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Posted by joeabbott on January 2, 2014

Yesterday I felt the part of the woodworker.

Up until yesterday, the majority of the work I’d done was on a large scale; things I’d never done before. I was bringing in materials that required a specially made cradle for my car, I was cutting out a dozen pieces of large panels, I was joining wood too large for any of my clamps, or I was moving pieces that required my wife’s help. It felt less like woodworking and more like construction, at least on the scale that I’m used to.

But, yesterday was about finesse and seeing a project come together. It felt like I was doing something right and it showed when I started putting it together. Suzanne has had to deal with a lot of my petulant moods over these last few weeks, as I became frustrated at all the new skills I was building; yesterday she got to see a happy Joe as things fell into place.


As I crouched on the top of the panel, tap-tap-tapping out slivers of wood, I thought how (for me) woodworking can be like fishing: it’s a game of no rushing, a game of patience, a game of building skills and exercising those again and again for a given result. The analogy breaks down in dozens of ways, but I’m not an active fisherman and have fished because I like the pace. The start of today was about slowing down.

If power tools are the arms and legs of woodworking, hogging out lots of material and making tons of chips, hand tools are the fingers: built for fine-grained work and finesse. Earlier I’d used my router to plow the grooves and dadoes into my bottom and sub-top pieces; today was time to make the fits work.

I started on the sub-top and worked to ensure the fits were tight. No one would see the sub-top, so I could have made them loose and gappy, but knew I was building skills that I’d carry to the parts that did matter, that people would see.

I started with a precise rule and striking knife, set in some lines, I’d then use a pencil to color in the lines … just making them darker so these old eyes could find the right lines in the bamboo wood! … and then I’d be set to chop them out.

A P1060020 B P1060025 CP1060024

In A I was preparing to extend the sides lines and then box out the end at a given dimension from the front lip; in B you can see the lines with the pencil darkening them; C is a close-up.

Once I had my lines, I’d then use a chisel to chop out the waste. I’d work diligently against the lines but, once I had a shoulder around the edge, I could start to be a bit more aggressive in pulling out the wood. But, “aggressive” here was still making mighty small chips.

D P1060038 E P1060039 F P1060026

In D I have the edges defined and the waste ready for removal; in E I’m starting to make some progress on the slot, and in F I just need to clean out the waste and tidy up the edges.

Once I had this done, I would then use a hand router plane to level out the bottom. For the most part this was an exercise in removing 1/16” of material or cleaning up a few stray patches of rough wood left by my electric router. In one dado I appear to have forgotten to drop my electric router to the final stop and was left hand-planing a 1/4” material out of the entire slot! For that exercise I had to use my shoulder plane: it was thin enough to get into the groove and was able to remove a decent amount of wood. Ugh … that was some work.

G P1060032  H P1060033

In G you can see the hand router doing what a router does: levels out the bottom. And in H you can see the end result: a nice, tight fit for the vertical walls; ignore the frayed edge on the “vertical wall” in H … it was just a test piece!

Dry fit

P1060043P1060041Once we had all the corners cut into the bottom and sub-top, it was time to dry fit!

I needed Suzy to help and can’t write enough about her patience and assistance. We placed the vertical walls into their slots and were edified with snug fits all around. Then we had to lift the sub-top and place it on top of the walls. This is a tricky part as the butt joint where we created the 12’ panel isn’t strong enough to support itself and requires some goodly support on my part.

We got it in place and, after a lot of banging and scratching of the head, I realized why I wasn’t getting the perfect fit. When I was cutting the corners in the sub-top, I used a 3”-from-the-front-lip policy … just like in the SketchUp model. However, when I started cutting the bottom slots, I found that one wall was 2 7/8” from the front lip, and so I cut all of the bottom grooves out to 2 7/8”. That 1/8” was causing me problems.

So, Suzy and I had to rotate the sub-top off and back down, wherein I extended the slots by 1/4”. Yes, I only needed 1/8”, but I considered that no one would see the top and that I might be off just a bit more somewhere else. I could live with a minor gap in that location.

Once that was done, we went through the motion of another dry fit, liked what we saw, and then turned the whole thing upside down. Yeah, that may take a little explaining.

I found that even with a tight fit on all the joints, there were minor areas I’d need to address to get everything flush. It might be a minor dusting with 120-grit sandpaper, maybe a light stroke or two with a hand plane, or some other adjustment. But, when looking over the whole, I wanted the walls to fit snugly into the bottom slots, dadoes, and grooves. So, the plan was to turn it over so I could access the bottoms and lock those in place, then return to an upside-right position, lock in the tops, and tweak the fit. Simple.

Screws and … wait

As with all my plans, I need to make adjustments here and there as reality and my perception collide or veer off to never entertain one’s company again. In this case, I had a 12’ cabinet on its top and was going through my “lock it in place” set of steps when I realized the glue part of this equation wasn’t to be. Normally I’d add glue and then drive in a screw … where the glue is the permanent bond for the joint and the screw just holds things tight until the glue dries.

To use glue, I’d need clamps, time for it to set, and then Suzy’s help to turn the whole thing upside right again. With Suzy heading to work tomorrow, I made the call to omit the glue. Again, this isn’t the normal piece of furniture we’ll drag about the room or move with us when we go: this is built-in and not moving once it’s in place. Glue would help but for joints that will only take vertical load in their acting lifetime, I don’t need the glue. So, for the vertical wall-to-bottom joint … no glue for you!


With that decision made, I marked where the walls would run on the underside of the bottom (so I’d know where to drive a screw … last thing I needed was to try and figure out how to patch a wall with a screw coming out the side!) and then made sure the front edge of the wall was firmly pushed into the front of its dado. Then I clamped on either side of the wall with a caul to ensure the wall was seated, I drove a 1.25” screw into the center of the wall, and then a 2” screw at the front and another 2” screw in the back; three screws per wall.

Seven walls and twenty-one screws later, I was ready for Suzy’s help again. Although, this time, we weren’t just flipping the bottom or sub-top; this time we were rotating the bottom, sub-top, and all the wall! THAT WAS HEAVY!

Todo today

In the picture below, you see how it’ll greet me this morning; the clamps on the upper front corners are for stiffness … the end walls are not in a dado, they are simply lapped with the bottom/sub-top. The orange clamps at the right are holding a corner on the lower-back side that’s being glued down … it wanted to flake off.


Today I have ambitions! Today I’d like to complete the following: screw down the sub-top, sand down the interior parts (the walls should be done and I should have done the bottom before attaching the walls to it!), wipe down everything, apply a couple coats of oil (3-minimum), and get on some wax. While the oil and wax dry, I’ll start cutting out the final top and building that.

Yup, ambitious but I should be able to do it. I should be laying in oil well before lunch time and by then I’ll have good light and a small amount of “heat” for the work in the garage. I may even have time to start cutting the upper door rail and doors! Actually, now that I think about it, I should probably start the door rail before I do the top.


That’s all, folks! Yesterday was a good day and nice way to start the New Year. I started to feel the part of a woodworker and was happy to see the project progress from “bunch of parts” to something that resembles as cabinet! I have a lot to think about yet on this but I like what I’m seeing! Thanks for dropping in.


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