Quick half-blind dovetails... the hard part

A large number of 18th century furniture pieces I have studied exhibit deep saw overcuts on the drawer fronts. Some of these extend an inch beyond the baseline and are quite deep into the face of the drawer. They aren't simply to release the outside corner as some posit... they are far deeper than required for that task.

Given our lack of actual written "how to-s" from the period, my interpretation of these marks is that the original maker oversawed the baseline and then continued to saw down to release the inside corner of the waste. This makes waste removal nearly as simple as it is for a through dovetail.

I holdfast my pin board to the bench, face down, for sawing.
Just a demo, so no protective block on the holdfast
This allows me to saw the whole pin face by simply oversawing the baseline. To start, I simply tilt the toe of my saw up, and saw as deeply as I can to the end grain line. After that, I level the saw out and take shorter strokes with the toe of the saw to release all the waste down in the corner. 

Do this on both sides, pick up your chisel (I prefer to use a narrow chisel as this assists in breaking out the grain rapidly with less force needed. 

Once you have most of the waste chiseled on the inside face, put the board vertically in your face vise. Split down with a chisel to remove large chunks of the waste, leaving just a bit of wood to pare out down to your lines.

A couple of final paring cuts and you have a finished socket. Total time for this process in walnut is about 30 seconds (longer in this example because I had to keep stopping to take pictures). This is a fast and repeatable way to make these simple joints.

Bear in mind I'm a hard-core traditionalist and care very little for modern opinions and methods. Those saw cuts are evidence to me, not flaws. The men whose work I seek to understand did their jobs with speed and job-specific knowledge. The modern idea of "every surface is a show surface" is anachronistic to the period in which I have interest. The inside of a drawer front will never be seen by the end user and a true period craftsman would not lavish attention on such a surface when simply oversawing a short distance would speed the process.

You may wish to try this in your own work. Remember, though, the reason I do this is out of fidelity to the past. If you are doing modern work, I would caution you that many see this technique as a "shortcut" or as somehow less valid than spending 20 minutes chiseling with special-purpose tools to achieve a pristine inner surface. I have very little use for those people, but just keep this in mind.

Channel moldings

Channel moldings are commonly seen on seventeenth and early eighteenth century furniture.  They are very simple to do, yet add a nice shadow line that helps to break up an otherwise plain surface, which in this case is the four side rails for my poly chrome bevel molded dresser.

The channel molding is made up of a groove with molded features flanking either side of the groove. Ovolos, cavettos, ogees, and simple roundovers are seen.  These are usually done with a scratch stock and can be done after assembly if so desired. On my piece, the channel molding is a very simple roundover.  It doesn't require a custom scratch stock to make, only a few basic hand tools. I have considered making it just a bit fancier, which can still be done later with a scratch stock should I decide it is required.

Shown here are my Gabriel plow, a Gabriel #5 hollow, a chisel which will be used as a scraper, a mortising gauge, and my work holding setup for this piece.

These Gabriels are genuine 18th century. Very cool!
First I defined the location of the molding with the mortising gauge. In this instance, the channel will be 1/2" wide, 1/4" deep, and 1 1/2" in from the inside edge of the side rail. Take your time and make several light passes with the gauge. Do not try to make a deep line with one pass; you will most likely make a pair of ugly, twisty lines that will not serve their purpose.

With the groove laid out, I then set up my plow plane to make the appropriate cut. For more information on plow planes and how to use them, see my article The Care and Feeding of the Wooden Plow Plane.

Given that a plow is a joinery plane that isn't expected to make attractive surfaces, the bottom of the groove needed a little dressing up. To do this, I grabbed a 1/2" chisel and, using it bevel up at a high angle by dragging it backwards, I scraped the bottoms of the grooves smooth. This has the added benefit of helping to clean up any stray wood fibers from the sides and bottom corners of the grooves. You can see a little chipout in the very end of the groove caused by a marking gauge line that wasn't deep enough. It will not be a problem as this area is exactly what will be molded later on.

Using a chisel as a scraper is a great technique. They dull quickly this way especially in white oak.

Once you have the groove plowed and cleaned up, simply round over the top corners of the groove with an appropriately-sized hollow plane. I used my #5. You could use a chisel if you don't have hollows and rounds.

How it looks against the stiles.

This extremely simple technique adds a nice look to the piece. All four moldings were done in less than 30 minutes. A scratch stock molding wouldn't take much more (if any) time at all, outside of making the tool. I hope you can find a use for this easy technique in your own work.

Panels for my polychrome chest of drawers

Rather than recreate the famous scene from Adam Bede in which Seth Bede assembles a door with no panels, I figured I'd go ahead and make the panels for the side.

Like the original, they are white pine. Unlike the original, I had to glue them up. The original piece was done with a single wide board. Give that the piece will be heavily decorated with simulated oyster veneering and two separate runs of molding, the visual difference will be negligible.

Anyway, the side panels are about 3/4" thick and are beveled on the inside to fit into the 3/8" groove in the frame components. The beveling was done with a combination of my Mathieson fore plane and my Mathieson try plane.

After sizing the panel and flattening the show side, I marked a line roughly 1/4" in from that face with a marking gauge. This was done all the way around the panel. I then planed down to that line on a bevel, keeping the angle of the plane consistent. This is exactly how one would go about raising a panel for a show application as well, although a bit more care in layout would be advised.

Once the beveling is complete, a dry assembly of each side is advised. This ensures that the panel's bevels will fit all the way into the grooves and will not hold up the framing components from seating properly.

It's really coming together now. Still need to make the back panel.
Any concern about shrinkage will be allayed by the moldings which will run around the inside edge of the show face. I will most likely paint these panels before assembly, although I will save the surface decoration until after everything is glued up. 

Next up is the grooved molding on the side rails, then I can think about gluing the side sections up, although I'm still not sure when I'm going to cut in for the drawer hangers.

Brief update on my polychrome chest of drawers

Things have been busy in the shop and the library for me lately. I'm working on several different writing projects and building two (soon to be three) pieces concurrently in the shop.

The biggest thing I accomplished over the weekend was a dry assembly of my c. 1700 - 1720 polychrome chest of drawers. You've seen this several times already.

Here is the piece dry assembled. No, I haven't turned into Adam Bede's brother Seth (who famously "finished" a door while forgetting to put in the panels in Eliot's novel). The panel stock is currently in clamps awaiting final sizing. And the remaining grooves have been plowed. Not bad progress since I started this on May 23rd and have had little time to devote to it directly, maybe an hour every other day since then.

My apologies for the mess. That pile of shavings is about four inches over my ankles. This is just about the dirtiest I have ever let my shop get... might be time for a cleanup and saw sharpening day...

Please support my friend Val with her early American technology project.

I am supporting this Kickstarter for three reasons:

1) The lady who created this project is a good friend of mine and this is his passion. I will support anyone who chases their dream.

2) Even though I'm not big into dolls, I am big into early American technology and industry. Dollmaking qualifies as both, and I'm sure that my friends at theEarly American Industries Association and Early American Life Magazine would be interested to know about this.

3) She has pledged to make this technology available for other forms of collectibles once she has it in hand. I'm thinking of a 3-d library of 18th century planes for this site... this would be possible if she meets her goal.

So, please join me in supporting my friend Val Donally and her 3-D doll museum. You will have my sincere gratitude if you support this Kickstarter and if you help me get the word out there.