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I know a guy who frequently says: “any day you learn something new is a good day”.

Jeez, but I hate that guy. You may recall very early in this piece that I mentioned it was always a good idea to draw up your plans 1:1, so you could get a feel for proportion and really check that you’d got it right?

Needles to say, I’d have been hard pressed to photograph a piece of MDF with my drawings on it and make it legible, so I dug into the CAD Software to plan this build out. This is a fairly simple humidor by all means and I’ve made hundreds of humidors. I know what I’m doing, right? Wrong.

Turns out, I screwed up the drawings. The depth of the exterior of the box is 12”, not 12.5”. Why? It’ll make a nice fit for a Gran Corona (do RyJ still make the Fabulosos?) with 0.25” of an inch to spare. Does it matter? Not a lot. There’s no such thing as the perfect design. Go for the one you like the most and when your needs change, get another humidor. (Preferably from me, I need the money to buy cigars).

Seeing that we’re just about to start playing with sharp tools, now might be a good time for me to share my philosophy on power tools, which is: “Power tools are the best way to make the same mistake as with a hand tool, only much faster”.

I use power tools at the beginning of a project to bring stock to a near final dimension and then, that’s it. Working slower means you get to think more so you will make fewer blunders. You can cut your hand off at the wrist with a table saw in less than a second. With a handsaw it’d take a few minutes (and I don’t know anyone dumb enough to keep sawing after the first ouch). If this is your first attempt at woodworking, you’re not going to get the results of a master-craftsman. But if you use hand tools rather than power tools, you’ll get much closer and get to keep all your fingers!

Stock Preparation

I’m guessing by now that you’ll have your Spanish Cedar (SC) that’s dressed to size and glued up to width. The next step is cutting it down to size. Now before you do any marking up, sharpen your square, i.e. make sure your square is square.



Lay your square against a flat surface. Draw a line. Flip the square over. Draw a line about 1/16” away from the first line. Are the lines parallel? Good. Go onto step 2. No? Throw out the square and get a new one. Do this same test at the hardware store when you’re shopping for your new square. You’ll be amazed at how many are out whack!

You can buy a square that you can re-calibrate (mine has a brass blade and wear faces, which the engineers out there will appreciate) that have 2 screws in the bottom of the handle that see-saw the blade on a fulcrum. These are brilliant but very expensive. Make the choice now if you want a nice, bright shiny square or two boxes of Siglo II.


I suggest that you go to the trouble of having first rate mark-out equipment: square; sharp knife; ruler, because if you use dodgy gear, you’ll never get anything right, no matter how good your woodworking skills.


Now that you’re confident you can mark a right angle, time to mark your boards with knife marks to show you where to cut. The reason to use a knife here is that your saw blade will tend to follow it as you’re cutting. Saw your boards down to size, keeping the saw on the waste side of the line. When you’re finished cutting you should be able to still see all of the line.


After I’ve finished cutting the board to size, I always take the time to plane the board to split the knife marks I cut. When you look very closely at these boards you can see half of the line still there. If you do this in your cabinetmaking it will give you an accuracy that most woodworkers find impossible, yet it’s easy once you know how (and now you do).

In the photo above, you’ll see a block plane with shavings from end-grain. The photo below is one of those shavings (less than 1/10,000th of an inch thick) and what the end grain looks like after it’s planed. Looks nice, doesn’t it?


As well as being the best way to dimension a board, this nice finish will show up a knife mark much easier which, whilst not crucial, makes your life much easier.

So now, we have all four of our board’s sized and square, time to start laying out the joinery.


This is a mortise gauge. It’s used to scribe a line parallel line to an edge. There’s a small pin protruding from the top and an adjustable fence to set the distance from the end of the board. This one is home-made. One of the great satisfactions I get out of woodworking now-a-days is making my own tools (although most aren’t as pretty as this one).

Normally, to lay out an end-rabbet I’d set the thickness of the other board and scribe a line across the face of the board I was going to cut. Today though, I’ll assume you don’t have one of these and I’ll do it the easy way. Lay the board that will be either the back or front of the humidor face-down on the bench. Take one of the sides and butt it up to the edge. Check it’s flush with your finger, then use a sharp knife to mark the thickness of the side board onto the front or back.


Do this on each edge of the front and back. Continue that line down through about half the thickness of the boards. Then on the edge of the board, mark a line right along the centre. I’m using the mortise gauge in the photo below, but you could just as easily have done this with a ruler and knife.


Once you’ve done that, you’ve mastered the layout for an end-rabbet joint. Well done!


Now, for the cutting. If you don’t quite trust yourself to cut a straight line, you can cheat by laying a straight piece of wood along the line to cut to act as a guide. Brace your saw against the piece of guide wood you’ve clamped on, grip the saw lightly and cut down to the centre line you marked before.

Next, sit the piece of wood upright and start cutting from the far edge, slowly dropping the back of the saw down along the waste side of your guide line as in the photos above.

You’ll notice “The Phantom Menace” has turned up. Kids are another really good reason for using hand tools.



Once you’ve cut out the rabbet, clean up the join to your layout lines. You can use a chisel for this (the bigger the chisel is the better. Don’t try to use the full length of a big chisel for the cut, but use it all to register for the cut) or a shoulder plane if you have one.



At this point you should have a nice little join that looks something like this. Repeat the process on the other three corners and you’re ready to cut more rabbets!



Your finished side boards will look like the one above. Notice how the join of the two boards is visible in the end grain but not on the face? That’s where you get the pay off from closely matching your boards for figure and colour. There are deep rabbets in the top and bottom and a groove where we’ll be cutting off the lid of the humidor. All of these are cut the same way as the end rabbets on the front and rear: saw; chisel (I use a special plane for cutting grooves like this, but a chisel will work) and patience. You’ll find it a lot easier than you’d think as long as you take your time. You can hopefully see in the picture above two very fine lines in the centre of the groove. This is where we’ll be cutting off the top of the box to make the lid after it’s been assembled. The reason for doing it this way is so that the top fits the bottom. If you make them up separately, there’s always hours of messing around to true everything up.

Cutting these grooves by hand is time consuming and you’re probably asking yourself if there’s an easy way out. Maybe the easiest way to do this would be with a router and a straight bit. Routers are very cheap now-a-days. You can get one for $50 and if you’re planning to never use it again after this exercise that might be all you need.

Personally, I like doing this work manually. I find it relaxing.

Other suitable joinery

The joinery I’ve showed you is by far the simplest for something like this but by no means the only option available to you. If you have a router table, a lock mitre joint works well. If you’re using a cabinet grade wood and lining it with Spanish Cedar, then the wood, your tools and skill level will dictate your options.

If you’d like some advice on the other ways you can do this, feel free to drop me a line.

Stepping it up a notch

Now we have the joinery for your humidor sorted. Not for mine though. The end rabbet joint you’ve made will hold together “acceptably”. It is not a strong joint. For a joint to be strong it needs to “key”, one piece of wood fits into another.

When you glue up your joint you’ll be using a cross linking glue that, once set, will never come apart except if it fails. When I glue up mine, I want to be able to take it apart if I have to. I’m building a piece of heirloom furniture that (I hope) will be around for a couple of hundred years. If it makes it that far it’s going to pretty valuable. If something goes wrong with a piece of valuable furniture you want to be able to fix it so I’m going to be using hide glue.

Hide glue is hideously smelly.

Think of the worst thing you’ve ever smelt, drop in a dead cat, stir, leave sitting in the sun for a few days and you’re still not even close!

Hide glue is made up from animal hide, hooves, etc and I prepare the stuff in a double boiler and apply it hot. Like any glue, it swells the wood and dries, but, unlike any other glue, if I apply heat and moisture to it again, it re-activates and I can pull the joint apart. All REAL furniture is glued together with hide glue.

A customer of mine asked me to fix a panel that had spilt in his 200 year old desk which involved me disassembling one of the pedestals in its entirety. Once I was done, I looked at all the pieces and wondered if I’d ever be able to put it together again! Whilst pulling it apart, I found a cavity in the pedestal and a secret drawer. It was a real test of will power not to look inside but I was so engrossed in the job I forget all about it. When I returned the desk I remembered my find and proudly announced that I hadn’t peeked into the secret drawer in the pedestal. My customer looked at me with a blank face and said “What secret drawer?” You’d be surprised how many large pieces of furniture of this era have a secret compartment and because they generally pass from estate to estate, you never know what could be in one. Have I got you thinking of buried treasure yet?

Don’t worry though, once the glue sets, the smell disappears, so you won’t be getting a wiff of dead cat when you reach for the next Montecristo. (I can’t make the same assurance if you reach for a Jose Piedra).

The joinery I’ll be using on the corners of the carcase is a variation on the venerable dovetail called a “Mitred fully-concealed dovetail”. The benefits of this joint are that it’s remarkably strong and there are no protrusions so when I veneer over it I don’t have to worry about different expansion rates between long grain and end grain. The downside of the joint is it’s so difficult to cut, it’s been known to send men mad. The layout for one side of the joint looks like this:


The squiggly lines on the board are to remind me which is the waste side I should be cutting on. This is important because I need to get a loose friction fit with these if the hide glue is going to work.

You can probably see the dovetail shape more clearly from the top:


What I’m going to end up with is a very strong joint that looks like a normal mitre joint from the outside but is far (say 50 times) stronger. This is one of those things that the customer never gets to see in my work so I’ll generally take a few photos during construction so they have a greater appreciation of what they’ve bought.

Interestingly, whilst machines in manufacturing can do almost anything, I don’t believe there’s anything that can re-create one of these joints. It has to done through saw and chisel.

I’m sorry about the picture quality of these. There’s bound to be a macro setting on this camera somewhere!






Carving the mitres on the pin board

















The joinery I’ve showed you in the preceding photos is extravagant to say the very least. These few photos have condensed a day’s work into some easy to digest snapshots which really don’t give an appreciation for the precision of this kind of joinery.

Why do I use it? Because I’ve disassembled furniture 200+ years old that has used this type of joint and it’s still in good condition. I use it because it’s the best of its kind for carcase assembly in fine furniture and it’s perfect for veneering over with thin veneer (which is what we’ll be using to veneer the hang-ten humidor).

That’s it for me now for a while. I’ll be spending the next 3 or 4 days relaxing over the Easter Break with family down at the beach house, my girl in one hand and nice cigar in the other and the Phantom Menace to make sure I don’t relax too much so I’m ready to fill you in our the next exciting instalment where we fit the top and bottom of our humidor all ready for veneering.



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» Does the whole job go more smoothly if you leave your fly undone :-D


You know how sometimes you wish you had a third hand?...

As for the tools, you should have seen my Grandfathers collection. Most all of it was stolen a few years ago whilst I was on holidays. Heart breaking stuff. I have visions of someone using his chisels to open paint cans and the planes thrown out because they couldn't be made to work. It'll take the rest of my life to replace his collection but I'll get there.

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Guest Warren

I was into woodworking for a while , I have a collection of old molding planes that belonged to my Great Grandfather. He used them to make railway carriages in Ipswich in the 1800's.

People with routers just don't know how easy they have it. I once made a moulding for a piece of furniture I made using old fashioned methods.

It took me 3 different molding planes , a block plane and a trenching tool to make a length of molding.

I could have done it all with one router , but to this day I'm still proud that I made the entire piece of furniture without using a single power tool.

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» I could have done it all with one router , but to this day I'm still proud

» that I made the entire piece of furniture without using a single power

» tool.

Well done Warren. It's an art form to do it right and yet anyone can do it!

El Pres told me a while back that he was technically "impared" I think was the word. He's going to roll over here one weekend and I'll teach him to cut a dovetail for this box. I'll make a point of posting a pic when that happens.

I look forward to proving to all that even the least experienced can do it themselves on a simple humidor and get a result to proud of.



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Guest Warren


» El Pres told me a while back that he was technically "impared" I think was

» the word. He's going to roll over here one weekend and I'll teach him to

» cut a dovetail for this box. I'll make a point of posting a pic when that

» happens.


» I look forward to proving to all that even the least experienced can do it

» themselves on a simple humidor and get a result to proud of.


» Cheers,


» Al.

Al I have to see that , let me know when and I would love to be there.:-D

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Guest josho2001

You know, as much as I'm loving these tutorials, I worry because I know the second I decide to try something like this I'll end up with one less thumb or pointer finger. Still I love reading this stuff!

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» El Pres told me a while back that he was technically "impared" I think was

» the word. He's going to roll over here one weekend and I'll teach him to

» cut a dovetail for this box. I'll make a point of posting a pic when that

» happens.

You don't know what a state of depression you have let yourself in for :lol:

Love the Tutorial mate :-D

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» » You don't know what a state of depression you have let yourself in for


» You'll be fine. Maybe we get Ken around to do a corner as well? It is the

» FOH Humidor after all.

a genuinely wonderful thought but i sadly assure you, i aspire to technically impaired. technically impaired and completely incompetent at those sort of things are everest to me. if, however, you need someone to open the beers (and drink them), smoke the prez's cigars and make smartarse comments at the expense of others, i'm your man.

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  • 7 months later...

That's beautiful Al , I am envious of your wood working tools .

I have a question though.


Does the whole job go more smoothly if you leave your fly undone :-D

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