Day 3: “…This is my dovetail saw, there are many like it but this one is mine…”

You know, the thing they never tell you about woodworking classes is what an emotional roller coaster you will experience. This week’s course is my first woodworking class since I was at Totnes, and in the intervening 7 years I appear to have completely forgotten the emotional twists and turns I experienced. These days when I think about that summer in Totnes the memories are of a halcyon time of carefree workshop fun. And yes, it was hella fun, but there was also a full gamut of emotions to be experienced, from elation to despair and all points in between. This week, all those memories came flooding back.

I am loving this course. Loving it. The Anarchist’s Tool Chest is a project I’ve wanted to do for three years, and learning how to build it in a class taught by Chris Schwarz is a dream come true. Additionally, woodwork has been a solitary activity for the past 7 years, so to be in a workshop with 17 other students, all working on an ambitious project is so exciting. The way in which your skill set accelerates as you progress (I think it would take several months of hard practice to improve my dovetailing as much as it has improved this week), the wealth of knowledge just waiting to be imparted by the tutors, the camaraderie, and the awful (truly awful) jokes. This course is the most fun I’ve had since Clive taught me the R.A.T.

But yes, it has been an emotional roller coaster (and we are only 3 days in). If I’m honest, yesterday finished leaving me feeling a little glum. Today however, all the previous day’s hard work started to produce results. All of my corners were test fit, and apart from the one corner which pressed close, the other three were good and tight, with no crumbling tails. A couple of gaps, but nothing too noticeable (especially not after the chest gets milk painted) and structurally solid.

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Gluing up the carcass represents the first significant milestone in the course, which is cause for good cheer. And having left the glue to set for 30 minutes, the clamps were removed to allow the next student to glue up their carcass, and my assembly added to the pile to cure for a further 90 minutes.

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While the glue was curing I busied myself dovetailing the skirts of the chest. The dovetails on the lower and upper skirts are rotated through 90 degrees, so that the tails on both skirts are on the sides of the case. This is in contrast to the carcass where the tails were on the front and back boards. This rotation gives added security in the event that the joints on the carcass fail, as the skirts will continue to hold the case together.

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Once the glue had cured it was time to put down the much used mallet and chisel, and plane the outside of the carcass flat. A No.4 smoothing plane took down the end grain of the protruding pins and tails, and a No.8 jointer (both gratefully borrowed from Paul Mayon) flattened out the two end boards of the case. Tomorrow I will flatten the front and back of the case and glue the skirts in place.

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