Tuesday: Chip-outs and Clamps — Ethan

The everlasting truth of wood is that you can always take more off, but it’s much harder to add some back.

Today was an exercise in recovering and strategizing after a series of minor but consequential mistakes. Monday had one of those mistakes as well: in cutting my tenon on one table leg, I took the wrong amount off of the sides (instead of taking it off the front and back) and so I had to leave that until today with two thin pieces of walnut glued to the sides and drying overnight. After today, however, apart from those who read this, my mom, and myself, no one will ever know; the wood was forgiving this time, and the difference is barely perceptible, even if you look for it.

You know, you can imagine what could go wrong all you want, but sometimes its the simplest thing that gets you. As I moved on to my third leg, I was positive I could not make a mistake — I had measured perfectly, the walls of my mortise were as good as I could get them, I had got my notation for cutting the tenon down…. and then I took wood off the bottom instead of the top.  The fix for that that my mom worked out was that, because we intentionally made the legs longer than they needed to be (for precisely this sort of situation) we’d cut the 1 3/8″ right off the bottom, and if we needed extra length, we’d add the appropriate amount of material in time. Again, not an unrecoverable blunder.


When it comes to mortises, you can never be absolutely sure, even in a relatively straight-and-predictably-grained wood like walnut, of absolute consistency in the fibers. The bottom picture shows the unfortunate result of an imperfection in the wood (I believe it was a series of gaps in the growth of the tree, resulting in wood fibers that were less rigid and had more space to more around) translating to a large chip-out as I cut that wall of the mortise. Fortunately, we were able to find the renegade chips, and they’re currently clamped up and gluing back in place.

Mom and I had been talking about possibilities for “stretchers” for the table legs — horizontal crosspieces that link the legs to one another and strengthen them — and we  came to an interesting solution. The top right photo shows a whole bunch of clamps, and three long pieces of walnut glued up and drying, measuring about 16.5″ by 4′. This assembly will eventually serve as both a structural and practical element: it will be linked into the four legs, but it will sit only about 5 or 6 inches below the tabletop, serving a similar function to the trays underneath the desks in main hall dorms.


In sum, the tenon count is up to 3, with 2 perfect dry-fits (bottom photo), the shelf is glued up and drying (middle right), and even though there’ll likely be a snow day tomorrow, I’ve taken two small boards home with me so I can work on sanding them.

That’s all for today — I plan to finish the legs on Thursday and begin work on designing the joints for the stretcher/shelf.



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