I have a thing for organization that I think is common to most woodworkers. Our mental knack for breaking things down into orderly construction steps seems to carry over into other areas of life. This leads us to look at something messy and automatically find a way (build something!) to make it neater.
On New Year’s day, I opened the drawer where I kept my alcohol swabs and insulin syringes and went “Hmm…” Suddenly, this just wasn’t going to do. There was no reason to have Becton-Dickinson’s fine products rattling around like this. This drawer clearly needed an organizer. Couple this with the fact that the house was full of children and grandchildren that had lost power from the tornadoes the night before, and it was clearly time to go to the shop and MAKE SOMETHING.
I shuffled through the racks, looking for materials: ¾” plywood – nope, ⅛” Masonite – too flimsy, black locust – not a chance. Ah! ¼” red oak left over from the magazine rack – perfect! (Well, not perfect, it IS red oak, and always aggravating for hand joinery, but it would do.) The only problem was, it had somehow degraded from good wood to junk since I had last seen it. It was wormy along one edge and had some nasty honeycombing scattered here and there (oh yeah, THAT’S why you didn’t use it). Even worse, though, it had developed a bit of a bow while sitting.
I looked around some more, but it was still my best bet without resawing. Closer inspection revealed that if I ripped it SO and SO, I should be able to get enough usable stock for this tiny project. Sure there would still be a tiny bow, but not enough to matter when the joints would be hidden. I headed to the house with a story stick.
An hour later I was back (you go to the house, you get roped into stuff), and quickly ripped my stock to width on the tablesaw. Sure enough, this would work out. With a Steampunk fiction podcast murmuring in my ears and Murlock the Shop Helper Kitty looking on, I got down to the business of joinery.
You want crazy? Try hand-dovetailing ¼” red oak. Yep. Hey, I figured this was the perfect time for it. Red oak has two problems here: First, the grain has a tendency to overwhelm your layout marks at this scale and second, the same wood that is grabby and hard to rip saw in ¾” becomes an absolute BEAR in ¼”. It vibrates, makes your saw jump, and generally misbehaves. Nevertheless, I persevered and finished all four corners. Were they pretty? NO! Did they work? Like a CHARM! Remember, dovetails were holding wood together long before we started treating them like fine art.
You’re probably wondering, “You nut, why didn’t you use some other joint?” Simple, This organizer isn’t going to have a bottom. It’s just going to be a frame that sits in the drawer and keeps stuff from sliding around. What’s the strongest unsupported right-angle joint for flat stock? Dovetails. Besides, I like a challenge.
Now, all I needed was a divider to separate the alcohol swab box from the syringes. Once again, considering the scale, hand joinery seemed the way to go. Accordingly, I grabbed my carcase saw and proceeded to cut my first set of hand-cut dadoes. Even though I’m a hybrid woodworker, the thought of cutting a ¼” x ⅛” dado in ¼” x 2” stock on the tablesaw gives me chills. All in all, it worked out very well, though red oak is every bit as antagonistic to a small router plane as to a dovetail saw.
Glue-up, a quick clean-up with a hand plane, and we’ve got a finished product! Again, nothing fancy, just what was needed. I turned some junk into little good pieces, made something useful, and got to hang out in the shop.
Not a bad day.