A George II Virginia Walnut Chest of Drawers – Part Two

Much of the construction of this veneered chest echoes the methods employed in the build of the cabinet-on-chest and the kneehole desk, so I will spare you much of the repetition. That said, I’m incorporating a few alternative construction techniques that were mentioned previously and which I feel are worthy of note.

I previously glued narrow strips of wood to the underside of thin, lapped dustboards to act as kickers for when the drawers are withdrawn, but in this instance I have adopted another eighteenth-century technique where pine off-cuts were rubbed onto the undersides of the dustboards. One advantage of using this method was that, should the dustboards shrink or expand a significant amount, the kickers – with their grain oriented in the same direction as the dustboards – should move in unison with the dustboards and not break their glue joints.

With the carcase upside down the thin dustboards and kickers are clearly visible (fig. 1). Visible in the foreground is one of the narrow drawer dividers which is demi-dovetailed into the carcase ends, affording improved structural integrity over a plain housed divider.

Fig. 1. Kickers glued to underside of the dustboards.

The vertical drawer divider is dovetailed into the top rail and first divider (fig. 2), again, adding strength to the carcase as a whole.

Fig. 2. Vertical drawer divider.

The carcase was hammer-veneered with 5/64″ (2mm) thick walnut veneer which will be cleaned up with a scraper once the lipping has been glued onto the fronts of the drawer dividers and carcase edges.

Fig. 3. The veneering done.

Applied lipping – either veneer or thicker strips of wood – was the norm for both veneered and solid carcases. Its purpose was two-fold; it allowed the use of sliding dovetails to secure the drawer dividers to the carcase while simultaneously concealing the joints. “Nobody likes a show-off!” my old headmaster would say as he strutted around in his Savile Row suit.

Before I put the veneer away, I took some off-cuts and glued them onto scraps of pine to make the bracket feet from.

Fig. 4. Veneered bracket foot stock…

Fig. 5. …and subsequent bracket feet.

Jack Plane


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 II Virginia Walnut Chest of Drawers – Part Two

  1. Ted says:

    Hi Jack. I really like this project. The top of the case couldn’t act as the top rail? Do you have tongue/groove joint between dovetailed vertical portion of the divider and piece deeper into the case? Also, do you re-saw your own veneer? Thank you. Ted


    • Jack Plane says:

      Ted, The carcase top could act as the top rail, but as with most carcases from just pre mid-eighteenth-century, a top rail was used to add balance to the other (thicker than the earlier incarnations) dustboards and is also necessary to support the top moulding which is taller than the top alone.

      A mortice and tennon secure the vertical drawer divider and the central partition.

      Yes I do saw veneer; you can see some of it in close-up here.



  2. Ted says:

    Jack, I see that you cut your veneer approximately 2 mm thick. Do you see much of an issue with cutting veneer 3 to 4 mm thick? It seems a thicker veneer may be more durable. Maybe a thicker veneer would cup and be more difficult to hammer. p.s. – You don’t have to be worried about being repetitious or too detailed. I really enjoy the post. I would be interested in knowing what your favorite and most used tools are. Thank you. Ted.


    • Jack Plane says:

      Ted, the veneer thickness depends largely on the period and furniture style. As a generalisation, earlier veneer was fairly thick at 3/32″ (2.4mm) with later veneer being marginally thinner at 5/64″ (2mm). Veneer thicker than the upper limit or thinner than 1/16″ (1.6mm) can be problematic. Much thicker and the veneer can act independently, causing the groundwork to move unpredictably; and much thinner and one runs the danger of planing or scraping through it.

      The Victorians – bless them – contrived machinery capable of peeling off veneer as thin as 1/32″ (0.8mm) which contributed to the unsavoury image veneer still retains in some quarters. Of course, veneer today can be had as thin as 1/42″ (0.6mm) which, frankly, is quite ridiculous and totally deserving of bad press.

      My favourite tool is my glue pot (actually a wax pot). Every time I switch it on, it causes me to smile as I remember earlier and oft malapropos alternatives. That’s probably not what you meant. My bandsaw is used daily and is a joy to use. That’s still probably not the answer you were looking for.

      I don’t have the same reverence or love for tools as the majority of on-line woodworkers appear to have. Don’t get me wrong, I respect my tools and take care of them, but I think nothing of punching a hole in a saw blade or drilling a hole in the tail of an iron plane to hang them up by. If I’m pressed to name a favourite tool, it would have to be the scratchstock; they are quick and simple to make, the interchangeable blades can produce infinite shapes and all for very little outlay.



  3. Gregory Forster says:

    Why would a period cabinet maker veneer the carcase versus using solid Walnut?;
    was it a cost consideration or were other factors involved?



    • Jack Plane says:

      Greg, there had been a long tradition of veneering with (European) walnut, but as with mahogany, in many instances, it was more economical to saw expensive imported timber into veneers.



  4. Hi Jack, I was just looking at your chest more closely and have a few questions. Is there a rebate along the length of the drawer dividers that accepts the front of the dust boards? If there are no dovetailed or demi-dovetailed “drawer dividers” at the rear of the chest, what unites the rear of the case (I assume the dust boards are not glued in). Lastly, I see in Fig 3 above that the top and bottom boards are proud of the side, presumably by the thickness of the lipping, which would mean that the mouldings are installed onto raw pine ground of the top and bottom boards and therefore there is no quirk. Is that correct?


    • Jack Plane says:

      Michael, yes, the dividers are rebated to accept the dustboards.

      The rear of the carcase is largely left to fend for itself. The truth of the matter is that the rear of the carcase doesn’t see the same stresses that the front experiences from people racking the drawers as they shove them in and slam them against the drawer stops etc. With the front edges secured by the dividers and the relatively short distance between the top and bottom dovetails, the carcase is fairly well anchored. One could theorise that horizontal backboards would lend a degree of support to the rear edges of the carcase ends. Coincidentally, I will be fitting horizontal backboards to this chest, but not for this reason.

      If you compare the image of the original Virginia Walnut chest with, say, the chest of the mahogany cabinet-on-chest I made, you will see several distinct differences in the carcases. The top mouldings on both chests do indeed have quirks. The veneer on the walnut chest is at least as thick as the quirk is high, so there was no need to apply walnut lipping to the front edge of the carcase top. The pine packer below it however, is lipped because the top moulding only partly covers the packer.

      The bottom moulding on the COC is actually affixed to the bottom packer, thus the front edge of the bottom of the carcase required a mahogany lipping. The bottom moulding on the walnut chest runs straight off the bottom of the carcase, thus again, no lipping was required. Both methods were equally employed.



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