The oxbow, or reverse serpentine, chest

In this series of posts, I’ll show the step by step construction of a New England Oxbow chest. You’re probably familiar with a serpentine (the face of the piece is concaved on either side and convex in the middle) but you may not have seen an oxbow, or reverse serpentine chest. In a reverse serpentine, the outer portions of the case front are shaped in a convex fashion while the center is concaved. This may sound a little confusing, but stick with me and it will all make sense.

OK, let’s get started. I’ve already selected my lumber. I’ve also done my glue-up and milling operations. In other words, I have a pile of wood that is milled to 13/16″ thing but is not cut to width or length.

The primary wood on the case is cherry. The secondary wood (the bottom and other parts that aren’t seen) is poplar. I begin by dimensioning the lumber and rough cutting out the shaped drawer blades (the horizontal dividers between the drawers). This chest will be approximately 34″ high and 42″ wide. I made a layout stick, or story pole, based on those dimensions. From that layout stick, I made a cutting list of all my parts. I begin by jointing the edges of the material. The next step is squaring one end and cutting the pieces to length.

Once all the case parts are cut to length, either finished size or rough size as you’ll see in a moment, I need to shape the pieces that will become the drawer blades. A drawer blade is the horizontal divider between two drawers. On this piece, they’ve been cut to rough length so that I have a little extra wiggle room when I run my beads on the case. I make a pattern off my layout stick that gives me the proper curves. I lay that pattern on the roughed out material and trace it.


At this point, it’s off to the bandsaw to cut them out. I usually saw them about 1/16″ wider than my finish pattern size. As you’ll see a little further down, this is done to insure that I have a complete blade once I trim and bead the piece.




Once they’re rough bandsawn out, I set up my router, attach the pattern with some pins and trim off the excess.

The router bit I use is a stock trim cutter that has been modified. Using a green wheel, I precisely ground the two beads I need into the carbide.


Once you have all the blades trimmed, it’s time to move on to dovetailing them into the case sides. That will be the subject of the next post.

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7 thoughts on “The oxbow, or reverse serpentine, chest

  1. Chuck,
    Installment one is very good and shows the basic procedure you use making a case.

    Using a “Green Wheel” to cut the carbide into a custom profile is clever. I’ll remember that for future use.

    You mentioned pinning the pattern to the stock. I assume that is with a pin nailer?

    Thanks! I wait for future installments with great inticipation.

    Charlie M.

  2. Charlie,
    Yes, I use a Senco pin gun for attaching the patterns to the actual stock. My pattern is also quite a bit longer than the finish size of the drawer blade. This allows me to start the router and make contact with the bearing on top without immediately cutting into the wood. When I first started out, I made the patterns the exact size of the finish piece. A few tear outs and grabby router bits later and I got the brilliant idea of leaving extra on the pattern.

    I’ll post more segments over the next couple of days. It’s just a question of getting the photos resized and the text typed in. I’m a cabinet maker, remember, so naturally I’m computer challenged. 🙂

    Chuck Bender

  3. Bart,
    I’m copying your post over here where it really belongs. Then I’ll try to answer it.

    daddy-O wrote:

    I like seeing the step by step process on making this pcs. I have some qustions on how you made your story stick I have never made one and think it would be something i should start doing to help work out some details. I normally just draw it on paper mostly not to scale either. Could you go more in depth on how you approch this procees for a frist timer? The Part about the beading bit I didn;t follow . I normally purchase all my bits so if you didn’t have the knowledge to create a custom profile how would you beed the radius on the front of the horz. divder ? keep up the good work and i look forward to seeing more thanks

    Ok daddy-O,
    I have plans for a brief lession on layout sticks in another category. Keep your eyes peeled for it to hit the web.
    The primary problem with the bead is that no one makes a cutter that does exactly what I wanted. My choices were fairly simple at that point. I either have a custom cutter made or I modify a stock cutter to do what I want. Since this isn’t an opperation that I would do every day, the choice for me was clear. I purchased a “green wheel” for my grinder. If you check with a supplier, and use the term “green wheel” they will know what you are looking for. Basically, this type of wheel is for grinding carbide.
    Once I decided to make the cutter myself, I bought a good flush trim cutter, marked off the spacing for the beads with an extra fine sharpie (although I am not endorsing any specific product). I then drew in the beads on the face of the carbide and headed for the grinder. The key to this operation is to try to make your beads fairly close in size and shape on both flutes of the router bit. It isn’t hard, you just need a little patience.
    Make sure you remove a fair amount of the backing steel behind where you ground the beads. This will ensure that the backing steel doesn’t remove stock that you would like to remain. The easiest way to make sure you have enough of the backing steel ground away is to put the bit in your router and run a test piece on some scrap. Don’t over grind the backing steel because the carbide needs it for support. Test the bit, grind a little and test again. As soon as you get the desired result, stop. Remember, it’s always better to do things in small stages.
    Once I get the cutter ground the way I want (see the picture in the post) I set it up on the router table. I attach my pattern to the actual blade using pins from a pin gun. I leave about an 1/8″ of the actual blade stock sticking out past the face of the pattern. This way, when I route, it trims the blade off to the shape of the pattern and leaves the beads protruding beyond the pattern. You’ll only leave the blade hanging over too much or too little once before you get it figured out. I hope this explanation helps.

    Chuck Bender

  4. Remember folks I said I was new to this blog thing. Next time, I’ll remember to put spaces between my paragraphs. 🙂

    Chuck Bender

  5. Chuck thanks for the respons. You talked about doing a short lesson on story sticks and that it would be posted on the web. My question for you is will it be located on your blog or somewere else that you post stuff??

  6. What ever I do on layout sticks I’ll post here and mirror it on Lumberjocks. At this point, that specific post is on my list but it’s also tagged as a possible podcast. We’re working out the logistics of that part of the blog now. Either way, keep an eye on the blog and you’ll get something that resembles a lesson in layout sticks…sooner or later. Much like the classes for the school, I have a million ideas I just need time to convert them into posts/classes/podcasts/DVDs. It’s all coming so keep watch. Thanks for posting.

  7. Chuck,

    I’m like Daddy-O. I need to learn about layout sticks, too.

    I assume they’re kind of like a story pole used in house construction.

    The web thing is like anything else. It’s hard at first and as familiarity comes, it gets easier. (In my case, 40 years working on and in computers–little ‘uns and big ‘uns. I’m now retarded–uh – RETIRED!)

    I love what you’re endevoring to do here, Chuck. That’s a great thing to do–helping others.

    DVD’s? Great!

    Charlie M.

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