Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Old Dresser Drawers

I've been repairing some old family furniture lately. This oak dresser with mirror was in great shape except that the drawer bottoms were falling out.

The drawers were made with Knapp joints (also called pin and crescent):

This machine cut joint was popular for about thirty years (approx. 1870-1900), before machine cut dovetails took over. The pins are not dowels, instead they are formed out of the drawer front. There are some interesting resources on the web - just google "Knapp joint". Apparently, it is a strong joint. These have held up fine for over 100 years of use.

What didn't hold up were the drawer bottoms. Made from a single piece of thin, solid wood (much more appealing to me than plywood)each bottom fit into grooves on the front and two sides and was nailed into the bottom of the back. Unlike plywood however, the solid wood shrank. Eventually, the bottom shrank enough for the front to pull out of the groove. It then sagged under the weight of the drawer contents until it started pulling out of the side grooves as well. Not good.

On my recently completed candle till, I am hoping to avoid this problem by setting the nail in a saw kerf to allow it to move, while the front is glued into its groove. Of course that drawer is so small it really isn't an issue.

Here's a shot showing how the bottom has shrunk about 1/4" and pulled out of the front groove:

I thought about repairing these drawers with the technique from the candle till, but instead I decided to try the least invasive approach first. So in the end I pulled the nails from the back edge of the bottom, reseated the bottom in the front groove, and then renailed the bottom.

My thinking was to see how long this would hold up. If I get another 100 years out of it great! If not, I can try more drastic (well, not really drastic, it's just a little glue...) action later.

There's one mystery about this dresser that I haven't figured out yet. While I was working on it, the grain on the front of the drawers didn't look quite right to me. I started to think that it might have been "grained" with paint or stain. Now, looking at the fourth pin up in the first shot, you can see that the drawer front is actually a glue-up of two separate pieces (two grain patterns) but on the front of the drawer, the grain appears continuous. I'm pretty sure it's been "grained", possibly to hide the glue line or to give it a more uniform grain pattern. The top half is quartersawn but the bottom is flatsawn, so if it is white oak, the ray or fleck would not be the same. Hmm.

I think I need to look at the drawers again...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Candle Till Part VI

Well, it's finally finished! I like small projects, but it always surprises me how they are not much faster than large projects - at least for me.

I really had only two tasks left at this point: the drawers, and the hanging mechanism. Both of these had problems I had never faced before, and this made things interesting. I tackled the drawers first.

Way back when I designed this candle till, I made sketches of various drawer designs. I decided on overlay drawer fronts as they gave the lower case an unbroken, unified appearance that I liked. This meant I could build the drawers first, and then attach separate fronts. Earlier, when I had been dividing up the stock, I set aside two pieces with the grain pattern I wanted for the drawer fronts.

To get the stock for the drawers, I resawed a 1x4 into two boards of equal thickness. After losing some wood from the original 3/4" to the saw kerf (which is quite minimal with the bandsaw blade I use for the web), and then a little more after planing the rough side smooth, I ended up with two boards that were each 5/16" thick. I felt this was about right for tiny drawers like these.

The next thing I should have done was plow the groove to hold the draw bottoms while the stock was still full length. But I was over-eager and skipped that step - cutting half of the stock into the shorter lengths needed for the drawer too soon. Oops!

I don't have a bench hook for crosscutting smaller stock, instead I use this set up:

The scrap piece protects the bench, while the dog holds everything steady. Sometimes I use two dogs. The small piece on the right is the leftover stock. The front and back pieces, and the longer sides are matched up just to the left. Two of the pieces in the stack just behind the saw handle are the drawer fronts.

Before I plowed the grooves, I needed the material for the drawer bottoms. I would be using a 3/16" iron in the combination plane to plow the groove so I resawed a panel 7/32" thick to make the bottoms. This would be beveled to allow it to fit into the slightly smaller grooves.

First I set the marking gauge off the iron and did the lay out for the resawing:

After resawing, I cleaned up the stock with the jack plane. I was not trying to make it prefect, it's the underside of the drawer bottom - just enough to keep things flat.

Then it was time to plow the grooves. Here's the drawer parts that I cut too soon. Notice the chalk reminding me where to plow the grooves. If I had marked them earlier, I probably would have remembered not to crosscut them before grooving. Hmm.

With the parts already cut short, I was only able to use one holdfast (without drilling a new hole in the bench), which made it a little tricky. But it worked, as long as I really set the holdfast tightly, with a solid blow from the maul. The thin wood cushioned the stock so it didn't get dented.

With the longer stock, everything was easier as the holdfasts work much better together.

At this point here is what I had: grooved sides, fronts and backs; bottom stock waiting to be sized; and the actual overlay fronts.

I cut rabbets in the side pieces with my standard saw/chisel/shoulder plane method, and then dry fit and clamped the drawers together. This allowed me to measure the drawer to fit the bottom.

I cut the bottoms to the correct width with a knife (much easier than a saw on such thin stock) but left them long length (depth) wise. I built the drawers slightly shorter than the case was deep and I wanted these extra long bottoms to support the drawer flush to the case front while I worked on attaching the overlay fronts. Then I would plane them back a bit to allow for expansion later. (I think this will make more sense in a few more steps...)

I planed bevels on three sides of the bottom to allow for a snug fit in the grooves. They might be hard to see in this picture.

I only needed bevels on three sides because the drawer back got cut off just at the groove to allow for the bottom to pass under it and allow for expansion. Again, it was simple knife work.

Glue up:

And the finished drawer waiting for fitting:

After getting a very tight fit by careful planing, it was time to set the drawer flush to the front. Here's where the extra long drawer bottoms helped me out. I pushed the drawer in as far as it would go - until the bottom hit the back of the case. Then I used my folding rule's extension to transfer the distance the drawer stood proud... the back edge of the drawer bottom.

After planing off that much of the bottom - Bam! - a perfectly flush drawer. No messing around with repeated fittings etc. Cool!

Oh, and yes, I did figure out a way to get the snug drawers back out again. I drilled a small hole in the back of the case and used a short length of dowel to push it out. As a bonus, this hole lets air out as the drawer is pushed in.

To align the overlay fronts, I used two nails driven through from the inside of the drawer. Once I had the overlay front in the position I wanted, I pushed it firmly onto the nail points. This created a physical registration for putting the fronts back on again later, and also kept them from sliding around while I glued them.

My original plan called for small turned pulls, but in the end I switched to simple curved pulls, that echoed the curve of the pediment. Here's a shot of the almost complete till:

Now all that remained was to create a way to hang the till on the wall. I ruled out screw eyes and wire, as I wanted the till to hang closer to the wall. In the end I decided to make a notched metal plate that would be mounted over a hole in the back of the till. This would fit over a Lee Valley picture screw.

I fashioned the metal plate from the flattened bottom of a soup can. Here's a shot of the finished hanging plate and the tools I used to make it. The picture screw is also visible.

The vertical positioning of the hole was somewhat arbitrary. Horizontally, I wanted to be on the center of balance, but of course that would be changing with the contents of the till and shelves, which is why the hanger has three notches. After doing the layout for the hole in the back of the till, I drilled holes through from the back, and then flipped it over and chopped it out from the inside, removing the angled till back first, and using the holes as a guide.

Another challenge was how to fasten the hanging plate to the 1/2" thick back. I thought about tiny screws, or clench nailing, but in the end I dug up some copper tacks for a Shaker box project that hasn't happened yet. I wasn't sure if they would be strong enough, but I tested it out on a scrap piece and they held like crazy!

The hanging plate mounted:

The chuck of 4x4 was used to support the underside of the back while I hammered the copper tacks. The needle-nose pliers were used to hold the tacks, which are very tiny and extremely sharp.

Finally, the completed candle till hanging in its new home:

I'm very happy with the outcome. Obviously I decided not to paint it - once again changing plans during the course of the project.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My Old Toolbox

I've rediscovered my old toolbox. I made this tote in an Industrial Arts class my freshman year of high school, which I believe makes this the oldest woodworking project of mine that still exists. I have no memory of actually using it.

Somehow this thing followed me up to Alaska (I don't even remember packing it), spent some time in my brother's shed, and more recently moved into a funky corner of my garage (on the fringe of my shop space), where it promptly got buried under layers of junk.

A few weeks ago, my brother Josh was out in my neck of the woods harvesting spruce poles for a sod house he will be building on his remote property. I was heading out to help, but needed some good way of taking a small kit of tools along (axe, hatchet etc.) What I needed was a large tool tote...

Hey! What about that one buried over there? I quickly dug it out (finding the hardware for the never completed treadle lathe and a perfectly usable brace in the process - how many of these do I have?)and cleaned it off.

It is very simply constructed - nailed butt joints - but apparently I was very proud of it, because it has my name handwritten in pencil all over it. It was fun to see that - back when I went by "Danny".

I loaded it up and off we went. Here it is in the field:

It easily held my axe, hatchet, disassembled bowsaw, file, sharpening stone, drawknife, hammer and punch (for bowsaw pins), gloves and some snacks.

You could tell it was happy finally getting to do yeoman's work after almost 30 years of sitting around!

*** The Candle Till is finished, but the post isn't. That should be coming up next...