I have finally outgrown the small Pelican case that I've used for the past couple of years and went looking around for a 2002 model. One option was a bigger Pelican case. Another option was to order a custom case from wood-wonders. I liked most of the design of his large case and Oak would match my Megrez mount and chair. But between the delay due to a fire in the shop and wanting a few design changes I decided to attempt to make my own.
If you want to buy a wood case check out what Wood Wonders makes.
If you want the plans in Acrobat format go here: Eyepiece Case Plans
The first mission was to spec out the dimensions in detail. That turned out to be easy part.
The bulk of the case is made out of oak plywood. This is only my second project using oak plywood, the other was a drafting table. I didn't want wood for the eyepiece rack because I was concerned that the metal eyepiece barrels would eventually wear away the coatings and urethane and wood dust would get on the optics. An executive decision was made to use UHMW, which is a type of dense slick plastic that machines well. I have found a UHMW alternative at West Marine. It's a resin shelving material called StarBoard that comes in white or black and machines with wood tools. Locally it was $28 in 2002 for a sheet big enough for the eyepiece trays with some left over.
The other change was the construction of the box itself. Most wood eyepiece cases that I've seen use butt joints and screws. This gets the job done, but you're left with plugs or screws showing. I decided to use a box joint (also called a finger joint) for the corners. These are really strong and use no screws and, if made properly, look great (although solid wood has better end grain than plywood). The only thing is that I haven't made any box joints before. We'll get into that more shortly.
During a case construction discussion with Dean he mentioned that his case balanced better after moving the eyepieces to each side and leaving a clear area in the middle to hold filter cases and the like. It was a good idea so I borrowed it for this case. It also gave me two cross members to help support the bottom.
The 1/2" Oak plywood was purchased at the local Lowe's as a 4'x4' half sheet. This is almost enough for two boxes, or one box with mistakes, The UHMW, side handles, hinges and the front latches came from WoodCraft. Now that the raw materials were had it was time to make some saw dust! Well, almost. time...
I knew that the box joints would be the tricky part. After a little web research I ran across a thing called the Lynn Jig. This is a frame connected to the saw's miter gauge with a carriage that is moved with a threaded rod. Turn the know a known number of times and make the cut, turn some more and make the next cut. With some leftover oak from previous projects and a visit to the local Ace Hardware I made the jig in a couple of nights. This could work! I found that adjusting the width of the dado blade was more difficult than the finger joint spacing. In hind sight it may have been better to make the cuts with the jig in the router. Maybe Next time.
If you go this route remember to cut the plywood so that the grain runs horizontally across the box or the finger cuts will be prone to tear-out. Even then consider using some sacrificial wood (I used hardboard) as a backing to prevent any tear-out.
Now that I know that the box joints are possible the real project begins.
The rabbit serves two purposes. First, it shows less of that fine plywood end grain. Second, it offers additional surface area for the glue. This photo shows the fit without anything (other than gravity) holding it to the frame.
The top will be held on with urethane glue around the thin edge of the rabbit into the box sides and into two center vertical dividers. In the future I will use Titebond III wood glue which is much easier to clean up. This should allow about 51.75 square inches of surface area for gluing. Since this box will (hopefully) never be turned over additional strength shouldn't be needed.
The bottom will be similar to the top except that it will be made of two 1/4" pieces of Oak plywood. The first will fit into a dado (groove) around the sides. It will also be glued to the bottom of the two dividers. The second piece will fit on bottom against the first and extend out over the edge of the sides covering the end grain like the top does, only thinner. If all goes well there will not be any hardware (screws, braids, etc) holding the box together. I will use some to hold the hinges, latch and handles on.