Separation on drawer fronts

A few years ago in a weak moment I agreed to build a small chest for a friend who is an avid antique collector. It’s a copy of a piece in his collection, a small tiger maple dresser circa 1830 in the empire style. What’s unique about it is that it’s sort of a miniature. I say sort of because it’s not miniature as in doll furniture, more like a salesman’s sample. I’ve seen several similar examples; some speculate that it could have been a dowry chest made as a gift. I tend to think the dowry theory is right as its well equipped with bells and whistles for such a small piece. It sports cock beading on the drawers, Quaker locks, full frame and panel back, and a dust panel in the bottom of the case. All that aside, I plunged into it but somehow lost interest along the way. Other projects (like making design videos) pushed in front and pressing professional matters shouted for my time. My friend has been as patient as Job but finally began asking if I might get it done before he died. Have you ever been there?

Finally ready to apply beading on drawers and a pair of split turnings Whew!

Pressed forward by guilt I can see light at the end of the tunnel. All that’s left to do is run some cock beading around the drawers, fit drawer bottoms and make a split turning that will flank the front corners. Right now I’m fitting the beading on the drawer fronts. It’s fussy as the miters have to be perfect. I can see why period artisans often scratched the beading into drawer fronts rather than apply them. However, installing the beading separately allows the bead to stand proud and create a shadow line. Visually it’s more effective than a scratched bead. Amazing how a small detail really makes the drawer fronts pop. In this case the beading forms a border that allows your eye to easily distinguish each opening. The bead is acting in a separating function. I’m not really crazy about this form and often wonder why designers at that time opted for the large drawer at the top. It is convenient as it places a nice full drawer up where it’s easiest to access. Part of me thinks they had something in mind aesthetically but I’m at a loss to know why. I’ll post a photo when it’s done and I can get this self imposed guilt monkey off my back. Note – If you don’t see a photo in a couple of weeks give me a dope slap to stop making excuses and be done with it.

George Walker

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About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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6 Responses to Separation on drawer fronts

  1. Kris says:

    George,

    On this piece the legs on the very bottom, the turnings, are narrower than the leg portions above. I assume the split turnings will give the illusion that that higher portions aren’t as wide as they look now. Still, how does one reconcile the smaller legs with the concept that things look better, more stable, when they’re wider at the bottom like tree trunks and Roman columns?

    Kris

    • walkerg says:

      Kris,

      It might be helpful to go back and check out the post on Dec 18th where I discussed tapered legs. Hope that helps.

      George

      • Kris says:

        George,

        It’s much easier for me to see the human element in the drawings from Dec 18th where the legs are much taller. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around applying that concept to this piece. Perhaps too I’m also more familiar with the aesthetic of longer tapered legs. I don’t mean to criticize this piece, I’m just trying to understand why the design works.

        Kris

      • walkerg says:

        Kris,
        I would agree with you on your take on these tapered legs. I’m not holding up this peice as a model of great design. After all it’s a regional peice(Ohio valley) scaled down in a way that make some of the elements like the feet almost folkish. It’s incredibly well made with solid joinery and the beading on the drawers is nice. That’s basically what I was attempting to illustrate.
        George

  2. bpassaro says:

    Less a design question, than a woodworking question: The bead running up the side edges of the drawer is, of course, a cross-grain situation. How tall are the drawer fronts? I assume you foresee no problems or you wouldn’t be doing it. But are your miters really going to stay tight? Even if the drawer front expands or contracts by 1/100th, do you think they will stay tight come apart a bit? What would you say is the maximum drawer height for doing this? In looking at antiques, have you noticed this construction ever being a problem?

    • walkerg says:

      bpassaro,

      I thought about this while I was applying this bead and have similar concerns. For my own reference I have a strip of maple from a tabletop I glued up and have documented the wood movement across the seasons. It’s 32″ wide and can shift 3/8″ from warm humid summer to dead dry winter. I do know on antiques, the cock beading often gets lost on the journey. Whether its due to a fragile narrow edge on an exposed surface, or the cross grain construction or likely the combination of both. On the original I am working from in this case the miters appear to stay tight. The largest drawer is only 5″ deep and I suspect the drawer fronts are quarter sawn as the figure is incredible. I’m using quarter sawn figured material for my drawer fronts so hopefully they will hold up. I think the collector is of a mind that he would rather have it built to the true to the original and deal with any resulting problems. Now you have me thinking about how well these miters hold up applied cross grain. Anyone else have any observations to shed more light on this?

      George

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