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Now, where was I?

Posted by joeabbott on February 8, 2014

And, seriously, I had to check my own blog to remember!

Sometime mid-December I started building a cabinet, the base for an intended (large-ish) bookshelf (that I’ll also build) for our front room; something that had been in the “intending” for quite a wile … and planning for it a bit less. And still, I’m in the middle of the project and it seemed to disappear from the radar, but, there it was last mentioned … down below my trip back home, past a long ramble about a game I found to be so-so, and after a dissertation on Xbox Achievements and Gamerscore, the last mention of the cabinet.

Now, I very much like the cabinet and am as excited as ever, but I was at a tough spot in the building and somewhat reluctant to take that next step: it’d be a biggie and had the potential to ruin the entire project But let’s give everyone a decent grounding as to where we were and then I can bring you up to where we are.

When we last left our hero …

P1060111About three weeks ago I wrote about flattening the backs of the top panel of the cabinet top with a belt sander. The stuff of epic novels, baby! You see, I joined two sections of wood that were not the same thickness, and the result was a panel that was thicker in the middle than on the ends. Unfortunately, the next step in assembly required that I glue the top panel to the substructure and clamp the edges really tightly. The goal being for the substructure and top panel to have the appearance of a single panel of wood. So the thicker part needed to be thinned a bit.

And that’s where I left things: all the panels had been thinned and I just needed to glue them to the substructure. Why drag my feet?

Well, I was worried I hadn’t thinned the panels enough. I was worried that I wouldn’t get a tight joint between the three top panel parts. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to clamp the edges tightly, giving that appearance of a single piece of wood. And I was worried that the oversized top, when trimmed, might look bad. While I generally look at people who worry in the same way as I look at someone wasting their time, I felt I had a lot to worry about.

Years ago I worked for a manager who asked me to do a task. It stretched my skills and pushed me into an uncomfortable position and, as a result, I dragged my feet doing it. One day after getting yet another status report saying, “still working on this”, he asked what was going on. I’m pretty much an open book so I told him I worried about failing, to which he responded, “And what would happen then?”

I was incredulous and not sure how to respond. “I’d fail,” I replied, wondering if he misheard me. “And then what?” he repeated.

Again I found myself at sea. Here I was clearly detailing my chief fear and concern, very nearly baring my soul in bluntly stating that I might fail, and he was asking this stupid question. But later in that conversation and over the many years, I thought on his question and really admire his tack and handling of the situation. Yes, I might fail, but then what? I wouldn’t be terminated … the price for failure was far lower than that. Pretty much, in that role for that job, I’d just be expected to try again.

And I’d learn a way that didn’t work, I’d gain information and skills in the failing, and I’d be better prepared to do it better the next time.

I’ve told Suzy many times over the past few months that the next cabinet I build for her will be even better. In many ways I’m failing here and failing there, but I’m also learning how to build a cabinet. Worry may have its place, but nothing beats execution and giving something a try.

We’re hosting a party for the family

While I’d like to relate that I leaned back on my recollection of the aside above and broke through my paralysis and jumped into finishing the cabinet, it wasn’t until Suzy asked, “Will the cabinet be ready when my family comes over in a couple weeks?” that I really engaged.

Suzy’s family had heard about this project for a while. I’m not sure they remember, but it’s been on the to-do list for ages and has come up from time-to-time. They also know that I started at Christmas time and, here it is, about 2 months after began and they were dropping in. Time to turbocharge my efforts.

With that I made a few essays into how I’d attach the top: the panels seemed to be reasonably flat, the pipe clamps I bought would pull it up, and the large collection of clamps I have should be sufficient to allow me to pin it down. I also decided to position the oversized top panel closer to the front edge of the substructure so I wouldn’t have to trim much of that edge; I’d also clamp down one side, then attach the center strip and clamp that, and finally I’d attach the remaining top panel.

Here are a few photos of that in progress.

First panel

These pictures should clarify what I’m talking about.

For the first panel, I ran a lot of clamps around the edges. and applied pressure in the middle of the panel by “cauls”.  The black bar things are the cauls … special boards used to ensure you get pressure along an entire edge when you don’t have a lot of clamps. I found that, even with the caul, a few extra clamps along it helped a bunch. You don’t see it in the pictures below, but I added a few clamps along the open edge on the right when I was done taking photos.


Center strip

The center strip is a 3”-4” strip of VG bamboo that I used to help hide any potential gaps in the long, top surface … I could apply putty here and it would hide in all grain pattern of the bamboo. It also adds a bit in the decorative department and helped give a sense of balance. And, I did need a small amount of wood putty, so it ultimately did what it was designed to do.

To pull this off, I required the pipe clamps to pull the center strip hard up against the “first panel”, I needed hard pressure at the edges to make a tight seam on the edge, and I needed pressure across the entire face to hold it down. That’s a tall order I satisfied as shown below.


Final panel

And that brought me to the last panel.

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to use the angled cauls that I used for the “first panel” … the pipe clamps I’d use to hold all the top parts tightly together would inhibit their path. So, I recognized they wouldn’t be and just clamped up everything tightly on the edges.

In the first picture, you can see we’re getting ready. That’s the left hand panel (the “final panel”) that’s sitting on top of the already-installed right hand side (first panel and center strip); a keen eye will pick out the “biscuits” inside the cabinet ready to be installed. The center image shows me in a rare action shot, and the last picture is the final clamp-up.


How’d you do that?

P1060100imageWhile there’s a lot to see in the pictures above, it’s what’s not shown that really made the difference: Suzy was every bit a part of the installation as I was. We inverted the panel we were going to install onto the idle part of the cabinet top and, while I was spreading glue on that part, Suzy was spreading glue on the cabinet substructure. Once we had glue on both parts, we’d turn the panel over, position it, and clamp like heck.

She didn’t help as much with the clamping, but mostly because I do things like this: give something a try, see how it either suits me or doesn’t, and then tweak as I go. Insert a bunch of cussing as I rail against my lack of skill or forethought, and Suzy patiently waiting to see how she can help. How about an example?

In the pictures above, you can see me installing a clamp that goes from the top of the caul to the bottom of the substructure of the cabinet. Here’s a close-up of those clamps, photo to the right.

The clamp on the left is close enough to the end of the cabinet that it’s got the end wall to support a lot of the clamping pressure; the clamp on the right pinning the end of the caul is too far from the wall to get a lot of support from the wall. Anyhow, when I was tightening them up, I gave the one on the right (holding the caul) a bit of a turn and heard a mighty *crack*. I couldn’t see anything that broke, but I’m sure something in the bottom substructure panel separated. My problem was I only needed to clamp the top panel to the top of the substructure … not the entire cabinet. After the pictures were taken, I repositioned the clamp holding the caul to just grab the top panel and top of the substructure.

Anyhow, Suzy and I used nearly two bottles of glue and a couple of chip brushes to smear all that glue onto the panels. It was a long, tiring couple of days but we were getting closer to having the cabinet done!


I’ve made additional progress but I’ll save that for tomorrow. Now? Well, I’m not done with the doors yet and the party starts in a few hours … time to get cracking!


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