Tales from South Puffin.

My dad was a great cabinet maker. He liked fine wood and had an innate feel for grain and flow and hand. And I think he particularly liked sawdust. He made a lot of it, milling and shaping replacements for the cabin on one boat or crafting a table in another, building a bureau for a friend or a Chippendale-style mirror for our hall. There are a small number of (unsigned) Chan Harper pieces around southeastern Pennsylvania.

We no longer have any of the wooden boats he kept afloat but I do use the small walnut side desk he built for my grandfather.

Sadly, I’ve come to believe he was an lousy carpenter and yet he did a bunch of it. I think doing a lot of get-it-built-carpentry runs in the family.

I remember my grandfather building on and building in the baggage room at the Station. That became his wood shop. I remember my father building on and building in the chicken coop after he moved his father’s tools uphome from the Station. That coop became his wood shop. I remember building on and building in my barn in North Puffin. That barn became my wood shop but it is also where I built a race car, and some boats, and machinery prototypes, and our kitchen cabinets. Twice. And I remember my dad building a workbench and a lattice “cage” here in South Puffin. That became his wood shop here.

I’ve lived here 10 years now and built another set of kitchen cabinets in his shop but it really hasn’t ever met my own needs. I want to have room for my big rolling toolbox here and pull-out shelves for hardware and a home for the table saw and …

All in about 16 square feet.

My dad built a heavy duty bench with shelves under one side and a cubby for his tool bureau under the other. Above that was a kitchen cabinet made partly of particle and pressed board. The cabinet was disintegrating. The workbench was an inch too short for the table saw and a foot too long to fit my own tool chest. He had short louvered cabinet doors to protect his tools but the bench was open to every caller. Note the past tense.

Disassembly took a long time because he notched or mortised every 2×4 in the frame, applied resorcinol glue and then lagged all the parts together. Did I mention that disassembly took a long time?

Common practice for something as simple as a workbench is to pin or lag any stretchers and posts together and call it done. That adds up to rugged, potentially square, construction.

I made a mistake. I measured the space as I was taking his bench apart and assumed it was pretty much square. I don’t know how he built it so far off but it was an inch out in the 20″ width of the bench.

My replacement bench is about 30″ deep and only half an inch out across its 76″ length. The only glue I used holds the drawer boxes together. I have full size louvered doors that I can close to hide any mess.

The hutch/shelf is in place and loaded with all the tools. I’m pleased to report that it has lots more room than my dad’s original shelves and I now have them organized in a way that I can actually see and find stuff. I’m most pleased with the way this little project has worked out.

And when one of my kids or someone I don’t know takes that workbench apart, they’ll probably think, Boy, that Harper was a decent cabinet maker but he surely never used a square when he hammered this workbench closet together.



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