cupboard project: upper case floor

floor to upper case

This afternoon I fit the floor boards into the upper case of the cupboard. They’re 3/8″ thick red oak boards I rived and planed a long time ago. Random widths, often tapered in width. They sit on rabbets in the front and side rails and on top of the lower rear rail. I started at each end and then filled in the middle. I have no idea how 17th century joiners went about fitting this sort of work. And I don’t bother speculating. I use matboard scraps from a picture-framing shop to make templates. Stiff enough to sit flat and thin enough to cut easily.

first template

After I got that first template fitting the way I liked it, I made the first oak board to do the same. Then cannibalized the template for the next piece, the one that fits around the front stile. I can’t remember how the boards in the original cupboard fit around the stiles. This notching was not too difficult, but maybe harder than it needs to be. (on the other stile, I split the board so the notch is on two adjacent boards – easier.) Because the rear panel is already in place, there’s no forgiveness in the length of these boards. They have to be right in their angles and their size.

template # 2

And this one was not –

a gap around the stile

That gap isn’t the worst thing – but I decided to re-do it. Because I knew I could do better, it was worth the extra piece of wood and the time. Rejecting that board left me with an odd-shaped leftover, but the upper case’s soffit has some funny shapes, so I’ll probably be able to use it there. Below is the replacement.

that’s better

Then it’s just more of the same. These boards have a V-shaped tongue and groove connecting their edges. This shows up in the drawer bottoms (and eventually that soffit I just mentioned) too.

V-shaped tongue & groove

Because the boards are varied and uneven widths, the angle between the ends and the edges is not necessarily 90 degrees. So out comes the adjustable bevel (I just got a new one from Blue Spruce a month before Lost Art Press/Crucible Tools started selling them, sorry Chris.) The opening between these two boards is wider at the back than at the front. In this case it doesn’t matter – the rear panel is already in place. Often you knock the tapered-width board in from behind and it forces things side-to-side.

getting the angle

Eventually it’s time to force the boards in place. Here I have one butted up to the other front stile. Because of the tongue & groove, you have to tip them in and press down in the middle of these two to get them in place.

filling in the spaces

I got them all in and then ran out of light. Next they get pilot holes and nailed down into the rails. Then I’ll be able to tip it over and show you underneath. Another time…

ran out of light

(pt 25 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

Cupboard assembly; part-something-or-other

Tab A into slot B

The upper and lower cases are fully assembled, but not connected. That comes later. Here’s what’s happened lately. I forget which came first. Let’s say it was the lower case. That might be right. In all the test-fits I must have tried about every way to put this together. I finally decided to make it simple. After the main body of it was pinned (a couple of weeks ago) what remained was the upper and lower drawer frames, connected by the turned pillars. Previously I had pictured this as a full unit. But what I finally did was attach the upper drawer’s stiles and rails – then insert the pillars and the shelf they sit in/on – then knock on the bottom drawer frame – that’s what’s happening in the photo below. To make that happen, I trimmed the bottom tenons on the pillars so they just engage the shelf and not those lower stiles. It still works – they’re trapped now.

final assembly

Before the lower case’s top can be pinned on, the soffit needs to be installed. It is a narrow thin piece of oak about 40″ long x 5″ wide. Sits on top of the rail above the recessed drawers and is beveled to fit into a groove in the overhanging lower rail of the top drawer. Then I’ll nail it down to the recessed rail. The one in the photo below is a reject. It’s actually twice-rejected. It was the shelf under the pillars – but it got too thin at one end and there was a gap between the pillar and shelf. So I replaced it, thinking I could make the soffit from it. But the holes for the pillars’ tenons show – so one of tomorrow’s tasks is to rive and plane a thin clapboard-like piece of oak to be the actual soffit.


Here’s where you see the soffit, when you drop something on the floor and happen to look up under the top drawer.

soffit above carved drawer

The upper case had fewer wrinkles. First I had to check my 20-yr-old notes for the tenon on the bottom of the rear stiles. 1/2″, set back 1/2″.

I knew what I needed then

I left that joint til assembly so it didn’t get knocked about in the shop. It’s only 3/4″ long, my notes weren’t perfect, they left that bit out. But it only needs to fit into the top boards of the lower case to keep the upper case from shifting about.

stub tenon

Then putting together the oddball shape. I pinned an oak strip to the bench to shove the case against to bring it together.

get in there

Then pinning the joints.

pinning the back joints

I started putting the oak floor boards in the upper case, but I don’t see any photos of it. So I’ll add “shoot floor” to the list.

(pt 24 Essex County cupboard project 2021)

There’s woods other than oak?

quartered maple

A question I get frequently is “Can I carve like this in woods other than oak?” The answer is mostly yes. I just answered this question on a youtube video comment – but thought I’d do so here because I can add pictures. So here goes, in no particular order. Above is a cutting board I carved in Norway maple from the firewood pile. It was riven radially, much like quartersawn wood. Carved like a dream. Even better than my favorite oak.

flatsawn white oak

There’s lots of woods this carving can work in; I have used red & white oak both quartersawn & flatsawn. My ratings for oak are – first choice is riven, quartered white oak, then the same in red oak. Dead straight and clear. Next is both of those as quartersawn boards. Then last, either one in flatsawn. But I probably wouldn’t use that unless there was nothing else available. I used to frequently carve it – the photo above has a panel and the large central muntin (with the initials) in flatsawn white oak.

black walnut

Same goes for black walnut – my preference is quartersawn. But I’ve used it quartered or flatsawn. I am not terribly keen on it, I find it hard to see my progress due to the lack of shadow – it’s too dark. But it carves nicely. Some swear by it.

My experience with maple is limited. I mostly turn it when I have it. But see above, the cutting board. I have never tried flatsawn maple. Not sure I’d want to, but I bet you could do it with some patience.

Ash works much like oak. I haven’t carved it much and don’t think I have a photo. But here’s a 17th-century carved chest in ash. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve seen this, so going on memory. But I think it’s right.

Wadsworth Atheneum

Once we had students do their practice carvings in flatsawn tulip poplar (not a poplar tree – Liriodendron tulipifera) heartwood – the sapwood is trash. Carved all right. Grain-direction switching problems as I recall but lots of flatsawn wood has that issue. I’m spoiled with riven quartered stock side-stepping that issue.

Alaska yellow cedar

I got turned onto quartersawn Alaska yellow cedar when I was up there to teach a class. It’s fabulous but soft – easy does it. But a look like no wood I know. I have some stashed that I’m planning on carving this winter. I feel guilty using it, the trees take hundreds and hundreds of years to grow…but I hear about people making decks from it. No comment.

I’m sure there’s more – certainly a couple I’ve forgotten – oh, yea blackwood in Australia and elm in Sweden. I don’t have pictures of those right at hand. I carved some white pine timbers on my workshop, but those were not the best quality.

carved timber

I’m not good enough to carve softwoods with a V-tool. I do OK with gouges in pine. Below is a cupboard door in the shop that I did in white pine with gouges – no V-tool at all. Worked fine.

in process

I didn’t do the lettering, Heather did – here’s that post:

Some of these woods need a more cautious approach than others. Try what you can get. Make adjustments as needed. Take a shot at it, there’s nothing to lose.

But oak – it’s still my favorite. Here’s a carving I kept (it’s a chair) that I really like. I don’t think I’ll ever do better than this:

my design in 17th-century style

No sooner had I posted this then the first comment came in, “have you carved butternut?” and I had totally forgotten it. Yes is the answer. Same caveats – I like quartersawn, but have carved it flatsawn too. Excellent wood for carving. Right in between hard and soft. Nice color. Nice wood. This one’s still for sale, $1,200.

butternut box

a carving video, Maureen’s Etsy shop and more

Maureen’s silk scarf

I’ll start with Maureen’s stuff. While I’m poking around in the shop, she’s in the house home-schooling the kids, running the kitchen AND creating various textile things in her spare time. Many of you have already been to her Etsy site and we’re very grateful. For those who are new – here’s the link if you’d like to have a look.

eco printed cards

The cupboard – it’s moving right along now, there’s no turning back. I haven’t posted much about it for a couple of reasons. Mostly it’s because the steps happening now are all jumbled – a little painting here and there, some fussing with the fit of drawers, then making a couple of moldings. The other reason is the color. The plan is to make the cupboard look like it’s not brand-new. The moldings and turnings are simple, they’re black. Linseed oil, black pigment and Japan drier.

blue tape, milk paint – what’s next?

The oak now has step 1 in its coloring – a very thin wash of milk paint (not a 17th-century method…) that looks awful until I then add a coating of linseed oil over it. But that doesn’t happen until the moldings and turnings are ALL applied. So for the time being, it looks like mud. But today or tomorrow I plan on assembling the upper case – that’ll be a big job so it will get a blog post all its own.

Next up this morning – We finished another carving video to go with set # 2 of the drawings.

carved rosettes

As you see, it’s a row of rosettes. The linked circles are called a guilloche. A popular form with a lot of options in the midst of the circles. This is just 3 versions. After the cupboard’s done I’ll shoot the more complicated videos – 2 panels and some strapwork. That will finish set #2. Both sets of drawings are still available –

Set # 1 is 4 pages, 24″ x 36″ and there’s a whole series on youtube of the carvings in it. Set #2 is 5 pages, same size. Here’s today’s video

applied turnings

applied turnings

First off – great turnings on the original cupboard I’m copying, and a great photo by Gavin Ashworth. There’s a really stupid debate among maybe 4 or 5 idiots about how these turnings were made. I used to get involved. No longer. Here’s how I made them on my pole lathe. Start with the maple blanks, glued up with a center strip between them.

making turning blanks

The function of the center strip is to engage the points of the lathe – and to keep said points away from the glue line. Way back when I turned a glued-up blank without the strip – it blew up before I was done turning it. The points are wedge-shaped. Tighten the blank in the lathe & stand back.

Here’s the centerpoint in that oak strip.


And then onto the lathe. The photo below is from one of the many other times I’ve written up this same subject.

lathe points on center strip of turning

The turnings are beyond my actual ability, but I can wrestle my way through them. This batch is 1 3/8″ in diameter, about 7 1/2″ long. I leave a section on one end to wrap the cord around.

easy does it

Then time to steam them so the hide glue lets go – this time of year there’s a fire in the stove most days. And when the stove is running, there’s always a pot of water on top of it to keep the shop from getting too dry. So I just rest them on the rim of that pot.


When they look like they’re opening up, I take a chisel to begin the split at the extra bit on the end. But I didn’t get the chisel in the photo.

starting the split

I don’t want to do the whole job with the chisel. It can be too wedge-ish and break the turning at the thin bits. So I switch to a thin knife – in this case a filthy putty knife.

coming apart

It’s a lot of fun getting a batch of these together. There’s eight of this pattern on the lower case of the cupboard.

two of eight

and they get painted black.

one set of turnings

there’s lots more of these to do. All different profiles, but lots of turning to come. Here’s a short video of peeling them apart.

(pt 23 Essex County cupboard project 2021)