Friday, December 14, 2007

Drawer build (2)...

I've been busy building the dovetailed drawers. At this time, I have seven of eight drawers fairly complete (new,updated photo, all eight done). You can see the parts for the last one in the photo along with the completed drawers. Not long into the process, I developed a rhythm and the dovetails came along a little quicker than at the very beginning. This is one of those techniques where you need to keep practising otherwise the skills begin to lapse. If the saw cuts are placed correctly, or to use the expression "split the line"... the tails and pins go together quite well and snug. I hardly bother to test fit the tails and pins together, just apply glue and tap them together. You can usually tell if there is going to be a hangup in the mating process simply by aligning the pins and tails and pressing the two together with a little pressure. Another important consideration in the dovetail process is to make sure the baseline of both the tails and pins is aligned and parallel to the edge of the boards.

The drawer bottoms need to be measured, cut and inserted next, they are simply pinned at the bottom of the back of the drawer.... this allows the drawer bottom to be removable and replaceable if necessary. There is more than sufficient strength for the drawer bottoms as they are located within a groove on the sides and front of the drawer.The drawers are very lightly oiled at this point and I'll apply wax to them later on in the finishing process. The drawer fronts are for the most part, quartersawn or rift sawn grain orientation, this allows any expansion and contraction to occur in the thickness of the drawer front, and also creates a more stable drawer front. Quartersawn oriented grain also allows the drawer fronts to remain fairly snug in their respective drawer opening with hardly any movement in height, this maintains a consistent reveal around each drawer opening. Each drawer will also be lined and have removable drawer inserts forming small compartments within the drawer. The drawer fronts slowly become darker and the contrast with the drawer sides becomes more enhanced.

I need to begin designing and creating the drawer pulls next. The drawer pulls will be mortised into the center of each drawer front. At this time I'm leaning towards rectangular pulls with a small tenon which fits into a small horizontal groove in the drawer front. I haven't decide whether to use blackwood (original design) or a more subtle wood. I need to take into consideration the fact that the cherry slowly darkens over time, changing the contrast with the drawer pull.

I've been looking forward to seeing these drawers in their drawer openings, it gives me a sense that the completion of this armoire is not far away. Some of the next steps are the completion of a stand for the jewelry armoire, some detailed decorative work time permitting, and of course the finishing process. All this will occur within the next few days.

We need to brace ourselves up here, a huge winter snow storm is on its way and should arrive here this Sunday. Winter doesn't technically begin until next Friday, Dec. 21, but we're well into it already. This contrasts with a relatively mild winter we had last year. I also can't believe how close Christmas is, seems like it was autumn just a short time ago.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Drawer build (1)...

The drawer build is slowly coming together. I've set up a sequence to ensure that any steps are not skipped in creating a drawer. For example, I create the grooves for the drawer bottom after making the half-blind dovetails at the front of the drawer. The grooves are created just prior to glue-up. If I create the grooves before the dovetails, the tails are considerably weakened and fragile due to the groove. The nice part is that the groove is completely housed and does not therefore need to be a stopped groove. Some of the other steps include hand planing the surfaces of each of the drawer components. Each drawer is individually fitted to its compartment in the drawer case. The drawer front is marked and cut first as it needs to be a nice, snug fit. Each of the drawer sides is then marked, measured and cut accordingly. The heights of each of the pieces are similar, I hand plane them to ensure they are exactly the same height.

All this in preparation of creation of the dovetails. Marking the pieces also becomes very important at this stage. Each of the outside surfaces and the orientation of the pieces are marked, as in the photo. I've made a small change to the dovetails partly due to a suggestion to a blog reader and partly to strengthen the joint. The tails were fairly large in the mock-up with little pin surface area. I am concerned with the tails telegraphing through the drawer front, so I reduced the size of the tails slightly leaving more wood in the drawer front pins. In the photo, the top drawer has the new dovetail layout.

I use a few tools to make these dovetails as in the photo, most of the chisels used are visible and I keep them sharp with repeated honing during my work. I also have a few more measuring tools than necessary, the duplicates are merely to keep the measurements for making the tails handy. At the the right in the photo, a dovetail jig is partially visible. I use this mostly to orient the tail and pin boards for precise marking and chiseling.The drawer sides are slightly proud of the drawer front edges and I hand plane them down afterwards. During the glue-up, I check and re-check that the sides are perpendicular to the drawer fronts. Later on, I install the drawer backs and drawer bottom for each of the drawers.

Creating and assembling the eight drawers is a bit time consuming, and patience is a necessary virtue here. What I have done is to create the sequence I mentioned above and make sure everything is correctly and visibly marked to avoid any mistakes. So far, so good.
There is nothing quite as satisfying as bringing a dovetail joint together after a few taps with a mallet, well at least in the woodworking world. Hopefully, in the next post I'll have the eight drawers mostly complete except for the drawer pulls, of which the design I haven't finalized yet.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Dovetail layout...

I've spent some time in the past day or so working on an optimal dovetail layout for the eight drawer fronts. Since the height of each drawer is approximately 1.75 inches, this doesn't leave much room for multiple dovetails. After some consideration and sketching of layouts on some precut cardboard, I decided on a layout comprising two tails and somewhat narrow pins. I feel this looks elegant and has sufficient strength for such a small drawer. The tails are housed within the drawer front, also known as blind or lapped dovetails, and in doing so, do not take anything away from the appearance of the face of the drawer fronts. I went ahead and mocked up a sample dovetailed corner with the exact dimensions of the drawer height and the sizes of the components. This mock-up allows me a better feel for how the drawer will look in the drawer case. In the photo, the mock-up or sample drawer corner has a cherry front and alder for the side.

I haven't decided which wood I'll be using for the drawer sides just yet, my criteria is to have a striking contrast with the drawer front. It isn't visible in the photo, but I have also created the grooves for the drawer bottom in the mock-up. The process of laying out dovetails involves locating the drawer bottom groove on the tail and pin board. The groove, in this case .25 inch, is completely contained within the lower tail. This both simplifies the process and does not introduce any issues with overlap of pin and tail with the groove, possibly weakening the joint.. Therefore, consideration of where the drawer bottom groove is located is part of the layout process for the dovetails.

I'm glad to have gone through this exercise and in the process also have the exact measurements with precise settings on my tools to be able to replicate these dovetails. I create the tails first, then use the tails to mark out the pins. I now have two marking gauges preset to the correct depths of both the drawer side and drawer front, I use a divider to mark the dovetails.

Next I will cut and prepare the parts for the eight drawers paying careful attention to the grain orientation of the drawer fronts. I'll also prepare extra components for a complete drawer as extra insurance against any mistakes. The nice part about this process is that every drawer is fairly identical and therefore the initial layout and measurements apply to each set of drawer components. In my next post, I'll have everything laid out and marked and hopefully partially complete.