Cedrela odorata

We took a few days for a trip to Maine; went to the Common Ground Fair and generally bumped around. Now back in the shop, I am getting ready for the next round of workshops, mine & otherwise. Connecticut Valley, Plymouth CRAFT and then Connecticut Valley again. But I squeezed in some time on the chest of drawers before our Maine trip and again yesterday.

Here’s before, from the previous blog post:

And now after making and installing a slew of moldings on the lower case. Makes a huge difference:


All these moldings are made from Spanish cedar, which is not from Spain and isn’t a cedar tree. Its scientific name is Cedrela odorata and it’s part of the same family as mahogany. Spanish cedar, or Cedro, grows in Central and South America. It’s not even a soft wood, although it is very soft. It’s a deciduous tree, losing its leaves during the dry season. Cedrela is semi-ring-porous:

Some of the stock in the period chests in Boston was riven, see the lower rail inside this chest of drawers:

Riven Cedrela

I typically use local woods; oak, ash, white pine, a few others. I am using Cedrela here because of the study I did of the Boston chests of drawers that used it back in the 17th century. It’s amazingly nice wood to work, but is considered “threatened” – the next step on that chart is “endangered.” https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/32292/68080590 – so I won’t be buying it again. This whole project is an environmental time bomb – next up on this project is another troubled timber – East Indian rosewood, a dalbergia species. Yikes.

Now, onto the work I just did on the lower case. When I have a few feet of molding to make, like on a typical joined chest, I use a scratch stock. When I have dozens and dozens of feet and many different profiles, I get out Matt Bickford’s book and go to town. https://lostartpress.com/products/mouldings-in-practice

Matt’s work breaks down any molding into a series of rabbets and chamfers as guides for hollows and rounds. It’s a very methodical approach that works very well, with some patience. The bulk of the work is preparation; the hollows and rounds come in right near the end for all the glory. Here, I’m using a fillester plane to begin setting out some rabbets to remove the bulk of the stock.

It’s hard to see with all those shavings on the bench, but the molding is pressed against a long board that is fixed in place by a holdfast. Maybe 2.

I missed photographing the chamfer that set out the bearing for running this hollow plane. Now the molding is pressed into a “sticking board” – a ledger strip with a stop at one end (in this case, a screw that can be driven higher or lower to stop the molding from shifting forward under the plane.)

this is the base molding for the lower case, it’s 2″ thick by maybe 2 1/2″-2 3/4″ high. A whole series of rabbets provides support for running a large round plane to make a sweeping concavity.

here’s the round plane working down those rabbets until it blends the whole series together.

You can see some of those moldings on this lower case; I have yet to make the base molding for the sides. One more drawer rail molding will go in between the middle and upper drawer next time I work on this project. They’re glued on right now, and the larger ones will get square wooden pins driven through them as well.

A few more moldings to go, then comes turnings.

7 thoughts on “Cedrela odorata

  1. I read the Bickford book, I think in practice it would make sense, but to just read it as an amateur, I went cross-eyed. This huge base molding is so much work. I keep looking for older chunks of exotics for you for knobs and pilasters. On the Chipstone Boston cupboard, Peter Arkell copied the big uppermost knobs on the Yale chest of drawers with doors but made them out of walnut crotch or burl. In early Pennsylvania furniture, you’ll see walnut drawer fronts with big damned knots in them, which I suppose they considered decorative. Another source to investigate is walnut roots, if I could locate a windfall walnut where it as turn out of the ground. In the period, I think they called anything from the buttresses down the root. That rule of thumb would not work for cypress, because the buttresses go halfway up the trunk. Hence those 1950s clocks made of a cross-section of cypress, or maybe mangrove?

  2. Have you tried carving Spanish cedar? I got enough at a local woodyard to make a medium size box and am thinking about carving a simple fan on the lid.

  3. Ahhh! Spanish cedar. I use to buy it wholesale at 500 board feet packets. Used it for windows, exterior doors, sills, jambs, and casings. Wonderful exterior wood. It resists rot and termites hat it. I once had a visitor call it “Brazilian pine”. He had been in the 2nd. world war and saw a lot of it in shipping crates. It is like pine when kiln drying it. If you don’t cook it right and set the pitch, it bleeds sap and gets sticky. It has good working character. Saws well, planes well, turns and carves well, etc. etc., and paints nicely.

    • I was not aware that it exudes a pitch-like sap when freshly cut. I don’t think it has abrasive crystals like some tropical hardwoods, or Western sawyers would refuse to let it in their mills. I’m thinking of one reddish East Asian wood that not only has crystals, but is poisonous. Peter has avoided some tropical hardwoods because of the poisonous sawdust.

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