The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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A Blessing in Disguise


Last week while working on my cabinet, I came to the conclusion that it needed to be resized. The decision was an easy one to make, as my real world test assembly trumped my “on paper” proportional drawing. So on Sunday morning I started to demolition/reconstruction.

The most unfortunate part of the cabinet resizing was the fact that I would be losing two of the dados I worked so hard to make. I won’t bore anybody with the details over sawing dados (I covered that in my last post) Let me just say that because these dados will be visible, they needed to be air tight. It took me several hours, but I did manage to get my dados finished, nice and tight and how I wanted them. While sawing dados by hand is not necessarily difficult, it is VERY difficult to keep those dados perfectly in line with both case sides. As I’ve said many, many times, woodworking is all about proper and accurate lay out, plain and simple. Without accuracy I don’t care what methods you are using, because they will all fail.

For this case, just 1/16th of an inch off and it’s un-level, out of square, and generally ready for the burn pile. That all being said, I don’t think I will be sawing dados on a large case by hand next time I work on a cabinet such as this, at least if those dados are going to be visible. Don’t get me wrong, I got the job done, but it ate up my entire morning, and when you’re like me and you a very limited window with which to woodwork, every minute counts.

Cleaning up the dados with a router plane

Cleaning up the dados with a router plane

Two perfect little shavings the rabbet plane made on the long grain.

Two perfect little shavings the rabbet plane made on the long grain.

The fun part was next. Firstly, as I mentioned, I did resize both the height and depth of the cabinet. I removed 10 inches from the height and just ¾ of an inch from the depth. I then added the dados for the case back to hold the back boards. For that I used the newly sharpened moving fillister plane. Afterwards I cleaned up all of the dados with the newly sharpened router plane. It then came time to add the subtle curve to the top of the case, and for that I turned to my lovely wife for guidance.
I have an adjustable French curve, and with my wife watching and scrutinizing, I moved the curve back and forth, tracing lines until we came to a shape that seemed pleasing to her. Once that was finished, I clamped both boards together and sawed them with a coping saw. On a side note, I have an Olson coping saw, and it does a nice job. However, I had used some Craftsman saw blades (fine cut) which all snapped. I then took the original coarse blade that came with the Olson and that worked just fine. After about 20 minutes of rasp, spoke shave, and sandpaper work the curves looked pretty good. It then came time to saw out the arches at the case bottom.

Cleaning up the case sides with the #7

Cleaning up the case sides with the #7

The joint is tight

The joint is tight

Testing curves

Testing curves

Curve after some rasping and spoke shave work

Curve after some rasping and spoke shave work

Curve spokeshaved and sanded

Curves spokeshaved and sanded

For the arches I once again clamped both boards together, used a compass to outline the arc, marking both sides for accuracy,  I then sawed a kerf down the center. The cut was finished off with a coping saw. Because the radius was tight, I could not use a spoke shave to clean up the cuts, so I used the rasp along with a small sanding drum attached to a cordless drill. The sanding drum did a nice job, and I finished it all up with some light hand sanding.

After that was finished I did a test assembly and happily everything looked good. I nearly called it a day, but I decided to put in a little work on the top shelf backer board. There is nothing fancy going on there, just a gentle arc to add some visual interest. I marked the arc using the adjustable curve, and rather than using a saw to cut it out, I used a chisel and some strategically placed saw kerfs. To finish it off, I used the spoke shave and some sand paper.

Bottom arches laid out

Bottom arches laid out

An interesting construction feature of the top shelf (at least to me) is a tongue I added to the shelf back to receive both the backer board as well as the three boards which will make up the back of the cabinet. I will likely glue the backer board to the shelf tongue. The tongue and grooved back boards will obviously float. Speaking of those tongue and grooved boards, that should be the most enjoyable part of the project. I will get to use my LN #48 plane as well as the 3/8th beading plane. The final addition will be an arch for the bottom of the case, which will be attached with stub tenons.

Tongue on the top shelf is tough to see in this photo

Tongue on the top shelf is tough to see in this photo

getting ready to chisel out the arcs

getting ready to chisel out the arcs

If all goes well and the stars align, I should have the construction phase of the case finished next weekend. If the planets align I may even have the case assembled and ready for finish; it really all depends on what my family has planned for me. Either way, I’m happy with how this project is progressing. The minor changes I made in the case dimensions have made a huge difference, and for once one of my mistakes turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Dry assembly

Dry assembly

Without the topshelf backer board

Without the topshelf backer board



  1. Greg Merritt says:

    I like it! Nice clean work all around so far Bill. No small feat when working with pine. You just look at it wrong and it dents or bruises. Any ideas on what finish your going to go with? Also, your adjustable curve…is that the one from Lee Valley? I’ve been looking at it and the drawing bow doohickey. It’s tough to bend a stick and draw a line with just the two hands.
    Again, the cabinet is looking really good.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks Greg. Luckily the pine is high quality. There are some dings here and there, but they won’t be visible. It’s funny that you used briwax on your table, because I ordered some(mahogany) last week on Amazon. I was going to ask your advice on how to go about using it as far as prep etc.

      The curve is from Lee Valley. I don’t use it much, but it sure does come in handy when I need it. It does flex under pressure, which sometimes is a pain when tracing, but as long as you’re gentle it’s a good, inexpensive tool.
      Thanks again,

      • Greg Merritt says:

        Thanks for the info Bill.
        As to the Briwax. I’ve only used it once on raw wood with mixed results. See this post for what it looked like.
        In retrospect I should have added a couple of coats of BLO before going in with the Briwax. Maybe even a light dye or stain before the Briwax. Bottom line is that the tinted wax works best as a toner and tends to look a little flat on its own.
        I’m on the fence with my current project. Milk paint, shellac and wax or a dye and wax finish.
        Shoot me an email if you have some follow up questions. I’ll help as much as I can.

      • billlattpa says:

        I was thinking of Mahogany gel stain, and then finishing it with the Mahogany briwax. Once again, I have no idea how this will look, so I’m going to try on a piece of scrap some wood condition, the gel stain, and the wax and see what happens. I just don’t want to deal with any more “satin” finishes. I’m sick of the look and I’d like to try something different.
        Thanks. and I will likely take you up on your offer.

  2. Randall says:

    Looking good. I aspire to tight dados like the one pictured

  3. Kinderhook88 says:

    Really nice work, Bill. Good luck with the finishing.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks! This is shaping up to be one of my favorite projects. Because it’s based on some classic designs, as long as stay accurate and keep the details crisp it should turn out nicely. I should have the woodworking portion finished this coming weekend, at least I hope to.

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October 2015
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