Make a Beer Caddy
Beer makes a great gift. But giving beer in a handmade beer caddy isn’t just fun to give, it’s fun to make.
Giving beer to someone isn’t new. Nor is giving it in a beer caddy. The twist with this beer caddy is that on the underside there’s a spot to write your name and date, so there will be a story associated with this beer caddy as it travels from home to home. I even put my email address on the inside of the bottom panel, and I’m hoping a few people will let me know where the caddy is along its journey.
I designed this around the size of a tall boy can, but you could also adjust it for a short can or bottle.
Fast and Accurate Dovetails
Dovetails are not only strong and beautiful, but can also be cut quickly. Brown used a Leigh TD330 dovetail jig to rout the dovetails for the case.
To accept the bottom panel, the ends of this beer caddy need stopped grooves. Without them the grooves would be visible on the exterior of the case. Notice the two wood stops positioned at the start and end of the cut. The grooves on the other two case pieces don’t need to be stopped, as the ends of those grooves will be covered by the dovetails in the end workpieces.
So the lower handle half can fit over the ends of the caddy, Brown adds a notch in either end of the lower handle half. This notch is 1/4" deep and the same width as the case ends.
The lower handle half also gets two 3/8" wide notches in it to accept the dividers. These notches are 1/8" deep.
Clamp and Rout
With the two handle halves clamped together, rout a round over on both sides of the handle recess.
With the two handle halves clamped together, Brown bores a pair of 1-3/8" diameter holes in them, centered on the joint.
Trim the Excess
After marking a line tangent to both of the holes, Brown cuts the waste free, forming a recess for people to grasp.
Rather than machine small parts, Brown cuts the divider blank to length, then adds the notches, before ripping the two dividers from the blank.
Located to match the notches in the underside of the handle, these notches will accept the dividers. Notice the stop, which will make routing multiple parts fast, accurate and safe.
A Place to Write
Brown uses a pyrography pen to create a surface on the underside of the bottom for people to write their name and the date, so there will be a record of who gave this beer caddy, and when. This could also be done with pen.
Start the Assembly
Apply glue to the dovetail joints, bring the case sides and ends together, with the bottom panel inserted into the groove. Clamp it up, then add the two dividers.
Lower Handle Half
Add glue to the joints securing the lower handle half to the case, then countersink for a screw to secure the handle in place.
Upper Handle Half
Apply glue to the edge joints, then use two clamps to ensure the joint meets flush. Use a few more clamps and a pair of cauls to bring the joints together.
Pretty much everyone loves dovetails, so I thought they’d be a good joint to use to fasten the four corners together. Many other joints would have worked, too. Use whatever joint you’d like to show off to all the recipients of this caddy down the road.
I opted to use the Leigh TD330 dovetail jig to machine the dovetails in this project. Once the router is set up, and you’re familiar with the process, making dovetail joints with this jig is super simple. The only slight drawback with using this jig is that it doesn’t allow for variably spaced dovetails. That wasn’t a big problem, as I had some flexibility as to how wide to make the joints. Making the sides and ends 3/4″ lower would have made it easier to grasp the cans and remove them from the caddy, but that would have meant the dovetail spacing would have been a bit awkward. If I lowered the height of the sides and ends by more than an inch, the tops of the cans would interfere with your hand while carrying the caddy. I went with nice-looking dovetails on this project, as I’m sure any recipient of free beer is going to find a way to get the beer out, even if they have chubby fingers.
Dovetails are usually oriented so they will mechanically keep the parts together in a certain direction. For this project, there’s no real incorrect way to orient them. I opted to machine them so they’re visible on the narrow ends of the finished caddy, as opposed to the wider sides of the caddy. The only time this will be important to remember is when I discuss machining the grooves to accept the bottom. The groove in each of the ends needs to be stopped, while the groove in each side doesn’t need to be stopped, but that’s only true if you orient the dovetails as I did.
I was able to get the two ends and two sides out of one board without the need to glue anything up. I machined them to thickness and width, and machined them extra-long so I could use them to dial in the router setup to machine the dovetails. If I made a mistake, I could just trim the board down a bit.
After setting up the router for dovetailing, I cut the parts to length, marked them so they could be machined and assembled in order to best keep grain continuity, and machined the dovetails. I know a lot of woodworkers get a serious kick out of hand-cutting dovetails, but the simplicity, speed and accuracy of this jig puts a big smile on my face.
Time to groove
Because I didn’t want a groove to be visible from the outside of the case, I had to machine stopped grooves in the two ends. The router table is a great machine for this. Install a 1/4″ diameter straight bit in your router, fix it in your router table and adjust the height to 1/4″, then set up your fence to machine the grooves somewhere within one of the dovetail portions of the joint.
Now for the “stopped” portion of this joint. Using one of your end workpieces as a guide, clamp two stops to the router table. These stops will allow you to position these two workpieces at the correct point to start the groove just inside the leading edge of the workpiece, then to stop that workpiece from travelling past the trailing edge of the workpiece. Machine these two grooves, then remove the stops and machine through grooves in the other two end workpieces.
The lower handle half
The handle will be machined as two parts, then one of those parts will be glued to the case. When it’s dry, the other part of the handle will be glued to the first part of the handle. This is done to ensure the joint between the handle and the case is strong, and to make sure there are no visible fasteners to ruin the sleek look of the caddy. For the next step, make sure to take measurements from the case while it’s dry-assembled.
The lower handle half can be broken out and cut to the exact same length as the case. Though you will put it aside after it’s cut to size, it’s probably easiest to machine the upper handle half to size now, too. Dress both of these parts as closely as possible to 3/4″, as they will be need to fit into a 3/4″ wide routed groove in the dividers.
Cut a 1/4″ deep notch in the lower ends of the lower handle half so the resulting shoulder will fit snugly between the inner faces of the case ends.
To accept the dividers, cut a pair of 3/8″ wide × 1/8″ deep notches into the underside of this lower handle half. This will mainly assist with divider alignment during assembly. Although you can easily machine these notches on a table saw, you’re going to have to machine other notches that need to be the exact same width as these on the router table, so I suggest heading for your router table now.
Machine the two notches so the three gaps between these notches and the larger notches at either end of the lower handle half are all equal.
The upper handle half
With this workpiece already broken out, clamp it to the lower handle half and drill two 1-3/8″ diameter holes to form the outer ends of the handle recess. The exact size isn’t crucial, as long as a person’s hands can comfortably fit inside the recess, and the recess isn’t so large that the upper portion of the handle is too weak.
With the holes bored, unclamp the parts and remove the waste with a band saw. Clamp the parts together again, and use a small trim router to machine a small round over on both sides of the recess. You may have to adjust the location of the clamps while you rout to be able to round over the entire edge.
Finally, draw, band saw and fair the curve in either end of the upper handle half.
Notches in the sides
Cut 3/8″ notches into the inner faces of the sides. The dividers will sit in these notches, keeping them locked in place during use. The routed notches are 1/8″ deep. They need to be cut the same length as the dividers are high. Don’t worry about the rounded bottom of the notch, as we will round the two lower edges of the dividers to fit in these notches later.
Using the lower handle half to transfer the location of the two notches to the inner face of the sides, set up the router table to make this cut. I used a stop block on my mitre gauge to not only give me a stop to machine both sides identically, but also as a way of helping me keep the workpiece stationary during the operation.
One other stop, positioned so the workpiece could only travel over the blade so far, was added beyond the 3/8″ diameter router bit. This set the length of the notch.
Thin, small workpieces are hard to machine. I made a blank that would allow me to cut the dividers to length and machine a notch into them, before ripping the dividers from the blank. After dressing the blank to 3/4″ thickness, I took a measurement from the dry-assembled case, then cut the blank to that length.
The notch in the upper face of this blank will mate with the underside of the lower handle half. In theory, this notch should be 1/8″ deep, but best to check your work to make sure. Machine this notch with a mitre gauge in your router table or at your table saw.
Rip the dividers from the blank, ensuring they’re ever so slightly wider than the notches in both the sides and lower handle half. Use a hand plane to take light passes from the dividers, or sand them down until the fit is perfect. Heavily ease the two lower corners of the dividers where they meet the case sides. They need to sit into the notches so their upper faces are flush with the upper edge of the case sides.
Machine the bottom to fit into the grooves. I used a pyrography pen to add lines to the underside of the bottom so folks could write their name and date in each box as they pass it on. I laid it out in pencil first, then went over it freehand with my pyrography pen. I also added my email address to the upper face of the bottom in hopes that people would send me a note as to where the caddy was as it travelled.
Assemble the parts
As always, a dry run to ensure all the parts fit together nicely before adding glue was necessary. I lightly sanded the inner faces of the four main case pieces, the dividers and the handle halves. Working quickly, I glued the dovetail joints, assembled the four case parts and the bottom, then applied clamps to bring the joints together.
While that was drying, I installed the two dividers with a bit of glue, followed by the lower handle half, and sunk two #8 × 2″ screws to fix the lower handle half in place for good. On top of the lower handle half I glued and clamped the upper handle half, making sure to align the two halves accurately so there would be minimal sanding once the glue was dry.
An hour later I scraped excess glue away, then waited overnight until sanding the handle so it looked like one continuous piece. A block plane added a fairly heavy chamfer to all of the edges so any wear and tear would be less visible.
A durable finish
Since this was likely to see a bit of everything in its life, I used a quality polyurethane to add protection and enhance the colour and grain of the wood. A finish could be applied with a brush or rag, but I felt an aerosol spray can would be the quickest and easiest approach, and even likely give me a smoother result than the other options. I used Rustoleum’s Professional Oil-Based finish in satin. I only sprayed a bit of finish on the inside of the caddy, nearest the top of the can openings, but that was enough to bring some colour to those surfaces.
The only thing to do next was to write my name and the date on the bottom, fill the caddy with a half dozen beers,and drop it off at a friend’s house. He did a favour for me, and I owed him a thank you. I really hope I hear from its temporary owners while it bounces from home to home.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.