Oxbow chest part 3

Click for larger viewBefore we get into this segment, I wanted to address a question, or two, from daddy-O from the last installment. He asked “I think but can”t tell that the bit is putting 2 beads on the edge at the same time.”. So here’s a closeup of the final pic in the last post. Hopefully, you can see exactly what’s going on. It is a double bead that’s being cut by the same cutter I ground for the initial Oxbow post. And to answer another of daddy-O’s requests, click on the pic. When I get a free moment, I’ll try to rework the previous posts to utilize the “click to enlarge” feature for all the pictures.




Ok, back to our regularly scheduled segment…


In the last segment of this series we routed the dovetails into the case sides of the chest for the drawer blades. The dadoes were routed for the drawer runners. The case sides were rabbeted to receive back boards and the front edges were beaded.

This time we’re going to work on getting the case together. Let’s start at this point on the case dovetails. Although we cut the dovetails into the case sides for the blades in the last segment, we’re not going to make the other half on the blades until we have the case together. It makes it a lot easier to cut the blades accurately to size once you have the case together.

The bottom of the chest is attached with through dovetails while the top cleats use half-blind. I start with the through dovetails on the bottom. I begin by marking the sides and the bottom with a marking gauge set to the thickness of the pieces being joined. Then I layout and saw the pins into my case sides. Ok, I’ve done it. I’ve exposed the fact that I’m a pins first guy. I know that’s going to cause debate among some of you about the validity of the blog but, rest assured, I can cut them both ways. In laying out my pins, I try to get them relatively the same size but I don’t obsess too much about it. Most of the 18th Century cabinet makers didn’t worry that much about it, so why should I?

Once the pins are all sawn, I move directly to the router. Yes, you heard me right…the router. Actually I use two. Each is set up with a straight cutter. One is set to just over half the depth of the pin, the other is set right to my scribe line from the end of the board. Leaving my case side clamped in my vice, I add a backing block that is clamped to the side and made absolutely flush withthe end of the board. Taking the router that is set to just over half the pin depth, I freehand route the waste from the pins. Make sure you don’t run into the actual pins while routing. Next, I take the other router that is set to the depth of the scribe line and complete the waste removal process.

Once I have the pins routed, I grab a chisel and clean out the waste that is left after using the router. Once I have that side cleaned up, I put the other side in the vice and repeat the entire process.

The steps are basically the same for making the half-blind dovetails for the top cleats. I start by laying out the pins, saw them. I then set up my two routers and backer board. I route using the same sequence as in the through dovetails, I just don’t go all the way through the case side. In fact, I stay well off my scribe line that is for the length of my dovetails. My pic on this is a little out of focus, and I apologize, but you get the idea.

Once I have the pins roughed out withthe case side held vertically, I then clamp the side flat to my workbench. Taking another router and setting up a dovetail bit, I set it to the scribe line for the dovetail length and route the waste. Again, I keep well off my actual pins. In other words, I don’t route beyond my saw kerfs. Now it’s back to the chisel and mallet to clean out the waste left from the router.

At this point all the case pins are sawn and clean out. Now we take the case bottom, inside up, and set it on the workbench. Standing the case sides in position, I mark the pin position onto the bottom. In this pic you can also clearly see the beading on the case. If you were confused in my last post as to what I wanted my side to look like after routing the double bead, then removing the outside bead with a flush trim bit, it should be easier to understand now.

I follow the same procedure for transferring the marks for the top cleats that I did for the case bottom. I use a very sharp pencil but if you prefer using a scribe or a knife, knock yourself out. Another interesting detail you can see in the closeups of the half blind dovetails is my over-cutting of the scribe line with my saw kerfs. This is a very typical 18th Century practice. I’ve found that it was primarily done by English cabinet makers who came to the Colonies. The German trained immigrants didn’t overcut their dovetails as often.

Grab your favorite dovetail saw and get started. There’s a lot of tails to cut. There are all the tails on the case bottom plus the two top cleats. On the front cleat, you need to make sure you don’t cut off the bead on the front edge. You’ll notice in the closeup that the front top cleat only has one bead. I routed the outside beads off both the top and bottom cleats when I set up to remove them from the case sides. The reason for making sure you don’t cut off this bead when dovetailing the cleat is that it gets mitered into the bead that was left on the case side. I’m jumping a little ahead but once the tails are fitted, the piece goes together like this.  As you can see, a very small portion of the bead on the cleat is left hanging over the edge of the case side. It is then mitered to meet up with the bead on the side.


Once all the pins are sawn, it’s time to remove all the waste. If you’ve sawn your dovetails correctly, there should be no fitting needed. The dovetails should just go together perfectly. If you have to fit, keep practicing sawing to your lines until you can get them to fit without adjusting the tails.  The pic of the half-blinds going together is a bit out of focus again but, if you look at the larger version, you can almost make out the bead on the blade overhanging the case side. We’ve accomplished a lot today, so next time we’ll fit the drawer blades and runners.

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11 thoughts on “Oxbow chest part 3

  1. Now that was a big installment. A big job too.

    I appreciate the “Click to Enlarge” feature. I makes it easier to see what is happening.

    Not cutting off the bead on the top cleat could be tedious. I could repair it if I goofed–I do a lot of repair. That’s where my time goes I guess.

    Thanks Chuck!

    Charlie M.

  2. Chuck,

    I just wanted to make a comment about dovetailing.

    First, my hand cut dovetails—well–they kind of suck. They work but are anything but pretty. I can jam in some small wedges to make them look better.

    Second, My router dovetail jigs, and I have two of them—well they are confusing to use and I often wind up messing up some good drawer stock or wind up with short drawers on a few projects. NOT ACCEPTIABLE!

    Third, I recently started giving Troy Sexton’s “Dirt Cheap Dovetail Jigs” a try. The proceedure is similar to your proceedure shown except he makes a jig from some scrap stock the same width as the board being dovetailed.

    The article is available on line, I think, and when I tried it, it worked like a charm.

    This isn’t for you but others that may read the blog and are having trouble making decent dovetail joints.


    Charlie M.

  3. Charlie,

    Thanks for the comments and the info about the dovetail jig. I don’t use them myself, don’t even really know how, but others might lean that direction. At some point in the near future (to be read “sometime between now and the early Fall), my “Hand cut dovetails, the easy way” DVD will be available. With a little luck, and some practice, you’ll be cutting prefect dovetails in no time. Once you put my method into use, you’ll discover that you can dovetail a drawer or two far faster than you can even remember how to set up a jig. Again, thanks for the comments. Keep ’em coming!

  4. Chuck,
    NOW Your my HERO for sure! Thanks for the added feature of enlarging pictures. It has really helped me. I only wish all the requests in life came true like this one did :-). Charlie if you havn’t taken a class with chuck i would highly advise it is woth the time and money. Especially if you live any were with in a few hour drive. I never hand cut dovetails before and Chuck had me cutting them in about 15 mintues i was able to cut me own half blind dovetails with a little help. It went together with out an issue. Chuck is a great treacher everyone should try his classes if you want to learn and be able to ask questions. Back to the blog post. My only question is when you attached the bottom to the sides i noticed the bottom was not the same width as the sides can you help me understand why? I maybe jumping adhead on the project but my guess is the will be a pcs of cherry glue to the front to bring it to the same width as the sides or when you install the blades it will then be flush with the side. Chuck you didn’t think I was not going to ask questions did you? 🙂 Thanks for all the hard work you have put in on the step by step process I true see great progress in a short time thanks. I’ll see ya all on sunday have a great week end Daddy-O

  5. Daddy-O,

    Thanks for recommending chuck’s classes because I intend to attend a class some day. Right now is a problem because of costs, not for the class but for housing, meals and transportation.

    Probably most of my education from Chuck will be the DVD route.

    At the woodshop where I currently am working, I pick up a lot of tips from others but nothing like Chuck has to offer.

    I’ll be looking for an opprotunity.

    Charlie M.

  6. Charlie,

    Housing – a local hotel gives our students a discount from $120 per night down to $65.

    Food – we usually have stuff for breakfast (bagels, coffee and such) in the shop. We provide lunch. Bart got stuck with pizza when he came for a class. My wife usually makes some pretty good meals (check out the reviews on the school website…she get’s the most props… as it should be). If some of the other students are reading this, I’m sure we’ll finally get a bunch of posts going. Most of them rave about the meals.

    Transportation – If you drive, can’t help much but if you fly or take the train, we’ll pick you up at the airport of station and make sure you get back and forth to the hotel.

    Or you can just wait until my DVD’s start hitting the street and we can ship ’em to ya!

    And, daddy-O…NOW I’m your hero? 😛 maybe I’ll answer your questions in a future post…maybe…

  7. Charlie,
    If you sign up and take a class at the same time I do we can car pool together and we have an extra bedroom you can use. It won”t cost you to much:-). Chuck your killing me! it like a cliff hanger at the end of a moive you can’t do this to me know. By the way the pizza was good. How long until you start doing DVD’S ? Sounds like pretty soon we won’t be able to talk with you with out going thought your manager frist:-) i think they refer to that as the NORM syndrome 🙂 see yaha on sunday or are you taking a break for the holiday?

  8. Thanks fellows! Your hospitality is great.

    I’m interested in a carving class right now. Mine isn’t that good anymore–it’s been too long and I was never that great anyway. I’m SOOOOOO SLOWWWWW!!!

    I’ve been told that if something bad doesn’t happen, I’m in at Redstone as a paid Army employee. The pay isn’t much but it’s definately better than WalMart and a lot more interesting.

    It will take a while as the government dosen’t do anything in a hurry. This will open more doors of opprotunity for education, commitions and ect.

    I worked there today with a fellow names Chris Lang, an ex employee of the Williamsburg restoration shop. An interesting guy. He has lots of stories about some of the jobs and people there.

    I’ll be chatting again later and waiting for the next installment of the “Ox Bow Chest”!

    Charlie M.

  9. Chuck,
    Well right now Chris has a severe lack of hair on top and a small brush on his upper lip.

    He’s a soft spoken guy, not very forceful. I really like the fellow.

    We discussed Wallace Gustler a lot yesterday since I had read a lot of stuff written by him on muzzle loaders. That was all written before he went to the furniture shop–don’t understand why he did that! 8^)

    Charlie M.

  10. Charlie,

    Glad to hear things are looking up for the Army job. It sounds like you’re already having fun.

    As to the carving class, we’re working on the schedule for next year. I think you’ll see a few pop up when we publish the schedule in July.

    I may have met Chris Lang but I can’t put a face to the name. I’d certainly like to hear some of his stories. Send him here to the blog and let’s see if we can get him to tell a few.


    The first DVD should be hitting the street by Fall. It’s going to be on handcutting dovetails and will be available at the woodworking shows where I demonstrate the skill.

    I’d have to buy a lot more nail guns to have a NORM complex.

    Next oxbow installment is tomorrow. No rest for the wicked.

  11. Just re-read my last comment and the DVD will also be available on the school website. I kinda sorta wrote my comment and made it sound like the only way to get the DVD was to see us at a show. It’s a great way to get the DVD but it won’t be the only way. Sorry for the confusing pros. 🙂

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