Five Lessons from Large Case Construction
My latest completed project, a cherry dining room sideboard, is one of only a few case pieces I’ve ever built. This relative giant is actually the first of two pieces on a commissioned project for a couple here in town (the second being a corner cabinet). It measures 72″L x 36″H x 18″D, it has three drawers, two sets of doors and uses frame and panel construction throughout. I also decided to skip the use of cherry plywood, and instead used re-sawn solid panels throughout the construction.
Taking on a project like this has taught me a great deal, so here are a few thoughts I wanted to write down while they are fresh in my head.
- The realities of delivery day: When I spend a good deal of time (weekends and evenings) on a project like this, I tend to get a bit attached to it. I have to admit, I wish I had this in our dining room. I told the customers that delivering a large project like this is a lot like a father giving away his daughter on her wedding day. You do your best to raise [build] the best possible daughter [furniture project] you can, however you always know in the back of your mind that it’s only temporary. Perhaps this a based on the fact that this isn’t my full time job, making each piece that much more special, personal somehow. Either way, watching the positive reaction of the customer at delivery makes it that much easier.
- Staining furniture is extremely time consuming: This is probably the biggest lesson I took away from this commission. The customer wanted their new pieces to be close in color match to their dining table and chairs. My previous positive experiences with gel stain made that an easy choice, so I went with an antique cherry finish, but that’s about where the “easy” ended. Between the doors and carcass, this piece had nine individual panels that required pre-finishing (two coats of gel stain and one coat of poly) before they were actually assembled. Taking things out of order creates chaos and a labor/time vortex that changes your perception of how close you are to finishing the project. Beyond the incremental labor aspects of this, it also had an impact on how I used my 600 sq.-ft. shop space, because finishing and creating sawdust in same space is never a good idea.
- Space is at a premium at Brownell Furniture: With just over 600 sq.-ft. of space spread out in an “L” shape, my workshop continues to present challenges with every project I take on. Most of the dry-fitting, glue-ups and staging areas moved out into the finished side of our basement. Admittedly, the soft carpet was an ideal place to assemble things, but my family was getting a bit tired of seeing parts all over the place (not to mention a couple hundred bd.-ft. of lumber strewn about. This is a simple reality I have to contend with when building. Until retirement or when I can convince my wife to let me reduce the space on the finished side, I have to embrace the space.
- Horton Brasses hardware is killer: I know I’m not the first to offer this opinion, but they really do make some great hardware. The quality of their products is simply awesome. Although the frame a panel construction of this piece is very Shaker in it’s design, they opted for dark antique metal ring pull hardware and matching non-mortise hinges with ball tips. The non-mortise hinges were a breeze to install and they look and work great. Plus, it saved me a ton of time. The ring pulls will look familiar to anyone who has built the Anarchist’s Tool Chest, as they are the same. The combination of the antique cherry finish and the dark metal of the hardware reminds me a bit of the old Japanese Tansu chests. Horton Brasses also noticed that in my order, my business was listed on the shipping instructions. This qualifies people for a wholesale discount that amounts to nearly 40% off all future orders. And if that weren’t enough, they are running monthly project contests. The person whose project (using their hardware) gets the most likes on social media will be awarded $100 off on your next order. Like mine here.
- I’m convert to Festool: Let me be clear, I still think much of their stuff is a bit overpriced for what it does, but I did take the opportunity to reinvest some of this project’s money into the Festool Domino XL. I’m glad I did. This tool not only saved me a boatload of time, but it delivered extremely accurate joinery throughout the piece. I logged about 4 hours total on the Festool. Cutting the mortise and tenon joinery on a table saw and mortiser would have probably taken me 3-4x that. If you are considering purchase of one of these, and unless you are making small pieces, go with the XL.
With this part of the commission complete, I’m moving on to milling and cutting the parts for the corner cabinet. For now, here’s a gallery of photos of the finished sideboard.