Carved Cherry Chest

A special hand made gift from the heart.

SHOP OWNER: Dan Donaldson

    Earlier this year, I decided to make a Christmas present for my Mom. I wanted it to be something a bit different and, hopefully, special. It was a real accomplishment to actually have it completed five whole days before leaving to visit her for the holidays. Most times I am usually finishing things up just minutes before a deadline!
    Recently I have been practicing carving ball and claw feet but still feel I have much to learn. I also like carving in general, so I decided to combine the two skills and see what I could come up with.
Ball and Claw Feet

    I decided on a chest for storage. Since my mother lives in a small apartment, a large piece of furniture would not work very well there, not to mention that my shop is too small to build anything very big either. I made a few sketches to get a perspective on size and shape until I found something that I liked. The result was a chest about 24 inches wide, 16 inches high, and 13 inches deep with a compartment in the top and a drawer below. Ball and Claw Feet

    Here is where I think I made my first mistake. I made the feet first, then rough cut the rest of the parts. I decided instead of going with the small knee blocks normally found on cabriole legs, I would make them the full width of the piece with a cutout pattern.
    I posted various versions of caving patterns for the front of the chest on the Critiques Board and I received many good comments. This resulted in the pattern I used in the end. The mistake was not posting ideas earlier. I got some helpful feedback on the leg profile that was very good, but it was too late by then to make use of it. I will definitely apply the comments on the next project that uses cabriole legs.

  Framed Carving

    I put the carvings on the front panel into a "frame" because I needed an edge that was full thickness. This enabled making the post blocks and the sides even in the final piece. To make the drawer front blank, I made two rip cuts in the front panel, cut the ends off, and then glued the front panel back together. This enabled me to have a drawer with grain that matched the panel. This was where I made another slight error. It would probably have looked a bit better had I made the drawer wider so that it matched the frame width but it still works. Drawer Front

  Grounded Pattern

    I began the carving by tracing the pattern onto the front panel and then used a router to "ground" the pattern. While carving some practice shells, I found that I had a tendency to cut too deep at the bottom of the shell. To provide a plane of reference, I also routed out the center of the shell. This helped a lot and made the shell much easier to carve. When carving the vines, I did the carving and modeling, but decided that I didn't like the raised vein on the leaves. I changed them to have veins formed when using a parting tool. I think this looks much better.
Finished Veins Raised Veins

  Assembling The Sides

    After carving the panel, I began the assembly by putting the sides together. Since they were easier to hold, I then planed the post blocks level with the side panels before completing the assembly. It is a good thing I dry fitted the chest before glueing. Using a clamp, I had to pull it a bit to make it square. When I did that, it caused it to rock. I had to play around with another clamp on the bottom to get it both square and level. Final assembly with glue is not the time to discover this. Dry Fitted and Square

  Drawer Parts

    After assembly, I finished leveling the post blocks and put that aside to begin work on the drawer. Initially, I intended to use poplar for the interior parts and the drawer sides, but when I cut out the parts and started to place them together, I decided that I did not like the way it looked. Instead, I used some curly maple that I had lying around. I joined the sides to the drawer front and rear with half blind dovetails in front and through dovetails in the rear. All of them were hand cut. Hand Cut Dovetails


    Next, I needed to make a top. I did not want a square one and played around with design sketches until I came up with the shape you see. The profile around the edge is partly a routed profile and partly hand carved, as I couldn't find a shape that I totally liked.
    To finish the chest, I started with a coat of Moses T's oil that I got from Stephen Shepherd. With turpentine as the solvent, it sure smells better than boiled linseed oil and naphtha. I also like the way it looks. I followed the oil with shellac, which I mixed from flakes. I like the look of orange shellac on cherry, but since the oil darkened it a bit more than usual, I mixed 25% orange with 75% blond shellac. I rubbed out the final coat with steel wool and then waxed it since I prefer a softer look to the finish rather that a hard shine. It also does not show flaws quite as badly! The hardware came from Ball and Ball.
    For the finishing touches, I made a panel to line the bottom of the drawer by cutting a piece of poster board and mounting blue felt on it. I also covered the bottom of the upper compartment with aromatic cedar.

. . . Dan Donaldson

Cedar Lined Bottom Finished Chest



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P.O. Box 493
Springtown, PA 18081