Editor's note: This is a guest blog post from Charles Murray, an experienced period furniture maker based in central Ohio and instructor at the Artisans Guild.
If you think about most furniture, it's just a box (the carcass), sometimes with other boxes inside (drawers or tills). What makes it appealing are the visible construction techniques and the decorative elements that are added. These two things will reveal the skill level of the person who built the piece.
Social changes towards the end of the 17th century brought about a change in the way furniture was constructed. Gone were the heavy frame-and-panel "boxes" of the Jacobean period; they were replaced by the lighter dovetailed "boxes" of the William and Mary style. This allowed greater freedom in the design along with a change in the embellishment. These cabinetmakers of old used dovetails to strengthen their construction, which allowed for a completely different type of construction and a totally different look. Today they are looked upon as a hallmark of fine furniture, even though most are machine made.
As with most woodworkers, my shop is never finished and is in constant need of organization. Recently I decided to organize my lathe tools and make a holder for them which required the use of dovetails.
I began by running a square ovolo along the top and bottom of the front. I then offset the front piece with a simple lap joint to allow for a small area to accommodate larger tools. I next made the dovetailed ends, I normally make them tails first, then use them to layout the pins. After that I made two sets of sliding dovetails to reinforced the holder. The male part (tail) was made using a dovetail plane. After that the front and back were aligned and clamped together, divided into thirds for the placement of the two dovetailed dividers. Using the two dividers, I laid out the female part of the sliding dovetail. To saw out this socket, a guide will help. Next remove the waste using a chisel in a paring action. You may have to pare away the sides of the socket for a proper fit.
Before assembly I made four upside down key holes 1/2” deep on the back side using a #3 and #7 auger bits. These were made 16” on-center, so I drive four #12 flat head screws into the studs for hanging.
I like using hide glue, and in this case it helps out as it slipperier than other woodworking glues. For a finish I used a few coats of boiled linseed oil, let it cure, and then waxed. To hang it, I placed the keyholes over the screw heads in the wall and tapped down for a tight fit.
After looking at it, it’s nothing more than just a box without a top or a bottom.