Before we get into this segment, I wanted to address a question, or two, from daddy-O from the last installment. He asked “I think but can”t tell that the bit is putting 2 beads on the edge at the same time.”. So here’s a closeup of the final pic in the last post. Hopefully, you can see exactly what’s going on. It is a double bead that’s being cut by the same cutter I ground for the initial Oxbow post. And to answer another of daddy-O’s requests, click on the pic. When I get a free moment, I’ll try to rework the previous posts to utilize the “click to enlarge” feature for all the pictures.
Ok, back to our regularly scheduled segment…
In the last segment of this series we routed the dovetails into the case sides of the chest for the drawer blades. The dadoes were routed for the drawer runners. The case sides were rabbeted to receive back boards and the front edges were beaded.
This time we’re going to work on getting the case together. Let’s start at this point on the case dovetails. Although we cut the dovetails into the case sides for the blades in the last segment, we’re not going to make the other half on the blades until we have the case together. It makes it a lot easier to cut the blades accurately to size once you have the case together.
The bottom of the chest is attached with through dovetails while the top cleats use half-blind. I start with the through dovetails on the bottom. I begin by marking the sides and the bottom with a marking gauge set to the thickness of the pieces being joined. Then I layout and saw the pins into my case sides. Ok, I’ve done it. I’ve exposed the fact that I’m a pins first guy. I know that’s going to cause debate among some of you about the validity of the blog but, rest assured, I can cut them both ways. In laying out my pins, I try to get them relatively the same size but I don’t obsess too much about it. Most of the 18th Century cabinet makers didn’t worry that much about it, so why should I?
Once the pins are all sawn, I move directly to the router. Yes, you heard me right…the router. Actually I use two. Each is set up with a straight cutter. One is set to just over half the depth of the pin, the other is set right to my scribe line from the end of the board. Leaving my case side clamped in my vice, I add a backing block that is clamped to the side and made absolutely flush withthe end of the board. Taking the router that is set to just over half the pin depth, I freehand route the waste from the pins. Make sure you don’t run into the actual pins while routing. Next, I take the other router that is set to the depth of the scribe line and complete the waste removal process.
Once I have the pins routed, I grab a chisel and clean out the waste that is left after using the router. Once I have that side cleaned up, I put the other side in the vice and repeat the entire process.
The steps are basically the same for making the half-blind dovetails for the top cleats. I start by laying out the pins, saw them. I then set up my two routers and backer board. I route using the same sequence as in the through dovetails, I just don’t go all the way through the case side. In fact, I stay well off my scribe line that is for the length of my dovetails. My pic on this is a little out of focus, and I apologize, but you get the idea.
Once I have the pins roughed out withthe case side held vertically, I then clamp the side flat to my workbench. Taking another router and setting up a dovetail bit, I set it to the scribe line for the dovetail length and route the waste. Again, I keep well off my actual pins. In other words, I don’t route beyond my saw kerfs. Now it’s back to the chisel and mallet to clean out the waste left from the router.
At this point all the case pins are sawn and clean out. Now we take the case bottom, inside up, and set it on the workbench. Standing the case sides in position, I mark the pin position onto the bottom. In this pic you can also clearly see the beading on the case. If you were confused in my last post as to what I wanted my side to look like after routing the double bead, then removing the outside bead with a flush trim bit, it should be easier to understand now.
I follow the same procedure for transferring the marks for the top cleats that I did for the case bottom. I use a very sharp pencil but if you prefer using a scribe or a knife, knock yourself out. Another interesting detail you can see in the closeups of the half blind dovetails is my over-cutting of the scribe line with my saw kerfs. This is a very typical 18th Century practice. I’ve found that it was primarily done by English cabinet makers who came to the Colonies. The German trained immigrants didn’t overcut their dovetails as often.
Grab your favorite dovetail saw and get started. There’s a lot of tails to cut. There are all the tails on the case bottom plus the two top cleats. On the front cleat, you need to make sure you don’t cut off the bead on the front edge. You’ll notice in the closeup that the front top cleat only has one bead. I routed the outside beads off both the top and bottom cleats when I set up to remove them from the case sides. The reason for making sure you don’t cut off this bead when dovetailing the cleat is that it gets mitered into the bead that was left on the case side. I’m jumping a little ahead but once the tails are fitted, the piece goes together like this. As you can see, a very small portion of the bead on the cleat is left hanging over the edge of the case side. It is then mitered to meet up with the bead on the side.
Once all the pins are sawn, it’s time to remove all the waste. If you’ve sawn your dovetails correctly, there should be no fitting needed. The dovetails should just go together perfectly. If you have to fit, keep practicing sawing to your lines until you can get them to fit without adjusting the tails. The pic of the half-blinds going together is a bit out of focus again but, if you look at the larger version, you can almost make out the bead on the blade overhanging the case side. We’ve accomplished a lot today, so next time we’ll fit the drawer blades and runners.