Bumbling Forward, Toward the Unknown

Hello, and welcome to my blog, my name is Brian Holcombe.  I specialize in woodworking by hand with hand tools.

My tagline on SMC and the title of this post are a Frank Gehry quote, one that has really stuck with me as it certainly describes my feeling of how proceeding with design and build unfolds unexpected events that often have wonderful results (and sometimes not!).

For some years now I have been progressively removing machinery from my repertoire, having chosen to part ways with the constant buzzing and dangers associated with machine tools for the romance and tradition of working entirely by hand.

Currently I’m in the process of creating a series of medicine cabinets for my home.  The purpose for this build is simply to replace a few plastic-fantastic junks that have become eye sores.  The material I have selected for this build is white cypress, cypress is a wood very comfortable with humidity and so will survive well in the bathroom.  The design of this case is made to allow the case to set into a wall so it will be created via an inside case and outside surround.

I’ve cross cut the material to rough size and will begin by ripping sections into rough widths.




I’m biasing my cuts so that the majority of the inner case will be made of quarter sawn material.  I prefer quarter sawn material for case sides as it will be the least subject to seasonal movement and the most consistent in how it moves.


We’re left with a neat stack of material that is separated into that which I need for the inside case and for the outside surround.  I’m resawing these boards down to approximate thickness so that I can also create the shelves from the same stack.  I could simply rough plane the material down to the thickness that I prefer, but being that case will be moving seasonally together it is ideal to create the entire case from the same group of material.

I’ve struck a mark around the board which will be my guide as I resaw the material.




I flip the board routinely as I saw to ensure that I’m leading the cut properly along the knife mark.  Since I’m working with such thin stock and attempting to minimize waste to nearly nothing, I have to be right on the marker.  Good saw work helps to minimize how much work I must do with my planes.


Now onto planing, I take a ‘Rough, Medium, Fine’ approach to planing.  I will rough out y boards with a jack plane that has a heavily cambered blade, this will allow me to quickly remove twist and cup from the board and begin to setup a reference face.


Since these boards are wider than the reference area of my bench I will be using winding sticks to ensure that I have removed any twist from the board, that is the first step toward setting up a reference face.   Once I have removed all twist and bow from the board I will remove all remaining saw marks, and deep scallops from the jack with a try plane.


Full width shavings from the Try plane are a good indication that I’m on the right track, but I continue to check my work with a straight edge and winding sticks to ensure that I’ve created a flat reference face.  I will utilize this face to reference my gauge line from and ensure that I’m creating a flat board with uniform thickness.  Finally once this is complete I will return to the work to remove any lingering tearout or scallops with the smoothing plane.


I like to inspect my shavings, any holes in the shavings are typically tearout.


I’m now two sides square on my way to six sides square.  Now that I have two clean square faces I’ve setup a makeshift shooting board utilizing a backstop and two reference pieces.  I shoot one side and then check my work to make certain that I’m making 90 degree faces.


I’ll use this face as a reference for my gauge (I hope you’re seeing a pattern forming here).  And will be on my way from three sides square to four.


Now that I have a gauge mark I can see that I have a good deal of material to remove.  I have a metal jack with a very heavy camber setup to remove that material quicker than sawing it.


I will follow up with the jointer again and have four sides square.  Next I move to the shooting board, setup to create a 90 degree face and be on my way to six sides.


Being that this is a mini cabinet and what I want is a perfect rectangle, I create one board and use it as a template for the second.  This will create two identical tops and two identical sides, from there as long as I’m hitting my lines I will be making a square piece.


Finally I’ve laid out my material to begin marking for dovetails.  Ideally I would like to maintain flowing grain throughout the inside of the case.


This completes my material prepping stage to begin my project.  I hope you have enjoyed.

Medicine Cabinet – Casework




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