SHAKER BLANKET CHEST
Date Constructed: November 2005 to March 2006
Lumber: Cherry (planed to 3/4")
Dimensions: 41" wide x 20" deep x 40" tall
Outside of cabinet — Boiled linseed oil (3 coats) and carnauba wax (3 coats)
Inside of cabinet — Unfinished
I have admired the Thos. Moser Shaker Blanket Box design for years. I decided in November 2005 that this was a project I'd like to build myself. At first I was going to build a one-drawer chest just like the Moser design. But then I decided I wanted a taller piece, so I modified the plan and added a second drawer.
This was by far my most challenging project to date. As a result, I gained a tremendous amount of skill and knowledge during the construction of this chest. Thanks to the vast knowledge of the members who participate in Woodnet.net forums, I could always get my questions answered quickly and thoroughly.
What I Learned:
Drawers — If you look at the picture of the Moser blanket box, you'll see that the drawer front was the very piece of lumber that was harvested from the chest's front panel. This is a nice touch, having the grain continue from the drawer front to the main panel. I very much wanted to incorporate this interesting design element into my piece.
My very first question for the Woodnet.net forum members was "How do you do this?" Think about it: You've got a big panel glued together, and you need to remove a rectangle of lumber with a very narrow kerf (you wouldn't want a huge gap going around the drawer), and you need to cut that rectangle out of the middle of the panel without damaging the panel or the drawer front piece, and you want the corners to be perfectly square and sharp. My first idea was to use a plunge router, but that wouldn't provide sharp, square corners since the bit is round.
The answer is to rip the panel apart after you've glued it together. I know, this sounds drastic, but it's the only way. You rip all the way across the panel where the drawer tops and bottoms will be, using a thin kerf blade (I used my circular saw pushed against a straight edge to do this, since this panel was too big for me to control safely on my table saw). I then used my compound miter saw to cross-cut the drawer fronts to the proper width. Then I glued the whole panel back together again (minus the drawer front pieces), moving the smaller end pieces in slightly until the spacing would provide a small gap around the drawer fronts.
View the Woodnet.net forum answers to my question. You'll see just how helpful the forum members are. And just to make sure that this was the right process, I sent an email to the Thos. Moser customer service department. Sure enough, they told me that's how they do it, too!
I very successfully removed my two drawer fronts using this process. But in the end, I was only able to build the bottom drawer using the original lumber piece. To see why, read about my goof on the top drawer below.
Half-blind dovetails — I used my new half-blind dovetail jig to build the drawers. It works well as long as you don't do anything stupid.
Wood plugs — I cut my own wood plugs, and used them to fill the screw holes on the lid's cleats.
Sliding dovetail cleats — The molding trim around the chest's lid concerned me, because the grain direction of the molding pieces on the sides of the lid is perpendicular to the grain direction of the main lid panel. This is just asking for trouble, since the panel will expand and contract a lot across its grain, but the molding pieces won't expand and contract much in that direction. I've seen many antique blanket chest lids over the years with molding that either has separated miter joints on the front corners, or a big split in the lid's main panel. I wanted to avoid this.
In reading some of Thos. Moser's books, I learned that his trick is to screw a sliding dovetail cleat onto the sides of the lid, then to slide the molding onto the cleat. The molding on the long front edge of the lid can be glued directly to the lid, since the molding's grain direction matches that of the lid. You then glue just the front 2 or 3 inches of the side molding in place to keep the mitered corners tight, so that all of the lid panel's expansion will be toward the rear of the cabinet.
I installed the lid-flattening cleats on the bottom surface of lid panel before installing the edge trim, to make the lid as flat as possible before installing the sliding dovetails.
Since I built this piece during the dry winter months, I left the molding 3/8" proud at the rear of the lid. I'll see how much the lid expands this summer, then decide if I need to trim off any more of the molding.
View the Woodnet.net discussion I had with one of the forum members where he described for me some of the finer details of making this finicky joint.
Hinge mortise — I used chisels to cut my first hinge mortises for the till box that's inside the chest's main compartment.
Mortise and tenon joints — I know I'm going to want to build floating panel projects in the future, using mortise and tenon construction. I decided that the drawer web assemblies on this blanket chest would be an excellent place to practice this joint, since they won't be visible. I used my tenoning jig and mortising machine to build the drawer webs. I know this is overkill for drawer web construction, but it was a good place to learn this traditional joint.
Home-made wood fill — I made my own wood fill using Titebond Liquid Hide Glue mixed with fine cherry sawdust powder collected from my sander dust bag. Use a lot of sawdust, and mix it together thoroughly. It should look very dry. When you apply the boiled linseed oil finish, the mixture darkens the same as end grain. This was perfect for me, since I used it to fill voids around some of my dovetails that weren't as tight as they should have been. The exposed dovetail is end grain, and my home-made wood fill darkened to the same color.
Dovetail spacing — Had I cut my dovetails using the standard spacing provided by the Keller dovetail jig, the dovetails would have looked too dense on such a big piece. I figured out how to cut only every third dovetail with this jig, which provided appropriate spacing for this piece.
Face jointing boards wider than 6" — I learned how to face joint boards that are wider than my 6" jointer. By removing the jointer's guard and jointing slightly more than half of the board's width (spinning the board around on each pass), I can joint a board almost twice as wide as my jointer. Of course, you must be careful with this process—as the end of the board comes off the cutter head, the guard isn't there to cover the blades. So use push blocks and BE CAREFUL.
Dados for cabinet shelf and drawer webbing — This is the first project for which I cut dados to support perpendicular pieces. The shelf that forms the interior bottom of the blanket compartment, as well as the drawer web assemblies, are supported in dados that go all the way around the interior of the cabinet's main panels.
Where not to use boiled linseed oil — I read on Woodnet.net forums that you should never apply boiled linseed oil to the inside of a cabinet or drawer that will hold fabrics. Linseed oil gives off an odor for a long time, and would make fabrics smelly. Not what you want in a blanket chest, and is why I left the inside of this blanket chest unfinished.
What Didn't Work:
My goof on the top drawer — So I had my drawer fronts removed from the chest's front panel, as described above. I had marked these boards so that they wouldn't get lost or used elsewhere in the project. Everything was going fine, and then it was time to construct the drawers.
I got out my new half-blind dovetail jig and used scrap pieces to learn how to make half-blind dovetails. No problems. But when I went to build the top drawer, I got confused when inserting the drawer front and side pieces into the jig, and ended up making the through-cuts on the drawer front and the half-blind cuts on the drawer sides.
I didn't even realize I had made a mistake until I went to dry fit the drawer pieces. I tapped everything together, happily thinking "Man, these are some nice fitting dovetails!" Then I stepped back, looked at the drawer, and saw the dovetail pins poking through the drawer front. I closed my eyes and prayed "Please, God, don't tell me that I just did what I think I did." I opened my eyes, and the pins were still there. I closed my eyes again and prayed "Please, God, tell me that this is a dream and that when I wake up I'll realize that I didn't really do something so stupid." I opened my eyes, and the pins were still there and I realized that I was awake. That's when I barked out the loudest, most sincere "Oh F#@%!" that I've said in a long time. My blood pressure was probably so high at that moment I'm surprised I didn't pop a blood vessel in my brain.
Anyway, after I cooled down a little (after 30 minutes of pacing back and forth in the basement telling myself what an idiot I am), I picked through my pile of cherry until I found a piece of lumber with a surprisingly good match to the original drawer front. The bottom drawer was successfully built with the original piece of matching lumber.
The blanket chest turned out nicely in the end, in spite of my goof. But I felt rage at that moment like I haven't felt very often in my life.
Belt sander — I started by sanding the glued panels with a belt sander to flatten the glue joints. I've since decided that belt sanders have no place in fine woodworking. They're just too aggressive, causing some low spots even though I was trying to avoid it. I now use my random orbit sander with 60 or 80 grit paper when I need to remove a lot of lumber. This tool provides much greater control.
Warped boards — I found that some of my boards and panels were warping after I sanded, planed, or jointed them. This is why some of my dovetails didn't fit as well as they should.
I've since learned that when you sand, plane or face joint lumber, you should do it to both sides of the board. I think this is because the surfaced face of a board loses moisture at a different rate than the face of a board that hasn't been recently surfaced.
Also, you should always keep all lumber that you're using on a project stickered to provide even airflow around the lumber. My big pile of cherry is stickered, but once I had selected my lumber for this project, those boards weren't always stickered, causing warpage.