Intellectual Stretching

In my day to day life, I am attorney. My practice focuses on Mergers and Acquisitions and Complex Corporate Governance (with a fair bit of Commercial Contracting and Emerging Companies and Venture Capital matters). While I love what I do, not everything in my day job is intellectually stimulating. It’s true, there are sometimes novel (to me) issues that need sorting. But the typical deal is, well, pretty typical (at least after about 15 years). So woodworking often fills the void of intellectual expansion for me.

A silly little thing.

A person I care very much about asked for a lap desk to make her home office (read: couch) more comfortable. While I myself am a work from work person, I appreciate a good thought experiment that I can sort out with my hands. So I made a lap desk with non-right angle corners.

I personally think dovetails are best. But I also like finger joints. Not the cross cut sled on the table saw version, but the hand cut, assembled-like-dovetails variety. Contrary to popular belief, it is much harder to saw square in two directions than it is to saw angles. Or at least it is to me. And, when cut right, finfer joints can look wonderful and only need a couple of nails to be as permanent as well-fitting dovetails.

I really like this little Moxon vise made only with home center oak and threaded rod.

Making these angled finger joints was an exercise in working things out. Sure, I could have just searched YouTube for a tutorial (James Wright has an excellent how-to on angled dovetails, btw). But I chose to work it out myself. And, dagnammit, it worked pretty well.

In my (admittedly limited) experience, this is one place where it pays to have deeper baselines (and protruding pins/tails to pare down) really pays off. I tend to scribe base lines exactly to part thickness for regular dovetails, but that doesn’t seem ideal for non-square corners.

Like so.

In any event, after sawing the pins, my process for angled corners is to chop down, on the bench, from the higher side perpendicular to the baseline. This high side is the inside corner all around. Then, I discovered, it’s better to pare in the vise, in small bites, instead of trying to get the angle correct with chisel and mallet on the bench. It takes a bit longer, true. But the fit is far better when you sneak up on it in small bites.

Look at that continuous grain!

And, so, I had an intellectually stimulating time at the bench making a thing for a person, using a technique I had not done before. It only took an hour or so (after stock prep). And now I know how to do it, for all time.

I just need to chop off 5″ from each foot because apparently a 15″ high lap desk doesn’t really work for non-giants.

JPG

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