I got an email from the “classroom mom” a few days prior to Christmas break reminding me to donate money for teacher gifts and it occurred to me…what are these talents for if not for MAKING MY OWN TEACHER GIFTS?? And carving wooden toys for my perfect children, and making my own jams and jellies, and… and… And then my darling five year old walked into the room, spilled her sugary cereal and milk all over the floor and yelled, “What the crap!?” And I snapped out of my fantasy. Oh yeah…as much as Pinterest wants me to believe otherwise, THIS is my REAL life. But still, I *could* make something for the teachers, right? And maybe save some money?
[You know how those class donations go…if I give only $5 will they think I’m cheap or feel sorry for my poverty-stricken child? Or if I give $20 will I be the only sucker that does so? Or is it just me who thinks like this??]
Regardless, I press on with my homemade gift idea.
I had seen something on one of my fav websites that stuck in my head: Ana White’s tutorial on how to build a vintage soda crate
This design seemed like a great gift and easy enough to execute, though with a few tweaks, I made it even simpler and very cute!
So I give you my version of a Mason Jar Caddy.
First read Ana White’s tutorial–her instructions are fabulous! Also, here are Ana’s tips for newbies at woodworking.
So, following Ana’s instructions, I cut all the pieces I’d need. Here are the alterations I made: In order to save money, I made the crates with 1x4s, not the 1x6s as Ana uses. I thought this would actually be an advantage anyway, so the mason jars would show more glass, rather than be covered up so much. Though I did use one 1×6 in the middle, to give the look of a vintage milk-crate or vintage soda crate.
The other alteration was to create my own measurements based on the mason jars I’d bought. There are lots of different sizes of jars and I wanted it to be a custom fit.
Thus for each caddy:
(3) 1x4s @ 8.75″ [two for the sides, one for the base]
(2) 1x4s @ 7.25″ [sides]
(2) 1x3s @ 8.75″ [for base]
(1) 1×6 @ 7.25″ [for center]
(2) 1x4s @ 3.25″ [for the jar separators perpendicular to the 1×6]
***TIP***If you’re cutting more than one piece the same size, DO NOT just mark up the wood and then cut it all assembly-line style (as you would with fabric, for instance). It doesn’t seem like the saw blade would take up that much space, but trust me, you’ll end up with a stack of wood of differing sizes. The only way to ensure you make uniform cuts is to measure each piece for each individual cut, or (better) line up the piece you just cut on top of the piece you’re trying to cut and make sure the cuts match (please don’t cut off your fingers), or (best) set up a fence, i.e. a piece of wood clamped somehow so that all you have to do is line up the end of the piece you’re cutting against that fence and as long as nothing is moved, each piece will quickly be cut to the exact, correct size. Since my saw isn’t attached to my workbench, yet it’s really heavy, sometimes if I’m cutting long pieces I can just use the wall as my fence, but not for the short pieces of this project.***END OF TIP***
Anywho, once I had all my pieces cut, I sanded them just enough to get rid of any jagged pieces and then I finished all the pieces with a graywash stain (I’ll explain here in a sec). In a lot of cases, I find finishing the wood to be easier before the project is assembled. This is one of those cases. When finished, this piece will have four tight little boxes to try to get stain down into. (Yeah, I said tight little boxes. *snicker* I can’t help it! I write erotic romance! Keeping my mind in the gutter is sorta my job, folks.) So prefinishing was the way to go.
You could use any paint or stain you want, but because I wanted them to have at least a nod toward Christmasy, and I wanted them to look sorta fresh and not just rustic, and because lately I seem to be going through a graywash stain period, I graywashed them. I used the formula I found on CentsationalGirl here, except I used a medium gray latex paint that I had leftover in the garage from painting my son’s bedroom, rather than white.
I laid them all out to dry all over my garage. Since I was making six boxes, there were a ton of little pieces. I’m lazy and these boxes were supposed to be more rustic and not fine woodworking anyway, so I just wiped the stain all over each piece and then carefully laid them out to dry knowing the finish on the wet side that was face-down might get marred. Oh well. [Honestly, in the end I couldn’t see any issues. Stain is more forgiving than paint in this sense. Paint would have gotten totally effed up on that side.]
Here’s my jar of “gray whitewashing” I keep made up at all times in my garage. Are you a glass jar keeper like I am? I hate to throw glass jars away…especially since I started BUYING glass jars to organize my pantry and realized how much I was paying for the same type of glass container I was throwing out (or rather, recycling) all the time. But there are only so many random glass jars I can keep in my garage before I have to suck it up and recycle some of my collection sometimes.
Once dried, I brought them all inside for assembling, considering it was approx. negative 50 degrees in my garage and I’d already nearly lost my fingers and toes to frostbite while cutting and staining the pieces for these caddies.
I need me a basement workshop! Or a garage heater. Either one.
Here marked a milestone in my woodworking career. For the first time ever, I used our nailgun ALL BY MYSELF! And it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. (That’s what she said.)
Though it doesn’t seem obvious from these pictures, I tried to keep my pieces in piles I understood.
I have…or I should say HAD…two different corner clamps. I highly recommend corner clamps! It seems like I’m always having to build squares of some sort, and a clamp is an easy way of getting those corners square. Also, the clamp removes your fingers from the equation so you don’t nailgun your finger. [Note, you could put these together with old-fashioned nails or screws as well. Just drill pilot holes if you use screws. Your screws will go in easier and won’t split the wood. Check out how to screw like a pro! LOL, don’t worry, folks! It’s a link to PlanIt DIY, nothing triple x.] 🙂
I had a heavy Irwin corner clamp, (you can see it in the picture above) but the first time I used it, it was awkward. I think the reason I didn’t like it at first was because I thought I could just shove two pieces of wood in there and crank it down and the clamp would magically create the perfect square corner, but that’s not the way it works. You have to carefully line up your wood pieces yourself, and use the clamp just to keep it all straight. Once I accepted that, I like the clamp much better. And after I tried another clamp, I realized how much I truly do like my heavy Irwin corner clamp. (More on that to come.)
The first time I used my heavy Irwin clamp I was really frustrated with it, so when I saw another corner clamp (which, ironically, happened to be an Irwin too) that looked like it made more sense to me, mechanically, plus was pretty cheap, I bought it. I tried it for the first time on this project. I’d read some bad reviews about this clamp, but I thought, “What the hey?” *cue the ominous music* *dun dun dun*
See? I tried my brand new clamp–the packaging was still attached to it (because I was in a huge hurry this day and didn’t want to go find scissors. I quickly realized the wood wouldn’t sit flat unless I cut the packaging off, though, so I sucked it up and found some scissors.)
At first, I thought this new clamp wasn’t bad. It was a little simpler to use than the heavy Irwin, which can be awkward, but I like the one-handed clamp mechanism on the heavy Irwin better. It took obviously twice as long to adjust the new clamp’s two individual screws. At first, the new clamp worked okay, but very soon, when I tried to tighten it, it simply snapped. The relatively thin plastic isn’t strong enough for clamping with torque. If you just need another set of “fingers” to hold something still, it would probably work fine, but if you’re trying to crank not-so-straight wood into submission, I’d recommend buying the heavy Irwin corner clamp. It’s super strong and I apologize for all the names I called it the first time I used it. (Link to the heavy Irwin corner clamp below)
The $20 Irwin clamp in the Amazon link above is the one to get. And I see there’s a black, plastic insert in that clamp…I wonder where my plastic insert went? I remember setting it aside because I didn’t know how to use it. I bet it would help.
Hey Irwin! Send me out a hunk who can teach me how to use this clamp correctly! Or even an OTG (old tool guy). I love OTG’s.
Okay, however you line it all up, and however you attach it together, make a box. The short sides are the ones “sandwiched” between the lengths of the long sides. Please study the final box pictures if you don’t understand what I mean. The cut ends of the short sides will not be visible, because they’ll be sandwiched. Get it? Got it? Good.
I LOVED the nail gun. Bam bam bam, and the box was together. I could get used to this!
Decide which side of the box is the best looking and turn that side down against the ground so you can attach the base. The base in my design consists of one 1×4 down the middle and two 1x3s on each side. Three 1x4s would have been too wide and I didn’t want to make any extra cuts, so I designed the base with purposeful gaps.
Place the middle 1×4 first, then position the two 1x3s next, when it all looks good, nail it down! Make sure to line up the sides of the 1x3s with the sides of the box. I’ve made a box with base boards that didn’t line up all the way to the edge, and it looks funny. Better to have the gaps than not line up the edges.
Make sure all your nails are pounded flush. You don’t want your gift receiver to set this on her shiny granite countertop only to have it create a terrible scratch when scooted around because you had a nail sticking out! You could make this even safer by adding small, adhesive rubber or felt peel-and-stick circles to the bottom at the corners.
Next I positioned the 1×6 inside the box. I measured and marked the halfway point on each side, and eyeballed it to make sure the 1×6 was straight up and down. (A squaring tool would be helpful here, like the one I linked below. I have one of these triangles and they rock for drawing straight lines and squaring things up! Look at the user pictures on Amazon and you’ll understand why this inexpensive tool is a must have!)
Even after measuring (and before nailing) I also dropped in a couple of jars, just to make sure they fit okay. Then I nailed each side in.
Finally, I added the small separator sections and nailed them in from the sides and bottom. I also put the jars in before I nailed the side separators to make sure I had it all lined up correctly. Also, eyeball the “line” the two separators are supposed to make and make sure they actually make a straight line when looked at from a bird’s eye view. You should have a nice, neat cross in the center, made up of the 1×6 and the separators.
Most of my separators fit, but there were a couple I had to shave a little off the end to make them fit. Always better to start bigger and work your way smaller, and remember, *shave* a little off and try again. Don’t cut a 1/8th” off–you’ll end up with too big of a gap before you know it!
Finally, I cut a strip of red leather from a thrift store leather jacket, snipping the ends like I would a ribbon on a pretty package. I used my leather hole-puncher to punch a hole that was larger than the screw shank, but smaller than the screw head. I drilled pilot holes in the top of the 1×6 and then screwed the leather “handles” on.
Frankly, the leather I used is probably too thin to use as a handle without overstretching or tearing the leather, but they’re pretty! If I’d have had more time, I’d have glued two strips of the leather together to make it stronger before cutting for the handle, so you might want to consider that.
Done! These can be used to hold utensils for a casual get-together, organize kitchen utensils, pens and pencils, or as really cute flower vases. Add tea lights to the jars for an excellent candle decoration, or holly sprigs for a stunning table centerpiece!
You could personalize this further by utilizing this Drop Dead Thrifty tutorial to write something like JOY or FRIENDS or any other sentiment or design on it you might like!
And in the end, how much did my teacher gifts cost?
I just used furring strips, which can be complete crap, but if you dig through the pile enough, you can come up with some fairly nice pieces, and in projects like this where you only need short pieces, these cheap planks of wood will save you a lot of money!
I made 6 caddies (three teachers per child, yikes!):
- 24 regular-mouth 16-oz pint mason jars @ $9.99 for 12 at Target = $20
- (4) 1x4x8 premium furring strip @ $2.08 each at Lowes = $8.32
- (2) 1x3x8 premium furring strip @ $1.90 each at Lowes = $3.80
- Brass dome-head (rounded head) #8 x 5/8″ wood screws: 3 packs of 4 each, $1.24 @ Lowes = $3.72
- And I already had the nails, paint, leather and enough scraps of 1×6 to make the caddies.
GRAND TOTAL: $35.84 for 6, or $5.97 each. That’s DROP DEAD THRIFTY! Especially considering they look far more expensive than six bucks!
And these were too expensive for my purposes, but how amazing would these caddies be if you used these blue, vintage mason jars in the Amazon link below???
Merry Christmas, Drop Dead Thrifters!