With the lower cases glued together, attention can now turn to the doors. The doors on this breakfront are troublesome. At first glance the lower doors, the focus of this entry, would appear to be easier to make than the upper doors. After examining them more closely, and giving the construction considerable thought, I believe they will certainly equal or even exceed the upper doors in complexity. Obviously the upper doors have several technical challenges, but fitting them to the opening will be considerably easier than the lower doors. There are several reasons for this:
- There is an inlaid banding around the perimeter, so trimming to fit after inlaying is out the question
2. The lowers doors fit flush along the vertical edges and the top, so even the slightest warping or twisting will stick out like the proverbial sore thumb; heaven forbid the door developing a convex warp on the outside face.
3. The edges are covered with a thin strip of mahogany to conceal their composite construction.
4.The inlaid crotch veneer panels extend very close to the edges of the doors, making even a slight misalignment in centering of those panels, readily apparent (this is really an extension of number 1).
Of these considerations, number 1 and 2 are of the most concern.
To insure stability the doors begin as strips of poplar roughly 7/8” square in cross section, which are then glued together so the growth rings are arranged in a quarter sawn configuration. This is admittedly a time consuming method, with the many joints to plane, but the result is worth the effort. The strips are laid out on the bench with the growth rings positioned correctly, so you can determine which edges need planed. The edges are planed with the jack and jointer plane. Instead of clamping and un-clamping each piece in the vise, a block is clamped in the vise and used as a stop to plane against. I’m not too particular about getting the joints prefect; as long as the joints can be closed with hand pressure alone and stay flat on the bench, that is good enough. My fondness of hot hide glue is tested when making panels like this, because the many joints and the quick gel time, even with the addition of urea, means only 4-5 strips can be glued together at one time.
My surface planer can’t handle stock wider than 12”, so that limits the width of the blanks. The center doors are just over 24” wide, meaning they have to be made up in 3 sections, while the end doors only need 2 sections. The sections are carefully flattened with portable power plane, straightedge and winding sticks, and then run through the planer. The now the sections can be joined. Unlike the individual strips, great care has to be taken joining these sections, because the panel must be flat and the finished thickness uniform. Keeping the panel flat is simply a matter of planing both mating edges at the same time, so any deviation from square is canceled out. With the sections being so carefully flattened, getting the joints flush along their length was easy.
After the glue had dried, the faces were planed with a smooth plane.
The original doors were made with breadboard ends, but in general breadboard ends make me nervous, especially under veneer. Still, they do add rigidity, and as noted warping would be disastrous. Given the built in stability of the panels, being essentially made from quatersawn stock, and the veneer cross-banding that will follow, the breadboard ends present little risk. To size the door panels, I used the same techniques as for the sides of the base unit, that is using the router and a flush trim bit to size and square the door blanks.
I used the shaper to run the tongue the door and the groove on the breadboard, which was made from birch. Just to be sure there wasn’t any mis-alignment, the breadboards were planed slightly oversized, and then planed flush after the glue dried.
The veneering as always, is my favorite part. The process began by preparing the substrate and the crotch mahogany. Both were coated with thinned down hot hide glue. On the veneer, this glue acts to both soften the veneer and to stabilize it by completely saturating the veneer with glue. This glue saturation won’t eliminate the fine crazing, typical of aged crotch veneer, but it will lessen it. With the application of the glue, in a minute or so, even an extremely distorted sheet of veneer will become as pliable as a wet noodle. The sheets of veneer are wrapped in plastic food wrap and pressed between boards. Even though considerable moisture will be introduced when hammer veneering, I still like to let the veneer dry before applying it. To accomplish this, the veneer must be taken out of the plastic wrap occasionally over the period of about a week. While the crotch veneer is in the clamps, I worked on the substrate. The hide glue size applied earlier will lessen the absorption of the glue used while hammer veneering and this allows for a thinner glue, which in turn flows easier, meaning less force has to be applied to the hammer.
Just to be sure no grit or bristles from the brush were imbedded in the size, the substrate is sanded lightly, otherwise these could telegraph through the veneer. A layer of quartersawn cherry veneer with its grain running at right angles to substrate is hammered down. When the face veneer follows, the doors will essentially be made from lumber core plywood. This is hardly a period detail, but since it can’t be seen, and adds greatly to the stability why not do it? The cross-banding, of course won’t be seen, but I still took care to make tight seams between the individual sheets. When the glue had dried, the veneer was carefully examined for bubbles, by running fingernails over the surface; loose places will have a hollow sound.Those loose places are easily repaired by wetting the spot and heating with the iron and pressing with veneer hammer. I followed this with a light sanding, to remove any slight variations in the veneer thickness at the seams, which if left, could telegraph through the face veneers. Like the raw substrate, the cross-banding was coated with the hide glue size.
The face veneering on the center doors, began with hammer down the crotch veneer. Because of the hide glue sizing, this hammer veneering is not as mess free as I’d like. In fact the base of the iron became so throughly coated in glue, I had to stop several times to remove the glue with vinegar. Steaming hot vinegar is a smell you won’t soon forget, but it is the best way to clean off the glue. Despite the glue sizing taming the crotch veneer, it will still have a few problem areas, but at this time I couldn’t fool around getting it perfect, because the moisture and the “pull” of the glue will start to warp the door. With that in mind, once the face veneer was hammer down, work began on the back. As noted before, the original has breadboard ends and I replicated that look in veneer on the inside face of the door. With the backs veneered the doors were now stable, which allowed me to stop working at such an accelerated pace when fixing any bubbles on the face.
While the glue on the face still fairly soft, I attached a template made from 1/4” plywood to route the crotch panels to shape. These templates are held in place with veneer nails placed in an asymmetrical patten, so the template can later be repositioned exactly to route the groove for the bandings. The cutting is done with a .040” end-mill installed in a laminate trimmer fitted with a guide bushing. The waste veneer was warmed with the iron and pealed off. Now the ribbon stripe cross-banding could be hammered down. There is one important, but often overlooked consideration when working with cross-banding and that is the orientation of the veneer. Highly reflective woods like ribbon stripe mahogany, must be installed with a consistent orientation, or the variations will adversely affect the finished appearance. In this regard the ribbon stripe veneer is much like carpet, which depending on the viewing direction the intensity of the color changes. To keep that orientation, I marked the veneer with arrows at intervals along its length, with a white crayon.
The central doors have a detail that I don’t believe I have seen before, and that is quarter circles of figured mahogany veneer with the grain running at 45 degrees, inlaid at the corners. In another oddity, this detail is not outlined on the straight sides with an inlay. This requires careful positioning of the quarter circles in relation to the bandings which outline crotch veneer panel. I used a cutting gauge to accurately slice the cross-banding veneer in the corners to make way for the quarter circles, and then they were hammered down.
The flanking doors were handled differently, in that the ribbon stripe cross-banding was hammered down first. The cross-banding was not allowed to extend any farther into the center of the door than necessary because, the door can’t be veneered all at once, and covering the whole face, at this stage would have introduced an irreversible warp. Once the glue had cured sufficiently a template was used as before, and the crotch panel hammered in place. Now the back was veneered to mimic a panel with breadboard ends.
The next installment will discuss making the back panels and the drawers.