For a few years now, my wife and I have had a washboard from her great-grandmother sitting around the house. Like so many projects, building a display for it has been on the list of things to do since it arrived, but simply hadn’t happened yet. This weekend, I finally got to work on the display.

The washboard itself is pretty simple; the frame is made of wood and the board portion is actually glass. There aren’t any screws or glue to hold it together, just the wood joinery. And that is actually the reason we hadn’t simply hung the board as is. Because the board is so old, the joints are fairly loose, and the glass is relatively heavy. We had feared that hanging the board might pull it apart, dropping and destroying the glass. So, what to do?

The washboard, or how Great-Grandma spent thousands of hours

Ultimately, we decided to build a large shadow box, and frame it in reclaimed barn wood from a local salvage company. I built cut the frame out of some oak boards from a friend, and then got to work sanding, as prep for adding finish once the box was built. While I was sanding, I started to think about the woman whose washboard this was, and I realized something. I would not have wanted to arm-wrestle her. My arms were getting tired simply from sanding; she had to wash clothes on this thing for years.

Not pictured: Great-Grandpa rubbing his sore arm after losing

I assembled the box using pocket screws to attach the top and bottom to the sides, and then added the first layer of finish. It was here that the first potential problems arose. The finish I had planned on using had begun to dry in its container, developing a skin on top of the little remaining liquid. It being 8:30 PM, I decided to press on and use it. Fortunately, there was enough for the first coat. I left it to dry overnight, and came back to it after work the next day.

Since my workshop is one room, I figured the best thing to do would be to cut the salvaged wood for the frame before applying the rather sticky finish. (Well, that and any excuse to put off more sanding)

Here is where things started to go awry. Since the frame would extend beyond the edges of the box, I needed to work out how long to make the sides, with the framing boards placed appropriately. I tend to prefer mathematical solutions to things, so I broke out the pencil and paper. Then I broke out Python. Then I came to another realization. If the square root of 2 makes an appearance in your woodworking calculations, you might be over-complicating things.

The guys at the hardware store looked at me funny when I asked for a measuring tape at right angles to reality

I finally realized that having the longer edge of the mitered boards 1 board width longer than the box would work out just fine, so I broke out the miter saw and got to work. I set it up for a 45 degree angle, cut the board, rotated the board and cut. Then I started swearing.

You see, I had only bought 4 boards, and with the way I cut this first one, the edges were parallel, rather than pointing towards each other. Fortunately, this first board had been intended to be a side, so I could just cut it smaller to the appropriate angle. Lesson learned, I promptly made the same mistake 3 more times. In the end, I did manage to get all 4 pieces cut correctly.

Remember the adage: Measure 37 times, cut 36

Now, all that was left was to sand and apply the last coat of finish, then attach the frame. I lightly sanded the box and began to apply the second coat. Then I realized that it was going to be really close; there was not a lot of finish left. I did, however, manage to stretch it out and finish the box.

At this point, I applied some wood glue to the front of the box (which I had left unfinished) and clamped the salvaged wood into place, leaving it to dry. And that’s where everything is currently at; soon it should be dry and I’ll be able to display a bit of family history on my wall.

Almost there!

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