MERRY CHRISTMAS, MOM
A special hand made gift from the heart.
SHOP OWNER: Dan Donaldson
LOCATION: Canton, MI
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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