Easy Fill - Another Pair of Hands in the Kitchen
If you ever have to fill plastic bags for freezing or storage you're more than familiar with the problem: you're holding a pot full of stuff in one hand and trying to hold open a very flexible bag to pour the stuff in with the other hand. The thing is, it really takes two hands to hold the bag open properly and if the pot you're pouring from has any weight to it at all it really takes two hands to do the pouring as well. You need four hands. My wife does a lot of freezing and storing stuff - especially in the summer - and if I'm not around to help it often means a lovely mess in the kitchen when she tries to do this by herself. We've come across a few different gadgets designed to hold a bag while you fill it, but they all seemed to be only halfway engineered. Either they weren't particularly stable or they didn't work with a variety of bag sizes or they just didn't work very well at all.
I decided to tackle the problem one day and came up with a prototype for the Easy Fill. It worked better than anything we had ever tried, but there's always room for improvement. When our grandson needed to come up with a school project involving the demonstration of an original idea I suggested we might work together to refine the Easy Fill idea. So the resulting gizmo is a collaboration across the generations.
Some of the neat features of the Easy Fill:
It works with sandwich size, quart and gallon bags.
There are only six pieces made entirely out of wood - no glue, no screws, no nails - just wood.
It collapses completely flat for storage.
It looks nice.
It's easy to make if you have the right tools.
It really does work. Very well.
MATERIALS YOU WILL NEED:
One piece of wood 11 5/8 inches by 5 inches and 3/8 inches thick. This should be a harder wood such as oak, hard maple or cherry.
One piece of wood 15 inches by 7 1/8 inches and 3/4 inches thick. Poplar or pine would be fine.
Two pieces of wood 11 inches by 3 1/2 inches and 3/4 inches thick. These can also be something like poplar or pine.
Scroll saw - you need a saw that is capable of making angled cuts. Use a #7 blade for all cuts.
Router - A 3/8" straight bit, a 3/8" round over bit and a 1/4" round over bit.
Step 1: Making the Legs
The legs are your 11 by 3 1/2 by 3/4 inch thick pieces
A. Rout the channels: On both of the legs you will use a 3/8" straight bit set to a depth of 3/8" to cut three 3/8" wide and 3/8" deep grooves. Refer to Figure 1 to properly space the grooves.
B. Cut a notch: Cut a 3/8" by 3/8" by 3/4" long notch in the outside left lower corner of each of the legs (Figure 2). This becomes a "key" so that the legs will only fit into the base one way.
C. Round over: Cut or sand the top two corners of the legs to round them off. Then use a 1/4" round over bit to round the outside edge of both legs. Do not round over the last inch at the bottom of the legs. Your legs will look like Figure 3. That's it.
Step 2: Making the Base
The 3/4 inch thick 15 x 7 1/8 inch piece of wood is your base.
A. Cut the Center: With the scroll saw you need to cut a rectangular hole - centered in the base - that is 3 1/2 inches wide and 12 1/2 inches long. See Figure 4. Drill your entry hole for this cut near one of the ends of the piece you'll be removing - you are going to use the piece you cut out. Make your lines as straight as possible. The small angle at each end corresponds to the notches in the legs so that they will only fit into the base one way.
B. Cut the Base Middle: Take the piece you have cut out of the base and trim both ends down until the piece is 11 inches long.
Take the legs and stand them in the hole you cut in the base so that they are perpendicular to the base and at either end of the hole. Now take the piece you cut out of the base and place it between the legs - it should be just a bit too long to fit. This is a good thing. You need to remove about one eighth of an inch to get it to fit - but do this carefully.
Begin sanding one end of the insert piece, checking often to see if it fits between the legs yet. Sand at an angle so that the bottom of the piece becomes a bit shorter than the top. See Figure 5. You want to get it to the place where a firm push down on it will seat it into place between the legs, causing both legs to be held firmly in place and perpendicular to the base. You should be able to firmly pull up on one of the legs - or knock on the insert piece from the bottom - to take the pieces apart again. Be patient with this step and sand just a little at a time, checking for fit between each sanding. A snug fit here is the key to the whole thing fitting together well. It usually takes me at least half a dozen trips from the sander to the workbench to try my piece out until I get it sanded just enough to make a firm fit.
C. Round Over: Cut or sand the four corners of the base to round them off, then use a 3/8" round over bit to rout the top edge of the base.
Step 3: Making the Top
A. Use the Pattern: An easy way to do this entire step is to print out the pattern in Figure 6 and use rubber cement to glue it to your workpiece. The pattern grid is one inch squares, so if you can adjust the size of your printout so that the squares measure exactly one inch you will have a pattern precisely the size you need to make the piece. Since the pattern is more than 11 inches long, I crop it at the ends of the inner slot, which is exactly 10 inches long. This allows it to be printed on a single sheet of paper. Then I center it on the workpiece and fix it in place with rubber cement. I use a pencil and ruler to extend the outer edge lines to the ends of the piece. See Figure 7.
If you can't print the pattern to size, mark a 3 1/2" diameter circle centered in the 11 5/8 x 5 inch piece of wood. Mark a concentric 2 5/8" diameter circle. Draw two extensions from the outer circle toward each end of the piece as shown in the pattern.
B. Cut the Edges: Cut the 11 5/8 x 5 inch piece of wood to the outside dimensions shown in the pattern.
C. Cut the Inner Circle: Drill a blade entry hole inside the innermost circle and use a scroll saw to cut this circle. The circle of wood you cut out will be discarded.
D. Cut the Outer Circle: Drill a blade entry hole in one of the areas extending outward from the outer circle as shown in the pattern. Set your scroll saw to a 7 degree angle and cut around the outer marked circle. See Figure 8. Now you have a ring that has a straight edge around the inside and an angled edge around the outside. Use a 1/4" round over bit to rout the top (widest) inside edge of the ring.
E. Cut the Slot Extensions: Set your scroll saw back to zero degrees and cut out the extensions on either side of the circle.
Note: When you first assemble your Easy Fill, if the top piece does not slide easily into the grooves in the legs, simply sand a little taper into the last inch or so of the ends of the top piece until it slides smoothly in and out of the leg channels.
Step 4: Make Reference Marks
Before finishing it is a good idea to mark some pieces so that you will be able to easily tell how things fit together. This can be done by using a Sharpie to make a small line or dot. There are three places you should mark:
1. Unless you're really, really good with a scroll saw, your circles won't be absolutely round. That's fine, and you can do a bit of sanding on the edges to make them a bit cleaner, but the ring will fit into the circle best if it's lined up with the grain so that you're putting it in oriented the way it was when you cut it out. So check the grain of your ring, lay it into the circle so the grain matches, and make a small line across the top of the ring near the edge and extending across the cut to the edge of the circle (see Figure 9). This way it will be easy to line the ring up for the best fit. You can make this even easier by making this mark before you cut the ring out of the top piece.
2. Unless your base has a very distinctive grain it will be hard to tell which way to insert the middle. Once again check the grain and find the proper orientation for the middle piece. Put it in place and make a small line from the edge of one side of the middle piece, across the cut to the top side of the base. Now you can tell which way things go. See Figure 10.
3. One end of the middle piece of the base has been sanded down to a slight angle. This is the end you push down into place when you're putting the Easy Fill together. Rather than squinting at the ends of the middle piece every time you want to assemble the Easy Fill, just mark a dot or line on the top of the end that's angled. Again, see Figure 10.
Step 5: Sanding and Finishing
Sand all pieces lightly and finish with a polyurethane finish such as Wipe On Polycrylic or 3X Polycrylic. This will produce a waterproof finish so the Easy Fill won't stain and can be easily washed. DO NOT apply the finish to the angled outside edge of the ring or the angled inside edge of the circle into which it fits. These surfaces need a bit of a grip to hold the bag securely as you pour things into it.
There are three ways I've found to finish the angled edges so they will grip the bag:
1. (Expensive) Buy a can of clear spray-on rubber finish. Mask everything on both the top piece and the ring except the angled edges and spray the angled edges with the rubber finish.
2. (Expensive) Get some of the silicone grit used as an additive to paint to make it non-slip. Add some of this grit to a small amount of the polycrylic finish you used and paint the angled edges with this.
3. (Cheap) Brush an even coat of rubber cement on the angled edges of both pieces and let dry thoroughly. The only drawback to the cheap rubber cement solution is that it probably won't last as long as either of the other two. But it can always be peeled off rather easily and a fresh coat applied. If you use this option, let the rubber cement cure for at least a day before trying out your Easy Fill.
One suggestion for storing the Easy Fill when it's not I use is to drill a small hole in the bottom of the base at the center of one end. Find a large rubber band - big enough to go around all of the pieces stacked together. Lay the base down and put the middle in place. Lay the legs on top of the base and the top piece and ring on top of the legs. Wrap the rubber band around the whole thing and hang it from a nail in the kitchen wall.
The video will show you just how easy it is to assemble, use and disassemble the Easy Fill. Clean it up with dish soap and water - but don't put it in the dishwasher. It is really a very easy project to make and will be a helpful addition to your kitchen tools. Thanks for checking out my Instructable, and