How to Make a Walnut Mail Organizer

How to Make a Walnut Mail Organizer

This project began with a truckload of walnut boards being delivered to my house. I got a great deal on some rough sawn walnut on Facebook Marketplace. All of the boards were still wet and not quite usable. Some of them were downright ugly, split, and wonky. One such board that I cut up and put in the trash seemed to speak to me from beyond the garbage. 

  1. Cut Out a Pretty Part
  2. Mill Up the Shelf
  3. Cut a Dado
  4. Apply Finish
  5. Attach Hardware

1. Cut Out a Pretty Part

Even gross and gnarly-looking wood can have amazing grain patterns just below the rough exterior. This piece was about 6 inches wide, so I surfaced planed one side using my jointer. I didn't run the sides through the jointer because I wanted to keep the wood's natural edges. As I suspected, the grain patter looked really nice. I also cut a section of the same board where the darker walnut met up with the lighter-colored sap wood, this piece would be cut down to become the shelf. 

2. Mill Up the Shelf

I cannot understate the importance of getting properly dimensioned material. From this rough sawn board, I ran the shelf stock over the jointer, once on the surface and once on the edge. This gave me a perfect 90 degree side and a flat face. I then too that piece over to the table saw and placed the 90 degree edge against the fence and cut a perfectly parallel side. To achieve maximum parallel-ness on the faces, I ran the board through the planer and got my final thickness. Using a jig saw, I cut a decorative swoop on one end of the shelf to separate the mail-holding area from the key-hanging spot. This is an esthetic choice, but I think it really gives the piece some style. 

3. Cut a Dado

Cutting a wide groove in a board isn't very difficult, but to do that on a live edge piece with no flat edges is another story. Because there is no straight side to place against the table saw fence, I had to "add" a straight side. I sat the shelf in place and scribed a line with a pencil marking its intended location. I used a framing square to measure up the top of the live edge. I made a mark on each side of the board and connected these points with a pencil line (essentially, I just moved the shelf line up to the top). I found a left over piece of the shelf that I know was flat and had 90 degree edges (milling lumber, woohoo!) and used double-sided tape to attach the cutoff along the top pencil line. This new piece extended up beyond the live edge and gave me a temporary flat edge that I cut cut against. I also added a spacer of the same thickness to the bottom of the board so it would ride flat on the table saw. 

I then took the live edge shelf over to the table saw and set the fence distance to match the marked boundaries of the shelf slot. The dado was cut about halfway through the thickness of the board and being careful to sneak up on my scribe lines, the shelf fit perfectly!

4.  Apply Finish

Because this piece wasn't going to be handled and I wanted it done quickly, I finished the piece with a 2 coats of spray polyurethane. It dries really fast and gives a nice satin finish. The weather was a bit cold, so I had to give the piece ample time to cure between coats. 

5. Attach Hardware

To mount the mail-holder to the wall, I use picture hangers (the ones with the jagged teeth) space toward the sides. I cut some small spacers the same thickness as the hangers and glued them to the bottom of the piece so that it didn't lean forward on the wall. To hold the keys, I bought 2 brass hangers from the home store. I predrilled the 2 mounting screws and drove them in with a screwdriver so I didn't over tighten and strip the brass. 

It Looks Amazing!

I was very happy with this project. I was able to use some scrap material with some hidden character to make something that perfectly serves both form and function. Win, win, win. I'm sure there will be plenty more one-day builds from the mountain of walnut in my garage and I hope you stop by to see more!

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