Wall cabinet by committee can save your carcass
“Dovetails, drawers, Kumiko, hinging a door- yeah, you will probably learn a thing or two....”
Two weeks ago at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, I took a six-day class with Fine Woodworking’s own Michael Pekovich. I and eight others dove into one of Mike’s incredible wall cabinets. Here’s how Bob Van Dyke, the school’s owner, describes the course in a June 11 Instagram post: “Dovetails, drawers, kumiko, hinging a door—yeah, you will probably learn a thing or two….” What he doesn’t list, though, is how much better a project can turn out when you have 16 eyes looking at it beyond yours and the teachers’.
Don’t get me wrong: It’s hard to do better than a Pekovich class at CT Valley. Mike’s organized, clear, and encouraging, not to mention always prepared to revisit a topic to make sure people have grasped it. Too many times I and others unceremoniously approached him with a snag we were hitting—or, just as common, he would see a mistake from across the room before it happened. Always, Mike quickly explained the best way we could get back to our work. Bob’s no different. Even when strolling around the room, his eyes were scanning, maybe unconsciously, for bad form, bad layout, and bad practices. Plus, CT Valley’s tools are plentiful and, I kid you not, sharp. Sharp sharp. No perils of a communal shop full of learners here. Instead, one of the 1/2-in. chisels is as excellently honed as the bevel-up jack as the miter plane as the block plane as the other 1/2-in. chisels. What’s more, the school’s crew sharpened tools they knew would be used that day. Like when the class dove into kumiko, we had a tray of 18 or so chisels labeled “SHARP” waiting for us.
In other words, we students were in the best possible position since any mistakes were entirely on us. Luckily, we were all making mistakes, like ripping the wrong edge of a drawer piece, turning a groove into a rabbet; marking keep sides as waste; deeply scribing a drawer front meant for half-blind dovetails; and bumbling through a complicated glue-up. The result of these mistakes, though, is that another person didn’t have to suffer them because each of us was looking out for the eight others. “Hey, don’t do what I did. Remember to XYZ” was common talk at the benches and at lunch, where, on top of generally shooting the breeze, we recapped our personal progress and instructions from Mike. In addition, people—myself very much included—often wandered from bench to bench, checking techniques when they were having an issue. My cabinet would be a whole lot worse if I didn’t have everyone else to lean on.
We also shared personal tools, spare parts, and words of encouragement. By the last day, though, we were swapping contact info and jokes. Sure, I learned tons and have a gorgeous wall cabinet now to show off my efforts, but I’ve also never been so happy to have people jokingly deride my gappy joinery.
(And my dovetails weren’t even that gappy, Mark. Sheesh.)