Electric Guitar

I have crossed another long-time TODO project off my list. From the earliest days of learning to play guitar, I knew I wanted to make one. It took me a long time to get started because I wasn’t sure what style I wanted. Instead of cloning of a common model, I decided instead to consider each piece and plan my own design. This quickly led to far more choices and choice-dependencies than I could handle. But this summer, with a little nudge from a friend who also wanted to build a guitar, I took the dive.

Some of my choices had already been made for me. Shortly after I decided to build a guitar years ago, a friend of a friend gave up on his own build. He offered the components he had to anyone who would promise to complete their own build. I’m lucky he didn’t put a time limit on the promise!

These components resolved my choice of pickup, tuning machines, and tail stock. A bridge-position humbucker, 3×3 tuners, and a 12″ radius bar-style tailstock also pointed toward a few common models to mimic. In particular, the Les Paul Jr. caught my eye. My friend also building a guitar just happened to have a regular Les Paul that I could use as reference.

I’ll spare you the step-by-step, since there are already myriad videos of guitar builds to watch. But, I would like to talk about a few of my favorite parts.

To start, all of the wood in this guitar is scraps from previous projects. The neck is leftover maple from my sleigh bed, with inlay made of cherry from my dresser. The body is also cherry from the dresser, combined with mahogany from my coffee table. It was a fun challenge to figure out how to work with what I already had on hand, and makes me feel justified in having carted that wood across the country.

I’m particularly proud of the neck. I chose to make it out of a single, solid piece of maple, instead of gluing a fretboard and headstock onto a neck stick. That took quite a bit of extra planning. I ordered the work on the neck to make each step as easy as possible. For example, I cut the fret slots first, so that the stock was still square, which made lining up the very precise cuts easiest.

I installed the truss rod right after that, from the back, through far more stock that would remain later for the same reason. It was much easier to route the straight, deep slot through stock that would be removed to reveal the headstock than it would have been to route with a headstock sticking up near one end.

And so on. In fact, working on the neck at all was part of the planned order. I wasn’t using a standard neck template, so I didn’t have a template to route the neck pocket into the body. Instead, I finished enough of the neck to define the heel end, then used the usual mortise-and-tenon techniques to mark and chop the pocket out of the body blank before cutting out the shape of the body.

I have mixed feelings about the inlay in the neck and headstock. On one hand, the end-grain of the cherry darkened with the finish, and provides great contrast with the pale maple. On the other hand, one of the shapes I chose was too intricate for my chisels, so it’s a little gappy in its setting. I also cut on the wrong side of my line in the headstock, blowing the entire design. These are both errors that could be fixed by chopping the inlay out and relaying something else. For now, it’s just reminders of the need to practice and pay attention.

The body was a fun experiment. Neither my leftover cherry, nor my leftover mahogany was thick enough to form a guitar body on its own. So, what I did instead was sandwich a mahogany core between two layers of cherry. The cherry also had some nice figuring in it, so I resawed my planks, and bookmatched them. I’m very happy with how the cherry looks, and also with the contrasting strip of mahogany down the middle. From the side, it almost looks like I put edge-banding around the front and back.

Somewhat accidentally, a component of the Les Paul that I copied unintentionally is its weight. This guitar comes in at almost exactly eight pounds. I thought about cutting hollows in the mahogany before gluing up the sandwich to reduce that weight. But the potential complication of needing to remember exactly where those hollows were, when I wasn’t yet sure of exactly where the neck would sit, was a hinderance to just finally getting the project started. Eight pounds is the heaviest guitar I own, but it doesn’t feel too bad on my shoulder.

If you’d like to see some more pictures of the build process, please follow me on Instagram @willthatwork. Instagram is something new for me. I’m still pretty uncomfortable with its features. I was hoping I might be able to use it to find more of an art network, to contrast my mostly tech twitter network. We’ll see if I stick with it. For now, it is also where you will find a demo of this guitar:

I have to give one final shoutout to Pete and Andrew. I’m between shops at the moment, and they offered me time in each of theirs to complete this project. It’s awkward to work in someone else’s shop. Even if the tools are great, learning which are available and how they like to be used takes time. Pete and Andrew were each extremely helpful and tolerant of me adapting to and adapter their workspaces.

Dresser: Finished

I’ve pushed off writing about progress in the past few weeks, for the practical reason of spending that time in the shop, and for the vain reason of keeping secrets before a big reveal. Last night it became possible to dispense with both reasons at once.

It’s finished! It’s in place. Drawers are filled. The shop can move on to its next project. But before that happens, let’s catch you all up on the intermediate progress.

History

If you missed the first several steps, these posts will catch you up:

Slides

Picking up where I left off, I mounted the drawers on ball-bearing slides. The drawers are just short of 18 inches deep, so I used 16 inch full-extension slides. The small overhang of the drawer above feels natural, like the bit of drawer left inside in a traditional design.

I used Rockler’s slide-mounting jig to ease installation. The only complication I had was matching the flush alignment on the internal dividers to the set-back on the external walls. The top four drawers are essentially inset on the left and overlay on the right. To manage this, I cut a small block to the depth of the inset, and then placed that in the jig ahead of the slide.

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Faces

With every project, there are intermediate points where things actually look pretty good, and I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t continue with the rest of the plan. At this point, I kind of liked the highlight of the birch next to the cherry. Maybe I didn’t need to continue making faces. A friend even remarked that the blue tape temporary pulls matched well. Continue, I did, though.

The simple face solution would have been to run a plank horizontally across each drawer. I though this would break up the appearance too much, though. It wouldn’t be the simple solution for the cabinet door, either. Instead, I chose to run planks top-to-bottom.

My initial plan had been to glue up this whole panel, and then cut each drawer and cabinet face from it. But, with the assembled dresser taking up space, and the need to keep a path clear for laundry, there just wasn’t room. Instead, I very carefully labeled and cut each piece for each section, and glued each drawer face together individually.

This required some extra attention to alignment along multiple axes while clamping, but I think you’ll see that it all worked out.

Pulls

I delayed any choice on handles for a long time. Cherry or an accent wood dovetailed into the edge? Leather loops, especially after seeing how the temporary tape pulls fit? I ultimately fell back on my second favorite project material: slate.

Four-inch long, near-square rectangular prisms: one-half inch top and back, Five-eighths inch front, and an approximate ten degree bevel connecting front to back on the underside. I drilled holes an inch to either side of center, into which I gorilla-glued insert nuts.


I used a flagstone sealer to give them a richer tone, and a smoother feel. It’s the same sealer that I used on my coffee table a few years ago, and it has held up well there.

Cabinet

I chose “dark antique” brass butt hinges for the cabinet door. Only a small portion of the hinge is visible, but the dark finish matches the slate well.

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Mortising hinges is the second technique I practiced with my box project last spring. The process here was the same: use a marking gauge to layout the cut, cross-chop and clear waste, and lay in the hinge.



To keep the door closed, I embedded a magnet in the door, and a matching one in a small block installed in the case. A one-half inch forstner bit made a perfect hole for neodymium magnets, tacked in place with a dab of Old Brown Glue.

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Finish

I’ve learned that for eight years, the note about the simple mineral oil and beeswax finish that I used on my bed has had the ratio reversed. If the way is was written, one part oil to four or five parts wax, is correct, then I didn’t pack the wax into the tablespoon at all. I think it’s more likely that the correct ratio is four parts oil to one part wax. That mixup is likely what caused so much trouble finishing those toy blocks last year.

Since I didn’t realize the error until mixing a large batch at the wrong ratio, I had limited options to recover. So, this project’s finish is a two-to-one ratio of oil-to-wax. It took a little more elbow grease to smear on again, but it did smear this time.

In preparation for wax, I first sanded everything to 220. After that, I ran a damp cloth over the wood to raise the grain. When it dried out, I lightly sanded to 320 grit. At this point, I applied a light coat of straight mineral oil. My thinking here was to get the saturation started in the wood, so that fewer coats of oil with wax would be needed. When the oil had soaked in, I lightly sanded to 400 grit. Finally, I applied two coats of oil and wax finish over an eight to twelve hour period, and then buffed off the excess with clean microfiber towels.

I had been a little worried about these dovetails. They’re good, but not perfect. With the wood dry and pale, the gaps were kind of obvious. Oil and wax swelled, darkened, and filled everything. I’m quite happy with them.

In place

We moved it in and transferred my clothes as some final touches were curing. It felt enormous in my garage, and it feels large in comparison to the small dresser it’s replacing. But, I think it does fit the space.

I’m not a great photographer, but I think that some of the curl can be seen catching the sunlight from the window here.

Many of the edges also have a beautiful ray flake that gleams as you pass by.

My sweaters now have a home, instead of piling up on an ottoman nearby. I worked in two small drawers for accessories, including one protected by a lock. These were my chance to include classic techniques as well: horizontal grain orientation (still matched across faces), and wood-on-wood slides.

My first picture in this project’s album, of the wood loaded in a trailer ready to take home, was taken on April 5, 2019. I officially said there was nothing left to do on March 11, 2020. Just over eleven months to complete this project broke down as roughly four hours per week (half of one weekend day) for the first nine months, followed by six hours a day, five days a week for the last two months. That comes out to nearly 400 hours of work. I think it was worth it.

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Dresser: Drawers

It turns out that there’s a reason everyone recommends building a crosscut sled for your table saw: they really are very nice. I spent the past several days making a few, and it made building my drawer boxes a breeze.

‚ÄúA few‚ÄĚ table saw sleds? Yes. I wanted a full-width sled mostly to fully support some of the larger pieces I would be working with. It also made for a good solution to the problem I have with my table saw: the inset for the throat plate is so shallow that it‚Äôs difficult to make a zero-clearance insert for it. I also made two half-table sleds! One for the left side, and the other for the right. The left sled allowed me to use my dado stack without ruining the zero-clearance kerf of my full-width sled. The right-side sled I haven‚Äôt used yet, but I imagine it being the small-piece tool after I‚Äôm eventually forced to use the left side with the blade leaned over in an acute miter.


Pictured above is the extension I made to cut box joints using the left-side sled. This is another YouTube gem that I now understand why people love. Once tuned, it cuts very even, easy box joints. A testament to this fact is the first picture above, of my top drawer. If you look closely, you’ll notice the corner in the front is labeled C2 on one edge, and C1 on the other. I assembled the side of one drawer with the back of another without noticing Рit’s a perfect fit.

I also have to praise the five-cut method. I used it to square my fences, and didn’t appreciate how good it really was until it was proved to me how much more accurate my cuts were that the factory cuts on the ends of these pre-finished baltic ply drawer panels. The box corners that I cut fit like a glove, but the ones where I trusted the factory were off just enough to be annoyingly tight.

In short: sometimes the internet is right. Who knew?

Dresser: Glue-up

The feet were the start of the avalanche. It was time to make the rest of this project three-dimensional. Six pieces would be glued to each other, and two would float in captured grooves.

I had thought through the process at every stage of planning and construction to this point. Then I drew a diagram, and redrew it, and then briefly considered other methods as I started. In the end, the right answer was to borrow an extra pair of hands, so that multiple joints could be managed at once.

That is, referring to the diagram above, 1-3 got me to this point:

The rest of the plan might have worked if I had a large enough space to lay the dresser down on its face. Instead, I had to prepare 4-6 together:

And then fit 1-3 with it:

This is where my choice of glue became important. In previous projects, I’ve stuck with standard PVA wood glue. This has generally been a good choice, but it has a relatively short time between application and setting. With so many joints going together at once, I needed lots of extra time to apply the glue to each surface and then to get all the surfaces into their final position. So for this portion of the project, I switched to liquid hide glue. In addition to a basic long open time, hide glue can also be readjusted by warming it to temperature, so even if I got stuck (sorry!) I would have a second chance.

I warmed the bottle to about 130¬įF in a water bath, and then applied it to the joint surfaces, using a paint brush to ensure an even spread without too much mess. Fortunately, mess is another benefit of hide glue – in an experiment, it blended into the finish much better than the PVA I would have used otherwise:

With my wife’s assistance, we got everything lined up and pushed together. The dovetails slid together nice and tightly with just a bit of clamping pressure. One more round of glue application, and the top followed.

It turned out that the square clamps were not truly necessary. The case stood square on its own. I attached them anyway, in case the glue created uneven pressure while curing.

Except for shaving the overhanging edges of the dovetails flush, the case is now complete. On to drawers!

Dresser: Feet

While I could leave the case of this dresser flat on the ground, elevating it slightly has some advantages, like being able to pull out the bottom drawer without it running into my foot. How it is elevated offers different tradeoffs. If elevated with a skirt that spans the front, then dust gets hidden away, and the base gains some rigidity. If elevated with feet, a small additional storage space is gained.

I think inch-thick solid cherry shouldn’t need much extra rigidity, and I can’t argue with a place to kick my slippers. So, I’m going with feet, and aiming for a “modern” look.

I do think this dresser is going to be heavy, so I want a wide footpad to distribute the pressure. I started by glueing two inch-thick scraps together, to form a short two-inch thick board.

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I kept the design basic otherwise. The foot is basically rectangular, with front and back parallel. The sides are leaned in the same direction, with the outside edge closer to 90¬ļ than the inside edge. The base of the foot is a square, and the sides taper up to a slightly elongated rectangular top.

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I oriented the grain of the wood to be inline with the outside of the foot. This helps avoid an easy shear line that could chip off the acute outer edge. I also eased all the exposed edges with a sanding block at 45¬ļ as an additional precaution.

I glued and screwed the feet onto the bottom of the dresser. It’s an endgrain-to-long-grain joint, so not the strongest. Most of the time the strength of the joint won’t matter, because the stress on the feet will just be the weight of the dresser pushing on them. Securing the feet in this manner is mostly insurance against knocking them off while moving.

Normally for a glue-up like this, I would clamp the piece in position and pre-drill screw holes. Starting the screws through one piece then helps align everything once the glue is in place. This method was too awkward for this piece, though, so I fell back on a similar trick using wire brads. First I nailed two brads about halfway into the feet. I used wire snips to clip the exposed end of the nail to a point about a quarter inch above the top of each foot. I then placed the feet where I wanted them and pressed those “pins” into the base board. Pulling the pins out of the base board again was easy. Once I had glue spread over the mating faces, I located the pins back into the holes they made, and squeezed on the clamps without worrying about the glue making things slippery.

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Once the glue had dried, I drilled and counter-sunk holes for screws. I used a sliding bevel set to my target angle to align my drill by eye. The screws are canted in opposing directions, with the idea that this would better support a knock in any direction.

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Now the feet are permanently attached. I’ve done this before glueing the case together, because it’s going to be difficult to access the bottom of this dresser in my tiny shop after glue-up. This will also reduce the area that I need to protect from the cement floor.

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Dresser: Internals

Before glueing the outer case together, I had a few things to prepare. I wanted the back of the dresser to be closed with a panel in a routed groove. I needed internal structure separating the drawers from the cabinet. And, I had a few things in mind for the internals of the cabinet.

The starting point was the back panel. The location of the groove would define where other internal components would align. I used a straight bit in my router, with a fence attached to the base to cut the groove.

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The only tricky bit was that the groove aligned with the half-pin on the top and bottom edges of the sides of the case. I needed to be careful not to route all the way through the end of that pin, or the groove would be visible on the corner. But, I also needed to route a little ways into the pin, to account for the depth of the groove in the overlapping portion of the top and bottom of the case.

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With the groove in place, I could align the internal structure that separates the drawers from the cabinet. That was a shelf about a third of the way from the bottom, and a wall about a third of the way from the right. I used blind mortises and tenons, as a strong yet simple solution.

I cut the tenons first, using a dovetail saw to cut the shoulders, then a coping saw to rough out waste, and finally a chisel to clean up. This is basically the same process I used for my dovetails. You might even call it a 0¬ļ dovetail.

I then transferred the dimensions of my tenons onto the boards to be mortised. A forstner bit made quick work of most of the mortise waste. The same chisel technique I used to clean up the hinge mortises on my box project worked well for cleaning up these mortises as well.

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With all pieces fitting together, I moved on to the extra features of the cabinet. I’m going to set it up for one or two movable shelves, plus some small internal drawers. The space for the internal drawers is defined by one fixed shelf. I’m making that shelf about half the thickness of the rest of the pieces of the dresser. It does not span a large space, and will not need to support a great deal of weight. To make the shelf, I resawed some of the inch-plus scraps I’ve accumulated, resulting in just under half an inch of thickness.

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I transferred the fixed shelf’s dimensions to the facing sides of the right side of the case and the internal wall, and then made a groove for it with my router. I also routed grooves for runners on which the drawers that will fit underneath the shelf can run.

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Finally, I made a template and drilled holes for shelf support pins every two inches along those same faces. I’ll come back and make the adjustable shelves later, once I have more scrap that is large enough for them.

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The only remaining internal work is the drawer and cabinet hardware. It would be nice to do that while everything is open and easy to access, but I think most of these spaces won’t be too hard to reach into, and alignment will probably be better when everything is together.

Resin-Cherry Jewelry

With so many examples of combining wood and epoxy resin appearing online in the last few years, I decided it was time to try myself. Also my first time making earrings, I’m quite happy with the result.

The process started with some cherry scrap. I cut holes in two 1/2 inch thick pieces, and then sealed one side of each hole with a small piece of plastic and painters tape. I also made a small mold using paper board and duct tape to hold the removed discs.

I prepared the wood edges that would be exposed to epoxy by painting them with wood glue, thinned with a small amount of water. This is supposed to prevent air trapped in the wood from creating bubbles in the epoxy as it sets. I also applied a thin coat of silicon lubricant to the plastic sealing the holes, and the duct tape mold. This prevented the epoxy from binding to those surfaces.

I mixed three different colors, pouring one into each of the molds, and then left them to cure.

The mold and sealing taped popped off without any hassle, so I set to shaping. I cut the yellow circle into pie wedges, and then ended up resawing the wedges into 1/4 inch thick pieces. The discs, I cut across at an angle to produce a resin strip with two cherry arcs in it.

Sanding was the joy that sanding always is. Grits: 80, 120, 220, 320, 400, 600, 800, 1200. This left a light haze, which I like in these pieces. Buffing compound would be necessary to take them to a glossy finish.

I drilled a small hole through each piece, and then bent gold eye pins into place to hold them. I attached the eye pins to gold ear wires, and threaded a leather necklace through those on the pendant.

All recipients have been surprised by how light-weight the earrings are, despite being large in size. (They’ve also all liked the designs.)

Whew! Now back to the project that provided these wood scraps…

Dresser: Dovetails

The moment had arrived to test the skill that I designed a whole other project to practice. Dovetails!

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I used the same technique as practied witht he box. There are already great step-by-steps covering how to make dovetail joinery, so I’ll skip the process here, and just show you my happy result.

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I chose the staggered pattern to reduce the number of tail and pins I’d have to cut, while also increasing the visual interest compared to simply larger, even components.

A small detail I added was to offset the seams between the planks in the top and bottom, from the seams on the sides. I then arranged the tails and pins so that they hold the seams in the opposite board together. It may never make any difference, but why not reinforce a pontential weak point?

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The four corners fit snugly. A test fit proved the case to be square. This was also the first time I got a live feeling for the size. It felt huge in my small shop. I think it will feel large compared to my current dresser, but once I can get more than one step away from it, it won’t feel overwhelming.

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Dresser: Plank Joining

After the wood had adjusted to the conditions of my shop, I began on¬†the casework. Step one was to cut the ten-foot planks to length. I¬†aimed just a little on the long side, because the tools I have to¬†handle these large pieces aren’t the finest. I needed to have room to¬†re-square the edges afterward.

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This cherry already had one surfaced side, so I was able to move¬†directly to thicknessing next. I brought everything down to just 1/32¬†over an inch. That should leave me a full inch after finishing, which¬†will be the sort of visual weight I’m looking for.

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With the faces smooth and parallel, I moved to squaring the edges to¬†them. I don’t have a jointing fence for my planes, and I recently¬†learned that the sole of my longer plane isn’t flat, so this was a bit¬†of a slow process, requiring frequent pauses to check¬†progress. Luckily, my No. 4 is in good condition, so making small¬†adjustments went well.

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Once everything was flat and square, I could finally tackle the first bit of assembly work I mentioned in the previous post. I used dowels and glue to join pairs of planks together, finally arriving at four boards eighteen inches wide, the full depth of the dresser.

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Glue-up took several days, because I only had enough clamps and space¬†to do one board at a time. But once it was done, I could finally¬†square the ends, and match the exact lengths of the sides to each¬†other, and the top to the bottom. For this work, I first attempted to¬†use my router to run a pattern bit along a square jig. Unfortunately,¬†my clamping wasn’t good enough, and the jig shifted.

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This isn’t the first trouble I’ve had with router jigs, so instead of¬†trying again, I cleared off the bulk of the error with a saw, and¬†turned to a more laborious, but safer solution. I quickly assembled a¬†shooting board, sharpened my plane, and set to shaving the end grain.

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Now I could finally get to the part I had practiced for…

Dresser: Planning & Purchasing

Over fifteen years ago, friends lent my wife a dresser that their children had once used. When we moved into our first apartment, and she recovered her own dresser from her parents, the lent dresser became mine (our friends were adamant that they did not want it back). It has functioned well. The case is solid, the drawers open and close just fine, the drawer bottoms hold. Being a children’s dresser, though, it has never quite been able to hold all of my clothing. So, my next big project is to replace my child-size dresser with a gentleman’s chest.

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The dimensions are also relatively huge: approximately a foot wider and six inches taller than what I’ve been working with. That, in itself, should solve my space issues. I’ve chosen the chest style, because I think the cabinet to one side will work well for stacking sweaters, which are my main overflow item today.

I hadn’t yet settled on which species of wood to use when I visited the lumberyard. The bed in the same room is maple. The mahogany in my coffee table was nice to work with. Alder is a nice, slightly less mainstream choice. After picking through the stacks at Aura Hardwoords, I settled on cherry. They had a few pieces with some very nice looking figure, and also a large selection of relatively clear 10 inch+ by 10-foot planks in 5/4.

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One hundred board-feet of cherry planks for the drawer and cabinet fronts. Three sheets of 4×8-foot cherry plywood, for the back of the cabinet and the bottoms of the drawers. A stack of 9×48-inch baltic birch plywood for drawer construction. Not only did I have to borrow a trailer and towing vehicle, but I also had to rearrange my shop to fit it all.

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The chest will be eighteen inches deep. Two sections of ten-inch plank need to be joined to fit that width. Sorting the planks to find untwisted, unchecked sections of the right lengths, and ranking the figuring for top versus front versus side was a physically tiring edition of the Towers of Hanoi game, as I stacked and restacked the pieces.

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After some time acclimating to the shop conditions, cutting began…