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First Serious project: Chest-On-Chest

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CaptainBudget

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This is something I've been working on for just over a year, and I can definitely say my skills improved over the course of this. I actually finished this around mid October but I never go round to taking pictures. It is a monster, and I can just about see into the top drawers (I'm 5ft 10).

The casework was finished around the start of 1st Lockdown, and the drawers finished about September. Staining and finishing took the rest of the time.

The casework was made from B&Q/Wickes "whitewood" and needed some degree of hand-planing to make them fully straight. I did discover most of the way though making this that my workbench was badly dished so the members ended up thicker in the middle and thinner at the ends, which caused issues later on with drawer making. Despite my best efforts the cases are also slightly out of square (you can see this in some of the drawer fronts. Doesn't impact functionality. This was the first time I'd worked with Solid Wood frame-and-panel construction. I am pretty happy but they are a bit sloppy on the fit vertically so they can move a bit.

This was also the first project I've done involving half-blind dovetails (and dovetails generally). These are all hand-cut, and when you look at it you can see the joints getting better as you move down the case (All are solid though). The rear joints are hand-cut Through dovetails, and there are more gaps than I would like but given the effort it took to fit these together they aren't coming apart without a fight..

The drawers are made from reclaimed palletwood. We get large pallets at work for sheet metal so the pallet timbers are often ~3-4" square bricks. I got a bandsaw for Christmas and made the boards for the drawers by feeding these through it and edge-joiniting the pieces with hand-planes (a bandsaw, cheap mitre saw, router and orbital sander were the only power tools used on this). Drawer bases are 4/6mm plywood with Muntins in the full-width drawers for strength.

I've stained the drawer fronts, bases and casework with diluted Mann's Classic Pine Stain and finished everything in Fiddes Hard Wax Oil. Beeswax has been rubbed onto the drawer sides and runners for lubrication. I decided not to stain the drawer sides and backs because it shows off the dovetailing (and admittedly any gaps), and I actually like a lot of the colours and patterns that appear in these boards so I wanted to preserve them (the stain has destroyed all these on the drawer fronts).

I've greatly improved my hand tool skills, and I know I need to work on squaring cases more accurately. The drawers were far more square than the case was, and needed modifying to not bind in normal operation. I also now have a far more substantial collection of hand planes, and have got much better at tuning them. I love using them.

I think in hindsight I was far too ambitious starting out, and I look back at the first parts of it I made and I can see all the faults I missed at the time (fractionally out of square, poor tolerance on thickness, minor twist, slightly sloppy joints etc. It does mean the next big project I do will be a lot better though (hopefully!)

I welcome comments and criticisms.

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Snettymakes

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That is a beast.. a big beautiful beast! A great effort and a wonderful result.

I feel your pain on the Wickes white wood, I made the mistake of using that to make cabinet doors. It worked, but the quality of the doors is poor (below my lack of expertise), and one is so badly warped that it sticks out beyond the worktop. I'll end up remaking them all at some point. The cost of good quality softwood is double or more that of Wickes, but definitely worth the investment imo. Of course, your username may dictate otherwise 😂.

I love the dovetails, I wouldn't have expected such a good fit or contrast with softwood, but then what do I know! I hope you're happy with the result, I'd be beating myself up every time I looked at the case/draw fit but that's a fault of mine and you definitely shouldn't be, it's a great attempt and I hope you're proud of it 👍🏼.
 

AndyT

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As above!
Scrolling down as I read your intro, I wasn't expecting something as impressive as that! The wood looks a lot better than I imagined and the joy of dovetails is how strong they are even if slightly less than perfect.

Even if some parts aren't entirely square, it will perform better than many old and battered pieces.

My only doubt is whether you are tall enough to see what's in the top drawers!
 

Blackswanwood

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That looks great - getting on and making stuff is the best way to learn. The proportions work well - was it by your own design or copied from an existing piece?
 

CaptainBudget

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Thank you for the kind words, the fit of some of the drawers does annoy me but I suppose it does function mostly as intended.

The Whitewood wasn't my first choice, but we are a bit skint so I had to make do. Now I've got a functional bandsaw I do have access to unlimited (near-enough) free wood, but there is a bit of work in selecting and preparing it, and the occasional embedded tiny stone doesn't do my planes any favours!

Once prepped though the pallet-wood is definitely a superior material to work with (when I get a good piece) and has more interesting colours and grain. I do intend to try and use hardwoods in future, but (for me) they're pretty expensive...

My only doubt is whether you are tall enough to see what's in the top drawers!
I can, just about. I only keep socks, etc. in those anyway so it doesn't really matter.


That looks great - getting on and making stuff is the best way to learn. The proportions work well - was it by your own design or copied from an existing piece?
I modelled this in CAD to make sure it "looked" right and assist in working out the drawer dimensions so they were all at useable heights. I then picked the joints based on geometry and guidance from Hylton's book. I also made a set of drawings to work to which REALLY helped.

It was largely my own design, heavily influenced by the guidance from Bill Hylton's book Illustrated Cabinetmaking (2008, Fox Chapel Publishing). There's a page on Chest-On-Chests in there with a rough design I adapted to the space I had to fill, and the tools/skills I had. I love this book because he explains what ranges of dimensions work best for different components based on application, and has a whole chapter devoted to joinery theory and subassembly construction with numerous alternative construction options. It is probably one of the best design guides I have come across.

The bottom three drawers are at the top end of the dimensions he advises for drawers, and they are a bit unwieldy. I did also modify the back design so I could use 1-piece plywood backs with a bar across the top that I could fix it to the wall with (I think if this fell on you it's game over...). I did also study other solid wood sets of drawers when I came upon them to try and make sure everything would work.

I think on reflection if I was to change anything (apart from improving precision during manufacture) I would make that bottom tier 4 drawers instead of 3, they are perhaps a bit too big and don't lend themselves as well to organisation because they are so deep...
 

John15

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Wow - that's a mammoth chest of drawers. Probably the whole thing should have been scaled down a bit for a first effort. Anyhow, congratulations. In particular as mentioned the dovetails look very good. I'm currently making a chest of drawers half that size so appreciate some of the difficulties you have had.
Well done.

John
 

AndyT

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Have you added up how many separate bits of wood you were dealing with?

In my limited experience one of the rarely mentioned challenges of a project like that is just keeping track of all the parts!
 

custard

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I salute you Captain B.

To see such a mammoth project right through to the end, overcoming all those problems along the way, it speaks volumes about your dedication and persistence

That is both a fine piece of furniture and a wonderful tribute to the furniture maker!

👏
 

AJB Temple

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Well done. Brilliant for a first project. Drawer fit is always very hard if the case is not spot on, and white "shed" softwood tends to move rather a lot anyway.
 

CaptainBudget

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Have you added up how many separate bits of wood you were dealing with?

In my limited experience one of the rarely mentioned challenges of a project like that is just keeping track of all the parts!
Many. I can see that being an issue, but as I don't have a lot of space I only made the parts I needed for each set of frames/panels. The components of all four case sides were cut at once, then all the drawer runner/frame parts, etc. and didn't start cutting drawer parts until both cases were glued up. I basically tried to minimise the number of "unglued" parts I had cut at any one time to keep track of what everything was.

I also had a Cut List on the drawings, broken down into subassemblies so I could check I'd cut everything I needed to for that set of panels/frames.

I think there was a good 25-30pcs of timber in each of the bottom drawers by the time I cut all the parts for gluing up.

Lots of marking with a pencil was key where I had lots of similar parts, I labelled each joint with a unique letter/number on both pieces so I couldn't accidentally switch pieces or cut the wrong one.
 

Jameshow

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Fantastic work especially using pallet wood!

Your dovetail if you did them by hand are great!

Cheers James
 

thetyreman

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I'd be over the moon with that as a first project! it's one of the best 'first projects' I've ever seen, I was flicking through illustrated cabinet making and it's nice to see a double chest like this in the flesh, they are quite rare, very practical piece of furniture that will last many lifetimes, seriously well done 👏
 

Sru

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This is something I've been working on for just over a year, and I can definitely say my skills improved over the course of this. I actually finished this around mid October but I never go round to taking pictures. It is a monster, and I can just about see into the top drawers (I'm 5ft 10).
Should be really proud of that - epic job. And will last a lifetime.
 

pe2dave

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An excellent piece of work, furniture to last! More so when you tell us where the timber came from!
Wholly agree about planing? Straight off the stone, lubricated base, listening to the plane is pure pleasure.
I'm quite jealous of those dovetails. Very neat! Love the way you've shown them.
 

Nelly111s

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That's great. On every level.
You finished it ✅
It looks great ✅
You used machines and hand tools ✅
You're going to do more woodwork ✅
You know how to get better ✅
 

Doug71

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You have made a fantastic job of that, especially considering what it's made of. Well done (y)
 
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