by Steven D. Johnson
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Stairs & Dovetails
While noodling out the design for the stairs in my garage/shop conversion project, it was
apparent that other than the scale of the work, there is not a lot of difference in laying out and
cutting dovetail joints, laying out and cutting stair stringers, and laying out and cutting tight
miters on window, door, and floor trim. In fact, cutting tight miters for trim may be the more
difficult task. Why, you ask?
When building anything from scratch, we can be sure that we are starting with a shape of known
dimensions that is square and well made. Fitting a drawer into a perfectly rectangular opening is
fairly straightforward. Imagine fitting all your drawers into slight rhomboid or misaligned
openings. A lot of trial and error would be the order of the day. Fitting miters around poorly
installed doors and windows and to walls that are not square or flat is tedious, time-consuming, and
requires more than a little trial and error.
In the "unhandy" house, the frames of the windows in the living room are proud of the wall by as
much as ½ inch on some sides, and recessed by as much on other sides. The windows were simply not
installed to be coplanar with the walls. Apparently that was not judged to be significant until
later as the use of various shim material indicated – folded newspapers, pieces of shingles, strips
of tar paper and even some ripped strips of wood were used in an attempt to shim out window or
casing to make it "look right." It didn't, and never will, to the practiced eye.
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