Cabinetry is made of chunks of wood that are fairly standard in size. Most of your parts are going to be shorter than 48″ long. It’s rare that individual planks will be wider than 12″, or that your casework is going to be much deeper than 24″ or so.
And so most of our tools, workbenches and shops are set up to deal with parts and assemblies that fall into those ranges. What’s really amazing to me, however, is how things can fall apart when you step just a little outside those standard sizes.
This week I’m building a reproduction of an 18th-century dry sink that is based on a Connecticut piece. I drew up the plans after studying a lot of photos of the piece and its actual measurements. In my zeal to make my reproduction look spot-on, I glossed over some details that should have raised red flags as I was sketching.
1. Danger, Wide Load: The carcase of this dry sink is 50″ wide. That gave our table saw’s sliding table some fits, but I was able to work around its limitations. Where things got hairy was when I assembled the carcase. I needed some 50″ clamps to secure the sides to the bottom. But all our clamps only go to a shade more than 48″. Our shop’s band clamps have fallen into the same black hole as a set of long-missing bed bolts. So I drove the bottom into the dados in the side pieces and used cut nails to hold everything in place while the glue dried. Good thing the original used cut nails as well.
2. In Too Deep: The carcase is almost 27″ deep, which means the side panels were too wide for my 24″-wide workbench. So I had to work in stages: I planed as much as I could. Then I shifted the panel and planed the remainder. It was slow, but it worked.
3. Wood Too Wide: The dry sink’s door requires panels that are 14″ wide. Even our massive machinery can only face-joint a 12″-wide piece. So those boards for the doors had to be processed with handplanes. It wasn’t a show-stopper, but it sure slowed me down.
4. Two Inches Too Long: Because the carcase is 50″ wide, many of the boards for the top and bottom were 49″ to 50″ long. Because the rough stock was 8′ long, there was no way to get two 50″-long pieces for the top from a 96″-long piece. As a result, I had to struggle not to waste too much wood.
The good news is that I’m going to adjust the construction drawings and cutting lists for the readers so they won’t stumble with these slightly oversized parts and assemblies. Shaving an inch or two will save a thousand headaches. The bad news is that I probably should spring for a few 52″-long clamps for the shop so this doesn’t happen again.
– Christopher Schwarz