Multi-Drawer Cherry Chest


A cabinet in naturally finished cherry is going to be striking, whatever the design and size.  It is just such a wonderful wood to work with and rewards the woodworker with a second bonus:  the color darkens and picks up even more character as the piece ages, sort of like a fine vintage wine.

                                       
This small cabinet I built to learn some new cabinet construction skills, has developed a rich patina, as cherry does over a period of time. Having an ample supply of this lumber, I've wanted to do more with it, tossing around ideas, looking for something worthy of the wood. I have often eyed some Shaker chests by Christian Becksvoort--one of the contemporary masters of the style and am drawn by the brevity and simplicity of his pieces. I finally settled on a chest of drawers, but added a bit of a flair to the legs (some would say, Shinto style) in order to break up the square, boxy look.

CherryCab                   ShintoCabDimensions
These SketchUp images give me the ability to model the finished scaled piece in a 3d rotation--a fabulous tool to give me some perspective to work with. I also took advantage of an article (FWW# 141) by Becksvoort that demonstrates an easy, foolproof set of calculations for doing graduated drawers accurately. There being so many drawers in this piece, the size and spacing of them is critical to the overall design.

ShintoLeg    LegsAndRails
I made a pattern for the leg by bending and clamping a thin batten on edge on the face of a 2x4 until I got what I thought was an acceptable shape. I then traced the curve on the 2x4 and then cut it out with the band saw. From a photo of the pattern scanned into SketchUp I was then able to incorporate the scaled leg pattern into my drawing.

ShintoLeg    LegsAndRails
I used double tenons for the blades to gain some additional strength for these small parts. I also put a divider stile into the back of the case in order to divide up the back panels into smaller, more manageable pieces, with less overall seasonal movement.

ShintoCabParts
By my last count, this chest was already up to 75 individual pieces (before glue-up), excluding of course the drawers and top. That is probably a new piece record for me, even though I’ve built much larger items. Because of the 11 drawers of different sizes and all of the runners, kickers and dividers, how to deal with all of those pieces at glue-up and how seasonal wood-movement will impact the finished case must be given careful consideration. These were items that I had not given a lot of thought to when designing the piece, but were now confronting me head-on when looking at the reality of gluing up such a complex case. While SketchUp allows you to do some incredible modeling in almost any perspective and zero-in on the look you want at design time, at some point you will need to engineer all of those pieces into a manageable glue-up. And, of course, SketchUp doesn’t care about seasonal wood movement. These were lessons I learned on this piece, and will certainly pay closer attention to these kinds of details with the design of my next piece.

PlaneLegs  Bottom
After cutting the dados in the legs for the side and back panels, the curves were scribed onto them from the pattern and then cut on the band saw. Most of the cleanup was then done with a smoothing plane and cabinet scraper. All of the drawer runners and kickers are mortised into the front rails/dividers and into the back center-stile. While most of these joints will be glued at assembly, the connections with the back panels fit tightly and will not be glued to allow for seasonal movement within the oversized mortises. This will also somewhat simplify the glue up process, while the case will still be stoutly held together by the back center-stile glued joints.

PlaneLegs  Bottom
I tried to look at each part of the case with the possibility of gluing up some of the items separately and then adding them after the initial case assembly. Of course the 2 side panels and the entire back panel could be glued up separately, applying the glue sparingly only to the center of each panel tongue where they fit in the upper and lower rails. This would allow the panel to move seasonally within the grooves of both the center stiles and legs. I constructed the drawer vertical dividers by attaching the front-end vertical piece with a biscuit and then grooving the back center stile and ends of the dividers for a biscuit. In this way, the entire divider assembly could be added later after initial assembly. Although these dividers run horizontally within the opening, I made then a little less than the exact opening height, so as to allow them to expand seasonally.

PlaneLegs  Bottom
Finally, the day of reckoning with the glue-up process arrives. Will this go as smoothly as it can, what with all of the thought and planning I tried to put into this moment, or will disaster strike? With the help and steadying influence of my lovely wife (“Help Me Wife, There Are Many Pieces!”), all went well. I glued up the front panel with all of the drawer horizontal dividers separately the day before and made sure it was square. I had also previously glued the side panels into the back legs. All of the interior pieces (kickers and runners) were numbered and a dry fit trial-run seemed to indicate that the best assembly process would be to put them place with the case on its back and then attach the front, starting at the bottom and working up. We each manned a side on the case and mated each piece with its mortise(s), gradually squeezing the front onto the sides and runners. Then we flipped up the case, checked for square and added the clamps. It all went swimmingly.

PlaneLegs            Bottom


ShootingDrawerFacesShootBoardDrawerFaces
Before starting the construction of the drawers for this chest, I remembered an article in Fine Woodworking (FFW #224) on simplifying the steps to well-fitted drawers. Because there are so many drawers (of several different sizes) in this small chest, I thought I might look at expediting the building process though learning some new techniques. All of the information in this FFW article is helpful, but what was really a new idea to me was fitting the drawer faces to the openings before actually constructing the drawer. To do this, I had to build a new shooting board (something I’ve considered doing for awhile) in order to accurately plane the drawer edges (tops, bottoms, and ends). I was able to utilize by Lie-Nelson #164 plane for most of this work, but having a plane designed just for shooting now has crossed by radar for another possible acquisition.

ShootingDrawerFacesShootBoardDrawerFaces
The rear dovetails on all of these drawers will be simple thru-dovetails, generally with only two pins being sufficient but adding an extra as the drawer sides increase in width. Although I will cut off the very bottom of the drawer back even with the top of the dado made for the side to slide in, I leave the dados in the back so as to insure accurate layout of the dovetails. I begin by marking the tailboard and cutting it out using the 1 in 7 jig previously made for the band saw. Next the tailboard is chiseled out and cleaned up in order to overlay it on the pin board for accurate tracing of the pins.

ShootingDrawerFacesShootBoardDrawerFaces
The two boards are overlaid with the pin position accurately traced onto the pin board and then marked down to the line for cutting with the handsaw. I’ve tried several dovetail saws including a very nice Lie-Nelson, but I seem to get the best results with this Japanese Shinwa Dozuki, which like most of these Japanese saws, start cutting on the back stroke. This is probably the hardest part of cutting dovetails for me, and this saw really helps. Next, I clean up the ends of the pin board buy cutting it very close to the line with the band saw fence.

ShootingDrawerFacesShootBoardDrawerFaces

Image at Appomattox Courthouse Marking Dovetails
Cutting a rabbit and marking the dovetails.

I read an article in Fine Wood Working (FFW# 219) on simplifying construction of half-blind dovetails. Having labored through all of the hand work before, I thought I give a try to some new techniques to might make things a little easier and a little quicker. The first step was to cut a shallow rabbit in the tailboard in order to make the alignment easier and more accurate when tracing on to the pin board.

Image at Appomattox Courthouse Marking Dovetails
Next, using my trusty Lie-Nielson 1:7 dovetail marker, I mark the tailboard and cut the tails using a 1:7 jig for the band saw. This gives me nice straight cuts perfectly perpendicular to the saw table.

Image at Appomattox Courthouse Marking Dovetails
I chop the waste out of the tailboard with a sharp chisel and trim the ends very close to the marking line using the bandsaw.  Next I will pare down the remaining small amount on the ends with a sharp chisel.

Image at Appomattox Courthouse Marking Dovetails
Before tracing the tailboard onto the pin board, I like to take a small amount off the back of the board with the block plane. Then, when marking the pin board, the knife will slightly under-mark the tailboard. At worst this might cause a little more chisel work to get the perfect fit – but it is always easier to remove more wood than to try to add some back. It seems to help where my half-blinds are sometime most deficient: slight gaps between at the ends of the tails. I started doing this about halfway through the half blinds and the latter joints are definitely tighter.

Image at Appomattox CourthouseMarking Dovetails
Having the shallow rabbit across the tailboard definitely helps with the alignment for tracing onto the pin board. I clamp the two together and make my marks with a sharp xacto knife and then mark the waste carefully so as know which side of the line to cut on (only need to do that once – that sinking feeling, as Timothy Rousseau so aptly put it when a mistake is made).

Image at Appomattox CourthouseMarking Dovetails
The pin board is clamped into the simple jig I built from instructions in the FFW article and checked with a square to be sure it is perfectly flush with the top edge.

Image at Appomattox CourthouseMarking Dovetails
I use a trim router set to the depth of the tails to remove the waste near to the scribe lines.

Image at Appomattox CourthouseMarking Dovetails
Using my Lie-Neilson chisels, I finish cleaning up the pin boards.  These chisels make it easy to get into the tight corners next to the pins.

Image at Appomattox CourthouseMarking Dovetails
The dovetails fit almost perfectly after cleanup with the chisels, requiring little in the way of paring.

Image at Appomattox CourthouseMarking Dovetails
With having to build eleven drawers, I found this method of building half blinds to be a real time saver.  The piece was finished with several coats of wipe-on tung oil finish, sanding between coats with up to 400 grit.



                           
This cabinet won the Grand Champion Ribbon at the Northeast Washington State Fair this past fall.

Thanks to all the judges.


 
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            Jim & Rori Draper
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             Rice, WA. 99167

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