9th Apr 2019, 05:36 AM #1GOLD MEMBER
- Join Date
- Jun 2014
- Seattle, Washington, USA
18th Century Lingerie/Semanier Cabinet in Silky Oak -or - Drawers Enough for the Dog
This is a build which has been three years in the making. When I moved back to the US, the first thing I wanted to build after I established a shop was a king sized bed, but after that, I was going to build a lingerie chest. Basically a tall, narrow chest of drawers with several vertically stacked drawers.
And then by the time i finished the bed, the next thing was a book shelf... then a coffee table... then another coffee table... then a more "standard" chest of drawers... then a shoe cabinet, and this that and the other, but eventually the time came, so here's a recap of the build.
I should immediately give credit where it's due, and draw your attention to Derek Cohen's lingerie chest build which started in 2015 and, IIRC, lasted somewhere between 12 and 18 months. That was the first time I'd been introduced to this form, and it's a beautiful work which was very closely and painstakingly archived by Derek. Thanks, Derek.
I tend to err on the side of more traditional, so, as I often do, I set about learning about this furniture form. Derek's cabinet had eight drawers (or maybe seven and then a mock drawer with lift-top jewelry storage?) of ascending size, but the historical record shows that far more commonly this chest had seven drawers of equal size. As best as I could tell, this is a french form, and was originally referred to as a Semanier (sum-ahn-YAY), which, according to my fluent fiance', translates quite literally to "weeker". The idea here is that you (translation: your servants) would continually stock the chest with a day's worth of clean undergarment in each drawer, with one drawer for each day of the week. I don't think it was uncommon for noblemen/women to dress several times a day, but the undergarments would last through multiple changing events.
So that would be the form, and the style would be something close to the Queen Anne, Georgian, or Chippendale styles which I think is best simply referred to as "18th Century Early American", and would be stylistically similar to this chest which I built in late 2017 which also resides in my bedroom:
That dresser is made of Queensland Maple, but our bed is made of Northern Silky Oak, and I also had some incredible, 355mm wide, dead quartersawn pieces that would be perfect for the sides of a narrow cabinet, so Silky Oak it would be.
I set about milling the sides, which was fairly straightforward. I like to use 22mm stock instead of the more modern standard of 19mm. I have a 15" planer and the boards were straight enough to dodge the jointer altogether. Ten minutes with a sharp plane and I was ready for joinery.
I learned the last time I built a chest with stacked drawers that it's far easier and safer to cut the sockets for the sliding dovetails at either end of the drawer dividers before gluing up the case, so I did just that. I decided I would step them out with dividers this time, which was a huge savings of time.
The sockets were marked with a dovetail marker and sawn with a carcase saw, then chiseled to final shape. I've used a router plane in the past to flatten the "bottoms" but I skipped that this time.
I then marked and sawed the sliding dovetails themselves. The tops and bottom of the uppermost and lowermost (respectively) drawer dividers were left flat to save time:
Sliding dovetails are a former nemesis of mine, but this went very smoothly, so I'm formally removing them from that list and adding them to my official "bag of tricks" henceforth.
I also cut some stopped dados on what would be the backside of the case which would house the pieces which would span the back for attachment of the back itself and also to provide rigidity and guidance for the internal web structure. I employed some electrons for this part in the form of a router.
These case sides were lengthy at around 1250mm, so I clamped them in my moxon vise and actually had to stand on a makeshift platform to saw the dovetails!
This went well. I used through dovetails for the base, as they would be covered with toe moulding, and I used half blind for the top, which would have the top visible and only the sides covered by moulding. I ended up with this:
I then fit the dividers with the sliding dovetails, which went great. This left me with a completed carcase. I got a Stanley 5 1/4 last year and this is, in my opinion, the perfect plane for squaring up and smoothing the front of a divided case. It's a great combination of adequate length to maintain a plane and appropriate width to not "wobble" off of the board along which it's riding. Highly recommended in this application:
Another plane-related sidenote: I found a deal on a Stanley 62 I couldn't turn down (US$195, theyre usually over $350 on eBay), so despite not having much use for this plane I bought it (what can I say, I guess I'm a Stanley c-word at this point... not that one... "Collector"). Turns out, with the lowered angle, it's perfect for flushing dovetails on a large carcase like this one:
So I've got a case which is cleaned up and fitted well. Time to cut some mouldings, first the crown, then the toe around the bracket. I do this by hand by removing the bulk of the waste with a table saw and/or a rebate plane. This time I used a moving fillester plane (A Stanley 289. Also highly recommended), which I'd avoided doing in the past. I also use HNT Gordon moulding planes (Big thumbs up there). Here are some photos:
I had historically cut mitres with a table saw, but I decided to do it by hand with an adjustable mitre box this time, which turned out to be a great decision which may have actually saved time. After a hundred years this thing is bang on its indexed angles, while I'd be about as likely to spend 100years tweaking the table saw for a similarly accurate fit:
Next was the combined toe moulding and bracket for the base. The moulding was cut in a similar fashion, as were the mitres. I then relieved the base to form a double cove profile on three sides:
On the previous cabinet I'd used a blind/mitred dovetail behind the moulding on the ogee bracket feet, but that was difficult and, given that this was a straight mitre and the fact that I recently had a fiasco with some blind dovetails, I decided to use the more common glue blocks to join these mitres. These were just several cubes of wood glued up with alternating grain and glued then screwed behind the mitres. Quick, easy, and effective.
I then dovetailed a stretcher across the back in secondary material:
And attached it to the bottom with glue in the front and glue and screws in the back to allow movement.
The crown was next. I had the mitres cut, so I clamped and glued the front one on. I attached the sides by gluing the front couple of inches so that the mitre does not open and then screwing it into the case from inside through slot-shaped holes (to allow movement) which had to be drilled prior to gluing the front of the moulding on. Because this crown was fairly narrow, the holes had to be drilled at an angle to bypass the dovetails. I then sunk some small, mild steel, cut brads into the back at an angle for additional strength:
I then nailed in the drawer runners using high quality, mild steel, cut finish nails. I know this isn't how most people do this, but I think it could be argued it's just as good as the dado/mortise and tenon method. The right nails will allow for seasonal movement and will be exponentially easier to replace in the future. Some won't agree, but this is just how I do it and, so far, it's working great on the five pieces I've used it on.
So at this stage I have something that looks like a cabinet:
Another lesson I'd learned on the last multi-drawer cabinet I made was that It's convenient to have the back off when fitting the drawers. Because the drawers would have lipped fronts, and they stop against the front of the cabinet and not against the back, this is doable. So it was on to drawers.
I use American White Ash (Fraxinus americana) in my cabinets as the secondary material. I've really grown to love using it. The sides for these drawers were 13mm thick, and the fronts were 22mm with lips into which the dovetails were cut. This process is documented a bit more extensively in the four drawer cabinet build I linked at the beginning, but one thing I learned was that you can bang up the back of the lip with the tip of the dovetail saw, so I applied some masking tape to the back of the lip as a bit of a "bumper" this time.
I plow 6mm grooves in my drawers and make 8mm thick drawer bottoms, then bevel the edges or "field" the bottoms so that they slide in. I apply a bead of glue in the front groove and the rest just floats in the groove for seasonal movement. Did I have to partially bookmatch the drawer bottoms? No. No I did not.
So here are some completed drawers. At the time these were taken, drawer six was being a PITA, but I eventually beat it into submission:
At this stage I did some hand sanding and really went over everything with a fine-toothed comb, and then nailed the back on. This was strips of 10mm Ash:
I finish work like this with French polished shellac. I've used garnet the last couple of times, but I decided to tone it back to orange this time because I wanted the Silky Oak for this cabinet to match the color of the QLD Maple cabinet and also the bed and well-aged King Billy Pine side tables in my room. The bed and tables are an oil finish and the QLD Maple was garnet shellac, but it was a much lighter wood to begin with. I thought using garnet on the Silky Oak would make it too red and it would look like a different wood altogether. So I lathered on a couple of heavy coats of blonde to the internal parts and started with the orange on the outside.
Every time I polish something I worry about whether or not I should use pumice to fill the grain. I've never regretted not doing it to such a degree. Silky Oak is a very coarsely grained wood and it took me considerably longer to fill the grain completely this time around than it ever has before. All up I probably spent twenty hours polishing this cabinet, which sounds like a long time, but this was actually among the most successful and efficient polishing jobs I've done, I just made the mistake of not taking the coarse grain seriously. Oh well... live and learn.
So I got it polished and put the hardware on it and it was "ready for [its] closeup".
And here's a 181cm, fully grown seppo for scale:
The hardware is from Horton Brasses and is part of their Londonderry collection, which is handmade in the UK. Very expensive, but very good quality.
Silky Oak is a great one to work with. It does just about everything you tell it to aside from planing/scraping to a smooth finish. You pretty much have to sand from about 220 onward after you plane, or at least I do. The medullary rays on the quartersawn faces can be tricky, and often pick out and require scraping, but you can get it sandable pretty easily. All up it's a really great wood and I look forward to working with it again.
So that's a wrap on that one. On the first cabinet I got one of the four drawers for my clothes, and SWMBO got the three largest ones. I got one and a half of the seven on this one, and she got the rest minus one... which went to Stanley. This, of course, being Stanley:
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9th Apr 2019, 06:55 AM #2
It's amazing what you can do with a degree in Geology!
I wish I was as productive!Franklin
9th Apr 2019, 08:18 AM #3
Excellent work, well done!A thief stole my anti-depressants. I hope he’s happy now.
9th Apr 2019, 08:42 AM #4Senior Member
- Join Date
- Sep 2010
- Port Sorell, Tasmania
Beautiful work Luke, and a well documented build. Thanks for posting.
TonyYou can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have. ~Oscar Wilde
9th Apr 2019, 12:07 PM #5
That's outstanding. As someone who's only just starting along the french polish journey, your twenty hour estimate sounds like a very efficient effort to my ears.
9th Apr 2019, 03:03 PM #6GOLD MEMBER
- Join Date
- May 2013
- Rockhampton QLD
Beautiful job Luke and thanks for taking the time to document the process.
9th Apr 2019, 04:21 PM #7
Very nice work and the wood is beautiful. Good step by step pics and plenty of them. Throw in a picture of the dog too. A classic post.
9th Apr 2019, 08:52 PM #8
I have a problem...
Lingerie shouldnt be in drawers, it should be displayed, worn played with, same as drawers I love my wifes drawers.Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.
9th Apr 2019, 08:52 PM #9
double post I got excitedLife expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.
9th Apr 2019, 11:34 PM #10
Better throw a bucket of cold water over him.
10th Apr 2019, 12:09 AM #11
Wonderful and impressive work Luke! That is a classic design, and beautifully executed with gorgeous timber.
Regards from Perth
DerekVisit www.inthewoodshop.com for tutorials on constructing handtools, handtool reviews, and my trials and tribulations with furniture builds.
10th Apr 2019, 12:46 AM #12GOLD MEMBER
- Join Date
- Jun 2005
Now you have to explain to every Seppo who sees it what the timber is. Well done mate, a truly great piece of furniture.CHRIS
10th Apr 2019, 12:58 AM #13GOLD MEMBER
- Join Date
- Jun 2014
- Seattle, Washington, USA
10th Apr 2019, 10:10 AM #14SENIOR MEMBER
- Join Date
- May 2010
Wow Luke, that's inspiring mate!
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