was configured at the time of production. 

If you don't believe me, then just take a look at the way this boat looked around the time that I purchased her in the fall of 2009. She was in good condition, and from what I've seen elsewhere, I'd say she was pretty close to the way most Ericson 25s appeared when they came out of the Ericson yard in Southern California in the 1970s. Here's the galley, as seen from the area between the head and the hanging locker. 
The stove and the mahogany cabinetry were attractive, just as I suppose they were when the boat was first manufactured.
The two lower drawers were not only attractive, but functional, but the same could not be said for the large cabinet to the left of them. Without shelves, it was of little value, unless of course you wanted to shove something completely unrelated to the galley up into that space, like a big sleeping bag or a comforter. Pots and pans? Forget it.
Now let's look at the other side of the galley, where the sink and ice box are located, the sink being forward, the ice box aft. It would appear from this picture that there is fully functional cabinet beneath the sink. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.
Not only is the sink-drain hose positioned directly in the center of this space, but there is no counter space between the hose and the hull, despite the fact that there is plenty of space back there. There is little that you can do with this space other than place a few sponges and rags in there, near the frame of the door.
The owner had made some minor additions to the galley at some point in time. As you see in the picture below, he'd added a soap dish and a paper-towel holder behind the sink, and he'd added a small utensil rack and a spice rack to the right of it, but there was really nothing about this galley that made it functional in terms of using it for a couple of weeks or a couple of months at a time.
Yes, pocket cruisers, like the Ericson 25, in their unmodified, factory-production state, tend to lack the necessary space for a functional galley, but with the proper modifications, sufficient room can be found not only for the essentials of cooking, dining, but also for the cleaning of the galley, when all is said and done.

This article is one of several that address the modifications that I made to the galley of my Ericson 25, Oystercatcher, in the process of outfitting her for cruising. One article concerns the installation of a new stove. Another article addresses the construction of shelves in the cabinet under the stove. One examines the creation of an entirely new storage space beneath the sink, and yet another concerns the construction of spacious counter-extensions for the port and starboard sides of the galley. The present article focuses on the building of custom mahogany spice racks for the triangular-shaped counter spaces on either side of the galley.

Let's begin by looking more closely at those triangular-shaped spaces on either side of the galley.
As you can see, judging from the size of the cutting board, this space is not really big enough to place a hot skillet or pot when removing it from the stove. That's one reason why I decided to build the spacious counter extensions, but that's not what we are talking about here.
Here's the way the triangular-shaped space appears on the sink-side of the galley. To me, the soap dish was pointless. Any wet bar of soap would slip right out of there if the boat were heeling, and besides, how many people still use bars of soap to wash their hands these days? That's what I thought, the more I looked at this. Hasn't liquid soap, with its more sanitary method of dispensing of the product, been the norm for a long time, especially in kitchens?
There's really a lot of wasted space in this area. Why the previous owner decided to run the VHF coaxial cable up through the counter at this point is a mystery to me. Why not put it in the corner, well out of the way of anything you might wish to set in this space?
After I purchased the boat, and transported her from Oriental, North Carolina back home to Charleston, South Carolina, I began to think through ways that I could modify the galley to make it much more functional and suitable for cruising. On a trip to New England soon thereafter, I paid a visit to the warehouse store and headquarters of Defender, the online retailer that causes so many woes for West Marine managers and executives. For the grand sum of 10 dollars I purchased an outdated cassette tape rack made of teak from one of the bargain bins at Defender. From the shape and size of it, I figured I could put it to good use as a spice rack on the Ericson 25. My hunch was correct. The only problem was that it was just too small for this relatively large space. Please pardon the mess in this picture. I was in the process of dry-fitting other galley modifications and additions when I took this photo. The chunk of plastic under the stove is the old water tank, temporarily stashed to make room for other things in the lazarette.
Unless you have the most simple of tastes, you'd have to agree that this rack does not allow room for all the necessary herbs, spices, and oils for good eating. After a good bit of thought, I decided I could do better than this, so I concluded that this outdated cassette tape rack should be used for some other storage purpose, somewhere else on the boat.
As is often the case, I decided that the most prudent way to proceed would be to construct a mock-up, using left-over pieces of wood that I had sitting around doing nothing but taking up space. It took a lot of measuring, especially given the angles.
Perhaps because this was merely a plywood mock-up, and not the real thing with exotic wood, I let my guard down in some way as I was cutting the vertical piece here pictured. See the gashes it in? They're from the table saw. This was the first time I ever experienced kick-back from a table saw. Alert to the dangers associated with this tool, I always try to approach it with a healthy level of fear and respect. On this occasion, I must have allowed my mind to wander, and in an instant the piece fired backwards into my gut. Fortunately, I had been holding the piece steady (or I guess not steady enough) with a push stick, which kept my hand free of the blade.
After I had completed the mock-up, I carried it out to the boat, and put it in place. Instantly, I liked the look of it, and I thought that if I constructed the real thing well, then it would look like it was meant to be there.
Even better than the appearance of this mock-up rack was the fact that it essentially tripled the amount of space that would be available to me, if I had simply stuck with the outdated cassette tape rack I had purchased from Defender. Moreover, it would allow me to store larger items than these, such as bottles of olive oil and related things. I should point out, though, that while this larger storage space was welcoming in its appearance, it did cause me some concern. I was worried that unless I ensured that each rack was completed filled with canisters and bottles, then these items would slide around, and tumble around, and even burst or break when the boat was under way. Therefore, I decided that it would be smart to include partitions in the final product. These partitions would help to alleviate these problems, and they would provide additional strength to the structure.
I needed another piece of mahogany for this project and several others that I had planned, so I made another trip to Southern Lumber, where I strolled through their stacks of exotic woods and brought home this piece of 16 foot, rough-sawn sapele that was 4/4, i.e., 1 inch thick x 13-1/2 inches wide. If you've read my article on the construction of a new companionway hatch, you'll know why I use sapele mahogany instead of Honduran mahogany or teak.
I didn't want to run a board as long as this one through the planer. It would have been impossible to do this anyway. The planer could only handle boards up to 13 inches in width.
And, as I said, this board was 13-1/2 inches. Why, you might ask, did I not just buy a smaller board? This was the smallest they had in stock at the time. When it comes to rough-sawn boards, you just have to pick through the stacks and try to find a board that is slightly larger in length, width, and thickness than the amount you need.
I made several, well-thought-out cuts across the grain of the board, in order to obtain the lengths necessary for this project and the others I had planned.
There were a few imperfections in the grain, and I deliberately planned to use this section of the board for the base of the spice racks, since the base would rarely be seen, once the spices and oils were placed in the racks.
The first step I took after obtaining the portion of the board that would become the base of the spice racks, was to square of the edges of the board by running it through the table saw. Normally, I wouldn't do this prior to planing.
After squaring-up the sides of the board, I drew a diagonal line as a guide for the free-handed cut I would need to make across this board.
I used a scrap piece of 1/4 pine as a fence to make the cut I would make with the circular saw as straight as possible.

Curious to know how clean the cut had been, I stacked the two pieces on top of each other. They were almost perfectly symmetrical.
It was only at this point that I could run these still rough-sawn pieces of wood through the planer.
This close-up picture should give you some idea of how rough the surface of the wood still was from its initial  sawing at some unknown mill in Africa, where the mahogany had been harvested.
The wood starting looking better after a few passes through the planer. It would take many more passes, however, before I got the board down to its desired thickness of 3/4 inches. Better to make many passes that remove small amounts of material than a few passes that remove lots. I usually remove about 1/32 inch of material each time. On the Steel City brand planer, this is roughly equivalent to one quarter of a turn on the handle.
Here's the way the two base pieces appeared at the end of the planing process.
I then moved on to the pieces of mahogany that would form the back of the spice racks.
Sometimes rough-sawn boards can appear, at first glance, to be smooth. Upon closer examination, however, you can easily detect saw marks, divots, and other imperfections.
I planed these back pieces down to 3/4 inches, just like I did with the base pieces. I considered taking the material down to 1/2 inch, to reduce the weight of the finished product, but I was a little worried that at this thickness I would run into some problems when the time came for me to rabbet the edges and join the pieces together, especially since I planed to counter-sink the screws that would hold everything together.
There were also various small pieces of mahogany that I planed down to a thickness of 3/4 inch.
All of these small pieces would form either the sides of the spice racks or the vertical partitions within the racks themselves.
Normally, I would not run small pieces of wood through the planer, for fear that the blades would snipe the surface of the wood and thus cause large divots or distortions in the thickness of the wood. I had no choice, though, with this project. I had strategically cut the original 16 foot mahogany board into lots of smaller boards for various projects. Some of these pieces were remnants of other boards.
Despite my concerns, the Steel City planer handled these small pieces well. Here, we see two more small pieces (stacked one on top of the other) ready to be run through the planer. I should point, as well, while we're on the subject of these small pieces, that one of the restrictions I faced in terms of the extraction of these smaller pieces from the large, 16 foot mahogany board was the orientation of the grain. For aesthetic reasons, I wanted the grain of each of these pieces to be oriented vertically. Since the bases of these racks were triangular and not square, the width of each of these vertical pieces, whether end pieces or partitions, varied in width. Therefore, I could not use one single board of one width to create all of these pieces of varying widths, without generating a lot of narrow, and potentially useless, scrap pieces. 
Having planed down all of the mahogany pieces to a thickness of 3/4 inch, I went to work on the table saw, cutting 3/4 inch rabbets into the end-pieces. You might notice the screw holes in the rabbets themselves. They, of course, were not present prior to the cutting of the rabbets. This picture and quite a few of the pictures that follow are included for illustrative purposes. I forgot to take pictures while I was making these cuts. Therefore, when I disassembled the dry-fitted spice racks prior to gluing them up, I went back and took a few shots of the steps that I had forgotten to document with the camera.
Satisfied with the rabbets I had cut in the end pieces, I dry-fitted them to the base. Using the square edge of the base (in the foreground) as a guide, I aligned the end pieces flush with this square edge. I had deliberately cut the end pieces a little bit wider than they needed to be, because I knew I would need to cut the back end of the end pieces at the same angle as the angle of the back of the base. With the end pieces properly aligned with regard to the straight edge, I took my pencil out and marked the backs of the end pieces at the proper angle.
A quick visit to the mitre saw was all that was needed now. If I remember correctly, I set the saw to 8 degrees.

Next, I drilled holes in the end pieces and temporarily screwed the end pieces to the base. Having these end pieces secured to the base enabled me to mark the back piece to its proper length. This back piece I had also deliberately made a little bit longer, because I knew I would need to cut both ends to 8 degrees in order to make the entire piece sit flush between the two end pieces. Ignore the pencil marks in this picture. They were not actually there at this point in the project.
It took lots of little cuts on the mitre saw to get that back piece to just the right length. I was worried about over cutting it. When I was finally satisfied with the snug fit of the back piece, I secured everything with a large clamp and began drilling the holes and dry-fitting the screws.
Then I took the whole thing out to the boat to see how it fit. This was a damn good decision. It was about a quarter inch too long, and for this reason it would not sit well on top of the counter. I had no choice but to take it all apart, reduce the width of the base, reduce the width of the back piece, and then put it all back together again. Do you want to know why I include so many pictures and so many details in these articles? I'll tell you why. So I can remind myself, and so I can demonstrate to others, just how damn time consuming some seemingly-little project such as this can be, especially when you have to figure it out for yourself with no pictures or drawings as a guide.
Once I had re-cut the pieces and reassembled the pieces and refit the whole thing on the counter top again, just to make sure it was at last the correct size, I could move-on to the next stage of the project - figuring out how to cut the partitions to size. I knew that I would need to cut the back side of them to 8 degrees, so I began by taking them to the miter saw.

I played around with the partitions until I thought that they looked well-balanced between the two end pieces. I then traced the edges of the partitions with a pencil.
Before drilling holes and screwing screws, I wanted to make sure that the partitions would look appropriate in these positions I had sketched in pencil. So I took everything out to the boat, set it in place, and stepped back to see how it looked. I thought it looked pretty good, and I was really glad that I had decided to include the partitions in the design. They gave the spice rack a certain balance, and they certainly provided a convenient way to keep everything more organized.
Now was the time to drill the holes and screw the screws for the partitions.
I also decided to take pictures of all the sides of the spice rack at this point in order to demonstrate how I put it all together. I counter-sunk all of the screws, so that I could later disguise all of them by filling the holes with mahogany plugs.
The back of the spice rack, with the screws for the partitions.

The bottom also received screws to hold the partitions in place.
It was important for me to pre-drill all of these holes and dry-fit the rack in this way. Otherwise, it would have been very difficult for me to glue-up the pieces without something going astray.
Content with the dry-fit, I disassembled the entire rack, so that I could cut some decorative curves and do some sanding of the pieces.
Some of the other mahogany creations I had added to the boat (such as the bookcases), contained these same decorative curves. I wanted everything to exhibit the same style, so that it would be seen by myself and by others not as some haphazard series of afterthoughts, but as collection of objects that were kind to the eyes and thus worthy of long-term attention.

Curves make all the difference, especially when seen in pairs or in series.
Another move that I made to soften-up those rough edges was to take a round-over bit to them. In the first picture below, you see the rigid lines of the side piece before I turned on the router.
Just one pass along the front edge of the piece altered its appearance significantly.

Then I hit the little curve with the router. Much better.
Finally, I did the top edge. Nice. I should mention, though, that I left the back edge alone. Likewise, I left the inner edges of this side piece alone. I had to keep them nice and square until I had glue-up everything. I would later hit those inner edges with the quarter-sheet sander.
The small end piece was a little more difficult to rout, on account of its size. Nevertheless, I got'er done. As far as the partitions were concerned? I left them un-routed. Why? For the same reason that I left the inner edges of the end pieces un-routed. I needed to keep them square until after I had completed the glue-up of all the pieces.
There were a couple of important things I needed to do before the glue-up. The first was to figure out what type of retainer rails I needed to install. Why did I need to figure this out at this point in the game? Well, depending upon which type of retainer-rail style I chose, I might need to do some prep work to the end pieces and the partitions prior to gluing everything together. Once glance at the picture below, and you should see why this would be the case. Here I hold a copper pipe in the curved recesses to get a sense of how far back I would need to drill the holes in the partitions and end pieces to insert this as a retainer. My plan was to use two copper pipes, evenly spaced along the front of the spice rack. I believed that this approach would make the spice racks especially attractive, but I was concerned that for the sake of beauty I would be sacrificing a lot of space.
The other retainer rail system that I considered consisted of two, simple, mahogany battens that would be screwed to the front of the end pieces and partitions. From the standpoint of looks, I was a little worried that  it made the spice racks look like a barnyard fence, especially when I held two battens up there at the same time. I really liked the traditional, nautical look of the copper, and I liked the fact that it would correspond to the copper rails that, by necessity, I had used as retainers in the small bulkhead bookcase. I continued, though, to worry about the space I would be giving up. In order to help me make up my mind, I thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to go to the kitchen and grab a few of the items that I envisioned placing in these spice racks when the day came for the Admiral and me to go cruising. The pictures above and below should be convincing enough to any sailor worth his salt. Let's see . . . four bottles of spirits vs. two . . . I think I'll take the four bottles and learn to love that barnyard fence.
Next, I took all the pieces from both spice racks outside and spent about an hour sanding them all down. This was the last thing I needed to do prior to the glue-up. I used a quarter-sheet sander, and worked my way through five different grades of paper.
Let's see, I went from 40 grit, to 80, to 100, 150, and then 220.
At last the time came for the glue-up. I started with the side pieces. See the black tray in the background. It had water in it. In keeping with the standard procedures for using Gorilla Glue on tightly-grained wood, I wet all faces of the wood that were to be bonded, prior to the application of the glue. After I laid out a zig-zag pattern glue, I grabbed the ratchet screwdriver and tightened down the stainless steel screws.
Next, I followed the same procedures to glue and screw the back piece. After this I did the same thing for the partitions. I got just the right amount of squeeze from the joints - not too much, not too little.
Then I did exactly the same thing for the other rack.
The next day I turned my attention to the sizing of the battens that would serve as the retainer rails for all the contents of the rack. See what I mean about that barnyard fence look? That's why I thought the copper pipes would look so much better.
My opinion about the barnyard fence, however, began to change, when I started installing the fasteners to hold the battens in place.
I had considered cutting rabbets along the front of the side pieces and the partitions by running the entire rack through the table saw. My thinking was that my making the battens flush with the front of the side pieces and the partitions, they would have a more finished appearance and thus look more integral to the design and less fence-like. I came very close to pushing that rack through the table saw, but I kept having visions of something going wrong, so I decided to stick with the fence. Eventually the thought came to me that I could dress up the fence by using stainless steel finish washers, just like the Ericson yard had dressed up the mahogany throughout the boat in exactly the same fashion.

The fence looked better with all of those finish washers, but the entire thing needed a lot more sanding and softening of its sharp edges before it would start to win my affection.
When it was time to focus on the other rack, I had to rip some left-over pieces of mahogany in order to get the battens I needed. These battens were 3/8 of an inch thick and a little less than 1-1/4 inch wide. I should not that most of this material that I used for battens had come from larger boards that I had ripped to size. For example, let's say I had a 5/4 (1-1/4 inch) board that was 6 inches wide and I needed to take 3/8 inch off of it. Well, whenever I made a rip like that I would always save that scrap piece and lay it in a pile. From time to time I would mine that pile of thin pieces of mahogany for one thing or another.

After getting the batten situation under control, I began to work on the removal of the dried remnants of the Gorilla Glue. The bead of dried yellow foam is always pretty easy to pry up with a chisel or putty knife. Its the really hard stuff that's close to the wood that's difficult to remove. Most of it I removed by repeatedly pushing the chisel over the top of it.
It might look like it's all gone, but there is still residue from that Gorilla Glue near those joints. Only sandpaper will get that up.
I never had established the screw holes for the battens for this rack, so at this point I decided to postpone the cleaning of the Gorilla Glue off the other rack, and decided instead to do a little drilling and screwing.

Satisfied with my break, I returned to the Gorilla Glue removal task, this time focusing on that second rack.
Looks easy, right? It probably took me about 45 minutes to get it looking like this.
With the glue-up complete and with as many remnants of Gorilla Glue removed as possible, it was, at last, time to do some serious sanding on both racks. Not only did I need to get rid of that really stubborn film of Gorilla Glue in most of the joints, but also I had to get rid of those sharp, square edges that still remained on both racks.
Here's the way this one appeared before I got to work. The Gorilla Glue streaks are obvious.
Here's the other one.
I used 40 grit paper on the quarter-sheet sander. I also used 40 grit paper in my hand to round over those sharp edges.

The rack in front has had its sharp edges sanded. The rack in back has not. It's much easier to see the difference between the two if you click on the picture and enlarge it.
Another thing I wanted to do is to soften-up the edges of the battens. Here they are before I hit them with the sander: sharp and squared-off.
Here they are afterwards: nice and well-rounded.
As with the earlier sanding I had accomplished on the individual pieces, I hit the battens with a series different sandpapers, ranging from 40 grit up to 220.
Then I tackled the thin film of Gorilla Glue that still clung tightly to the wood in and around the joints. I hated to scratch-up that wood with the 40 grit paper, but I didn't have much of a choice.
My fingers were pretty sore by the time I finished removing all of the film. That 40 grit paper isn't very kind to the skin. How sore were my fingers? Sore enough to postpone the finish-sanding of the joints until a later date.
My fingers weren't too sore to operate the quarter-sheet sander, so I turned my attention to the second spice rack at this point.
Eventually, I got this rack looking just as smooth and well-rounded as the first one.
I had another pair of battens to sand, so I decided to hit these before calling it a day.
One more set of battens, ready to hold the contents of the spice rack in place.
At this point all that I needed to do was stain and varnish the racks. Given that staining and varnishing are projects in and of themselves, I will cover those tasks as a sequel to this posting. This, therefore, ends this article on the construction of custom mahogany spice racks for the Ericson 25.

No comments:

Post a Comment