Cranky Sailor Workshop - The retirement chest #4: Hiding your mistakes

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Blog entry by DynaBlue posted 05-23-2011 08:22 PM 1220 reads 0 times favorited 1 comment Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: Routers and panels and tearout, oh my! Part 4 of Cranky Sailor Workshop - The retirement chest series Part 5: Finish follies »

My father, another avid woodworker, has told me on many occasions: The mark of a craftsman isn’t NOT making mistakes, it’s all about the skill in hiding them. Or something like that. So now that I have my panels dryfitted I started patting myself on the back. Great job, Blue! Look at how the panels fit into the grooves nicely, mate up with the grooves in the rails so neatly and the even have space to float slightly. See..I can move them back and forth slightly so that humidity changes will not cause them to drive the stiles apart..wait. That front panel moves enough to gap open almost a 1/4” at the bottom right. What the…?! Yep, I mis measured that panel and cut it too damned small! What a maroon! How do I fix that? Well, the spare panel, of course! But that panel was only large enough to to replace one of the two sizes of smaller panel, not the bigger one. Crap. So I go to my scrap bin and find the offcuts of my curves, found the best one and smoothed the curve, block planed the edge of my panel and was able to actually widen my panel the required amount without a gap and without needing to replace such a big piece of sapele. Score! It really is about invisible unless you look at the end grain. Only there can you see a hint of the joint line. I wish I’d taken pictures but I didn’t. It was a good repair.

I deviated from the written plan slightly by gluing up my corner posts before they recommended. I don’t know if that worked for or against me but the joint is a 24” long splined miter and I was very concerned that the sharp edges of my miter would be knocked around and damaged if I didn’t glue them up right after making them. In the long run it complicated my project but I still think that my decision was the right one. I have not had great success with making miter corners before and I was somewhat daunted by the challenge of making a straight one over such a length, let alone eight straight ones. There was much scrap sacrificed perfecting my technique before I was satisfied with not only the miter but my ability to mill the groove for the spline as well. It was almost anticlimactic how easily everything worked out. I used my drum sander to fine tune the spline material and block planed it down to a very, very nice (but not too tight) fit. You know, glue swells the wood so I didn’t want it too snug or that would work against me during assembly. Gotta think ahead on these things, don’tcha know?

Armed with these pieces I proceeded to the glue up. At which point my thinking hadn’t gone far enough and I was reintroduced, unhappily, to the principles of viscosity and hydraulics. In an effort to ensure glue was going to fully cover the spline I used a wee bit too much. Or perhaps a whole bunch too much. Not even a Bessey K-body had enough ooomph to close up that joint. It didn’t matter how I tried clamping, alternating directions, brute force, cursing, pleading..nope, you just aren’t going to force curing glue to squeeze 12” along a closely fitted spline. I was left with up to a 1/16 or 3/32” gap all along the corner..scarcely a nice fit. And by the time my stubborness succumbed to defeat the glue was set enough to prevent me from pulling the parts, um, apart. I rethinked my approach and was far more sparing of the glue on the remaining three posts and they went together very nicely. But I was still left with junk joint #1. I wound up bandsawing the joint back apart, VERY carefully using the tablesaw to cut the spline out of its groove and then cutting back enough on the miter surface to get me past the glue contaminated bits. Which left me a total of 1/16” too narrow a post, which meant a not square box. Which meant fix it or remake it. I hate routers so I opted for fix. Back the scrap bin, find me ash that was the same color and had a close enough grain pattern to be glued onto the edges of the post opposite the miter surface. It worked out very well, actually. All I had to do was chisel open the mortises again and everything fit back the way it was supposed to. I reglued the miter without further drama.

So I finally have the chest dry fitted including the bottom. The original idea from the customer was to have cedar lining on the inside of the chest but he liked the way you could see the arch detail on the inside and he opted to delete the lining. I’ll still put some planks on the bottom to disguise the plywood.

-- Mistake? No, that's just an unexpected design opportunity....

1 comment so far

View jevarn71's profile


83 posts in 3157 days

#1 posted 06-27-2011 03:36 AM

I know hind-sight is always 20/20, but if you ever do another one of these you could make the frame members a bit thicker and have double layer panels, the inside panels being cedar. This way you still get the arched appearance, but also the cedar lining.

Also, how did you go about cutting the miters? Did you rip them on the table saw or use a 45 degree bit on the router table? When I built my sea chest, I went with the router table method. I didn’t bother with splines either, just glued them up and clamped with blue masking tape, worked just fine. Like you I glued them before assembling the frames, which did make the frame assembly a bit challenging, but it all worked out. I’m currently building another sea chest based on the first only smaller, this time I assembled the frames first then glued them together. I would say this way is easier, but yes, you have to be careful not to bang the mitered edges.

-- Jason, JEV Woodworking

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