Dad asked me recently if I would build him an organizer to go over his desk. (A family heirloom, drop leaf style with plenty of pigeon holes drawers and mail slots… which I believe will be my sisters someday).

He had already purchased a nice 1/2 sheet of half-inch furniture grade ply, but just wanted something simple to hold his lamp, and work related paperwork. I was free to make this a piece of fine woodworking if I’d like, but he was happy with anything I’d turn out, no need to even “hide the edges.” No tall order, no sir. Should be a piece of cake.

On the last project I built to order, I made full size drawings to work out the joinery details, and have something to reference for accurate measurements and sizing parts (or just figuring out how all the shapes went together). For this, I quickly roughed out a couple sketches to help me figure out the sizing of the shelves and dividers after taking the dadoes into consideration.

Initially I was going to cover the edges of the plywood, but wasn’t sure how I was going to do that (edge banding, moulding, contrasting wood), so when I cut the sheet of ply (to fit in the car so I could work on this at home) I sized the parts as if I wasn’t going to (a saving grace in hindsight).

Back in the shop, I cut the top and shelf – after doing a quick sketch, and immediatly noticed that I didn’t take the extra length for the dado into consideration. (More accurately, I intended to do so, but I did the math wrong. First critical desicion – do I get a new piece of ply and start over, do I size the project down 1/2″ to make up for my blunder, or keep the original dimensions of the piece, and simply use a butt joint instead. (and figure out a way to reinforce the joinery later). Ultimately I went with door number three. I new that the size of this piece was pretty arbitrary, based on the desk it would be sitting on (and not trying to match) and nothing specific was planned for the shelves. Dad was pretty much just maximixing the material. (a nod to the engineer side of the coin). If this was for a “real” client I would have to deliver what was requested, so, decision made, I proceeded.

I used my calipers to determind (As expected) that the 1/2 ply wasn’t 1/2″, but 7/16ths thick. Setting up my little wobble dado blade (the only one that will fit my little table saw) to 7/16ths, I took some practice cuts. Perfect. Width and depth!

Eliminating the dadoes for the shelves I didn’t have very many to cut – just where the top and sides met, plus rabbets for the recessed back.

Pieces cut. Next up, cut the back, and the dado to support the rear of the shelf (I’ll use finish nails on the side). First up, dry fit the piece to determine where exactly this dado would be. What do you mean the dividers won’t fit into the dados?

A quick sanding to break off the fibers on the ends, and attempt to put a slight taper on the edges did nothing, so I re-cut the dadoes (with an ever so slight offset), now they fit perfectly! Finding that the dado for the back was at exactly 8″ I set up my fence and made the cut (on the wrong side of the 8″ mark!!!) I flipped the piece and recut. I didn’t want to start making concessions to a good final result, and I could have cut a new back out of something else, or filled the groove and re-routed, but it was hidden inside, and didn’t adversely effect the piece, except that it would no longer support the shelf as intended. I would now have to cut dadoes on the edge pieces to support the shelf, and sacrifice 1/2 inch in overall with (as sketched). Discovering that this would still leave the bottom shelves wide enough to hold letter sized paper, I figured this wouldn’t be detrimental.

Some slight modifications to the ends (I kept the top the same – and arguably maintaining the correct overall dimension) and I was good to go. Dryfitting was much easier now with dadoes all around, versus trying to balance everything in place (I need more clamps – specifically corner clamps).

Glue up was a breeze, nice and square, but there were a couple of blow outs with the brad nailer – easily fixed though.

Still not thrilled with leaving the edges exposed, but since it wasn’t a prerequisite that I cover them, I went ahead and did a final sanding.

Surprised that the edges became so smooth (and had no voids, or errant wood fibers), I finished the piece with an application of Howards (Orange oil and beeswax) nice color (and smell!) and now the piece was smooth – and the plywood edges (just three visible plies) looked really good. Intentional even.

This photo approximates the finish, It was hard to see much of a difference under the flourescent light, but this looked fantasic in the sunlight.

My “customer?” Very happy. “This is exactly what I wanted.”

Always happy to please!

As simple as this project should have been, it managed to manifest several of the topics we were discussing over in the lumberjocks forums, and project listings this week. Full size drawings or models vs. just diving right in, miscuts from not measuring twice (or “sneaking up”) and so on. Essentially this piece was a study in planning ahead and paying attention to the details – or that’s what it should have been – and therefore the “next” projects will benefit from this lesson learned.

What else has this project shown me? That I could really benefit from a crosscut sled, would be so much nicer (and easier) than swapping out the 2×4 MDF top I’ve screwed down as a table-extension/zero clearance “insert” – Doesn’t exactly facilitate blade changes or fence adjustment for that matter.

I’ve also decided that for any project destined to leave the shop, either a full size drawing, or smaller set of detailed plans will be drawn up. Shop furniture and free-form pieces being the exception.

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