Finale Finally

My version of the Mason County KY Chest of Drawers.  Original by Gerrard Calvert circa 1795-1800 in the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Winston-Salem, NC.


Cherry and Poplar.  Shellac and Wax finish.


This was a fun project.   I didn’t track hours; I work on my projects as time permits.

Thanks to David Boeff @davidboeff for picking up the big cherry at Irion Lumber.  Also thanks to Don Williams for taking the fear out of finishing.

Of course the greatest thanks go to Daniel Ackermann at MESDA for permitting me to measure the original.  Perhaps even greater thanks to my family for putting up with my hobby.  It’s a costly one in terms of time, materials, and most importantly to my daughter – my shop is not her teenage basement hangout.  It comes up sometimes.



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Drawer Bedazzlement

The last piece of the puzzle has been completed over the last few weeks, as I’ve stolen a few hours here and there.  When last I posted, the drawers had been fitted and trimmed out.  The last major step then was the stringing and inlay.  First up I ran a simple holly and walnut trim around the edges.  It was cut in with a simple cutting gauge I knocked together to precisely cut the rebate for the band.  It was placed with hot hide glue.  A little blue tape made sure it didn’t slip.  Again, what did pre-industrial craftsmen do before 3M? (rhetorical question – they trusted their glue I’m guessing)


The Chest of Drawers with all the edging.  This was followed by a 1/32″ line of stringing inset  (seen in fan image below).


Then I made 20 fans.  The fans are of graduated size proportional to the drawer heights.   The fans are sand shaded holly with walnut accents and a band around the edge.  Below is one fan with the recess cut out before gluing in place.


Last for inlay is the key escutcheons.  I had to place the locks first to make sure I put the escutcheons in the right place.  I wasn’t sure if I should install the locks.  It seems locks were fitted to the original MESDA piece, but they are long gone.  It’s hard to say why there were removed – likely keys were lost or fear of keys being lost.  I can’t find a reason the maker would have cut in the lock mortises and not installed them.  I question the need to have a lock on all five drawers personally.  But of course since my goal is to recreate the original I had to decide – I decided in favor of installing the locks.  I picked locks from Paxton which were the only ones I could find with the same backset as the original.  Making the escutcheon inlays below.  They are a little small and fussy, but all the same size.


Finally, after an initial scraping and clean up.


Well, there it is, in the “white”.  This weekend I removed hardware and did final scraping prep to finish it.   I probably won’t post again until it’s done.

The finish will be Boiled Linseed Oil to (hopefully) pop the veneer a bit, then shellac and wax.

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Makin’ Drawers

We are getting into the homestretch.  Drawers.  Five of them, graduated.  The top one is weirdly shallow – perhaps we will fill it with handkerchiefs – people still use those, right?


The design of the original drawers is pretty straight forward.  Half-blind dovetails at the front, standard dovetails at the back.  I copied the originals within reason.  While I have photographs of every joint on every drawer, I didn’t try to copy the variety of joints individually – I’ll let my own work show through.  I did match the number of tails and general design though.

First I plowed the grooves for the drawer bottoms.  It really is so easy with a plow plane – much more pleasant than using the dado blade on a table saw.  Then tails (first), followed by the pins.  Pretty straightforward dovetail work.


The interesting parts of these drawers are in the bottom panels, which are split into two halves separated by a muntin.  That is dovetailed into the front and nailed onto the back.  More easy handwork – setting up machine tools to do this would be way too much effort.  Same goes for the drawer bottom boards – a few strokes with a jack plane and they slide right in.


After building the drawers, I fit them to the case.  Then I veneered the faces.


Next up…Bedazzling the Drawers.

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Fans and Paterae

The base of this Chest of Drawers is pretty well covered with a big fan, two smaller oval paterae, and a simple banding along the top.  I was seriously sick about two weeks ago (’tis the season) and didn’t even feel well enough to THINK about building furniture. So this step took a little longer than I hoped.

The center fan buildup was first.


Then I cut the scallops around the edges with a gouge.


Then the complementary colored scallops are placed.


Then it’s all glued up onto a backer veneer:


Then I forgot to take pictures I guess.  You can see the line where I cut out the shape, then it was bound with a 1/16″ piece of holly.  Next it’s inlaid into the apron.  The center of the fan was inlaid in place (below).


Above the recess for the banding is cut – I used a cutting gauge and the router plane.  Below I’m inlaying the paterae at the knees.  You can see the drawbore pins for the mortise will be hidden behind the inlay.


And here’s the base before I scraped it all down.


It sort of looks like the original might have around 1800.  Before it was beaten up by time.

Next up: Drawers.  Lots of dovetails in my future.  Those will be solid cherry front with a veneered face, lots of stringing and fans, and poplar secondary woods.  I milled all the materials this weekend, and started gluing up the bottom boards.

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Top Banding

With major carcass construction complete it’s time to finish up the inlays and banding.  First up is the top “molding” which is really just a build up of banding and cross banding.  Very simple but as I started to build it I realized how precise it needed to be.

The top trim is built of a piece of cherry core, cut to just a little wider than the banding.  I added the cross-banding (cherry) to the vertical face with hot hide glue.  I scraped it down, then added the banding on top, being very careful to align the leading, front edge with the cross-banding.  That left the core a bit proud, which I trimmed back with a hand plane.


Sometimes the hide glued pieces don’t stay down – so Grandma’s iron to the rescue.

Then the fussy part of installing the top trim.  The part that had me worried was how to deal with what is a cross-grain condition where the long grain of the trim is going against the grain of the case side.  The choices to me were:  Just glue it and expect someone to fix it later; or come up with a clever solution.  There’s no obvious signs this was dealt with on the original, and maybe it wasn’t.  I have no idea what kind of warranty Brother Calvert gave with his work.  I’ve used sliding dovetails on cross-grain moldings before but it’s hard to say that was used here.  I came up wit a novel solution which may be completely inaccurate but I will sleep better at night.  Screws and oval slots behind the veneer.




Perhaps a bit messy but done with brace and bit.

These are easily hidden with patches of cross -banding veneer.  The front is glued heavily and the back has a very light coat of glue which should break if (when) humidity makes the cabinet move.



Next up, inlay a big fan and two smaller paterae.

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Bellflower Crazy

One of the distinctive parts of the chest of drawers I’m building is the outrageous number of inlaid bellflowers on the canted corners.  They go on for days.  I’m not sure the distinction, but there’s one inverted single bellflower, with seventeen 3-petal bellflowers below, separated by dots.  That’s 138 pieces between the two sides.  It’s a little daunting.


First I cut out a lot of dots and petals.  The dots were punched from 1/16″ holly using a punch found at McMaster-Carr for leather, etc…  It works pretty well except the pieces get stuck a bit and have to be pushed through.  About 25% don’t survive being ejected.  I like this method better than using a homemade brass tube cutter as I think Steve Latta suggests because I find that fussy.  The petals are cut with a specific gouge.  From my survey I decided there were four progressively smaller sized bellflowers, so there’s some sorting to be done.  Then sand-shading which is always fun.  The top, inverted bellflower was cut with a jeweler’s saw and a 6/0 blade.

Now comes the fun part.  I know from past experience layout is critical.  So I was careful, hoping to keep everything well aligned.  In the end there’s one or two that wandered (or are “blowing in the wind” as it were), but you have to look for them.

Below is the sequence for inlaying one side petal of a 3-part bellflower:

  1. Tack down a petal with hide glue
  2. Trace with sharp knife (I use Exact #11 blade), being careful the petal doesn’t shift.
  3. Pry off the petal, then deepen the perimeter cut
  4. Using a chisel or small router plate remove the wood where the petal needs to recess.  As the bellflowers get smaller, the router plane would not work so I simply used a small, sharp chisel.  Eventually I reground a carving chisel to be very narrow for this purpose and it worked well.
  5. Lay in a little hot hide glue and insert the petal.  The goal is it’s just a little proud of the surface.
  6. Level with a card scraper
  7. Repeat

The center petal is essentially the same, though I had to wait long enough so I could level the work done before to make sure what I just inlaid didn’t move.  The two side petals must be laid separately first because they each overlap the other, then the center overlaps both.  I switched back and forth between the pieces, but I had to pace myself so glue dried a bit before making the next cuts.   It was obvious when I was impatient.

Inlaying a center petal:

Dots are easy.  I decided to use my trusty eggbeater drill to drill the holes.  I wish I had a brad point bit of the right size (5/32″) to improve the precision, but mostly the holes are centered.

I didn’t run a timer but using my average time I think the inlay along these sides took about 12 to 14 hours.  It’s a lot of standing.


I glued on the corners on next.  For the cabinet joinery I’m cheating a little and using liquid hide glue (Old Brown Glue); I like the open time and reversibility.  And it doesn’t mess with finishes quite like PVA glues.  There was the slightly creepy moment when I heard a pop as I tightened a clamp one extra 1/4 turn.  I can’t figure out what moved, but I haven’t found it yet.


Next up, the top trim (which is trickier than I thought), a fan, two knee paterae and some banding.  With any luck major construction of the case will be complete in a week or so.  It’s starting to look like the real deal.

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Standing on Bandy Legs

The holidays are over and finally I’ve been able to get back into my shop.  I did make a small Shaker carrier for the street Christmas gift exchange and one to spare (see Becksvoort’s piece in a recent FWW).  Oh, and my daughter has been bugging me to make her a pen on the lathe – and you can never make just one.  It’s been a while since I’ve done that.  The upshot is that between the holidays, preparation for same, and some December business travel it was some time before I could return to this project.

[Cue announcer] Previously on the Mason County Chest of Drawers….I had taken the carcass as far as I could, so it was time to build the apron and legs.  I can’t really call it a stand.

One of the features of this project which is thought to be distinctive are the “bandy legs” which are a riff on the cabriole leg.  In the exhibition catalog, this was one of the features that tied all the chests of drawers, desks, and sugar chests together.  It’s sort of like the illegitimate love child of a cabriole leg and a french foot.  Part of the fun is the leg is solid wood that must blend into veneered aprons and be seamless.   That means the joinery needs to be pretty close to perfect.  Beyond that, the solid wood case and the veneered apron are completely flush, separated by a banding, meaning more precision.

First I made some patterns for the apron pieces.  These are taken from tracings of the measured original.


Next I milled the pieces for the aprons and veneered them.  I veneered the blanks and then cut the tenons.  No pictures were taken – I must have been in the “zone”.  After that it was on to making the legs.  The mortises were cut first, and then the leg was shaped.  I decided to use the drill press to rough out the mortises and then chopped the rest with chisels.  There’s not a lot of room for error on these so some precision was needed.


Cutting out the leg shaping.  What did pre-industrial craftsmen do before the bandsaw and blue tape?


The center two legs below have been shaped, and the outsides legs below are rough off the bandsaw.  The finished leg is somewhat squarish, so I was fairing the curves and rounding it off.  I left just a little fat on the top above the knee just in case for blending to the apron pieces.


One more task before glue-up.  Along the aprons there’s a piece of veneer all along the edge.  For that I used 1/32″ holly veneer.  It was very hard to tell how thick it was on the original due to wear and just how much had fallen off.  I had to make the tool below to follow the edge; it’s similar to a guitar purfling cutter but with a single blade.  It turned out well enough for this job. It’s hard to see in the picture but there’s a blade and a parallel rounded brass bar that followed the curve.  A little scraper clean up, and then I glued in the stringing in the mini rebate.


Next I assembled the legs and aprons.  The tenons were placed as far out as I dared (they are not centered), and mitered inside where they would have bumped into each other.  To reinforce the joint, since the tenons are not very deep, I draw-bored them; the side aprons on the inside where which is hidden once the front/back aprons were added.  The front and back are also draw-bored right through the face; the front pin will be hidden behind some marquetry and the back is, well, the back.  I have no idea if it was done this way but it’s the best way I could figure to reinforce this joint.

I added glue blocks on the back side (like the original) to reinforce the joint, clamped the assembly onto the carcass, and tuned up the solid wood sides – it was pretty close. It took just a little leveling of the legs above the knees.  That was tricky with but just a little time with a shoulder plane, block plane and a scraper.  I added the knee blocks (fillers to make the cabriole leg flare up and transition to the apron).



I also made the banding that goes between the carcass and apron but there’s a fussy detail between the marquetry and the banding, so that waits a bit.

Next up: 34 very precise bellflowers on the canted corners.  Should be a blast.  But until those are done I can’t trim up the drawer blades and the rest of the carcass.

Until next time….

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