Tag Archives: woodwork

I’m not a cabinet maker

A Mason Bee hatching box I made for my wife.

The illustration above shows that I’m no cabinet maker. I’m slapdash at measuring, hopeless with mitre joints, mortice and tenon, or even worse, bloody dovetail joints. I am not skilled, despite a desperate desire to do a good job, and many years of sawing, planing, gluing, and drilling. It’s not that I haven’t put in time and effort, it’s that I haven’t LEARNED anything.

But you know what? That’s ok, because the stuff I am making is not for sale. It’s not going to be gracing anyone’s dining room, holding their precious heirloom china. When I make a box, it’s because we need a box to put something in, like hatching bees, or nesting birds or juggling equipment. Because I’m aware of my shortcomings in this area, I don’t expect much of my woodwork. If someone points to the barbeque box and says “Hey, this thing isn’t quite straight, and the door doesn’t close!” I’d be all “Yeah, you got that right. And look, it’s not properly weatherproof either.”

Why am I telling you about my inadequacies as a woodworker? Well, it’s an analogy (as well as being true). I spend a lot of time being a proofreader, and that’s something I’ve had to learn to switch off when reading social media. People post on social media (mostly) to get a thought or two off their brains. Pointing at flawed spelling or punctuation is meaningless point-scoring. I know I’m often fumble-fingered when trying to type on a stupid tiny phone keyboard. So, yeah, social media gets a pass. Like my barbeque box, right? It’s not for sale, it’s not polished, it’s not FOR anything, except holding my gas cylinder and supporting the barbeque.

But say you want to be a published writer. Say that’s your aim, your ambition. THEN, I think it’s reasonable for you to take the trouble over your work. Learn how to make dovetails, as it were. Because you ARE selling your work. You are standing up and saying “This is good, this is worth your time.” And if you want me to invest my time, then I think I’m worth proper punctuation, thanks.

Yes, you can point to a dozen or more award-winning novels who play fast and loose with rules of punctuation and grammar and maybe even spelling. And maybe you can find more than a dozen people who say they actually enjoyed reading those novels, and maybe some of them are telling the truth. If those authors are honest (and I don’t know which ones you’re thinking of, by the way), then they have chosen to discard those rules for a reason, for a specific effect. (In the novels I’m thinking of, the effect was to make the whole experience of reading more unpleasant, but that was ok because the stories were rubbish, the characters unlikeable, and the resolutions deeply unsatisfying.)

Let me be specific, and give you an example that turns up quite frequently in the works I proofread:

“Yeah.”

We all read that the same, didn’t we? It’s the word the Beatles sang in “She loves you”. It’s a lazy agreement, lacking formality. It’s an exhalation, or a shout of joy. Now look at this:

“Yea.”

Language is flexible, so you could make that three-letter word rhyme with “pea” and “sea”, or with “hay” and “day”. It’s the second one that I default to, reading it as a medieval agreement:

“Yea, verily my Lord, ’tis true.”

Why does this matter? Isn’t language evolving? That’s certainly what people say over and over when challenged over mistakes in grammar or spelling. And maybe it is, but “yea” is ALREADY A WORD. So when I read this:

Pete slumped back, defeated. “Yea.” he whispered.

Pete is saying a medieval word, which doesn’t match his character or his attitude. It’s wrong, it doesn’t fit, it throws the reader out of the moment into a little heap of “huh?”

If you want to be a writer, make an effort to learn the nuts and bolts (or tools and joints) of your chosen craft. Make sure that, if you’re leaving the nails exposed on your cabinet, it’s because you intended to.

Stupid hobbies again: The Juggling Box

The first plan, taken from my planner.

When I get busy with things I have to do, my brain will squirm like a bored toddler and suggest stupid hobby stuff instead. I waste a lot of energy arguing with myself that I don’t need a pedal powered landspeeder, don’t have room to store one, even if I knew what to make it out of, and the steering would be a real issue, though I guess we could knock up a variant of rack and pinion and…

This is how I get into trouble.

Right now it’s pretty bad because I have a suit of Clone Armour (From The Bad Batch, coming soon to Disney +) that needs a complete overhaul. I have a dalek that needs surfacing work, and a ton of electronics. I have a helmet I’ve started for Mrs Dim, the first costume she’s expressed interest in wearing, and there’s loads more to do on that. Oh, and I started a rough project to build a Hollow Knight mask for my youngest Weasel.

All of which means, along with my day job and the paid writing work, that I have plenty to do, thanks very much Brain.

So a couple of weeks ago my brain started sketching out ideas for a new juggling box (see the illustration at the top.)

I know the kit I need for the kind of show I do these days, so I made a list and began to imagine the box I would need to hold it all. Since I didn’t have any way to measure the clubs and stuff, I used Z as the length of the clubs, and X as the depth, and Y as the width of all five of them together. All the other parts of the box would be measured in relation to those distances.

Don’t worry if none of this makes sense, it’s just what I do to keep my brain happy.

After a couple of weeks, it became clear that my brain wasn’t going to let go of this one. Never mind that I haven’t had an actual juggling gig in over a year, never mind that there’s nothing wrong with the kit transport that I have now. Oh no, we must make a box, my precious, and it must be very, very complex!

I bought wood. I wanted to buy piano hinges as well, but obviously they don’t make those the right length. In fact, of all the things I went to buy at Home Depot, the only bits I actually found there were the wood (2ftX2ft project panels) and some all-purpose tool holders that were going to be used to clip the clubs into place inside the box.

I didn’t photograph the early stages because it went very quickly and I didn’t have any hands free. First, construct a box with all the correct dimensions. Check those dimensions very, very carefully. Get corners as close to 90 degrees as possible. Then very, very, VERY carefully, cut all around the middle of the box, and really, really hope you picked the right side to start. Then, cut one of those pieces in half on the other dimension. Now, go look in that box of hinges and see if you can find four the same.

Ok, well, are there two the same?

Good.

Are there another two that are the same as each other?

Ok then. Put two hinges on each side, and now you have a box that opens along a central seam! I put the tool holders in place in the back and the clubs fitted in as if I had measured. (Which I had. Again and again.)

This would have been a good place to stop. I had achieved something, and my brain was a little surprised. Maybe it would have left it at that, but now my confidence strode to the fore and said “This is JUST the beginning!”

Because there’s more than clubs, right? You saw the list I made. By putting in guard rails on either side, and little restraining rails on the bottom, I could put juggling knives in one side and fireclubs in the other, swinging out like some magical thing!

I also made a box to sit on the top that would hold all the juggling balls.

And this was good, and I was happy, but then a little voice spoke up from the back of my mind and said “Er, excuse me, but where does the diabolo go? And the diabolo handsticks? And the devil sticks, come to that. Also, the front swings open, weren’t you going to design some fancy closing mechanism that would ALSO hold the juggling rings?

Reader, I switched off the lights and left the workshop.

But a few days later I was back at it again, because my wretched brain could see POTENTIAL. This might actually be GOOD and IMPRESSIVE and lots of other concepts that really shouldn’t matter to me now that I am nearly forty nine and living on a different continent from most of the people who made me feel inadequate as a human being.

I shifted the knives over to the same side as the fireclubs, because there’s room for both and then they rattle less, and that made space for the diabolo and both sets of handsticks on the right.

The Devil Stick itself was too tall for the box. I didn’t want to cut holes in anything, so I bolted a small plastic holder to the bottom of the right hand side, and the last of my general purpose tool holders to the top. Click!

Now for the front. I cut a couple of blocks to the curve of the juggling rings, then glued them on either side of the front doors. Then I cut a couple of square blocks that were larger and glued them on those blocks. Now the rings would hook in on these blocks and sit snug, holding the doors closed!

I also dug out a small pair of wheels for the back and some rotating castors for the front. Now the front doors could swing open easily.

And that’s where I am now. The voices in my head have subsided a bit, apart from the one saying the box of balls needs to be secured to the main box, and the whole thing should be edged with veneer to hide the screws and then lacquered a deep honey gold. Oh, and there should be some sort of handle to pull the thing along. And where am I going to put the poi? And what about the buckets for the magic bucket trick?

I don’t know why zombies want brains. They’re nothing but trouble.