In Pursuit of Imperfection. No.1

A new day, a new title. But an old idea.

I am in the workshop on Sunday, its sunny and warm and the dogs have been down to the lake for a swim and I am fitting drawer bottoms. This is nice simple stuff. I am working on trays that fit into a tool cabinet that Chris Schwarz made with us this summer. My cabinet is nearly finished, not that I need another tool cabinet. At my age it seems ambitious to be buying more hand tools, but that is what is happening.

Making this chest was a test of myself, could I make a chest along with my students and not be the one that gets chucked in the lake for lousy workmanship. Could I cut out all the faff of internet interruption, avoid all workshop business requirements, and just do the minimum for a couple of weeks. You know, important stuff, like paying the wages !

The trays have been dovetailed together and I spent the morning planing outside surfaces, top and bottom getting them clean and flush. I have two Japanese planes that I carefully honed up for the task ahead. In the end I only used the workhorse plane . This is a blue steel bladed plane that holds its keen edge almost forever. The Magnolia or Poplar timber we used was working so cleanly I did not need my finishing plane. Clean shimmery surfaces floaty shavings, no abrasive paper. The Japanese have put value on this type of surface for hundreds of years.


My joinery was not perfect, and the planes cleaned up and showed the truth of the situation. But that is life. You try your best and its not always good enough. However in this case I am not stressed. I drive pretty high standard at Rowden  but I have learned that excellence and perfection are different concepts.

The trays had thin solid Oak bottoms that were slightly longer than the trays . This meant the trays could be fitted to the cabinet with JUST the oak bottoms running on the carcase sides. The bottoms were shot in. Now it only remained to glue and pin the bottoms to the two trays. Easy peasy.

The shop was shut up and empty, unusual, on a normal day there would be students here every day working from early till late, but I guess the sun is out and the surf is up and they are all on the beach. I didnt go in to get the hot glue pot that has become a feature of the workshop since Chris reminded me of its benefits. So I picked up  PVA  and ran a glue brush down one long surface and about half way down the short sides. This is a solid wood bottom and its going to want to move with the weather. Fixing with glue on one side and pins all round is the way to do it. The pins allow the timber to do, what its got to do.

Box progress

I picked out a medium weight Japanese hammer from the dozen or so hammers I have. Why that one I have no idea, but I have learnt to follow my first instinct.  The glue was going off so I had to move swiftly but no rush. I was using thin veneer pins. I could easily have pilot holed this but i didn’t, judging this as unnecessary. Neither did i mark and measure where the pins were to go. I used my eyes and judged the position. One pin at either end about 15mm in from the end one in the centre judged by eye, then two more half way between the end and centre pins.

Driving the pins needed judgement, and skill,  too hard and I bent the pin too soft and the same thing happens . Hold the hammer not by its throat but by the end of the handle, and find a rhythm . My hammer had a slightly domed striking face and a flat face. After a couple of pins I found the domed face to be easier to control . As I did this a small pile of bent pins formed on the bench top. But I petty quickly found “the way” This is a process of discovering the most effective way to do the task.

As I worked the pins went down flush and the job pulled up nicely. And I remembered what meaning full work is all about .




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