Excerpts from the Time/Life Amateur Handyman Series: 50 Craft Projects for Beginners

August 28, 2009

As part of an on-going series, we present an excerpt from Time/Life Books’ latest entry into the “Amateur Handyman” series, 50 Small Projects for Novice Handymen, a book dealing with entry-level carpentry and some other handyman basics. This volume in particular is intended to be a “quick start” guide, allowing novices to ease into woodworking and small repair jobs.

Note: due to recent changes in some federal statutes concerning protected woodlands, a large portion of the beginning instructions have been written with the help of several national lumber boards and input from various Congressional subcommittees.

Previous excerpts include:
Settling Homeowner Disputes
Holy Fuck! Water’s Not Working!: The Amateur’s Guide to Household Wiring

Your new spice rack will hold all your favorite flavorings, like Ground Bunny and Extract of Cherub

Your new spice rack will hold all your favorite flavorings, like Ground Bunny and Extract of Cherub

Project #1 – Spice Rack

Items needed:

  • 6 boards – 1/2′ x 3″ x 48″
  • Table saw
  • 3/4″ Nails
  • Wood Glue
  • Hammer
  • Sandpaper
  • Paint (optional)
  • Skill (optional)

Making a spice rack for your kitchen is one of those simple projects that anyone can do in one afternoon. In addition to the satisfaction of making something with your own hands, the spice rack will prove to be useful for the years to come.

Step 1 – Choosing Your Wood
Like most quick projects in this book, your first task will be to select the wood you would like to work with. There are a lot of variables to consider when attempting a project: tensile strength, grain, aesthetic qualities, durability, table saw blade rpm and texture.

While most woods are suitable for a spice rack, some consideration must be taken to choose the right wood for the task. When breaking down the elements involved, remember to consider each of the following: indoor/outdoor use, paint/varnish, heat/humidity, and tensile strength.

For most novices, the simplest place to start is with tensile strength. Most woods are rated on a tensile strength scale. This will allow you to gauge the “spring back” of the wood when subjected to stress or weight. Most standardized lumber mills will include a chart as put together by the National American Lumber Mills Standardization Board (NALMSB). (See also: Appendices A11 and R13.) Many popular woods such as ash or maple with fall within the ranges of A20-A40, which covers medium use woods with average “springback.”

Keep in mind that this chart will help you narrow down domestic deciduous trees only. A separate chart is maintained for domestic evergreens, which runs on a scale from L100 (softest) to M4 (hardest). This can be cross-referenced with domestic deciduous through a series of tensile calculations. A chart of some commonly used tensile calculations is included (Appendix D12). You can look at these appendices at your leisure, as we would like to keep things at a “novice” level for the time being.

In order to choose the wood best suited for this easy and fun project, begin with your table saw. The manufacturer’s die-grinding radius and maximum rpms should be listed in the product packaging or on the saw blade itself. Bear in mind that the maximum rpms will be limited to the saw’s capacity, which will be listed in the saw’s packaging or instructions. The rpm value and grind radius, when combined with the optimal tensile strength, will limit the amount of splintering or other damage to the grain, as well as to your limbs, eyes and future children, in case of a mismatch.

In order to keep this simple, we have devised (in association with NALMSB and Table and Hand Saw Manufacturers of America [THSMA]) a short equation to allow you to find your optimal tensile strength.

(TS [tensile strength] = Base RPM / Total RPM + Length of Cut + Die Radius * .3387)

This equation makes choosing domestic wood with the proper tensile strength a breeze. (Note: if you wish to use a more exotic wood, like mahogany, you will need to cross-reference the American tensile chart with the European tensile chart [Appendix LL166]. Keep in mind that the metric system will come into play here, meaning your cut lengths will fluctuate according to the exchange rate. For simplicity’s sake, in this example we will deal with American wood only.)

Once you have matched the tensile strength to the saw specifications, you can begin to choose your wood from those matching the 4-digit tensile number (tn) as recommended by the NALMSB. This should narrow you down to 15-20 possible matches in Domestic Deciduous.

Should you decide to go with an Evergreen, you will need to also consider heat and humidity of the area of installation. Evergreen trees will be graded, in addition to tensile strength, on water retention (Appendix R11A-1.12) and grain pattern (Appendices A44-B22[a]).

This handy chart will allow you to check the hardness of your wood.  *cough*

This handy chart will allow you to check the hardness of your wood. *cough*

Your best bet is to consider your kitchen as an altered Temperate Zone (tz). Match the TZ of your area of the country with the TZ on the next closest southwest TZ on the chart. In simpler terms, this approximates the closest indoor range value by decreasing humidity values and normalizing temperature fluctuations on a sliding scale based on published statistics and average altitude. A small amount of alchemy and other black arts also comes into play.

Most pine will match 70% of the accepted Temperate Zones. A few will allow universal installation but these are generally expensive and hard to find. You may also find that the Water Retention level will decay the originally stated Tensile Strength, thus causing a mismatch in the final project.

Another way to make some quick work of this task is to use our handy tools, just type this web address into your browser window:


Or search Google with this string:


(Note: please type this in exactly as written. A slight error in any “##%#” value could cause some anomalies in your browser software, including an unbreakable recursive loop.)

To use our tool to determine the right wood, follow these quick steps (pulldown menus listed in bold, fields requiring entries are in italics, other required information not included):

  1. Select project number.
  2. Select tools.
  3. Select table saw.
  4. Select table saw manufacturer.
  5. Select blade size.
  6. Select blade manufacturer.
  7. Select blade grind radius.
  8. Select blade rpm.
  9. Select base rpm.
  10. Select saw rpm.
  11. Select Indoor or Outdoor.
  12. Select Temperate Zone.
  13. Select nearest adjacent Temperate Zone.
  14. Click Calculate.
  15. Roll saving throw (2d12).
  16. Take result and paste into “value#?=” field.

Now that we have our Tensile Strength value, we’ll move onto selecting from the recommended wood range.

  1. Click Wood Tensile Chart.
  2. Select Domestic or Import.
  3. Select Deciduous or Evergreen.
  4. (If deciduous) Select Fall Colors.
  5. Select Brown/Orange/Breathtaking.
  6. Select Cider or Cocoa.
  7. Enter cut length.
  8. Enter base rpm * .0334.
  9. Enter 110V or 220V.
  10. Click Calculate.
  11. Take these two values and add together.
  12. Enter this number into the “value#2?=” field.

Now that our matching wood has been selected, it’s time to purchase it:

  1. Select lumber manufacturer.
  2. Select nearest vendor within 100 miles.
  3. Select Ship or Pick Up.
  4. Click Show TS Value and Estimate

Congratulations! You’re done. Your answer will arrive by email within 2-4 business days.

Coming up: Step 2 – Choosing the Right Nail for the Job (25 Do’s and 500 Don’ts)



  1. Thank-you CLT.

    I now have something to keep me occupied for the next month or so. Then, once I finish typing the string that you so generously provided into my browser window, I can move on to the actual “making” part of my new spice rack.

    I have to be honest, though. I’m one of those novices who doesn’t know where my maple ends and my ash begins. Thank Gosh (work voice) I’ve found a book that has helped me differentiate.

    And in the spirit of spice-racking, I’m forwarding you the link so that you can help your loyal readers be the best racketeers (?) they can be.

    (Trust me, this guy knows his wood. It’s what he does)

    Great post once again,CLT. I will now add Carpenter (or is it Whittler?) to your already colossal list of talents.

    • Yes. A month is recommended to get the wood basics down before moving onto advanced subjects like painting said wood and watching said paint dry on said wood.

      All of us accomplished whittlers love to spread our knowledge of tensile strength, etc. It’s what makes us America’s beloved institution. That, and our threats to “cut a bitch” with our whittlin’ knives. But we are craftsmen, not gentlemen. Make no mistake.

      Thanks very much for the wood pic. That man does know his wood. I wonder how much a carpenter’s loupe goes for… or if such a thing exists. He is a little unstable. He suggested an engagement ring make out of teak and particle board. I said, “You’re full of shit.” He replied, staring at me with his un-louped eye, “Does this look like a man who’s full of shit? I mean this, the loupe and my professional air.”

      At that point I cut my losses and purchased some cedar with the intention of making my own ring later.

      Thanks for the compliments, comments and for actually reading the damn thing all the way thru.

  2. It was good you mentioned tensile strength. But you forgot to show the short equation that allows us to find our optimal tensile strength !!!!

    Oh.. Wait. You wrote it down. Thank God. That bastard. But my issues with God are mine, not yours.

    I found you by searching spice racks. You show up at the top. Okay, I’m lying… I Googled “Fucking spice racks!!!!!”

    Fucking spice racks… I made one last week. I sat in my basement drinking scotch and I made a spice-rack out of old trophies I had won in high school. Now my memories hold the paprika. Which is a horrible thing to rub into your eye. Don’t do it. I did. It hurt like a bastard. Like God. Anyway, that’s my issue. Not yours. Nope. All mine.

    I got fired today. My boss called me into the office and said, “Ah, Shaky Pete, I have a question for you. How would you like a raise? Say a hundred thousand a year and all the perks you can eat?”

    I told him that would be great.

    He told me “Well you’ll never get it here. Pack up and get out. You’re fired.”

    The bastard. But he’s my problem. Not yours. I’ll deal with him. Yeah, he’ll get his.

    Anyway, I’m going to a bar. I drink too much. At least that’s what my wife says. Or said. She left me. What a bitch. But that’s my issue. I have to deal with it. Unless you have any thoughts? Do you think she’s a bitch? Do you think she should have left me?

    Sorry. I’m putting you on the spot. Your blog about making spice racks was helpful. It’s good you mentioned tensile strength. That’s very important. I may get a hooker. I get so lonely. I think it should be legalized. Don’t you? Sorry, that’s none of your concern. Is it?

    Gotta go.

    • Shaky –

      I have only one suggestion: don’t let the epileptic run the table saw. No good can come of it, no matter how many equations and cross-referenced appendices are involved.

      I am sorry to hear about your problems with the big man himself, Orson Welles. Always a bit of stickler and somewhat of a bastard, especially in his later years.

      I see you are having some trouble with God as well. Perhaps your former boss could assist you with this. It’s the least he could do after his bait-and-switch offer.

      Another tip: spice racks are way less dangerous without the spices in it. To counteract the pain of an eyeful of paprika, run the table saw in a left-to-right motion over your forearm. Granted, this just relocates the pain and you won’t be able to see well enough to stop the bleeding, but that’s really nobody’s problem but the first responders.

      To answer your questions:
      1. Yes I have thoughts. Some malicious and others that are not so entertaining.
      2. Yes. I mean originally I didn’t, but after sleeping with her for the past 8 months, I think her true colors are showing (mainly purple and bitch, just like the Minnesota Vikings).
      3. I think she should have left you a long time ago, but as we discussed, she is a bitch. I think she just wanted to string you along and dropped you as soon as you were unemployed. In light of my recent issues with her, I would wholeheartedly recommend that she run back into your arms, or another male in close proximity. Possibly your boss. Or god.

      Thanks, Shaky Peter. Can I call you Peter? I’d like to because it makes me giggle childishly. Hope to see you around soon.

    • Thanks for saying you hope to see me around soon.

      Here I am. We’re best friends now, right?

      My landlord just told me I’m getting evicted. By the way, where do you live? Can I get there by cab?

      Sure, you can call me Peter. Any chance I can move in with you? I’m happy to sleep on your couch. Or if that makes you uncomfortable, you can sleep on your couch and I’ll sleep in your bed. I don’t know what the guest protocol is where you live. Where do live again?

      So… I went to a bar. Then I came home. I ordered a hooker. I said “If you’re not here in under 30 minutes it’s free, right?” She hung up on me. Her name was Sahara. Which seems like a good and exotic name for a hooker… Large, dry, and uninviting. Maybe it’s best she didn’t show up. What do you think?

      By the way, you don’t have to answer all my questions. Why is that?

      Oh, but I do need to know where you live – roomy.

      This Orson Welles… I know him. He’s a champion 5 pin bowler, right?

      Big time thanks for the epileptic suggestion. Was sorry to hear I’m a cuckold. What a word, huh? And what’s up with the spelling? Shouldn’t there be two “o” s and no “u”?

      Hope you wore a condom. If not, you might want to get yourself checked out. I’ve got a nasty case of the jim jams. It’s itchy with twinges of spasmodic hab dabs. That may sound weird but once it happens… You’ll see.

      Anyway, since you’ve been sleeping with her too, I think the least you can do is let me move in indefinitely.

      I have some good ideas on getting even with that bastard… My boss. And God. I’ll tell you about them when I get there. I think one of us should be a suicide bomber. Since it was my idea…

  3. Shaky –

    Well, things are certainly moving fast here. It must be the coriolis effect. Other times they move too slow, but that’s only when I approach the speed of light.

    I’m sorry to hear about your recent eviction. I would invite you to stay here, but it’s awfully crowded already, what with your soon to be ex-wife and your jim jams/hab dabs already crowding the bed.

    The guest protocol in these situations (according to Miss CF Manners) is the guest sleeps in the hall closet and the host sleeps with the guest’s wife. I swear to God (that bastard). I’m reading it right off the discredited book jacket. (The book itself is fine, but the jacket contains falsified blurbs from such dubious publications as “Tome Magazine” and “Rhythmic Gymnast Weekly.”)

    As for your hooker problems, I would say speak to her pimp and a physician, preferably in that order. Speak loudly and slowly to the pimp and speak disjointedly and disteethedly to the good doctor.

    Orson Welles played defensive end for the Dallas Texans, back in the old AFL. He was a hell of a player. Some say head-stomping Albert Haynesworth bears a remarkable resemblence. Other than not being white.

    No one uses ‘cuckold’ anymore. It went the way of ‘prithee’ and ‘fuck me gently with a chainsaw.”

    I like your suicide bomber suggestion. Perhaps we need more recruits as I fancy myself more of a thinking-than-doing sort of guy. I also fancy myself alive. I also fancy myself.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment. I’m sorry I didn’t get to all of your questions, especially the moving-in ones, but rest assured they have been passed on to my legal team and local law enforcement.

    • Thanks, new best friend, aka: roomy.

      No fears on the moving-in questions. I’ve done a little digging. I know all I need to know. I’ll book a flight. See you soon.

      Oh, and I just purchased hookers for your legal team and local law enforcement. So, they’re on my side now. Funny how identity theft works, huh? Hope you don’t mind, but I charged the hookers to your Visa account. And used it to book my flight.

      I think you are more a thinking guy. We can find another suicide bomber. There’s always a whiny teen to be found at the Puppy Mill… “What’s that kid, you wish you were dead? Well this is your lucky day.”

      I use cuckold. You saying I’m a no one? Hmm, well you are sleeping with my ex-wife. Well played.

      I’m pretty sure Orson Welles was a tuba player for Kronos Quartet. He wrote the ditty “Cat O’ Nine Tails (Tex Avery Directs The Marquis De Sade)” on their Short Stories CD. Or, no, maybe he was a fat one armed mime who spoke in half sentences during his performances to compensate for his physical deficiencies. I’m not sure. I’m a bit confused. But that’s my dilemma, not yours.

      Re. my hooker problems. Maybe I’ll try going backwards (like the poet said). What the heck, when it comes to these comments, I’m going backward and reading up. Literally.

      Fascinating protocol tidbit: Where I’m from we call the hall closet – the master bedroom. So, thanks. And call me Master.

      Thanks also for the sympathy on my eviction. My landlord is a bastard. But he’s my problem. Not yours. Not yet, anyway.

      Finally. The coriolis effect is just like the jim jams only with a hab dab edge.

      By the way, I should feel sorry about stealing your credit card information. Oh, and glad you enjoyed my wife. I think everyone is a winner here. But remember… You need to get to a clinic on Monday.

      See you tomorrow night.

    • You make several good points, Shaky, no doubt purchased with purloined credit cards from the finest point shops (and shoppes) in town, not the least of which is: this comment thread formatting is not very conducive to the back-and-forth (ask your ex-wife, although she doesn’t complain about the up-and-down).

      I don’t know where you come from, but around here we call the hall closet – the neighbor’s sauna. I’m from upstate. I’m guessing you’re not from around here. Around here we make up the rules as we go along. Many of our city statutes are simply drinking games with more subparagraphs.

      I will hie myself to clinic (to coin an outdated phrase). Perhaps the good doctor Morgan (I like to call him Captain; he likes to call the police) will see me on short notice. Meaning of course, with limited lead time, unlike what you may have heard from the hookers and your ex-wife.

      I will keep my head down and eyes peeled in hopes of dodging further coriolis effects and cuckolding. If you see Orson Welles, tell him CLT says “You owe me $50, bastard.” Dig him up if you have to.

      Good night, Shaky. And don’t touch anything in the closet/bedroom. It’s all rented.


      Thank you for replying. I am currently on a private jet and on my to your place of residence.

      I look forward to spending time in your master bedroom with adjoining sauna. Please feel free to purchase a hooker on my credit card.

      Until then I remain coined to outdated phraseology and the study of phrenology.

      Someone has to.

  4. Isn’t this why we pay the kids in China to make spice racks?
    We make things far too complicated what with our “safety standards,” ” child labor laws,” and “minimum wage”.
    Also woodworking can be very relaxing, I hear. I bet those kids live happier and more fulfilling lives.

    • We’re paying the kids in China? When did that start? I thought we were just paying “the people” of China in one lump sum check to be distributed to “the people” in the form of better tanks and tear gas launchers.

      But we have slipped here in the US. The labor unions took all the jobs away from able-bodied children and foreigners and handed them to “the man.” Not the same “the man” that employs them, but another well-paid and corrupt “the man” who is the employee of “the man.”

      Frankly, I could use some help with the house payment. My wife and I work, but I’ve got three freeloaders who could easily hammer together a spice rack or two in their spare time. (Approximately 90% of their time is spare time; the other 10% is spent listening to me tell them to “go to sleep” at various volume levels.)

      I’m writing my Congressman. Using their crayons.

  5. Does wood grow on trees, or is it a vegetable?
    signed: curious in cognito.

    • Dear Curious:

      Wood is neither a tree nor a vegetable. The fruit that grows on trees is classified as vegetable. Wood is a lab-grown project of Amalgamated Construction Products, Inc.

  6. This is the CLT I love… I was sad to find out that wood glue does not have the same effect as airplane glue. However, I was able to waste the afternoon all the same and finish mother’s spice rack in time for Father’s Day.

    • Sorry about the glue thing. There’s lots about carpentry that I don’t know about. This time it was about 1200 words of stuff I don’t know about.

      It seems appropriate that your mom receive this on Father’s Day, as you always knew who she was, but were never sure which one was Dad. Your mom being the hooker she was…

      Great to see you, RR.

  7. Professor,
    I couldn’t get the linkies to work for me so I am unable to complete (or start) my spice rack, therefore, my spices are taking over my kitchen demanding their own space.

    The condiments are scared.

    • Claire-

      If the spices are on the move and making demands, quickly gather the children and head to the basement (or nothernmost corner of the house). Most kitchen spices will resort to violence in a heartbeat. Pepper sprays, mace um… maces, allspice organizes labor, and garlic salt once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.

      Take your condiments with you. They deserve better than this, perhaps a sandwich or as a side dish, but should never be allowed outside of the fridge on their own.

  8. When cousins marry…

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