Making a box, part 3

September 21, 2012 2:14:01 AM CDT

For those of you who don't happen to be literature geeks, there's a book from the 18th century called The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. It's a huge joke.. a parody of how books were written in the day, complete with a form-letter dedication to the as-yet-unknown patron willing to pay the writer to publish the book.

It was originally published in nine(!) volumes, between 1759 and 1767. The joke inherent in that being that the whole thing is supposed to be an autobiography of the eponymous Tristram Shandy. His trouble (about which he complains in the books) was that it took him a week to write a day's worth of his adventures, so he doesn't even get around to being born until volume 3, and the more he writes, the farther behind he gets.

There are times when I know how he felt. What with working, making stuff, writing up the stuff that I've made, and trying to keep three or more projects going at the same time, I'm having a tough time trying to keep up.

That's okay though.. it's forcing me to write, and to think about the stuff I'm doing in chunks of an appropriate size to write about.

So get on with it..

Today's chunk covers the next few stages of work on that box.

When we left last time, I had the thing square, flat, and the lining glued in.


Next came the process of marking and cutting access holes for this critter (which may give you some hint of where I'm going with the overall project):

power plug 
and switch

For reasons I'll get into shortly, I decided to lay out the openings on paper rather than the bare wood. I laid a strip of painter's tape across the surface where I'd be working:

tape on the wood for ease of marking

Then hauled out the surface gauge and started making lines:

marking the horizontals

This is a fairly common layout technique. The pointer on the gauge has a knife edge, so you can set a height then score a line on the workpiece.

marking the verticals

The gauge stands still by the way.. you move the workpiece to make the marks.

Now, this may look like I'm being all fussy about precision, but I'm not. If I was being fussy, I would have made a set of blocks that would lift the box to the right height for each line, and scribed all the lines with the height gauge locked in a single position. You can tune the height of a block more finely than you can tweak a gauge setting.

What I'm doing above is pure convenience. It's easier to scribe a line with a height gauge than it is to futz around with rulers and squares, and you get better results to boot.


Once I had the edges of the holes marked, I set a fence on the drill press so the holes would fall about 1/16" inside the line:

setting the drill fence

Then drilled a series of closely-spaced holes to chew away most of the wood near the edges of the holes:

roughing the holes


That made it easier to chop out the bulk of the unwanted wood with a chisel:

chopping out the bulk of the holes

As you can see, the work is pretty ugly at this point, but that's okay. As I discussed elsewhere, there's no point in worrying about the surface finish of material you'll cut away a couple minutes later. An old shopman's cliche' is "roughing is where you make your money." If you get paid by the piece, you want to move as fast as possible. You can't rush the finish work and get decent quality, but you can rough-cut as fast and ugly as your tools and technique will allow.

Technically I could have hogged the unwanted material out of the holes with just the chisel, but that's seasoned oak, which is pretty tough stuff. Only having to chop away the bits between the holes made the job a lot easier.

Once the bulk of the wood was out of the hole, I trimmed reasonably close to the lines with the chisel, then tuned the holes to fit the switch and plug with a set of files.

I didn't get pictures of that for a couple of reasons. First, it was a fiddly process with a lot of back-and-forth tuning and testing. Second, by a quirk of chemistry, my skin and sweat turn oak into ink. Once the dust gets flying, I start leaving dark blue fingerprints everywhere:

chopping out the bulk of the holes

You'll see more dramatic examples of that later, but it's the main reason I wanted to do as much work as possible with a layer of tape between my skin and the surface of the wood.


To make gluing the top and bottom to the sides a bit easier, I used a set of registration pins in the corners:

registration pin and hole

They're just short chunks of 1/16" welding rod (and here's more evidence of the effect oak and I have on each other when the temperature and humidity are both above 90):

the pins

The pins have no clamping value whatsoever. All they did was keep the top and bottom from squirming relative to the sides while I clamped everything together.

I used a #53 drill (slightly less than 1/16") to drill a hole that would make a tight press-fit in the sides:

drilling the 

Then used a #50 drill (slightly more than 1/16") for a loose slip fit in the top:

drilling the 

With the pins pressed into the sides, I I no longer had to worry about registration between the sides and the top/bottom plates:

putting them 


A quick application of glue, followed by a night in the clamps:

everything at once

And that was pretty much it for major assembly of the carcass.

Here's how the front looked the next morning after coming out of the clamps:

front view

And here's the back with the hardware in place:

back view with 

Next time: preliminary finishing..

Random brain cookies:

Q: How many heterosexual males does it take to screw in a light bulb in San Francisco? A: Both of them.