The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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The bravery test.

I can say without shame that I am not a furniture designer. I know that I’ve written before about how I rarely follow woodworking plans, and that is true. But while most of the furniture I make I do technically design myself, I usually base it off of previous design elements. My current project is no exception.

For this project, I wanted to make a narrow, somewhat unobtrusive cabinet that would sit nicely in a corner, hold some framed pictures, possibly a few little odds and ends, maybe a trophy  or medal (ahem). So I measured a few possible locations in my house, narrowed it down to two, and came up with the dimensions accordingly. And while I can’t claim to be overly concerned with proportion, I did make an attempt to make this cabinet proportional, as in the shelves are twice the case width, and the height is three times the shelf width. I’ve found that those proportions are usually pleasing. So with all of my careful planning it was only natural that something went horribly wrong.

Sunday morning I burst into my garage all ready to go. My stock was already initially prepared, my tools were sharp, and my work space clear. The first step was to make the dados to hold the shelves. I normally like adjustable shelving, but in this case (both literally and figuratively) I want all of the shelves static because it will allow me to incorporate decorative hardware into the design. I have a dado plane that I’ve restored, and that was the tool I had hoped to use, but I’ve been having trouble with the wedge, and the practice dados didn’t turn out as nicely as I would have liked, so I used a saw and chisel.

Because there are ten dados in this case, and because some family was stopping by for a visit, I knew I wouldn’t have time to do all ten, so I concentrated on the top and bottom set. To make the dados, I used a knife to define the cut, used a chisel to make a knife wall, used a carcase saw to get the depth, chopped out the waste with a chisel, and cleaned it all up with a router plane. It wasn’t fast work, but it didn’t go too slowly either, and I had the four dados finished in about an hour. To my credit, the dados turned out nicely. The fit was good, and the one real mistake I made was going to disappear when I rabbeted the case side for the back panels. But when I did the test fit something didn’t seem right.

****before I go on, I just want to say that if you are cutting your dados with hand tools and you need to mark a knife line, the only tool to use is a 12 inch combination square. I tried a square I have from Woodpeckers, as well as a try square, and both were almost useless. The combination square, with it’s “triangle” shape and thin blade is by far the most steadfast and accurate way to go about it****

Finished dados didn't turn out so bad

Finished dados didn’t turn out so bad

The shelves fit tight with almost no gap

The shelves fit tight with almost no gap

After our company left, I brought my lovely wife into the garage with me and I assembled the case. My wife held it up and I stepped back to get a proper perspective, and right away I knew the case was just too tall. I wanted this case to almost disappear into a room, and instead it was towering over my wife (to be fair she is only 5′ 1″ tall). In any event, it just didn’t look right to my eye. Of course I didn’t yet curve the case sides, or add any of the decorative trim or features which will certainly lighten the look of the case, and my wife suggested that I should possibly do that before I made any rash decisions. But I don’t think it will make much of a difference, and in doing that it may only cause me to do the same work twice. So I’ve decided that I will shorten the case by ten inches. The good news is the bottom dados are salvageable; the bad news is that the top dados are not.

It's just too tall.

It’s just too tall.

Unfortunately this is going to negate most of the work I put in on Sunday, but I feel it has to be done, because I know I’ll regret it completely if I don’t. I’ve never been the person who has taken the easy way out. I’m not saying that taking the easy way out is necessarily a bad thing, because sometimes the easy way is also the best way. But in this case the easy way out is really just the lazy way out. Whatever I may be, and whatever bad qualities I may have, being lazy isn’t one of them.

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The Tough Get Going

So the woodworking mafia has effectively shut down my vitriol with thinly veiled accusations and threats of blackballing.  My wife, who hates me, couldn’t really care less if I look like Captain America or Captain Crunch. And, I spend more than half of my waking hours at work. Life has not been kind to the SCW lately. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going.  I can still woodwork, and that is exactly what I am going to do.

This past summer was pretty rough, and I’m not only talking about the weather, and for a while it didn’t seem like woodworking would be in the cards for the foreseeable future. But just as I was lamenting my lack of inspiration concerning possible woodworking projects, several ideas came to me at once. So for my next project I am going to make a narrow bookcase/display cabinet. I’ve always liked the look of Arts and Crafts style bookcases; I like narrow cabinets, and maybe most importantly, I have the perfect place for it. , So I researched a few common designs, combined the features that I liked, and  began making some drawings and laying out basic dimensions of the case. I don’t actually plan on using the cabinet for books. A hobby of mine, which may sound strange to some people (which also drives my wife crazy), is framing and displaying historical letters and documents, such as the Gettysburg Address, the  “Infamy speech”, as well as documents such as Declaration of Independence. Though I’m partial to material pertaining to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, I don’t discriminate.

I might not be an artist, but it tells me what I want to know

I might not be an artist, but it tells me what I want to know

I would like the finished cabinet to be somewhere around 66 inches tall, 22 inches wide, and 11 inches deep. That should give me enough room for five shelves, with each shelf holding up to two standard sized documents, and/or a nick-knack or two. As far as material, I will likely use clear pine just for the expense (or lack of expense). However, I am going to Hearne Hardwoods next week for the Lie Nielsen hand-tool event, and if I can somehow afford it, I would love to pick up some quarter-sawn oak or possibly some walnut for this project, but considering that my budget is around $200 I don’t think that is going to happen. Still, I am going to attempt to make an accurate cut list and see what material may fall within my budget.

If I get my drawings finalized, and If everything goes according to plan, I should get this project up and running by the first weekend in October. So even if my wife hates me, and a bunch of woodworking geeks hate me, and I’m working myself to death. I don’t care anymore, because I’m going to be woodworking again, and that’s going to make it all better.

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