It is hard to tell in this picture, but the rails of the base are flush with the sides and front of the (previously built) cabinet.
The most difficult operation in building the base is getting the rails to the correct length. The rails of the base are supposed to be flush with the case on all 4 sides. Note to self – Next time use some under or over hang because getting components “flush” is tough. I sized mine by marking the components in place on the case, but I think there should have been an easier way.
With solid wood construction wood movement must always be considered. In this instance, the sides of the dresser will expand/contract with the seasons, but the base will not. If you don’t understand wood movement, here is a great book on the topic. This movement is allowed by using “buttons” to connect the base to the case. These are handy little things that screw to the bottom of the case and fit into hidden mortises in the rails. They are sized such that they clamp the base to the case. Again, Robert Wearing described these very nicely. By making the mortises in the side rails larger than the buttons, movement is allowed and the case will last for many years.
I made my buttons from a short, but wide board.
A rabbet plane forms the tongue of the buttons. After flipping the board, I marked out each button in the row, and drilled the holes for screws. I used a counterbore for the Lee Valley cup washers that I like so much. After this step the buttons were freed from the board.
I asked my shop assistant to carefully stack as many buttons as possible. Careful now…
How many buttons does it take to connect a case and base? I don’t really know. Robert Wearing said that it was better to have too many than too few, but I probably went overboard.
All of those buttons needed a home, so out came the mortise chisel again. With all the practice making full sized mortises, these little ones were fast and easy. The mortises on the side rails were chopped a little wider than the buttons to allow wood movement.
I chose to form a very large arch on the front rail as the only real decoration in the whole dresser. It matches the style of the bed and chest of drawers I previously made.
Drawing this arch was a real challenge. I tried to use my trammel set, but I needed an arch with a radius of more than 9 feet, so trammels were no match. I decided to make due with a straight edge and bowed yardstick. I knew the location of 3 points – the middle and both edges – so I connected the dots with my straightedge. Then I added a curved line with a bowed straightedge.
It took a few attempts and free hand work. More than once I needed to erase my progress and start over.
I eventually gave up on the pencil work and finished “drawing” the arch with a saw and rasp. I’m a big fan of my Gramercy hand cut rasp (10 inch 16 tpi). Yes, it is expensive. Yes, I would buy it again. There is no need to use a spokeshave here because the rasp leaves a surface that is nice enough considering it will never be seen.
Time to get ready for glue-up.
Because the legs are 1/8 inch outset from the case, I chose to finish plane the rails prior to assembly. I then used tape to make it easy to clean glue squeeze out. Blue tape works great for protecting the show surfaces. I glued up the base while it was positioned on top of the case because the main thing is sameness – not squareness. What do I mean? If the case and base match, then a small amount out of square will never be noticed. If, however, the base is perfectly square and the case is not – something is going to look ugly. With the base in place on the case I adjusted the base to fit the case (feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme).
Clamps are awkward in a glue-up like this. I use corner spacers (big dowels) and rope. Pressure is applied by twisting a long stick to get the rope tight.
Once the glue cured, the base was removed and I finish planed the case. All visible case surfaces were finish planed. I find the front to be most difficult because of the perpendicular grain directions of the dividers. Skewing the plane helps to narrow the effective width of the blade. Work slowly and carefully. This needs to be done now because planing will not be possible later due to the legs being proud of (sticking out from) the case.
Finish plane the legs of the base, too. This means leveling up the top of the legs and rails and finish planing the show surfaces of the legs. Use clamps, battons, or stops as needed.
I don’t care for block planes. I find bench planes easier to hold. Here I am softening the corners of the legs with a small bench plane. I forget what size it was, because that doesn’t matter.
Just a little more wood to remove. I added a chamfer to the bottom and top of the legs. Here I am marking the chamfer out all the way around the bottom of the leg.
Making a short chamfer is easy work with a wide and sharp chisel – easier than with a block plane for sure. Keep your hands in contact with the leg to increase control. See the curly shaving? That is a sign of a sharp chisel that is in control. The resulting chamfer is clean and sharp.
I put the base back on the case and marked the screw hole locations for the buttons. I think everyone knows this technique for hole location marking, but I’ll repeat for good measure. Put the button in place, insert a drill bit through the screw hole, tap the bit with a hammer, expand the indention with an awl (if you choose). Hole located.
That’s all folks!
It is finally time to install the base. Sorry, no picture of the assembly because I could not get a good photo of this big piece in my small shop. I’ll work that out before the next installment.