Updated: Jan 14, 2022
A twelve step walk-through of the building process for the oak blanket chest.
The finished piece sat on the Roubo bench, ready to move to it's new home.
1/12 Picking up the quarter sawn planks of oak from the timber yard (Whitmore's) on the southern border of Leicestershire. The three boards are approximately 14ft long x 2ft wide, and by counting the growth rings they're over 100 years old.
2/12 Using a no 5. Jack plane with a cambered blade and heavy set, to get the first good view of the grain, and I'm looking out for knots, splits, shakes and any other defects. I'll start to divide the planks into the components I need, with most the focus on the wider boards required for the front, sides, back and top.
3/12 Here I'm temporarily 'stickering' boards I have machined up to approximate sizes on the workbench. Everything will be stickered for several months indoors, to allow the wood to acclimatise - in this case losing moisture and shrinking. The sticks are to allow free air movement between the boards so everything dries evenly.
4/12 I'm now working at the leg vice, hand planing the edge of two boards that will get jointed together to make one of the sides of the chest. Its important I plane this as flat and straight as possible, so I'm using a no.7 jointer plane which specialises in this task with it's extra long sole.
5/12 And so the dovetailing begins. For neat joinery of any kind, this is the most important stage to ensure everything looks crisp, neat and well proportioned. I start with a cutting gauge to mark the shoulders all round the boards, then plan out an attractive layout for the dovetails on a story stick using dividers before transferring to the oak boards.
6/12 A view of the back piece after the tails have been sawn and the waste cut out with a coping saw. Note a spacer in the top left corner of the leg vice, to stop the vice twisting when tightened, and a holdfast clamping the right hand side of the board to prevent any shaking when sawing the joinery. The more solid and steady a work piece is held, the more accurate and efficient tools will work.
7/12 Cutting the waste from between the pins can be a game of chicken, cutting as close to the shoulder line as you feel comfortable, but ensuring to keep the saw very level so you don't over cut on the far side.
8/12 Planing the joint flush is a rewarding moment, particularly on a run of so many dovetails. When I mark the shoulder line with the cutting gauge, I always add a little on somewhere around 0.5mm. This is so when the joint comes together, the end grain always sits proud, which is much easier to trim flush with a block plane, rather than planing the entire face / side down flush. Make sure your plane is sharp and (if possible) plane in towards the chest, to prevent the edge breaking out.
9/12 Here I've almost installed the rails to carry the drawers and the chest base. I've used a sliding dovetail joint which has to be dead accurate. Patience will pay off here and undercutting will always forgive you, over cut and it's game over so just go steady and put the time into marking out.
10/12 You can see the central drawer divider has now been jointed. The same rules apply as above. When measuring for the shoulders on the central divider, I've taken it from right up close to the side of the chest and marked with a knife. This in case there is any sag in the bottom rail, and will ensure a parallel line for the drawers to sit in.
11/12 These are the side components for the base with you guessed it... more dovetails! The back base component is slightly shorter in height, to allow the chest body to sit on top of it, hence the ends with just two dovetails and a straight cut. You'll see in the finished photos how this works.
12/12 The base jointed, shaped and attached. This is another joint which has no room for error. The shoulder lines have to be perfect, so I took the measurement straight from the chest again with a knife. The shaping was cut out on the bandsaw, then cleaned up with a chisel and file. This really brought the piece to life.
End of part 1. To be continued...
— Christopher J. Darby