As noted earlier, the large center “drawer” on the original breakfront is a Butler’s desk. This is an attractive feature, but one the customer wasn’t interested in reproducing. Although it will almost certainly never happen I decided to make the center pull out section in such a way that it could easily be retrofitted to match the original. This added almost no time to the construction.
As built now, the drawer has many of the features of a conventional Butler’s desk. It pulls out a short distance, being stopped by a cleat fastened to its top which strikes the upper drawer blade. The hinged fall front is supported by quadrant stays and is held in the up position with a Butler’s catch. You can view a 3 part video, documenting the installation of this hardware at the following links.
Where the as built pullout differs from the original, is instead of the typical Butler’s desk interior, it has only four equally sized drawers in two tiers. These drawers are more functional than an actual gallery type interior, which is why the customer chose to go with this configuration.
The carcass of the pullout section has a bottom board of 3/4” thick material; mahogany where visible and transitioning to pine where hidden by the drawers. The top is 1/2” pine with a thin strip of mahogany glued to the front edge. The sides are 3/4” mahogany at the front, and 1/2” pine where hidden by the drawers. The transition from the thicker mahogany to thinner pine sides, creates a lip, The lip allows, if desired for the fabrication of an insert with pigeonholes, document drawers and a prospect door, matching the original to be slipped in at a later date. The case is joined with through dovetails at top corners and a combination of through and half blind dovetails on the bottom corners; half blind on the visible front and through dovetails from there back.
The drawers in the pullout section are roughly the same size as the drawers in the flanking base units and are veneered and inlaid in the same manner. The central drawer blade is housed in a routed dado in the pine portion of the side. Cherry drawer runners are also housed in those dados, and are held in place with screws driven in over sized holes, to allow for expansion and contraction. The case is not that deep, so just a small amount of play is enough to allow for seasonal changes. With the difference in thickness of only 1/4” between the mahogany and pine sides, a very thin drawer guide is required. Screwing this guide in place would be problematic from the standpoint of a getting the screw heads flush in such a thin piece and allowing for movement. I took a lead from the Seymour’s and cut the pine guide with its grain running the same as the sides and glued the guide in place with hot hide glue. The lower drawer blade is 3/16” thick; just thick enough to clear the knuckles of fall front hinges. This lower drawer blade is fastened in place with flat head screws. The runner and guide for the lower drawers being thin, have the same challenge as the guides for the upper tier drawers and here again I followed the Seymour practice, by cutting the pieces with their grain running in the same direction as the surface to which it is glued.
The 1/2” thick vertical center divider is housed in dados cut in the top and bottom boards and fastened in place with screws. Because the grain in the divider runs the same as the top and bottom boards, no allowance has to be made for expansion and contraction. The divider is notched to accept the drawer blades. The runner for the upper tier of drawers on the other hand does present a cross grain situation. Given the thinness of the vertical divider and the need to have runners on both sides, a full depth dado to house those runners was out of the questions, so the dado is only 3/32” deep. Even such a shallow dado, provides more than enough strength to support the drawers. To overcome the cross grain issue, two long wood screw were driven through one runner, the divider and into the opposite runner. Then the runners temporarily removed and the holes in the divider elongated to allow for seasonal movement.
The fall front is constructed exactly the same as the doors in the lower case, i.e. a core of narrow poplar boards with their growth rings arranged in a quartersawn configuration. The core was planed to precisely fit the opening; both the perimeter and to sit flush in the opening. The core was then crossbanded with quarter cut cherry veneer.
Also like the flanking doors, the ribbon stripe mahogany frame around the oval was hammered down first and a template was used to route out the oval shape.The same template was used to trim the crotch oval to shape.
The oval was made from a butt end, book match of crotch mahogany veneer. In the how dumb can a person be column, I reversed the core, veneering the outside as the inside face and making the accurately planed outside face, the inside face. Fortunately, the carefully constructed base unit, meant the opening was so square that only a minor amount of planing was necessary to properly fit the fall front to the opening.
The inlay surrounding the crotch veneer oval presented quite a challenge. Being made from 2 layers of 1/16” satinwood, enclosing a layer of 1/16” black dyed veneer, if glued up as a straight section it wouldn’t be flexible enough to bend to the relativity tight radius at the ends of the oval.
The 1/16” satinwood, was sawn from solid stock and brought to thickness with a drill press mounted thickness sander. The layers were just under a 1/4” wide. This is far wider than necessary or even desirable from the standpoint of inlaying, but the width made them easier to form. The form was made from 1/4” plywood, using the same template used to route for the veneer, but instead of the reduced diameter bit, a 3/16” bit is used. This leaves the form the exact shape and size of the finished veneer oval. I originally thought I could steam the pieces, and bend them around the form.The problem is the three layers proved too cumbersome to manipulate before they cooled. Then I used a clothes iron to supply the heat and a spray bottle for the moisture. This worked perfectly, but when released from the form, the pieces of satinwood tended to spring back. This made trying to glue the three layers together somewhat frustrating. Adding to this frustration was the fact that the total length of the inlay was around 8’ long, requiring each layer to be made from 3 individual sections (9 pieces in all). The joints in the sections were staggered. In the end I bent the layers around the form using moisture and the iron, taping the layers to the form. After everything was in place on the form, a band clamp was applied to really chinch things down tight.
To install the inlay, the groove was made to a depth of about 3/32” with the router against the template. The inlay was released from the form. Hide glue was brushed into the groove and the individual sections were carefully pushed into place, using the iron to liquify the glue and help persuade the satinwood to bend. The seam in the inlay is made at the top center, where it will be hidden by the keyhole escutcheon.
Now, with the inlay in place I went back and applied thinned down glue to the inlay. I did this, because I was concerned that the glue might not have gotten between the layers, but the thin glue and heat from the iron ensures good adhesion. With the groove being only 3/32” deep, this left a considerable amount of the inlay proud of the surface. I did not want to go any deeper, because that would have put additional stress on the bit and contributed to a less precise groove. Making two passes is out of the question, because of alignment issues between the bit and guide collar. To remove the bulk of the extra inlay, two strips of wood were taped to the base of the laminate trimmer so it could straddle the inlay and trim it very close to flush. A block plane flushed up the ends of the oval, where the router couldn’t reach. All that was left was some light scraping and sanding.
A rabbet was run on the inside bottom edge of the fall front. A corresponding rabbet was run on the bottom front edge of the pullout section. The rabbets are as wide as the thickness of the bottom board/fall front and as deep as half their thickness. The rabbets allow the the fall front to lie flush with the bottom board of the pullout, when open and still have a full height “drawer” front. The hinges came from Horton Brasses and are very well made, but were deeply stamped with a company logo; not something I wanted on a period reproduction, so I filed the logo away. To ensure the proper alignment between the pullout and the fall front, they were placed in the opening and a registration mark was made on them from the inside. The fall front is clamped in the down position to the pullout section with the registration marks aligned, and the hinges are scribed in place. It is critical that the hinge pin be centered on the joint between the fall front and the pullout section. To keep my options open, only one screw per leaf is used durning the fitting phase. After the hinges are in place and working properly, the unit is placed in its opening and its fit is noted. The fall front was carefully planed to have about a 1/16” gap around its perimeter. This requires unscrewing the fall front several times and planing until the gaps are perfect. Once I was satisfied with the fit, I used a 3/16” rabbeting bit followed by a flush trim bit to accurately remove 3/16” from the perimeter of the fall front (the same procedure used on the doors). The rabbeted bottom edge didn’t leave enough material to allow me to comfortably use the flush trim bit after the rabbeting bit, so after using the rabbeting bit, I hand planed the rabbet away. The perimeter of the fall front is covered with 3/16” solid mahogany, in the same manner as the doors with one difference, the side edging has to have a recess cut to fit over the quadrant stays. The same procedure used to install the satinwood perimeter inlay on the door was used on the fall front. I had to do some minor trimming of the rabbet in the pullout section to relieve some binding.
The fall front is right at 48” wide and given the potential weight of the upper cabinet, I became deeply concerned that the weight would deflect the upper drawer blade and bind the pullout section. As added insurance, I removed the drawer blade, which was made easy due to the use of hide glue, planed 1/8” off its inside face (remember the dovetailed ends were rabbeted) and reinstalled it. A 1/8” thick, by 1” wide strip of mahogany was glued to the bottom front edge of the drawer blade to replace the material planed away, thereby returning the opening to its original size. At the rear of the drawer blade, I screwed on a 3/4” piece of angle iron. I noticed the angle iron was not straight, so like a floor joist, I put the crown up, so it would flatten out under weight.The angle iron added considerable rigidity, but really not as much as I thought, still it was worth it.
The pullout serving slides have a core similar to the drop front, but it is made of pine and I wasn’t as careful when arranging the growth rings. The panel was planed to a thickness, so the baize would sit below the surface of the mahogany edging by 1/32”. The panel was planed to fit the opening and a 1” wide by 1/4” thick tenon was run on each end. Except for the last 2”, the tenon was cut to a 1/2” wide. The front mahogany edging is mitered and rubbed in place. The side pieces have the front end mitered and a groove is run on the edge. The groove has to be placed precisely, so the baize will be 1/32” below the face. At the rear of the side pieces, a notch is formed to accept the tenon on the panel. The side pieces were dry fitted and 3/16” hole drilled through them and the tenon. The hole in the tenon was then elongated to allow for seasonal movement of the panel. The side pieces were only glued for about 4” at the front; the pinned tenon held the rear.
After the glue had cured the slide was planed to fit the opening, which required only a few light passes. Like the drawers below the slide, a 7/64” wide by 1/16” thick solid satinwood perimeter inlay was applied. On the drawers, I did this in the router table with a 1/8” down spiral, but I was unimpressed with the quality of the cut. On the slides, I used a 7/64” end-mill in a laminate trimmer fitted with a clamped on guide. Running the trimmer with a climb cut, left a perfect chip free rabbet.
The slides were dyed, shellacked and rubbed out and then the baize could be installed.The high quality baize came from Londonderry Brasses. I have tried using spray adhesives to adhere the baize and they work well, but I really prefer the traditional hide glue. Gluing down baize can be frustrating; it is all too easy to have the glue seep through the baize and ruin it.
The mahogany edging is taped off and a glue sizing is applied to the panel. The sizing is allowed to dry over night and then hide glue is applied, being very careful to get full coverage and not allowing it to puddle. The edges and corners require particular attention to see that they are covered evenly. The the glue covered panel is allowed to sit for about 30 minutes. Rough cut the baize to size and lay it in place. Mist the baize lightly with distilled water and with a clean iron set on medium high, adhere it in place. As with applying the glue, the edges and corners, are where you need to concentrate. You can’t let the iron touch the wood or the finish would be damaged, nor can you let the iron sit in any one place for too long, or you risk getting the glue too liquid, bleeding through the baize and ruining it. Also, too much pressure will cause the glue to bleed through the baize. The excess baize was trimmed away with a new blade fitted in a scalpel and a straightedge. The goal, of course is to have a prefect cut, but sometimes a bit of the substrate will show. In those cases, if the amount showing is not more than 1/32” or so, you can heat the baize and push it over to close the gap. Stretching the baize to close a gap wider than that risks having it shrink back later. After all the excess is trimmed away, I like to go back an heat the edges and corners to ensure they are completely adhered.
The next installments will follow the building of the cases for the upper cabinets.