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The completed panel

"It also makes a good sampler of solid-wood jointing techniques if the effects of shrinkage are to be planned for"


DA'COSTA's visit to the Shaker Room at the American Museum In Bath was the furniture equivalent of conversion on the road to

Damascus, and he took a City & Guilds course at Burnley, following this up with a licentiateship in Furniture and Manufacture. Passionate about Shaker furniture, he has yet to fulfil his ambition to visit the sites of now defunct communities in New England.

LEFT: Fall-front open to reveal interior layout

FAR LEFT! Fine Shaker style

Shaker-style desk

As well as being a useful piece of furniture, Gordon da'Costa's desk is an exercise in solid-wood joinery

THIS STYLE of desk offers practical storage for stationery and a good writing surface without looking too heavy, thanks to its open lower structure. It also makes a good sampler of solid-wood jointing techniques if the effects of shrinkage are to be planned for.

The base and top carcass are made separately. The base is a simple, table-like structure with rails tenoned into legs and fixed to the top carcass with buttons; the top is basically a box into which various sub-divisions and moving parts are fitted.

Using sliding dovetails for the corner joints of the outer carcass

means that it will resist pushing forces in all directions, so although there's quite a lot going on inside, simple housing joints can be used for most internal fitting.

Wide components

The American cherry (Primus serotina) I used measured 150 to 250mm (6 to lOin) in width, so the wider components were made up using loose tongues, where a groove is cut into both of the edges to be joined and a tongue of, say, cross-grain ply is inserted. Where end-grain is exposed, the grooves should stop 10mm (3/sin) or so short of the ends.

ABOVE: Sycamore drawer interioi--dovetails and loper can also be seen

ABOVE: Sycamore drawer interioi--dovetails and loper can also be seen

"A horizontal centreboard carries the fall-front's hinges and forms the back of the writing surface'1

i.EFT: Fig I Economic gluing — two carcass sides from one glue-up

BELOW! Fig 2 Alternative method of gluing up boards

BELOW! Fig 2 Alternative method of gluing up boards

RIGHT: Cherry and sycamore provide a pleasant contrast

the fit, then cut a rebate for the back.

On the inside face of the carcass top five housings for the drawer guides andjDigeon holes are marked and cut. Housings are best cut with a router guided by a board clamped square across the work; it's a good idea to cut these before machining the parts that will fit into them so that the thickness can be matched to the cutter.

A horizontal centreboard carries the fall-front's hinges and forms the back of the writing surface. This is housed into the carcass sides; stop these housings 15mm (5/8 in) short of the front edges and cut matching shoulders on the centreboard.

Two housings for the upper drawer guides are cut into this component to match those in the top carcass member, from which they should be marked.

Dry-assemble the base, top and sides of the carcass; slide in the centreboard and check for fit. When this is correct the edges of the top and bottom can be rounded and the sliding dovetails glued — but not the centreboard.

The illustration shows that

To minimise waste when making the sides, both can be glued up as a single 500mm by 820mm (19 72 by 32in) piece, see fig 1, then cut as shown. Alternatively, use varying lengths, see fig 2.

Main carcass

The sides are jointed into the overhanging top and base using dovetailed housing joints. Dry assemble these to check

RIGHT: Cherry and sycamore provide a pleasant contrast

Dowel holes in tenon

• Breadboard end

above: The bureau is attached to the stand with buttons screwed to the underside of the carcass

10mm (3/8in) dowels are fitted into the carcass sides to act as stops for the lopers. Glue these into 15mm (5/sin) deep holes, then file flats on their upper and lower surfaces until their thickness is 8mm (5/i6in) — this gives a larger surface area for the loper to run on.


The fall-front is a door when closed and a writing surface when opened, and as it is fixed on only one edge by hinges it must be constructed to stay flat. This is done by tenoning its ends into long-grain cleats, sometimes called breadboard ends, in such a way as it can shrink and expand without cupping.

Make up the main board to width as before then cut the tenons, forming a 22mm (7/s in) shoulder at each end, see fig 3.

Cut mortices in the cleats leaving 25mm (lin) at each end; this gives a 3mm ('/sin) gap at each end of the tenons to allow for expansion caused by humidity changes, see panel.

The dowel holes in the outermost ends of the tenons above: The bureau is attached to the stand with buttons screwed to the underside of the carcass should also be slightly ovular.

Dry-assemble and clamp the cleats to the fall-front, then from what will be the inner face drill dowel holes through the tenons and just into the outer cheek of the mortices, taking care not to break through the outer face. Dismantle, and elongate the dowel holes in the tenons to allow sideways movement.

The fall-front can now be assembled and dowels glued in position. The tenons must be free to slide along the mortices, so restrict the use of glue to no more than 50mm (2in) either side of the centre of the boards.

Next, clean up then cut a quadrant profile in the top edge, followed by the rebates and finger grips in the end cleats.


Cut in and fit the hinges to the fall-front, then from these mark the hinge positions on the centreboard, cut in and check for correct alignment.

Slide the centreboard into place, refit the fall-front and make any final adjustments — do not glue the centreboard yet.


The fall-front is supported when open by a pair of pull-out lopers. Like the fall-front, their end-grain is capped with breadboard ends for stability and appearance. To protect the face of the fall-front, a strip of felt or leather is glued to their top edge.

Each loper is sandwiched between the carcass side and the adjacent drawer divider. A dowel, see above, restricts travel.

Shape and cut two kickers — which also hold the dividers in position — a fraction wider than the thickness of the lopers, and glue and screw into place, see fig 4.

Install the lopers in position, then fix the dividers by pocket-screwing through them into the-centreboard at the top; and with two screws driven up through the

Dowel holes in tenon

• Breadboard end oval to allow movement &

oval to allow movement &

J^Oi^ ABOVE: Fig 3 Construction details of fall-front. The correct construction technique for the fall-front is paramount because of the risk of movement warping the surface. The tenons are deliberately under-cut In their depth to allow for natural movement. The holes into which the dowels are placed to peg the cleats at either end are also ovular for the same reason.

Fig 5 Layout of double tenons for the stand

THE STAND is attached to the bureau by buttons screwed to the underside of its base, and located in grooves cut in the stand's rails, see picture.

The rails are joined to the legs using twin secret haunched mortice and tenon joints, see fig 5. Each of the joints is dowel-pegged, providing added strength and following the Shaker tradition.

The slender legs demand four lengths of even-grained, knot-free timber. Arrange each piece so that the run of the grain is from top to bottom, making for a cleaner finish when

ABOVE: Fig 4 Loper details and construction

• Dowel stop frames are made using concealed half lap joints; when these attain carcass at the bottom. It will be seen from the illustration that the main drawers run between runners and rails which are planted onto the carcass bottom and under the centreboard. These components also form housings for the drawer dividers, the divider in the centre being fixed in the same way as the drawer/loper dividers.

The centreboard can now be glued, a stop for the fall-front then being fitted along the front of the top carcass member, see main illustration.


The arrangement of drawer and pigeon-holes in the upper part of the carcass comes next. Cut grooves in the main vertical dividers to accommodate the dust shelves and the base of the pigeon-holes, then slide them into place dry.

Now cut the pigeon-hole members and groove their base. Glue the vertical pieces to it; then when dry the assembly can be slid into position.

The two small drawer runner a sliding fit all the components can be glued into place.

To compensate for any discrepancies, the runners, kickers and fillets are not fitted until after the drawers are made.


I used cherry for the drawer fronts, but the sides, backs and bottoms are in sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus). This gives the inside a light, clean-looking appearance which is enhanced by veneering the interior face of the drawer fronts in the same material.

The drawer knobs may be turned from wood as here, or can be of brass or china, all in keeping with Shaker tradition.

As the drawer bottoms are solid wood, they are fitted dry into grooves in the fronts and sides. These grooves are best cut before the dovetails, as the backs finish at the top of the bottoms to allow them to project

Remember that the grain of solid drawer bottoms must run across the drawer so that planing the tapers.

Tapering the legs on their inner fa<;es sides avoids a pin-toed look; make sure that each taper begins below the mortice hole even after cleaning up; with a shallow angled taper like this even sanding its face can move its start position a surprising distance.

After the leg to rail joints have been glued up, drill holes for dowels through the tenons to a depth less than 35mm (l5/ein), leaving a blind end. Cut a narrow groove along the length of each dowel to allow excess adhesive to escape, then glue and fit.

shrinkage is in the front-to-back direction, and can be taken up by the overhang — for this reason the bottom is screw-fixed to the underside of the drawer back through an elongated slot. ■

• Full dimensioned drawings and cutting list for this piece are available free to readers of F&C. Please send a stamped, self-addressed A4 envelope to: Shaker desk drawings, Furniture and Cabinetmaking, Castle Place, 86 High Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 1XN.

Headboard head

Be warned - Andrew Skelton's deceptively basic design for a bed will not induce sleep MAIN PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEPHEN HEPWORTH

right: Photo I Simple it may be, easy it ain't - a curved, laminated headboard

ANDREW SKELTON, who has been making high quality hardwood furniture for the past IS years, was recently commissioned to make a copy of a seat at>Charleston. The original seat no longer existed and the design was arrived at by studying photographs and a few seconds of film. Skelton trained as an architect and says furniture-making is a natural progression from that discipline. He lives and works in the Derbyshire Peak District.

right: Photo I Simple it may be, easy it ain't - a curved, laminated headboard


While not involving straightforward joinery, the bed itself is not difficult to make. The whole project consists of only eight joints, and making the curved headboard can be broken down into stages.

The headboard and footboard are assembled in the workshop and the long rails secured with knock-down fittings on site.

The slats on which the mattress sits are bought, ready-made, along with their end fittings. They are simple to fit and have proved very comfortable. The slats, made from laminated beech (Fagus sp) sprung to a gentle curve, are held by rubber fittings needing no more than holes drilled in the rails -there being no point in making work for the sake of it!

3-step mortice

I like legs set at 45°, and here I feel

This design attempts to reduce the bed to its simplest components of posts, rails and headboard, and yet express richness of both form and materials.

I often find that simple-looking designs require more work, and this project adds weight to that argument, the desire to express each component both structurally and decoratively requiring subtle proportion and attention to detail and workmanship.

Clearly, a bed can be made using simpler construction, but part of our role as designers must be to attempt to challenge and excite not just the viewer of the finished object but ourselves as makers, see photo 1 and fig ].

"Clearly, a bed can be made using simpler construction, but part of our role as designers must be to attempt to challenge and excite"

they give a logic and tension to the design. More importantly, the curved headboard ^ the only definite requirement of the client - flows naturally from the angled posts.

I have, perhaps, further complicated the joint between the posts and the rails by showing the knock-down fittings decoratively. Ply tongues or even biscuits could serve here, but I was worried they might not close with the knockdown fixing and that any racking of the bed would leave an unsightly open mitre.

The secret of success with this joint, see photos 2,4 and 5 and fig 2, is to machine up plenty of test pieces and keep altering the set-ups until everything is spot on.

The pockets - for they are hardly mortices - in the legs are cut with a router guided by a jig which fits over the corner of the legs, see photo 6.

below left: Photo 2 Mortice detail with M6 holes for threaded rod connectors below middle: Photo 4 Stepped and mitred tenon below left: Photp S The completed joint with decorative aluminium plugs fitted

Blocks create a platform at 45° on which the router can run, and fences and stops are added to determine the exact position and size of the mortice.

The three steps of the joint depend on the positioning of the fences and accurately setting the depth of the router cut. The bottom of the router cut must hit the leg exactly at the front of the rail, and this is where the test pieces are invaluable.

These test pieces can also be used to set up for the short tenons; remember to cut a 45° haunch top and bottom if the corners of the rails are to be rounded over.


The best way to pull up this joint is to apply pressure at right angles to the leg. Having drilled the appropriate holes, I used threaded rod and 45° blocks to test fit and glue up the short rails, see photo 7.

The actual fitting is made from a long M6 machine screw with a nut epoxied into one side. Rather than standard nuts, I used threaded rod connectors; at 18mm long these provide a better gluing surface - I had to cut the ends at 45°, see photo 8.

Both ends of the fittings are hidden by 15mm diameter aluminium plugs; although these could be of wood, I like the contrast of the oak and polished metal, see panel for how to make these.

"I accept that this would make more sense for a small production run, but even for the one-off a mould like this is relatively quick and economic to achieve"

Headboard mould

The headboard is laminated from four layers of 3mm MDF with veneers on both sides formed over a mould in the vacuum press. Having already made a jig to cut the leg mortices, now an 850mm by 1600mm (32 by 60in) mould for the headboard must be constructed.

I accept that this would make more sense for a small production run, but even for a one-off a mould like this is relatively quick and economic to achieve.

I make a 9mm MDF template which I use when routing the 25mm (lin) chipboard ribs. The template provides not only the shape of the curve but also cut-outs for battens with which to keep the assembled ribs in registration.

Fig I Design for a bed

Andiew Steiton 29 Jarway 1997

top right: If the ribs are routed neatly and

Photo 6 Jig for assembled carefully, in line and morticing legs square, then the mould can be used later as a jig to accurately trim the middle right: headboard, see photo 11. Photo 7 Blocks in The curve of the ribs must allow place to assist for the skin of the mould - in this gluing up case three layers of 3mm MDF -

and also for the spring-back of the bottom right: formed piece. Spring-back is Photo 8 Bolts and difficult to predict, especially in a plugs for leg curve like this with many different

Joints radii of curvature.

I simply 'tighten up' the curves to exaggerate the difference between the highs and lows. My mould, which was 5mm higher and 5mm lower than the actual curve, proved to be a little tight - the panel didn't spring back as much as I had anticipated, see photo 12.

It still amazes me how rigid even three glue lines will make a laminated panel. To take the guesswork out of guessing, the serious and sensible student of laminating would of course keep a notebook of what happens when and where.

Easier life

The thought of having to use curved scrapers and hand-sanding the headboard filling me with horror, I veneered the two outer - oak (Quereus robur) for the back and burr oak for the front - sheets of 3mm MDF and cleaned them up while they were still flat.

This technique does have its limitations, however, making the substrate significantly less pliable and the complete package less rigid.

I first veneered a piece of 3mm MDF with the backing cross-grain oak and cleaned it up before gluing it over the mould to three further sheets of 3mm MDF. I then dimensioned and fitted the headboard, remembering that it was still short of its final layer of veneered MDF.

It is always difficult to cut curved panels true and out of wind, and I used the mould as a guide on which to run the router to cut the first straight edge. The other cuts to dimension the panel can be made on the saw bench from this straight edge.

The curved headboard will not enter a vertical groove in the posts for assembly, see fig 2. To circumvent this problem I cut these grooves oversize and made a tapered strip which I glued in during assembly.

The strip forces the panel nicely to the front of the groove opposite page: and, once scraped flush, hardly Fig 2 Leg shows - particularly as it is behind assembly the headboard.

For extra security I used aluminium 4mm dowels pinned through the front and the groove at intervals down the posts. The bottom edge of the headboard is fixed to the back rail by a groove that is routed using one of the mould ribs as a template and a guide bush.

In order to allow for this groove, extra width is needed on the back rail;

this is accomplished by gluing and screwing an extra strip to it, see fig 3.

above: Fig 3 Plan view of leg assembly

this is accomplished by gluing and screwing an extra strip to it, see fig 3.

Random squares

With the headboard carefully fitted, cut the outside piece of 3mm MDF exactly to size and draw on it the pattern for the bun' oak face veneers. The random squares of burr oak are a deliberate attempt to use the veneer in a way that is modern, avoiding the connotations of the book-match or other traditional ways of laying veneer.

From a practical point of view, smaller, and cheaper, pieces of veneer can be used, but, set against that, cutting and taping 200-plus squares is not the quickest or most exciting of operations.

I glued this strange sheet - more tape than veneer - to the piece of MDF and sanded it carefully while it was still flat. This piece was then glued to the rest of the headboard on the mould in the vacuum press -a tense and worrying operation as the two components now represented an incredible amount of time, effort and money.

Thankfully, all aligned properly and I was able to clean the edges of the complete assembly with a few strokes of a hand plane.

The top edge of the headboard is veneered with burr oak, and I used hot Scotch glue although there are other suitable methods.

I was careful to mask off the front and back to avoid glue runs negating all my 'pre' cleaning up.

The headboard is finished with a semi-gloss lacquer; to effect a contrast with this and the polished metal I brushed out the grain of the oak and waxed it.

above: Fig 3 Plan view of leg assembly above right: Photo II

Headboard mould

BELOW: Photo 12 The completed curve

BELOW: Photo 12 The completed curve

TOP LEFT: Photo 9 Threading plugs LEFT: Photo 10 A nice shine and edge to the plugs

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Wood Working for Amateur Craftsman

Wood Working for Amateur Craftsman

THIS book is one of the series of Handbooks on industrial subjects being published by the Popular Mechanics Company. Like Popular Mechanics Magazine, and like the other books in this series, it is written so you can understand it. The purpose of Popular Mechanics Handbooks is to supply a growing demand for high-class, up-to-date and accurate text-books, suitable for home study as well as for class use, on all mechanical subjects. The textand illustrations, in each instance, have been prepared expressly for this series by well known experts, and revised by the editor of Popular Mechanics.

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