Outfitting the Tool Cabinet – I

As I have stated previously, the interior of the tool cabinet will be “composed” more than it will be “designed.”  The process of layout and fabrication will certainly be a deliberate one, and the amount of progress will depend greatly on the other activities in my life, projects in the studio and events outside the studio.

I have made my first choices and taken the steps to make them happen.


First, I moved my saw rack en toto into the rear of the proper right compartment.

Second, I began to design the fittings to affix my hand planes to the rear of the proper left compartment.

Third, I began the process of mounting my carving chisels on the proper left door panel.

It’s clear there will be a lot of proceeding and retreating as I work out the composition, but it will all be a lot of fun.  There will be irregular updates as they are called for.

Stay tuned.


One of my initial design/aesthetic choices for the standing tool cabinet was to make the prominent detailing to be black, along with the entire interior.  In the former case it was to set off the comparative blandness of the oak veneer, about which there will be exhaustive posting in coming weeks, and in the latter it would serve to set off the tools themselves.  As to the ebonized stringing in between the parquetry I am not yet fully convinced — I may instead go with rosewood which will serve the primary purpose equally well, although it will not tie-in with the interior well without further design– but ebonized interior is already a fait accompli.

The ebonized stringing for the proof-of-concept parquetry exercise representing the outer skin began with a piece or two from the pile of 1/4″ tulip poplar I had on hand, itself a raw material for yet another proof-of-concept for some fauxrushi I am prototyping.  Using water soluble shellac as my coloring medium, a/k/a India Ink, is a method I use frequently.

The big box store pieces of tulip poplar fit a flower pot tray perfectly, so I used the tray as the immersion bath for the board.  After soaking it all night the surface was really black.

Even then when ripping the bards on the bandsaw it was apparent that the interiors were not well dyed, so I repeated the tray and India ink step again with the strips.  The result was a pile of 1/4″ wide ebonized stringing strips.  That might sound a tad wide to you but remember, the front presentation of the cabinet as 4-feet-by-3-feet.

As to the interior, I noted that the soaking of the plywood with India ink yielded a very desirable surface, black-ish but still retaining the character of wood, a result not really possible with something like gel stain or il paint.

Winter Projects (and well beyond) – Honing (skills, not tool edges)

When it comes to workshop skills, perhaps like some (?)/many (?)/ most (?)/all (?) of you I think of myself deficient in every respect, certainly compared to where I want to be.  Some of the skills I intend to practice more in the future include engraving and checkering.  The checkering is pretty straightforward, the tool kit is small and all you need is a workpiece and a vise to hold it.  Got those.  Oh, and dozens/hundreds/thousands of hours at the bench doing the repetitions that impart skill.  By the way, none of these pathways require talent, a good thing since I am sparse in that category.  But skill? I can do that especially since so many of the practices in my shop are inter-related and cross-re-enforcing.

Just do it, stoopid.

Engraving is a little involved since it requires freehand facility at the micro scale.  In addition to my pretty compete set of hand gravers I also have a first-generation Lindsay Air Graver, one of the most astounding tools I have ever encountered.  Think of a road construction jackhammer.  Now miniaturize it down to palm sized, and instead of an asphalt splitting tip it has a precision engraving tip.  Now you have a Lindsay Air Graver.  I bought a used one and its companion Silent Aire Compressor almost twenty years ago for a couple of conservation/replication projects that would require enhancing some well-worn engraving, and they sufficed brilliantly.  I never became fully facile with the tool, the project did not require full-range ability but rather simply tracing some worn lines, and to be truthful I did not have the time to dedicate at the microscope to make my lines fluid.

My first step down this path was to get my compressor tuned up and ready to go.

Done.  The beauty of this compressor is that it is literally so quiet it can reside in the shop next to the bench.  It’s about as loud as a refrigerator and is frequently used in dentist’s offices.

The next pathway is checkering, to me a much simpler enterprise than is engraving.  Still, I need to spend more time working at full scale/full speed on gunstocks and tools for it to become second nature.

Some years ago my friend Tred deposited a classical French marquetry chevalet in my space, and I played with it a bit.  I simply need to spend more hours in the seat using it to become good at it.  The kinesiology of the tool is foreign to me as I have spent the past 45 years cutting marquetry in the up-and-down motion.  That much muscle memory is a challenge to overcome.  If I am going to have a variable-speed, hand-powered machine take up more space than a table saw, I’d better make use of it.

I do not pretend to even aspire to follow the masters well, but I can certainly and earnestly be inspired by them.

Finally, for this post at least, I come to the area where talent would be a great help — drawing and decorative painting.  In order to most fully exploit my efforts at replicating urushi laquerwork I need to be able to draw and paint much better than I can now.  I hope that more hours of practice will yield a more amenable result, even if it is simply copywork.

I think I am able to reach that level of competence: this is an unfinished class exercise, a pastiche of a Johannes Vermeer painting I executed in college almost 40 years ago.

Armed with my stack of pattern books I will head down this path and hopefully not wind up in the ditch.  Good thing I am planning on working in the shop another 35 years.

Inspiring Chairs

I’ve made furniture in the past, and still do on occasion, but I do not consider myself a furniture maker.  I have made exactly one kind of chair in the past, present and future, but definitely do not consider myself a chair maker notwithstanding being at the halfway point of teaching a six-day Gragg chairmaking workshop in the barn attic. In reality I might just be an old coot with a lot of tools and wood in my dream shop located in Shangri-la.

That said, recently while waiting for some wax to melt I pulled down the book 1000 Chairs from the shelf for the first time in many, many years, perhaps fifteen, but certainly not since moving here almost a decade ago.

I had not remembered that a Gragg chair was the first offering in the book.  It was a bit of a surprise, to be honest.  It’s not the top-of-the-line Gragg chair like we are composing this week but is a beauty anyhow.

As I browsed through the book I found a number of chairs that intrigued me, but only a few that interested me enough to consider making them.  One of the first of these was this recliner by Josef Hoffman, whose vocabulary should be much more widespread throughout the design/craft community.

One of my all time favorite designers is Charles Rennie Mackintosh, I find captivating his work in almost any form.  I keep thinking that the pair of white wardrobe cabinets from Hill House(?) might make some mighty nice tool cabinets.  And, some of his chairs have been eating at me for decades, beginning with the receptionist’s chair and his many iterations of dining chairs.  I’ve even got the idea that I could somehow merge the influences of Stickley and Mackintosh into the same KD chair.  It would be interesting to try,  although some of the later Prairie Style stuff comes pretty close.

I have always loved classical Chines furniture, none more than the “horseshoe” chair.  Hans Wegner’s interpretation of the form is almost to good to believe.  But that could be said about much that Wegner designed.

Returning to the theme of (laminated?) bentwood chairs is the chaise from Alvar Aalto.  Sublime.

Closing out this romp through chairs I might make some day is Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chairs (always presented in pairs).  The challenge is, could these metal structural elements be reproduced in bentwood?

Just stuff to think about as I try envisioning cool projects in the future.  My mom lived to almost 104 and kept her wits until her last few days, so I figure I might have another 35 years of woodworking left in me.

A Fascinating Merger Of Design And Technology

Since before I was an architecture student in the mid-70s (never finished, they changed the curriculum to something I did not like nor want) I have been fascinated with the problems of design for human consumption and beyond in the realm of architecture, space, and accessories therein.  Even my later managerial training aptitude testing identified me as an INTP in the Myers-Briggs vernacular, or as one of our instructors phrased it, “The architect of ideas.”  And things, be they furniture or houses or rockets, are the manifestation of ideas.

The video here was an eye-opener for me.  I hope you find it as fascinating as I did.  When the time comes for Mrs. Barn and me to eventually design and obtain our geezer house I wonder if this will be part of the discussion

Like Howard Roarke being consumed with the problem of efficient mass housing – he cared only for the technical problem and was indifferent to the residents or the patrons – I am fascinated by the integration of tomorrow’s technology with ongoing universal needs.  Despite being mostly concerned with historicity and historic artifacts I have no quarrel with modern technology other than its increasing encroachment to the detriment of “quality of life,” for example the telecom revolution enabling the creation of the suffocating Surveillance State.  (It might be worth noting that “quality of life” is primarily a psychological term; “standard of living” refers to the practical choices available to a person depending on their circumstantial and material assets).  Technology is morally neutral, and the only reason it is problematic is that we are fallen creatures living in an amoral, immoral, or even anti-moral culture.

That said, the idea of a robust origami house is way cool.