21st Century Writing Desk – Designing the Base

So, with the top done, my next step was to design a suitable base for it. I went to my computer and started playing with designs.

I had an idea for a base that consisted of a pair of rectangular frames and cross members. However, none of the variations that looked good to me.

Slim, tapered legs looked much more fitting.

21st Century Writing Desk10 Because the legs were so thin and delicate, stretchers were added to provide additional strength and stability.
21st Century Writing Desk11

A rear stretcher provided further resistance to racking and flexing.

21st Century Writing Desk12

I wasn’t happy with the placement of the rear stretcher in relation to the side stretchers, so I lowered it to the same level. Arranging the stretchers like this presented some challenges with intersecting joinery in the legs, and I wanted to maximize strength while minimizing the size of the components.

21st Century Writing Desk14

Lowering the rear stretcher another 3/4″ gave the joinery more strength, but it wasn’t enough.

21st Century Writing Desk15

Positioning the rear stretcher 1-1/4″ below the side stretchers seemed to provide a good balance of aesthetics and strength (room for joinery).

21st Century Writing Desk13

The last change I made was to reduce the height of the aprons that support the table top, as seen in these last three images.

21st Century Writing Desk18a 21st Century Writing Desk18c 21st Century Writing Desk18b

I’m happy enough with the design to start building, but there are absolutely no guarantees that the finished table will look like the one in the drawings!  Stay tuned…

How to Perfectly Assemble Mitre Joints

In my last Craftsy blog post, I covered techniques to cut perfect mitres. If you’ve ever made a mitred joint before, you probably discovered that cutting them accurately can be finicky, but assembling them was downright agonizing.

However, with a couple of tricks and the right clamping tools on hand, and some practice, assembling mitres can be a smooth and stressless process. I also describe various fixes for common cosmetic problems where the two parts meet.

Read Frame-Worthy Work: How to Perfectly Assemble Miter Joints on the Craftsy blog.

How to Assemble Perfect Mitre Joints

Sadly, this is my final article for Craftsy, as they have decided to abandon woodworking indefinitely. I will still, of course, be posting regularly here on my blog. Have you subscribed yet?

Cut Perfect Mitre Joints

Early on, I regarded mitre joints as difficult and finicky, so I often used other joinery that I could execute more easily (even dovetails) instead. But once I figured out a good process for making mitre joints, I found them to be no more difficult than other joinery, and certainly quicker than dovetails!

My latest article for the Craftsy blog explains the steps that I take to cut perfect mitre joints, as well as things to watch for that can cause you problems.

Read Cut Perfect Miter Joints in 3 Steps on the Craftsy blog.

Craftsy - Cut Perfect Mitre Joints

One-Step Joinery

No matter how much time I have, there never seems to be enough. For that reason, I make many of my decisions based on efficiency. My decision to use a hand tool or a power tool for a given task is dependent on what I feel is more efficient for the task at hand.

In my effort to be more efficient, I also examine the processes that I’ve learned along the way and assess whether or not steps can be eliminated to save time. I encourage you to do the same, and if you think of any shortcuts, please share them here in the comments section.

In this video (duration: 10:41), I talk more about my thought process and explain my one-step joinery procedure which saves a lot of unnecessary time laying out, cutting, and fitting dovetail joints.

Crossing Joint as Door Joinery

I developed the crossing joint as a possible solution to how conventional joinery results in a disruption of grain along the rails and/or stiles of a frame and panel door.

Cabinet Doors Intersecting

I cut one sample joint, then did some photo manipulation to see how it would look in a similar situation.

First, I looked at the fingers in a horizontal orientation.

Crossing Joint Horizontal

Then I tried the fingers in a vertical orientation.

Crossing Joint Vertical

I liked this second orientation because I felt the inside finger of the stile that extended to cover the end of the rail provided the mental idea of an border and finished off the edge of the door. I suspected that this was because most doors opened horizontally – if this joinery was used where doors opened vertically (e.g. lifted upward), the first orientation might have been preferable.

What do you think?


Original Joinery – Crossing Joint

This joint was inspired by the realization that joinery used in frame and panel doors always results in a visual discontinuation of the vertical component, whereas the horizontal component usually carries through to an adjacent component.

Using mortise and tenon, bridle, or cope and stick joinery resulted in one member (usually the stile – the vertical member) cutting off the rail – the horizontal member.

Cabinet Doors Intersecting

Mitre joints didn’t harshly interrupt the visual flow, but made the eye turn the corner and follow the door frame.

I wondered if it was possible to make a joint so that both components visually continued through the joint. I started sketching.

This was the first joint that I made, based on that idea. I called it a crossing joint.

Crossing Joint Crossing Joint Scale There was a lot of glue surface, but much of it was long grain to end grain which does not have as much strength when glued together as do two long grain surfaces.

Gluing Crossing Joint


Earlier this month, my friend, Neil Cronk, started an online woodworking event called #HandJoinery. As Neil described it,

#HandJoinery is a way to share joinery skills and encourage people to get in their shops and put hand tools to wood while sharing and asking questions.

Alongside Neil and I, Wilbur Pan, Shannon Rogers and Adam Maxwell also cut the joint that week and, as they worked on it, shared progress pictures on Twitter for the world to see. Wilbur also summarized his work in a recent post on his blog, Giant Cypress.

Here is the joint that I cut two weeks ago – a lapped gooseneck.

Lapped Gooseneck Apart Lapped Gooseneck Together

The plan is to start with a simple joint and add complexity to it each week then switch to another joint style and increase difficulty again. #HandJoinery happens each week on Thursday at 5pm Pacific/8pm Eastern. *Note: due to a scheduling conflict, #HandJoinery will take place Friday this week.

The goal is to get woodworkers used to the idea of practicing these basic layout and hand skills so when they need to cut joinery in furniture they’re less intimidated and hopefully more practiced.

This week’s focus is the T-bridle joint.

T Bridle Joint


Insanity 2: The Back

Last week, after deciding to apply the cabinet back directly to the rear edge, I spent most of a day rehearsing and mentally preparing myself for the glue-up.

In this assembly, I only glued together the cabinet sides, top and bottom. I used 3/4″ x 3/4″ stickers as cauls to force the finger joints together as I applied inward pressure with band clamps. I used bar clamps to apply pressure to specific areas that needed some persuasion to close.


Once the glue dried, I planed the rear edge so that the back could mate well against it. I then laminated the back from three 1/8″ sheets of Baltic birch plywood as I’d done for the other cabinet parts. To give the back some shape, I stacked a few big blocks of wood in the middle of the cabinet and placed a thick piece of foam over top so that it was higher than the cabinet was deep. I applied glue between the three plies and clamped them to the back of the cabinet, over the foam.


After the back panel was created, I trimmed it flush with the cabinet and cut a series of 5mm mortises along the edges of the cabinet and back panel with my Domino Joiner.


Because of the curvature of the panels, I wasn’t able to accurately locate the mortises if I used my Domino Joiner’s full fence as I would normally. Instead, I made a custom fence with limited surface area. This compromised my ability to register the tool on the face of the panel, so I needed to focus on steadying the tool as best I could. (This was nerve-wracking and very difficult with the smaller DF500 and would have been even harder with the DF700.)


With the mortises cut, I readied 17 Domino floating tenons and began the glue-up. Because of the many parts involved in this glue-up, it took a long time and the glue began setting before I got all the clamps in place. However, the tenons added strength and positive alignment, so I still felt they were worth the extra stress.

Finally, I finished trimming the back panel even with the cabinet.  I used a spokeshave, card scraper, and sandpaper.


Here’s what the cabinet looked like from the back with the rear panel installed.


What’s next? Let’s see what the doors look like on the cabinet!


Insanity 2: The Carcase

I attribute my success to my relentless push to try to fail.  Insanity 2 is about trying to design something which I cannot create.

Since my last blog update on Insanity 2, I laminated two curved sides and a curved bottom.  Then I was faced with the task of joining them together.  Although the four sides of the cabinet were curved like potato chips, cutting the joinery by hand wasn’t any more difficult than any other situation.  However, layout was exceedingly difficult and I took my time.

First, I coped the ends of the sides to fit tightly between the top and bottom panels.  After that, I used a combination square to draw a line 5/8″ from the coped edge.  One challenge I faced was using the square, with a large, flat reference surface, to mark a line parallel to a curved surface.  This wasn’t ideal, but I did my best.


My next challenge was laying out the fingers.  If the end were straight and face were flat, I would just use a square to extend layout lines along the edge and face.  But since neither were flat, I had to modify my techniques.  I clamped the side panel in my wooden twin screw vise, approximately level.  Then, I set a square on the front vise jaw and marked the face of the board with the vertical leg of the square.

To mark guide lines on the end of the board, I used the slot down the centre of my Veritas Large Saddle Square for the panels with flatter faces.  For other panels, I clamped a straight edge to the board and referenced the square off of it.


The first corner joint was an adventure.  The second went much better and the last two were a piece of cake.

Insanity Cabinet Top

I dry-fit the cabinet and sat it on my bench.  I clamped the doors in the vise to get an idea of what it will look like together.

Insanity Cabinet High

I left the fingers long to make assembly, disassembly, and clamping easier.

Insanity Cabinet Front

My next steps, the order of which is to be determined, are to figure out how to install the back panel, design the shelves, and glue-up the cabinet with the back and shelves at the same time, if necessary.


Why I Value the Ability to Cut Joints By Hand

Being able to cut a dovetail joint using only hand tools has become recognized as a level of achievement.  But there are other reasons to learn how to cut joinery by hand besides proving yourself and, for me, the biggest reason is being able to deal with unique situations.

The joint below on the left is a cross lap joint.  Where they intersect, both pieces have half of their thickness removed.  This is a very strong and easy joint to cut with either hand or power tools.

However, when dealing with angled components, as seen at the right, or even tapered parts, setting up to cut the joint with power tools gets increasingly complicated and time-consuming.

Cross Lap Joints

With hand tools, the procedure is the same and the process is practically the same.  No additional tools or jigs are required and the joint takes the same amount of time to cut.  What’s more, the hand tools required to cut this joint (and most joints, for that matter) cost less than the price of a good table saw blade.

Learn to Cut Joinery Under My Guidance

This Saturday, I am teaching a seminar at Lee Valley Tools Coquitlam on Fundamentals of Hand Tool Joinery.  We start with stock preparation, which cannot be overlooked when cutting fine joinery, then cut an air-tight cross lap joint using a simple, reliable method.  I want everybody to leave with the knowledge required to confidently execute crisp joinery and a small project proving that they can.

If You Master the Basics, the Hardest Part of Joinery is Layout

Once the basics are mastered, the possibilities are endless.  You might try dovetails, then half-blind and full-blind dovetails.

Full Blind Mitre Start

You might try mortise and tenon, monster mortise and tenon, or multi-mortise and tenon joints.

Quadrouple Tenon

You might try the insane-looking, but quick-to-cut saw-kerf finger joint.

Finger Joint

You might design a table base with lots of intertwined components that requires serious head-scratching to even engineer the joinery that makes it possible.


You may also attempt to cut joints on curved or round components.  Learn and master the basics of cutting joinery by hand.  Then, no matter what you attempt, remember that the hardest part is accurately laying out the joint.  I think that joinery is one thing that is best learned by doing, not by reading and watching.

(If you want to see some really artistic joinery, have a look at the original joinery by Kintaro Yazawa.)