Monday, December 28, 2009

The Making of a Dovetail Cubby

I don't like to waste things.  In fact, if I can reuse something to make something else, that's even better.  Sometimes though, thinking about what to make out of something is often harder than the actual making of the new thing you're trying to make.  The Dovetail Cubby was one of those things.

I had acquired some beautiful but thin walnut boards (only about 3/8ths of an inch thick) from a man in Pasadena who was looking to get rid of a whole bunch of prized hardwood and some tools.  His father, a life long woodworker, had passed on a few years back and left behind a treasure trove of lumber, much of which he had cut himself from the actual trees and a few old, but very well made tools.  After some negotiating and some interesting history about his father, I drove away with a truck full of wood, an old, cast iron lathe (something I had always wanted) and a front seat full of clamps, hand tools and doo dads.  He gave me a good deal and I promised him that I would make good use of the wood and the tools and not let any of it go to waste.

I wanted a simple, small cubby on my living room wall to display some of my favorite books, candleholders and art.  So I thought of this simple yet elegant design: a box, with no back, with the top overhanging just a bit (I like things a little off center) and a rough, or "live" edge on the front.

I decided I would make it out of the thin walnut I had acquired, as I wanted it to appear light, like it was floating in the air.  I was excited because after two years of looking at the beautiful wood sitting in my shop, I found a use for it that I thought was worthy of the all the old woodworker's time and effort.

I liked the design immediately but the problem was the wall I wanted to hang it on only had one accessible stud that I could hang something from and the dimensions of the cubby weren't wide enough.  I could have made it really wide (to reach all three studs) but at that length the thin boards would look flimsy and would eventually bow due to the extra weight sitting across its length, which would amount to the material being practically wasted.

So I stuck to my guns and figured a way to keep the aesthetic and function intact.  I came up with an idea to fasten a thin, dovetailed board to the wall stud horizontally and cut two notches into the sides of the cubby so that once the dovetailed board was fastened the cubby could slide right on.

The result marries function and form.  This design also makes the construction extremely sturdy as when the back board is fastened to the wall, it bows forward slightly, actually pinning the sides of the cubby closer to the wall, making it fall proof.  Who knew one screw could be so strong?

The following series of photos shows the process of making a dovetail cubby (actually three) from start to finish.  This series of cubbies was made from wood that came from the sides of drawers of a vintage oak filing cabinet.

Step 1: Gluing up the drawer sides together to make the tops and bottoms of the cubbies.  You can see that the original, badly marred finish is still on the wood at this point.

Step Deuce: The now wide boards have been planed down to strip the original, plasticky finish (yechh!) and to get them ready to be cut.  The finger joints of the boards are still attached (but not for long).

Step 3: The boards are then cut to finished size and put together (without glue) to make sure I didn't screw up.  If everything looks good then I cut the joints and hope I don't screw those up.

Step 4: No screw-ups means quick glue ups!  This is where I carefully glue the boards together and clamp everything.  Did I mention this design does not include any nails?  Just good old-fashioned joints and glue.

Step 5: This is where the boards go into my medieval torture device/brundle fly machine to be squeezed into becoming one piece of wood (well, one piece of furniture made from four separate boards).  I clamp these overnight so that the boards can really bond (and I mean that literally and figuratively) and just in case there are any boards that are resistant to being part of a team.  Remember, wood is alive and each individual board has its own personality.  I have seen boards not bond to others simply because they didn't want to, not that I have anything against individuality.  To those boards I say, go on and be free my little wooden beatnik.

Step 6:  The transformation is complete.  Brundle has become Fly and vice versa.

Step 7:  As a reward for the boards coming together, I then give them a nice bath in Danish oil (my own secret recipe which I cannot divulge [because it's secret]) and let them sit out in the loverly California sunshine.  This literally tans the wood and gives it a nice, mellow patina, which will only get darker as it ages, kind of like Pam Anderson.

The result is a trio of cubbies that despite being sliced, diced and bathed in oil, all seem to be very happy together.

No comments:

Post a Comment