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Tool Cabinet – Construction Choices

When it comes to large scale furniture making, or at least when there are large expanses of flat elements such as sides, doors and backs of larger cabinetry, one of the constant challenges to makers is adapting to the movement of wood through the seasons by means of various assemblages.  Long ago I developed the attitude it would be more efficient and more successful to use wood re-formatted to simply not move in response to environmental moisture.  In other words, to use good quality plywood.  That might make me a heretic in the fine woodworking world, and I will give that accusation all the consideration it deserves.

Okay, I am done with that consideration.  As pundit Mollie Hemingway once remarked, “My spiritual gift is not caring what you think about anything.”  That pretty much summarizes my attitude towards plywood as a legitimate fine construction material.

Frankly it is not a concern for most of my projects given the scale of my work.  That said I have begun experimenting with home-made plywood even for some of my smaller work, consuming my copious inventory of veneers and marine epoxy to make nearly indestructible plywood like this.  I will be blogging about this undertaking in the near future.

Sure, I know how to make frame-and-panel furniture and use it when it is stylistically appropriate, but otherwise I move on using good plywood for the panels of my projects.  This becomes even more imperative for me when the ultimate purpose of the project is to express the decorative surface, either marquetry or japanning/fauxrushi.   I just want the seasons to unfold with the carcass substrate not even noticing.


Over my 50 years of restoring and conserving ancient furniture I have seen far too many instances of a solid wood carcasses tearing apart the decorative surface to go down that road in my own work, as in this 19th Century French desk.  Given the prominence of decorative veneerwork on my cabinet this phenomenon was one I did not seek to replicate.

This brings me to the construction choices for my tool cabinet, in some ways to be the culmination of my “making” undertakings.  In point of fact this will be a huge (for me) simple box measuring roughly 48″ high x 42″ wide x 15″ deep.  The cabinet has two purposes; 1) to hold as many woodworking tools as I can possibly cram in there on 12 (!) swinging panels, and 2) express the aesthetic of traditional Roubo/Roentgen parquetry (outside) combined with HO Studley’s inspirational aesthetic (inside).  For this reason, I need a structure that is both robust and exceedingly stable if I want the cabinet to redound to my descendants.  This pretty much means that I build the box and its doors out of Baltic birch plywood, for the most part 3/4″.

When you merge that preference with the additional facts that I am not set up to do large scale millwork combined with the ready availability of 24″ x 48″ “project panels” at the Big Blue Box store, my path forward was pretty self-evident.

Now the only real question is, “How many months with this adventure consume?”

Stay tuned to find out.

A Head Scratcher (A Saw Plate Mystery)

I do not pretend to be any kind of expert in hand saws, old or new.  I only know what I like and when it comes to buying vintage saws what I like is a full, meaty plate with no kinks or distortions.

A much used saw being readied to lose its tip and become a panel saw. In this case I will remove the final six inches by striking it repeatedly with a carbide stylus until I can snap off the extraneous material.

If a saw is generally nice but the plate is too thin at the tip, indicating a great many re-sharpens, I might pick it up and chop off the tip to turn it into a panel saw (such a tool will be featured in a coming post about my traveling kit).

Recently while outfitting my under-construction tool cabinet, I was installing the saw rack I had modified from its earlier wall-mounted configuration.  This provided the opportunity to once again review my inventory, to see what I was missing or needed to upgrade.


Most saws. old or new, bear some sort of marking to indicate the tooth spacing.  This can be either stamped near the handle, just above the teeth, or etched into the plate insignia.

This particular saw plate is a mystery to me.  What does the “27” mean?  It is certainly not a 27 tpi saw.  Perhaps there is a special nomenclature of which I am unaware.  In point of fact the saw is an 8 tpi cross-cut saw.

Stinky Book Update

My perfume-infused book has been in the deodorizing chamber for a month, but my on-board stench-o-meter is not calibrated to detect any change in the level of noxiousness.  That change will occur given enough time, as the offending molecules are adsorbed into the charcoal medium.

The effectiveness of the protocol has been demonstrated for me numerous times, most recently inside the cab of my new-to-me pickup truck.  On the long drive home from the DC-area dealer I noticed the faint but definite residual odor of tobacco smoke in the truck, which had I noticed it earlier it would have been a deal breaker for me.  Anyway, as soon as I got home I bought four bags of lump barbecue charcoal and set them in the back seat of the truck for the past four months.  Slowly but surely the charcoal gently removed the stench from the space.  Last week Mrs. Barn and I journeyed over the mountain with nary a whiff of the detestable odor.  So, I have every confidence that the book will emerge relatively un-pungent at some point.  What I do not know is exactly when “at some point” will occur.


But back to the book itself.  While the book has been inside its deodorizing chamber I was noodling another copy of it on-line.  Much to my astonishment a copy of the book in nearly pristine condition for a mere fraction of the expected price.  It was an important lesson for me, namely that sometimes a hard-to-find book turns up on for sale by someone who does not really have a working knowledge of the value.  $17.50, shipping included (it is a ten-pound book).

The outcome is a near perfect circumstance; I get to enjoy the book while undertaking an odor-scrubbing exercise in real time.

Reshaping A Petite Adz

Somewhere in the misty memories of the Mesozoic era I picked up a blacksmith-made petite curved adz head, probably at a PATINA tailgate tool swap.  At the time I fashioned a handle from a broken shovel and sharpened the head to a keen edge.

I used it from time to time but not as much as I thought I would.  Unfortunately, the tip was convex, rendering it almost useless for any task I might have.  So, I decided to reshape the tip into one that would be more useful to be, one that is at least flat, maybe even a bit concave.

In few minutes on the bench grinder the shape was established, but the ~1/8″ cross section at the new edge was presenting me with the potential of several hours hand grinding and beveling on the inside curve with round slips or sandpaper wrapped around a dowel.

Instead, I had a flash of inspiration and took the top shield off the belt sander in order to access the roller.  Miraculously the roller size was absolutely perfect for grinding the new in-cannel bevel.  That one thing cut the work time from several hours to several minutes.  I like innovations like that!

I reattached the handle to the head and gave it a test drive.

Me like.

New Studio Door #1

For the past several years, at least since I had a wood/coal stove and propane wall furnace installed to heat my workspace, I’ve been “making do” with a low rent version of doors in my shop.  These were nothing more than frames with a double layer of polyethylene stapled to them, and they worked surprisingly well.  But. the time had come for me to make something a bit more proper for the entryways to the heated space.

My starting point was a large piece of insulated glass from a former co-worker’s greenhouse; he’d had this panel replaced with a door so of course he thought of me when it came to dispose of the surplus.  I’ve been keeping this piece in my inventory for almost twenty years, waiting for exactly this moment.

Building a door around this panel was a snap.  I used clear 2x construction stock, joined with mortise-and-tenon throughout.  I must say that one of my indispensable machines is the bench-top mortiser.  I think if push came to shove it would be my next-to-last discarded machine, just below my band saw.  Given the unit’s ability to function as a drill press it is a near-perfect twofer.

I sawed and chopped all the mortises and glued them together into the frame around the glass panel.  At the bottom of the door I had a small-ish void into which I placed some 1-1/2″ foil faced panel insulation, again from my stash of recycled inventory.  I faced both sides of the void with some 1/4″ bog-box luan plywood, glued and nailed in place.

Using the same hinges as those on the poly/frame door I got the new door installed almost effortlessly.  Once in place I outfitted the opening with snug weatherstripping and held it closed with a pair of cabinet door catches.  I have not yet decided how to outfit the locking mechanism yet, but with these catches and some surface mounted pulls it works just fine.

And may I say that the unit is much tighter than the predecessor, keeping the cold out and the warm in.  Also, the clarity of the door panel is taking some getting used to.  Even when closed, out of the corner of my eye my initial impulse is to turn and walk over there and close it.

One door down.

Just Plain Fun

This video just made me smile.

Winter Projects (and well beyond) – I Just Knew It

For many years I was/am a friend of Knew Concepts founder Lee Marshall and his collaborator and successor, Brian Meek.  When we met at their first Woodworking in America conference they were just beginning to explore branching out from their world of jewelry-making tools into our world of coping and marquetry saws.  I think those first interactions occurred around 2010 or thereabouts and I recall vividly an evening of dining and sketching on napkins as I proposed they undertake the design and manufacture of a vertical marquetry chevalet.  Sure, this concept was revolutionary and heretical and might raise the hackles of horizontal-chevalet-traditionalists but that did not concern me nor apparently did it do anything but enhance Lee’s curiosity.

I had already made my first foray into the chevalet machine form with my c.2002 benchtop horizontal unit, but to be truthful I already had too much muscle memory dedicated to vertical sawing to ever feel fully comfortable with it.  I always kept returning to my tried-and-true bird’s mouth and jeweler’s saw.

So my intersection with Knew Concepts crew was underway.  Our ongoing collaborations led me to hold virtually all of Knew Concepts products in my workshop, trying out what they already were making along with many protypes in development.


I was very excited when they brought their first complete proof-of-concept prototype to WIA 2016 and gave it a good long test drive.  There was much left to noodle out in the details but the overall concept was in place.  Before those details were resolved Lee’s health declined to the point where he died, and Brian succeeded him at the helm of Knew Concepts.  The transfer of the company was long and complicated, but eventually the new regime was in place.

Some time in 2019/2020(?) I dropped an email to Brian asking about the progress of the machine.  He called me to say that one of the terms of the company transition was that at least one unit of the machine be manufactured and that unit would be sold to me.  A few months later it arrived and I set it up just enough to give it a look-see.  It is a spectacular machine and as of last month is now permanently ensconced at the end of the third daughter, ready to make marquetry at a moment’s notice.

While I was at it, I made a major improvement to my Knew Concepts Mark I jeweler’s bench saw by adding an oversized working platform, making it all the more amenable to marquetry than it was before, not surprising since it was designed for jewelry-scale work.

This post might be a long-winded way to say that I have loved marquetry since I first encountered it almost fifty years ago and now have the time and tools to make it an integral part of projects.  I suspect my main emphasis will be parquetry, not curvilinear marquetry, but I am now outfitted for either or both.  My tool cabinet will be my first big foray into monumental scale work as the outside will be vaguely inspired by the works of Abraham and David Roentgen.

I’m thinking this might be the conclusion of this Winter Projects series and it is time to return to our irregularly scheduled programming.

Stay tuned.