This masterful work took almost two years.
SHOP OWNER: George Dart
LOCATION: Havertown, PA
More than a couple of years ago we decided we needed a new master bedroom suite to replace an older set, which I inherited from my parents. SWMBO insisted on a queen-sized bed. We both wanted something traditional in style, and not overwhelming or ostentatious. I searched at many different offerings from well-known furniture makers, and we chose to loosely base my design on the Felicity line from Thomasville Industries. I departed slightly from their dimensions, but kept many of the architectural design elements. All the pieces were fabricated from solid cherry in the Colonel's Workshop. I crafted all the trim and moldings myself on the router table.
The initial task was to produce matching nightstands. I liked the design due to the abundant storage offered by the drawers. Dimensionally, they are 30 ¾" high by 30 1/8" wide by 17 9/16" deep. The secondary wood in the dust panel frames and the drawer boxes is poplar. I planed the poplar to ½" for the drawer boxes, which are dovetailed. The drawer faces are from twelve-inch thick resawn book-matched cherry. The bead detail surrounding each drawer front is ¾" deep. That provides a very pleasant shadow line. The drawers ride on central oak slides fabricated in the shop. The drawer bottoms are all ¼" birch ply.
I used glued up scrap cherry for blanks for the two matching lamps. I incorporated a little sapwood throughout for interest and color variation. A little lathe work later, we had matching lamps, which I wired. The cherry lamps are a real "turn-on". The maple octagonal base to each lamp mimics other elements in other pieces. My daughter, Mary, chose the brass knob pulls used throughout the ensemble. They were supplied by Lee Valley. Finally, all of the furniture was exposed to days of strong sunlight before finishing. This is my favorite treatment for cherry. After exposure, I applied a couple spit coats of Seal Coat shellac, and numerous coats of wiping satin poly.
The decision to adapt Thomasville's Felicity line to this project resulted from the beautiful seven-drawer chest on chest I saw on their Website. I decided to build two separate pieces of furniture, the upper and the lower chest. At some future time somebody may want to use them individually. The bottom chest has a solid, finished cherry top. Despite the weight and possible cost, I elected to use solid cherry in all pieces. There is no plywood used except for backs and drawer bottoms. The lower and upper cases are joined in the back with easily removed vertical cleats. The upper case is somewhat narrower than Thomasville's design, which I think looks better.
I also decided to construct two individually functional drawers on the top tier of the upper chest rather than a facade suggesting two drawer fronts. Nominal dimensions are: 59 ¼" high by 42 ¼ wide by 19 ¾ deep. The drawer boxes are ½” resawn poplar assembled using dovetail joinery, with each riding on a central bottom oak slide. The dust frames are also poplar. As nice as this chest on chest looks, I think the height is more than convenience dictates. Had I to do it over, I would opt for a shorter design.
The double dresser is entirely my own design. I felt that the drawer arrangement was more pleasing and practical than any of the pictures we looked at. It is also solid cherry, but I substituted ½" red oak for the drawer boxes as a secondary wood because it was available for almost no cost. The dust panels are poplar frames and birch ply panels. It measures 48 ¼" wide by 34 ¾" high by 17" deep.
This is my favorite piece. One of my grandsons took a screwdriver to the top of it after some finish was applied, and I was able to sand and steam away most of the damage. I decided not to replace the top panel and live with the surviving blemishes, which are along the right rear of the top. The little walnut nursing rocker is a treasure, which belonged to a neighbor. I found it in her garage in pieces following her death. I re-caned, restored, and replaced missing parts.
The mirror turned out to be an instant hit among my kids who own their own homes, and I built three of them. The one displayed measures 40" wide by 28" high. The frame is 2 ½" wide, and I used biscuits to join the miters. The frame is further reinforced by a ¼" birch ply inlay at the back. On a whim, I decided to inlay a ¼" strip of curly maple within the cherry frame to spark interest. I also used an octagon-shaped curly maple base for each of the turned lamps. The glass came from a salvage yard. I had it cut down to fit the frame. I think the cost was about ten dollars.
Our bookcase, while small, provides me with a lot of utility for reading materials, pipe racks, and games for the grandkids when they come over. The shelves are stained birch ply, edge glued with solid cherry, and it has a cherry face frame. A white oak and red cedar medicine chest with coopered top dispenses my meds every day. The wall shelf seems to go well with other furniture in the room. We use it as a home for wooden toys my grandkids use during visits.
The final item was the queen-sized bed, which is 63 ½” wide, and features 2 ½" posts. The headboard and footboard panels are each ¾” solid cherry stock which I mortised into the bedposts. The graceful arch was achieved by flexing a long off-cut between the panel's center and lower side points, then tracing with a pencil. Once we achieved symmetry, that arc became the template for the second panel.
I developed the bull-nosed cap molding on my router table, and mortised a ¾" dado to accept the top of the panel's arch. We decided to top the posts with octagon caps. Finishing the headboard and footboard became a problem when I discovered they would not darken satisfactorily in the sun to match the other furniture items. I had applied two spit coats of shellac with no noticeable effect, and the weak winter sunshine and otherwise poor weather forced me to set the panels aside until summer. I had to strip each of them and re-sand. I experimented with various strengths of both potassium dichromate and lye (Drano) and eventually found the lye gave me a nearly identical color and shade.
The finishing schedule consisted of two spit coats of Seal Coat, scuff sanded and tacked. Then numerous coats of satin poly/naphtha mix, rubbed out after each second coat, and finally paste wax that I applied with steel wool and buffed. It took nearly two years to accomplish this project. As yet, it does not reside in the Master Bedroom, which is still occupied by our #7 son. We will move it to larger quarters when Jimmy moves out and we become empty nesters. This was a project that was well worth doing.
. . . George Dart