I did something yesterday that I don’t do all that often. I bought a piece of wooden furniture, rather than make it myself.
Now hold on there: it’s true that I bought the chairs and stools for my dining table and bar. But those are metal and fit a specific aesthetic with the rest of the room. And I bought them a quite a few years ago (at least the chairs), when I was still relatively new to hand-tool focused work.
The piece of furniture in question is a bookcase. Specifically, a simple pine bookcase to display my vintage Lego collection. It’s from a bare wood market called WoodMarket in Monroe, CT. And it’s perfect for what it needs to be.
Vintage Magic: the Gathering card binders on the bottom for stability.
Will I still build that leaning bookcase? Probably. But now I can put it on the back burner and get back to a couple of projects I’ve been halfway through for a while. Discretion is the better part of valor, as it were.
And, most importantly, I was able to support a local artisan in the process.
I don’t much go in for casework, being sans table saw and largely migrated to digital book collections (outside of woodworking books). But I have need for more shelf space. Specifically, to display my vintage Lego collection in my home office.
I’m about 2/3 done unpacking at this point.
A heavy bookcase seems like a waste of time and materials for such a display. I could build or buy a lighted curio cabinet, but that’s probably overkill for what I’m trying to do here.
But there is a form of bookcase that would do perfectly: the wall-leaning variety. They are utterly ubiquitous and just behind live edge epoxy river tables and ahead of standing desks in trendiness. But, they are also easy to make with hand tools and relatively light on materials. So I’ll have a go of it with some leftover Eastern White Pine 2×8’s from the standing desk build and some clear-ish home center 1x12s
The design I have in mind will incorporate a dovetailed cabinet for a bottom shelf, which will hold some larger books and heavy items. That way, there can be dovetails in the project. Three or four additional shelves (over 80 inches of height) should be plenty to comfortably display all the vintage goodness.
In case you’re wondering, my favorite Lego sets are from 1989’s Space Police I and 1994’s Spyrius, with 1990’s M-Tron being a very close third. Check out http://www.bricklink.com.
I had planned to write this whole post about wood movement and using tabletop anchors in finalizing the bathroom vanity project, but there is nothing I could say that Paul Sellers hasn’t said already (and better).
So, if you don’t know about wooden tabletop connectors, stop what you’re doing and go watch this Paul Sellers video. After that, if you are so inclined, enjoy this picture of the undercarriage of the vanity. Tabletop connectors not only hold the top on the vanity, but also anchor the entire assembly to the wall stud.
Deep sinks are a PITA but worth it in the end.
Don’t forget to use brass fasteners in white oak. Steel and white oak do not play nicely together.
I think every woodworker has at least some hoarding tendencies. But I tend to loan or gift away my old tools to family or friends (mostly so I have something functional on hand when they ask me to help with a project). And I freely distribute completed projects long before they clutter start to clutter up my living space. Neither do I hoard scraps, having but a single bin for useful longer boards and another box for smaller (mostly quartersawn) off-cuts, with the rest going in the fire. What I hoard, though, is uncommon boards. Whenever I’m at the lumber yard and I see a particularly tantalizing (which, for me, usually means “wide”) board , there is a good chance I’ll buy it.
For example, I’ve had for about two years now an eight foot long, 17 inch wide, 8/4 board of white ash, which I swear one day will become something. I also have four foot long, 6 inch wide, 16/4 slab of soft maple, which seems to have been cut diagonally along the length of the tree so both faces are entirely end grain like a miter (and, therefore, probably perfectly stable).
But my most prized board right now is probably the least flashy. A ten foot long, 17 inch wide, perfectly clear piece of 5/4 eastern white pine. Not a single knot in the 18 or whatever board feet this thing represents.
I have absolutely no idea when I purchased it, and I only just rediscovered it stashed behind a sheet of plywood in storage. In theory, you could get the entire carcase of a blanket chest out of the single board. But I already have a blanket chest, so there is nothing to do but let it sit until something else comes along.
There is a little bit of punk near the middle of the board (it may have been dropped on a rail or something at some point), and one end has a bit of wain, taking it down to a paltry 16 inches wide. But I could cut around those minor defects.
But it just goes to show: sometimes, the treasure was with you all along.
I should know better than to get my hopes up. Reading Ingenious Mechanicks psyched me up to make a minimalist workbench. Something with a slab top, through tenoned front legs and splayed back legs. Then I found this lovely chunk of pattern grade 16/4 Honduran Mahogany at my local Downes and Reader lumberyard.
Pattern grade, indeed.
The slab I found was overall 124″ long, at least 14.5″ wide at every point and a full 4.5″ thick. It had almost no cupping or bowing along its length, and no through checking. The ends were even nearly square. It seemed like the perfect piece of wood for the task, as I could get both the slab top and the legs from the same piece.
Every bit of this board is usable.
But then I unloaded it from the trailer. And could lift it by myself. It turns out that there is more to wood than just its Janka hardness. Honduran Mahogany exceeds Douglas Fir in hardness (which I confirmed while at the lumber yard), but apparently isn’t that great in the density department. The bench would have been far too light for any serious planing activities.
At least I got a full refund. Which I will put toward a Brooklyn Re-Co red oak roubo kit (sans stretchers, though).
My near mistake has made me more cautious. Before I invest in a slab of soggy, urban red oak, I will laminate a 20″ wide top (as close to 96″ long as I can) from my glut of home center Douglas Fir 4×4’s and figure out the correct angle for the back legs.
And after that is built, I will probably sell my current workbench.
It’s been a while since I had any real time off from work. I’m hoping to sneak in a week out of the office in early February, and am already planning both a cut list and a playlist. Today, I will discuss the latter, just over two years since the last entry.
An obligatory woodworking photo for the post.
I’ve gotten heavily into a few bands of late. Florence and the Machine is fantastic, and I can listen to “Ceremonials” on repeat for the entire day. My appreciation for Mumford & Sons has always been very targeted: “Wilder Mind” is a superb album (especially the song “Ditmas”, which is a good approximation of how I feel most of the time), but some of the New Basement Tapes songs (“Kansas City”, for example) are excellent. I’ve also rediscovered the Blink-182 discography (did I ever lose it?), including their newer stuff with that guy from Alkaline Trio replacing Tom (who I understand is busy proving aliens exist, as well as making awesome music with Angels & Airwaves). Ben Rector is a fun change of pace (I love the album “Brand New”, which confuses the hell out of Alexa when I ask her to play it).
Although I was always a fan, my emotional state of late has gravitated me back toward AFI, particularly the albums “Crash Love” and “December Underground”. If I’m feeling the existential emptiness acutely enough, I add in “Sing the Sorrow” (in that order). AFI is an all purpose woodworking score, working equally for rhythmic tasks like rip sawing or planing, or the finer detail of actual joinery. Or I might just listen to “Do You Feel It” by Chaos Chaos on repeat for 11 hours straight.
On days where I can actually see the point of things, it’s usually a mix of a few old standbys. “Me First and the Gimme Gimmes”, the preeminent punk rock super group cover band is great, including their most recent album “Are We Men? We are Diva!” and one of their middle albums “Have Another Ball”. Ghoti Hook has a cover album that is pretty good too. I have a well-curated “Of Monsters and Men” station on Pandora that is an upbeat mix of modern neo-synth pop and OMAM-style folk pop. And The Refreshments (of “Banditos” fame) will always have a special place in my heart.
My musical tastes continue to evolve as I get older, which I hear is somewhat out of the ordinary. Feel free to discuss in the comments, but please know that musical snobbery is not welcome and will lead to a ban.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.