Retaining the essence of the country style

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by Warren May

Fig. 1: Cupboard plans

Rails and stiles for all doors are 2Vs in. by Va in. -e-39%-

Barn Style Country Garages Plans

Adjustable shelf

Left door latch is Left door acts as

Fig. 1: Cupboard plans

Rails and stiles for all doors are 2Vs in. by Va in. -e-39%-

80 The Best of Fine Woodworking

From Fine Woodworking magazine (March 1989) 75:66-69

Country Style Fine Woodworking

1A: Top corner molding detail

Top is shaped with reground cutter. . Top,

Molding radius, _ , V4 in. Door spacer strip

Subtop forms doorstop.

Adjustable shelf shaped to engage catch in shelf, catch for right door latch.

Left door latch is Left door acts as

1B: Section through glass doors

. Molding is held in place f by countersunk brads.

Right stile overlaps left stile by Va in.

1C: Latch

Latch engages left door.

1D: Panel cutter

Reground shaper cutter cuts tongue to fit standard groove; versatile panel edging is used for door panels, back panels.



In the early 1800s, lumber was so abundant that Kentucky became known as the hardwood capital of the world, and there were more than 30 cabinetmakers in the central Kentucky (Lexington) area alone. Even though these cabinetmakers were far from major cities and fashion centers of the day, prosperous rural landowners and prominent townspeople in the area wanted furniture of the trendy Chippendale, Sheraton, Hepplewhite and Federal styles popular in the East. Striving to meet the needs of their patrons, these local cabinetmakers made the fashionable pieces as best they could, but at the same time, developed their own "Kentucky style."

The Kentucky builders took advantage of the ready availability of local hardwoods, such as cherry, walnut and poplar, rather than depend on mahogany or veneers. And even though they often simplified construction procedures and didn't bother wth curved dovetails and other elaborate devices, their pieces were not plain. The furniture was often embellished with inlays that conveyed a strong folk quality and a sense of the individual builder. Various cabinetmaking schools in the area and individual craftsmen, in training their apprentices, solidified these characteristics into an identifiable and lasting style. I've always found the honest melding of function with design and the use of the marvelous local hardwoods in the furniture of this period to be particularly appealing, and I try to incorporate these characteristics into my own pieces, such as the cherry cupboard shown below.

The cupboard is tall, light and functional, with simple, clean lines commonly found on Kentucky-style pieces. The cabinet is made in two sections, which simplifies construction and assembly. I begin by building the legs, then the bottom and upper sections and finally the doors and back. All the rails and stiles are joined with mortises and tenons. The backs of each section are large frames fitted with floating panels.

The top, display section has two shelves: one adjustable, the other fixed. The framed glass doors overlay the sides of the cabinet and are rabbeted along their abutting edges so they "nest" together when the doors are closed. The molding crowning the upper section is formed by shaping the edge of the top and adding a simple underlying cove molding. This molding treatment is the display-section's single decorative feature.

The base section has a single, fixed-position shelf. The paneled doors are flush-mounted. Flared, Kentucky-style legs are integral to the sides of the base and are reminiscent of the proud stance of pieces from the Federal period. Both the scalloped sides and bottom apron combine with the legs and top molding to provide a softening contrast to the otherwise straight-line features of the cupboard. To make the most of the wonderful grain of the cherry used throughout, the cabinet is finished with oil and then several coats of lacquer.

Feet first-Even after 20 years of furnituremaking, I still make a full-size "rough-out" to test any new leg design. A pine 2x4 prototype costs only a few dollars but will give you a good feel for how die drawing translates into three dimensions and help you visualize the proportions of the entire piece. The same curve pattern is used for both the front and back legs. I've flared the front legs sideways and forward; the back ones flare only sideways. For this reason, they are laid out and cut differently, as shown in figure 2 below.

I make each leg from a single piece of cherry, because the glue lines and interrupted grain patterns of a lamination would detract from the appearance. Square die stock for the front and back legs, cut the pieces to length and lay out the patterns. The front legs are interchangeable, but the back ones are not and should lx_" marked "right" and "left" to avoid mistakes when the joints are cut. Carefully bandsaw the legs close to the line; later, after the legs are glued to

Rear leg

Fig. 2: Leg construction

Front leg

Leg pattern

Back leg extends

The author's cherry cupboard features flared legs, patterned front and side paneI aprons and an unobtrusive top molding, identifying it as 'pure Kentucky.'

Rear leg

Fig. 2: Leg construction

Front leg

Leg pattern

Back leg extends

Drawings: Lee Hu\ photo: Warren i Brunner

Traditional Furniture Projects 81

Retaining Wall Guard Rail Offset

Door spacer strip


Adjustable shelf

Dowel support holes, 5/ie in. dia,

Fixed shelf


Slot accepts left door latch.

Bottom shelf the side panels, these bandsawn curves can be spokeshaved to blend gracefully into the side panel surface and smoothed with a scraper.

Screws through elongated holes secure top.


Back-rail support block

Front leg

Offset mortises, tenons away from bottom edge.


Fig. 3: Cupboard construction

Screws through elongated holes to attach molding

Miter ends.

Screws through subtop are counterbored and plugged to fasten top.

Filler strips, Va in.

Making the base section-You can make each side panel shown in figure 3, left, from a single, wide board, or you can joint and edge-glue two or more narrow pieces to make the needed width. After jointing the mating edges, I apply Titebond yellow glue and simply clamp the pieces together. The long-grain joints are strong and do not require dowels or other reinforcement. 1 am quite fussy, however, about selecting wood for grain and color match. I also orient the grain for maximum visual effect. For example, placing denser, more intense grain patterns toward the bottom of the tall, narrow sides of the cupboard imparts a welcome sense of balance. I also like to use arching grain patterns on the horizontal rails, which seems to lighten and lift a piece visually.

After cutting the side panels to width, align each one with its front and back legs, then dry-clamp even,thing together. If you've been careful in your wood selection, the grain pattern along the edge joints between the legs and the side panel should match closely. Now you can mark the decorative bottom curve using the pattern shown in figure 4 on the facing page. I make sure die shape and grain pattern harmonize with the legs; if they don't, I substitute another piece.

The next step is to cut the mortises for the front and rear top rails and the shelves. 1 rout the mortises with a Vs-in. spiral cutter, which makes a smoother cut than a straight bit and chatters less. I offset the mortises and tenons for all the rails away from the sidewalls of the legs to leave more wood to support the tenons and to help prevent side-grain breakout. I finish die job by slightly-rounding the ends of the tenons with a hand chisel.

Next, I cut the stopped rabbet in the rear legs for the paneled back with a dado blade on my tablesaw. Once the corners, which are not reached by the blade, are squared up with a chisel, the side panels and legs are ready to be glued up. Use caul blocks to ensure uniform clamping pressure, and edge-glue each side panel to its front and back legs.

The front legs serve as stiles to frame the flush-mounted doors, so here you just need to cut the tenons on the rails and apron, and shape the apron. Bandsaw '/i6 in. or so proud of the apron curve so you can blend the apron into the curve of the front leg. A sharp knife or round-bottom spokeshave works well for this. For additional support, I screw a small block to the leg under the tenoned back rail.

Fitting the middle shelf and bottom to the base is a bit tricky and requires careful measurement. The bottom must be level with and butt against the bottom apron rail. The middle shelf must set back exactly the door thickness plus Vn in. for clearance so it can act as the doorstop. Notching around the front legs and marking out the tenons is critical here to ensure that the shelf and bottom fit snugly to all their mating surfaces. Finally, the shelf and bottom must be cut so die back-panel assembly can butt against them at final assembly. Carefully aligning die bottom shelf and gluing it to the apron rail at this point makes it easier to square up the carcase during assembly. Check all joints in a final dry run. Multiple tenoas on the shelves should be an "easy fit," but even here, sturdy caul blocks across die sides should lie used for clamping in the final glue-up.

The top of the lower cabinet is made with a Va-in. overhang on the sides and front. I soften the edges using a router with a stock '/¡-in. cove bit. The top is held in place with screws driven up through strips fastened to the inside top edge of each side and front rail. Be sure to use elongated screw holes in the strips to allow for the seasonal expansion and contraction.

Building the top section-Mortise-and-tenon joints are also used for the frames and fixed-shelf top section of the cupboard. The

1 square 4

Apron patterns apron pi

Front leg joint


Front apron pattern upper display shelf is adjustable, but the fixed lower shelf provides needed rigidity. The cabinet has a subtop that acts as a doorstop. The top, attached by screws driven up through the subtop, overhangs the sides and front, and with its shaped edge, forms the upper part of the top molding. The lower molding is a cove-shape strip installed under the overhang. The top molding works visually with the flared legs to give the cupboard a well-balanced appearance.

Construct the sides, shelves, bottom and subtop as shown in figure 3 on the facing page. Note that the subtop is set down from the top of the sides by 'A in. This provides a space between the top and subtop, giving me room to screw through the sides to attach the cove molding. This space also means there is plenty of wood to support die joints, so there's no need to offset the mortises and tenons here. I do, however, offset the tenons on die bottom shelf to minimize die risk of tearout. Dado the rabbet for the back, rout mortises, cut tenons and dry-damp the pieces together for a final check. Again, use sturdy caul blocks for applying even pressure during glue-up.

After assembly. I add '/-t-in. filler strips to the subtop and glue on a spacer strip for attaching the molding above the door, as shown in figure 3. The molding is shaped with a stock '/¿-in.-radius cove bit. The front cove molding can be glued along its entire length. The end moldings are glued only at their mitered ends; they're screwed at the back ends, as described above. 1 shape the edge of the top in two steps, using first a '/•»-in. cove bit to round the top edge and then a '/¿-in. roundover bit, which I've custom-shaped on my grinder (see figure 1A on p. 80), to extend the curve back from the edge. This bit allows me to emphasize the overhang and at the same time blend its curve smoothly into the underlying cove molding. The top is attached with countersunk screws run up through the subtop. These screws are hidden with wood plugs.

Doors and back panels-Again, I select my wood very carefully for grain pattern and straightness. 1 also rough-cut the lumber a few days before 1 need it, to identify- pieces prone to warping. Sec-ond-choice pieces become the frames for the paneled back; really-warped pieces are discarded. On the back, rather than cut mortises in rails for the stile tenons, I groove the entire rail. The groove accepts the tenoned ends of the four stiles as well as the routed edges of the floating panels. 1 modified this construction procedure slightly for the bottom doors. Here I grooved the stiles to accept the rail tenons and the panel edges. This makes for a strong door, and the tenon is only visible on the top edge. The dcx)r panels are resawn and finished to 9/i6-in. thickness; the backs are XA in. thick. 1 shape the edges of the floating panels using a cove bit with one edge ground flat, as shown in figure ID on p. 80, which permits the panel edge to fit snugly in the frame's groove. The back assembly is then fitted to the routed opening in the back of the carcase and attached with countersunk brass flat-head screws. For the glass doors, 1 cut stopped grooves in the ends of the stiles to accept the tenoned ends of the rails. I use a '/t-in. dado blade to cut these and then square them up with a chisel. The rabbet for the glass is routed using a '/-t-in. straight bit. Here again, I use a chisel to square the corners. The butting edges of the doors are rabbeted to allow the right door to overlap the left one by '/« in. when closed. .After fitting the glass, I secure it with molding that's attached to the frame with countersunk nails. Note that the glass doors are designed to fit against the front of the upper section, while the lower, floating panel doors are flush-mounted. This visually ties the top and bottom sections of the cupboard together by-allowing the full width of the leg line in the bottom section to extend through the full height of the cabinet. To mount the doors, I use extruded brass VA-in. by lVs-in. desk hinges (available from The Wise Co., Box 118, 6503 St. Claude, Arabi, La. 70032; 504-277-7551), because of their strength and ease of installation. These hinges also add to the appearance of the cupboard, because when installed flush, the gap between the door and the frame is smaller than is possible with conventional door hinges.

Early Kentucky pieces sometimes had wooden spools for pulls and buckles for catches, because these items could be designed to fit any application and were easily repaired or replaced. 1 prefer the knobs shown in figure 1C on p. 80. I turn the stems and rough out the knob ends on a lathe. The knobs are finish-shaped by hand-sanding. The stem extends through a hole drilled in the door and is secured to a wooden latch, which holds the stem in place and engages a catch when the knob is turned. The catch for the left door is a groove formed in the fixed shelf; for the right door, the back inside edge of the left door acts as the catch.

Finishing up-Most projects will bring rave reviews only if they are well finished. After all fitting, shaping and detailing is completed, I round all edges with sandpaper to about V32 in. radius. This gives the cupboard a soft look and pleasant feel. I sand first with 80 grit, then dampen the surfaces with water to locate glue residues and to raise the grain before finish-sanding with 120 grit. Planed surfaces, such as panels, need only be hand-scraped and sanded with 120 grit.

After 20 years of experimenting with different finishes, I've settled on an oil-and-lacquer finish 1 feel best complements the natural beauty of the cherry and walnut hardwoods I use. 1 apply several coats of my oil recipe (two pan boiled linseed oil, two part high-gloss polyurethane, one part turpentine) until the wood is evenly-sealed. After two to three days of drying time, 1 apply two coats of lacquer sanding sealer, sand with 240 grit and finish with two additional coats of high-gloss lacquer. After buflfing the surfaces with 0000 steel wool, I apply a protective layer of Lemon Pledge spray wax. □

Wairen May makes traditional Appalachian Mountain dulcimers and Kentucky-style furniture. He and his wife. Frankye, operate The Upstairs Galleiy in Berea. Ky.

Fig. 1: Pencil-post bed

Country Appalachian Furniture Style

Finials used in place of tester

To keep long side pieces from sagging, notches are only Ve in. to Vis in. deep.

Pencil post, made from 12/4 cherry

Tenon, beveled from back so it's 'A in. thick, extends 3A in. into post.

Backside of headboard

Detail: Headboard and rail tenons

Mortise and tenon, y2x1x5

Bed iron, '/< in. by 4-in. angle iron cut 1 Yt in. long, mortised into rail

Nut for bed bolt, trapped inside rail

Brass bolt cover

Straight section, 2% in. sq.

84 The Best of Fine Woodworking From Fine Wotxlnvrking magazine (May 1989) 76:32-37

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