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Solstice Wall – Tools of the Trade

January 28, 2024

By: Lee LeFever

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

This article was published as an issue of my newsletter Ready for Rain

In planning the Solstice Wall, I experimented with the tools I’d need to make it work. I don’t own table saws or drill presses, so I set out to find what would work. This introduced me to a variety of woodworking gadgets that I now consider essential.

One of the design ideas is using metal dowels to hold the rays off the wall so that they would cast more interesting shadows.

To make this work, I’d need a way to drill consistent holes in each dowel. The holes needed to be centered on the rays and at a specific depth. Freehanding it was possible, but I needed real consistency.

One of the early discoveries was a self-centering jig. This is a metal contraption that pinches a strip of wood and provides centered holes for drilling. It seemed like the perfect solution.

The next issue was hole depth, which also needed to be consistent. There are 79 dowels that all need to be the same length once placed in the rays. For this, I used a collar for a drill bit. With a simple set screw, you can place the collar on the bit at the exact location where the hole should stop.

It was the combination of these tools that got the project rolling. I used them to drill all the holes for the dowels, and holes in the plywood panels.

We set out to make the outcome as perfect as possible and an invaluable tool was a laser level. We didn’t need it to make things level as much as straight. We pointed it at the wall and the plywood panels on the floor to mark the shadow lines. It was exactly what we needed.

Another tool that impressed me was a track saw setup (Thanks, Jim!) A track saw makes it possible to cut perfect lines on long lengths with a circular saw. You attach a “sled” to the circular saw and the sled fits into a track that is placed on the plywood. The track guides the saw across the panels in perfect lines. We used it to cut the angled lines that make the plywood panels match our sloped ceiling.

Here’s a short video of the self-centering jig and bit collar in action:

I’m sharing this process on social media. Follow along!

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