Dadoes and dadon'ts

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Blog entry by scottb posted 02-07-2007 06:11 AM 1922 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Dad asked me recently if I would build him an organizer to go over his desk. (A family heirloom, drop leaf style with plenty of pigeon holes drawers and mail slots… which I believe will be my sisters someday).

He had already purchased a nice 1/2 sheet of half-inch furniture grade ply, but just wanted something simple to hold his lamp, and work related paperwork (work must be booming if he’s run out of pigeon holes!). I was free to make this a piece of fine woodworking if I’d like, but he was happy with anything I’d turn out, no need to even “hide the edges.” No tall order, no sir. Should be a piece of cake.

On the last project I built to order, I made full size drawings to work out the joinery details, and have something to reference for accurate measurements and sizing parts (or just figuring out how all the shapes went together). For this, I quickly roughed out a couple thumbnails to help me figure out the sizing of the shelves and dividers after taking the dadoes into consideration.

Initially I was going to cover the edges of the plywood, but wasn’t sure how I was going to do that (edge banding, moulding, contrasting wood), so when I cut the sheet of ply (to fit in the car so I could work on this at home) I sized the parts as if I wasn’t going to (a saving grace in hindsight).

Back in the shop, I cut the top and shelf – after doing a quick sketch, and immediatly noticed that I didn’t take the extra length for the dado into consideration. (More accurately, I intended to do so, but I did the math wrong. First critical desicion – do I get a new piece of ply and start over, do I size the project down 1/2” to make up for my blunder, or keep the original dimensions of the piece, and simply use a butt joint instead. (and figure out a way to reinforce the joinery later). Ultimately I went with door number three. I new that the size of this piece was pretty arbitrary, based on the desk it would be sitting on (and not trying to match) and nothing specific was planned for the shelves. Dad was pretty much just maximixing the material. (a nod to the engineer side of the coin). If this was for a “real” client I would have to deliver what was requested, so, decision made, I proceeded.

I used my calipers to determind (As expected) that the 1/2 ply wasn’t 1/2”, but 7/16ths thick. Setting up my little wobble dado blade (the only one that will fit my little table saw) to 7/16ths, I took some practice cuts. Perfect. Width and depth!

Eliminating the dadoes for the shelves I didn’t have very many to cut – just where the top and sides met, plus rabbets for the recessed back.

Pieces cut. Next up, cut the back, and the dado to support the rear of the shelf (I’ll use finish nails on the side). First up, dry fit the piece to determine where exactly this dado would be. What do you mean the dividers won’t fit into the dados?

A quick sanding to break off the fibers on the ends, and attempt to put a slight taper on the edges did nothing, so I re-cut the dadoes (with an ever so slight offset), now they fit perfectly! Finding that the dado for the back was at exactly 8” I set up my fence and made the cut (on the wrong side of the 8” mark!!!) I flipped the piece and recut. I didn’t want to start making concessions to a good final result, and I could have cut a new back out of something else, or filled the groove and re-routed, but it was hidden inside, and didn’t adversely effect the piece, except that it would no longer support the shelf as intended. I would now have to cut dadoes on the edge pieces to support the shelf, and sacrifice 1/2 inch in overall with (as sketched). Discovering that this would still leave the bottom shelves wide enough to hold letter sized paper, I figured this wouldn’t be detrimental.

Some slight modifications to the ends (I kept the top the same – and arguably maintaining the correct overall dimension) and I was good to go. Dryfitting was much easier now with dadoes all around, versus trying to balance everything in place (I need more clamps – specifically corner clamps).

Glue up was a breeze, nice and square, but there were a couple of blow outs with the brad nailer – easily fixed though.

Still not thrilled with leaving the edges exposed, but since it wasn’t a prerequisite that I cover them, I went ahead and did a final sanding.

Surprised that the edges became so smooth (and had no voids, or errant wood fibers), I finished the piece with an application of Howards (Orange oil and beeswax) nice color (and smell!) and now the piece was smooth – and the plywood edges (just three visible plies) looked really good. Intentional even.

This photo approximates the finish, It was hard to see much of a difference under the flourescent light, but this looked fantasic in the sunlight.

My “customer?” Very happy. “This is exactly what I wanted.”

Always happy to please!

As simple as this project should have been, it managed to manifest several of the topics we were discussing over in the lumberjocks forums, and project listings this week. Full size drawings or models vs. just diving right in, miscuts from not measuring twice (or “sneaking up”) and so on. Essentially this piece was a study in planning ahead and paying attention to the details – or that’s what it should have been – and therefore the “next” projects will benefit from this lesson learned.

What else has this project shown me? That I could really benefit from a crosscut sled, would be so much nicer (and easier) than swapping out the 2×4 MDF top I’ve screwed down as a table-extension/zero clearance “insert” – Doesn’t exactly facilitate blade changes or fence adjustment for that matter.

I’ve also decided that for any project destined to leave the shop, either a full size drawing, or smaller set of detailed plans will be drawn up. Shop furniture and free-form pieces being the exception.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

10 comments so far

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4840 days

#1 posted 02-07-2007 06:26 AM

It turned out nice. After reading all your problems, I didn’t expect it to look that nice.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View Obi's profile


2213 posts in 4778 days

#2 posted 02-07-2007 06:31 AM

Neither did I Dick. And he pulled it off. I was just thinking how our “customers” seem to be so happy and we keep thinking to ourselves “yeah, but …” It was supposed to be dadoed, or it was supposed to be stained differently, or it was supposed to be… and as the craftsman in us sees the little flaws that my friends and family have gotten to the point of telling me “We don’t wanna know about the flaws”

Good Job Scottie B

View RobS's profile


1334 posts in 4847 days

#3 posted 02-07-2007 06:39 AM

Looks great Scott! Howard’s is da bomb (as Clay would say)! It amazing what some people can turn out regardless of the condition/performance of his/her tools.

-- Rob (A) Waxahachie,TX

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4718 days

#4 posted 02-07-2007 06:45 AM

I was with you all the way on this one, Scott.

Sort of reminds me of an email from a LumberJock that I received today and really appreciated. As you were doing this for your Dad, I think you will ‘get it’.

Making Pancakes

Six-year-old Brandon decided one Saturday morning to fix his parents pancakes. He found a big bowl and spoon, pulled a chair to the counter, opened the cupboard and pulled out the heavy flour canister, spilling it on the floor.

He scooped some of the flour into the bowl with his hands, mixed in most of a cup of milk and added some sugar, leaving a floury trail on the floor which by now had a few tracks left by his

Brandon was covered with flour and getting frustrated. He wanted this to be something very good for Mom and Dad, but it was getting very bad.

He didn’t know what to do next, whether to put it all into the oven or on the stove and he didn’t know how the stove worked! Suddenly he saw his kitten licking from the bowl of mix and reached to push her away, knocking the egg carton to the floor. Frantically he tried to clean up this monumental mess but slipped on the eggs, getting his pajamas white and sticky.

And just then he saw Dad standing at the door. Big crocodile tears welled up in Brandon ’s eyes. All he’d wanted to do was something good, but he’d made a terrible mess. He was sure a scolding was coming, maybe even a spanking. But his father just watched him.

Then, walking through the mess, he picked up his crying son, hugged him and loved him, getting his own pajamas white and sticky in the process!

That’s how God deals with us … We try to do something good in life, but it turns into a mess. Our marriage gets all sticky or we insult a friend, or we can’t stand our job, or our health goes sour.

Sometimes we just stand there in tears because we can’t think of anything else to do. That’s when God picks us up and loves us and forgives us, even though some of our mess gets all over Him.

But just because we might mess up, we can’t stop trying to “make pancakes” for God or for others. Sooner or later we’ll get it right, and then they’ll be glad we tried

I was thinking and I wondered if I had any wounds needing to be healed, friendships that need rekindling or three words needing to be said, sometimes, “I love you” can heal & bless! Remind
every one of your friends that you love them. Even if you think they don’t love back, you would be amazed at what those three little words, a smile, and a reminder like this can do.

Just in case I haven’t told you lately… I LOVE YA!!!

Please pass some of this love on to others … suppose one morning you were called to God; do all your friends know you love them?

Never stop “making pancakes.”

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4868 days

#5 posted 02-07-2007 06:45 AM

Thanks!... no trouble with the tools, just the user. Glad the results belied the progress… and glad the blunders didn’t effect the pocketbook either.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4868 days

#6 posted 02-07-2007 06:47 AM

Thanks for sharing that Don…. I like that.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View frank's profile


1492 posts in 4747 days

#7 posted 02-07-2007 01:02 PM

Hello Scott;
—-very ‘good piece’ of work you have done here!

As I have always said: any true worker in wood knows how to right a wrong and come out with a 1’st place in ‘good show’. You certainly have proved my point!!!

My mis-step was only a previous, forgotten place, as I now step forward, and finish in-step with all confidence that all is well….

-- --frank, NH,

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4855 days

#8 posted 02-07-2007 03:09 PM

Two steps forward one and a half back…but we somehow get the job done.

View bud's profile


21 posts in 4695 days

#9 posted 02-07-2007 09:39 PM

excelent job; was a milwright before retiring, as a strugling apprentice I had one journeyman tell me,” the only difference between a journeyman and as apprentice, is knowing how to fix your mistakes”.
You made the point.

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4868 days

#10 posted 02-08-2007 02:46 AM

Thanks so much for all the positive feedback.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

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