Mom, calm down…

It’s only a splinter! I usually only show the rosy side of travelling and jumping on stuff. Well, seems I picked up a wee sliver of England at RDV XI. (ask me about the barefoot bail into thorns) Yes my tetanus immunization is up to date. THIS is why you should always travel with your personalized med kit… #DIY Tracy trained all day while I did my “wimpy lion with a thorn in its paw” imitation. Hopefully good to go tomorrow #famousLastWords (PSA: early symptoms of Tetanus include jaw spasms, drooling, excessive sweating and irritability? …oh i’ve had that for 45 years then :P


Cue repairs

Taking time to repair cue tips. The Schnelk in the case I’ve had for about 30 years now. Bought it back when this table was in my grandparents’ basement on Westminster street in Allentown. Would never have believed then, what this table looks like now, or where it would be today!


Vault box build

These plans are for building a vault box. This is not easy. You’ll need some good circular saw skills, patience and a lot of labor. Read on!

The original, in case you have a hardcopy, is online at

Drop me an email: Comments, questions, and suggestions for improvements are welcome. Best of all would be if you sent me some photos of what you built, preferably a big group photo of you on them, or using them or whatever. My email is my first name, craig, at this domain. (Yes, this is a “.name” domain.)

(The original design of this project is still available at, How NOT to build a vault box.)




Read these notes. They are IMPORTANT.

  • SCREWS – Do NOT use “drywall” screws! (They are too weak.) Use screws which are intended for building decks. “Deck Mate” is a brand commonly available. This entire project uses 2-1/2″ screws. The screws should come with the driver bit inside. The number of screws specified in the plans is also important.
  • PILOT HOLES – You should drill a 1/8″ pilot hole for EVERY screw. (Through the plywood and way into the 2x4s. The screws will still have plenty of purchase.) In the corners, you’ll be putting a lot of screws in close spacing; Pilot holes keep the 2x4s from splitting.
  • COUNTER-SINK – If you want the box to come out really nice, use a purpose-built “pilot hole bit” that has a countersink shoulder on it; Pilot hole and countersink in one drilling. That way the deck screws will go in flush without having to smash-drive the screw down into the plywood. (Which can cause some splitting/peeling of the plywood near the edges.)
  • GLUE – If you want to ensure the box never squeaks, put a little wood glue between the surfaces before you screw them together.
  • CIRCULAR SAW CUTS – Circular saws are seriously dangerous. Circular saws do not “cut” you, they will AMPUTATE your fingers, hand or leg. (Only chain saws send more people to the hospital.) Know what you are doing! To get the box to work out well, you have to make laser-straight cuts; So you have to understand how to cut with a saw guide. Don’t cut freehand. It won’t work out well.
  • vaultboxes_design2_sawbevelBEVELS – The plans call for “bevels” in many places. This always means: Set the bevel angle on the saw and pay attention to the direction of the cuts. Because circular saws only bevel in one direction, if you cut in the wrong direction, the bevel will be backwards!
  • HANDLES – The plans don’t explain how to make the handle holes. Just draw a line, mid-height on the end of the finished box. Drill two 1″ holes about 5″ apart. Cut between them with a reciprocating saw, and file the edges. (We put two handle holes on each end of the biggest box.) You DO need the handle holes because . . .
  • RATCHET STRAP – You need one ratchet strap. When you stack all three boxes, you’re likely to dislodge them. So you hook the bottom box via one handle, pass the strap through the top box’s handle holes, and then back down to the bottom box on the other side. Then ratchet the stack into a rigid block.
  • SANDING – This isn’t furniture, but a quick, (if you use an orbital sander) pass with 60 grit will really improve the surface of the boxes before . . .
  • PAINTING – Is of course optional. The two sheets of plywood have a total area of 64 square feet. Very little ends up being scrap, but you also have some edges and handle holes to paint. So just use 64 square feet when figuring out how much paint you need. (We mixed fine sand into gray deck paint.)

Material List

  1. Five, 8′ 2x4s. Cherry pick the lumber; you need straight, square, etc. …the best you can find.
    ~ $15
  2. Two sheets of 3/4″ plywood, (not OSB – Oriented Strand Board.) You can buy whatever plywood you like, but you should be able to get “good enough” plywood for less than $30 per sheet.
    ~ $60
  3. About 190, 2-1/2″ deck screws, and a 1/8″ bit for pilot holes. “Deck Mate” brand screws come in 1 pound (~$7, ~84 screws), 5 pound (~$25 ~420 screws) and 25 pound (~$100, ~2100 screws.) Buy screw quantities based on how many boxes you actually build. But for one box:
    ~ $20
  4. Paint, if you’re painting, for 64 square feet, (and fine sand to mix in if you want to go all out.)
  5. …and one 12 foot ratchet strap.
    ~$12 (for four straps)

End faces

All of these cuts are with a 0° bevel.

  1. Cut a 45″ piece from one sheet of plywood. (Save the 48″x51″ piece for making the tops of the boxes.)
  2. Cut three, 14″ wide strips. Cut parallel to the 45″ edge so each strip is 45″x14″.
  3. For all three strips: Measure 3-3/4″ from one corner, and cut diagonally across to the other corner. (This 3-3/4″ cutoff, on the 14″ wide strip, makes the 15° angle for the front faces’ slope.)
  4. Cut two of the strips as follows: Measure 8″, and 15-1/2″, as shown, and cut. Then measure 31-1/2″, and 24″, as shown, and cut. (Repeat on the second strip.) These four pieces will be the end faces for the top and bottom boxes.
  5. On the third strip: Measure 16″, and 23-1/2″, as shown, and cut. Then measure 23-1/2″, and 16″, as shown, and cut. These will be the end faces for the middle box.

Front faces

  1. Put a 15° bevel on the 48″ edge of the other full sheet of plywood. (Trim as little as possible off.)
  2. Cut (15° bevel) off five strips 15-1/2″ wide.
  3. Reverse cut (15° bevel) the last strip to 15-1/2″. (Support the right side of the plywood and drop the narrow cutoff to the left.)
  4. Set aside two of the strips to be the front faces of the bottom box.
  5. Cut (0° bevel) 4″ off two of the strips. (The front faces of the middle box.)
  6. Cut (0° bevel) 8″ off the last two strips. (The front faces of the top box.)

End faces framing

  1. Cut (0° bevel) one 8′ 2×4 into six pieces: two pieces 23-1/2″, two pieces 15-1/2″ and two pieces 7-1/2″. (There will be about 3″ of 2×4 scrap.)
  2. Attach one piece to the top, (the shorter edge) of each of the six end faces. Use a line of wood glue, and three, four and five screws to attach the three different lengths. (24 screws total for the six end faces.)
  3. Using two 2x4s: Cut (15° bevel) six, 10″ pieces, leaving a ~36″ piece. (So you have twelve 10″ pieces, and two 36″ pieces.) Save the two 36″ pieces.
  4. Attach a 10″ piece to both edges of all six end faces. Use four screws on each 10″ piece. (48 screws total for the six end faces.)

Front faces framing

  1. Rip (15° bevel, removing a little as possible) two 8′ 2x4s.
  2. Cut (0° bevel) both 2x4s into 30″, 30″ and 36″ pieces. (So you have four 30″ pieces, and two 36″ pieces.) Save the two 36″ pieces.
  3. Attach the four 30″ pieces to the top edges, (centered) of the TOP and MIDDLE front faces only. Use five screws on each 30″ piece. (20 screws total.)


  1. Screw the front faces to the end faces. Put four screws, through the front face at each corner. (48 screws total.) Be sure you align the TOP edge of all the faces. (That will leave a ~1″ gap at the bottom of the end faces.)

Box tops

  1. Put a 15° bevel on the 48″ original edge. (It’s important to start on the correct edge.)
  2. Reverse cut (15° bevel) a strip that fits the full width of the top box. (Should be about 9-1/2″ wide.)
  3. Cut (0° bevel) the strip to length. (Should be cutting off about 8″.)
  4. Attach it to the top box using three screws on the end face edges, and five screws on the front face edges. (16 screws for top box.)

The tops for the middle, and bottom, boxes are done slightly differently:

  1. Put a 15° bevel on the 48″ edge, (the edge you just reverse cut.)
  2. Measure the inside width of the box above; Measure right at the bottom edge of the box’s sides, but find the smallest width and use that measurement.  Reverse cut (15° bevel) that width.
    (Compared to before where you measured the width of the top of the box, this ensures the “mouth” of the box above will fit over the top of the box.)
  3. Cut (0° bevel) the strip to length. (You’ll cut about 4″ off for the middle box, and the bottom should use the full 48″ as-is.)
  4. Middle box: Attach the top using three screws on the end face edges, and five screws on the front face edges.
    Bottom box: Attach the top using just three screws on the end face edges.
    (22 screws for these two boxes.)

Finally, the bottom box needs framing to support it’s top.

  1. Flip the bottom box upside down.
  2. Cross braces: Using two of the left-over 2x4s, (the pieces without a bevel) trim them to length (15° bevel) so they fit against the underside of the top of the box. Both ends of each 2×4 should be beveled to touch the front faces of the box. Space them evenly and lay them in place.
  3. Ledgers: Using the two left-over 2x4s, (the pieces that have bevels) position them against the box’s front faces. They should lie against the front face, and the beveled edge goes against the cross braces to support them.
  4. Stand on the ledgers to press them against down onto the cross braces, and put five screws through the plywood into each ledger. (Watch your feet! :)
  5. Flip the box right-side up.
  6. Put two screws, down through the top of the box, into each of the cross braces. (Just to prevent them moving or rattling.)ASIDE: Here’s a photo of a bottom box, without it’s top sheet of plywood, so you can see how the frame works to support the top sheet. You can assemble it this way too: Use clamps to hold one horizontal ledger in place, fit the cross-braces, clamp the other ledger, and then screw the ledger in place. You can screw into the end of the cross brace, or get longer screws and drill down into the ledger. Throw the top sheet on and put a couple screws down into the cross braces.


"Vault box design 2, stepped sides"
Copyright (C) 2014 Craig J Constantine

This information is free; you can redistribute it and/or
modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License
as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version
2 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.

This work is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty
the GNU General Public License for more details.

You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public
License along with this work; if not, write to the Free
Software Foundation, Inc., 51 Franklin Street, Fifth Floor,
Boston, MA 02110-1301, USA.


  • April 2014 – First version of these plans.


How NOT to build a vault box


I do NOT recommend using these plans to build a vault box. I’m putting this up for a historical record of what we did (so I don’t have to remember.) I’m already writing another article explaining a better way to build a vault box.

Really. Don’t build vault boxes using these plans.

Here’s the other design: LVPK vault box – second design.

Cut to the chase

Here’s the PDF: LVPK vault box – first design PDF.

We, (Lehigh Valley Parkour) built 8 of these vault boxes. They are rock-solid, portable, stackable, etc. They’re great! …but you can do better. So I’m creating another set of plans from a slightly modified second design.

What we did that went right

You can get the materials for less than $100 per finished box. We collected $100 from everyone, up front and bought everything together in one go.

We built 8 of these. We started by building one box from start to finish. It was the worst box, but we learned a lot. Most importantly, you need one person who understands how the whole box should go together so you can make sure it goes correctly.

We had so much material, we rented a cargo van, (it was winter and we didn’t want to deal with unexpected bad weather messing up our scheduled “buy everything” date) to haul the 1,000+ pounds of lumber and plywood to where we were going to build. We had four people on the “buying night”, and then several 6-hour DAYS of 4, 6 and even 8 (on one day) people working on building these.

We had all the right tools. This is a lot of cutting and screw driving… circular saws are dangerous, second only to chain saws. We had people with safety glasses, ear plugs, work gloves. One guy working the circular saw with two helpers moving plywood. Other people with a battery drill to drill pilot holes, another person with a corded drill driving deck screws. People with orbital sanders and files, someone drilling the large holes and cutting the hand-hold slots. It was crazy.

What goes wrong

The root of the problem is that the design is sloped in both directions; There is a 15° lean from vertical on the “fronts”, (the bigger faces you’ll approach most often) and 7.5° on the “sides”, (the more narrow faces where the hand-holes for lifting are located.) This is simply too difficult to get it to work out correctly with rough lumber and basic building skills.

The biggest problem is that the corners are compound miters. In each corner there is a piece of 2×4. When you put a 90° angle (the corner of a 2×4) into the compound miter at the 15°/7.5° corner, you find out that you really need about a 93° corner on the 2×4. It almost works. The 2×4 goes in, but when you screw the faces together, it “pulls” the big face inward, making the plywood bow concave. That messes up the bottom of the box’s fit onto the next box below. I ended up adding some additional 2×4 strips near the bottom of the box front to straighten the faces… but it’s fiddly to get it to come out right.

When I was coming up with this design, I tried combinations of different angles and eventually settled on 15°/7.5° because:

  1. These angles make the finished boxes nest when you stack them in reverse order.
  2. When you stack them up, you won’t knock the pile over using the box.
  3. 15° and 7.5° are reasonable bevels to cut on plywood edges with a circular saw.
  4. You can measure convenient lengths of “2 inches” and “4 inches” and cut diagonally across the plywood strips for the box faces to get almost exactly the angles you need.

I also spent a lot of time adjusting dimensions to make the box as large as possible from only two sheets of plywood. There is very little scrap material left over.

When building, getting the box to work out right is difficult; If anything is off by even ONE-QUARTER of an inch, then the box isn’t perfect. If anything is off by HALF an inch, you may not be able to get the box together at all. Every cut on the plywood has to be perfectly straight, which means you have to use a clamped straight edge to guide the saw on every cut and you must always get the bevel correctly arranged. So sometimes you have to cut “backwards”, (the opposite way from the normal, safe way you’d cut with a circular saw.)

Also, near the end of the plans it describes a little about how to put the top-piece of plywood on each box. It works fine for the top/smallest box. But for the middle and bottom, the way to do it is: measure the opening of the box above, then cut the plywood sheet and screw it to the box. It might not look perfect, but if you put the plywood on so it fits nice, the box above isn’t likely to fit correctly over it.

Finally, the plans, (in the notes near the back of the PDF) show how to figure out how much paint you need to paint them. We used a grey outdoor deck/porch paint, and we mixed in fine sand to give the box some traction. If you’re making artificial obstacles, may as well make them friendly too.

Specific notes

The PDF document above has notes added in red pencil:

Pages 1 and 2:

  1. We added hand-holes for lifting. They’re not shown on these sketches.
  2. “Bevel” means set the bevel angle on the circular saw, i.e., make the saw blade lean. Saws only bevel in one direction, so every cut in the plans has an arrow on end showing you which way to cut; This determines the orientation of the “under bite” made by the saw.
    The saw we used is “right handed”, (as are most saws) the blade tips to the right, and the blade bites under to the left. Some of the cuts are difficult because the “easy” cut direction, (with the saw on the bigger part of the piece, dropping the cutoff away to the right) would produce the wrong bevel on the work. }
  3. For cuts number ‘2’, ‘3’ (which you do twice) and ‘4’: The arrows point the wrong way; They should point to the right on the diagram so you have 3 cuts that are easy/the-right-way, and just the last one is “in the wrong direction”, against normal saw usage.
  4. This column shows you the materials you’re using up as you go along. It just helps you keep track of everything.

Page 2:

  1. Don’t bother stacking. Just measure, mark and cut each (‘A’, ‘B’ and then ‘C’) strip as shown.
  2. Yes, all the strips’ edges have a 7.5° bevel on them. Yes, it really does not matter which way you have the bevel when you cut the end-angles.

Page 3:

  1. Cut ALL of these cuts the other way. It’s easier. Cut ‘1’ just trims the sheet to put the bevel on, cut ‘2’ (5 times) drops strips off neatly. Then you turn the piece around and cut it the “wrong way”; “wrong” in terms of how you normally rest the saw and cut “off” the smaller part.
  2. Nothing to see here.

Page 4:

  1. This is the view of the end of the 2×4. Just run the saw along the right edge of the 2×4 steering generally straight.

Page 5:

  1. At least 3/4″, more is fine.

Pages 10 etc:

These are just some notes from figuring out how many boxes of screws we needed. (We didn’t put the exact number of screws in. We just went with “that’s probably enough”. And we ended up using only half the deck screws.) Also some calculations of how much paint we needed to buy.


"Vault box design 1, sloped sides"
Copyright (C) 2014 Craig J Constantine

This information is free; you can redistribute it and/or
modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License
as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version
2 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.

This work is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty
the GNU General Public License for more details.

You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public
License along with this work; if not, write to the Free
Software Foundation, Inc., 51 Franklin Street, Fifth Floor,
Boston, MA 02110-1301, USA.


Slide scanning

…2,600, (give or take a few hundred) mounted slides scanned!

Recently, I’ve been talking about my slide scanning project. I’ve been pouring hours and hours into feeding the slide scanner… it was like Little Shop of Horrors, “feed me Scan-more!!” for days on end. Except for a short stack of problem slides, I’ve completed the heavy lifting.

I’ve found hundreds of slides that I want to share. Stay tuned!

Aside: Where am I putting the digital files? My little Mac file server has a two drive RAID. On that Mac I run Arq, (which I highly recommend.) Arq backs-up all my stuff into Amazon’s Glacier. Glacier is dirt cheap storage; I mean dirt. cheap. They charge you a reasonable fee if you ever retrieve data from the storage service. (Get it? “glacier”. Frozen in ice, never to be used again. Unless you have a disaster, then you won’t care about a few hundred to defrost your data.)


Pool table pocket drops

Ever wonder how they shaped the bed of the pool table where the balls fall into the pockets? Neither did I.

…until I restored a pool table from 1938-or-so. The slate playing surface has very basic geometric cuts. The four corner pockets have a very wide, two-sided notch, and the side pockets  have a more narrow notch. Wooden inserts are shaped to fit into the notch, and when you cover the bed in felt, the balls roll from the slate, onto these wooden “pocket drop” shapes and fall into the pockets.

It turns out there’s a lot of discussion involved in how large are the radius of the hole — the big round part cut out of the wood that the ball falls into, as well as what the radius the balls rolls over as it falls off the cliff.


What is a commutator brush?

So our washing machine quit this weekend (while I was away.)

“No user servicable parts inside.”

Not this user! Tools, snip, yank. A-HAH! The commutator brushes are worn out.

This is what my dad used to spend a lot of time on… changing commutator brushes on elevators; The thing in the picture with the “39B” on it, on the end of a braided wire with a spring to push it against the commutator… It’s a block of carbon (called a “brush”) and it should be about an inch long. :*) As the motor spins, it wears down. Eventually, the length of the cable limits it moving down against commutator, no electrical contact, no motor movement. The other brush, (motor has two brushes,) was still long enough to touch.

Physics/electrical geeks: Ask me about commutator brushes some time. :^D

Internet, click click click, order via drop-ship P1, parts for tomorrow. Washing machine back in business for wednesday.