I had spent the day at work itching to get into the shop and do something to improve on sawing.   But it’s finally nice outside where I live and the Small Shop Assistant and my wife wanted to be outdoors.


Let’s talk minimal.

4 easy pieces

Given my frustration with dovetails, and my theory that it had to do with sawing I needed a project to work on that would give me sawing practice as well as convince me I could make stuff without buying more tools.   I had begun researching Greene and Greene style finger joint boxes.  The proud finger joints required enough precision to be a challenge, while being forgiving enough that a few mistakes could still result in something usable. The artificial constraint of being out of the shop with a small set of tools was a last minute thought.

To work. Check out the sweet bench.
Forgot to add a plane to the minimalist experience, restricted myself to my little block.

Incidentally, squaring up small boards with a block plane is more fun than it sounds.  I am using milled stuff, and didn’t need to do any dimensioning though.

After squaring up the ripped boards I gang cut 9″ and 6″ sides for the box and marked out pins and slots.   The layout was roughly 2:1 pins to slots across the 2 1/2″ boards and I just used a cheap pocket gauge to get it done.  The sawing for the pins was simple, just ripping then cross-cutting the side chunks out.   I then layed out the slots using the pins.

My clever marking system shown on the two pin boards and one of the slot boards, see the error?

I marked the boards with dots in the ends using my birdcage awl.   I caught a silly mistake as I set up to saw through one of the marks on a slot board.  I transfered the dots to the non-waste side before finishing up.   One mistake I didn’t catch here is that I neglected to maintain inside and out orientation on all the cuts as I fit them.   It didn’t effect the end result too much, but something to note for next time.

My theory about saw handle and body position needs some more testing, but the ryoba and I got along very well in this instance.  Especially given the height of my “bench”.    The deck railing there comes up to about mid biceps on me, so a touch higher than the first knuckle rule.  It was great for letting me get my eyes right level with the sawing action, the only caveat was having to watch as I got close to the layout lines so as to not over-cut on the back side.

Sawing the waste for the slots.

That’s not a chisel.


As part of this minimalist experience, and because I was using cheap pine, I chose to grab my whittling knife rather than a chisel.  Felt safer, more portable and requires one less tool in the mallet.  While there were a few gaps in the end result as I figured out how to compensate for the double bevel, I think the results were pretty good. Perhaps with a little practice I think I can improve (or I can begin hunting for single bevel knives).

The result is I have visions of packing up this tool kit for camping and maybe even lunch hour shenanigans.

I fit each slot to the corresponding pin as I went, getting good friction fit with minimal gaps on 2 out of the first 3.   I must have got excited:


It shouldn’t effect the end result too much, and I can sneak some glue in there during assembly.    Paring with the whittling knife actually yielded very square joints, and it’s something I’d like to try on other layouts.  I gave it a serious sharpening while doing the evening’s couch surfing to help improve the crisp cuts.

In the end, the box sides went together square with minimal gaps and sticks together on friction fit on all four corners.

The final product with the tools used to make it.

Learning and next steps

Turns out I can saw better with a different setup, albeit on simpler joints.  Even more fun can be had with constraining the tool set.  As I plan on making boxes as practice for the next while I think this little kit may be a smart idea, and as an added bonus it will all fit in that box except the saw and clamps.  I have to decide whether to nail or peg the joints and sort out a top and bottom for this one first, but I’m already envisioning a mobile toolbox that can be made with these tools.   Maybe in hardwood.

I really want to start in on a little shaker table, but need to build some confidence and competence first.  Minimalist box exercises is looking like a good path there.

Finally, I wonder if my wife would complain about a workbench on the deck?

An experiment
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