Introduction: How to Build a Block Cart

This is a somewhat out-of-the-ordinary block cart I built for my little nephew, as a present for his first birthday. I built it with mostly handtools, which makes this project achieveable for the beginning woodworker.
Now don't be intimidated by the dovetails. They are actually way easier than you think they are. Don't be afraid to challenge yourself and try something new! That being said, let's get you started!

Step 1: Rough-sawing the Lumber

Lumber dimensioning can't be overlooked in my opinion. You can't expect to build something perfect when your boards aren't straight, flat and square. I hardly ever use specific dimensions, but I make sure my planks are absolutely perfect.

Start by cutting a plank of ash down into the right lengths. I used a handsaw, but you can use a circular saw as well. I made this cart about 40 by 30 centimeters, which roughly translates to 12 by 16 inches. If you decide to go down the handtool path, don't bother making the initial cuts straight. Leave plenty of material on, we'll get to making a square cut later.

I ripped the boards in half using a handsaw. It yielded me four planks that would form the dovetailed box. The dimensions weren't perfect, but we will make that happen in the next step.

Step 2: Dimensioning With a Handplane

I just love working with antique handplanes. Isn't it special to work with a tool that was used by so many craftsmen for generations?

Start by flattening one face of the wood. Use a straight edge on a square to check the flatness, and look at the wind using winding sticks. Plane all the wind out and make sure your surface is dead flat.

Next, establish a jointed edge. Use a jackplane or jointer plane to make one edge perfectly straight and square to the surface you just flattened.

Use a marking gauge to scribe a line parallel to the jointed edge. Plane down untill the line isn't visible anymore, keeping in mind to check for square every few passes. You should now be left with a perfectly square second jointed edge.

With a marking gauge, scribe the thickness referencing from the flattened face. Plane down to the lines and check for flatness and wind.

Step 3: Squaring Things Up

Now we have squared up 4 out of 6 sides, it is time to take care of the remaining two.

I once heard a great craftsman say that a good joiners work with a sharp pencil, but great joiners work with a marking knife. I put this to the test and can honestly say that it has worked for me. So I'll describe the use of it here.

Using the marking knife, scribe a line all around the far end of one of your planks. If the cuts don't line up, you did something wrong during the dimensioning proces. It is up to you if you want to go back and take care of it.

Using a chisel and a mallet, we are going to deepen the cuts a little. Put the bevel of the chisel in the groove and give it a few taps. Move the chisel sideways, and repeat. Now put the chisel on the waste side of the board at an angle, and chop down towards the cut. This will create a knife wall, which will help guide the saw later.

With a bench hook and a backsaw (or tenon saw, depending on your geography), make a square cut but leave a bit of wood between the saw and the knife line. We are going to use a shooting board (see photograph above) and a handplane to make a perfectly square edge. Hold the board firmly against the shooting board while you creep up to the knife line, using a shallow cut on your handplane. I used a Stanley no. 4 here.

Repeat this for all ends. If you stack the boards on top of each other, they should be the same size. Your fingers are able to feel differences up to one thousands of an inch. Make sure you don't feel any.

Step 4: Cutting the Dovetails

Dovetail cutting really needs to be demistified. It is way easier once you understand these principles:

2. Spend lots of time on the layout
3. Work SLOW and PATIENTLY!

With a marking gauge, scribe the thickness of the lumber around the edges of the planks. With a compass, square, bevel gauge and marking knife, lay them out as well as you can. Cut the dovetails with a backsaw. A gents saw might be used if you are not comfortable with using a tenon saw. Leave the tails a little beefy, and use a sharp chisel to pare the joint down to the line.

Now we can transfer and cut the pins. put the pin stock in a face vise and lay the tail on top. Scribe along the dovetail with a marking knife, and transfer the lines to the other sides using a square. Cut the pins with a saw, and remove the waste with a brace and bit. A drill press can be used as well, this saves a lot of time! Pare down to the lines with a sharp chisel, and check the fit.

With the frame finished up, glue it together and check for square. Once the glue is dry, put it in your vise and give the dovetail joints a few passes with a handplane, just to tidy them up a bit.

Step 5: Finishing Up the Box

I cut a square of meranti plywood out of a larger sheet, and sanded it with 400 grit sandpaper. I also used a Scotch Brite pad to polish it up. I nailed it to the frame and covered the nails up with some ash shims I had lying around. I used a backsaw and a bench hook to cut come mitres at the corners, which finished this up really nicely.

Step 6: Building the Wheelbase

I wanted to build this block cart in a really stylish, non-conventional fashion, and the wheelbase gave me the perfect opportunity for that. After I dimensioned the wood, I scribed the layout on it and cut the shape out. With a handplane and spokeshave, I refined the parts before sanding them up.

The axles are connected by a plank in the middle that is attached with a wedged mortise and tenon on each side. I used the drill press to remove material for the mortises and cut them square with a chisel. After the tenon was cut, I cut a groove down the middle that will house a hardwood wedge.

I glued and wedged everything together, after I drill holes for the srews that will hold the wheels.

Step 7: Turning the Wheels

If you choose to buy wheels, for instance if you don't have a lathe, dont worry. They will probably end up way better than mine!

I drew four circles using a pair of dividers, and cut them out with a jigsaw. I put them on the lathe, and turned them nice and round. After sanding, I drilled holes in them and coutersunk them. With that, I was ready to attach them to the frame. I used antique wood screws, but you can use anything that works for you!

Step 8: Finishing It Up!

Nearly done! Now you can attach the box to the wheelbase. I used some nice brass screws, this finished it up really nicely! I attached a braided rope, and called it finished.

For the blocks, I cut some wood scraps to size and decided to break the edges with a plane. The shapes are all non-standardized and they all have different sizes. This stimulates a child's creativity, proven by science!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, let me know if you have any questions!