In the best Don LaFontane voice:
Imagine a world with no Sketchup.
A world without nailguns.
A place without Dominoes, DowelMax or biscuit machines.
A universe that didn't know a simple project required thousands of
dollars of tools, and weeks of planning.
The time? Nineteen hundred and seventy five. The place? Welcome to
My boss: Robert, take a couple of sheets of that birch and make a
*utility* cabinet for that back washroom, OK? This isn't a retirement
project. Don't get too fancy. It will be painted. Art will make it
Me: OK. You want to hang it, or have it sit on the floor?
My boss: Which ever is faster. Get going.
Using the predecessor to Sketchup (a pencil and a piece of paper) I
Then I get tired of doodling and start cutting. We had no jobsite
tablesaw when I was on the road crew, so this was done with a circular
saw, a framing square and a new arrival on the scene, a "speed
Using one piece of plywood as the straight edge, I place it on the
sheet to be ripped to 16", with 1 1/2" added to it. The 1 1/2"
reflects the most outward kerfed tooth distance to the shoe, which
will be used as the guide.
After correct placement, a 4d is driven (gasp!) into the plywood at
each end to ensure it doesn't move.
After the the first piece 16" wide is ripped off, that becomes the
new, easier to handle guide.
All material is ripped to 16" width.
I now cut three (at once - just barely) of my rips to 64" in length.
I have used one piece, and have two sides, and three shelves 32" in
I have two more rips. I cut one more rip into three 32" pieces. Now
I have one more shelf, and two doors, all 32" in length.
I have one more rip. Attaching the rip guide to the saw (we didn't
travel with a Powermatic, and no portable saws in those days) I cut
two strips 2 1/2" wide (now known as rail and stile stock) off the
This leaves 11".
The layout, working from the bottom:
The idea is to have doors on the bottom and an open shelf on the top
for quick reach items.
The bottom shelf is 12" off the ground. This shelf is also positioned
to be covered by the bottom of the bottom rail. (12" will accommodate
all kinds of bottles, containers, etc., that might leak such as
cleaning agents, laundry detergent, etc.)
The remaining shelves are laid out to reflect the correct position of
the stiles. You can put two or three shelves behind the doors, as
long as you get the top shelf correctly for the rail, with your 32"
door installed to cover all shelves.
Cut the rails and stiles and install with glue and 6d finish nails.
Since plywood is often hard and gnarly, take a straight 6d, and nip
the head off it. At the point side, grind it to a spade bit on your
belt sander. This is now your pilot hole tool.
Assemble all of it. At the top, cut back (starting at your top most
shelf, the one attached to the top rail) and cut a slant back towards
the back of the cabinet from 16", to 11". You already have your top
shelf material ripped.
Cut the to shelf 11" X 32". Install. Cut the remaining 64" of your
11" rip into two 32" pieces. Tuck these under the first shelf hidden
by the doors and the bottom shelf on the exposed bottom area. Nailing
and gluing these will make this remarkably sturdy.
I liked a center stile, but not more than 2". Cut that, and center it
on the open area to receive the doors, effectively cutting it in half.
Since you laid it out properly, you only have to cut the doors for
width. You should have some rail and stile stock left over to make a
dandy rip guide.
Lay the cabinet on its back, getting it as square and level as
possible. Orient them as needed, mark, and attach the hinges.
**Gently** ease over all square edges (except doors, and insides of
rail and stiles) with the belt sander.
Done. Examine the work, and wait for you boss to come kiss the deal.
Approval was usually granted by saying, "hell I thought you went
home. Go help Lester finish hanging the doors."
Longer to type than to build it. As a side note, not all measurements
were perfectly 32", 64" etc., as some consideration would be made on
site to allow for saw blade kerf.
Now with a table saw, you could do all kinds of maneuvering to cut 45s
to conceal the raw edges. I can't imagine how much that would speed
the deal up, as well as with a CMS. Even back then, when we wanted to
make something like that a little more fancy, we used to make screen
out of 2X4 edges. (Much easier than you might think. Cut them square
and round as needed after installation).
All of it works well from planning on a scrap piece of paper, and
remembering the multiples of plywood layout. When performed
correctly, one cut yields more than one piece. Personally, it is
still easier for me to take down full sheet goods with a good circular
saw rather than going back to the shop to fire up the table saw.
I think I see a pattern here of exactly what types of tools some folks
learned on, and how they learned. I did like the Mission chair idea,
I looked at the list of tools and it looked like a pretty full deck to
me. I am stunned that no one could slap a simple project together
with all that artillery. Obviously they weren't looking for a
Federalist highboy if they just gave you two sheets of plywood.
Then again, two sheets of plywood and a bit of screen has yielded some
nice furniture, too. It just takes longer than the time allotted in
A world with no CMSs, no brad guns, no table saws at hand, no biscuit/
dowel gizmos, no drafting programs, nothing but the tools on hand and
your skills? I am hearing Don LaFontane's voice again.