Never stop learning

One of the things I love about my work is the constant learning. Whether I’m researching the life and work of a less-known maker of English Arts and Crafts furniture or making my way around a new machine, I find myself challenged on an almost daily basis, which is rewarding. This week I experimented with some tweaks on familiar joinery and finishing techniques, drawing on articles and advice from a few people I know: Mike Pekovich, Chris Schwarz, Kelly Mehler, and Tim Puro (in the order in which they appear below).

I’m finishing up a wall cabinet that will be a project article in Fine Woodworking. (Don’t ask when it will appear; we don’t know yet.) The sides of the little cabinet are joined to the floor with dovetails. After nearly 40 years of transferring tail positions onto pin boards the same way I was taught at the Isle of Ely College in Wisbech by dear old Mr. Williams and curmudgeonly Mr. Slater, I decided it was time to try the Pekovich blue tape method. It worked like a charm. (Jump to end of post for evidence that Mike has a sense of humor.)



Another enhancement of my dovetailing life comes from Chris Schwarz, who recently recommended sawing closer to the baseline when cutting pins. I’ve always stayed well away from that line and chopped the rest with a chisel. No more.


As for that auxiliary bench, several years ago, while teaching a class at Kelly Mehler’s School, I asked Kelly about his benchtop bench. He gave me a copy of the Fine Woodworking article with Jeff Miller’s plan; even though I’d been reading and subscribing to the magazine for years, it was the first project I built based on a magazine article. (I pretty much design what I build, but where technical accoutrements such as this are concerned, I’m grateful that someone else has worked out the bugs.) This little workhorse is a boon to those with aging backs and eyesight.

Because my bench is 38″ high, the benchtop bench ends up a few inches higher than ideal for me. Last week I found the perfect solution: I dragged the semi-useless toolbox that I made as a dovetail practice project in 1979 over to the work area and turned it into a platform.


To finish this piece I decided to use Tim Puro’s recipe for giving mahogany a richer look (in the current issue of Fine Woodworking).


Step one: oil-based dye


After sealing with Zinsser SealCoat, I applied a layer of Old Masters gel stain in cherry. (Tim suggests wiping stain in cedar, but I had this gel stain handy.) Yes, that’s a little remnant of glue at the corner of the bottom rail and left stile. Watch what happened next.


Two coats of shellac later, I scuff sanded with 320 grit paper and applied a glaze of Old Masters wiping stain in Dark Mahogany (still wet here). Note that the glue spot has in effect disappeared.

I’ll topcoat with Osmo because I want to seal the glaze well — and quickly — but don’t want a shiny finish.


No, this is not a real cover, nor do I wear a safety helmet to work at my bench. This is a spoof created by Mike in 2006 as a gift to a client of mine who I knew would love it. I was never a pin-up girl, and that is not me on the wall in the background. That is Nicky, or Alexis — I don’t know her real name — one of the models in a 1976 calendar I bought as a 30th birthday present for my then-employee, Daniel, who astutely observed that models of yore had thinner lips and less, well, “pneumatic” breasts than many models today (but you won’t see them here, thanks to blue tape).





3 responses to “Never stop learning

  1. E.J. Eiteljorge

    I’m always interested in creative ways to enrich the natural beauty of wood, whether it might be deepening the hue of oak with a sodium hydroxide solution, which I learned in Berlin, GE, or wiping Mesquite wood with grapeseed oil, which I learned here in Texas. This method looks interesting and I will give it a try!

  2. captainjack1024

    Robert Heinlein believed that the key ingredient to a long and happy life is to never stop learning, a philosophy I whole-heartedly endorse. Good article, thank you. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.