Category Archives: Closet Cabinet Build

Back Home in the Mountains


I ended up going back to the MET one more time before leaving for Colorado. Here’s the tokonoma for the shoin style room. Is this alcove pretentiously wide? I wonder about the choice of the gilt paper as well. I love the way this room is presented, but its not a place you can live in. The good design I care about these days has more to do with a self-sufficient life. Where in that is space for a room of display and reception? In the splendor of viewing this room I forgot that the average carpenters house, for his entire family in Edo period Japan, would be about the same size.

I truly enjoyed seeing the re-created early American rooms  with furnishings and nick-nacks, because it gave me a feeling of the people that might have lived then. As a friend of mine has said, its the relation between the subject and the object that matters.

So, while I loved seeing a re-created shoin style reception room, I would get so much more out of the more humble carpenters room from a row house, perhaps with a workspace in one corner, and the furnishings of a lived in space.


Back in the mountains of Colorado I’m awed by a different kind of beauty, one that has you not caring about bad design and life as a poor redneck. There was something greatly compelling and exciting about life in the city, the possibilities of it all, and the youthfulness and affluence. It was a real spin around and half of the time I felt like I could forget about the country and make do with a park…but really no. A man should be able to take a piss when he needs to. The great irony of a completely constructed space for human needs is that it is greatly inhuman.


I finally felt human enough to get back to work on the closet cabinet build. As it turns out I’ve left the panel work alone for long enough to visibly swell in width, the story stick doesn’t lie.  I had planned to attach the bottom skirt that hides the caster wheels with sliding dovetails into the long grain of the panel. It hadn’t occurred to me that as the panels shrink and swell it would be putting constant stress on the dovetails for the skirt corners.


So some re-evaluation followed, obviously the attachment needs to allow for the panel to move freely. Now the sliding dovetail keys are on the short edge of the cabinet, and will be mortised into the panel above with the cross grain to follow the direction of greatest movement in the panel. I had to draw out the various conditions that might occur to see how it would effect the sliding dovetails. I realized that if the panel is to move freely the sachi-sen doesn’t make sense. If I put it in I have to leave the dovetails with a gap either end, and then what is the wedge for if you can’t draw it up tight?

So forget the wedge, it’ll move freely and keep the panel above from splitting in the long run. I’m still not sure about leaving the sachi-sen out, I would have liked to use it. Chris Hall over at thecarpentryway is working on some Ming inspired cabinets and dealing with the support stand attachment to the bottom of the cabinet carcass as well. I hope to learn more as his work progresses.


I spun a new silk line for my sumitsubo,  this one is about half the diameter compared to the one I have in my ink line now. I’m hoping that it will be fine enough for joinery work and timber framing.


Apparently I didn’t forget how cut hand cut dovetails while in NYC, it felt really great to get back to work.

Carpentry and the Cold


Hi Folks! Back for more joinery on the cabinet piece, this time working on the middle shelf dados that house the sliding doors. I’ve been nursing a cold for the past couple of days, and just got through fixing my truck which had broken down again. The truck was an easy fix, two new batteries, just throwing a bit of money at the problem. The cold is harder, and I’ve been walking around in a bit of a daze.

Before I had taken off for Thanksgiving I finished the grooves in the photo above, working through an almost-knot with heavy reversing grain. To get through with out tearing the side walls to bits I used a chisel to score the line and a bunch of relief cuts along the length.


My home next to the shop, “Challenger”, haha. Just what am I a challenger for? If this were farther north I’d be a challenger for the Darwin award, these travel trailer are not meant for the winter.  An RV has all of the downsides of living on a small boat without the romance of wind and water, though the wind does rock it quite violently from time to time. I should say a small shack would be a lot better if it had a small wood stove in it, too bad everything is illegal these days. Heck, this trailer is technically illegal for the length of time its sat here. Ever shared my fun of living in one of these? Its a learning experience, I assure you, if for no other reason that everything constantly breaks. Entropy is a cold bitch.

Lets review how it fits the three ethics of permaculture.

Care of earth:

Piece of landfill trash in twenty years, every component made to maximum cheapness. The mice seem to like it though, haha. Care of mice? I think not…

Care of people:

We’ll, if it were well made it would be suitably habitable. Back to things constantly breaking though, and the extra margin of expense shopping for parts at ‘RV’ stores where everything costs 20% more than for a conventional home. So not only do you end up with a rodent magnate, but a home where you’re constantly smacking your head on something.

Return of Surplus:

Here I suppose you could throw together a composting toilet (bucket and sawdust) in and at least you meet return of surplus as an individual. If you’re lucky you have a septic hookup, not so lucky is a truck that comes to drain the shit holding tank, running a log distace on diesel, to be disposed of by a local public sanitation facility. The trailer is then really only as good as the systems that you build up around it to service it. An advantage of readily accessible plumbing makes it reasonable to retrofit a greywater system, too bad its illegal. I should point out that humanure composting is also illegal here.

In the end, lets just say that it is better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.


Rabbited the back edge after cutting each edge to the shoulder line, which was done so that the shelf would fit in the cosmetic dado cut in the cabinet sides, allowing the tenons to be scribed directly from the mortises.


Scribing was easy, though I continually find myself wishing that my marking knife was thinner and more maneuverable in tight spaces.


The world cast in monochrome from the recent winter storm.


Chopping back to the shoulder line after cutting the cheeks of the tenons.


And the fit was good. I still haven’t decided weather to leave the tenons protruding or to cut them flush with the cabinet side after wedging.


It came time to make the saw kerfs in the tenons for the wedges and I had one of those dumb confused moments where I realized I hadn’t considered the difficulty of making these cuts. I wish I had a nice thin azebiki noko. My dozuki worked, but it was difficult.


Yesterday morning I felt like shit, really under the weather, so I didn’t want to exert myself too much, only a half day in the shop making a clothes drying rack for my brother. I first saw one of these racks watching a cool BBC programme called “Coal House”, a recreation by three Welsh families of life as 1927 coal miners.

All heating and cooking happened at a central coal fired stove, and with the often damp weather there it was important to be able to dry clothes in doors.

I feel very acutely the poorly made nature of things around me, with the cold bitch entropy entering again to break the clothes dryer. But the problem is the solution, right? The solution then is not to need the clothes dryer or the energy it consumes.


I found a seller in the UK on etsy making these, but with birch ply for the curved sides. I used white ash instead, and some leftover red oak flooring for the hanging rods. A 1/4″ round over bit in my router table featured prominently in the making. I had some heavy eye bolts lying around that the rack hangs from, and can be raised and lowered by pulling on the rope, getting the clothes up out of the way and in the best heat by the ceiling.


And lastly the appliance in its context by the lovely little woodstove, ready to dry some clothes with renewable heat energy.

Fitting the Dovetails


Thanks for stopping by today, a fine and snowy Thanksgiving in the rocky mountains of Colorado.

Over the past two days I’ve continued working on my closet cabinet, starting with cutting the pins on the bottom of the cabinet carcass.


Before the fitting for the dovetails I pared by hand to the line on the mitered edges. Although I managed to pull off this task with accuracy it certainly wouldn’t hurt to make up a 45 degree paring block that would act as a miter jack and guide the chisel.


Here is the first set of dovetails coming together, no problems yet.


The second set had to be put together with taps of a hammer. I’m wondering if I should lighten the fit a bit, because I know it may be too tight when the glue swells the joints slightly. I’m nervous about the assembly of these dovetails because both sets will have to go together at the same time to be clamped properly, I’ll be moving at light speed for glue up, which leaves too much opportunity to start hitting shit with a heavy hammer when the glue locks half way. Have you been there before?


Ugh…too much turkey. What is it with people going to more than one thanksgiving? Forgive me, I had to have a lie down by the fire. Thankfully I have a nice glass of whiskey to fortify my health after sitting before the cornucopia.

Anyway, if you’re not asleep yet from too much food I can continue telling the tale of this cabinet joinery. With the dovetails finished and satisfied with the fit I finished the stopped rabbit on the side panels that houses the cabinet back. I still have to finish the mortises, but that will happen after the tenons are scribed.


For the corresponding through rabbit on the bottom panel I pulled out my skew rabbit plane. This plane can cut cross grain rabbits, but I wish it had an actual knife to score the grain in front of the cutting edge as opposed to the wheel knife. Its a great plane though, good for batch cutting kumiko tenons. I just wish I knew about the Japanese version of this plane before buying the Veritas.


Stopped dado present much more of a challenge. The alignment of the guide rods on my electric plunge router is a joke, I won’t trust it to plunge cut without wobble, so its back to the hand tools. I ran into the problem of cutting square sided grooves with my router plane when making my fuigo. A factory fence for Veritas’ router plane is less than fifteen bucks, but it looks so insubstantial I decided to rig up a home made version.


In addition I used a stop at the end of the work to keep me blowing through the grain at the end of the dado.


Three small grooves 3/8″ for three small sliding doors.


And then finished the top with the grooves that house some of the internal carcass shelving. Its starting to look a bit more organized, maybe you can get an idea what the finished piece will look like. Unfortunately the joinery on the bottom is not finished yet either, it still needs the mortises cut on the bottom for the keyed sliding dovetail that hold the skirt boards on the bottom. The skirt boards are only there as a cosmetic addition to hide the caster wheels the unit will roll on.

IMAG1686For tonight no worries of ethics and sustainability, enjoy yourself and the people around you.

Well friends, to your health. Stay warm!

If you’re a newer reader, please consider subscribing to my blog by plugging in your email on the upper right of the page.

With my best wishes,


A Fine Clutch of Dovetails


More along the lines of, “A difference that makes no difference is no difference”. I recently received a set of bits for my brace from my father, most of them look never to have been used, so its like having a brand new antique. But I wanted to compare the speed of the brace compared to a cordless electric drill for drilling the waste on my cabinet side mortises. Well, no difference really. Not in speed, I do find it easier to drill a hole where I want it without a bunch of drift compared to twist and Forstner drills. The obvious advantage of the brace is being able to work quite carefully and deliberately.

I also compared chopping the mortise purely by chisel or first drilling as much of the waste as possible. Interestingly my speed was also almost exactly the same. The difference was in ease, that to be fast chisel mortising requires a good deal more sustained effort that paring back to the line on a mortise after drilling. Do the math too, nine minutes a mortise, twenty-two mortises. I drilled the mortises.

That said, I don’t regret all of the chisel mortising I’ve done. That practice is simply indispensable to developing the smooth technique that leads to speed and accuracy. And there is still work that I would chisel mortise, such as the blind mortises on shoji stile (though I drill a single hole for kumiko mortises in the rail/stile).


My knowledge of how to use this router for accurate work to the line is still quite limited. As opposed to trying to set up my straight edge as a fence and possibly botch the cosmetic stopped dado for the shelf side I stayed behind the line and used the router to remove the bulk of the waste and deck the bottom surface. By the way, the incremental adjustment on this ryobi router, not made to try hitting tolerances of .004″.


Used my widest chisel to chop back to the line, this White Ash works quite nicely by chisel.


Here is the connection for the top shelf, stopped dado on either end. Because I went ahead and cut this shallow cosmetic dado I’ll have to mark directly off of it and cut the outside edges of the top shelf back to the shoulder line before I can get it seated in the cabinet side to mark the tenon locations. Even though I have a story stick made up for these mortises I’m still marking directly to produce the tenons.


I considered trying to rig up some kind of diagonal workbench to saw these dovetails from above, but had already cut the top miter on the cabinet side and some joinery up there that I did not want to risk chipping an edge on the ground. So I cut my tails in two steps like a tenon, starting first from the inside face.

There was a time where I would have knifed every surface of the joint, sawn wide by a margin and then pared painstaking back to the line. Now I use ink and saw directly to the line because I can actually see what the hell I’m doing and get better fits to boot.


My trestles are high enough that I finished the cut sitting beneath the work.


This is a good fret saw and it was worth every penny. Instead of saying it was expensive, how about saying it cost its worth?


Transferring the tails to the pin board was worrying to me right up until the point I came to do it, and had just enough room. The edge of my paning beam which the pin board is clamped to was jointed flat and square to the face, and did a good job of flattening the slight cup of the panels (The humidity in my shop is a wild affair at the moment with the change of the seasons).


More ink for finishing layout of the pin board. One mistake I make more than any other is cutting the wrong side of the line for the pin.


Lets see some good technique with dozuki noko, index finger pointed and laying flat across the top. It hurt the tendons of my hand to do this at first, but I’m glad I stuck it out. Its too easy with a club grip to push the saw too hard in the cut. I care much less about where along the length of the handle the saw is held, the grip is everything.


And of course, the proper way to end a long day is patching a cut on the wrong side of the line…It does take skill to cut such a thin patch with the saw, but this is not one I’m going to brag about.

Now, this is something I’m making for the house, its not a commission, so I can see it as a piece of skill development and lavish my time and attention. But it has got me to thinking about the economics of it all. What does it take to sell fine handcrafted solid wood furniture?

You first have to ask what the size of your market is. No amount of rainbow farting unicorns (thanks for that one Jack Spirko) can produce a market large enough to make a full time living merely because you will it to exist and the work suits your soul. The funny thing about the custom furniture business is that you’re producing something that under normal circumstance you’d never be able to afford. Perhaps something that you’ve never even looked at or seen available in a store. In my case I don’t even know anyone that owns a well made piece of cabinetry I didn’t make. Its not just every day that one wonders into a fine furniture show or gallery. So then why is this desire to make furniture so prevalent among woodworkers, why is it not expressed as the desire to weave baskets or the like?

Part of it comes down to the tools. I know for myself, thinking back on my teenage years constantly perusing tool catalogues, dreaming up wish lists for the perfect shop, it was really apparent that the tools held value, that there is an innate value present. And the prices bear that out, do they knot? Price quite often correlates to value, but that is not to say that most of the work we want to do can be accomplished with tools of more modest origin, I prove that every day with my tool set. But what I’m getting at is that craftsmanship in present society often develops as an aspirational search for personal catharsis, one available with modest means and honest hard work.

Perhaps that belies the number of people I know have tools far to good for their skill, but that is all to the good, is it not? I’d much rather somebody buy the tool that can appreciate it but not use it, to take care of it and one day lovingly pass it on, than see the tool not made at all.

The real revolution in carpentry is what is produced in an individual around ethic. And I think to articulate this it is easiest to refer to the prime directive and ethics of permaculture. Namely:

A)We must take responsibility for our lives and those of our children.

1)Care of earth.

2)Care of people.

3)Return of surplus.

I’d love to explore a bit further how permaculture relates to carpentry, what you might consider a sustainable permaculture business.