Arts & Mysteries: Sweat the Details
by Adam Cherubini
This article is part three in a series I’m doing on boarded furniture. If you are new to the series, boarded furniture is a style of case construction prevalent in early America, but largely ignored by we modern woodworkers. It is defined by the use of nails instead of dovetails or mortise-and-tenon joints. Built by part-time woodworkers or carpenters, these pieces typically reflect their builders’ lack of time, tools and deep-pocketed customers. Successfully reproducing the charm and integrity of these pieces requires us to capture the subtle details, being careful not to overdo it. In this article, I’ll finish up the little cabinet I’m making. In the process, I’ll focus on the details that make this style special.
Beveling the underside of an overhanging top is a common detail. You’ll see it on boarded furniture, certainly on modern furniture and it’s fairly typical of Shaker furniture. Let’s call it a poor man’s cove moulding. It provides a transition between the vertical element and the horizontal elements. Additionally, it lends gravity-defying lightness to the top. It’s easily accomplished with a sharp jack plane.
Mark the edges of the bevel with a pencil. I marked about 1⁄2″ down from the top through the thickness. Then mark the bottom surface about 1″ in from the edge. Plane until you hit both pencil lines – no fence required. Plane the bevels perpendicular to the grain first, being careful not to split out the wood at the end of your stroke (called spelching). Cut the long-grain bevels only after both cross-grain bevels are done. Remember this simple technique; we’ll use it again to make the panels.
Nailing the drawer together is fast and effective. Making it by hand requires the same precise stock preparation techniques that you’d use to make a dovetailed drawer. And because there’s a lot more to drawer making than simply cutting dovetails, I think this drawer is a great opportunity to refine your drawer-making skills.
I began making my drawer by sawing out the front. I fit it to the opening to within 1⁄16″ or so, just as I would with any fine piece of furniture. The ends of the drawer front must be rabbeted for the sides. I sawed the rabbets with a tenon saw. The inside bottom edge was rabbeted to receive the drawer bottom. I cut that with a rabbet plane.
I resawed stock for the sides, splitting 3⁄4″ stock into 5⁄16″ pieces. I don’t structurally need thick sides. And I think the thin stock makes the drawer look a bit more refined. Frank Klausz once criticized one of my pieces saying I should have softened the tops of my drawer sides. “Make them nice for the hand,” he said. He was right. Like the bevel under the top, once it’s brought to your attention, you find it where you hadn’t noticed it before. Almost every 18th-century drawer I’ve examined since has rounded-over drawer sides.
From the June 2012 issue #197.
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