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By Doug Stowe
Which is better, furniture made with hand tools or power tools? That may be an ongoing debate in woodworking circles, but this bookcase, inspired by – and designed to complement – the clean lines of an old Craftsman-style writing desk, finds a perfect balance in the use of both.
Dovetails and mortise-and-tenon joints are techniques that have a well-deserved association with quality work. If you visit museums and look at furniture made over 500 years ago, you won’t be surprised to see dovetails and mortise-and-tenon joints holding things together. Now we have faster, more accurate ways to cut these joints with router jigs, but when making just one set of joints, a combination of hand and power tool techniques can compete head-to-head with the jigs, give greater pride in the finished work and put some of the pleasure of handwork back in the making of things. You will need to invest some time in practice with the saw, but pride in your work will grow along with your level of skill.
When we created a new office space in our home, my wife Jean wanted a bookcase made to match a much-loved Craftsman-period desk that she bought used long before we met. We decided that the bookcase should be the same height as the desk so the top surface of the desk and bookcase would work well together visually. I chose through dovetails and mortise-and-tenon joints as the primary means of construction, not to match any particular features of the desk, but to build in the best available construction techniques. The desk has lasted more than 80 years with excellent care and some minimal repair. The use of dovetails and mortise-and-tenon joints will assure that Jean’s bookcase will last as long as it is cared for and found useful. The simple beauty of hand-cut joints will assure that it will be cared for.
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