Jennie Alexander is Still With Us

Yes, I clamp my joints as I drive the drawbore pegs. I’m a chicken, OK?

On Friday, I knocked together a cupboard inspired by Romanian peasant furniture for my next book, “The American Peasant.” The piece was made entirely by hand, but using Western tools instead of Eastern European ones.

All the joints are drawbored and glued (with gelatin glue I made here in the shop). When I went to make the drawbore pegs, I decided to first look at what is in the Jennie Pipe in the machine room. Jennie Pipe? Read on.

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After Jennie Alexander died, the family asked us to take any of the spare tools and bits of wood that other woodworkers didn’t want. I took a hacking knife and some scratch stocks. But somehow I also ended up with a piece of 6″ PVC pipe (sealed at one end) that is filled with Jennie’s dowel stock.

I usually split out my own drawbore pegs, but there was a 5/16”-diameter white oak dowel in the pipe that had grain that was as straight as if it were split. I thought: Why not?

I used the dowel and found that I had exactly enough to drawbore the 16 mortise-and-tenon joints, plus make the hinges for the doors, which rotate on dowels.

In the end, I had about 1/16″ extra, which is painted red. I took it as a sign that I had made the correct choice.

It’s funny how I can’t throw away some things (which is totally not like me). I still have my father’s stationery from his medical practice (printed in the 1980s) and his Rolodex. These things take up space I don’t have to spare, but I can’t part with them. Perhaps I’m destined to mail a letter to someone in the Rolodex.

I also have a sizable chunk of bright orange Plexiglas that Jennie used for making go/no-go gauges and other dingus (dingi?). 

I can’t wait to see the cabinet I’m destined to build using that….

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. What’s The American Peasant? It’s my substack. It’s a somewhat foul-mouthed open wire of my progress on my next book. There’s practical information (how to sharpen and use a timber scribe) and “thoughts on craft” that would make David Pye roll his eyes – and then over in his grave. You can subscribe for free (about one-third of the posts are free). And there’s a trial subscription that lets you sample everything for free for seven days. I enjoy the heck out of writing it.


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