Co-Project With Brian, I had help from Adriana Kohler. For David Rae
In the endless struggle to find things for the person who doesn’t like things, Brian and I set forth to make David’s birthday present this year. So here I am cutting double blind dovetail joints. As you may remember from previous posts – dovetails have a mechanical advantage as well as large surface area which allowed even the poor glues of yesteryear to grip tightly. In my mind hand cut dovetails remain a standard of craftsmanship. And here is where David and me rub up against each other. If I am going to cut dovetails, I am going to pick the most contrasting woods I can find and place them as prominent as I can in camera reel as well as to ones feel. David’s humility in all things from his intellect to his generosity is understated but over sized and hence his appreciation of the double blind dovetail. By way of a quick primer, a standard dovetail can be seen from two sides, a half blind from only one and the double blind from no sides at all. For years David has cited the double blind dovetail in passing conversation, a joint with the intricacy of the dovetail but cut in such away it looks like a simple mitered corner to the outside observer. While I got some tips from the masters at colonial williamsburg, I followed this approach and can honestly say sometimes the things we build up as the hardest, in fact build up the easiest.
So here is the catch – neither Brian nor I want to cover our dovetails with glue and lose them for posterity. Brian devised a system of leather straps which holds the joints in tension – ensure the box remains stable but simultaneously allowing the piece to be taken apart and reassembled. The box is more like lego than Ikea – its got more than one assembly in it. All things said and done – the box actually holds together fairly nicely.
This chest is designed to hold tea. Even years after being in DC, David orders his tea from the shop down the street from our old house in Portland. Years before David and I both earned our keep doing iterations of statistics, we studied for our stats 101 exam together at Townseads, sorting out T-tests over the green variety. Even today as the afternoon wears on, David by habit and ritual avoids the coffee pot and makes tea. So this chest is designed to fit into that ritual and house six canister of townseads’ tea.
Wood selection mattered here. The wood forming the core of the box is yellow ceder that David and I purchased for making bentwood boxes for Brian. Turns out the wood was kiln dried and not particularly well-suited to that task. The top is a cedar tree which we salvaged from a trash heap a couple of years ago. One night David delayed walking home in the rain by spending several hours cutting the log into boards. The bottom is black walnut left over from our first dulcimer project. Although none of the woods are from DC, it is a good sum-up of his time here. Cedar is really soft, which made fitting the dovetails a lot easier – it also made it really easy to dent and hard to get the clean crisp lines you can achieve with a harder wood.
Brian and me took this project on together both through failed facetime requests, as well as a rather large delivery. I did the joinery, Brian handled, the tops, the leatherwork and the finishing.
Step One; Dovetails and Box Making, Me in Washington
Started with the fun part and plow planed a groove to serve as the bottom of the box. I love these shavings.
I established a small rabbet on either side of the boards. This will be the part which is not dovetailed and makes the whole thing invisible.
I used a chisel on a slight skew to cut the rabbet to a 45 degree angle. I am cleaning the joints to achieve an appeasing angle as well as a relatively flat floor.
I put Adriana to work for hours marking – and may I say she drew the most accurate lines ever cast in my shop. Here she is putting edges to work cutting a chamfer (an angle) at the top of the box to give the whole thing lightness. What a wonderful evening!
Ta-da. A blind-dovetail. With a little fine tuning we can got a tighter fit.
Step Two; Leather work, Lids and Bottoms as well as Finishing – Brian in Portland
At this point I am going to pass the torch to Brian (his voice in italics)– so he can recount his portion of the project
I sometimes feel like the band The Postal Service when doing joint project with Matt. The story goes the two members of the band would share tracks via the US mail in creating an album, one creating the music, the other the vocals. In this case Matt mailed me the joinery and structure while I finished it and added the leather accents.
I am always excited to combine my two favorite crafting medians, leather and wood. This one was extra special as the leather fills two critical roles. First, it divides the tea canisters making 6 spaces. Second it holds the work securely together. It would be a shame to have a double blind dovetail glued permanently, so we needed a solution to hold the box together. We decided on the leather which slides nicely through two mortises on each side. I’m fairly certain this is an original design!
The leather is a English bridle belt cut leather. I decided on the red colour in hopes of accenting the raw finish seen on the lid. I used a simple buckle system to give the leather enough tension to hold the piece together, but not too much to damage the woodwork.
The strangest thing about this project was the the leather work but staining the inside of dovetails and making them neat and tidy for display. I am use to hiding messes in my joints, luckily Matt did a fantastic job as the joints were relatively clean and tight.
The box newly assembled
A quick coat of poly-urethane on all the pieces.