The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Hibernation

With my latest project completed, and with the winter fast approaching, decision time will soon be upon me. As I’ve repeated many, many times before; I do not like woodworking during the winter months. The past three or four winters have been particularly cold and long, and everything about woodworking becomes more difficult during those months.

However, I do have a few ideas cooking.

I had mentioned in another post that I would like to attempt to make a project using construction lumber. I think I may have found two that would be suitable. One is a table I happened to see in a magazine called Early American Life. I’ve seen tables such as this one before, but I’m not really sure what I should call the particular style. I sketched it from memory and allowed my daughter to color it in (just for fun). To me it looks similar to a Shaker style table. Whatever it may be called, it is certainly falls well within my skills and tool set to build. And because my wife has asked me to make a project that she could paint, I think this would fit the bill nicely. I’m still not completely settled on the design, though. The table has a drawer, most end tables do, but I’m not sold on the idea of it “needing one”. A table of this size has only the space for a small drawer, which to me borders on useless. It will fill up with half-dead AA batteries and junky pencils with cartoon characters on them. Though a drawer would be a good excuse to practice half-blind dovetails, I can easily get in some practice on those without having to build a table around it. Rather, I think the table will have a false drawer, because I believe it will look a bit bland without one.

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The other project is something my wife specifically asked me to build. Firstly, it’s not a piece of furniture; it is basically a shelf that she found on Pinterest. To put it mildly, I’m not very “pinterested” in building it. Bad puns notwithstanding, because my wife rarely asks me to build specific pieces of furniture, and because it seems fairly simple to build, I think I will build it for her sometime in December.

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Otherwise, I have one other goal for the upcoming winter, and that is sharpening. For the past few weeks I’ve been sharpening my tools whenever I get a spare moment. I’ll be experimenting with different methods, not that there’s anything new under the sun when it comes to sharpening woodworking tools, but there may be some methods or sequences that work better for me than others. So far, I’ve changed little, and I’m still sticking to the typical diamond plate, water stone, strop method. The first real changes I’ve made thus far is the amount of strokes I take. My chisels seem to benefit from a relatively short sharpening time, with the most time spent on the 8000 grit water stone. The plane irons seem to benefit from more time on the diamond plates. With the strop, I’ve taken to a heavier hand, using more force than I normally would. It has seemed to make a slight difference, but nothing overwhelming.

For this experiment I am trying to use a scientific method, documenting my methods in a note pad  and notating the results. Whether or not it makes a difference is another matter, but it should keep me busy for a little while.

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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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