Cherry Doll Case

Adding craftsmanship to stand the test of time.

SHOP OWNER: Dave Glackin
LOCATION: Columbus, IN

    If you don't have a nine-year-old daughter or granddaughter, you've probably never heard of an American Girl Doll. If you do though, you've probably heard more than you care to. These are the hot things right now for girls in that age bracket, much like Game Boys are for boys. My daughter is fortunate enough to have a grandmother who gave her one for her birthday.
    Since this is a high quality doll that, with a little care, could very well get handed down through several generations, I decided to make a case for it that would encourage this.
    The case is mostly cherry with some maple accents and drawer sides. Since the doll is 19" tall, the case is relatively large for a young girl to carry. So I made it from 3/8" stock to keep the weight down. This also allowed me to make the stock by resawing a 5/4" board I had.
Inside View

    The result is a case with continuous grain all around and bookmatched between the two case halves. The raised panels are also bookmatched.
    All the joints are hand cut dovetails, which was a learning experience for me. I come from a machinist background and am a devout power tool user. My Leigh dovetail jig has seen good use over the years. Learning to hand cut dovetails was always something I was going to do but never got around to. Given the thin stock and small size of the pins, I thought hand cutting might be a better option this time.
Rear View - Open

    After dimensioning my stock, I took a couple of extra pieces and started to practice before I cut something that counted. Two things became immediately obvious. First, if I used a marking gage and a sharp chisel, the chiseling part was fairly easy. Second, even when I used a high quality Japanese Dozuki, and really took my time, my saw cuts were wobbly and not something I'd want on display. Maybe if I cut 40 or 50 sets of tails and pins they would get to the acceptable level but I really didn't want to spend the next month practicing before I got on with the job.
    Because the pins are so small, even my 1/8" chisel wouldn't fit between the tails at the narrowest point so I couldn't pare away my sawing problems. The saw cuts would be the finished edges of the tails.
Dave's Dovetail Jig

    I remembered seeing a saw guide for cutting dovetails in a Lee Valley catalog and thought, "I could make one of those". I actually made two, one for cutting tails and one for the pins. They're made from hard maple and use some old rare earth magnets I had laying around from a long defunct engineering project.
Dave's Dovetail Jig

    I screwed the three pieces for each jig together, set my chop saw at 7 degrees, and made the cuts on both ends of each so I knew the angles on the tails would match the pins. I then unscrewed both jigs and re-cut the center pieces shorter by the thickness of the magnets. (Note: All this required some inventive clamping to hold these small pieces without getting my fingers next to the saw blade.) I drilled a hole and put in a T-nut for the threaded knob used to clamp the jig to the piece, then reassembled the pieces and epoxied on the magnets.
Dave's Dovetail Jig

    The jigs worked better than I expected. I even used them on the half blind dovetails for the drawer. There are two downsides to using these jigs. First, you need to put a thin strip of wood between the clamp screw and the workpiece to prevent denting it. And second, you have to use an extra piece of stock the same thickness as the workpiece to put next to it in the vice. This gives the jig something to clamp to for those end cuts.

    The other area I had to innovate was the handle. It needed to be in the center of the top so the case would pick up level. However, the split line is in the center so the handle had to be divided and half mounted to each case side. I looked through a lot of catalogs before deciding there really wasn't anything out there that would suit my purposes. The only alternative was to make my own.
    The handle is a bent lamination, assembled in stages. This is another area I'd never dabbled in so I sort of made it up as I went along. I sketched out the handle shape I wanted, then transferred the inside profile to a scrap of wood and cut out a form. This I screwed to a scrap of plywood so I had something to hang onto.
Dovetails and Handle Detail

    I ripped some strips of varying thickness from the edge of a 6/4" cherry board and tried to bend them around the form. Because of the tight curve, even a 1/32" thick strip wouldn't quite make the bend. I really didn't want to go any thinner so I decided to help them bend.
    Because of the difference in cross-section of the middle of the handle vs. the ends, I figured about 7 - 1/32" layers would be appropriate in the middle while I would need something to fill out the ends. This drove me to assemble it in stages.
    I started out by taking three strips and soaking them in boiling water for about a minute. I then quickly blotted them dry, spread on a coat of polyurethane glue, and clamped them around the form.
    When they were dry, I removed them from the form and traced the outside profile onto a scrap of maple. I band-sawed and sanded the maple to fit, then glued and clamped it on.
    When the glue dried, I band-sawed and sanded the outside profile to match my sketch, then put it back on the form and soaked, glued, and clamped the remaining four strips of cherry.
    When it all dried, I sanded all the edges round, cut off and sanded the bottom flat, screwed it to a piece of plywood and ripped it in half lengthwise. A little more finish sanding and it was ready to mount.
Cherry Doll Case

    The maple inlay pieces at the top and bottom of each case half weren't part of the original design. I always pin my raised panels at the top and bottom, in the center, so they remain centered when they expand and contract. Due to the small stock in this piece, I used pins made from round toothpicks. My problem came when I drilled the holes for the pins. I was either suffering from momentary brain fade or having a senior moment because I drilled clear on through from the backside. My nice case front edges now had a small hole, top and bottom.
    As I've always said, the definition of craftsmanship is the ability to artfully hide your mistakes. I had to sit and think awhile before making my attempt at being a craftsman.
    While the inlays turned out satisfactorily, they did prevent me from putting the 1/8" chamfer around the edge I'd originally planned. If you'll notice the end pins on my dovetails are kind of thick. This was to allow room for the chamfer.
    The finish on the case is a tung oil and varnish mix. I applied four or five coats, sanding with 320 between coats, and finished up with two coats of clear Briwax.

. . . Dave Glackin



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