Sunday, March 17, 2013

[Apothecary Chest] Mitred Dovetails

Mitred dovetails are also known as full blind, and they are tricky. The actual dovetail joint is not the hard part, once layout is really understood. I had to do about six of them before I could intuitively mark and cut the layout without confusion or uncertainty, and even then I still cut on the wrong side of the line (despite it being labelled). So why go through the trouble? Well, it is fun. If you are into that sort of thing.

Here is a sample joint showing what I am after: a frame-and-panel unit with mitred edges, pillowed corners, and no fasteners. Tails are oriented so this unit has strength when lifted, as it is meant to be portable, like a suitcase.

The method I have been using for marking involves creating a template which is used for both the pins and tails. It takes a great deal of care to mark properly, aware of orientation and which face is the reference. The actual cutting of the joinery is not so different than a half blind dovetail, I use a scraper with teeth cut into it to he define the rear corners. Skewed chisels are useful, too, but since the joinery is not visible, it can actually be a little ugly and narrow waists  on the tails are to be avoided so that larger chisels can easily fit.

For me the real difficulty is simply is sculpting the perfect mitres! It should be as simple as marking the 45 degree angle line, and working to it while checking for lumps with a bevel gauge. In practice, it is a finicky process and I have yet to feel that I really command it. Each one is improving, and that is the point.

My inspiration for this work is the apothecary chest on the cover of this book:

Unable to source (or to afford) vintage medicine bottles, I have secured some modern bottles suitable for herbs, teas, and the like and will be using those as my design module. My chest will only have one drawer in the center for simplicity, and this will itself be built with half-blind dovetails, which will feel like a breezy vacation after this. 

Here is the start of the rough draft. My over abundant and redundant labeling may appear like too much noise, but I have been needing all the help I can get when rooting through a pile of boards in a crowded, noisy shop full of distractions and tight on personal space. The location of the tape, cabinetmaker's pyramids, and english labels like "UP" all conspire to help keep me on track. I only mess up sometimes now, instead of often.

Soon the panels for front and back will be created and set into grooves, and then shelves will be inserted. This will start to look like something. I hope.

Note also the miniature anarchist's tool chest in the background. Not mine, but it has been a pleasure to consult and watch it go together.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Side Table

School has kept me very busy!  This is a good thing. For patient readers, updates are forthcoming, but in the meantime, I made a side table:

It is made largely of cherry, with a maple drawer front which came from a tree in my yard in Oregon. The drawer sides are poplar. I added complexity by including a lower shelf, which doubled the number of tenons involved. The lumber was milled using a power planer, but was finished with hand planes and all the joinery was done with hand tools. Finish is 3 coats of tung oil. This project was great fun and I look forward to building a second. This table was designed using the human form as a module, and proportional design throughout. At no point did I measure in terms of inches or meters, this is just "hip high" with whole number ratios driving the rest of the concerns. The chunky style is based on deconstructing a dresser we have, and imposing harmonious rations upon it. Smoothing the curly maple drawer face was an adventure, but I have learned a lot about sharpening and it was well worth it!

I am now in the midst of my final project, and I will have more to say about that soon.