I finished drawing up the plans for the chest.
It's extremely difficult to find information on how these
chest were built, especially measurements - and I searched
My primary sources of information have been Issue
23 of Fine Woodworking, with articles on blockfront
furniture and plans for a non-shell chest, and Franklin H.
Gottshall's book "Making Furniture Masterpieces". Gottshall
has plans for a three drawer shell blockfront which was
probably really intended as the base of a "chest on
chest" rather than a true chest of drawers.
Almost all American 18th century chest of drawers were four
drawer, while many "chest on chest" had three drawer bases.
Additionally, Gottshall's chest is much too wide for a
standalone chest of drawers, but about right for the
base of a "chest on chest".
I designed my chest to come close to the sizes reported for
the Townsend chest in the
Metropolitan Museum of Art and in
Albert Sack's book "The New Fine Points of Furniture, Early
American", page 111 - about 34 1/2 inches high, 36 1/2
inches wide, and 20 inches deep.
I just recently (2/7/05) obtained a library loan of Michael
Moses' book, "Master Craftsmen of Newport: the Townsends and
Goddards" which provides pictures of many Newport pieces,
including chests of drawers. I'm sure that I'll use the
pictures when I began carving the shells. While I can't keep
the book, I will scan the appropriate sections for later
I'm not going to try to make an exact reproduction. For
example, I'm going to use Blum under drawer slides for the
drawers instead of wood on wood slides. While the Blum
slides are not "authentic", I feel confident that our
woodworking ancestors would have used them if they were
available in the 18th Century. Another change is that I'm
going to do a frame and panel back in cherry instead of the
secondary wood shiplap boards which would have been used in
the 18th century. Otherwise, I'm going to follow the
original design fairly closely. The order of development
Build main case - Glue up case sides and
bottom. Dovetail case bottom to case sides. Dovetail two
boards across top. Cut cockbead into front edge of sides.
Fabricate drawer dividers. Shape the
dividers and cut the cockbead into the edge. Fit dividers
into sides with dovetails, while mitering the cockbead.
Fabricate the frame and panel back. Assemble
(glue-up) the case.
Fabricate the drawer fronts from 12/4
cherry. Carve the concave shell into the middle of the top
drawer. Fabricate the drawer sides, bottoms and backs. Cut
dovetails to attach sides to drawer front and back. Assemble
drawers and fit to the case.
Carve two convex shells and apply to top
Cut molding patterns into base material.
Assemble base frame.
Fabricate feet and attach to base.
Attach base to main case.
Glue up top. Cut molding pattern into top.
Fabricate top molding. Attach top to case, and top molding
Apply finish. Attach drawer pull hardware.
I've glued up the sides and the
bottom and have practiced cutting cockbeading with router bits.
I'm also practicing making dovetails. Although it's a bit hard
to see in the picture, the bottom board has two cockbeads, the
center board has a cockbead on the bottom of the edge, and the
top shows my first attempt at hand cut dovetails.
aren't good enough for drawers yet but will be good enough for
attaching the main case sides and bottom/top since these
dovetails are hidden after the chest is assembled. Making those
dovetails will give me some experience - and hopefully, I'll
The bottom is attached to the sides
with dovetail joints. These joints will not show when the chest
is finished so they're perfect for my dovetail practice. Here I
am cutting chopping out the slots in the side which the tails
will fit into.
This is the hard work of making
dovetails - cutting the tails themselves is fairly easy - but
cutting the slots they will fit into (for half blind dovetails)
is really hard work.
Makes you appreciate the craftsmen who made
18th century furniture.