The importance of being square

I caught the underhill nail cabinet bug as I was finishing the workbench.  Plans are available here. This seemed like a great project, useful, attractive, and challenging. It looks like cabinetry, but is “shop furniture.” I made one change and decided to go with a mortise and tenon door frame with a raised panel.  The cabinet without drawers went together pretty easily.  Covering your carcase dovetails with battens is freeing.

There are, of course, several mistakes in this build. Some were simple, like when I put the bottom cleat on the top of the case.  To fix that, I got to test the reversibility of hide glue. Others were not so simple, I miscut the interior eggcrate and got to make two eggcrates. These were both mistakes of inattention, but I think the biggest mistake was not making absolutely, positively certain that everything was square.

While it looks pretty square in the picture above, the carcass isn’t. It’s twisted by about 1/8 of an inch, which created the largest challenges. Adding to the unsquareness, the first eggcrate I made was square, but the replacement was not.

img_5331This project has made me realize how important square is.  If a box is going to go in another box, then the outside box should be square. For example, since eggcrate opening aren’t square, the center drawers have to taper in width to fit the opening. They also have to taper from front to back in height. Sometimes  a lot. Like 3/8 inch a lot. 

While none of this is particularly hard to do, it adds 5-10 mins of fitting per drawer. Maybe more. And with 21 drawers, that’s an extra 2 to 3 hours of work. If I had spent the 15-20 mins to make sure all was square to begin with, I could have avoided that extra work.  So check square. And recheck square. And fix if you can.



When I started working on a bench design, I was all in on Roy Underhill’s french bench that I saw on the Woodwright’s shop and in his book The Woodwright’s Apprentice.  For those of you that have never seen this, here is part I of that episode.

I was totally sucked in by the angled legs and the awesome sliding dovetails.  But this bench was solving a problem I really didn’t have.  It was designed to use a “smaller” solid benchtop when compared to the traditional Roubo-style bench.  I was planning on laminating my top, so my benchtop was limited only by my ability to move the glue-up around.  Before I recognized this, though, I went ahead and laminated up a top.  This was also before I was really committed to handplanes and before I had my dewalt thickness planer.  That glue-up was done with the “as-ripped” boards.  It turned out OK, at best. Here’s an end pic of that top


These are ripped down 2X6’s and kinda knotty.  You can see gaps where the cup in the boards prevented me from clamping them completely closed.  But it will work.  I glued up the second split top using sections I ripped from a 2X12 and ran through the thickness planer.  This top is significantly better than the first one. Both in terms of the quality of the wood and the quality of the layup.  After gluing them up, I flattened one side with my jack and jointer and then ran them through my thickness planer.  That was fun.  Really.