This chest, although fairly simple looking, was quite an involved build. Let me take you through that process.....
Step One is sketching ideas. I do this free form in a sketchbook just letting the ideas fly. Once I zero in on a concept I'll do a scaled drawing. Below is an example of a scaled drawing of The Walnut Chest. Here I'm employing traditional artisanal 'square and double square' drafting approach. Its a great way to nail appealing proportions.
I buy all my lumber rough sawn. At the point you see below, I've already visited my supplier, hand picked the best pieces, and rough cut them up into 'parts'. This part of the build is important because the dimensions of the finished pieces must be correct, and the grain colour and pattern must also be matched up to make for an overall appealing finished piece.
Next I mill all the lumber into 4 square flat planks. From there they either go into some kind of joinery, or they are laminated to make panels.
I put the designer hat back on and plan out the dovetails. When you are handcutting dovetails, you have the option of customizing the layout of the tails. For this project, I employed a unique pattern where the tails are smallest at the top and bottom, and biggest in the middle. The theory here is that the stress on the case is biggest at the edges (top and bottom). Therefore to add joint strength to the case, you increase the glue surface area by packing in more dovetails. To harmonize this concept I designed the pattern ascending toward the middle until while successive tail adds one unit of space. So the first tail is one unit, next tail is two units, next tail is three units, next tail is four units...all the way to seven units, and then back down to 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. It is a functional pattern that looks cool and adds strength.
Once the panels are glued up and cleaned up, I start to work on the dovetails....
Ok now the main joinery of the case is finished and I could move on to some other parts.
The panel style lid means that a large glued up panel sits in the frame of the lid. The lid frame is dovetailed (like the case), and grooved to accept the panel. The panel is then rabbeted to create a tongue to go in the groove. For this panel, I went with a slow long curved top to ease the squareness of the case overall.
I made the floor of the chest out of solid walnut. In order to do so, I had to guard against wood expansion. For those who don't know, wood expands and contracts over the course of the year. In Southern Ontario, we had wild humidity swings: as low as 15% inside in the winter, up to 100% in the mid summer. That means that a floor panel could expand as much as 1/2" or more over the year. So, when designing the floor I had to make sure that there was a place for the movement to go. Otherwise, the floor would blow the case apart mid-summer. i decided to made some tongue and groove planks that would maintain a solid floor, but be able to grow and shrink with the seasons. Complex woodworking projects involve not only aesthetic design, but also functional engineering.
I decided to go with an integrated handle to maintain the monolithic look of the chest. I milled out the handle from the front rail of the lid. I used a quick and dirty jig, and it worked out!
On the interior of the box, i needed to create removable panels. The client wanted the option of dividing up the storage. I came up with an idea to use magnets to allow a good hold, but non-permant division.
One final operation to make the mortises for the sold brass lid stays...
And below the nearly finished piece before sanding and finishing.
So at this point I'm thinking "almost done', and although that is fairly true, I still need to do final sanding and finishing. That probably took 8-10 hours! Not fun work, and work that usually is completed by an apprentice. But, in my one man shop--I do the sanding--and it was perfect!
And that does it! All finished. I included many steps in the build, but not all of them. Custom furniture is a very involved process. Especially when doing commissions where everything is unique and one of a kind. I love this work, but it does take time.
Thanks for following along! Check back in the future for more builds. Check out more finished photos of this piece in my furniture section here