Design-on-the-fly

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The biggest lie from any woodshop: “This turned out exactly the way I planned it.”

I’m currently building a 19th-century drop-front desk, a project I’ve been anticipating for four years. I’ve built a couple of these Civil War-era pieces before, but this is the dream one I’ve wanted to build just for myself and spared no expense on the best cherry I could find, top-of-the-line hinges, lockset and drawer pull. It’s not a repro of any specific piece; to the contrary, I’ve been kicking the design around for months until finally deciding on the perfect arrangement of shelves, dividers, drawers, etc.

To that end I went beyond my typical rough sketches, and did the best measured drawings I could produce. This was not to be a make-it-up-as-you-go project; this was to be the perfect project. And I suppose it still is, but…

The desk would have a central module with an 8"-wide drawer (dovetails and everything this time!). In marking my stock to cut the dadoes for the sides of the drawer module I measured carefully. Then measured again. Then a third time. Then I turned the stock around and faced it from the other direction, and measured everything a fourth time just to be sure. Perfect.

I set up my dado cutter, measured the height, checked it, double-checked it, and even made a cut in scrap to verify it was right. All set to go, I cut the dadoes in the top component, then the bottom and everything looked good. Then, before going any further I did a dry assembly as I frequently do. Everything went together like a dream.

But when I stood back and looked, something seemed off. Measuring between the sides of the center module I found the opening was 7", and not the planned 8" – I’d measured perfectly, and then cut perfect dadoes on the wrong sides of the cut line. I’ve been kicking myself since, even though there’s no reason to do so.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a 7"-wide drawer. The extra 1/2" on either side of the center module is also fine. In fact, this on-the-fly change in design is something that I might have come up with originally. But the fact that I didn’t is eating away at me.

No one will ever notice this “error” on my part, but when it’s done and I post the photo of the finished desk, take it with a grain of salt when I tell you that it came out exactly the way I planned it.

A.J.

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