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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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Cutting (and Clamping) Corners

On any shop visit I marvel at the genius and creativity that woodworkers routinely demonstrate in making the most of their precious space. Shamelessly, I am willing to copy any good idea, too, because space in my shop is always at a premium. Recently on a shop tour the owner showed me how he put a "dead corner" to good use, and the inspiration got my juices flowing.

As most of you know, I spent three and half months remodeling a new-to-me house, then another three months converting the garage into a woodworking shop. By the end of those projects, my carpentry skills were improving and my woodworking skills were decreasing from disuse. I knew that I should build a few shop fixtures, cabinets, or work surfaces prior to jumping back into furniture, just to get back into the groove.

Designing and building this corner cabinet has provided an opportunity to cut a few mortises and tenons, work a few angles, fine-tune a few shop machines, "noodle" out some interesting clamping configurations, and use my new Festool OF1400 router. Built to fit tightly into a prescribed space, the project also tested my ability to parse fractions and the need for a precise template forced me to exercise (or perhaps exorcise) my drawing (in)capability.

My new favorite way to approach carcass work with sheet goods is to use the Festool TS 55 plunge cut saw and guide rail system to accurately cut sheet goods square and to size. If you start square, you will usually end square, and the Festool system excels at this job and leaves incredibly smooth edges ready for glue-up. With the main pieces cut to size, dados were the next step.

On the combination shop desk/workbench/assembly table project, I cut all the dados on the router table. With the corner cabinet, it made more sense to align the multiple side and back pieces and gang-cut the dados with a hand held router. Using the Festool guide rail system and the OF 1400 router yielded absolutely straight, perfectly aligned dados. Getting the position of each dado dialed-in was a bit "fussy" at first, but after I got the hang of using the guide rail attachment, it went pretty smoothly.

After making a template for the shelves and cutting them to shape and size, the next challenge was performing a large scale glue-up while keeping everything square and aligned. The answer was to screw together (and yes, I used my hand countersink to flush the screw heads down) two cradles made from scrap. These cradles made the glue up quick and easy and allowed me to keep the inside of the cabinet facing up so that I could clean up any glue squeeze out. Someone once told me that ideas float in the ether, ready for someone to grab one and run with it. Credit this idea to a small boat-building shop I once visited.

Clamping turned out to be a bit of a challenge, but the snug dados and the cradle helped. It was also helpful to know that I would be hiding the plywood edges with a face frame, so clamp marks were not really an issue. More than anything, though, it was my 23 gauge pinner and a half-dozen strategically placed pins that ultimately saved the day.

It is very difficult, at least for me, while in the middle of a project not to think of tools that would make the job go faster or better (there is always an excuse for new tools, right?). This time I was dreaming of some new clamps that would be both long and light. Cabinet clamps are excellent, but were almost too heavy for this application. I think some lightweight aluminum bar clamps would have been perfect. Something to add to the wish list.

A face frame was used to cover the plywood edges, a little additional bracing was added to the bottom of the cabinet, and the carcass construction was complete. And, oh, did I make any mistakes? You bet… several little correctable mistakes and one "biggy" that caused quite a headache.

Making the shelves required that a very accurate template be drawn allowing for the additional quarter-inch for nesting in the dados. I drew the template directly onto a piece of 3/4" plywood, then carefully cut the template to size and checked its fit. The first try was perfect. I then proceeded to use the template to trace the other shelves and cut them out with the Festool saw and guide rail system. So far so good. But then I used the original template as the bottom shelf. No harm, no foul, had I not needed that template to subsequently make the bottom for the drawer. After slapping my forehead a few times and muttering some rather colorful epithets, there was really no choice but to redraw the template to size a drawer bottom and the drawer sides. If practice makes perfect, then you might think my drawing would be improving by now.

The drawer and door construction is underway now, and next month I hope to show you the finished project in its new home. In fact, by then I hope to be started on the last of the shop furniture projects (at least for a while). This one will be a miter saw station. I have even made a drawing… it is even to scale… I even used a ruler! The miter saw station needs to get done pretty quickly, as my real boss has ordered a new coffee table for the living room… and this boss doesn't take no for an answer!

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Steven Johnson is retired from an almost 30-year career selling medical equipment and supplies, and now enjoys improving his shop, his skills, and his designs on a full time basis (although he says home improvement projects and furniture building have been hobbies for most of his adult life).

Steven can be reached directly via email at

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