Chris Schwarz's Blog

Trust Yourself. Trust No One

Between meetings, classes and regular living, I’ve cut 132 dovetails during the last couple weeks to build my next project, which will be featured on the cover of the June 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. Many of these dovetails have been mitered at their front corners, which I cut freehand (thank you Joseph Moxon).

When I completed the 132 dovetails I was well pleased. Only a few of them showed any noticeable gaps, and everything went together right from the saw. No paring. So I was feeling a little confident as I started to design the plinth for this project, which was a simple thing.

I sat at my computer, which is loaded with the latest version of SketchUp. Using my dividers, I tried to design a bracket foot for the plinth that was similar to some of the bracket feet I had recently seen at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts.

I took the mouse in hand for more than two hours. Everything I designed looked like crap.

No, I take that back. It looked like COMPLETE crap.

Then I remembered an English book I had just finished on cabinet construction. There was an entire section on plinths. How to lay them out. How to transfer the pattern to the wood. How to cut and shape them.

I turned to this book for the answer to my SketchUp problem. Believe it or not, the solution to my 2011 problem was in this 1901 book. Here it is:

Draw your plinth freehand.

I resisted this suggestion at first because I cannot draw anything. Not even Tippy the Turtle wearing a skimpy bikini. (In my next life, I want to learn to draw. And not just sexy turtles.)

So I kept at the plinth with my mouse hand. I tried several ogees. I tried proportioning the plinth based on several bases that I had photographed. Nothing worked. Everything looked like crap.

So I ate an apple. I got a cup of coffee. I taunted my co-workers.

Then I took the advice of the stupid old 1901 book. I grabbed a sheet of old magazine letterhead and a pencil. I sketched out the foot in full size on the back of the sheet.

Dang.

It didn’t look half bad. I tweaked a couple details then showed it to Glen D. Huey, who has an 18th-century eye. (The other eye is for spotting doughnuts and Corvettes.)

The foot detail looked good. Real good. So I created a pattern on some crappy 1/4″ plywood and transferred it to my plinth pieces, which were already dovetailed.

Things were looking fine. The curves flowed nicely from the floor to the spur of the bracket foot. I was (and this is a rare event) happy. Icut and shaped the plinth pieces, and the curves flowed – just like they did on my sketch. Then I did a dry assembly to see how the carcase looked on top of the plinth.

And snap. Literally. Snap.

One of the feet popped off and fell to the floor. I swore. I grabbed the foot and tried to glue it back on with no luck. All of the sudden Home Economics class was looking quite good. I was sure I could sew a dress.

I fetched my glue. I gathered a bunch of clamps. I glued and clamped the heck out of those base pieces. When I left work everything looked nice and tight. We’ll see how it looks in the morning.

— Christopher Schwarz

Want to see some awesome 18th-century feet? Check out Glen D. Huey’s book on the topic. He has more than a nice eye for the form, he also has a nice spleen for it.

7 thoughts on “Trust Yourself. Trust No One

  1. openid.aol.com/docragan

    OK, I have had the worst time with writing comments on this site.

    In regards to bending over, I built the "mini bench" featured in one of the woodworking mags a couple of years ago. What a great thing! Wonderful for letting me stand up, getting the work elevated, steadied by bench hooks.

    I had to learn how to draw -in order to carve- to make my wife the "$40K table" (know what I mean?). The book is "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards. I drew stick figures before, now am actually pretty decent after only a little time invested. I can’t say enough good things about this book. Her unique approach is scientifically sound. If you want to draw really well, this is the way.

  2. Bob L.

    Can you share the name of the book? I am really really interested in making patterns, using the process you describe and portrayed in the picture you posted.

  3. Glen Van Cise

    I feel your pain.

    I’ve been making backsaw handles since Christmas; three to be exact. The first was on a scrap of firewood. The second two were on some pricey figured maple. It seems as if I either get the right shape, the right fit or the right finish.

    In frustration (not a good mindset to do woodworking) I cut out the third handle, rough sanded it, and sort of threw finish at it from across the room. It looked like crap.

    Last night some friends looked at all three saws and, you guessed it, loved the crap handle the best. Go figure.

    Why I don’t just by disposable plastic tools is beyond me.

    Hang in there.

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