Monday 9 July 2018
The brief was for two similar chests of drawers, one 4ft wide, the other 3ft wide, two bedside cabinets and a laundry box. The clients had decided the number and arrangement of the drawers in the chests and most of the general measurements of all the pieces.
Our cottage is furnished with my own work and doubles as a showroom, so I was able to display examples of different designs, timbers, and finishes. It was not practicable for me to visit their London home so I tried to get an idea of the type of decor the finished pieces were going to. I would judge their preferences of style and design by their reaction to my display pieces and photo album.
A 7-drawer chest in a bedroom caught their attention and that combination of timbers was decided on. They also liked a woven ash panel in the door of another cabinet, photo 1so we decided to include woven panels in the bedside cabinet doors and the front of the laundry box.
As we walked round I pointed out various details like plinth arrangements, handles and pulls, chamfers and rounded edges, noting their reaction and whether or not to include it in the final design.
They preferred rectangular handles to turned pulls and asked me to come up with a suitable shape, photo 2.
The designs were kept light and simple with the carcasses in sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) and just the drawer fronts of the chests in fumed oak (Quercus robur). The door panels of the bedside cabinets, and the front of the laundry box, were woven panels also in fumed oak.
A curved inset plinth was applied to all the pieces, the curve of the plinth being reflected in the inside edges of the rectangular door and drawer handles. The tops of all the pieces were chamfered on the underside of the overhanging edges, again to lighten the effect.
The cabinets were fitted with three shelves.
An acrylic satin finish was chosen to keep the creamy colour of the sycamore and reduce yellowing.
The designs and prices were accepted and the project began, starting with the bedside cabinets were constructed.
I had a great deal of trouble finding good-quality 1in-thick sycamore for this project. I like to select all my timber personally and I found what appeared to be an ideal batch of nice sycamore, in the right dimensions to avoid wastage, at a local wood yard. However, when the timber merchant and I checked the stick marks we found that they had stained deep into the wood, making it useless to me.
I could not find any satisfactory 1in-thick boards so in the end I bought some nice one and a half inch-thick boards of kiln-dried sycamore and some fine 1in boards of kiln-dried quarter-sawn English oak.
All the sycamore and oak for the whole project was marked out and cut, slightly over size, to length and width, starting with the larger pieces and working down to the smaller ones. Where possible the sycamore pieces were then deep-sawn to thickness so that the extra timber was kept as thin boards suitable for future panels or drawer casings, rather than turning it into shavings in the planer.
All the cut pieces were faced and thicknessed, then sticked and stacked in my warm dry workshop to condition during the making.
The woven panels are cut from oak strips, and the technique for this is detailed right.
The panels for the sides, tops, shelves, and bases were made up from carefully matched narrower pieces, edge jointed together.
Once the glue had set the panels were cleaned of glue ooze with a scraper plane, photo 3, and belt sanded to 150 grit, photo 4.
All the components were then cut to exact sizes.
The sides were marked, photo 5, and biscuit slots were cut for the shelves and base. A housing was cut for the sycamore faced MDF back to be glued into, photo 6. Another housing, photo 7, was cut on the router table to accept the end of the plinth, and a stopped housing was cut in the top edge to accept the wafer to attach the top.
The fence adjustment on the router table was made using the Trend depth gauge, which I find invaluable, photo 8.
A curve was marked, photo 9, on the bottom face of the side and a curve cut on the bandsaw to form the plinth cutaway. This curve was finished with a scraper, photo 10.
Shelves and base
Biscuit slots corresponding with the slots cut in the sides were cut in the ends of the shelves and base, photo 11.
On the under face of the base pockets were drilled, the Trend[pocket hole jig being used to drill for reinforcing screws, photo 12.
Using the biscuit jointer, a stopped housing was cut in the underside of the top to make the wafer joint between the top and the side, photo 13. Wafers are rectangular loose tenons of compressed ply in 300mm lengths, the same widths as biscuits.
Another stopped housing was cut to take the top of the MDF back that would be glued in.
Next, the underside edges of the top were chamfered. I have in the past removed the bulk of the waste in this process very carefully on the surface planer with the top guard removed, or with a hand plane. One method is really too dangerous, the other time-consuming hard work.
I have tried Erbauer power tools from Screwfix in the past and found them good value for money for tools that do not get heavy use, so I decided to try their reasonably priced power planer. It was a quick, safe and very satisfactory method of removing the bulk of the waste, photo 14.
I finished the job with a hand plane and random orbital sander, photo 15.
Back and plinth
The curved plinth insert was cut to size and shape and sanded down to 150 grit. A piece of sycamore-faced MDF was cut to size for the back.
A random orbital sander was used to finish all the components down to 180 grit, then they were hand sanded down to 240 grit. All the components were given three coats of satin acrylic floor varnish on the inside faces, photo 16, denibbing between coats with 320 grit. The biscuit slots were masked with tape.
The carcass components were laid out, photo 17, and glue applied to the biscuit slots and housings on the inside faces of the sides, the biscuit slots in the ends of the shelves and base.
Biscuits were slotted into place and the carcass, including the back, clamped up, photo 18.
All was checked for square and the reinforcing screws driven into the pockets in the underside of the base, photo 19.
When the glue had cured, the outside faces of the carcass and the under face of the top were hand sanded and given three coats of varnish.
Glue was applied to the wafer slots in the top edges of the sides and the underside of the top, wafers inserted and the top clamped on, photo 20.
The rectangular handles were cut from oak, the backs rebated to make a finger grip, and a curve cut on the inside edge. This edge was sanded to a finish on a drum sander attachment, photo 21. The edges were rounded over with an eighth of an inch radius cutter on the router table, photo 22.
The completed panels and handles were placed in a sealed container with a saucer of ammonia 890 and left for a few hours to fume. The workshop was well ventilated and eye and hand protection worn while handling the ammonia.
After fuming the pieces were left in a well-ventilated place to make sure all the residual ammonia had dispersed. It can cause grey stains on sycamore.
The ends of the warp and weft strips were trimmed so that they would fit into the prepared housings in the frame pieces. Glue was applied to the Domino slots, Dominos inserted, and the frames assembled.
When cured they were trimmed to size and fitted to the carcass in the usual way using brass butt hinges and ball catches.
All the components had been sanded and varnished as far as possible prior to assembly. All that remained now was to sand and varnish the top face of the top and check over the whole piece, remove any marks or blemishes and buff with a soft cloth.
I enjoyed making these pieces. The close-grained sycamore finish was silky to the touch and the woven panels were an interesting detail. More importantly, my clients were delighted.