By Bob Rozaieski
I need some additional storage space in my 7′ x 13′ shop, however, space in my shop is at a premium. At the moment, every inch of floor and wall space is occupied, except for a 14″-deep area behind the door. Options for this spot are limited, but a traditional chimney cupboard should be the perfect fit.
It’s not clear if chimney cupboards are so called because of their tall, narrow, chimney-like appearance, or because they were frequently placed in the narrow space next to a fireplace. In fact, it’s highly likely that the term is a modern description for something that was simply called a cupboard.
Whatever you call them, these attractive cupboards are great for adding storage in narrow areas such as hallways and behind doors where a larger, deeper piece won’t fit. Their simple, sturdy construction also makes chimney cupboards great projects on which to practice traditional joinery methods that go together fast, but last for generations.
Quick & Easy Case
While many period cupboards were assembled with complex, time-consuming dovetails, this is not one of them. In simple terms, it’s assembled with dados and nails. This type of construction is sturdy and economical, and was quite common in utilitarian pieces of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Start by planing the front edges of the sides straight and square to their inside faces. The front edges and inside faces will be the reference surfaces for marking and gauging because that is where the joinery will be. With the reference surfaces true, cut the side boards to their final length and ensure the top and bottom ends are square to the front edges.
Place the two side boards on the workbench, front edges together, inside faces up and bottoms to the right. To keep the sides aligned, nail battens across the top and bottom. Place the bottom nails in the area that is cut away for the feet and the top nails where the top rabbet is cut.
Measure 4″ from the bottom of each case and nail on a straight, square fence to guide a dado plane for cutting the bottom dado. Be sure the bottom of the case is to your right so the nail holes are under the dado where they will be less visible. (If you are opposed to the nail holes being visible in the finished piece, you can clamp the fence down instead of nailing it.)
To cut the dados for the shelves, the most efficient hand tool is a well-tuned dado plane. At the front of this plane is a scoring iron that scribes the sides of the dado to the appropriate width (3⁄4″ in this case). The rear iron is skewed specifically for cross-grain work and peels up the material between the scribe marks, leaving a smooth, flat bottom. The plane also has a built-in depth stop so it stops cutting once the desired depth is reached (3⁄8″ in this case). To use the plane, hold it vertically against the nailed-on fence.
Once the bottom dado is cut, the interior of the case is divided into upper and lower sections. Divide the open space between the case top and bottom shelf into five equal parts using a pair of dividers. The bottom section is equal to three of these parts and the top section is equal to two of these parts. This locates the center of the dado for the shelf that separates the top section from the bottom section. Offset this mark 3⁄8″ toward the bottom of the case to locate the bottom of the dado. Nail your fence at this location then plane the dado across both cupboard sides.
Repeat the process by dividing the space in both the top and bottom sections into three parts to locate the centers of the remaining dados. Offset the marks toward the bottom of the case by 3⁄8″ to locate the bottoms of the dados then plane away.
Blog: Visit the author’s blog for more on period work and working by hand.
Blog: Read what the author has to say on mortising techniques and dado planes.
Web Site: Are your saws dull? Bob Rozaieski offers an excellent sharpening service.
In Our Store: “Traditional Country Furniture,” by the editors of Popular Woodworking.
From the June 2013 issue #204
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