Light Look At Quality

The Woodworker's Treasure Chest

Easy Woodworking Project Plans

Get Instant Access

THERE SEEMS to be a general assumption in some quarters that fine furniture is made from dark wood and cheaper, 'ordinary', furniture from light wood. I am pleased to say that quality pieces in light woods are becoming more popular, as their advantages in small or dark rooms are appreciated.

Their use also helps to focus attention on our lovely home grown hardwoods, like sycamore.


The small mechanical element made this an interesting piece to build, and one that has enjoyed success in several directions. I still have the prototype in my house - and it continues to generate work. ■

Shaker leg left: A pleasant, Shaker-influenced chair in sycamore with fumed oak finials

Shaker leg

The perfect companion to a lady's writing desk, this Shaker-influenced chair was made to complete the set

THIS IS VERY much a Shaker design, the tapers on the legs and rails and the thin seat-frame keeping it light and dainty. Sycamore is especially appropriate; its Georgian name 'harewood' was derived from 'air-wood', being as light as air.

The light construction does, however, require great accuracy and care in the jointing to ensure that it can withstand the severe stresses placed on a chair - even one to be used by a lady!


First make a set of full-size drawings - plan and elevations -on a piece of hardboard or similar, from which the angles of the joints and precise dimensions may be taken.

Cut the legs to size, cut all the mortises, and drill the 13mm above right: The chair with its companion writing table

"Harewood was derived from 'air-wood', being as light as air"

left: A pleasant, Shaker-influenced chair in sycamore with fumed oak finials

"Gluing the seat in would be disastrous if it were made from solid wood, as shrinkage would cause splitting almost immediately"

O/2Í11) holes for the stretchers. The top of the back legs can be drilled for the finials at this stage.

Taper the front legs, and 150mm (6in) each end of the back legs. I hand plane these after roughing out on the bandsaw as sycamore is so workable, but a tapering jig can be made for most static machines if preferred. Slot the inside corners of the legs to accept the seat, see illustration', then radius the tops and bottoms - except the top inside edges of the mortised faces - of the front legs.

Make the seat frame-rails, cutting the tenons at the angle required for the front to back taper of the seat. This angle can be measured from the full-size

LEFT! Fumed oak finials are spigoted into holes in the back legs

ABOVE! A simple former for producing the steam-bent back rails

"The fumed oak finials are turned with spigots to fit the holes in the top of the back legs"

curavture at the centre.

Leave overnight to set; then angle and finish the tenons with a small hand plane to fit the 6mm ('/4n) mortises in the back legs.

Dry fit all the joints, make any necessary adjustments and then finish all the individual components; glue, assemble and clamp the back and front subassemblies. Check for square and leave to set.

Cut the seat to size from 6mm ('Ain) sycamore-veneered ply or MDF; cut out the leg rebates in its corners. Assembly Finish assembling the chair by gluing and clamping the side seat rails and stretchers to the back and front; with the seat glued into its slot all round. Once again check for square and leave to set.

Gluing the seat in would be disastrous if it were made from solid wood, as shrinkage would cause splitting almost immediately. As ours is made of stable veneered material, though, it will strengthen the structure and remove the need for corner braces.

The fumed oak finials are turned with spigots to fit the holes in the top of the back legs, and are glued in place.

The seat can be used as it is or with a loose or tie-on cushion.

■ See previous project, 'Speculating in sycamore', for details of the accompanying writing desk

LEFT! Fumed oak finials are spigoted into holes in the back legs plan drawing. Cut the stretchers to length from 19mm by 19mm (3Ain by 3/4in) stock. The taper on these runs from 19mm (3/4in) at the centre to 13mm (]/2in) at the ends; I use a sizing tool on the lathe to ensure the ends are a consistent good fit. If no lathe is available these components can be shaped using a spoke shave, but pay careful attention to the diameter of the ends where they are jointed into the legs.

Curved rails

From 8mm, 5/iein stock cut four back rails - one spare just in case! - work the tenons' shoulders and cut the top curve while these parts are flat. Steam for about 30 minutes before clamping to a former, see photo, giving about 19mm (3Adn) of

ABOVE! A simple former for producing the steam-bent back rails

Window dressing

How to make an elm and burr-elm coffer chest

LEFT! Sold from the window - note the full-width piano hinge for the ■ lid, which has a smaller overhang at the back to act as a stop

"Because finishing can produce a marked change from the dry colour, treatment with white spirit to get a temporary idea of the likely final colour can be worthwhile"

LEFT! Sold from the window - note the full-width piano hinge for the ■ lid, which has a smaller overhang at the back to act as a stop

I APPROACHED A newly opened local department store and suggested that the creation of a 'craftsman' window display would help it to identify with the local community. The display, I thought, should consist of some rich, unusual pieces of furniture, shown alongside wooden tools and shavings, and would result in welcome publicity for us both; I would pay them a percentage of any sales. The company liked the idea and gave me a window for three weeks.

One of the pieces I put in it was this coffer chest made in a mixture of local elm (Ulmus procera) and burr elm. I sold two of them in a week.

"The display was a great success and I sold two of them in a week"


I had some elm with a good burr on the outside edge, becoming plain wild-grained elm towards the heart. This yielded some nice small pieces of burr along with quite a lot of matching elm.

I developed this variation on the basic chest using the small pieces of burr for the floating panels and the plainer elm for the framing.

Removable cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) trays were included to make better use of the storage space, add interest, and give off the timber's wonderful and moth-repelling scent.

Timber selection

I like to use burr timber that would otherwise be burnt. It also seems to have both a conversational and conservational appeal to customers -particularly locals. This butt had been brought to me by my firewood supplier, Martin. It was then planked at a local sawmill and stick-dried in my timber store.

The final look of any piece is decided with the initial timber selection, never more so than when using burr. Look for grain flow, figure, faults, colour changes, dead knots and so on - I cut oversize pieces, marking each with its provisional position, and put them into the conditioning cabinet/kiln for a month or so.

I prepared enough for three chests just in case, and because one was required by Senior Management for display and use in our house.

Back panel flush with legs «

Rebate for piano hinge

Groove for bottom

Front and side panels centred on legs*

Fielded panels dry-fitted into grooves

Shoulder of panel »' to leg Joint

Cutting out

I laid out the oversize, conditioned pieces, moved them around until I was happy, then marked them, but still oversize, ready for machining and final dimensioning.

Once machined it could be finally selected, using white spirit to simulate the wood's polished colour, then stacked in stick in the warm, dry workshop so that it continued to dry evenly during the making.

The tops of the stacks were weighted to hold the timber flat as it settled. This is particularly important with elm - not known for its stability! Final dimensioning was done just before use.


The basic carcass construction is of frames with floating panels, let into corner-post legs. The frames are made from 22mm (/¿in) stock; the stiles are let in to the legs by 13mm (14in) and are cut 63mm (2i4in) wide; the rails and muntins are 50mm (2in) wide. This gives a


Most extreme burr Is used for the floating panels

visible 50mm (2in) frame once assembled.

The rails are morticed, and the stiles tenoned to fit. The fielded panels are dimensioned to allow a 6mm (Kin) tongue all round to be let in to the frames.

The fielding is achieved by first cutting a groove 3mm (Kin) deep, 25mm (lin) in from all the front face

"Burr elm that would otherwise end up as logs seems to have both a conversational and conservational appeal to customers"

edges of the panel using the sawbench; this forms the shoulder between fielding and centre panel. The majority of the waste is then removed from the areas to be fielded with a router and the low chamfer finished with a very sharp shoulder plane. The panels, particularly the fielded edges, are best sealed and polished at this point as it is far easier to do it before they are fitted.

The frame members are then slotted with a 6mm (Kin) deep groove to take the panels, everything checked and fitted dry, and finished.

The frames, with the panels in place, are then glued up, assembled, checked for square and left to set. I put a small blob of glue at the centre of the top and bottom of each panel, inside the housing, to hold them centrally and make sure that any movement is equalised on each side.


The legs are cut to length from 63mm square (2Kin square) section.

A 13mm (Kin) shoulder is cut on the top and bottom of each frame, see diagram, and a 22mm (Kin) housing, 13mm (Kin) deep, cut in the centre of each leg to take the front and side framed panels.

To allow the lid to hinge, the back panel must be fitted flush to the backs of the legs. A 10mm (%in) thick, 13mm (Kin) deep tenon is formed by rebating the outside edge of the back frame stiles, and a matching mortice, set back 12mm (Kin) from the back edge, is cut in the relevant faces of the back legs, see diagram.

I decided to hinge the top with piano hinge for strength. This is rebated fully into the carcass, then fitted straight on to the underside of the top. Having cut this rebate in the top of the back panel, the front, sides and back can be dry-fitted to the legs and adjusted if necessary.

A groove is now cut in the sides, above:

Most extreme burr Is used for the floating panels

BELOW: As the panels are tongued into the legs, their stiles must be wider than the rails to show the same width when assembled


11 A


Carcass plan view back, front and legs to take the bottom, which is made from 6mm ('Am) cedar of Lebanon-faced MDF. The bottom is cut to size, allowing for the groove, and cut-outs made for the legs.

The base is checked, fitted dry and adjustments made. The front and back frames and the legs are finished, glued up, fitted, clamped, checked for square and left to set. The sides and base can then also be glued up, fitted to the legs, checked for square, and the whole carcass left to set.

Incidentally, as the MDF base is not subject to movement, it can be glued in all round for strength.

To make a panel big enough for the framed-up lid, two sequential boards of elm are book-matched and joined. If this is not possible, then the lid could have a number of panels

"At this point I checked that the lid closed down evenly all around on to the top of the carcass"

like the back and front. I felt this would give too repetitive a look - but needs must when the devil drives!

top right! The top frame is 75mm (3in) wide,

Cedar trays have also of 22mm (%in) stock, the stiles handles on all morticed, and the rails tenoned into four sides. The them; the floating fielded panel is veneered MDF fitted into a 10mm (Vain) deep bottoms are groove. Assembly is as for the glued in carcass panels.

The lid overlaps the sides and front of the legs by 19mm (%n), and the back by 6mm (!4in); this arrangement holds the lid open just past the vertical.

The lid may then be fitted to the carcass's piano hinge, which is set flush in the rebate already cut in the back top edge. At this point I check that the lid closes evenly down to the top of the carcass, and make any necessary adjustments.


The trays are made from 8mm (Ykin) thick cedar of Lebanon and are of similar construction to a drawer, but with through dovetails back and front. The sides, back, and front are cut to size, through dovetailed, and grooved for the 4mm cedar of Lebanon-faced MDF bottom.

The handle cut-outs are made in all four sides of each tray with a router. Cutting from both faces will avoid break-out in this brittle timber.

The trays are then glued up and assembled with the base glued in all round for strength, checked for square and left to set.

Rails of 19mm by 19mm (3/in by %'m) elm, on which the trays will sit, are screwed 113mm (4Min) down from the top of the carcass, giving 25mm (1 in) clearance above. Once they are set the outsides of the trays can be finished.

They are then fitted in the carcass and checked to ensure even sitting on the rails.

Pleasing result

Difficulty of making does not necessarily enhance a design. This is a fairly simple piece, a bit repetitive in the making perhaps, but nevertheless giving a pleasing result.

The elm and burr pieces should even be relatively easy to harvest from potential firewood supplies, the only requirements being much patience while it dries out and seasons, care in the conditioning and selection, and enjoyment in the making.

Add to that the nice warm feeling of getting something beautiful for nothing - and what more could one ask for?

8mm cedar sides

8mm cedar sides


I decided on a wax finish over Danish oil to see how it would look.The burr and the elm can be quite porous and oil penetrates well in to the wood, helping to stabilise it by slowing down moisture take-up and loss. Wax gives a pleasant sheen and smell and its future care is generally understood.

The first coat of oil is liberally applied, left to soak in and refreshed every 15 to 20 minutes until it will take no more -four to six coats.

It is then wiped off with a soft cloth to prevent any oil build up on the surface, and left to harden for 24 hours in a warm dry place.

The surface is cut back with a Scotchbrite grey pad and three further light coats of oil applied at 24-hour intervals. The last coat is then cut back, two coats of wax applied and buffed off with a soft cloth.

Future care is the usual light waxing. I was very pleased with the result and will use this finish again on elm.

The inside surfaces, particularly of the burr, are also oiled in a similar way, but not waxed.The outsides of the trays are lightly waxed, the insides being left untreated to let the smell out!

Curved and fumed

French foresight is given thanks for providing the timber

  • KL ■ "" . '
  • 5

for this fumed oak table

Was this article helpful?

0 0
A Newbies Guide To Wood Working

A Newbies Guide To Wood Working

Wonder No Longer About Things Like Designs, Tools And Safety. These Problems Among Others Will Be Covered In This E-Book. You Will Be Creating Great Wooden Works Of Art In Very Little Time At All! For The Beginning Woodworker, The Construction of Handcrafted Wood Creations Can Be a Daunting And Overwhelming Experience. Well, Not Anymore!

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment