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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Project Update

I’m not quite as far as I’d like to be at the end of the weekend, but pretty close.  First the box was dovetailed together.  Its impossible to know exactly how the original was assembled, but I’m 99.9% sure the top and sides are a half-blind dovetail.  I could see evidence of over-cutting the pins which one would normally do if making half-blind pins.  It’s possible the case is all full-blind dovetails but it seems very unlikely to me. That’s a tricky joint and there’s no reason it would be necessary.  So the top of the sides have tails, and the top is half-blind pins.  For the bottom joint, it’s the opposite: the sides are half-blind pins and the bottom contains the tails.  It works nicely with the parts that are hidden by banding.


Before gluing up the case, I needed to plow the dados for the drawer web frames (drawer blades).  See my prior letter to Mr. Schum(acher) who was a prior owner of the dado plane I used.  The interesting part about the layout was I played around and found that the hard measurements I took very closely matched the rule of thumb for graduated drawers, where each drawer is taller by the height of the drawer blade above.  So in this case, each drawer was 7/8″ taller than the one above.  I decided to use that layout method rather than the hard measurements – only a difference of about 1/8″ and I knew I had some inconsistencies because of the wear on the originals.

After gluing up (I used Old Brown and not hot hide) it was on to roughing out the canted corners.  I thought about making a jig to do it on the band saw.  The challenge is it’s a stopped cant, with a sweep to the hard corner.  I decided to try it with a draw knife, spoke shaves and planes.  It was easier than expected on a sample with really unruly grain.  I cut stop joints before the curve and then hogged off most of the waste with the grandpa’s old draw knife.  I wonder if he ever used it.  Then I carved the sweep with a chisel and cleaned it all up with a block plane, rounded spoke shave, and then a card scraper.


Layout and Stop cut


Roughing with a draw knife


Nearly done, just need to clean up

Next up was to make the web frames.  There are four of them.  The front is exposed so that’s cherry.  The sides and back are poplar.  The frame is built with mortise and tenon.  The back has a groove plowed in which is aligned with the mortise.  I don’t know if the cherry front is also grooved, so I decided to to it.  I think they used the groove to locate the joinery – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  The tenons are haunched on one side: I can’t tell if that’s what was done but seems like good craftsmanship.


Before cutting off the horn

So here’s where we are.  I need to wrap up the back of the web frames (8 more mortises) and then trim them for the canted corners.  Those won’t go on until the inlay is done.  Next I’ll put on the back.  Then it’s on to the leg frame.


Enough for tonight

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Dear F. Schum

Apologies if I got your name wrong.  It could be Schumacher I suppose if you abbreviated it, or maybe something altogether different.  Anyway, I have your 7/8″ Ohio Tool Co. Dado plane.  I wanted to you to know it went back into service today and performed very well.


A few years ago I bought this plane from a tool dealer.  A 7/8″ dado seemed a useful size and I didn’t have one.  But it’s sat on my shelf, waiting to be used.  I can’t recall what I paid but I’m sure it was in the neighborhood of $40.  I’ve done a bit of research and it’s hard to say how long ago you bought this plane new, perhaps in the late 1800’s or even the first part of the 1900’s. It looks like it cost less than $2.00.

Greetings from 2017.


To some it would be a surprise that anyone is using a wooden plane like this today.  In fact, it’s a bit uncommon for most people to build furniture at all.  Remarkably though, there seems to be and upswing in people making furniture, or at least we know about each other.  Maybe I’ll explain the internet some other time.  Some of us use electric power tools, some use hand tools, and still others use both.  I’m in the latter category for the most part.  I use power tools for some things, but more and more I’m using hand tools.

Another thing might come as a shock to you.  I make furniture for fun.  It’s pure speculation on my part, but I assume you made your living building furniture, casework, or performing carpentry.  We know that the furniture makers of the past were working for food; some think they were a few days from going hungry.  I don’t know if that describes you.  Today, we have time (sometimes) to pursue hobbies.  Woodworking and making furniture is mine.  Perhaps silly to you, but to me it’s enjoyable.  If you were around now, you would see that I could do worse things with my spare time!


I’m building a chest of drawers, and on the original the frames between drawers look to have been 7/8″ thick.  I can’t tell if they were grooved into the sides, but it seems a safe bet and solid construction technique.  So, that’s what I’m doing.   I didn’t have to do much to get your plane working.  The body was nice and straight.  I spent about 15 minutes grinding and tuning the iron.  Another five minutes was spent on the nickers.  I ran a test piece and it worked like a champ.

When I got to the carcass sides, I nailed in a batten and went to work.  It didn’t take long to make the dadoes.  Today, most woodworkers would use a table saw with a dado blade or a router and guide (routers are a bit different than the router you would know).  I decided to do it this way and I don’t think it took much longer than with a router.  I knew if I made a mistake it wouldn’t be nearly as disastrous as with a power tool.  And it sure was quieter to use the dado plane.

Anyway, I thought you’d like to know this tool is still working a century or more after you bought it.


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Mason County Chest of Drawers – The Materials

Since beekeeping isn’t going to work out this year, we turn to the main hobby and hope for better results…

This early 19th C piece is almost entirely cherry, likely from the region.  According to the descriptions in The Tuttle Muddle exhibit catalog and my own observations, the sides and top are solid, single pieces of cherry.  The top is thick – nearly an inch and the sides just a little over 3/4″.  The top seems to have a long split but it’s quite intact and I don’t think it’s where two boards join.  The bottom, since it’s hidden, was two pieces.

So this is one of the first problems – where do I find 5/4 cherry better than 22″ wide?  My local sources ended up dry.  When Midwest Woodworking was closing down, the wide cherry had already been picked over (I did look).  That left me with the various lumber yards in PA, where the cherry grows on trees.  I looked on Irion Lumber‘s site and found a matched table top set at 7-ft long.  Perfect for what I needed to make a top, bottom, and two sides.  Not cheap, but it turned out a fellow woodworker was stopping at Irion soon after I put out the call. He saved me a trip I didn’t have time to make.


The secondary woods seem to be poplar with a little cherry and even walnut hidden in places.  Poplar is my usual go-to drawer material, so that’s easy.  A trip to CR Muterspaw took care of that.

Now the hard part.  I have no machine that can flatten a 22″ wide board.  Of course there’s no way in hell I’m going to rip and reassemble as I’ve read some people have done.  So time for the Hand Plane Workout.  I’m pretty confident in my ability to four square a board with hand planes, but I’ve not done anything this big.


This board – it will be the bottom due to a small, tight knot, had some cup but not much wind.  I started by working down the two edges.  I started with the Jack, but quickly realized the lighter Scrub plane was a better tool for the job.   All this is working across the board.  It didn’t take long to work up a sweat.  Too much sitting in my day job.


Checking to see if I’ve removed all the wind in the board.  Look closely and you can see the scrub plane tracks.  I work the board across, and then on opposing diagonal strokes so I can see what I’ve removed and to sort of lower the board all together.


Next comes the fore plane to level out the high spots, then the smoother to get a near-final surface.  So above it’s flat and ready to turn over to do the other side.   It feels good to the hand with no ridges.  Edges are marked all around with a marking gauge for the final thickness, then I use the same process to get to the gauged line.  In the end, the board should be of consistent thickness.

When I finished both sides of four boards the chip and shaving pile was impressive – more than a large contractor bag’s worth.  I should have no trouble starting fires for a while.

Just don’t bring a micrometer to check for flat – it’s close enough for wood.  This ain’t the Space Shuttle.

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