These words do end up in the same sentence occasionally.
This story goes:
It was the beginning of 2013 and I was called upon to help out a friend as an extra set of skilled hands for a kitchen and bath remodel. I was only supposed to be filling in for a few days, yet somehow before I knew it, three months had passed. He liked my work and lots of extras added up.
The home was built in the late 19th century in Newton MA. It sits on a snug little corner lot, a two story stucco square with hip roof with a couple of first floor projections and a small two story addition in the back. I came in during the end stage of the framing work. Once all the inspections were signed off and the subs finished the board and plaster, painting and floors, it was time for the cabinet and trim install to begin. I really enjoy, and am most satisfied when doing finish work.
This particular home has tall baseboards with a complex Victorian cap (my coping saw got quite a workout), and a relatively simple two-piece crown molding. The doors and windows had build- ups of belly casing, a 5/4″ head and a header cap. A new door and large window needed special attention due to how close they had to be. We added a tchotchke shelf above the two with larger crown and a separate egg and dart molding in red oak (I put on a natural stain and polyurethaned it to set out from the white crown and shelf).
I’ll move along now.
The lady of the house decided she didn’t like the new pedestal sink in the half bath. She thought a small vanity cabinet with a vessel sink would look better.
“I can build one.” I said. I am always saying that, though nonchalant about it. Yet, much to my surprise, she said “let’s do it.”
Mrs. Homeowner was originally from CA, thus I immediately thought of Longleaf lumber. I had recently been up that way to Anderson & McQuaid to pick up some millwork, and as I always do when I’m up there, I stopped in to Longleaf to see what was in stock. In the office they had an incredible slab of salvaged curly sequoia semperviren (redwood). So I took her up to see it.
As soon as she laid eyes on the slab she decided she had to have it! We were in and out of there in ten minutes.
Thus begins the flow of creativity in my mind.
I was certainly going to be using traditional joinery methods, raised panels surrounded by mortise and tenon (draw bored) frames, dovetailed rails between drawers, and so on.
I wanted some contrast between the panels and frames. Something not as linear as the curl in the redwood. (That sounds funny, I know).
Walnut? Too dark…
Mahogany? too close in color…
White/red oak? Nope, too strong a grain pattern …
Maple, perfect. Not curly (tiger). Birdseye? No, not this time… Burl? No I need something a bit less intense… Quilted? Perfect! I went right over to Downes and Reader (which is closer to where I live than Anderson & McQuaid) to grab a few sticks.
And so, after conceptualizing and drafting, figuring time and material costs, writing up the contract and recieving a go ahead signature, I began processing the stock:
First thing I noticed in the processing of the redwood is that if I looked at it wrong it seemed to dent. I looked it up on the Wood Database and found that the Janka rating, which comes to about 450 lbf on the scale, is about 100lbf less than the average 2″x 4″ (eastern white pine) construction lumber.
When I cut the top, I centered the curl and live edge to frame the hand hammered copper sink. After, I started roughing out all of the parts for stiles and rails from more of the redwood slab and brought the maple to rough size too. I left things a sixteenth of an inch thicker and about a half inch longer. Then I let everything sit for a weekend, stickered and out of the way.
After bringing everything to finished dimensions, I started laying it out with an eye towards grain flow. Once laid out, I began the joinery process. I cut the mortises first, then grooves, and then the tenons to fit the mortises. Then I dry fit the stiles and rails together to make sure things were flat and square. While doing this, I used my crosscut back saw to kerf in a saw plate width relief on the back shoulder of the rail. This allows the front of the joint to pull really tight.
After dry fitting the frames I was able to ascertain the exact measurements for the panels and cut them to size and cut (raised) the panels with a nice cove. Then I fit everything together again. Wow! Working with this wood really shows me the beauty that God has created for us.
Once the dry fit was accomplished and all was tried and true, I drilled the holes for drawing the frame tight. Taken apart, I bored the mortises first, then inserted the tenons in their respective homes, marked, removed, and bored a strong 1/32″ towards the shoulder. After re-assembly, I drove in maple pegs that I had riven out of a straight grained piece. This makes for an incredibly strong and tight joint. Draw boring is an ancient technique in both furniture and timber building.
After building the two sides (it’s installed in a corner) I built an interior carcass to house the dovetailed drawers with soft close slides. Two sides, a bottom (3/4″ maple ply), two cleats for the top and three cleats for the back (3/4″ maple ply by 3-1/2″.) I used a dado construction method I had learned from cabinetmaker Jim Weston (write up to come) to assemble the carcass. All of the fasteners and misc. pieces of construction hardware I used were stainless steel. I also added a toe kick that recessed in on both the front and side of the vanity to stop dust from getting too far in.
I decided to apply three coats of teak oil to add to its warmth, then handed it off to Tom Belyea of Alden Wythe finishing for conversion varnish. (I was not very experienced with the finishing process at the time.) The finish made all of the beautiful characteristics of the grain really pop.
The knobs are a crystal oval shape with oil rubbed bronze settings that match the door knobs in the home. The case is topped off with a solid 1/4″ hand hammered copper vessel by Native Trails. And the faucet is a solid brass single from Newport Brass.
Installation went quite well, aside from waiting for the plumber…
I enjoyed this project immensely, and really began to understand the process of being a cabinetmaker. Concept, design, problem solving, construction, finish, and installation. I hope to be blessed with more of this kind of work; it’s really fun for me.