The latest project we will undertake is a John Townsend four drawer block and shell chest. This is a very formidable project, from two angles; the blocked drawer fronts and the carving skill required to for the two concave and single convex shells.

This particular chest is from the book 'Master Craftsman of Newport, the Townsends and the Goddards' by Michael Moses and Israel Sack. The chest is featured on a full page color plate (#3) in the book, the photography is wonderful, this is one serious book, the detailed photographs are amazing (both color and black and white).

Anyway, we modeled the complete chest as usual in SketchUp, the exception was the three shell carvings, I must confess that I could not figure out a way to model the shells... The chest is going to be constructed from South American Mahogany that we sourced from Irion Lumber, the secondary wood is going to be Yellow Poplar.

 

 

Luckily LaPlaca WoodWorks was able to source two rather large pieces of South American Mahogany that will comprise 90% of the chest from Irion Lumber. The first piece is  4/4 (t) x 22" (w) x 9' 9(l), pictured below;

 

The good news is this single board is large enough to yield the two case sides and the top. The bad news is the piece was damaged by the freight company, both ends of the board were broken about 24" up from each end of the board.

After thinking about the issue for a while, I felt the best course of action was to layout the sides and top on the board, each case side was towards the end of the board, the top was in the center of the board (thankfully undamaged at that point).  After removing the smallest piece of the fractured part of the board, we glued up the damaged areas of both case sides in the rough.

Since the lumber is too wide for my 16" jointer, the only way the top and both sides can be processed is via hand planes. Here we see removing any wind from a case side with a heavily cambered jack (fore) plane. 

 

After being cleaned up with a jointer and smoother planes, the case side looks pretty good, the broken area is very hard to detect, the only telltale is the dark line on the end grain. At this point the case side is only cut to rough length (approximately + 1 1/2"), after the case side is cut to actual length, the repair will be undetectable.

 

Next step is to shape the drawer blades, we accomplish this task by creating a master pattern from SketchUp and affix the master pattern to some 1/2" baltic birch plywood. The master pattern is bandsawn and very carefully shaped using a spindle sander, chisels, raps and files. We then affix the master pattern to the raw drawer blades to rough shape the blades on the bandsaw, then finally pattern route the drawer blades to the final shape.

 

 

A white pencil from the art supply store is a helpful addition to any woodworker working darker lumber. Bandsawing the profile leaving a good 1/16".

 Using a spiral double ball bearing flush trim to clean up the bandsawn edge.

Next a slotting bit is used to create the rough shape for the 3/32" radius bead on the front of the drawer blades.

Close up of the slotting bit

Finally a 3/32" radius beading bit is used to complete the shaping of the bead..

The result (note: this is a picture of the bottom drawer blade that only has a single bead, unlike the three upper drawer blades) of all the machine shaping. These drawer blades are not complete without plenty of hand work!

Here we see the radii of the drawer blades refined with a nice sharp chisel.

Finally the bead is refined with carving tools and very fine rifflers.

After the drawer blades have been prepared, we then need to perform a fair amount of jointery on the case sides. Here is a quick overview of the jointery involved:

 

  1. bottom of the case is half blind dovetailed to the bottom of the case sides
  2. bottom drawer blade is dovetailed separately to the bottom of the case
  3. upper three drawer blades are sliding dovetailed into the case front
  4. rear drawer blades are sliding dovetailed to the rear of the case sides
  5. finally the case sides are dado'ed to received the web frame for each of the three upper drawers
  6. front rail is half blind dovetailed to the top of the case
  7. two upper case stretcher are half blind dovetailed to the top of the case

Since there is so much going on with the case jointery we will divide this post into three parts

  1. case bottom - this article
  2. case middle -next article
  3. case top

Also worth mentioning is the case sides have been beaded with a 3/32" radius bead on the inner most edge of the case sides, each drawer opening has a 3/32" bead surrounding the drawer, mitered on each intersection.

1) Here we see the bottom of case being half blind dovetailed, also notice the bead on the inside edge.

 

2) The front most dovetail socket is actually a bare faced half blind dovetail, here we see a jig used to cut in the dovetail angle with a chisel

 Finally the miter is being cut with a sharp chisel and a 45 degree block.

Completed front socket ready to receive the bottom of case drawer blade.

 Here is the bottom drawer blade with the dovetail tails already cut, the front most tail receives a miter that will mate with the socket cut in the prior photo

 

After the drawer blades have been prepared, we then need to perform a fair amount of jointery on the case sides. Here is a quick overview of the jointery involved:

 

  1. bottom of the case is half blind dovetailed to the bottom of the case sides (completed in case bottom)
  2. bottom drawer blade is dovetailed separately to the bottom of the case (completed in case bottom)
  3. the case sides are dado'ed to received the web frame for each of the three upper drawers
  4. upper three drawer blades are sliding dovetailed into the case front
  5. rear drawer blades are sliding dovetailed to the rear of the case side (not shown)
  6. front rail is half blind dovetailed to the top of the case
  7. two upper case stretcher are half blind dovetailed to the top of the case

Since there is so much going on with the case jointery we will divide this post into three parts

  1. case bottom - previous article
  2. case middle - this article
  3. case top - next article

 3) We see the case sides receiving a 1/2" wide dado, this dado will house the web frame that contains the drawer runners, center drawer runner, dust panels and the front sub-blade.

 Completed dado's

4) A router is used to cut the sliding dovetail sockets for the three drawer blades, first we use a smaller straight bit to cut clearance for the dovetail bit..

Finally the dovetail socket is cut with a dovetail bit

 The drawer blades have been machined with the same dovetail bit used to cut the dovetail socket, here we see one of the four miter's being cut on the case drawer blades. The miter's are cut with a 45 degree block and a very sharp chisel.

A chisel and the 45 degree block is used to cut the miter's on each side of the front case drawer blade sliding dovetails..

After the drawer blades have been prepared, we then need to perform a fair amount of jointery on the case sides. Here is a quick overview of the jointery involved:

 

  1. bottom of the case is half blind dovetailed to the bottom of the case sides (completed in case bottom)
  2. bottom drawer blade is dovetailed separately to the bottom of the case (completed in case bottom)
  3. the case sides are dado'ed to received the web frame for each of the three upper drawers
  4. upper three drawer blades are sliding dovetailed into the case front
  5. rear drawer blades are sliding dovetailed to the rear of the case side (not shown)
  6. front rail is half blind dovetailed to the top of the case (case top)
  7. two upper case stretcher are half blind dovetailed to the top of the case (not shown)

Since there is so much going on with the case jointery we will divide this post into three parts

  1. case bottom
  2. case middle - previous article
  3. case top - this article

 

6) Here we see the area at the top of the case side that needs to be excavated to receive the top rail. Notice that the bead has been removed from the area, next we need to rebate the marked off area 3/16" (the diameter of the bead).

Area removed 3/16"

Mitering excavated area..

Now time to mark and cut the dovetail sockets for the upper rail, notice how the bead and excavated area has been mitered..

the top rail being prepared for miter and dovetail tails.

 Finally the glued up main case assembly, whew..

The bottom case molding on the John Townsend four drawer block and shell is a fairly challenging piece, the bottom case molding assembly is designed as a web frame. The beauty of the web frame design allows the molding to be very securely attached to the chest and most importantly it allows the case sides to expand and contract.. The front molding receives two mortises, the two stile and the rear rail are joined with floating tendons.

The front molding is milled from a piece of 1 1/2" thick x 3 7/8" wide piece of Mahogany, Sketchup produces a pattern for the bottom case molding, here we see the molding after the profile has rough band sawn, being pattern routed.

 

A custom made router bit was ground with the molding profile, this bit is large and heavy, it removes a tremendous amount of material. When shaping the front molding we staged the cut replacing the 5/8" bearing with a 1 1/8" bearing, then proceeded to a one size smaller bearings for each successive pass...

Here we see taking a pass with a larger installed bearing..

This wacky looking offset router base flush trims a surface level with the rear portion of the base. We will use this setup to remove 1/8" from the top of the molding, the removed 1/8" will 'hide' the joint between the web frame and the bottom of the main case.

Here we see the offset router base in action..

The final fitting of the scribed recess needs to be accomplished with carving tools..

After the recess has been cut and the front molding corners carved, we are off to the slot mortiser to cut mortises for the stiles of the web frame..

The front molding is purposely left long, the molding is temporarily clamped to the case (no shown) and the length of excess material is scribed from the case. Here we see the excess material being cut off up to the rear of the molding.

After the exact length miters of the molding is marked in with a knife from the case, here we see the dry assembled web frame.

At the miter saw to make the cuts..

Here we see the bottom side case moldings after being shaped with the custom bit, the two lengths of molding are being cut free on the table saw.

Finally the bottom side moldings glued and nailed to the web frame

 

We are now at the foot construction phase of the project, the bracket feet on the John Townsend block and shell chest. First we will start with the construction of the rear bracket feet.

All of the bracket feet for this chest where cut from this single billet of Mahogany..

 

After layout of the feet, the side profile of the feet are bandsawn.

The back foot on this chest is sliding dovetailed into the rear foot. Here we first see a dado being cut into the rear foot to ease the strain on the dovetail bit, the next picture shows the sliding dovetail pin being cut in the rear foot.

 

Next the sliding dovetail "tail" is cut into the back foot.

Here we see the back foot assembled and glued, also note that the side profile of the rear foot has been drawn onto the rear foot.

The side profile of the rear foot will be shaped at the bandsaw. Here we see the back foot secured on a platform 90 degrees to the blade, we then shape the profile of the rear ogee foot.

The rear ogee foot on this chest are unusual in that the back edge of the rear ogee foot receives the same profile as the side of the foot. The trick is how to properly draw the profile on the back of the rear foot, after the rear foot has already been shaped? The trick that I am using was borrowed from none other than Alf Sharp (I borrow ideas from the best), using a scrap of poplar the side profile of the rear foot it sawn into the scrape, the "waste" portion of the scrap is kept. Next the profile for the back edge of the right and left rear ogee foot, is drawn on the scrape and bandsawn. The scrap is now registered on the rear foot (as shown the right rear foot) and the profile is traced ontp the foot..

The profile of the back of the rear right foot..

Next it's bandsawn...

Now onto the front feet, the front feet are mitered and glued with a spline.

Lets talk about the front feet on a "Newport style" block and shell chests, the sides of the front feet are constructed and can be shaped like a typical ogee foot. The front feet follow the shape of the "blocking" of the front of the chest, to further complicate matters, as the "blocked" portion of the front foot gracefully meets the "non-blocked" portion of the front foot, the transition is terminated with a volute..

After the glued has cured, the assembled front foot is mounted to a platform and the profile of the sides of the front feet are bandsawn to shape (we are shaping the non-blocked, right and left sides of the front foot).

Next the front foot is mounted into another platform that registers the bottom of the foot, 90 degrees to the bandsaw blade. We use one of the offcuts to assist with the clamping. Notice the portion of the front foot that is marked with white pencil, this area will be removed from the front of the foot, removing this waste will make carving the front foot easier and quicker.

 

Here is the front foot after the "non-blocked" portion of the waste is removed, notice that we stop short of the tell tale glue line with the waste removal. The profile of the front foot "non-blocked" portion of the foot can clearly be seen in this photo..

Next the foot is clamped in a shoulder vise and the termination shape of the "blocked" portion of the front foot is drawn on the foot (notice the pattern on the work bench). In the next step the portion marked with white pencil will need to be removed with carving gouges.

Removing the waste.

Blocked termination rough out complete.

Next the "non-blocked" profile of the front foot is carved, this task is not as daunting as it seems, as the glue line at the miter shows what material must be removed,,

Next the profile for the "blocked" portion of the front foot must be shaped and carved (volute).  This task is slow and tedious, lots of removing wood and testing the fit on the front of the chest. Here I use a scribe to mark the rough shape of the "blocked" portion of the foot, the shape of the "blocked" portion as see from the top is marked directly from the the front molding..

 

Here is a what the completed front foot should look like test fit, unfortunately I neglected to take any photos of the carving of the volute.

 

After the foot construct tour de force, its kind of nice to undertake a straight forward task occasionally, there are precious few straight forward tasks during the construction of this chest. Next up is the top of the case, the case top is constructed from a one board wide piece of South American Mahogany (20" wide x 37" L x 13/16" t). As previously mentioned, I was fortunate to receive a single wide and long piece of SA Mahogany from my lumber supplier that would yield the case case sides and the case top.

In this photo we see the case top ready to be planed to the proper thickness (13/16"), because of the width of this piece, this task was done using hand planes. After hand planing the case sides and the case top, one now  understands why the master employed apprentices :-)

The case top is affixed to case with screws. The screws in the front stretcher are standard non-slotted holes, the rear stretcher uses slotted screw holes, that provide room for expansion and contraction of the 20" wide top. The middle of the case is secured with a wood button, the button rides in a wide slot that also provides room for expansion and contraction.

 

The edge profile for the case top is via a Amana Tool table top router bit. A couple of things that need to be noted about these bits, they big and remove a tremendous amount of wood, secondly since these bits shape the entire edge of the top, a full size pattern must be used. The solution to issue #1, is to replace the stock 5/8" OD bearing with various sizes of larger OD bearings (every router bit manufacture has a router bearing kit), the final pass is done with the stock 5/8" OD bearing fitted.

Here we see the full size patter affixed to the underside of the case top, notice the pattern is wider than the case top, this allows the "lead in" area before the bit actually starts cutting the edge.

The John Townsend four drawer block and shell features three conventional "blocked" drawers that are sawn from one piece of 2 5/8" thick South American Mahogany. The top drawer is constructed differently in that the two applied convex shell and the carved in place concave shell produce the required "blocking" effect.

I was fortunate to get a single piece of 12/4" SA Mahogany that would supply all the drawer fronts (plus one extra) from a single board, so more than 90% of this chest was constructed from three pieces of SA Mahogany, pretty cool.

Here are all the machined drawer fronts stacked on top of each other to show the consistent color and grain only available from being cut from one stick of lumber.

Next we trace the block front pattern on the top and bottom of the drawer fronts.

Next a marking gauge is used to mark out the critical flat section on the front and back of the drawer front, the most critical is the flat section that will the drawer sides will be half blind dovetailed to. 

 

Off to the tablesaw, where we create a shoulder cut next to the critical flat sections.

Next the "cheek" cuts on the front and rear of the drawer front are cut.

After both ends of the flat sections are cut, we temporarily attach a block of wide scrap wood to provide extra support for the drawer front during the bandsaw operation.

Completed drawer front.

Finally the back of the drawer front gets a similar treatment.

 

You will have to excuse me, I didn't take any photos of the bandsawn drawer fronts being cleaned up. This process was tedious, it used rasps, cabinet files. planes and carving gouges to clean up the bandsawn surface. Here are the cleaned up drawer fronts installed (temporarily) the case. Notice that the top drawer is awaiting its "blocking" process, which will occur in the next step..

 

Now onto the most iconic feature of the Goddard-Townsend Newport furniture, the shell carving. The top drawer of the either the three or four drawer chests receives one concave carved in place shell and two convex applied shell carvings. The center rosette of the shell carvings have many different variants, they various styles of the pedals within the rosette seem to correlate to the date the chest was made, this particular chest which was from 1765 featured double pedals in the rosettes.

A couple of notes about the shell carvings in general; the carving is not for the faint of heart, the grain is always changing direction. The center rosette is some of the most intense carving I have every experienced, the close proximity of the pedals an small overall size of the rosette make this a real challenge.

First the pattern is traced onto the top drawer, we use transfer paper to accomplish this task.

Next the concave area of blocking must be removed from under the concave shell carving, the pattern for this shape is arrived at from the pattern of blocked front drawers. After the area is removed, we mark down 7/16" at the center rosette area and using a compass scribe the material that must be removed from the remainder of the convex shell.

Black lines show area that must be excavated..

Lots of material must be removed, the very edge of the concave area is shaped with a #5-25 Swiss gouge

The remainder is removed with a #7 or #8 gouge, then finally smoothed with a #3

The rosette and rays are transferred to the stock, the area around the outside of the rosette is lowered down 1/16".

 

The rays that are marked in black and white, will be concave rays. the area we be further excavated with #8 sweep gouges, right up to the line of the termination of the ray. After all the concave rays are carved, the next process will be to move onto the convex rays, these are carved (not shown) using #1 gouges. The trick is to get nice flow from concave to convex (sinusoidal).

 The concave carving on this particular John Townsend chest featured a concave shell that had a 'flat' at the base of each convex ray, its kind of hard to tell this is a concave shell (but it is), We see the area between the rosettes volutes being removed.. This chest also featured a semi-circular area between the rosettes which is kind of unusual. Used a tiny vee tool (3mm) to relieve the area above and between the petals, then the petals and area around the petals were 'chipped' carved using a #3 fishtail gouge.

Now onto the convex shells. A previously mentioned, the good news is the convex shells are applied to the top drawer front, so a major or minor catastrophe during carving does not mean throwing away the top drawer as with the concave shell carving. First the rough shell is screwed to a plywood backer board, by securing the carving with screws, it allows us to remove the carving to perform some 'touch-ups" and adjustments..

Center line on convex shell is draw in, the shape for the block front is drawn in on the bottom of the shell using the drawer pattern as a template.  As shown here, some of the bulk material from the front edge was removed using a large 20mm #1 carving gouge.

After much of the bulk material is removed from the front edge, the shell is removed from the backer and a rasp and finally a spokeshave is used to complete the shaping of the front edge of the shell. Also on the rear of the carving the outline of the shell rays are traced, this step will allow the edge of the concave rays to be 'tweaked' with rifflers. 

The shape for the rays, the center medallion are drawn on the front of the shell, here we see the area beneath the lower ray has been lowered, the lowered area matches the block front contour.

Here we see the area surrounding the center medallion has been lowered down 1/16". Next (not shown) the marking for the rays are drawn in up to the center medallion, after the all rays have been redrawn a vee tool is used to define the rays, the convex rays are carved first using a #1 chisel to complete the task. The concave rays are carved with various sizes of #8 sweep gouges.

 

 

 

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