Finished Small Empire chest

Ready for some shellac

I mentioned recently that I’ve been finishing up a small reproduction dowry chest from a circa 1830 original from the upper Ohio Valley. It’s a commission and way way way past due so it’s especially good to see my part completed (I’m supplying it ready for finishing.) It’s always interesting to learn close up some historical building practices on a project like this. You may notice small cut nails pinning many parts together. My sense is that the nails were used in lue of clamps and glue. Anyway the pictures may speak louder than my words. Primary wood hard curly maple, secondary poplar.

Detail of turning on front corner, very typical of this empire style.

Drawer detail, note cock beading

Drwaer detail, note cock beading on edges.

Front veiw, chest is Aprox 25" tall.

Detail showing full raised panel back, note pockets gouged into top back rail to secure top with screws

About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
This entry was posted in Design Basics, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Finished Small Empire chest

  1. David says:

    Nice piece. The only discordant design issue I have is the seemingly uncoordinated drawers and turnings. The placement of the drawers dividers and the turning elements could have been tuned a bit. I know it is a reproduction, but do you have any comments on this?

    • walkerg says:


      I would agree with your take on this. One of the distinctive features of this empire style is to move the large drawer to the top and frame the case with bold split turnings. Doesn’t always come off well to the eye. I have to admit it did grow on me as I brought it to completion. At any rate it also represents the last major gasp of the small cabinet shops on the verge of being overtaken by the industrial revolution sweeping the US. This may have held on a little longer in Ohio as this was on the edge of the frontier.


  2. Len Reinhardt says:

    Ditto on the previous comment. The chest challenges common design, but the more I look at the more I like it.

  3. tico vogt says:

    Where did you obtain the figured wood? It’s already something to behold before the finish has gone on.

    • walkerg says:


      This is pretty unusual. The client actually supplied the lumber. He attends many farm and estate auctions and occasionally picks up a nice board or two if it’s figured. The top on this piece is incredible and came from a plank 17″ wide. I’ve built a lot of work with figured maple but never anything like this. I can’t wait to see how it looks with some finish.


  4. John says:

    The curly maple on that chest is sharp looking. I wonder how yours will look in a hundred years.
    On another note:
    I have been enjoying your blog for the last couple of days. This is an area of woodworking that never gets enough attention. I have found that custom designing furniture for the spaces in our home is almost as much fun as assembling the piece. If the design is wrong, skillful assembly means little and will not save it.

    • walkerg says:

      I also wonder to how the chest will look far into the future. Hopefully no one will defile it with paint. I delivered it yesterday to the owner. Had the rare chance to see the reproduction (still raw wood) sitting right beside the original piece. That’s a scary thing. I woke up in the middle of the night wondering if I goofed up and made it 2″ taller. Anyway when side by side the new chest appeared significantly larger. It looked wider and more massive. So much so that we took a tape measure and started to compare. To my relief it matched up. My top was 1/8″ wider but that couldn’t account for the obviouse visual impression. My conclusion is the nearly white unfinished piece vissually dwarfed the much darker original finish on the original. You read about this in color theory but it really brought it home.

  5. Jack Plane says:

    Craftsmanship and your attention to detail aside, I find this piece really grates on me and I’m surprised you included it in your design blog (other than because you’re proud – and rightly so – of your work).
    This piece of furniture flies in the face of all major design origins, but its saving grace is the glorious timber from which it is made. Such are the breaks when making faithful reproductions. The secret is in deciding which pieces are worthy of replocating.
    I look forward to seeing the finished article.

Comments are closed.