Wardrobe, Part 3

Resuming this build series from Part 2, I'd just finished dry filling the side & back panels. As I was fitting the back panel, the reality of its size became apparent... this was going to be a pretty big build...

Thankfully, the fit went well. One of the things you might notice in the above photos is a little bit of discoloration on the stiles. That is just the tannins in the oak reacting to the environment. It is a "flaw" unless I was doing some very dark coloration to the wood. But my planed finish was a sort of medium, and the discoloration would be visible. But I decided to work with it anyway, and even with some other "less than perfect" material, because I wanted to approach this from a practical "we need a wardrobe" perspective, rather than a "this should be in a gallery or museum" standard. I want to embrace that approach more in my work - making good furniture with great craftsmanship, but not getting obsessive about getting a glass finish on the underside the feet. Any examination of fantastic pieces in museums, historic homes, etc, will show you that is the approach craftsmen of yore took - the backs of cases, the underside of drawers are usually raw and unfinished. Our modern "every single unseen surface should be gallery perfect" approach is over the top, and I hope to remain practical in that light.

To that end, I put the slightly "off" pieces and parts in places that would rarely, if ever be seen, and have no effect on the functionality of the piece. Here's an example of the pieces I used for the bottom panel; there was a nail removal chunk (done by the sawyers) missing from the middle of the glued up panel. Instead of ditching the material, I did a patch repair, and that area is on the underside of the bottom of the wardrobe. Good luck lifting up this huge, fully loaded wardrobe and seeing that.

Next, I did more panels, this time the two large doors. The same as the sides and back. I saved the prettiest pieces and panels for the doors - the most visible part of the piece.

With all the panels dry fit, it was time to get into the PITA part of doing solid panels vs plywood panels (discussed in Part 1) - finishing the panels before assembly (as well as the inner edges of the frames). I got all the parts labeled, knocked apart, and ready to go.

twelve panels

a zillion rails & stiles

The finishing process was some light shade of brown water based dye, followed by several coats of amber shellac. I had to come up with a way to store the twelve panels as they dried, as well as the zillion rails and stiles. The rails and stiles just ended up on my "assembly table" (aka, my table saw + outfeed table), and the panels ended up in this dowels + 2x4 rack I improvised. The rack worked well, as I shellacked one face at a time, left it it dry, then did the other face.

dowels and 2x4 drying rack

inner edges of the rails & stiles being finished

This took a while to do, and with some real life interruptions, longer than I liked. But after the finishing was done, glue up & assembly went fine. And that's how the wardrobe stayed, for a long time, as other projects cut in line ahead of it. More in part 4...

wardrobe pieces (doors, sides, back, top, bottom, and inner divider) taking up shop space - I ended up stumbling over them and moving them back and forth, working around them, for the next several months. 

Wardrobe, Part 1

The next big project on my bench is a Stickley wardrobe. I am pretty closely following the plan provided by Robert Lang from his site (and from his excellent Shop Drawing for Craftsman Interiors book). One of our bedrooms has no closet, and draping clothes over a folding chair and a plastic storage tub is getting old quickly.

As I am trying to do with each project, I am adding something new to this one. Instead of using veneered plywood for the 1/4" panels, I am using solid wood panels. This makes the build different in a lot of ways.

With the plywood panel method, building each frame-and-panel part (sides, back, doors) involves...

  • stub mortise and tenon joinery for the frame
  • a panel that is exactly the size of opening plus grooves
  • glueing the panel into the frame
  • finishing the panel and frame at the same time

This is all possible because the plywood panels are stable, and don't grow or shrink with humidity the way solid wood does. The panel then is glued to the frames, adding strength to the part. And, as it isn't going to move, can be finished at the end, when the rest of the piece is.

With solid wood panels, things change significantly...

  • the panels are slightly smaller than the openings plus groove, allowing them to move (expand & contract)
  • because they aren't glued to the frame, the don't provide any strength to the frame; joinery is now full mortise and tenon
  • Also, because the panels are loose, and may slightly expand & contract, the panels must be fully finished to their edges before the frame is assembled and glued

In the end, either method provides a perfectly acceptable piece of furniture. So why choose the solid wood method over plywood? Am I trying to earn "authentic" points? Nope. Instead I choose to try this out because I've never done it before, and I want to see how it goes. Yes, it will be more work, but I'll also learn something I wouldn't have otherwise.