The Dale C. Maley Family Web Site

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9 Ft. High Baptist Church cross

A friend of mine asked me to design and build a 9 foot high cross for the Fairbury Baptist Church.

The current cross is only 6 feet high.  Given the large proportions of the main room of the church, with the cross displayed at the front of this large room.......whomever designed the size of the cross did not properly scale it to match the  room proportions.

Using a tape measure, we reviewed and determined the new cross should be 9 feet high.  The church design committee gave me an image of what they would like the new cross to look like.

Original source for desired cross design

Using a Google image search, I searched the internet to find the original source for the photo of the suggested design.  I found it on this web site.

The web site said the dimensions were 30 inches tall and 20 inches wide.  It has 3 layers of wood.  

I imported the web site photo into Google Sketchup, my drafting program, and I designed a similar wood cross.  It appears they used standard 3/4" thick wood to make the cross. I'm guessing they used lapped joints where the vertical and  horizontal elements intersect.

Scaling from 30 inches tall to 108 inches (9 feet) tall version

Using Sketchup, I scaled the 30 inch tall design up to 9 feet tall.

I ended up with many odd fractions (like 19/52"), so I updated the scaled design to have reasonable dimensions to the 1/16" of an inch accuracy.

I noticed the board thickness increased from 3/4" on the 30 inch tall 2.75 inches.  One way to get boards 2.75" thick, would be to glued 2 boards together that are each a standard 1.5" thick, then plane the 3 inch thickness down to 2.75. Then one would have to use half-lap joints where the vertical meets the horizontal.  It is difficult to get perfect looking lap joints with joints this large. The glued up boards would be very heavy also.

Another way to get boards 2.75" thick, is to glue up a box, with a hollow center.

How to connect the intersecting vertical & horizontal wood pieces

One design challenge is how to connect the intersecting vertical and horizontal pieces.

One solution would be to make a block of wood, 1-1/4" thick, that fits inside the horizontal pieces for 7 inches.............and also fits inside the vertical pieces 7 inches........kind of like a mortise and tenon joint. Then 1/2" diameter wood pegs could be used to draw the horizontal piece up tight to the vertical piece. This pegged type joint was often used in pioneer days to make a very strong joint that stays firmly together forever.  I have used it on some furniture construction and it works well.  You typically drill the outside holes first, mark the center of the hole in the middle piece....shift that mark by 1/16".......and drill it off center.   The fact it is off center, draws the boards together when you drive in the pin.

Next Step

I want to build the 30 inch tall I can try different stains on common pine..........and get the ok on the right color combination.

I will just half-lap joints, that are not glue together..........maybe just use 2 dowel pins to keep them in the right location.  I can also flip them over, and stain the back side........if someone wants a different color combination.

30 Inch tall cross in pine

I used the old 1968 Sears radial arm saw to cut the miters. The boards were within the width range of the miter saw for the 30 inch tall cross version...........but would not be for the big 18 inch side back piece on the 9 foot cross version.

Surface prep for staining

I normally would progressively sand red oak or other hardwoods from 60 grit down to 220 grit prior to staining........then 2 or 3 rounds of polyurethane and 220 grit sanding.

But on this project, I think we want a rough finish.  So I belt sanded the pine with 60 grit.  This also removes any dirt from the surface, and makes the wood pieces a more consistent color, since the starting color depends on how much time and sun the boards have been exposed to.  I will probably just use 1 coat of flat polyurethane on this project.

Stain Chart

I already have stain charts made up for red oak, which is my usual building material.  I very seldom stain pine, so I did not have any pine charts made up.  I went ahead and made a pine stain color chart, so I could pick out the best stain colors for this project.

The original photo seems to indicate they used got darker in color as they moved from the back layer up to the front layer........on the 3 layers of wood used to build the cross. To match this scheme, I selected.......

back layer          = Golden Oak

middle layer       =Teak Natural

front layers        = Modern Walnut

If the architectural committee wants a different color combination, they can use my pine stain color chart to pick one.  I can stain the back side of the cross with a different color combination.

Stained pine 30 inch cross

Remaining work on 30" pine cross

Screw the 3 layers together from the back, and apply 1 coat of flat polyurethane.

Proof of Concept on pegged mortise and tenon joints

I have only done this on a much smaller scale before, with boards typically 3 or 4 inches in width.........using 1/4" diameter dowels.  I want to try this out with the hollow big boxes with 1/2" diameter pegs and verify it works ok.  To try it out, I will attach the back horizontal sections to a short piece of vertical back section.  The horizontal arm is 18x2.75 inches and the vertical is 16-3/16 x 2.75 inches.  The vertical piece will be about 24 inches wide, and will be eventually scrapped.  The horizontal piece will be used in the  project, assuming the process works ok.

Board size selection for glue-up

For the 18 inch horizontal back piece, one could glue up 2 boards, each 1x12's.  They are 11.25 actual width, giving 22.50 inches........which would be cut down to the desired 18 inch width.  However, these wide boards are very susceptible to cupping over time. It would probably be better to glue up 3 pieces of 1x8, which gives 3x7.25 = 21.75 inches.   I will alternate the tree ring patterns when I glue up the 3 boards.

I will use 2x8 for the tenon piece, and plane it down from 1.5 to 1.25 inches in thickness.

Note that once the middle layer is attached to the back layer, only 2-11/16" is exposed above and below on the back horizontal arm.  The glue joints on the back layer horizontal arm will be covered up and not viewable once the middle layer is attached. 

To preserve the natural rustic look, in the viewable areas, knots are actually desired to be viewed in this application.

Results of 30 inch Mock Up cross

The architectural committee liked the 30 inch cross design, including my choices for stain colors !! So, on to building the 9 foot version.

Glue up for LH big horizontal arm

I used 3 pieces of 1x8 inch pine, and alternated the tree growth the cupping will offset each other.

Remember on future projects, if you are using the bar clamps, add a  piece of pine clamped across the grain, to keep the boards from flipping out of the pipe bar clamps (it happened to me on this project).

After they dried, I used the Harbor Freight belt sander to remove the slight differences in stock at the glue joints.  I started with a used 60 grit belt, and wore it out.  I went to Ace and got some 40 grit belts.  They worked much better than 60 grit, they removed material faster and did not plug and require rubber block cleaning as much.

Process Steps

Saw top and bottom boards to final 18 inch thickness, sawing both with same fence setting on table saw to reduce error.

Rip 1.25 inch wide pine, for the top and bottom spacer. Glue them on.

Also rip 1.25 wide piece for center spacer, and for end cap.  Center spacer should help movement of boards if they cup over time.

Table saw cap end so joint is nice and flush.

Table saw assembly to final width.

Plane tenon to 1.25 inch thickness.  do trial and error fit, and plane until it matches height of glued spacers. Note: I was going to have 7 inches lap inside arm and 7 inches into vertical piece.  I changed the design to 12" lap inside arm and 7 inches into vertical piece.  It just looked better to have 12 versus 7 inches into the arm.

Glue and clamp whole assembly. Make sure RH side is flush with sides, so will get a good joint when pegging the joint.

On the big  horizontal arms, I changed my assembly sequence.

1. glue on vertical piece on outer end, Leave it about a 1/4" inside the end of the horizontal piece, so there will be stock to table saw the whole thing at the end.

2. glue on side and center 1.25 inch high pieces

3. cut inner joint, measure from where outside vertical piece is at

4. glue on top. Make sure top is flush with inside boards to get a good joint

5. table saw outer edge flush with vertical piece.

Picture to give large size of horizontal arms

Table Sawing big 9 ft long vertical boards

Usually, on most of my projects............I just use 1 roller stand on the outlet side of the table saw long pieces.  Because the 2 big boards on the 9 foot tall vertical section are so wide, about 18 inches..........and 9 foot long........I added my 2nd roller stand on the inlet side of the table saw.  Then I was able to hold and feed the large board through the table saw with accuracy and safety.

Building back main vertical box

I decided to screw and glue the 1.25 inch wide strips........versus glue and clamp.  It would take too many clamps, plus it is very difficult to clamp the center piece.  I used Kreg's drill to countersink the holes to the right depth, then used 1-1/4" long Kreg screws. This worked well.

Dry fit of large mortise and tenon joints

Before I clamped the top board onto the main vertical piece, I temporarily clamped the top piece on.............then tried to insert the 2 horizontal cross arms......which make the biggest mortise and tenon joint I have ever built.  It worked great!  In a worst case scenario, I could belt sand a little stock off the tenons, if they are too thick and don't fit well.

Since the mortise and tenon fit was ok, I went ahead and glued and clamped the top big board to the main vertical section.  Boy, it required a lot of clamps !!

To get the top and bottoms flush, I plan to use a combination of table saw, flush router bit, and belt sander to make them flush.  I can not simply saw off the end with the table saw, because the main vertical piece at 9 feet long, is too long to reasonable table saw.


I put the flush trim router bit, the long one, in the router in the table.  I started to route flush one of the sides on a big horizontal arm.........then it grabbed........and split off a 5 inch long piece from the board!!!!!!   Fortunately, I could glue it back on, and it won't show on the finished project.  I forgot, using this bit, it is very sensitive to which direction you feed the work into it.  You want to feed in the same direction the bit is turning.

I used the circular saw to saw off some excess stock from one end of the big back vertical.......and it worked ok.   I removed the router from the table with the flush trim bit, and cleaned up the sides and ends of the vertical long piece and horizontal arm.  This worked long as  you feed in the right direction.......and don't try to remove too much stock in 1 pass.  I followed up with the belt sander to sand everywhere.  I decided to not do any round-over or radius routing until the back section is assembled.  I will do it holding the router in my hand.......versus the router table.

Transporting from basement workshop to Garage

I did a "rough lift" with the 2 big horizontals stuck in the big vertical.........and decided I would assemble the 2 horizontal arms to the big vertical in the garage.  It was about a full load just carrying the big vertical by myself up to the garage!!

With the front sides down, I set the big vertical on my sawhorses.  I marked the distance from the top of the vertical to where the horizontal pieces should start. I drilled 3/8" holes through the vertical, without the horizontals installed. I slipped the horizontals back in, made sure they were on the height mark ok, then marked the 3/8" holes with a pencil.  I then took the horizontals out, and drilled 3/8" holes with an auger bit in the horizontals, moving the drill center about 1/16" from true center.......outwards towards the edge of the arms.

I stuck the horizontals back in and started driving 3" long 3/8" pegs.  Remember to sharpen the dowel end that goes in first!  

Everything went great until the last peg.  I just about had it to full depth...........when the wood in front gave out, and opened a splinter in the front !!!!!!!!!

Fortunately, I was able to glue the splinter back in place, using a scrap piece of pine with Saran wrapped around the clamp piece would not be glued to the splinter. It should be invisible when I get done.  On the other 2 crosses, I should mark the desired full depth on each dowel, and quit hammering when I get close.........versus hammering until the dowel bottoms out.

Boy, this back cross assembly is heavy !!  Glad I assembled it in the garage vs the basement !!

Potential change order request

I was requested to put the middle section on hold, pending a review to determine if the pine material should be changed to a distressed material.  So, I will stop work on the middle section (I had the 2 boards glued up to make the 1st horizontal piece).............and work on building the front cross.

Horizontal arm of top cross

Boy, this was a lot faster to build, because I did not have to glue up front and back boards.........clamp.......and belt sand glue joint !!!!!  It is only 5-7/16" wide, so I simply sawed it from a 1x8 board.  On this one......

-glued and screwed 1.25" spacers
-table sawed outer end flush
--table sawed to 33-9/32 finished length on inner end

-glued and clamped top board

-will use flush trim router to trim off excess material on top.......on outer end

Outer vertical 108 inches long

I wanted to glue up the 2 sides of the spacers 1.25" thick, and glue up the end spacer..........then table saw flush.  That will leave the only top sticking out past the flush mark, which I can use the flush router bit to easily trim.  Because this piece is 9 feet long, I clamped the piece to the sliding miter........and set the other end on 1 of my roller stands.  I was able to do this flush cut on the table saw.

I also verified the 2 horizontal arms had the right tenon thickness to plug in ok to the vertical piece..........before I glued and clamped the top down.

Slight mistake

I printed out a drawing for each of the pieces I made.  When I started the horizontal arms for the outer level of cross............I took the piece of paper from my shop to my office for some reason.........and forgot to bring it back out.  I then used a previous drawing, and cut the length wrong for the first set of horizontal arms!!!!!!!!   Fortunately I caught the mistake before I got too far, so it was no big deal.  MORAL OF THE STORY: MAKE SURE YOU ARE WORKING TO THE RIGHT BLUEPRINT!!

Flush trim router bit worked great on outer horizontals

As long as you make sure you feed in the right direction, the hand-held router with the flush trim bit worked great on both the ends and sides of the horizontals.........for making them flush before belt sanding!  I plan to use the same technique on main vertical piece.

Another small OOOPS

When I was pegging the first horizontal arm to the vertical, I forgot to make sure the distance from the top of the vertical to the start of the horizontal arm was exactly to blueprint.  Not a big deal.  I filled the 2 holes 3/8" diameter with glued in wood dowels, and re-drilled the correct location in the horiz arm.  Since this is hidden inside the assembly, it will not be visible to anyone.

Transport to garage

This outer cross was light enough in weight, I assembled it in my basement workshop...........then carried it easily up the stairs to the garage.  I was able to use my drill press, versus free-hand drilling with the cordless drill, to put in the 4 pegs.


I finished the top level of cross Saturday morning.  Now I am waiting until Monday to receive some distressed wood to build the middle layer.

Supplier of reclaimed wood

Monday morning came, and the church personnel were not able to find a source for the reclaimed wood for the middle layer.

I called a man I met in May of 2018, that tears down farm buildings, and lives in Forrest.  Myself and a church representative went to his farm.  He had multiple buildings full of wood. We chose 12" wide, 1" thick, walnuts boards about 9 feet long.

I forgot how messy walnut is in terms of sawing, and planing.  The 1 inch boards did plane nicely, and revealed beautiful dark colored walnut after planing!

The top layer horizontals were supposed to be 12-5/8" per my design drawing, but I reduced this to 12.5 inches, because that is the max width capacity of my planer.

Building Middle Level Horizontals

Building Middle Level Vertical

Used radial arm saw to saw ends of 2 horiz and 1 vertical

Flush trim router and belt sander to finish 3 walnut pieces

1st I used the flush trim router to get the sides and end flush...........then followed up with 40 grit belt  sanding.

Peg holes in basement shop

This middle walnut cross would probably be too heavy to move from my basement shop to the I decided to assemble it in the garage.

I did use the drill press to drill the peg holes.  The drill press makes nice 90 degree holes..........versus my error in hand drilling in the garage.  I used the roller stand to help me hold the pieces in position to drill on the drill press,.  I used blue masking tape to clearly see my marks where to drill..........because pencil does not show up well on dark walnut.  After I got the first one marked, I made a paper template to mark the other 3 sets of holes.

3 Walnut pieces ready to take upstairs

Shop clean-up

Walnut is beautiful wood, but boy is it dirty!!   I had to sweep and shop vac my shop to get rid of all the planer shavings and sawdust.  It took quite a few 30 gal trash bags to clean it up!

Sawing off pegs

I marked full depth on each peg, then did not hammer them to full depth........I stopped just short to prevent blowing out material on the other side.

Then I used the saw below to saw them off about flush, then used the belt sander to sand them flush.

3 Crosses Built, In the Garage, Waiting for Stain Selection meeting

Lessons Learned

Prior to this project, I had used the offset peg method on mortise and tenon joints on small furniture.  I was not sure if it would work on this large size project.........but it worked fine.  It was used on 1800's barn construction in this area, so in theory it should work fine.

If I had to do this project over, I might intentionally let the top and bottom boards overhang the 1.25" wide spacer by 1/8" to 1/4"..............then let the flush trim router, with the router held in my hands, trim the top and bottoms of the box flush with the sides.  Since  you can never get the joints perfectly aligned, and the 9 foot long boards might not be end up flush routing both sides anyway.  I have used this technique on smaller projects and it works fine.   One issue with the walnut though, I did not glue up any boards, I just 1 solid piece........and the boards were not wide enough to have this overlap.

When using a stopped depth hole like I did on this project, be sure and mark the depth on each pin before  you drive you do not hammer it too deep, and blow out the wood on the other side, like I did on 1 peg.  If your project is a through hole, then you don't have to worry about it.

The box construction method, versus solid wood worked very well on this project.  It allowed standard thickness 3/4" boards to be used, versus trying to find solid the hanging weight is significantly reduced!

Jan 2019 Update

It took several months for all the changes to be done at this church, before my cross was installed.  After I delivered the un-stained cross........I did not have to do any more work on this project. My buddy let me know when the project was done, and I was able to get a screen shot.....from the facebook video of the first church service with the new cross.

The new cross really looks great, including the lighting.  I will have to stop by and check it out in person.

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