Chests of Drawers
|by Bill Hylton
Taunton Press: 2001
Last month, when I started this review segment, I hadn't given any thought as to what I was getting myself into. Being an avid reader all my life, and a woodworker for over sixty years, I thought combining these two assets, along with my ability to write, would be "snap city." As other authors in the audience will confirm, the tongue is usually more glib than the pen!
I have read Bill Hylton's new book, "Chests of Drawers," three times and I have written and discarded at least six lead paragraphs. I have always felt; "Get me past the Lead and I am flying," but this book really worked me over. Every time I thought the Lead would work, a re-read sent it packing. The more I read, the more I found. The more I found, the more I changed my approach. I have no choice but to blame this lengthy review on the book! It is packed with all the information required to correctly build Chests that will stand the tests of hard use.
Bill starts off like a gentle breeze by giving well deserved credit to Glen Huey, Mark Edmundson, Harry Smith, Michael Seward, and our own Ken Burton, the five craftsmen who shared their designs. But hang on, the next thirty-six pages give you a whirlwind tour through the introduction and then on to chest and drawer building basics. He gives clear definitions to all pieces and parts, along with sketches of solid-wood case joinery, sheet goods-case joinery, frame and panel, and post and panel. He follows with web frames, leg and apron stands, base construction, and different methods to anchor tops. There is more, but I'll leave any further discovery to you.
The first of seven projects is a classic example of a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch Chest complete with an extremely intricate paint job, which means HEX sign. Harry L. Smith, of Kunkletown built the one in the picture, but Bill takes the reader through the construction of a duplicate. The cut list also lists the special hardware with the manufacturer's names and part numbers. This is a detail too often overlooked. The plans are concise, the pictures are excellent, and Bill's complete step by step descriptions are very easy to follow. If you have been looking for a chest to build it deserves a look.
Guildmember, Ken Burton, takes the spotlight with his original design of a Contemporary Chest. This is a sleek work in cherry that features enough loose tenon joints to keep you happy for a long while. It has four half width drawers over four full width drawers, which feature dovetails at all four corners, and the inclusion of slips to broaden the bottom edges of the drawers to forestall wear. All of the information required to build this beauty is both detailed and easy to follow. I would be remiss if I did not say this project is not for the faint of heart. It requires a strong router, good ear protection, and accurate layout lines to get the 180 mortises where they belong. If you decide you would like to accept this assignment, I suggest you talk to Ken about the jig he built to register the mortises for routing. Bravo to Ken Burton for an exquisite design.
In the third project, Bill builds a Bow-Front Chest originally designed and built by Mark Edmundson as his final project as a second-year student at the College of the Redwoods. What you see is mahogany, and what you can't see is soft maple. This work touches all the bases so let Bill say it: "It turns out that this project has it all: sawing veneer, applying veneer, inlay, bent laminations, hand-cut dovetails on curved pieces, out-of-the-ordinary drawer construction, mortises and loose tenons, splined joints, and router template work". Phew! Do we have your attention yet? A particular item of interest is the drawer construction. It incorporates "L" shaped strips that are initially fitted to the drawer opening with the drawer bottom. When the trial fit is complete and the drawer bottom slides easily, then, and only then is the rest of the drawer assembled. This is called the NK System for Nordiska Kompaniet, a Swedish company that developed it in the early 1900's. I had seen this construction before, but I never knew the derivation of it. Bill devotes a whole page, along with sketches, on cutting dovetails on a Bow-Front drawer, which is worth the price of the book to anyone faced with this scenario.
The fourth project that Bill tackles is the Double Dresser, also designed by Mark Edmundson. As with the earlier projects, construction procedure, along with excellent pictures and drawings of required router jigs is the norm.
Number five is a Triple Dresser with twelve drawers that is six feet long and about three feet high. Michael Seward is the designer and builder. He takes you through the process of selecting the rough maple and cherry and how to mark the stock for each piece. There is much to be learned about woodworking, and specifically wood movement, when attaching moldings with sliding dovetails. This project gives the reader a clear path to follow.
The Queen Anne Chest on Frame will test your ability to make Cabriole legs, through and sliding dovetails, and solid wood drawer bottoms with tapered edges. Glen Huey's design is a compliment to the originals that were only made for about thirty years in the early to mid 1700's. Here again, Bill shows his expertise in router jig design as he routs the scalloped edge on the front apron. One section on trimming out the chest covers changing bearing sizes on router bits to machine a step in the profile. Bill also shows how to make Crown molding in three pieces to get the profile you want. Authenticity is taken to the Nth. degree by using reproduction cut nails to anchor the drawer dividers.
The last project, an original design by the author, is a Tall Chest that borrows features from early nineteenth century American pieces common from Pennsylvania south to North Carolina and Georgia. Bill used native walnut, from a local mill, and the finished chest is outstanding. The sides are frame and panel construction and are a highlight of the finished product. As before, Bill, who we really know as "Der Routermeister," gives great directions on cope and stick routing of the panel rails and stiles and panel raising. Bill also shows how to cut coves on a table saw using a shop built parallelogram jig. One design item I intend to use in a project I am designing with wide drawers is the center muntin. The bottom is made in two pieces and the muntin will stop any sag.
Bill spent over a year putting this book together and as you have probably guessed by now I give it high marks. Except for the covers, and a few interior pictures, Donna Chiarelli did her usual excellent work on the photography.