With the recent publication of my article entitled “It’s a Secret” in Popular Woodworking Magazine (click here to read the article online), I’ve gotten lots of comments and questions about secret drawers.
Let me begin by saying that the article was meant to be more of a primer, or introduction rather than a treatise on the subject. There’s only so much one can cover in a four or five page article that includes photographs.
I started researching secret drawers and hidden compartments about two years ago for a presentation at the sadly defunct WoodWorks shows. Once I began the research in earnest, it seemed logical to me to make the leap to writing the article for the magazine. What I didn’t realize at the time was that my interest was shared by so many people.
Really, like most woodworkers, I’ve had an interest is secret compartments for as long as I can remember. Whenever I’m doing restoration work there’s always the hope of discovering a compartment or hidden drawer that hasn’t been opened in decades (if not centuries). Sadly, that has yet to happen for me but seeking out pictures of secret compartments has turned into a discovery greater than any I might have found in a piece of furniture.
Consequently, I’d like to begin something today that will take shape over the next few months. I’m going to post some pictures of a secret drawer that will be the first in a string of posts showing some of the secrets I’ve discovered. Not all the secrets will be unique. In fact, some will be rather common but they will all be interesting. The reason for this series of posts is simple. The single most common theme amongst the folks who took the “Secret Drawers” seminar at WoodWorks and the readers of “It’s a Secret” in Popular Woodworking is they’d like to see more examples of where secret drawers and compartments can be included in furniture.
First off, the idea of showing every conceivable secret drawer is impossible and rather contrary to the notion of secret drawers in the first place. If you’ve read the article, the idea was to leave you wondering a bit. The whole idea behind secret drawers is for you to use your imagination and creativity. I realize there isn’t much information out there on the subject but, hopefully, this series will broaden your view of where secrets can be included in pieces. The goal is to stimulate your creativity so you can begin to find new, and unique ways to incorporate secrets in your own projects.
If you find yourself puzzling out a place to put a secret in your next project, please send me some photos. I’m building a rather large collection of photographs of secret drawers and hidden compartments. Who knows? If I can collect enough photographs, I may even try to publish the collection so everyone can learn from this adventure. With that in mind, please don’t send me photographs if you have objection to their publication either on the web or in print. The whole idea behind this project is to help educate and stimulate. That can’t be done if I can’t share what you send.
Without further adieu, I give you the first installment of “The de-mystification of Secret Drawers”.
Our story begins with a simple tea caddy. For those who are unfamilar with what a tea caddy is, long before Thomas Lipton began selling tea in bags we, the little people of the world, needed a place to keep our tea leaves. We tried keeping them in our pockets but that just got messy. There had to be a better way. Enter the tea caddy, a small chest designed to keep the tea fresh and dry and all the while looking good sitting in a place of honor.
This tea caddy is in the collection of a friend. It’s a great little piece that shows off some pretty spectacular mahogany. As you can see from the first two photographs, it’s just a simple little box or chest. Keep an eye out for additions to our class schedule for 2010 since we’re going to be adding this project to our Journeyman Level Classes.
The neatest thing about this little chest is the secret it contains. Sure, someone once kept tea in the two interior compartments but they’re noticeable as soon as you lift the lid. What’s not immediately apparent is that there’s a secret drawer. Even in such a small chest, the cabinet maker decided to show off a little and include a secret drawer. Without looking at the next photo, can you guess where the secret drawer might be? Go on, guess. I’ll give you five more seconds.
That’s right, the right side slides up and reveals a secret drawer. Now, the next photo is a bit dark but hopefully you can see how the sliding side is constructed. Also, notice how the secret drawer is constructed. There’s no dovetail joinery here. It’s strictly a utilitarian drawer so it’s just nailed together. Lots of secret drawers lack the spectacular joinery techniques we’ve come to know and love. The practical nature of the makers took over in lots of these cases. The secret drawers were not going to be used by lots of people on a regular basis so why spend the time and effort making a dovetailed drawer?
Well, that’s all the time we have for today. Join us next time for the further adventures of (in my best booming radio announcer voice)”De-Mystifying Secret Drawers”!
Be sure to email us all your photos of your favorite secret drawers and don’t forget to drink your Ovaltine!