A Comedy of Errors

For the last couple weeks, we were scrambling to get ready for Woodworking in America. Now, we’re scrambling to get all the in-house stories written, and the freelance stories in, edited and designed for the December issue, for which the binder read-through is this Thursday.

And I had to scramble to get the I Can Do That project completed in time for a photo shoot last Thursday. The shoot was supposed to be on Tuesday. I pushed it to Wednesday. On Wednesday morning, I begged our photographer for an hour of his time on Thursday. Early Thursday morning, I did a final touch-up to the finish, let it dry, then re-installed the hinges. I was fairly certain on Thursday morning we’d get the shoot done. But I wasn’t wiling to bet the farm.

Why? The entire build was a comedy of errors, complete with twins – well, that was the intent, anyway.

The project is a “gent’s chest” (a small tool chest meant to hold household tools such as screwdrivers, a hammer and the like) that I adapted from a little antique chest I borrowed from a friend. The plan was that they look as much alike as dimensional lumber would allow, right down to the pleasing deep brown color.

You may notice in the photo above that the box in the foreground is green – not quite the color of the antique in the background. But that wasn’t my only mishap.

I nailed the basic box together before the conference, and by the  time I got back to it last Monday, I’d forgotten that I didn’t have enough trim to complete it. So I scurried to my local home center for more “outside L,” only to find there was apparently a run on it over the last couple weeks. They were out. Monday night, I drove to the other side of town in search of trim, and finally found it at the third store I visited (so of course, in a panic, I bought far too much).

Finally, outside L in hand, I headed for the miter saw on Tuesday. Not an easy trip – especially as many times as I had to go back and forth to fit three corners on the top and all four on the bottom. We got our shipment back from the WIA conference Tuesday; every cut at the saw meant squeezing between pallets of books to get to the machine. (Plus, I was constantly moving stuff and reframing my step photos so the WIA mess doesn’t show up in the magazine.)

With the box finally completed (or so I thought), I pulled out my trusty gel stain, which had never before failed me on pine. This time, it failed spectacularly. I got an ugly, muddy mess that looked like, well, crap (you can still see it on the inside of the box). So much for copying the inspiration. I had to resort to paint. “Man green” it is.

While waiting for the stain to fully dry before applying paint, I realized I’d left off the top decorative 1/2″-thick piece that mimics a raised panel. So in order to plane those angles, I reached for my trusty block plane (there’s no panel-raising plane in the I Can Do That toolkit). And it wasn’t in my tool chest. I’d stashed my block plane in my purse while packing up at the conference (what? That’s not where you store yours?), then switched purses, and forgot to bring the plane back to work. So I had to go to the backup block plane, which first required a serious sharpening session.

Finally, all the pieces were in place. Two coats of paint and two days late, we got the shoot done.

But now I’m afraid to clean up my bench. Why? Well, there’s a quart of “man green” thereupon that I fear, in keeping with the rest of the build, will slip out of my hands then explode when it hits the floor. And I’m anxious about returning the antique to its owner – that’s just asking for a car wreck.

— Megan Fitzpatrick

All of our I Can Do That projects are available free online – and so is our manual for the I Can Do That tool kit – if you’re registered at popularwoodworking.com (also free). These projects are perfect for getting beginners involved in the craft – and we hear they’re often used by youth organzations indluding the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to earn hand skill badges.

10 thoughts on “A Comedy of Errors

    1. Megan FitzpatrickMegan Fitzpatrick Post author

      I concur…but for that column, we’re “stuck” with using the good, but basic set of tools in the Official I Can Do That tool kit – and I’ll lobby to add a marking gauge to that kit before anything else!

  1. zdillingerzdillinger

    Well, that finally explains the little green specks of paint that one finds on virtually every old Stanley handplane!

  2. rwyoung

    Once picked up a full gallon of paint and somehow (no idea how) it spun end for end in my hands and slipped out. Falling lid-end down it struck the concrete step at an angle and of course the lid popped. Slow-mo all the way on this one, including the audio track.

    Ages 11 through 43 have been very awkward for me (see post on bone viewing in other blog). I hope to grow out of this stage soon.

  3. Publius Secundus

    I just read your update, and that of Chris, and though they are about difficulties, or perhaps because of it, they strike a chord with the woodworkers you and the magazine serve. Everyone who’s built something of size has lived with less than perfect wood somewhere or other, in the hope it won’t become a problem. Sometimes that’s a vain hope, and your benchtop cracks. Finishing glitches cured with paint are legion. Even green paint. Some woodworking magazines leave readers with the impression that it’s perfection or failure, as in anyone who doesn’t produce work as perfect as magazine photos is doomed and incompetent. I find the candor of the PW editors refreshing and encouraging to real humans, letting them know that everyone has a calamity now and then. Hobby woodworkers are supposed to have fun in the doing, not fear errors to the exclusion of doing anything. While I’m at it, I commend you folks for providing your own benches to the conference for who knows who to use. We know how much work you all did to build the great benches and you handed them over to be used rather than sit largely unscarred by the unwashed at home or work. You set fine examples for folks to really stand behind the notion that tools are to be used. Not everyone would have considered it. Thanks.

    1. tsstahl

      Seconded. Every project for me is a succession of unplanned events with an occasional feeling of competence.

      1. Fred West

        Thirded? 😮 tsstahl I feel your pain with the exception of the occasional feeling of competence. Place “in” in front of competence and replace occasional with “almost always” and you have a better idea of my work. 😮

        Megan, now you have me worried as I did not know that the new de riguere was carrying a purse for my block plane. :o)


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