Someone Else Can Keep the Box

Mike and I are wrapping up the next batch of Boxed Sets this week, and I think we’ve hit our stride. This round sped along wonderfully, and I am delighted with how these have come together. The final mash-up of rough and refined perfectly embodies the M&T vision.

One of the techniques we’re using through this project is setting the dovetail baseline depth a hair deeper than the thicknesses of the mating board in order to ensure that the pins and tails protrude rather than sit below the surface. This is important for the project for one primary reason: we wanted to retain the fore-planed texture of the boards, which would be meddled with if we had to plane the sides and top to make the joinery flush.

So, we’re paring the pins and tails to the undulating surface with a razor-sharp chisel. This method certainly presents its own challenges, but with a sharp edge, it saves more headaches than the alternative. And I’ve never felt any joy while planing my dovetails flush. Instead, I’m always on edge that something’s going to go wrong. Paring the joint, on the other hand, is an absolute delight. It’s a satisfying thing to slide the chisel across the end grain of a tail and watch the superfluous material fall away from the glassy smooth surface.

I think these are the kinds of moments that draw folks to hand-tool woodworking: a simple tool sliding across a surface – in a calm and measured way – effecting exactly (and only) the intended outcome. Many non-woodworkers’ faces light up using a drawknife for the first time or gliding a finely tuned handplane across a creamy pine board. It gives them a feeling of agency they’re hard-pressed to find in a culture of devices and consumption.

There are exceptions, but in general, the less jigged my tools are, the more satisfaction I get from using them. It’s a cliché distinction by now but some still talk about product-oriented woodworkers and process-oriented woodworkers. If these are the categories we’re talking about, I am decidedly of the latter. But it’s not just “process” in some vague, mystical sense – for me, it’s about the disciplined cultivation of skill. As strange as it may seem, my primary interest in woodworking is laboring to develop the dexterity necessary to accomplish tasks unguided by fences or stops.

I’m after agency; someone else can keep the box.

– Joshua


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