I’m strictly a mortise-and-tenon sort of woodworker. But some years ago, when Chris Schwarz wrote his tool chest book, I decided to learn how to cut dovetails. Chris Becksvoort has nothing to worry about, that’s for sure. But I can work my way through them. It’s the only furniture work I can think of that I do sitting down, except maybe seat weaving.
Sometimes I get some odd species of wood across my bench, and then I undertake some “different” furniture. Today I started in on 2 sliding-lid boxes. Below is a small box assembled, in leftover Spanish cedar (Cedrela odorata). It takes chip carving very nicely. The stacked up pieces are butternut (Juglans cinerea), headed for a larger version. The plan is to include a hidden drawer on this one, like I did a few years back https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/2017/07/03/chip-carved-box-for-bowl-gouges/
Here’s the older one, in tulip poplar. I know I started it in 2014, not sure when I finished it.
This is the cedar one – I have come to the conclusion (many times) that softer woods are harder. To work, that is. One false move and you’ve blasted the thing to bits. This one looks like it will make it. More chip carving to come, then a pine bottom & cedar lid.
This is as far as I got on the butternut today. I ripped and planed these boards to a shy 3/4″ thick, and trimmed them to 7″ high by 22″ long.
So tomorrow I’ll pick up where I left off. I do have some oak furniture to make, but the white oak needs to wait just a bit longer…
One of the parts we dealt with the other day in class was the drawer construction. In the chest we’re making, the sides join the drawer front just with a nailed rabbet. It’s stupid that I wrote “just” – as if I’m apologizing for some 2nd-class approach to drawer-making, because it’s not dovetailed. The fact is most English (including New England) drawers in this period are rabbeted and nailed. Even when the side-to-front joint is dovetailed (and nailed) the rear is rabbeted. And they work just fine. No more excuses and apologies. here’s some period drawer details.
Because I’m going to show some rough & tumble sort of drawers, I thought I’d compensate by showing some nicely-made ones too. We’ll start there. A drawer from a chest made south of Boston, c. 1660-1700. Half-blind dovetails join the side to the front. Nailed too, those aren’t added later, they’re the real thing. Bottom nailed up to the sides and rear, toe-nailed into a rabbet in the drawer front. Groove in side engages a runner let into the inside of the chest framing. “side-hung” is what this drawer construction is called. All of the drawers I’m showing you today are side-hung.
Even with dovetails at the front, the rear is rabbeted & nailed. Same drawer.
A rabbeted side-to-front. Nailed. Bottom in a rabbet too.
Now let’s get to where it’s at: these 2 drawers I photographed at Yale University’s Furniture Study. the cupboard they come from might be New Haven or Guilford, CT. Bottoms run parallel to the drawer front. Single board on one, multi-board on the other. Drawer sides were too thick for the nails, so were cut down where they rabbet into the front. Drawer front is thicker at its bottom edge than at its top edge, remnants from riving wedge-shaped pieces from the log. Turned pulls fit through the front and are wedged inside.
These drawer backs are thin, really like a riven clapboard. Dressed (planed) on the inside, rough outside. Nailed & pegged in some cases.
for contrast, here’s the front of one of those drawers.
These two are from a Boston chest of drawers. Showing the contrast between the front & back. Finished molded decoration on the deep drawer front, the back of the shallow, smaller drawer is almost just as it came out of the log.
Here’s a chest with drawer from Ipswich Massachusetts, same time frame. No drawer pulls. No rail below drawer. No framing on the side of the chest covering the drawer. How’s that for simple?
Usually the drawers are full-width of the case. Here’s two side-by-side drawers. With one removed, you can see the runner set in the muntin in this case. The other runner is set in the stiles at the other end of the drawer.
These runners are not anything special. Notches are cut with a saw & chisel, the runners set in. Often toe-nailed too. (this one is not)
As I was picking out pictures, I saw this one & don’t remember seeing drawers done like this before. The drawer front/side is notched – you can just make it out in the top right in this photo. No drawer rail below. I’ll have to go look at this one again, it’s right down the street from my house. Make locally, same period, mid-to-late 17th century.
while in England, a few times in conversation I mentioned a well-known court record, attempting to resolve a dispute between the Carpenters’ Company and the Joiners’ Company. The City Aldermen issued a decision in 1632 that outlined who-makes-what. I first heard it referenced in Benno Forman’s work I think; but I found a lengthy (full length?) version in a history of the Carpenters’ Company. here’s what I have. Typos are mine.
the source is B. Jupp, An Historical Account of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters, (London, Pickering & Chatto, 1887) appendices B and C, pp. 295-302
September 1632…Committees formerly appointed to heare the differences between the Company of Carpenters and Company of Joyners London did deliver into this Court a Reporte in writeing…
According to an Order of this Honoble Court of the last day of May…we have called before us as well the Mr and Wardens and others of the Chiefe of the Company of Carpenters as the Mr Wardens and others of the Chiefe of the Company of Joyners and diverse tymes heard the matters in difference betweene the said Companyes and the reasons and Allegacons on either side produced And doe Certifye to this Honoble Court our opinions concerning the same as hereunder followeth vizt
That these workes next following doe pperly belong to the Joyners
Impris all sorts of Bedsteads whatsoever (onlie except Boarded Bedsteads and nayled together)
Item all sorts of Chayres and stooles which are made with mortesses or tennants
Item all tables of Wainscoate Wallnutt or other Stuffe glewed with frames mortesses or tennants
Item all sorts of formes framed made of boards with the sides pinned or glewed
Item all sorts of Chests being framed duftalled pynned or Glued
Item all sorts of Cabinetts or Boxes duftalled pynned glued or Joyned
Item all Sorte of Cupboards framed duftalled pynned or glued
Item all Sorte of presses for wearinge apparell Mercers Silkmen Haberdashers Gouldsmiths Millenors or Napkin presses being pannelled duftalled pynned or Glued
Item all Sorts of Wainscott and sealing of Howses and setling made by the use of Two Iages (PF:gauges)
Item all Sorts of Shopp Windows that are made for ornament or beautie which cannott bee made without Glew
Item all Sorts of Doores framed pannelled or Glued
Item all hatches iaged framed or Glued
Item all pewes pulpitts and seates with the Deskes belonging to them framed pannelled or Glued
Item all Sorts of frames upon Stalls being framed or Glued
Item all frames for picturs Latesses for Scrivenors or the Like
Item all lyning of Walls or frering for Wainscott
Item all signe boards of Wainscott or carved
Item all worke whatsoever already invented or that hereafter shall bee invented being made by one or two iages with the use of all manner of nayles
Item all carved workes either raised or Cutt through or sunck in with the grounde taken out being wrought and cutt with carving Tooles without the use of Plaines
That all Coffins made of Wainscott but if they bee made of other woode wee conceive fitt that the making thereof be left indifferent either to the Joyners or Carpenters
And these workes following doe properlie belong to the Carpenter
Imprimis all Drapers Tables, all Tables for Tavernes Victuallers Chandlers Compting house Tables and all other Tables made of Deale Elme Oake Beeche or other woode nayled together without Glue except all sorts of Tables either nayled framed or glued being moveable
Item all Sesterne Stooles washing Stooles bucking Stooles and all other Stooles whatsoever that are to be headed with Oake Elme Beeche or Deale and footed with square or round feete Except all framed stooles glued or pinned
Item all sortes of frames [forms?] made of Elme Oake beeche or deale heads with Square or round feete or with feete of Boards or planks with sides of boards to bee nayled or braded soe as they not bee turned feete
Item the Laying of all fflowers of Elme or Oake except such floores of Elme or Oake as are grobed (PF: grooved) which wee conceive properly to belong to the Joyners and if the floore bee of Deale wee conceive fitt that the workmr be left at Liberty to make choyce whether he will have a Carpenter or Joyner to lay the same
Item the dividing of ware-houses and Chambers and other roomes unwainscotted and unpannelled with slitt or whole deales or any other materials Wainscott excepted and except all pticons grooved glued battened or framed
Item the Shelving of all Roomes unwainscotted and unpannelled with Seates and bracketts except worke in Studdies which wee conceive fitt to bee left indifferent to both Companies
Item all Signe Boards not made of Wainscott not glued or carved
Item we conceive fitt that the setting up of all Pillars or ballasters for lights in a particon of what wood soever if the particon be made by the Carpenters doe belong to them but if the particon bee of the Joyners making them do belong to them
Item all Galleries in Churches and other places unlesse of wainscott or pannelled or Carved
Item the shelving in a Kitchen with Racks for Spitts and other Racks for hanging upp of furniture except all peeles
Item the laying of plates and floores for pewes in Churches if they be Laid with Oake or Elme but if with deale the the worke mr to bee at his Choise whether he will have a Carpenter or Joyner to lay them
Item all frames of Skreenes for halls or other Roomes not made of wainscott glued carved or pannelled
And lastly wee think fitt that the Iage be indifferently used by the Carpenters soe as they use the same in the making and perfecting such worke only as before expressed to belong unto them and not otherwise all wch nevertheless wee leave to grave Judgements of this Honoble Court
the humble Peticon of the Mr and Wardens of the Company of Carpenters London…
May it please your honor and worpps to be informed by us…that wee conceive…That theis workes hereafter following doe properly belong unto the Company of Carpenters and not any wayes unto the Company of Joyners which are not formerly expressed in the reporte
Imprimis the building erecting and repairing of all manner of howses & edifices whatsoever of any kinde of timber whatsoever
Item the framing and setting upp of all manner of timber windowes that stand or are to stande in howses built of stone brick or timber.
Item the making and framing of all manner of staires that are to be done of timber board or plancks
Item the making of all manner of penthowses
Item the making and setting up of all manner of postes and seates at gates or Dores
Item the making of cases and plancks for Cellar Dores
Item the making of bulkes or stalles
Item ythe making of all cases for the enclosinge of cesternes
Item the making and setting up of all manner of sheds and hovells
Item the layeing of joysts and planking of stables – And making of racks and mangers
Item the boarding and weatherboarding of howses shedds and hovells
Item the making of all manner of signepostes
Item the making framing and setting upp of postes railes and ballesters in gardens, Leades betwixt houses or elsewhere
Item the making of all mantletrees tassels and footepaces of timber
Item the making of all manner of pales
Item the making of Wharves Camshedds Cranes & bridges of timber and piling and planckinge of foundacons for Wharves and Bridges
Item the makinge of ladders stocks cages and whipping postes
Item the making of poncoiloises
Item the making of frames and stocks for bells and making of bellwheeles
Item the making of all manner of presses made of timber or plancke for Clothworkers Hottpressers Chandlers or any other the like
Item the making of all manner of traughts (PF: troughs?) for Bakers or other professions or for conveyance of water and all manner of truncks for bringing in of light into mens howses shopps or warehouses as also the making of all manner of truncks for Jackwaights or conveyance of water
Item the making of porches and making of lattices and barrs for Taverns and other victualling howses
Item the making of banquetting howses and Arbours of timber or boardes and postes and seates in gardens
Item all manner of or Turretts or Lanthornes to bee sett on Churches Steeples Halls or elsewhere being made of timber
Item the setting up of all Hattmakers plancks
Item the makng and layeing of all manner of beare Joysts Stillimgs & Scantlyngs for Vinteners Brewhouses Victualling howses and in or for anye other howses whatsoever
All which workes wee humblie desire to be allowed unto us the Carpenters as aforesaid being meerly Carpenters worke and done in his mats worke in his howses at Westmr and elsewhere by his mats Carpenter And wee are still charged for the working and pforming thereof and not the Joyners
The Company of Carpenters humbly desire this honorable Court that theis Artickles reported for the Company of Joyners may be altered and qualified for the reasons hereunder and before mentioned vizt:
To the tenth artickle reported wee answere that all Shopwindowes have alwayes belonged unto the Carpenters (except of waynscott) and not unto the Joyners. To the eleaventh that all sortes of Dores whether battoned or unbattoned (except Dores made of waynscott) belonge to the Carpenters and not the the Joyners. To the twelveth that all hatches (except made of waynscott) belong to the Carpenters and not to the Joyners. To the sixteenth that all furring of walls and flowers belonge to the Carpenters. To the eighteenth there is almost noe carpenters worke to be done but they may and doe use the Iage and nailes both in invented and to be invented which being allowed to the Joyner they will doe any Carpenters worke. And therefore wee desire that that article maie be soe qualified & explaned that the Joyner shall not intermeddle in the Carpenters worke. To the nyneteenth the Carpenters saie that they have alwaies used to have the Cutting of postes at Dores, and for staires and to stand in gardens or grassplotts the cutting of ballesters hances tafferells pendants and piramides and the Joyners have not done the same except they be of wainscott.
Also for the Carpenters to be altered for the reasons followinge in theis artickles in the reporte
To the first all tables in that artickle are moveable (and the word except nailed) to be left out for wee cann make none of them without nailes. To the second and third wee cannott make bucking stooles cesterne stooles washing stooles nor formes with square feet but they must be framed and pynned together with pynns which is excepted against the Carpenters. To the fourth the layeng of flowers with oake elme boards or any other boards whether grooved drawen or layed otherwise is Carpenters worke and have ever byn layd by the Carpenter. To the ninth galleries in Churches or elsewhere cannott be made without groovings and being pannelled and the postes to be cutt by the Carpenter. To the tenth all peeles not made of waynskott have alwayes belonged unto the Carpenters. To the eleaventh the layeing of all plates & flowers in Churches of what wood soever doth belonge to the Carpenters. To the twelveth skreenes in halls or elsewhere cannott be made without grooving and pannelling and glueing of some pannells and yett have ever byn made by the Carpenters as witness the making of all ancient skreenes.
I haven’t been just goofing around. I have started several things in the shop. One of which is resuming my dovetailing practice. It’s not a joint I have used much over the years; but I have done several in the past two years. The 2nd toolbox is well underway; I started the sliding trays the other day. This time in pedestrian tulip poplar. Oak clapboards for the bottoms.
Cutting dovetails is much different than my usual mortise-and-tenon work. Much less physical. Here’s the deep drawer for the chest of drawers I’m working on. I pin the drawer front to the bench with a holdfast in the bench’s leg.
Last year I bought a knife & awl from Dave Jeske at Blue Spruce Toolworks http://www.bluesprucetoolworks.com/ . When I ordered the tools, Dave asked me what wood I wanted for handles. I said it didn’t matter…but was pleasantly surprised when I opened them and saw oak!
But dovetailing ain’t like mortising. The chopping is about the only time I sit in the shop. Feels funny. Back to mortising next week…
speaking of joints “blind in one eye.” It’s a big drawer, about 10 1/2″ deep, by 36″ wide. I’ve made smaller chests! Pine front, oak sides. The front gets moldings & turnings. First, it’s off to Matt’s class this weekend…to learn moldings from someone who actually knows what they’re doing. http://www.lie-nielsen.com/documents/Workshop13_Bickford(April).pdf
Here’s the help, laying out carving designs on the next batch of spoons. They were like a hurricane; blew in, a bit of a concentrated frenzy, then gone to the next thing. Spoons soon.
last year I finished this walnut chest. I was way out of my league making it, but it came out generally OK. I was left with a bunch of walnut leftovers…so many became parts of my tool chest. The main tool trays within the chest are quartersawn walnut that I resawed from the 1” thick stuff.