A George III Mahogany Cabinet-on-Chest – Part Three

The fronts of these drawers are mahogany, but the sides, backs and bottoms are pine. The quality of the original cabinet-on-chest would suggest the linings would have been oak; however, good oak – let alone quarter-sawn oak – is virtually unobtainable here in the quantities required for these drawers or at a feasible cost. Good pine is no discredit though; many fine mahogany pieces from this period were lined with deal.

From the latter half of the seventeenth-century, the grain direction of drawer bottoms ran from front-to-back; side-to-side bottom boards didn’t emerge until around 1760. The 5/16″ pine drawer bottoms for this chest run side-to-side and are glued (they were occasionally nailed too) into rebates in the drawer sides – as was the practice from around 1725.

After rubbing the drawer bottom boards together with glue and tidying them up, each bottom was planed to size, glued into the rebates in the drawer sides, and nailed to the undersides of the drawer backs. The thin drawer runners were then rubbed up against the rebates and bottom boards.

Back of drawer showing drawer bottom and runner glued into rebate in drawer side.

Rebates were cut across the ends and along the bottom edges of the drawer fronts to accept narrow cockbeading. The top cockbeads are wider, covering the entire thickness of the top edges of the drawer fronts.

Cockbead rebates in drawer front.

I made a quantity of 1/8″ thick cockbeading from off-cuts and mitred them around the peripheries of the drawers.

The cockbeading glued around the drawer fronts.

To complete the chest, a pair of drawer stops was rubbed onto each drawer divider and second grade pine back boards were nailed into the rebates in the back of the carcase.

Drawer stops glued in place.

The back boards are attached with wrought nails.

The chest in-the-white.

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About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
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8 Responses to A George III Mahogany Cabinet-on-Chest – Part Three

  1. Thank you for your inspiring work.
    Can you elaborate on the drawer assembly and how this apparent over-constraining with glue across grain on the drawer bottom to runner/rabbet join? By your description, it sounds like this is historically accurate circa 1725, but according to current woodworking dogma, this type of cross-grain gluing should have self-destructed, leaving few intact examples of this. Are such remaining historical pieces frequently/severely damaged/split, or is there some other feature I’m not seeing here to accommodate movement?
    Thanks again, and keep up the good work!

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    • Jack Plane says:

      Prior to 1725, drawer runners were nailed to the drawer bottoms which in turn, were glued and nailed directly to the bottom edges of the drawer sides. This method of construction presented a somewhat unsightly side view, especially as the grain of the bottoms ran from side-to-side.

      With the advent of rebates in the drawer sides to accommodate the bottoms and runners, the grain of the bottom boards ran from front to back which afforded a more harmonious relationship for the three elements in terms of contraction and expansion, but didn’t prevent the bottoms splitting on occasions when they became overly dry.

      The reintroduction of bottom boards running side-to-side in the second half of the eighteenth-century might appear at odds with the laws of physics and the unavoidable seasonal movement of wood, but in reality, the bottoms expand less (in terms of overall distance) from front-to-back, than they would have if orientated with their grain running front-to-back. So although there may occasionally be some movement and splitting of side-to-side bottoms within the glued assembly of bottom, runner and rebated side, the possibility of a large expanse of cross-grained front-to-back bottom board causing multiple splits or expanding and jamming a drawer in a carcase is avoided.

      As a restorer, one occasionally comes across chests of drawers that were not particularly well made to begin with, or their components were not optimally seasoned, or they suffered a harsh existence in extremes of humidity and dryness, whose drawer bottoms have split, but they’re not all that common. Chests of drawers are one of the staples of a restorer’s work and in my thirty plus years; I could probably count the number of chests requiring attention for split drawer bottoms on one hand.

      At any rate, a split drawer bottom was not seen as any great detriment in the grand scheme of things as evidenced by the absence of any contemporary remedial repairs – it’s only our frail modern senses that impel us to glue strips of calico over the splits, or try and glue slivers of wood into the voids – what could possibly fall through a split drawer bottom?

      This image shows a rather rough looking circa 1765 country-made (note the knotty drawer sides) oak chest of drawers. There are a couple of typical unattended splits in the bottom boards.

      Split in side-to-side drawer bottom

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  2. Federico Mena Quintero says:

    This piece is looking fantastic.
    The drawer dividers are big boards that connect both sides of the chest. Would you make this chest with much narrower rails, instead of the full side-to-side boards? Or would that make the chest too weak?

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    • Jack Plane says:

      The strength of the carcase is really in the dovetails that hold all four panels together. The drawer dividers/rails in this instance are also dovetailed into the carcase which is possibly overkill, but was common on quality work.

      The dividers/rails are only a few inches wide i.e. they only occupy the first few inches of the whole divider/dustboard; the dustboard being substantially thinner than the divider. This view of the upturned chest may make the construction clearer.

      Underside of drawer dividers and dustboards.

      I wouldn’t alter the construction of this chest as that would defeat the purpose, but a type of chest was certainly made in the nineteenth-century with just a narrow divider/rail separating the carcase sides (the drawer guides were separate items glued into rebates in the carcase).

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      • Federico Mena Quintero says:

        Oh, I see; thank you! From the original pictures in your post, I assumed that they really were big side-to-side boards. This makes much more sense now.

        (I hope you didn’t have to turn the whole chest upside down just for the reply’s sake – if so, thanks again.)

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  3. Pingback: A George III Mahogany Kneehole Desk – Part Six | Pegs and 'Tails

  4. Sid Rickets says:

    Where do you source wrought nails in Melbourne, Jack? I’m guessing that you don’t “wrought” them yourself under the old lemon tree.

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