Contrary to every instinct I have when it comes to woodworking and a national holiday, I did actually manage to get in a little work on my Enfield Cupboard on Thanksgiving morning. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t do much. I only added the dados to the back of the case and then glued and clamped it up. Shockingly, the glue-up went easily, too easily in fact because it made me worry that I had nothing to worry about. Then something caught my eye that turned my psychosomatic fears into actual concern.
The face frame of the cupboard is simply two stiles and a rail held together by a mortise and tenon. The whole set-up seemed a bit flimsy to me, but that is the way the original was designed, and I am basically making this cupboard to the original specifications. But on Thanksgiving morning I noticed a bit of sag, and it looked to me that there was a crack causing the joint to fail. I picked up the frame, which was lying on top of my table saw bed, and it at first looked fine, then I noticed not one, but two splits, one at the top of each stile. I’m not exactly sure what caused the splits; I felt that I left plenty of space between the mortise and the top to keep the integrity of the board. Whatever the case, the splits were there, and though they were tiny, I knew it could be a potential problem. My first thought was to reinforce the joint with a pocket screw, but that could easily have turned a hairline split into a full-fledged crack, so I decided to glue a 3 inch wide by 1/4 inch thick backer along the whole top of the rail and across each joint. I set that back on top of the table saw bed to dry and called it a morning.
This morning when I went into the garage the first thing I did was check the face frame and happily everything looked great. The backer strengthened up the frame and everything was still square and true. The cupboard also glued-up nicely. I was worried about warp, mainly because of the sudden drop in temperature we had last week. Luckily, only the bottom shelf warped, and that was very slight so it didn’t hinder the glue-up process or affect the square of the cupboard. So my goal for the day was to get the back of the cupboard added, and then attach the face frame.
I started with the back. Originally, I was going to use three boards tongue and grooved to make up the back panel; the problem was that I only had two boards that would work. Instead, I used a piece of birch plywood I had picked up at Woodcraft a few months back. The tongue and groove boards were certainly more traditional and fitting with the project, but I like to think that the Shakers would have approved of my substitution with material that I had on hand. Besides, the back of the case will rarely be seen. At the least, I attached it with cut nails, no glue however. I then turned my attention to the face frame.
Well, the next step before attaching the face frame was installing some Sawtooth shelf supports that I picked up from Lee Valley. I hadn’t planned on using them in the cupboard, but I ordered three sets to use in my wife’s infamous pantry closet, and the leftover pieces were just enough to use in the cupboard, so I threw them in. As for the face frame, I laid the cupboard on its back, applied some hide glue, and attached the face frame with a handful of brad nails. The face frame had roughly 1/16 of an inch overhang on each side, which I did on purpose, and once it was dry I trimmed it off with my least favorite tool and a flush trim bit. After that operation was complete I decided to use a roundover profile on the arches of the case sides to soften them up, because to my eye they seemed a bit harsh. The last task of the day was sawing off the face frame overhang at the bottom with a carcass saw, and cleaning up the router marks left by the flush trim bit with a block plane.
Next weekend I will hopefully start, and finish, the top mouldings and profile. That would only leave constructing the door between me and a completed cupboard. For finish, I am thinking of painting the cupboard a blue/gray and leaving the interior bare. My wife mentioned leaving off the door and keeping the cupboard open, but I want to see what it looks like with a door before I make any final decision. Otherwise, this project is almost completed.
Some time ago I wrote a post detailing the steps required for your everyday, average woodworker to make the difficult transition to “cool woodworker”. The path I set wasn’t an easy one to follow, even for experienced woodworkers with many projects under their belts. The truth is there are many talented woodworkers out there who will never attain that lofty status. But, I thought, what about those who just want to appear to be cool woodworker? Even better, what if you just want people to think you are a cool woodworker even though you’ve never even picked up a saw or chisel? Let’s be honest with ourselves, being a cool woodworker doesn’t necessarily make you a better woodworker; it’s all about bragging rights. So with that in mind, I came up with a few suggestions for the wannabe to look like a cool woodworker without ever having made a piece of furniture.
It all begins at the workshop. To look like a cool woodworker you need a cool workshop. Firstly, your workshop must be solely dedicated to woodworking, otherwise you may as well just give up and not even make the attempt. Your workshop cannot double as a garage, or your wife’s yoga studio, or your kids playroom. It has to be a woodworking shop that looks like a woodworking shop, preferably a wood barn with tongue and groove walls, a wood rack, a hanging tool cabinet, and the most ostentatious woodworking bench you can purchase. You’re looking for wow factor. You want even the most casual observer to walk into your little slice of woodworking heaven and know immediately that a high level craftsman is residing there.
It gets a bit tricky here only because even the average DIYer may have chisels, saws, a table saw, and a hammer. What you need to do firstly is be sure to have at least 5 times the amount of tools that the average homeowner may have. For example, if the average home owner has 4 chisels, you will need at least two dozen; if he has 2 hand saws, you need at least ten. In fact, hand saws are the one tool that can really set you apart, because you can easily pick up a few dozen old hand saws, the older the better, and hang them prominently along your wall. Remember, they don’t even have to be sharp, as long as they look great.
Hand planes are a bit trickier. Once again, the average Joe off the street will generally know what a hand plane looks like, and he may even have one or two in his tool box. What you need to do is have a plane collection that screams “serious woodworker”. Of course you have your numbered Stanley’s, and for those I recommend #1 thru #7. But you really need to stand out. Wood bodied planes are certainly welcome; moulding planes appear to be “woodworkery”, but I suggest you kick it up a notch and pick up a few exotic infill planes. Be sure they are big, shiny, and visible the moment you enter the workshop.
Other tools to consider are hand braces and drills, many hammers and mallets, and of course you want a nice cabinet saw, planer, and drill press. An added bonus powertool would be a lathe, which is instantly recognizable to most people. A nice added touch would be some rasps and floats, which look like woodworking tools to the layman yet at the same time are obscure enough to emit air of “craftsman”. What you are going for is a large group of specialty tools that can be hung throughout the workshop in a highly visible manner.
This part is tough, because I’ve yet to discover a true cool woodworker “dress code”. I’ve found that it’s not so much the clothes, but how they are worn that set apart cool woodworkers from the rest of the population. For example, most of us wear t-shirts, but a cool woodworker will generally wear some type of logo t-shirt, and like all things cool woodworker, the more obscure the logo, the better. A shop apron is a must, and shorts are another staple. “But”, you say, “we all wear shorts!” True. But a cool woodworker will wear shorts year round. Why? Because wearing shorts year round is an indicator that you spend much of your free time in a climate controlled workshop. Also, clogs, sandals, flip-flops, or any unconventional footwear is always a good choice. Work boots are generally a no-no. A good rule of thumb is any footwear that is completely inappropriate to the task, sort of like wearing sneakers to a wedding.
Maybe the most important look you need to cultivate is your coif and facial hair. The coif is actually easy, you only need not get a haircut for approximately 6 months. The key is not to have long hair, but wear a hairstyle that tells the world you are too busy woodworking to actually care what your hair looks like. Washing (or not washing) your hair on a regular basis is completely optional. The facial hair is a bit more challenging. The goatee doesn’t really fit the bill, and neither does the neatly trimmed beard. I’ve found that the most accepted form of facial hair is either the wildly unkempt beard, or the stubbly, near-beard that never quite fills out. Also acceptable is the late 70’s/early 80’s era Kurt Bevacqua mustache.
In all cases, a beer belly is a must. You also get added points for being skinny with a beer belly, which obviously isn’t easy. Though cool woodworkers are supposedly on their feet and working with their hands all day, they still somehow manage to look like the least physically fit people on the planet, so that is the look you should be shooting for. Think the opposite of muscles and you will be okay.
Once again I’ve laid out a course that isn’t necessarily easy. However, looking like a woodworker should be a bit of a challenge. Still, I have no doubt that if you follow these steps, you will easily convince most people that you are, in fact, a cool woodworker.
For many people, Sunday is a holy day. Though I no longer attend a church on a regular basis, Sunday still does hold significance at my house because it is usually the only day where I am guaranteed to not be scheduled to work. For that reason, it is usually the only day I can manage to woodwork for a few hours. It is also a day to spend time with my family, relax, etc. So if I do plan on woodworking on a Sunday I usually try to prepare accordingly and even more importantly get an early start.
My goal for this past weekend was to get the case of the Enfield cupboard glued up, while it was drying get in some work in the yard, and then attach the face-frame. At that point I could get the final measurements for the back of the cabinet, cut them to size, and have them waiting to go for next week. On Saturday night I even prepped my garage in attempt to make the whole operation go more smoothly. All in all I planned on having roughly 3 hours free, which should have been enough time to do everything I had in mind. If things went well I even hoped to get in a little sharpening. Then we received a phone call early on Sunday morning and my plans were changed. My wife had to take care of some family business, so I spent the day with my daughter.
Normally, I would have no problem woodworking with my daughter in the garage. I generally won’t operate any power tools while she is in the room, but other than that she is old enough to at least know the drill. Unfortunately, everything I needed to do involved gluing the case first, and I will be the first to admit that when I attempt a glue-up it usually involves a lot of yelling, cursing, and complaining. Much of that complaining stems from the fact that my garage is a miserable place for gluing up anything of size. I realize that in the grand scheme of things, complaining that my garage sucks for woodworking is probably pretty small on the list, but however petty a complaint it may be, it is still a complaint nonetheless.
Rather than make a half-hearted, rushed attempt at woodworking, I decided to put it all on the back-burner. It bothers me to have a half-finished project sitting in my garage, but more important matters needed to be handled. The unfortunate part was the nice, warm weather we happened to have on Sunday morning. A sunny day in the 60’s is a fairly rare occurrence in November for this part of the country. It is conceivable that the next warm weekend we have won’t be until next March. That is a long time, and at that point I hope to be at least two projects removed from my cupboard. The one bit of good news is that Thanksgiving is on Thursday, and I may just be able to get in an hour and at the least get my case glued and clamped. There is nothing wrong with a little woodworking on Thanksgiving morning, is there?
If you’ve been reading this blog over the past few years, you’ve probably noticed that I rarely advocate one tool, or one method of woodworking, over another. I’ve always made mention of how I like to do things, and how I chop out mortises is something I’ve written about frequently.
Of course there are several different ways to make mortises. I’ve always used a mortising chisel because firstly it’s cheap, and secondly a mortising chisel doesn’t take up any space in my garage. Chopping out mortises with a chisel isn’t overly difficult, and it offers one big advantage, and that is the ability to use the chisel to accurately size your tenon, which is much more important than many woodworkers realize. I’ve found that much of the time spent making a mortise and tenon joint isn’t chopping out the mortise, or sawing the tenons (no matter if you use a hand saw, table saw, or both), but fitting the tenon to the mortise. I was taught to make a tenon oversized, and then paring it to fit the joint. I’m sure there are woodworkers out there that can saw out a tenon that fits the tenon perfectly nearly every time, but I’m not one of them. Making the tenon oversized will always insure that you can achieve a snug fit. At that, when you have a project with two dozen M&T joints, paring every one down to size is not always fun, or easy, or accurate. Suddenly your weekend hobby has become a weekend chore bordering on frustration. Some people will tell you to enjoy the process and not think about the time spent. That sounds great, but I don’t work that way. Here is what I’ve discovered: making tenons to fit is much, much easier when the mortises are all identical. When you chop a mortise by hand, no matter how good you are there will be slight variations in width and possibly depth. Those variations, however slight they may be, at best will be added work in fixing, at worst make your project go out of square. All of this has lead me to consider purchasing a tool that I never considered purchasing: a hollow chisel mortising machine. There are certain pieces of woodworking machinery I am against owning such as a jointer, which is for safety concerns. A hollow chisel mortise happens to be another woodworking machine on that list.
In my opinion, a hollow chisel mortiser is a tool for professionals who make a living building furniture. Now I’m sure there are thousands of amateur woodworkers who own hollow chisel mortising machines. I’m not saying that I have some sort of issue with that, and even if I did it’s still none of my concern. I can only speak for myself, and it’s difficult for me to justify spending $400 + dollars on a tool that has only one purpose. At the same time, I don’t like veg-o-matic tools like the router, which it seems that every other day somebody is trying to find a new use for. But I’ve determined that at this juncture in my life I don’t have time enough to dedicate to chopping out several dozen mortises by hand, even though I don’t mind the process. My current project has only eight mortises, had that number been doubled or tripled, I would be looking at not one month of build time, but three. And as I’ve said before, the longer it takes to build a project, the better is the chance that it will never get finished. So even though I am not a professional woodworker, and even though some of my projects are not heavy on M&T joinery, the next piece of woodworking machinery I purchase may be a hollow chisel mortising machine. I can say from experience that if anything else they are consistent, and consistent is accurate, and accuracy saves time.
Should woodworking be about saving time? Maybe not, but it also shouldn’t be frustrating, and nothing can be more frustrating than having to go back and fix step 2 when you are about to start step 9. This I do know, I spent several hours last weekend making and fitting(2!!!) mortise and tenon joints. Part of that is just because of my skill level, but the other part is the method. If I am going to continue making furniture in my spare time but not compromise on the joinery, then it’s high time I bit the bullet and invested in the proper piece of equipment to make that happen. Or maybe my wife will take a hint for once and it will be under the Christmas tree on December 25th.
In general, I like Shaker furniture. I like how it is constructed, and I like how it looks, and it is a style of furniture that works well in my house. Before I started constructing the Enfield Cupboard, I had only made two other pieces of true Shaker furniture, so my experience in building in the Shaker style is limited.
The Enfield cupboard on the surface seemed to be an attractive project that was relatively straightforward to build. I’ve so far spent about 12 hours on the construction and I can now say that this piece is not as easy to make as it looks on the surface. Firstly, there is case construction using dado/rabbet joinery. The face frame is constructed using mortise and tenon joinery. There are some decorative arches and curves. The mouldings are shop made and require miters, and the back of the case uses tongue and groove boards. Maybe the most critical part of the construction requires making an inset, paneled door. In other words, this cupboard is by no means “easy” to build. I had gone into this project with the mistaken notion that it would only require time to make. I underestimated the project, which I honestly never do, and I was wrong.
This cupboard probably falls into the “intermediate” level of construction for the reasons I described above. As there is nothing on this project that I can’t really handle, I consider myself an intermediate level woodworker. What would I consider “advanced”? I would call advanced any project that would require all of the major forms of joinery: dovetail, mortise and tenon, dado. An advanced project would have moving parts such as drawers and doors. An advanced project would also require some inlay work, as well as turning or carving, or both. An advanced project would also require the milling of parts to many different thicknesses. An advanced project will likely require several different finishing techniques. Most importantly, and advanced project needs to look like a piece of fine furniture.
My point is that this project is not an advanced project, but it is still a challenge, and it’s a bigger challenge than I thought it would be. I have to admit that this cupboard is going to take twice as long to build than I thought it would. That’s a big mistake on my part, and one I’ve always prided myself on not making. The humble Shakers and a humble piece of their furniture have managed to humble me. They’ve managed to accomplish what few people alive today can do. For that, I have to give them some credit.
I continued work on my Enfield Cupboard yesterday afternoon. I had planned on getting the face frame finished, as well as the case side arches sawn so I could glue up the carcase today. Unfortunately, I ran out of time, but I did manage to get the face frame ready to go.
I started out by laying out the mortises for the top rail. I decided to chop them out by hand because there are only two. That part went fairly quickly, but the poplar I’m working with is stringy, and it wasn’t easy to get the mortises cleaned out. I then made the tenons on the rail by using the table saw jig I built a few weeks back. It worked well, but I did have to wax the runners of both the jig and the table saw fence to get it to slide more freely. Before I go on I will admit that I hate making mortise and tenon joints. Firstly, I’ll say that I’m not all that great at fitting them from the get go, and I always have to spend the extra time getting them fit properly. In this case it was about 15 minutes of added work with a router plane. I would much rather make ship lap joints, which I’m good at and are much of the time just as strong. In any event, it was finished and I moved on to sawing the arches at the bottom of the stiles.
To lay out the arches on the stiles I followed the measurements on the original Enfield plan. I marked some guidelines, and used a French curve to draw the arch. I sawed the first arch with a jigsaw, used it to mark the second arch, and did the same. I then clamped both together and cleaned up the cut with a spokeshave and some light sanding. Before I glued up the face frame I planed the edges, just a few passes, with a smooth plane and gave it a very light sanding. I then glued it, clamped it, and let it dry overnight. Today, I hope to get the case sides finished, though I’m not necessarily sure about gluing it up yet. It’s quite cold right now, and the temperature isn’t expected to rise much above freezing. The case is too large to bring inside to dry, so I’m going to play it by ear.
On another note, last winter I built a Dutch Tool Chest. I felt it would be both useful and fun to build. It does a nice job of holding tools, but I have to say that it is really getting on my last nerve. What is the problem? I have nowhere to put it. The chest always seems to be in the way, and I’m constantly moving it whenever I woodwork. Considering that the chest weighs around 120 lbs, this part isn’t fun. One solution I’ve seen is to attach a French cleat and hang it on the wall, which I might do, but doesn’t that defeat the purpose? It is too deep to be a wall cabinet, at least in my garage, and too large to be unobtrusive on the floor. If I had the time and money, I would make a proper wall cabinet for tools and be done with it. Live and learn I guess.
****once again, sorry for the lack of photos. My charming little photographer wasn’t home again****
Over the past few weeks I’ve received several nice emails (even some from family) asking me where the rant-driven, vitriolic, cynical version of my woodworking blog has gone. It’s still here, somewhere. But the truth is that I’ve stopped reading nearly every “professional” woodworking blog, and when I do happen to read a professional blog, those readings have been few and far between. In other words, I haven’t read anything supremely stupid lately, at least not stupid enough to piss me off. So that’s the answer.
Don’t worry, this has happened before. I know sooner or later I will stumble upon something a “professional” has written, it will be really stupid or condescending, or both, and I will write a post about it. In fact, I can guarantee it. It is an inevitability. So please don’t despair; I’m still here.