The basic requirement for a soap dish is that it keeps your bar of soap from lingering in a puddle of water. The much more important job of a soap dish is to look nice while it’s doing the other thing. If you’ve been thinking of trying a light wood working project this wooden soap dish is an excellent place to start. The only specialty tool this project requires is a miter box and saw, which is very inexpensive at most big box home improvement stores. The construction is easy and can be completed in an afternoon. Seriously, this project is really fun and easy, you should try it.
- 2 36 inch long 3/8 by 3/8 square poplar dowels (or 2 1 meter long pieces of 1cm by 1cm square dowel)
- miter box and saw (check out our intro post on this great tool by clicking here)
- sandpaper – 150, 220, 320, and 400 grit
- waterproof wood glue
- mineral oil
- paper towels
- safety glasses
- dust mask
- tack cloth (only if you already have it, you don’t really need to buy it just for this project)
These dowels came from a home improvement store so they’re made of poplar. Craft store dowels are often made from softer woods than that, so if you can get the poplar, you should. If you can’t, use what you can find, it’s only a slight improvement. They don’t have to be 3/8″, you can adjust the design however you like. The wood glue needs to be okay for outdoor use according to the package, but not necessarily for submerged use. Gorilla glue is what I’ve used here, I would have been just as happy to use Titebond III. The specific grits of sandpaper aren’t that important, just make sure your finest is around 400. Mineral oil can be found in nice big bottles for a very reasonable price in most pharmacy sections of stores that carry pharmacy things.
Decide how wide your soap dish should be. Mine is 3 3/4 inches wide. You can adjust yours to accommodate your favorite brand of soap. Mark one of the dowels at 3 3/4 inches | 95mm or your chosen width.
Tie your hair back if you have long hair, tuck in your shirt, and if you’re in a 1950’s industrial tech video, remove your necktie, but don’t forget to put if back on before your next class. The idea is to make sure you don’t have anything loose that could get caught in the saw. Also put on the safety glasses and dust mask.
Set it in your mitre box up against the side. Align the mark with one side or the other of the saw blade – make sure your mark is on the same side of the blade for every piece you cut. Hold the dowel agains the box with your non-dominant hand, but keep it well away from the blade.
Cut the dowel. Try to do your cutting while pulling the saw toward you, and lift over the dowel with the push half of the stroke. Cutting that way will make sure your dowel is cut straight, and you aren’t pushing against the hand that his holding the dowel in place. The first cut will probably take forever, the rest of the cuts will go faster.
You might get some tear out at the end of your piece as shown here. You can reduce this by cutting half way through your dowel then turning it 90° before finishing the cut, or by sanding off the the scruff later.
My soap dish is 12 pieces long, you may want a longer or smaller one.
With your dust mask in place, sand each piece on the lowest grit paper. Lay the paper on a flat surface and slide the piece back and forth in the same direction as the grain. Do all the sides, and don’t forget the ends. They should be smooth to the touch when you’re done.
Sand the corners a bit, too. No one wants a sharp soap dish. You’ll hear this referred to as “breaking the corners” sometimes.
All of your pieces should be about the same size. If any are super long, sand or trim them down. If any are obtusely short you’ll want to cut a replacement piece.
Repeat that sanding process on all of the remaining grits, heading toward that super fine 400 grit paper. By the time you’re done they should feel really, really silky smooth to the touch.
Now let’s wreck that silky smooth surface. Get your pieces of wood really saturated with water, then lay them out to dry. Doing this will fluff up the surface and make it rough again.
When they’re totally dry sand them with the two smaller grit papers until they’re silky again. We do this now so that the wood won’t get rough and icky when you’re actually using the soap dish. This also helps prepare it for the finish coats. Wipe them down with tack cloth if you have it, or paper towel if you don’t, just to get rid of any loose dust.
Now to the glue. Your pieces need to align as shown, with the corners of the dowels just touching. Figure it out before you apply the glue. Glue them first into pairs like this, and be very careful that all of the pairs are glued the same way. (If you flip any the finished project won’t go together the way you want it to.)
Before applying the glue make sure you have a damp paper towel handy to clean up what squeezes out. Check out where I’ve place this glue, and how much I’ve used. Since this glue is all that’s holding this project together make sure you have a real layer like this. Press the other piece on top of this and make sure those corners line up perfectly top and bottom. Be sure to wipe away any extra quickly, before it has a chance to dry. Glue up all of your pieces in pairs this way and let them set up well.
Now to pairs of pairs.
Add glue in the same area as before.
This time press them together while they’re lying flat on the table, the way the finished soap dish looks. Wipe away any extra glue again. I made 6 pairs, then 3 groups of 4, then I glued together those last 3 groups.
This is what it should look like all glued. Let it dry overnight. No really, overnight. The next step uses oil, and if it gets in there before the water based glue has time to set up you’ll never get that glue to stick.
Lightly sand off any rough spots left by the glue, then start applying the mineral oil. I used paper towel to apply it, and you just need to cover the surface in mineral oil, then leave it for about an hour. Do this 3 or 4 times, or until the mineral oil doesn’t soak in any more.
Be extra careful to really, really saturate the ends of the wood. The oil is there to keep water from soaking in. Trees are designed to soak water up through this end grain, so adding lots of oil here is how you keep the wood from warping.
Once your soap dish is really saturated in mineral oil it’s ready to go. If it ever starts looking shabby a few fresh coats of mineral oil should perk it right back up.