Ruminations

To Last Forever

Some of my pieces are utility furniture that could easily be purchased at an IKEA or Bed, Bath & Beyond.  And those store-bought pieces would serve their purpose just fine for a modest price.  But instead, I choose to make these things by hand.  “Why?”, you ask.  Three reasons, really.

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A very simple wall rack for towels, in situ.

The first reason is probably the most obvious: I enjoy the making.  If I didn’t derive extreme satisfaction from the work of my hands, why bother with the sometimes-arduous act of hand tool woodworking?  And I certainly wouldn’t write about.

The second reason is probably also obvious: I can make to exact specifications.  Store-bought items are rarely just the right size.  For example, I needed a wall rack for towels that could fit behind a bathroom door.  It also had to hold all my bath towels and hand towels and allow the door open all the way.  What is the likelihood I would find a 14″ x 30″ x 7.25″ rack at a store?  And in the same color white as the walls?  Possible, but unlikely.

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Some of the towels are in the laundry or on the hooks/racks.

The third and final reason is less obvious: I can make something that will last.  This is the core of the Christopher Schwarz philosophy of Aesthetic Anarchism.  The work of my hands is far more durable than anything I can buy at a store.  Dovetail and housing joints  in pine are stronger than metal screws and dowels in MDF by orders of magnitude.  Barring catastrophe or relocation, I will never again need to make another behind-the-door hanging cabinet for the spare bathroom.

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Thar be dovetails under that paint.

I do not discount the labor required to produce the piece.  But, in my mind, the labor costs are worth the benefits of making it myself.

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Needing Something More

It’s a magic thing.  Starting from 7 linear feet of home center 1×12 eastern white pine. Adding the plane, the saw and the chisel.  Then ending up at the finished piece.  In this case, a 14″ x 30″ x 7.25″ wall cabinet, with through-dovetails at the corners and stopped dadoes for the shelf.  It is as perfect as I am capable of making.

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And perfect for hiding in a bathroom corner behind a door!

But it looks a bit plain to me.  I can only imagine how drab it will be when painted grey to match the vanity in the bathroom.  Rather than shape the sides, though, I may spruce it up with small molded face frame.  Or perhaps just an applied moulding on the shelf.  In any event, something I can do with moulding planes.

It feels like everything I make is square and flat.  Maybe it’s time I learn to cut compound dovetails.

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Everyone Leaves in the End

I think about death pretty often.  My own, mostly.  It intrigues me, in a way.  I certainly do not fear death.  Why waste the energy worrying about something that will absolutely, with one hundred percent certainty, happen to each and every one of us?  Those who are scared of dying have something to hide.

And when I die, what will I leave behind?  My clothes, my shoes, the stuff in that one drawer I keep locked: I doubt those things will last much beyond my natural life.  But the work of my hands: who knows?  Through the motise, tenon, dovetail and dado, I may live forever.

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And, if I can, I shall haunt you from my Tuscan Red coffin.

At least until the collapse of civilization, in which case all would be turned to firewood anyway.

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First Church of Christ, Cabinetmaker

For some time now, I’ve had a silly little fantasy. I’d start my own church: the First Church of Christ, Cabinetmaker. We’d meet on Saturday afternoons and glory in the making of things. From the crotchety handtoolers to the hipster CNC’rs, and everyone in between, all would be welcome. 

The Jesus part would be optional, of course. I am Catholic, after all. The only mandatory worship would be at the sharpening stone.  We’d observe only the greatest commandment: do your best not to be a dickbag, at least not all the time.  And don’t borrow tools without asking. 

Any early converts?

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Saw Till, Part Deux

I should have mentioned it in my previous post, but it is no accident the new saw till is made from 3/4″ pine.  I didn’t want to waste time and materials on a hardwood version until I confirm it worked within the space.  And working within the space seems to be the most important part of the Dutch tool chest.

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Next up: red oak.

The saw till debacle brings up a larger point about the importance of spacing.  I did not measure my own chisel handles (Narex, which are about 1 3/8″ wide) before spacing the 1/2″ holes in the tool rack.  I took Chris Schwarz at face value on the 1 1/8″ spacing, and I have since suffered for it.  My chisels only fit the rack when turned 90°.  Live and learn.

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What proper spacing looks like.  

The lesson is this: trust, but verify.

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Alone with My Thoughts

At my workbench, alone with my thoughts, I hew and shape, my vision translated to being.

But corners are cut and compromises made, as sacrifices to the constraints of time and space.

Though none would be the wiser, a portion of my dream gets cast aside like shavings from the plane.

And so I scream at the abyss, the work of my hands to outlast me and my vanity.

I make, but am not jealous of the thing, moving always to a new task.

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Finding beauty, in unexpected places.

A poem, by The Apartment Woodworker.

How to Finish with Shellac

I have little experience with finishes that aren’t Milk Paint or Danish Oil.  It’s a shortcoming; I know.  But I’ve been experimenting with shellac finish on the little box I made.  Here is, as near as I can tell, a fail-safe process for finishing a project with Shellac.

Step 1:  Brush on coat of sanding sealer, then sand with 220 grit sandpaper when dry.

Step 2:  Apply 2-5 coats of shellac, thinned to approximately 50-50 with denatured alcohol, sanding with 220 grit sand paper between coats.

Step 3:  Agonize over puddling and corning and consider throwing entire project away.

Step 4:  Remove shellac with denatured alcohol and paint entire project with milk paint in shame.

Step 5:  Lock project away in closet never to be seen again.

Has anyone had a similar experience?

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Merry Christmas and Whatnot (2016)

It’s Christmas, again. Happens every year, just about this time. 

Here at The Apartment Woodworker, I’m excited for my next mini project: another interlocking plant stand to match the original. 

Solid as a rock.


They are fun to make and involve two of the three basic joints (mortise and tenon; lap joint [a form of housing joint]). Best of all, they make use of some extra whitewood stud offcuts. 

The best use of a leftover 45″ offcut I can find.


I hope everyone has a happy and healthy holiday. 

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I Think I Figured It Out (Thank You!)

Thanks to everyone who gave me suggestions about why a leg wasn’t seated squarely in its joint.  After quadruple checking my combination square for squareness (it is), it turns out the culprit was human error.

First, the shoulder isn’t perfectly seated after all.  The mortise canted ever so slightly inward, but the toothed underside of the benchtop hid the minute gap between the slab and the shoulder of the mortise.  I corrected  this (with a bit of paring inside the mortise) and the joint still (thankfully) fits very snugly.  The canted mortise was about 75% of the problem.

Second, there is a very slight hollow where I was resting my square.  It must be left over from traversing the underside of the benchtop.  It runs down a couple thou toward the mortise, which doesn’t really show with a long straightedge across the whole width.  But with a small machinist’s square, it’s plain as day.  Not worth fussing over, I think.

Oh well.  At least I got blog two posts out of it.

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Slippery Slope

I’ve been watching a ton of New Yankee Workshop lately. Norm Abram is the Bob Ross of woodworking; and Christopher Schwarz is right: Norm is hilarious. Roman Ogee, not Roman Orgy. Lolz. 

It’s gotten me thinking though: what if I had Norm’s signature tool, a radial arm saw?  It goes against everything I believe in (not really).  But I do have a double bevel compound miter saw, so would halflaps on that be any slower or worse than doing it by hand?  Probably not, and as long as I cut the shoulder by hand (so I knew it was perfectly square), wouldn’t hogging out the waste by power tool be okay?  I already use a thickness planer on boards I made S2S by hand. 

This will need paring with both a chisel and a router plane.

I’ll give it a try and see how slippery the slope really is. 

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