Direct Input Cell Phone Cradle

Main Phone cradle photo by WoodAirGrille the Wood Return Air Grille supplier

I know.  The world needs another cell phone holder about as much as I need a hole in my head.  Shockingly enough, I could not find a cell phone holder for my truck that suited my needs.  I didn’t think my needs were that exotic, but I couldn’t find anything on the market that worked the way I wanted it to.  Here is what I wanted to accomplish:

  1. When I get in my truck, I want to be able to listen to the radio apps or my itunes collection.
  2. I do not want to have to fool with plugging in and unplugging cords every time I get in or out of the truck, but I want to utilize the auxiliary input jack. Similarly, I do not want to have to fool with clamping or releasing my phone into a holder every time I get in or out of the truck.  I just want to put the phone down and pick it up.  I realize there are a bazillion Bluetooth devices that accomplish this, but I run into two problems with Bluetooth.
    1. Sometimes, I do not want to be on speakerphone when the phone rings and it is cumbersome and dangerous to try to switch the Bluetooth off while I am driving.
    2. When I am near my truck, for example, doing something in the bed of the truck, tailgating behind the truck or standing near the truck talking to someone, the Bluetooth engages and prevents me from being able to talk on the phone.
  3. I want the phone where it can be easily seen without obstructing my view.
  4. I want the dash to be as uncluttered as possible.

My solution was to develop a sheet metal cradle with a fixed 3.5mm audio cable positioned precisely to the phone’s input jack.  This allows me to simply drop the phone into the cradle and it is instantly plugged into the truck’s stereo.  If I want to answer the phone, I simply pick it up out of the cradle or press the speakerphone button.  The thin sheet metal painted to match the dash keeps the holder compact and does not require a bulky apparatus to attach it to the dash.  Here is a description of how I did it.

A heavy black prefinished aluminum type of sheet metal, like roofing or gutter coil, would be ideal, but the prefinished lightweight aluminum flashing I had lying around was a bit thin.  Therefore, I chose a galvanized flashing material that I happened to have.  Since it will need to be painted to match or compliment the dash, in my case just black to match, the first thing to be done is to sand the surface of the sheet metal on both sides (fig. 1.)  It is much easier to do it now while it is still flat and unmarked.

fig 1 cell phone cradle from woodairgrille the supplier of Wood Return ir Grilles

The hard part is laying out the cut and fold plan on the flat sheet metal.  I have an iphone 7 with a bulky Otter Box Case so I sized my measurements to fit my phone as in the diagram shown (fig. 2).  You will need to measure you phone and size your sheet metal appropriately utilizing a square and a ruler (fig. 3)

Being careful to cut straight and precise, cut out the outer perimeter of the sheet metal with a pair of tin snips (fig. 4).

fig 4 cell phone dock by woodairgrille

The lower part of the metal has a reveal that requires inside corners to be cut without distorting the metal.  This is extremely difficult with tin snips so another process is utilized.  First, use the tin snips to cut the 2 sides of the reveal (fig. 5).  Next, using a utility knife and a straight edge, the metal is scored within the reveal point to point (fig. 6).  Yes, this does dull the blade quickly which is why a utility knife with the cheap replaceable blades is recommended.  Once the metal is scored, usually 2-3 passes with the knife, then it can be bent back and forth until it breaks away (fig 7).  The edge left is surprisingly clean and is easily finished with a little light sanding.

At the bottom right of my phone is some type of vent.  The case leaves it open and exposed, so I certainly didn’t want to close it off, especially in the hot Carolina summers.  This necessitated drilling a series of holes.  In sheet metal, it is easy to end up with ragged and distorted holes if the metal is allowed to move at all.  I have found the best way is to drill holes in sheet metal is to place something ridged with a hole in it on top of the sheet metal and a scrap piece of lumber to drill into below it.  A door hinge I happened to have nearby was ideal, but there is an endless list of things that could work (fig. 8)

fig 8 cell phone car dock by woodairgrille

The cut and finished piece of metal should look something like this (fig. 9).  After a little light sanding to remove any burs and soften the edges (fig. 10), we are ready to start shaping the metal.

Starting from the inner most bends and working your way out, fold the sheet metal into the desired shape with a pair of wide sheet metal pliers (figs. 11 & 12)

At this point, it is necessary to pull the left side of the case up enough to access the channel that was just created for the 3.5mm audio jack.  Wrap the bottom of the phone with wax paper and poke a hole to insert the 3.5mm jack.  The length of the cable you select for this part will need to be adequate to reach the auxiliary input of your car stereo.  Place the jack into the phone making sure it is fully seated and place the phone into the holder.

Using a 2-part epoxy, bond the 3.5mm jack cable to the back of the metal phone holder being careful not to epoxy the phone.  The wax paper at this point should be just a protective measure and not something you rely on as a barrier to push epoxy against.  Once the epoxy has set, remove the phone from the holster being careful not to allow the jack to move at all.  If the jack is not positioned correctly, the phone will be a struggle to get in and out of the cradle defeating the purpose.

With the phone safely out of the way, place a scrap piece of wood wrapped in wax paper and with a hole drilled to accommodate the jack into the holder and secure with a clamp (fig. 13).  Using the 2-part epoxy, reinforce the placement of the 3.5mm jack completely encasing it with epoxy and pushing against the wax paper covered wood to provide and additional landing base for the bottom of the phone (fig. 14).  If the epoxy is not perfect, you can file or sand it down.

Make sure the jack is clean and free of glue use some more additional 2-part epoxy to adhere the channel of the case back around the 3.5mm jack (fig. 15 & 16)

Taking care to mask the 3.5mm jack, prime and paint the metal to your color of choice (fig. 17).  After the paint has cured, a little double-sided tape secures it to your dashboard.  (fig. 18)



Rod Gunter is the Executive Director at Gunter Building Solutions and has over 20 years of experience in the homebuilding and cabinetry industries.  Rod has been responsible for building over 200 homes above the $500,000 price point.  Rod has trained large groups including all the major home centers on selling skills, construction techniques and sustainable natural wood products.  Rod resides with his family in Holly Springs, North Carolina.  Gunter Building Solutions owns which produces wood return air filter grilles and wood return air vents.


3 Quick & Easy Shop Hacks

I guess everyone has their favorite shop hacks.  Whether it saves time, space or just makes a tricky task easier there are thousands of little tricks out there that make life in the shop a little more enjoyable.  Here are three of my favorites.


  1. Drying Rack

Cabinetry, furniture, bookcases and built ins are all projects that can clog up a workshop.  They take up a lot of space especially in the finishing stage when everything is spread out drying and nothing else can be done for fear of dust getting into the finish.  A vertical drying rack is one way I have found to make the process more manageable and, in some cases, cut out a second round of finishing.

More often than not, these projects involve a dado slot whether it be done by a table saw or router.  When the project involves a number of small to medium size pieces that will have to be finished individually like shelves or drawer bottoms, I will take advantage of that dado setup and run a series of repetitive dados in some scrap wood. (Fig. 1.1)   When these boards are securely attached to an unused wall, side of a workbench, or something stable, it becomes a great drying rack.  Just slip one edge of the material you finished into the dado you cut and let gravity hold it out of the way. (Fig. 1.2)


  1. Instant Handle

I have a tendency to keep a number of those inexpensive foam brushes on hand.  Since they are cheap, they are great for when I want a throw away brush.  They work for paint, polyurethane and even glue.  When I have used them, I wrap them in a plastic bag and separate the wooden handle from the foam brush.  (Fig 2.1)   Having a few of those wooden handles around can be very handy.  They are soft wood, but they are convenient and already have a centered hole cut in one end.

2.1 Shop Hacks by WoodAirGrille

A few of the uses I have employed include file handles, hooks, pushing rivets into stubborn material, inserting a nail to make a marking tool, and extension for a hex wrench.  (Figs 2.2 & 2.3)   I am sure there are countless other uses I haven’t stumbled on yet.


  1. Center Marking jig

When I have to use screws or drill for through dowels in a project, I like them to be centered, but more importantly, lined up consistently.  If there are more than 2, I prefer not to have to measure and mark with a speed square.  Typically, I am going to have to put in 20 or more screws in a project by the time it is all said and done so I want a faster and more accurate method.

This little center marking jig is very easy to make.  Just take a scrap piece of lumber at least 3/4″ thick and mark the distance from the edge you want your screw holes.  Drill a 5/32” hole through the scrap wood you just marked which is a slightly smaller diameter than a 12 penny nail.  (Fig. 3.1)   Then with some glue and a few small nails, I attach a rail to the side of the scrap block.

3.1 Shop Hacks by WoodAirGrille

The next step is to cut a 12 penny nail just longer than the thickness of your scrap lumber.  (Fig. 3.2) Next, cut off the ends of a plastic screw anchor with a utility knife so it is  shorter than the length of the nail and place it around the shaft of the nail.  (Figs. 3.3 & 3.4)

The plastic screw anchor is a sacrificial piece to space the nail centered in the chuck of a drill below the nail head.  By spinning the nail against a file or piece of sandpaper, I can put a blunt point on the end of the cut off nail.  (Figs. 3.5 & 3.6)

Place the nail in the hole in the scrap lumber with the point protruding out the side you marked.  That side will be precisely the spot you marked in case the drill wondered or your angle wasn’t dead straight.  (Fig. 3.7)   You can put marks on the edge of the guide for the spacing you want between your screw holes.

3.7 Shop Hacks by WoodAirGrille

Just tap the end of the nail to make a divot in the wood marking you drill hole.  (Figs. 3.8 & 3.9)  One added advantage to the speed is that the divot serves to keep the tip of your drill bit from wondering when you start to drill the hole.  It is especially effective with brad point or taper drill bits.


Rod Gunter is the Executive Director at Gunter Building Solutions and has over 20 years of experience in the homebuilding and cabinetry industries.  Rod has been responsible for building over 200 homes above the $500,000 price point.  Rod has trained large groups including all the major home centers on selling skills, construction techniques and sustainable natural wood products.  Rod resides with his family in Holly Springs, North Carolina.  Gunter Building Solutions owns which produces wood return air filter grilles and wood return air vents.

Easy Wooden Printer Stand (Universal Shelf)

It is funny, or irritating depending on your disposition, how one thing tends to lead to another.  When I was building houses, we used to joke around about how a minor last minute color change could lead to fifty thousand dollars in change orders.  In fact, I was once asked how to fix a kitchen cabinet with a very minor and easily repaired delaminating veneer corner.  Within a few hours, the couple had talked themselves into, and put down a deposit, on a thirty thousand dollar kitchen remodel.

That is how this project started.  My old printer finally died.  I should have been better prepared considering the screen had been blinking on and off form months, the chances for a paper jam were about one in six, and it seemed to have an ongoing auto-response to my computer telling it to print that is identical to my 8 year old’s auto-response to my wife telling her to take a bath.  So, when I brought in the new printer, the power cord was on the opposite side which immediately initiated a return trip to the store for a new surge protector.  It was then that I discovered that the new printer would not sit neatly on top of my safe because the feet were further out and hung off the side.

At this point, I refused to go shopping for a printer stand knowing I would never find one I really wanted anyway so I went into the shop and within 90 minutes built a very strong printer stand that fit exactly the way I wanted.  The design can be used for a printer stand, a shelf on top of a desk, stacked on top of each other to form a type of bookcase or anything else you may come up with.  The one I built is 19 ½” wide, 17” deep and 15 ½” tall, but, you can make it any size you want to suit your needs.  However, suggest staying under 30” wide to minimize the chance of bowing.  I built mine specifically to hold a wide format printer above my safe.

I started by cutting 1x2s down to the desired length.  I needed 6 uprights, 4 side cross members, and 2 back cross members.  I used 1x4s for the top because that is what I had lying around but you could use any width.  Below is a calculation for cutting based on your desired finished dimensions.

  • 6 pcs. Uprights – 1×2 = desired finished height minus ¾”
  • 4 pcs. Side cross members – 1×2 = desired depth minus 3”
  • 2 pcs Back cross members – 1×2 = desired width minus 4 ½”
  • Top = desired depth divided by width of boards. (one board may have to be ripped, substituted, or left with an overhang.  Cut number of bards to desired finished width.

Once I had all my pieces cut, I glued together my top.  Glue is the only connection I used for the top and I wanted to allow it the most time to dry.  According to the bottle it needed a half hour before I could start working with it again (fig. 1)

fig 1 printer stand by WoodAirGrille

While that was drying, I cut the dowel Holes in the sides of the uprights and the ends of the cross members with a simple doweling jig.  (figs. 2, 3, & 4).  You can use screws and glue for these joints, but I did not want to have to either see the screws or deal with plugs since some of these joints will be visible.

I now simply glue and clamp the frames together.  I used ¼” x 1 ¼” dowels.  Once glued I shoot through the back of the frame into each dowel on either side of the joint to lock it in.  This will hold the joint securely long enough for the glue to dry while I continue to work on the structure. (fig. 5)

fig 5 printer stand by WoodAirGrille

After sanding all of the frames and the top smooth using an orbital sander, I ran a bead of glue along the outer upright of the back frame assembly and clamped the back and side it into position. (fig. 6)

fig 6 printer stand by WoodAirGrille

Then, after predrilling the holes (fig. 7), I secured the back to the side with some 1 ½” wood screws (fig. 8).  The process is repeated for the other side.  I could have used dowels here, however in my application, the back will not bee seen so I went for the speed of screws.

I attached the top in the same way by predrilling the holes (fig. 9) and securing it with a bead of glue and 2” wood screws. (fig. 10)

With a little light sanding to clean p the joints, the printer stand is now ready for your favorite finish or just leave it natural as I did.  (fig. 11)

fig 11 printer stand by WoodAirGrille



Rod Gunter is the Executive Director at Gunter Building Solutions and has over 20 years of experience in the homebuilding and cabinetry industries.  Rod has been responsible for building over 200 homes above the $500,000 price point.  Rod has trained large groups including all the major home centers on selling skills, construction techniques and sustainable natural wood products.  Rod resides with his family in Holly Springs, North Carolina.  Gunter Building Solutions owns, a leading producer of wood return air filter grilles and wood return air vents.

30 Slot Mailbox Organizer

First graders can sometimes be hard on things.  My wife wanted a mailbox organizer for her student’s papers in her classroom but didn’t want one of the carboard or particleboard ones that only last a year or two.  So, of course, she talked me into building one.  I built this mostly with plywood and a lot of reinforcement so it would not sag and hopefully hold up to a small swarm of 6 year olds.

The design utilizes lumber I had around the shop.  My table saw sled was already set up for a ¼” x ¼” dado and I wanted to utilize that set up which is limited by the depth of the sled.  That is why I went with the 3 piece back.  (see fig. 1)  It may be beneficial to others to modify the design to a one piece back.  I also had to work with a height limit of 2 feet in order to fit under some other existing cabinets.  I set up the design with a height of 23 ¾”, a cabinet width of 36” and depth of 11 ¼”.  I cut the top to have a finished overhang of ¾” on the front and sides.  (see fig. 2)

The casework is all plywood with ¼” thick edge strips cut from ¾” stock to finish the edges of the ¾” plywood. (fig. 3)   On the ¼” shelves I used a 7/16” strip of birch with a ¼” relief rabbit cut into it with a router as a stiffener.  (fig. 4)   This will not only add strength to prevent sagging, but, will finish the front edge of the individual shelves.  The other 3 sides of the ¼” plywood are captured in dados so there should never be any sagging.

The cutting dimensions for the ¾” plywood are as follows:

  • 1 – 10 ¼” x 34 ½” x ¾” Bottom
  • 2 – 11” x 23” x ¾” Sides
  • 2 – 11” x 22 ¼” x ¾” Intermediate Vertical Supports
  • 3 – 11” x 22 ¼” x ¾” Backs
  • 1 – 11 ¾” x 37” x ¾” Top
  • 27 – 10 ½” x 11 ½” x ¼” Shelves

With all the plywood cut, and my table saw dado blade and sled set to cut dados of ¼” x ¼”, temporarily attached a ¼” x ¼” piece of square lumber planed down from some scrap 2” parallel to the dado blade. (fig. 5)   This will allow consistent and precise spacing of all the dados for the shelves.

Starting with the sides, I used the ¼” x ¼” spacer I just installed as a bump stop for the first dado at the top of the sides.  (fig. 6)   Since the top will sit directly on top of the rest of the box, this will provide consistent spacing for the shelves.  I then placed the dado over the ¼” spacer and cut the next dado.  (fig. 7)   I repeated this process until I had cut 9 dados in each side, both sides of the intermediate vertical supports and the 3 back pieces.  (fig. 8 & 9)

With all the dados cut, I needed to think about which parts needed to be finished and how to finish them.  All I planned to do was apply a few coats of polyurethane to make for a smooth, durable and cleanable surface.  I did not think it was necessary to finish the underside of each shelf since nothing would ever rest on it, but I also realized it would be extremely difficult to finish the shelves once the unit was assembled.  To overcome this, I pre-finished all the shelf surfaces that would be difficult to reach after assembly.  (fig. 10)

With limited surfaces in the ship to lay out the 8 pieces of ¾” plywood and 27 pieces of ¼” plywood that needed to be finished, I utilized some scrap plywood and cut dados into it utilizing the same method for the sides and back of the unit.  (fig. 11)   I then attached them to an empty wall space in the shop and used it as a drying rack. (fig.12)

I also made a single dado in some scrap ¾” plywood and inserted some ¼” plywood to work as a miniature saw horse to finish both sides of the intermediate vertical supports.  (fig. 13)

It is now time for assembly.  I started by taking one of the backs along with the two intermediate vertical supports and fitting them together with one of the top shelves.  (fig. 14)   With glue in the dados for strength, I shot 5/8” 18-gauge nails through the bottom of the ¼” plywood shelf into the ¾” intermediate vertical supports and the back at approximately a 30° angle.   I also shot 1 ½” 18-gauge nails through the intermediate supports into the back piece.

I then installed either side with the top shelf in the same way angling the nail gun slightly to shoot through the intermediate vertical supports into the backs on either side of the assembled center section.  (figs. 15 & 16)

With all 3 sections pinned together, it is just a matter of working your way up shelf by shelf.  Each shelf is inserted into the slots and secured with glue and 5/8” 18-gauge nails.  (figs. 17, 18 & 19)

I installed the bottom with glue and 1 ½” 18-gauge nails.  (fig. 20)   I then went over the intersections of the joints with a sander to level out any imperfections.  (fig. 21)   The top is then secured with glue and 1 ½” 18-gauge nails.  (fig. 22 & 23.)

To apply the trim, I started by gluing and nailing the ¼” edge strips to the 2 intermediate vertical supports.  (fig. 24 & 25)   For the cleanest look, I left the strips long and cut them off with a flush cut saw after they were secured.  (fig. 26)

The stiffeners were then cut to fit between the edge trim on the center section.  They were secured into place with glue and ½” 23-gauge pin nails shot in at opposing angles.  (fig. 27 & 28)   The stiffeners were then installed on the two flanking sections.  This is done before the edge trim because, unlike the center section, the trim can be easily sanded flush to the side for a very tight and clean fit.

With all 27 of the stiffeners installed, the edge trim is installed on the 2 sides, across the bottom and the top is wrapped with mitered cuts at the corners.  I used wood filler to touch up the nail holes and fill in any hairline cracks at the joints.  After it dried the entire unit was sanded smooth.  (fig. 29)   A few coats of polyurethane complete the project. (fig. 30)



Rod Gunter is the Executive Director at Gunter Building Solutions and has over 20 years of experience in the homebuilding and cabinetry industries.  Rod has been responsible for building over 200 homes above the $500,000 price point.  Rod has trained large groups including all the major home centers on selling skills, construction techniques and sustainable natural wood products.  Rod resides with his family in Holly Springs, North Carolina.  Gunter Building Solutions owns which produces wood return air filter grilles and wood return air vents.

Portable RC Track

Main Photo 2

Two Christmases ago the three kids in the family (my son, my daughter and me) all got good quality off road radio control cars.  By good quality, I mean RC cars that were ordered complete from a retailer that specializes in RC cars, can be repaired with readily available parts if something breaks, and are capable of better speed and performance than the RC cars your typically find at the local toy store or department store.  It seems necessary to explain my definition because there are a number of RC car enthusiasts who are quite passionate about building and racing some extremely impressive vehicles.  I have nothing but respect and admiration for those people, however, I am just a dad having some fun with my kids and though I would share an idea.

We had played around with raking leaves out of the way in the wood behind the house to form a track and with setting up obstacles in the yard to drive around and had fun with all of that.  I decided that it would be worthwhile to come up with a track system with the following specifications:

  1. It needed to be able to be set up in our yard and removed at the end of the day or at least in time for me to cut the grass.
  2. I wanted it to be portable to take to a friend’s house or grandma’s house and be set up there.
  3. It needed to be fun to set up, take down and play with.
  4. I needed it to fit on the shelf in our store room that the RC cars were on which restricted me to 33” width, 8” height and 21” depth. About the equivalent to an average suitcase.
  5. It needed to be light so it could easily be moved.
  6. The track had to stay in place so it would not become a mess every time someone missed a turn.

The kids have had a blast with this system and it was pretty cheap to build.  The main ingredients are pipe insulation sleeves, a roll of high visibility duct tape and a box of nails.  I had most of the lumber lying around, but it was all common cheap lumber.


There are really 2 projects here.  One is the track system.  The other is the wood storage box that doubles as a ramp.  The box could easily be replaced with a plastic storage container and the lid could probably be used as the ramp.  The dimensions of the box and track pieces are built to fit on a specific shelf in my house and could vary to suit your own needs.   Here is how I did it.

I built the box first.  I wanted it to store the track, but also to double as a ramp when the track was in use.  I started by cutting the sides.  I used a 1×8 and cut 2 pieces to a length of 19 ¼”.  I then measured and marked one end at ¾”.  The other end I measured and marked halfway at 3 5/8”.    Using a straight edge, I connected the 2 marks to give me my cut line. (Fig 1)

Fig 1

Using small finish nails, I attached both sides together so the cut would be precisely the same.  A portable circular saw or even a hand saw would be adequate for this project.  For convenience, I used my table saw and cut both sides at once along the line I had made.  (Fig 2)

Fig 2

I used a piece of 1×2 stock and a ½” square dowel to create the approach lip to the ramp.  The leading edge was beveled with a hand plane.  I just eyed this until it looked about right.  Depending on the scale of your RC car, you may want more or less bevel for the wheels to bump over to get onto the ramp.  On the opposite side of the 1×2 stock, I attached the ½” square dowel to provide a mounting surface for the thin plywood that will make up the top and bottom.  (Fig. 3)

Fig 3

Using a leftover piece of ½” plywood, I cut the 2 back sides to a dimension of 3 5/8” x 33”.  The thicker plywood is used here to support the hinges.  The rest of the parts are cut from ¼” plywood.  The top is 19 ¼” x 33”.  The bottom is 20 ½” x 33” and the front is 6 ¾” x 33.  (Fig. 4)

Fig 4

Using staples and wood glue I assembled the bottom first.  Nails or screws will work just as well, but I certainly recommend using wood glue at all the joints.  (Fig 5)

Fig 5

Where the 2 pieces of ¼” plywood meet, there needs to be some additional support to nail or screw into.  I used a ripped piece of stock lumber leftover from another project, (Fig. 6), but you could use another piece of ½” square dowel or any number of metal or plastic joint connectors (Fig. 7)

After assembling the top (Fig. 8), the 2 halves were joined by a pair of 1 ½” hinges.  (Fig. 9)  There is no magic to the hinge size, I just had these in the shop.

To keep the lid closed, I mortised a magnet into the bottom of the approach (Fig. 10).  Depending on how you intend to use the box or how it may travel, you may consider using a more secure closure such as a hasp, but this works for my purposes.  I also cut in a pair of handle holes. (Fig. 11)

The box is now complete (Fig. 12).  It opens to hold the track (Fig. 13) and flips over when open to double as a ramp (Fig. 14)

Now onto part 2 of the project, the track.  I used the ½” black foam pipe insulation found at most home improvement centers.  It is cheap and has an outside diameter of about an inch and a half.  I found it in 3’ and 6’ lengths with an average price around $1.15 per 6’.  I purchased 108’ (18 pieces) which could yield up to 216’ of track.  Since I restricted my length to 31” to fit on my shelf, I produced 186’ of track (72 pieces).  There is a lot of repetitive tasks involved in making the track, but they are easy and go by quickly.

I first placed a piece of masking tape 31” from the edge of my bench so I could cut my lengths quickly.  I then proceeded to cut all of the 6’ pieces down to 31” by inserting a sharp utility knife and rotating the foam insulation.  (Fig. 15)

Fig 15

I then placed a piece of masking tape on the bench 3” and 10 ½” from either end of the 31” foam insulation lengths.  There is nothing magical about those measurements other than they are nearly evenly spaced and the tape on the bench helps provide consistency.  I then wrapped the foam insulation with a piece of orange reflective duct tape.  I used Gorilla tape because I have had good experience with it on other projects, but any bright colored duct tape should work just fine.  (Fig. 16)

Fig 16

Each piece of foam insulation is slit along the length about 80%.  Using that existing slit, I cut the rest of the way through one side with a utility knife, also cutting the reflective tape that was just applied.   (Fig. 17)

fig 17

In order to split the foam insulation completely in half with a clean straight cut, I first clamped a straight edge to the side of my bench. (Fig. 18)  Then with a sharp utility knife, I cut along the length of the foam insulation utilizing the straight edge as a guide. (Fig. 19)

Now that I have a whole lot of light track pieces, the problem is that they will need to be secured so they don’t blow away in the breeze or scatter every time one of the cars misses a turn.  My solution was to pin them down like you stake down a tent.  With 72 pieces of track, I figured would need at least 150 stakes.  With that many, the cost effective solution is to use nails, but that creates 3 major problems that need to be solved.  Nails are sharp.  Nails can be hard to see.  Typical nail heads will pull through the foam over time or if enough pressure is applied.

To resolve the nail head and visibility problem, I bought a box of button cap nails.  These have an orange plastic disk at below the nail head to distribute the force of the nail over a larger area on materials where the head can easily pull through.  (Fig. 20)  This makes them ideal for my purposes except for the fact that since their primary application is roofing and siding, they are too short.  So I purchased a second box of 3 ½” common nails and took the plastic caps off the small nails and put them on the larger ones.  (Fig. 21)

The large nails are now easy to spot if dropped in the grass and won’t pull through the foam.  To take care of the point, I simply cut it off with a bench grinder so they are blunt like tent stakes.   (Fig. 22 & 23) A handheld angle grinder, Dremel tool, file or hack saw would also easily do this job.  It is a repetitive and tedious task, but in reality it only took about an hour.

Two last touches finished the project.  I left a few of the foam insulation sections without the reflective tape to use as a mogul section for the cars to bounce over.  I also cut some of those marking flags down to about 10” so they could be inserted through the foam and into the ground an any location the kids thought it made sense.  (Fig. 24)

Fig 24

I put everything in the box and the project is complete.  (Fig. 25 & 26)  The kids have fun setting up the track in different configurations and pounding in the spikes.  The ramp is usually the favorite attraction and we are looking forward to trying out some different locations.


Rod Gunter is the Executive Director at Gunter Building Solutions and has over 20 years of experience in the homebuilding and cabinetry industries.  Rod has been responsible for building over 200 homes above the $500,000 price point.  Rod has trained large groups including all the major home centers on selling skills, construction techniques and sustainable natural wood products.  Rod resides with his family in Holly Springs, North Carolina.  Gunter Building Solutions owns, a leading producer of wood return air filter grilles and wood return air vents.


Improved Drill Centering Jig

After extended use of the original drill centering jig, we discovered a number of opportunities for improvement and identified some of the weaknesses that developed over long term use.  To be fair, the original jig ended up getting a lot more use than was originally expected and held up well all things considered.  One of the first things that became apparent was that a stationary jig mounted to the drill press table would be more effective.  After drilling hole after hole with a portable jig, it was easy to allow it to tilt slightly which forced the hole off center.  Another issue was that the square tubing in the original jig provided a large surface area with which to clamp the board, but it also trapped wood chips from the drill occasionally throwing the hole off center.  Eventually, the hole in the guide bar enlarged due to the friction from the drill bit, which was expected, but could be eliminated in a stationary design.


The new jig has now had nearly as much run time as the original and aside from the occasional recalibrating to center, has no major drawbacks or replacement items.  The addition of a dust collection hood was a major improvement from a convenience standpoint, but is not necessary.  For what it is intended to do, which is consistently bore a specific diameter hole in the center of a board over and over, the jig has performed exceptionally well.  As an added bonus, the jig is not limited to one size drill bit.

To ensure the jig does not flex, I first cut two 3/4” steel box tubes and two 1” steel u-channels to a length of 8”.  The u-channel will serve as the clamping surface against the wood creating minimal opportunity to trap wood chips while remaining rigid.  I also cut two 3 1/2″” lengths of 3/4” square tubing to serve as the parallel rotating members.  (fig. 1 & 2)

fig 1 fig 2

The next step was to bore three holes in the two 3 1/2″” pieces of steel square tubing.  One hole is centered and drilled at a ¼” diameter. (fig. 3) The other two are located 1” from either end and drilled at a 5/16” diameter.  In order to ensure the holes would match, I stacked them and drilled both pieces of box steel at the same time.  To ensure alignment, I drilled the center hole first and then ran a ¼” bolt through both pieces before re-clamping to bore the side holes.  (fig. 4 & 5)

fig 3

fig 4 fig 5

I then drilled 5’16” holes 1” from either end of the 8” steel tubing.  Again, drilling through both pieces, once the first hole was drilled, I dropped in a 5/16” carriage bolt to ensure alignment. (fig 6 & 7)

fig 6 fig 7

One side of each of center holes in the 3 1/2” pieces of the square tubing needed to be enlarged enough to accept a ¼” socket.  The bolt cannot extend above the surface of the square tubing because the wood will be riding on top of it.  Therefore I opened the hole up on one side with a 3/8” drill bit and then widened the hole a little more with a small grinder. (fig. 8, 9, 10 & 11)

fig 8 fig 9

fig 10 fig 11

On the opposite face of the 3 1/2” piece of steel box tubing, the two 5/16” need to be squared to in order to lock a carriage bolt.  I in the absence of a hole broach, I used a small file to square off the holes. (fig 12 & 13)

fig 12 fig 13

The u-channel needs to be drilled with some small holes to mount to the perpendicular face of the 8” square tubing.  The holes need to be offset so the bottom surface where the clamping structure will rotate is flat.  (fig. 14)  Once the holes were drilled in the u-channel, I lined up the u-channel with the box channel and drilled through the box channel using the holes as a template.  (fig. 15)

fig 14 fig 15

It is time to assemble the clamping unit.  Using 1/8” bolts, I attached the u-channel to the 8” box channel. (fig. 16)  I then used 5/8 x 2” carriage bolts to attach the two pair of box channels ensuring that the expanded holes are facing up.  (fig. 17)

fig 16 fig 17

It is now time to build the mounting base.  I used a piece of 5/4 x 8 poplar which was plained to ensure flatness and cut to a length of 18”.  I drew a center line and placed the clamping assembly on the wood and drilled the 1/4” mounting holes using the assembly as a template. (fig. 18)  I used a countersink bit on the back of the wood to create a countersink for the bolts so the base would mount to the drill press securely.  (fig. 19)

fig 18 fig 19

In order to promote the longevity of the jig considering the repetitive use, I cut a light gauge piece of sheet metal to place between the clamping jig and the wood base.  With the correct number of wide flange washers on the mounting screws, the heads of the carriage bolts can ride on the sheet metal and stabilize the jig.  I also drilled 2 large holes in the base and the sheet metal to accommodate two large bolts mounting the base to the drill press. (fig. 20 & 21)

fig 20 fig 21

After utilizing ¼” x 1.25” bugle head bolts to attach the clamping assembly to the base, I installed some plastic thumb blocks to make the clamping easier.  I also installed some rests on either side of the base to reduce the tendency of material to tilt out of the jig.  (fig. 22)

fig 22

It is now time to set the depth of the hole and calibrate the jig to center.  This requires patience and I suggest re-calibrating the jig every few hundred holes, but it is well worth it.  The jig is quick an accurate if you have to repeatedly drill holes dead center in stick lumber.


One final addition was to use a piece of 1/2″ square steel tubing cut to a length of 13″ to add a handle to the right side cross member.  This allows for smooth and easy operations.  I drilled a hole in the end and wrapped paracord around the steel for a grip.

Hole Centering Jig Handle Modification by WoodAirGrille.jpg


Rod Gunter is General Manager at Gunter Building Solutions and has over 20 years of experience in the homebuilding and cabinetry industries.  Rod has been responsible for building over 200 homes above the $500,000 price point.  Rod has trained large groups including all the major home centers on selling skills, construction techniques and sustainable natural wood products.  Rod resides with his family in Holly Springs, North Carolina.  Gunter Building Solutions owns, a leading manufacturer of wood return air filter grilles and wood return air vents.