For Revati Prasad
Inside: Floating Shelves, Hooks and doors
Floating Boxes and Door Boxes
Drawer and its handle
And so it was that a gentle inquiry became a fully blown project. Those faithful words, “what do you think this would look like here”, led to goggling a better alternative and a sketch pad quickly revealed an even more perfect design. Brian brought this cherry with him from Portland, so I joined the rough cut boards as we worked on his tool box. Sometimes projects catch wind at unexpected times, with a pile of other projects, including a rather large blanket chest occupying valuable space, I set to work to build a jewelry cabinet worthy of holding trinkets and treasure, gold as well as flee market finds. Revati has been learning the craft of jewelry making and silver-smithing, which means she is amassing a collection of rings and earrings in need of housing. Armed with new skills, and an eye for style, Revati upped the box into a whole new class by hand fashioning the drawer pull.
In a way I feel like I designed the piece twice! During my Christmas vacation to the Caucuses, my mother and I watched these great videos on sketch-up. Sketch-up allows you to design three dimensional models and figure out all the problem areas before stock is even cut. It’s actually sort of fun. Not as fun as woodworking, but what is? Hopefully all of that work lead me to design by principle more than by instinct.
Wouldn’t it be nice if I cut my joints that tightly! It’s funny to look back at this months later and see the modifications and alterations along the way.
Cutting the dovetails to hold together the main body. This particular cherry was fairly soft and a delight to work with after the pounding through Brian’s hard maple tool chest.
I did lots of marking on this project.Driving from my parents’ new home in Picton to Toronto, I meandered along the county road past an array of farms and antique shops. I was actually looking for a froe but instead found a mortising gauge at an honestly named store: “dead people’s stuff”. The mortise gauge is scoring a line for a 3/8 tenon – I will slice off both cheeks with a saw and than chip out the material with a chisel. My other marking gauge is scoring a straight line which I deepened with a chisel in order to insert the shelf. By cutting with the knife first, I ensure that I get a clean cut line.
Fitting in the shelf. Since the dado (fancy word for a groove) that holds the shelf in will be visible – its critical to get them snugly fit together.
Revati imposing her will on the coping saw to add the voluptuous curve to the shelf. The shelf got a little extra curve when we cut the half heart shape on the wrong side of the board and ended up adding the “s” shape to the other side. I actually think it looks lighter this way – just like maple candy and corn flakes – another case where messing up leads to wonderful innovations.
I got some dovetailing tips from Richard Gordon and tried my hand at mitered dovetails – notice how the shelf connects to the”s” shaped piece at a 45 degree angle but is still dovetailed. If it takes a minute for you to figure that out – don’t fret it takes me a good 5 minutes of second-guessing every time I attempted it. Like geometry problems which arise in the shop I have to sub-contract someone else to think it out.
The shelf will hold a wonderful ceramic earning holder that I got at a pottery studio in Madison County.
Apparently I am hardier than glue – as the polar vortex and cold snaps only stymied the effectiveness of one of us. It was so cold in my shop – I ended up biking the carcass to the warm confines of my home for the glue up. My roommates looked on curiously as I coated dovetails with the sticky stuff at the kitchen table.
Step Two: Floating Boxes, Drawers and Fittings
Why did this project take so long? Cause I spent a lot of time on this end of my panel saw ripping stock to a whole bunch of sizes thinner than 4/4ths of an inch.
I ripped a piece of 1.5 inch Ambrosia Maple that Richard Gordon gave me into two 1/2 inch pieces. The blue streaks are the products of beetles who bore into the wood. On the coldest day of the year, Cat Jacques and I cut through the board, stripping layers as the heat of sawing overcame the cold wind blowing through my shop. Next I used a scrub plane to do the preliminary flattening and cleaned up a bump from our poor sawing. Scrub planes have a convex blade and wide mouth; the true journey men of the 19th century wood shop. Lastly, I used the jack plane to flatten the board, displayed here are some shaving with the blue streaks.
Testing! Since I actually don’t have any idea what goes in a jewelry box – Revati is giving her collection a trial run – form will have to follow function.
In order to keep track of which pins lined up with which tails, I named the sides after players from the gold medal winning men’s and women’s Canadian hockey team. If you happen to be a member of the gold medal winning hockey teams and don’t see your name on one of the front six joints, don’t worry, Szabados, Perry, St.Louis and others your names are probably one of the six inscribed on the back.
So here is a secret. I have no idea what the red wood in the door faces is. I got it as part of a mixed pack – anyone have a guess? Also the dovetails on the doors turned out really nicely, with a single kerf (or saw cut) form the point of the pins. That is hard to do. In order to ensure symmetry I tried to cut the dovetails for the boxes simultaneously this turned out to be not so great; It was too much wood to cut precisely, and I ended up straying from my line. Suspending the boxes from the pivot hinges turned out to be hugely difficult. I eventually had to forego trying to get the boxes to rest flush by setting them on a stray board where I could ensure they were squarely adjoined, rather than fitting by hands, tools and faith into the tight confines of the box.
Step Three: Doors
I used the door as an opportunity to push my skills – I tried a bunch of new things including a raised panel door, and four mitered dovetails. One mitered dovetail is a challenge – but having four meet at perfect miters is the challenge. It all looks great as long as you don’t look too closely.
Yeah, I suppose drinking a bottle of whisky and serving as a human hold-fast counts as helping. I am not sure how I am going to lure her back to the shop now that I am moving on to other projects
I got the courage to try a raised panel after observing the masters at the colonial Williamsburg joinery shop. I don’t think all of their visitors stare with quite as much intensity as I did. I used a rabbet plane to cut a groove around the board (thanks Shawn & Andrea). This established the line which I cut to, as well as ensured I had a nice fit into the door frame. The rabbet plane has an attached fence and is a joy to use. I used a knife to establish the profile of the raised portion. Next I rehabilitated a wooden skew rabbet plane and attempted to plane an angled profile into the the face. I actually had success with both the skewed rabbet and the standard rabbet plane; the former was made in the last century and the latter a 100 or so years before that. I’d like another shot to get more even faces – but that will have to wait for another project. The wooden skewed rabbet plane is set in place with a wedge – which I delicately adjusted until the plane was taking off some pretty wonderful shavings. Clara generously lent me the board which became the front face – the deep contrasting line down the board was just calling out to be put on display.
To increase the amount of storage, the door has about an 1.5 inches of depth. I made three cherry boxes which are fastened to the door to hold earnings, and other such knick-knacks. Revati loves knick-knacks – and loves them most of all when they are stored out of sight. The boxes are mitered and then I cut a groove for a spline to reinforce the joint. The photo above shows wood splines glued into the corner of the boxes. I cut the overhang with a flush saw into thin slivers reinforcing the joint. I got on a roll when working on this – I glanced at my watched and realized that it was 4 am, – five hours or so after I should have been in bed! Megan Woods both conceptualized and executed a series of holes in these boxes allowing a wire to be strung for earnings.
Step Four: Finishing
Like a lot of woodworkers I typically hurry past finishing. Usually I rub a coat of oil on the piece and get back to the saws. I wanted to up my game here so spent some time reading about different finishes. I eventually settled on shellac. Shellac comes as hard chips (a product of beetle) which I dissolved in alcohol and applied with a wad of padded cloth. The finish was rich, but didn’t highlight the color contrast between the cherry and maple that I had wanted. All things said, I return to oil with a new sense of determination. After three or four coats of shellac – I hand rubbed two coats of polyurethane. I wanted to give the shellac an extra gloss as well as a layer of UV protection in addition to the natural protections provided by her dark urban apartment. As it hung on the wall Revati applied a coat of paste wax.
This project pushed me. I tried a bunch of new things and spent a lot more time designing with pens and paper than graphite and cut wood. Not everything turned out as planned; for one I didn’t guess how far I would come on this project.