Monday, August 6, 2012

Obstacles into Opportunities

As a woodworker, problem solving skills are an important part of the trade.  Nothing is perfect and once in a while, you get an “in your face” reminder.  That’s when you have to remind the materials you are working with who’s in charge. 

We have a customer that wants built-in lockers with a bench seat in their mudroom for coats, book bags, and shoe storage.  It’s a semi-simple design and should be a straight forward and relaxing build. NOPE!! Not when your distributor pawns off a stack of 4x8 Birch plywood that is shaped like a bunch of skateboard ramps. I know, I should have taken them back, but I was under a dead line and convinced myself very quickly I can make it work.  And I DID!  Let me tell ya how. 

Does everyone know what a Dado is?  A Dado is a wide groove that is cut from front to back of a component that an intersecting component fits into.  This “puzzle piece” fit ensures proper placement of your parts and is a very good structural joint.  It will also flex my plywood parts flat and true. 

There are many ways to cut a Dado.  You can stack Dado blades on a table saw, use specially milled bits in the router table, and even set up a straight edge for a handheld router.  Every project is an equation filled with variables.  It’s up to you to know the variables and the best way to execute the task.   

With this particular project, I did not mill my parts to thickness.  The problem here is being at the mercy of the plywood manufacturer.  I know better than to trust that every sheet is going to be identical in thickness, so I needed a system that would allow my Dados to vary in width as needed.  This obstacle has given me the opportunity to construct a much anticipated shop made exact width Dado Jig.  SWEET!!

Fortunately, there is a very generous online community of woodworkers sharing their wealth of knowledge and ideas.  So I turned to “the King” that helped start it all, Mr. Marc Spagnuolo, AKA the Wood Whisperer.  He had built this jig for one of his previous projects.  I modeled my design from his, with a few modifications that will fit my needs for this project and how I function as a craftsman for future projects. Thank You Marc!!

Now that my exact width Dado jig is built, it’s time to cut some Dados… and find another obstacle to turn into an opportunity.  Our next issue arises as our badass jig stretches across our work surface.  Well, the jig is milled and fabricated as flat and true as possible, our plywood is not.  When placing the jig across the “potato chip” plywood, it sets tight at both ends with a gap in the middle.  This means when I cut my dado it will not be deep enough in the middle.  If I leave this and call it done, our cabinet wall will have convexed walls.  They will keep their shape unless this problem is solved by removing equal amounts of material across the length of the Dado. Its finally time to get an old school router plane, even SWEETER!!!

In order to keep moving forward with this project I need a router plane STAT!  Crossing my fingers, I pick up the phone and call Woodcraft.  No Dice.  Next, I look to my Lee Valley Catalog.  $150 and 5-7 days for shipping, a good fall back, but I need it NOW!  My final option is to call my local antique mall.  I chatted it up with an employee and they gave me a number for a vendor that would be my one and only hope.  

So I gave Mr. Norm a call, what a cool guy.  We gabbed hand tools for 45 minutes.  I love making new friends.  He did give me some hope that one was sitting there waiting for me.  Having bought some tools from him before, I knew exactly where to look.  I approached the glow of the glass cabinet and scanned the inventory of side by side heirloom contraptions.  CHA-CHING!!!  There it sits, a prestine Stanley No. 71, patented 1901, with a ¼” blade that has been rode hard and put up wet.  Sixty Bucks, the SWEETEST!!

Now that I solved the hunt, a new challenge awaited me as I drove back to the shop with a childish grin.  How to sharpen this beaten and battered blade?? I geared up my waterstone, some YouTube videos, and some good tunes.  Taking some good advice and my mad scientist approach to sharpening, I had a blade that could shave the hair off my chiny chin chin.  At the same time the blade was so worn, it wouldn’t hold a sharp edge for too long. Fortunately, Lee Valley replacement blades are available. 

With the razor edge set to depth, I moved this bad boy through the dados that didn’t register correctly from the jig.  It was so much fun I thought I would go ahead and do them all!  I was shocked with the amount of material I removed from even the dados that I assumed where good to go. 

 With every dado hand planed to a near perfect depth, I was ready to assemble some cabinets.  The components went together like a dream.  As everything drew up tight, my questionable sheet goods turned Bona Fide.  Cabinet built and problems solved!

It’s all about having the right tool and mind for the right job.  Eventually, we always find a situation that allows us to get or make those tools and jigs on our wish list.  Once they are in the arsenal its great!  It’s just getting them there that’s a challenge.