The wardrobe project was the last piece needed to complete our bedroom set. The other items include a king size bed, dresser, lingerie chest, steamer trunk and plant stand. All of these I have made over the last 15 years or so.

We searched the magazines and stores for suitable designs. The one we liked the most was the Restoration Hardware Marston. This piece sells for ~$3800. This left substantial room for wood and tool budget. This is also a heirloom piece that is expected to be passed down through the generations. The construction was done with that longevity in mind.

The design was sketched out and scaled approximately from the catalog picture. We went to one of the local stores to see what details could be re-used or improved on. Building a piece for yourself is different than building production furniture. I wanted to use techniques that have held up well in my experience. This led to the following changes:

I had been saving some interesting boards for another dresser project. I like the look of single large boards for dresser fronts vs glued up fronts. This piece also has the grain continuing across multiple drawers. This type of construction is not feasible for production work as they normally rely on lower grade lumber which can be ripped and reglued and pieces that can be used interchangeably. The wide boards need careful selection and handling during construction and each drawer has to go in a specific opening to look right. During the construction process care must be taken to not let the boards warp.

For the frame and panel ends and doors I had some smaller cut-offs with wild grain that I had been saving. This was a chance to do some resawing and book matching for the panels. My new drum sander was a big help here (especially after shattering one thin panel in the planer). Click on the photo for a higher resolution version.

Carcass construction

The carcass consists of 3 frame and panel sections (the ends and the divider) and the cross pieces. he cross pieces are connected by sliding dovetails. The majority of the frame pieces (frames, cross pieces ,etc) are ripped form 4/4 stock and are 2" wide. This is all done at once. The pieces are then selected for grain and color match by area of the dresser and the ugly ones become the frame members that will be hidden inside or in the back. There was quite a stack of 2" strips

The frame and panel sections are constructed first. The best pieces are chosen for the frame and panel outside ends and the door. They are assembled using standard mortise and tenon joinery, but with long tenons on the top and bottom. Simply having tenons the depth of the grooves for the panels is not strong enough for a piece of furniture of this size. Having he tenons cut long (and mortises deep) prevents cracking of the thin mortise cheeks if it is handled roughly during a move.

The photo at left shows the frame and panel construction of the ends.







Pre-finishing of the panels

The panels and the edges of the frames are scraped, sanded and stained prior to glue up.

The areas for the mortise and tenon joints is masked off prior to staining to ensure a strong glue joint. This has several advantages. The panels have stain all the way to the edges. This way, even if the panel were to shrink more, there would not be "white" wood showing at the edges.

While the stain is wet, any defects in surface prep are visible. This is particularly true along the frame edges where there may be an errant saw blade gouge or jointer ripple. These are much easier to fix while the piece is apart compared to carefully sanding and scraping next to the panel once the frame is assembled.



Sliding Dovetails

The carcass parts are joined with sliding dovetails. The sliding dovetails make for very robust construction. They are self aligning vertically which helps ease assembly.

The photo at left shows as simple router fence jig for the sliding dovetail the board in the foreground is the piece that gets the dovetail cut into. The rear board and left board make up the fence jig (similar to a lapped try square.

This photo shows the frame partially constructed. The empty dovetails in the middle are for the vertical drawer divider.

When doing the glue up, there are a lot of pieces to fit together and align. You will want to use a glue with a long open time, otherwise the glue can set up during fitting.

If your dovetails are closely fit, expanding dood fibers can also lock the dovetail partway in. So, for this step, I used a polyurethane glue form Custom Pak Adhesives. It worked out very well The open time was nice, the glue lubricates the dovetails while wet and the foaming is minimal (compared to Gorilla glue). Polyurethane glue requires moisture to cure. This project was constructed in the middle of a Wisconsin winter. As a result the wood is very dry. The water was sponged on along the outside of the joints (yes, outside). The provided enough moisture to accelerate the cure. Wetting the outside surfaces avoided problems with the joints swelling prior to or during assembly. With the joint fit-up I had, moistening them first would have resulted in stuck joints (I go for a snug fit-up).

When doing the assembly, using a mallet is not recommended. The mallet blows tend to know previously assembled pieces out of alignment. However, sliding the doubly dovetailed pieces in by and can be difficult. If one end gets ahead of the other, the piece will jam. To solve this, use clamps to bull the pieces together.

Insertion of one of the vertical drawer dividers is shown here.



Cock beading and Drawer Fitting

This was the first time I had applied cock beading to the drawer openings. The cock bead is 3/16” thick and has a round bead profile on the front edge. The bead strips are ripped and then rounded on the router table. Using a feather board to hold the pieces down is the key to getting a nice even edge. It also helps to keep my fingers away from the cutter when feeding these small pieces. The pieces are cut to fit in the openings and have mitered corners. To help ensure a nice gap free corner joint the sides are cut first and set in place and the top and bottom pieces are “sprung” in. They are cut just slightly long so that there is about a 1/8” – 1/4 “ bow when initially fit in. When the bow is pressed out this closes the joint nicely.


The door is made as a frame and panel piece with 4 panels. The door panels are resawn to provide a book matched look. The first piece I cut was a bit uneven and as I was taking it down to thickness in the planer, it shattered (yes, I should have used the drum sander). The second piece tried turned out to be surprisingly spectacular. It is white ash that I chose the piece for the curl figure around a knot. It also has a nearly birds-eye type figure mixed in as well The knot was cut out as it landed where the horizontal divider is located. It is interesting as this also gives the door a look of almost having a 4 way match.


The back of the dresser has hand hold openings at a couple of the drawer cross pieces to make it possible to carry up the stairs. The finish matches that of the rest of the bedroom set, consisting of: Minwax Golden Oak stain, sanding sealer and General Finishes Arm-R-Seal urethane and oil varnish. This time, I brushed it on rather than wiping as I had done on the other pieces. While doing the boat finish, I had learned how to properly brush on varnish. By brushing, the build per coat is almost double that of wiping. This saved a few days of finishing time.



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Copyright 2004-2005 Mark Bronkalla

This page last updated 3/17/05