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How to make a butler's tray drinks cabinet

WHILE 'RESTING' between orders some years ago I decided to make a speculative piece on the lines of a butler's table, examples of which I had seen in antique shops -they are made up of a large tray, designed for the butler to carry to and from the pantry, which fits on top of a side table. The sides of the tray are hinged so that they can be locked into an upright position when the tray is being carried. These special spring-loaded hinges are known as 'butler's tray' hinges and are still available today.

Design

I decided to scale my butler's tray down in size and, to go underneath the tray, I designed a small cabinet to house drinks.

So that it can be viewed from all sides, the back is solid, and the brass fittings, combined with the complex, rich figuring of the oiled burr, make a distinctive, and decorative piece.

"The brass fittings, combined with the complex, rich figuring of the oiled burr, make a distinctive, and decorative piece'

The butler's tray cabinet

YOU RANG? 75

"Timber selection is of paramount importance to the success of any piece, but never more so than with burr"

Timber selection

It was early on in my career that I embarked on this project, and I was aware of the risks of working in solid burr with its wild grain, faults, and readiness to move. But, mindful of the motto 'who dares, probably doesn't understand', I decided to have a go - but very carefully.

I had some burr elm (Ulmus procera) from a local fallen tree which I had planked and stick-dried for about two years.

Timber selection is of paramount importance to the success of any piece, but never more so than with burr. With such beautiful, but wild, figuring, it takes time and care to get the overall look right.

I checked for faults, grain direction, figuring, and colour, then cut the pieces well oversize and laid them out in their relative positions to try and get an impression of the finished effect.

To get an idea of what the colour would be like, I dressed the wood, and gave it a coat of white spirit. This produced a temporary effect similar to oil or varnish, enabling the colour to be checked and matched.

RIGHT: Cabinet and tray, separate

BELOW: Sides of tray showing handle and feet which act as locators

"Mindful of the motto 'who dares, probably doesn't understand', 1 decided to have a go - but very carefully"

BELOW: Sides of tray showing handle and feet which act as locators

Smaller pieces

Most of the pieces were cut from a single piece of burr, but I had nothing wide enough for the top, base, and back of the cabinet, or the rectangular centre section of the tray. These pieces would therefore need to be made from jointed narrower pieces.

The best way I have found for joining them is to deep-saw a thick piece and join the two resulting thinner pieces, saw faces up, as in a book-matched veneer.

The result is a balanced picture or pattern in the figuring, provided the join is centred in the width.

The wild grain left end-grain across some areas of the joins so a loose tongue of ply was used as a strengthened

"It was not left, even overnight, without ensuring that all faces had equal free airflow around them"

Conditioning

The burr was brought into the house, sticked, and left in a warm room to condition for a month - this was in the days before my conditioning cabinet!

It was then finally dimensioned, ready for cutting out. I was careful to keep the timber in stick in my warm, dry workshop with a weight on top, throughout the whole making process. It was not left, even overnight, without ensuring that all faces had equal free airflow around them.

Cabinet carcass

The cabinet carcass is made from 16mm (%in) thickness timber. The top and base are cut to size, and stopped housings cut for the sides. The stopped housing cut in the base is 16mm (%in) wide by 10mm (3/sin) deep.

The housing in the top is 6mm (%in) wide by 10mm (%in) deep and offset to allow for the tray's locating recess. The sides are shouldered to fit the housing and a rebate cut in the top of the sides to fit the offset housing in the top.

The recesses for the locating tray feet are cut in the top, on the bandsaw. The back of the cabinet is a piece of solid burr and is fitted as a floating panel into a slot cut in the top, sides, and base. All five pieces are dry fitted, finished, glued, and clamped. The back is not, of course, glued-in, so that it can move.

The carcass is checked for square, back and front, and left to set.

Doors

The door frames are made from 38mm by 22mm (IMin by 7sin) burr, with a mortice and tenon joint at the corners. The panels are deep cut from a single thick piece, finished to 'Ain thickness, and book matched. To field the panel, first cut a groove 3mm ('/¿in) deep, 25mm (lin) in from all the front face edges of the panel, on the circular saw, suitably lowered, to form the shoulder between the centre panel and the chamfered edge.

The majority of the waste is then removed from the edges with a router and the fielding finished with a sharp shoulder plane, leaving a raised panel in the centre. The panels, particularly the fielded edges, are finished carefully, as it is far easier to do this before they are fitted.

The frame pieces are grooved on the inside edge, to take the fielded edges of the panels, which are set

LEFT: Underneath of tray with felt strips to protect top

LEFT: Hinge recess with shoulders for screws - note the spring on the back of the hinge

tray hinges

Tray foot

Recess for tray foot

Shouldered»" housing

foot

Back dry-fitted

Mortice and tenon butterfly hinges

Straight grained hardwood dowel

Tray handle

Full stopped housing

Groove to take panel butterfly hinges tray hinges

Straight grained hardwood dowel

Tray foot

Tray handle

Recess for tray foot

Large sections deep-sawn and Jointed

Full stopped housing

Groove to take panel foot

Shouldered»" housing

Back dry-fitted

Mortice and tenon

LEFT! A fine array of single malts

"Turning the dowel as part of the pull or bun foot can be risky - the burr's wild grain may not run true along the length of the dowel, and will possibly shear in the future"

6mm QAva) into the frame. Glue is applied to the mortices, the panels inserted dry to allow for movement, and the doors clamped and checked to see that they are square and flat, and left to cure.

Fitting

Once cured, they are fitted to the cabinet carcass using 38mm (IMin) solid brass butterfly hinges - not the cheap brassed steel versions! These give the decorative effect I wanted, and are easier to fit, not needing a recess! Leave a bit more clearance around the doors than usual to allow for the greater potential movement of the burr.

19mm (%in) pulls are turned from an offcut of the burr and fitted. Brass double-ball catches are then put on.

While on the lathe, I turned the bun feet. The pulls and bun feet are fitted using straight-grained hardwood dowels of a suitable diameter, recessed into the pulls and the door frame, and the top of the bun foot and the base of the cabinet.

Turning the dowel as part of the pull or bun foot can be risky - the burr's wild grain may not run Uue along the length of the dowel, and will possibly shear in the future.

LEFT! A fine array of single malts below: Top located and sides down

Tray construction

The tray is also constructed from 16mm (%in) thick timber. It is vital that it has been seasoned and conditioned well, as the tray is unbraced and has nothing to hold it if it wants to move.

The selected pieces need to be checked carefully for true. The natural shape of burrs makes it easy to choose side pieces with the grain running parallel to the curve. I tried to get the flow and colours of the figuring to run through as much as possible, as though the whole thing had been cut from one piece.

Drill the pilot holes for the brass semi-domed screws, taking particular care with the narrow shoulders. Once fitted, all the slots should line up in true military style!

The curved handles are made and spot-glued and pinned to the end pieces. Feet are cut to fit the recesses in the top and similarly fitted to the nay. These double as locators when below: Top located and sides down

Hinges

These hinges are more difficult to fit than a normal butt hinge, so it is worth doing a trial run on two pieces of scrap to find the depths and clearances required.

The spring-loaded leaf is fitted to the centre piece of the tray, with an extra recess leaving relatively narrow shoulders to take the screws. The centre recess for the spring needs 1.5mm (!4in) extra clearance for the spring to open and close during operation.

ABOVE! Brass butler's hinges look good against the rich figuring of the burr

ABOVE! Brass butler's hinges look good against the rich figuring of the burr the tray is replaced on the top. They are tapered slightly on the inside and at each end to aid an easy fit.

Finally, two broad strips of self-adhesive baize are fitted on the underside of the tray, to prevent scuff marks on the top.

Finish

An oiled finish shows off the wonderful rich colour and figure of the wood, and thoroughly seals and stabilises it as well. The satin finish hides any slight, but inevitable blemishes in the surface of the burr.

The first coat is the most important as, once it has cured, little further penetration takes place. Keep the first coat wet all

SUPPLIERS

day by refreshing it frequently until no more is soaked up. All surplus oil is removed with kitchen roll and the pieces left to dry for 24 hours in a warm, dry place.

A further light coat of oil is applied every 24 hours for the next week, rubbing down between coats with Scotchbrite grey pad, and allowing no build up of oil on the surface.

I found that the brass hinges tarnished with the first coat of oil and I had to remove and re-polish and re-fit them after the first coat had cured.

The advantage of the oiled finish is that it is easily renewable and improves with age and TLC - like so many of us! B

Butler's tray hinges and a wide range of brass fittings from: H E Savill 9/12 St Martin's Place Scarborough North Yorkshire YOI I 2Q8 tel 01723 373032 fax 01723 376984

Handles

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