Another unusual project I found myself engaged in recently was refurbishing a bank of 12 Canary breeding cages. They were in very poor nick when they arrived in my shop. The (hardboard) back was badly split and actually fell off in three pieces following two light taps of a hammer. The front edges of most of the horizontal dividing boards were badly cut up and some of the vertical rails were chewed away to virtually nothing (parakeets had occupied the cages in an earlier existence and had left their mark. Now, the cages were to be refurbished for canaries). The dividing slides and the cleaning drawers were twisted and embedded with crud; fit only for the bin (and that’s where they went).
A sorry sight indeed. But Hey! I like a challenge.
A new plywood back was the first order of the day. Then I put softwood slips on all the front edges. New sliding dividers were made and the badly chewed vertical rails replaced. Finally, I got to the drawer slides, all 12 of which would have to be made from scratch. These are effectively very shallow drawers that slide in under the bottom horizontal rail of the cages and are used for capturing all the bird dirt and debris to facilitate cleaning out.
Looking better already. New back, new dividing slides and front edges slipped. The block has received a coat of paint as well, at this stage.
As they are, in effect, drawers, there is a little bit of making in them. The drawer bottoms were plywood and the sides and front and back (we’ll call them all sides from now on) would have to be a small softwood section (5/8” x 13/32”). I didn’t want to simply butt and pin these sides together as experience tells me that they will eventually start coming apart (this detail in wooden bird cages is commonly a pinned butt joint). The wood in such a small section was also likely to split when the pins were being driven in. Equally, I didn’t want to waste too much time making the drawers; it was after all, just a set of bird cages and not a piece of furniture. So I needed a joint for the drawer corners that was quick and easy, yet strong. Having rejected a pinned butt joint I went through other options:
Small dovetails: too slow and fussy for this project.
Mortice & tenon: again too slow and fussy.
Splined mitres: at the small scale of the sections involved, I could see problems with this method. My table saw blade would eat up too much of the section when slotting for the splines. And cutting mitres is a precise business; I really didn’t have time for that sort of precision on this project. This was a “have-at-it and get done” project.
Dowel joint: I reckoned the small section would again cause problems here; especially with the drilling of the end grain. Two dowels would be required in each corner for the joints to work and the sections were simply too small to make this practical. It would also, I reckoned, be a tedious business.
Lapped corner joint: too weak.
Rabbet joint: too weak.
I was running out of road. The dang sections were so small. If I had been building the cages from scratch, I could have designed them in a way that ensured a bigger section on the drawer sides to work with, which would have made life easier. It was time to put the thinking cap on!
In the end, necessity being the mother of invention, what I came up with was this:
A “Double-splined Butt Joint”; the point of the technical pencil gives an indication of the scale.
I called the joint a Double-splined Butt Joint. This joint was much quicker to make than you might imagine. I cut a bunch of spline material in mahogany on the band saw and ran it through the drum sander to finish it to the thickness of the kerf that my band saw blade makes.
Spline material in Mahogany
Then I prepared the 5/8” x 13/32” stock in softwood on the table saw and cut the drawer sides to length on my RAS. There were 48 pieces in all.
Next, I set up the band saw fence and an absurdly simple jig; a clamped on stop, and cut two equally spaced slots in both ends of each of the 48 drawer sides. The depth of the slots was equal to the thickness of the stock. This all took only a very short period of time. Each cut took about a second and I would simply flip the piece over to make the next cut. Flip it length ways and do the cuts in the other end. There were 192 such cuts in all; each took about a second to perform. How fast is that!
How simple can jigs get! A clamped on stop controls the depth of cut. The fence setting determines the position of the cut on the work-piece. Provided the stock pieces are all accurately cut to the same section size, the slots will line up perfectly at assembly.
The cutting happened so fast that I was taken aback at how suddenly, I was ready to assemble the joints. With a little wood glue this did not take long. A pin hammer was used to tap in the splines. Each “drawer” frame was checked for square and allowed to dry overnight. No clamping was required. Next morning I trimmed off the spline surplus with a Japanese saw and pinned on the bottoms with my air gun, then I tidied up the joints etc. on the edge sander. The result, a strong, quick and easy-to-do joint that looks good and will last. All that was left was to fit the decorative mahogany drawer fronts and pulls.
A bunch of “drawer frames” glued up and left to dry overnight.
A finished drawer slide; the lip at the front will support the Mahogany drawer front. The double-splined butt joints are clearly visible in this picture. For the job in hand, they were a resounding success; fast, strong, easy.
A drawer slide in place before the Mahogany front is fitted.
The Mahogany drawer front fitted; drawer-pull still to come.
Bird cages are not normally done as neatly as this. Lucky Canaries!
Starting to look like a professional set of Canary Breeding Cages.
Making the double-splined butt joint was even quicker than I had expected and was a fun joint to do. I wonder has anyone else used a joint like this before for any purpose. It would be interesting to explore its possibilities. If you have used it let me know and send a pic or two.
Drawer-pull fitted to first cage.
The first tenants are in!