Thursday, October 10, 2013

How a Bad Day Resulted in Prettier and Better Cabinet Doors

Last Saturday was a bad day.
I had spent a few days working on the panels for the two doors that would enclose the front of the cabinet I'm building, and would therefore be the centrepiece of the whole project. The doors would be built first, then the rest of the cabinet built around them, so they had to be just right.
I had chosen to use mahogany that was spalted – a type of fungal disease that attacks trees, but often leaves them with beautiful and unusual patterns and colours.
But the problem was that part of the spalted edge, which would comprise part of a ‘live-edge’ component of my cabinet doors, was also slightly worm-eaten and a little rotten.
I had thought I could work with it and live with the worm holes, and that the uniqueness of it would make up for any structural issues in the wood.
But then on Friday, as I was cutting a profile into the edge of the panels, the corner of one ripped off, its lack of structural integrity causing weakness in the wood.
Here are the original panels, with one broken corner visible in the top left.

I was able to re-attach the broken corner and salvage the piece, and was pretty happy with the repair job -- the fixed fracture was almost invisible.
Then on Saturday, as I was shellacking my panels, the second piece slipped out of my hands and landed on the floor, the weak corner exploding into a million pieces.
Bad way to end the week.
I went home, tried to forget about the disaster, and enjoyed Sunday away from the workshop, though in the back of my mind the wheels were turning as to how I could resolve the conundrum.
By Monday I had made up my mind. I bought a new piece of mahogany first thing in the morning -- a different board but cut from the same section of the same tree – and began making new panels.
But this time I avoided the rotten section and was able to cut strong, solid panels that were easily as pretty as the original set, but had no worm holes, rot, or strength issues.
And because I had just gone through the process of making the original panels, I was able to do it quickly and without stress.
By the end of the day I had beautiful new panels that were cut to size, sanded, shaped and ready for shellac.
Here are the new panels after treatments of shellac and wax, ready to become doors.

The experience reminded me that sometimes a mistake, or an apparent unexpected setback in a woodworking project, can force the maker to take a step back, reconsider his plans, and sometimes come up with a much better approach.

That’s what happened this time, and I’m pretty happy about how it all turned out.
Here are the panels glued-up in the frames. Their positions will be reversed on the actual cabinet, with the live edges on the outside edge of each door.

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