The Seven Year Itch…

…is scratched.

I specifically remember borrowing my friend’s truck, driving to Paxton Lumber and loading up the cherry lumber and cherry plywood. Seven years later, nearly to the day, I screwed down the top, stood back and admired my handwork for the first time. The design evolved, life evolved, and more importantly, I evolved.


Photo Credit: Blue Teapot Photography

I wouldn’t have gotten here without my social media friends, my Cincinnati friends, or my woodworking peeps in Cleveland. Thank you all for your help and encouragement. To best capture the beauty of this piece, I solicited a photographer neighbor who takes great family portraits and knows her stuff. She gave me some lessons and took many of the shots in the gallery below. If you’re in the area and need a photographer, please check out Rachael from Blue Teapot Photography.

This marks my proudest woodworking moment. We’ve been living with dresser for a few weeks now. I revel in pride each time I read bedtime stories or put away my daughter’s clothes. I couldn’t be happier.


The look of a satisfied customer

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The Final First

The finishing regime evolved from the time my, then pregnant, wife peered over my shoulder in the pre-Pinterest/Instagram days of searching the internet. I had saved a bunch of Google image searches to a Word document and we both agreed upon this seven drawer design (you could cut the naivete with a knife). The convertible crib we’d bought for the nursery was that espresso stain all the kids were using those days. Our plan was to buy some nice wood, say cherry, and then stain it to closely match the crib.

I reached out to Marc Spagnuolo for some advice on how to stain cherry. Looking back, I can faintly hear Marc chuckling as he read my question. It must’ve been the 100th time he’d seen it by then. He encouraged me to not stain the cherry and explained that staining nearly any wood is equally difficult. Looking back, I can now faintly hear the woodworking angels rejoicing in the hallelujah chorus.

As other projects came and went I started falling in love with the ease and comfort of the simple wiping varnish described in this video by Marc. I’m still quite fond of this technique and regularly employ General Finishes Arm-R-Seal. However, I started really digging into the tenets of what Chris Schwarz teaches in the Anarchist Tool Chest and through the Lost Art Press blog. The underlying philosophy is to seek knowledge yourself and ensure your work falls in line the with the things you believe.

Fast forward to April 2017. I posted on Instagram that I was thinking of using amber shellac and then topcoating with Arm-R-Seal. I got some encouragement to simply use shellac with a top coat of homemade wax since the dresser doesn’t take the same beating as dining room table. I was torn because I wanted this project done and the last thing I wanted to do was get the supplies for homemade wax and figure out that process. Conversely, the other things bugging me was that April in Ohio is not yet the month to start finishing furniture outside or in the garage. I didn’t really want to let the fumes from the wiping varnish flash off in the basement right next to my actively running furnace. Fortunately, my friend Brian had some lying around and invited me over for a lesson. I’d come this far with so many firsts: what was one more? I started with the amber shellac thin 50% from the can.

Like many other first, this one was not without it’s trials and tribulations. I applied the wax per the instructions I’d read and what Brian had taught me. However, there was a subtle, leftover “waxiness” to the finish even after a full day of curing. I’d see smudges and fingerprints on all the surfaces.

I’m normally a “finish the finish” guy and buff out the final coat of Arm-R-Seal with a high grit Festool Platin pad using 50/50 mix of mineral oil and mineral spirits. In my head, this is finish should be: a plastic, smooth finish. I was disappointed and did some digging by posing a question to Chris about what to expect. He reassured me that a wax finish was supposed to be smooth. I took matters into my own hands and tried to remove some of the wax with mineral spirits and a good buffing with the Platin.

This process did tone down the waxiness but the feel was still a bit different; a first if you will. At this point, I let myself go and figured I’d live with this finish and see how it holds up. My next first might be removing wax from a piece and starting anew. With my mind at ease, I installed the top, signed one of the drawers, and admired the dresser for awhile.

The next morning before school, I took my daughter downstairs show it off. Her excitement was intoxicating; proving once and for all, this long, drawn-out, series of firsts was worth every venturing into places unknown.

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Hardware Heroics and Hardships

I asked my blog readers for some help on installing the hardware a few weeks ago. And boy, did you guys came through. I read and thought through all the comments and reread the sections on propositions and hardware installation in By Hand & Eye. Plus I talked to the Mrs. and set forth to find the middle of each drawer, opening, and hardware location.


All the tools I thought I needed.

Since I had to locate and drill 11 pieces of hardware, I thought a jig would make sense (even though I normally don’t like these things). All the openings were slightly catawampus, which made my brain hurt while thinking through how to find right centerline for the jig. Plus I wanted to use my new Burn-Heart sector, which was also making my brain hurt. Here’s how I made the jig.

With jig in hand, I used the top of the jig to reference off the top of my first drawer. I marked the potential hole locations on two drawers and called my wife down for her eagle eye. We both agreed the location was slightly off – in this case a skosh too high. I scratched my head for a little while thinking about what I’d done wrong and trying not to dwell on the hour I’d lost in creating the jig. Looking back, I think the minute variations in the openings and the drawers meant I couldn’t use the top of each drawer as a reference point. I called it a night and layed awake thinking of solutions.

My plan B was just to find the center of each drawer and opening by using my newly found sector magic. For the top drawers I only used one pull so it was fairly easy once I had the sector and dividers set correctly. I didn’t take any pics of the process (Sorry). But they did look great.


Now with my confidence level increasing I went on to attempt the larger lower drawers. They needed to be centered top to bottom like the top drawers but they weren’t left to right. In this instance, I came in using a 1:4 ratio after experimenting with 1:5 as well. I’ll pictorially show you how I did it and then I’ll add some commentary about the process.


It’s a good thing I’ve been collecting dividers over the years. I had some success at an estate auction once where I scored some huge dividers; these were crucial since the larger drawers were 26″ long. I also regularly scour Josh Clark’s Hyperkitten site for dividers and after this project I’ll continue to do it. I used every divider in my arsenal and found some of them to be pure junk and others to be the wrong size (at least of this piece). Here is the final shot of all the tools I used during the hardware process.


All the tools I actually needed

I can’t say enough good things about the Burn-Heart sector; it’s handsomely made and allowed me to work with centerlines easily during this process. The only fault I can find is that it’s difficult to set it for the large drawers – especially when using the line of lines. Since this line is in the middle of the sector it’s hard to line up the numbers (say 12) on the corner of the drawer. I think I’ll make a larger sector using the musing from George and Jim for not right now. Installing the pulls was like everything else in this chest of drawers: it took time to rinse and repeat the steps a multitude of times. But now I have another skill set to use on future products and the results are stunning.


Ready for the next step


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Stile Faux Pas & Finalizing the Drawers

Stile Faux Pas

When designing the way the stiles (vertical dividers on the front of the dresser) attach to the carcase openings, I opted for a combination of stub tenons and half lap joints. For the two centered dividers (i.e. the bottom four drawers) this was pretty simple; I employed stub tenons cut by hand. However, on the top dividers I made half laps for the top part of the divider but relied simply on glue and butt joints on the bottom portion. See this and this if you don’t recall how I did this three years ago. Well, this came to bite me in the butt joint…literally. As I was fitting the drawers, the right stile came loose. Fortunately, I’ve grown as a woodworker since then and recalled one of the Things That are Not from Schwarz: glue is not joinery. I put in a screw and we were back in business.


There’s Always One

Moving on from design challenges, we’ll head over to execution issues. The upper left drawer just wasn’t sitting right. Even though I didn’t want to screw with it, I knew I had to make some adjustments. Here’s what I did.

Gap Analysis

Finally I’ll show a small sampling of little gap fillers I made for the 100 dovetails use in this piece.  I rived scrap cherry and maple for the back and fronts of the drawers. I then used a large chisel and my bench hook to shave parts down to fit. It was lengthy, tedious work and but worth it.

Most of this build has been a constant test of my patience and persistence. Nonetheless, I persisted.

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Mild Bout of Hubris

If, unlike this blog, you’re not stuck in the past, you may already have seen the final shot of the dresser all gussied up with hardware and a spiffy top. However, if, like this blog, you aren’t into short-form social media then you’ll have a to wait a few more posts. When we left off, I was finishing up the shaping of the top. Today we’ll talk about the final smoothing of the top. Hint: it took longer than I thought. Before even touching the surface I pulled out my secret weapon: a 38° blade for my Veritas jack plane.

[Mentally insert images of Wayne and Garth’s flashback phrases: diddly-oo-do-diddly-oo]

I naively bought this blade back in 2010 when I started my conversion from power tool junkie to hybrid novice.

IMG_1140At the time, I didn’t realize I could just put a secondary bevel on a 25° primary bevel. I thought I needed this blade for highly figured wood. I found this out, rather embarrassingly, when I asked a question to Chris Schwarz during a hand tool class. He let me know, politely, I didn’t need a special primary bevel. Nonetheless, the blade been an important part of my arsenal since then. It’s never failed me and always left a glass smooth finish.

[diddly-oo-do-diddly-oo-do-diddly-oo-do…back into the near present]

I sharpened up all my blades, including my trusty 38°, and set forth to smooth the top. At first I tackled the bottom hoping to get a mild cup out of the 2.5 year old glued up panel.

As I’d been reading a lot of Josh Klien’s M&T sermons at the time, I decided to forgo making the bottom look too pretty and flipped things over to smooth the top. Without taking any test passes on the show side, I went right after it with my jack plane and the 38° blade. Wispy shavings ensued.


Looking good, right?

But then the light hit the board just right and my heart inched toward my throat. Hubris. The pics below show the damage on the underside, which I took during troubleshooting. I couldn’t bring myself to photograph the show side, which looked similar.

I tried to fix the problem; at first thinking it was plane tracks. I retracted the blade, and even took a file to the corners of the blade but nothing made a difference. Finally, I realized there were a few burrs on the plane bottom. I must’ve bumped it at some point and not noticed. I called it quits for the night and retreated to my library looking for a solution. Luckily, I’d just attended a Lie-Nielsen and picked up the updated Handplane Essentials book from PopWood. I found the answer to my problems in an article about plane tracks. I was pretty nervous but ended up taking a small file to my primo handplane. It worked like a champ.


With the burrs removed, I resharpened up my favorite blade, and went for a second attempt.

With the top looking great, the next thing was to refine the end grain on the sides. I used my regular curve tools but I busted out my newest arrival: the Festool Pro 5 Ltd. It made short work of the the end grain. This was a great test and I’ll admit to loving this this little sander!

Setting aside the lessons on hubris, I’ll end with its close cousin: carelessness.  As I sanded the end grain, one of the domino holes opened up. In fairness, there was really no way I could’ve predicted this in 2014 when I glued up the top. Nonetheless, it was annoying. But , at this point, I didn’t panic. I just let it go and busted out the Timbermate.


After all this, I feel more equipped to tackle these kinda problems in the future. And most importantly, the top looks amazing.

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Hardware is Hard

Believe it or not, the finish is actually drying on The Dresser. Yes folks, it’s really going to be over soon. The only thing left to do is install the hardware. This is where you come in, but more on that later. The process of picking the hardware started as a back and forth shipping effort between my lovely wife, me, and Lee Valley in November. It ended In February with her asking someone in a local Facebook group if they were a member of a special store club and then driving to their house to pick up the hardware. Now I know where they get the hard in hardware.

Normally, I’d provide a  list of the various options we tried but that would take too long. I ordered 16 different styles and/or sizes of hardware from Lee Valley all to find out they weren’t going to work. Our favorite is here (one “A’s” for the smaller upper drawers and two “B’s” for the larger bottoms).


Unfortunately, they were too big when I held up two and too small when I held up just one. Thank goodness they are doing free shipping now every two months or so.

We scoured the woodworking sources (Brasso, Horton, Londonberry, etc.) but nothing was calling to us. Or if it did, it wasn’t available in the right size and scale for this project. I contemplated, briefly, making my own pulls but I also value my marriage and I’m quite behind on the dining room table I bought the wood for two years ago (not seven years behind but behind nonetheless).

Finally, my wife suggested “normal” stores (i.e. where most people shop, like Target, Home Depot, or Wayfair). It got me thinking that I was being a bit snobbish about where I purchased the hardware. Ultimately went with these Dakota pulls from Restoration Hardware. Turns out they actually have a great selection of hardware…imagine that.

One of the frustrating aspects of this process was how to affix the pulls temporarily and then stand back to get a good look. I found this impossible to do alone. Any ideas on how to hold the hardware up easier? And lastly, does anyone have good techniques for installing the hardware? I know my wife will want them centered top to bottom but I’ve read on several instances of using 4:7 or 2:5 top:bottom ratios for hardware mounting. No matter what I decide I thought I’d make one, or two, jigs to install everything as I don’t want to mess this up. I was going to revisit By Hand & Eye and bust out my new Burn-Heart sector (I watched this video for an overview) if possible. But I do have multiple engineering degrees so a little bit of math really doesn’t frighten me. Anyway, if you have thoughts or techniques, I’m all ears.

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Progress and Setbacks

After getting some great answers about design ideas on the dresser top, I had a bit of a physical setback. On the day the post went live I was attending swimming lessons for my girls. With five minutes to go in her class, and five minutes before her older sister’s class started, my youngest got out of the pool jumped cross-legged and said, “Daddy, I have to go potty.” Classic little kid stuff. On the way back from the restroom she was shivering and shuffling her feet so I thought I’d be the hero dad and scooped her up to quickly get her back to class. I took two steps with her in my arms when I found myself slipping on the wet pool deck. I proceeded to fall flat on my back and right elbow cartoon-banana-peel style. I heard some crunching noises and I couldn’t take a breath. My immediate concern was my daughter who was completely unphased by the entire event. I, on the other hand, fractured two ribs, bruised my arm and shoulder, and couldn’t get a good night’s sleep for about a week.

It sucked.

But I’m feeling much better now. Still, it cut short my already limited shop time. Fortunately, I was able to think through things on the top. I read some articles, referenced my library, and reread the suggestions from social media. I’m extremely happy with where I landed (no pun intended).

I opted to keep the overhang “small” but when I incorporated the subtle curve, to mimic the legs, I had to bump it out more than the “small” amount I showed before. It was a great compromise. I asked for help on the under bevel and Tom Buhl gave excellent advice, which I incorporated (thanks Tom!). I tried a few different values but ended up with a 1/4″ flat after making a test piece from scrap cherry. The mock up literally took 3 minutes with a jack plane.


Test piece in progress

Feeling confident, I beveled the underside of the top’s front edge. From start to finish, this process only took twenty minutes with hand planes.

The next day I went down to work on the curves. I made a mockup in cardboard but it really wasn’t helping me visualize things. I opted to just go for it on the real top. I had extra length so if I didn’t like the way it looked, I could try something else and still have room to spare. I busted out the jig saw and my new rasp from Woodpeckers (more on that later) to make short work of the initial curve.

That Woodpecker rasp is a beast. I’ve never HAD to take off this much material before by hand and I’m so glad for this impulse $17 purchase. Shaping the top at 65″ x 20″  over at the spindle sander was a non starter. The coarse, medium, fine, method was at work for only about 15 minutes. The one downside is that I nicked my finger using the rasp – I think I’ll put on some nitrile gloves next time.

After the curve was 90 degrees to the top, I moved on to the curved under bevel. I used a scribe for marking out the 3/4″ step back and altered between my jack plane and the rasp.

With one side done, I was able to put the top on and really gauge the reveals, and the overhang, and the feel of the piece. But it was late so I called it a night. The next evening, I went back downstairs to finish up the other side. After some tricky measuring (that I couldn’t capture on camera), I checked and double checked my measurements and fired up the jigsaw again.

Here it is set on the carcase and ready for my wife to come down and inspect. Her word(s), “wow.” That’s high praise.

The next task is installing the hardware and getting everything prettied up for finish. I feel so close…


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