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

I was determined to use appropriate veneer for the cabinet’s door panels; viz. full width, reasonably thick (un-jointed 13″ [330mm] span, greater than 3/64″ [2mm] thick), Swietenia macrophylla mahogany as would have been used on the original doors. It proved a tough assignment.

Solid S. macrophylla was available (even up to 26″ wide!), but my current bandsaw only has a resawing capacity of about 10″, so that ruled out sawing my own veneers for the doors. I sourced three parcels of veneer from Australia, England and North America. The North American stuff was so thin it was almost transparent, the local stuff turned out to be the most hideous cut of coarse African Mahogany (actually Khaya spp.), but a small mill in England cut me some good thick stuff.

The gossamer-like veneers widely sold today present no difficulty in laying even for rank amateurs, but curls and thicker cuts of veneer – as employed in the eighteenth-century – often necessitate the use of veneer pins and profuse expletives to lay them successfully. Thomas Sheraton offered some sage words on the subject:

If the veneer be of a pliable kind it may be laid with a hammer, by first shrinking and tempering the veneer well, which must not be by water, but thin glue [size]. If the veneer be very cross and unpliable, as many curls of mahogany are, it is vain to attempt the hammer. A caul in this case is the surest and best method, though it be attended with considerably more trouble than the hammer. [1]

I “attempted the hammer” and succeeded in laying the veneers on both door panels. When dry, the panels were trimmed to size and fitted into the door frames behind the astragal mouldings (fig. 1). The panels are retained by 1/8″ thick cockbeading nailed around the door frame behind the panels.

Fig. 1. The finished doors.

The cabinet was set on the chest and centralised on the back edge. I mitred the separation moulding around the cabinet and then glued and nailed it in place (fig. 2).

Fig. 2. The cabinetwork completed.

Jack Plane

[1] Thomas Sheraton, The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing-Book,
Ed. 3, revised, T. Bensley, London, 1802, p. 329.


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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10 Responses to A George III Mahogany Cabinet-on-Chest – Part Seven

  1. Simply stunning work again JP! Yesterday I had some success hammering thickish mahogany veneer so today I’m smelling slightly less rank!


  2. As always, a great piece, well explained, and made to look much easier than I know it really is. Your projects always seem like chapters from a particularly well-written book. Thanks for taking the time to post!


  3. Robert R. Lindh says:

    Another outstanding job!!!!!.


  4. Ron says:

    Your cabinet-on-chest is coming together splendidly. I echo Christopher’s comment; your blog is among my favorite to read for furniture and craftsmen history, construction techniques, and shear entertainment value. I am curious as to the amount of time these pieces take you complete. It seems that they fly together rather quickly by my meager standards.

    Are the corners where the rail and stile meet at the quarter circle cutout of the astragal mouldings mitered? I was wondering if that area is all stile, all rail, or a mitred combination


    • Jack Plane says:

      The spandrels – to give them their correct nomenclature – are simply mitred and glued corner blocks, reduced to quarter circles and then glued into the corners of the door frames. On veneered doors, the veneer is mitred across the entire frame and spandrel.


  5. Ron says:

    Thank you for the explanation and introducing me to the new term. Is the Spandrel grooved to accept a panel or is it not the entire thickness of the frame? In other words, is it a design feature or does it also have a construction purpose?

    On a side note, I am glad we have a grander look at your lemon tree due to the height of this project.

    Many thanks and regards for what you do,



    • Jack Plane says:

      Ron, the spandrels are the same thickness as the door frames and, like the door frames, are without grooves or rebates. The astragal mouldings overhang the front of the openings in the door frames which the panels then butt up against from the back. Loose cockbeads are then nailed around the frame openings behind the panels to retain them in the doors.

      The lemon tree received a severe haircut at the end of last summer and looks somewhat skeletal at present, but should bush-up again in the next month or so (our antipodean summer). It provides a constant supply of large juicy fruit year-round.



  6. Ron says:

    I re-read part six of the cabinet-on-chest series, and your explanation is quite clear now. Many thanks again for sharing your skills an insight.


  7. Damien says:

    Apologies for having to ask such a stupid question, but as a relative newcomer to veneering I’ve been wondering; Do you veneer both sides of your panels when working with thicker veneers? If so, may i ask how long you wait after doing one side before doing the other?



    • Jack Plane says:

      It’s not a stupid question at all. I don’t counter-veneer; there’s absolutely no need to. Historically it wasn’t done either (unless you count the feeble counter-veneering carried out on some French cabinets – which was more about covering up the mess of roughly hewn interior surfaces of case work than anything to do with stabilising panels).

      Counter-veneering seems to have found favour in the late nineteenth-century and on into the twentieth-century though for what reason, I have yet to fathom (it’s not a period I am familiar with). Accordingly, most of the rediscovered/reprinted woodworking books of that era promote counter-veneering and amateurs ardently follow suit.

      Understanding wood movement and accommodating it is the key to all aspects of cabinetmaking: Veneering a panel without an understanding of the effects and consequences is as naive as veneering the reverse side too.



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