Lessons Learned

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Blog entry by Alan posted 11-22-2014 02:30 AM 1398 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

So for the past week, I have been working with another woodworker on some raised-panel cabinet doors my mom contracted him to build. I have learned many things, albeit not the things I expected to learn.

First, when you’re building fine furniture, you need to pay attention to grain from the very beginning, right from when you start your layout and marking out. Thinking about what grain is going to go where from the outset will save headaches later, and also make more attractive pieces. For instance, all of the oak boards we used had lovely cathedral grain. It would have been nice if all of the panels had had that grain centered and pointing upward. Also, the boards weren’t quite wide enough for the panels, so we had to glue pieces onto them. That meant trying to match up grain with what were basically left over pieces of scrap. We did okay, but I can’t help but think that factoring that necessity into account from the outset would have been a better way to go.

“Measure twice, cut once” is even more metaphorical than literal. It means doing regular basic sanity checks, test fits, etc. It also means that when you’re cutting a bunch of identical components, cut the first one and double-check that it fits and is the size and shape it is supposed to be. We cut 8 horizontal stiles, all of which were 5/8” too short, because he confused his layout lines. So we had to use up more wood cutting 8 new stiles.

He cut the bevels to make the raised panels by manhandling the workpieces, on edge, across the tablesaw by hand. He’s missing three fingers on one hand. I don’t think this is a coincidence.

My desire to never, ever own a power router has been reconfirmed. He broke a bit, and when he went to take the router off the router table, one of the bolts was stuck, and so soft the head rounded out completely rather than come loose. He made such a hash drilling it out that when he was done, he had to tap a new hole for a bolt. Then the head of the bolt didn’t sit flush on the router table, so then he had to modify the fence for that. I can’t help but think that a plow plane would be a lot less hassle.

When you have staining to do, do it all at once. He had me stain the inside edges of the stiles and the entire panels first, then glued them up. Then I stained the faces and outside edges of the stiles after sanding them. Well, of course, I caught the few panel face a few times with the vibratory pad sander as I was sanding them, so I had to touch up the stain there and getting everything blended and even was a pain. It would have been easier get an even stain if I had waited until the doors were glued up completely and done them all at once.

On the other hand, sanding and smoothing may be more profitably done as you go in some cases. He had me sand the panels and the inside edges of the stiles before they were glued up, for obvious reasons – doing so after they had been glued up would have been quite a challenge. But he had me wait to do any sanding on the faces and outside edges of the stiles until the doors were completely glued up, on the grounds that they’d need to be sanded flush with each other afterwards, so doing it before would be wasted effort. This made sense at the time, but in practice I had trouble getting the faces really smooth and flat, with all of the saw marks, tearout, etc out. Of course, part of that was because I had one vibratory pad sander with one piece of 100 grit on it, and after it got dull and loaded, I didn’t know where to find more sandpaper or change it out. So there are still some saw marks and other flaws in the finished pieces that I’m not real happy with. I can’t help but think that spending a few minutes to slap each of those stiles between a bench dog and a batten and plane it flat would have been time well spent, and made the sanding and finishing process easier and for a more attractive finished product.

On a related note, sanding MUST – yes MUST be done at least twice, probably with wetting in between, to get a visually flawless appearance.

I continue to be biased against polyurethane. It has a place, to be sure, and where appropriate I’ll gladly use it. But whenever possible, I’ll continue to stick with oil-based natural finishes. They’re just so much more forgiving, plus they don’t stink and you can work with your bare hands.

-- I have no idea what I'm doing.

5 comments so far

View NormG's profile


5424 posts in 2422 days

#1 posted 11-22-2014 02:39 AM

Wow, well at least you learned somethings to assist with future projects

-- Norman

View AnonymousRequest's profile


861 posts in 968 days

#2 posted 11-22-2014 02:18 PM


View Texcaster's profile


1103 posts in 1092 days

#3 posted 11-22-2014 07:37 PM

That man sounds like he has the patience of Job and earned his money. How many fingers do you reckon you’ll end up with? I’ve had a skin graft on my fingerboard index finger but it still works. I’ve been doing this for close to 40 years but I won’t give a final count till I’m out of the game.

-- Mama calls me Texcaster but my real name is Mr. Earl.

View Alan's profile


27 posts in 721 days

#4 posted 11-23-2014 02:03 AM

That man sounds like he has the patience of Job and earned his money. How many fingers do you reckon you ll end up with? I ve had a skin graft on my fingerboard index finger but it still works. I ve been doing this for close to 40 years but I won t give a final count till I m out of the game/

- Texcaster

I’m not entirely sure how to take that, Texcaster. It’s not like I’ve been heckling him in his own shop. My parents taught me that if I didn’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. I’ve spent a lot of time performing the vital tasks of “staying out of the way” and “Keeping my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open.” I actually really like the guy, he’s nice, and we get along well. But having the patience of Job isn’t always a good thing, when it leads to complacency and doing the same (wrong, dangerous, stupid) thing over and over again. Also, in terms of man-hours, I’ve done the majority of work on these doors, which I’m just fine with. I need the experience, that’s why I asked to help in the first place. On the other hand, he’s done the fun and rewarding tasks of setting up and fiddling with the router and table saw and making all the test cuts, etc.

As far as your other question, I lost a leg to cancer when I was 7 years old, so when it comes to the possibility of losing any more digits or limbs, I freely admit I’m a little paranoid. That’s part of my bias against routers. I’ve actually gotten to where I’m pretty comfortable with table, miter and circular saws, but I am also pretty adamant about using appropriate safety devices with them. So as far as woodworking goes, I think I have a pretty good chance of keeping all of my phalanges.

Now guns, on the other hand… blowing an experimental rifle bolt through the side of my head is currently #4 on my list of “Most Likely Ways I’ll Die.” :DDD

-- I have no idea what I'm doing.

View Texcaster's profile


1103 posts in 1092 days

#5 posted 11-23-2014 12:19 PM

Alan, no offence, it is just that your blog sounds very patronizing for someone being taught to make a panel door. The judgments people make about those that have lost fingers always rankles with me. Many amputations are due to being careless or unsafe but others are just accidents. Anyone, anytime.

Experimental firearms ….. that has never occurred to me. Any pics?

-- Mama calls me Texcaster but my real name is Mr. Earl.

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