Here’s another project I took on in hopes of challenging myself to step-up my game by trying things I had not yet tried. This piece involved a lot of very small mortise and tenon joints, a type of joinery with which I had little experience, having never cut a true “hidden” mortise and having employed only thru tenons which I produced exclusively with the aid of my trusty power tools. This design however called for twenty six “mini” MT joints ( ¼”-x- ¾” tenons) that needed to be cut by hand. Not owning a dedicated mortiser (I almost had one, once, but that’s another story for another day) it was going to be a full on “learning” experience, exactly the kind of thing I like.
My wife has a small computer table in the kitchen and asked if I might be able to make her a filing storage unit that could go adjacent to her work station. Ever the optimist, I boldly sallied forth, took up my cordless mouse, fired up Sketchup and came up with this design.
Although pleased with the design esthetically I fully admit to having had serious reservations as to whether or not this design could transition from the digital 3D world of Sketchup to a practical working unit or would it present an array of insurmountable problems for a neophyte woodworker? As I pondered the feasibility of not only of tackling a type of joinery with which I was completely unfamiliar but also of doing so with an acceptable level of quality, I remembered a line from an obscure David Marks video that got me back on track. I don’t really even remember which video it was nor do I remember the line well enough to quote it verbatim, but the gist of what was said was, “Those who believe themselves incapable of a thing, soon come to find out they were right.”. I blame David Marks for a lot if not all of the things that go right or wrong with these little exercises in woodworking, after all, he’s the one that got me into this, him, his uncanny talent and the absurd illusion his show presented that anyone might actually be able to produce masterful pieces of art in 20 minutes or less! So, anyway, “in for a penny, in for a pound”, as they say. And so, once again paying homage to that sage admonition against self doubt, I plunged forward, into the breach.
This was also my first use of a model, or more accurately a prototype. Knowing from day one that I was going to make two of these units, I planned to use the first as a platform for trial and error experimentation. I knew that practical procedure was to make a mock up out of MDF or some other “less expensive” type of material, but since I perceived my main challenges to be the joinery. Since my favorite hardwood of choice is White Ash, easily accessible and relatively inexpensive where I live, I decided to make unit #1 the “prototype”. On this unit I would test out and tune up the new mechanical skills I need as well as work out any design changes that would inevitably crop up. Then, once I had that units challenges ironed out, I would attempt to run straight through unit #2 and refine everything as best I could.
Surprisingly everything mechanical was reasonably easy to learn and I was able to acquire the adequate skill level with only a few “do-overs” needed. From previous experience I had already learned to make work on my largest components first, allowing the materials that fall victim to the inevitable blunder to be more easily recycled into other, smaller components.
The biggest challenge I came to find was once again, finishing. This time though, I picked up several books and DVDs on the subject of “furniture finishing” from the library, but in the end, after many hours of reading and watching, it all came down to trial and error as I guess it always does. Nothing went exactly as I had been told to expect and I did a lot of staining, sanding and re-staining until I finally got the hang of this particular combination of wood and finishing products. This is perhaps where the greatest difference between the prototype and the production piece can be seen. On the prototype, the finish although OK, is not of a quality with which I would be happy if the piece were going anywhere other than here.
The finish on the second unit shows far greater tonal consistency and I think at some point I may be tempted to strip down unit #1 and redo the whole thing. But for today, it stands unobtrusively tucked away, left of the computer desk, a testimony to even an old snake wrangler can do if he puts his mind to it. :)
Hope you’ve enjoyed this blog entry.