Jeff Segal Cabinetmaker - Handmade furniture in the Arts and Crafts tradition

Cherry bedside cabinets

Cherry bedside cabinet side elevation

Two bedside cabinets in solid English cherry with walnut details and veneered panels

This pair of classic bedside cabinets each have a drawer above and a cupboard with door below.

They feature solid English cherry (Prunus avium) for the frames, tops, doors, drawer fronts and drawer sides; matching ripple cherry veneer panels for the doors, sides and bases; and solid UK-grown cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) for the drawer bottoms to provide the traditional sweet scent when you open them.

The construction is traditional, using hand-cut dovetail and mortice and tenon joints throughout, and the detailing - the exposed joinery, the pegged tenons and the arched rails - is typical of Arts and Crafts pieces.

You can see pictures of the completed piece here.

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Frame components loosely assembledThe frame components - all dovetailed or mortice-and-tenoned by hand - are loosely assembled to check the fit. Each cabinet top is made from three sections, assembled so that the direction of the end grain alternates between convex and concave. This limits distortion.



 

Hand-routing legThe legs are grooved with a hand router (pictured here) and then with a vintage Stanley 45 plough plane. The veneered panels will later be rebated to fit exactly into the grooves, filling the area between the "stiles" (the legs) and the "rails" (the cross-members).



 

Shavings from plough planeThe plough plane makes very distinctive shavings, with tight curls and a crunchy feel underfoot. It's difficult to master but makes a quiet, relaxing substitute for the electric router. It's not much slower, either, once you factor in the time it takes to set up the power tool.



 

Chamfering legNow the legs are chamfered, or shaped to a 45-degree angle, using a jointer plane. In the traditional way, each corner chamfer will be "stopped" with a chisel so that it ends in a sharp point before it reaches the underside of the cabinet top.



 

Veneering panels with animal glueThirty-two MDF panels are hand-veneered on both sides with English cherry to make up the sides and doors of the cabinets. The veneer is coated with old-fashioned animal glue heated in a pot, then ironed and coaxed into place using a traditional beech "hammer".



 

Veneered and taped panelFor the doors, two almost identical sheets of veneer - cut from the log consecutively - are "book-matched" together to form a mirror image. The pieces have to be taped into place as the glue dries to make sure the joint doesn't pull apart.



 

Cherry cabinets - rebated veneered panelOnce the veneering is complete, the individual panels are cut and squared on the dimension saw. The pieces that have to fit into a grooved timber frame - for the door, sides and rear of each cabinet - are then cleanly and accurately rebated with my plough plane.



 

Cherry cabinets - inserting veneered panelsI mark each component with a bit of low-tack masking tape to avoid errors and test the panels inside the frames for fit. The side and rear frames are split vertically with 'muntins', or grooved stiles, that strengthen the construction and add delicacy to their appearance.



 

Before everything can be glued up I have to insert a veneered base. The side and rear edges are carefully notched to fit into the legs and muntins, while the front has to be 'lipped' with a piece of solid cherry. The door will close against this lip so the thickness has to be exact.



 

Cherry cabinets - glueing up carcaseGlueing up is always a bit of an ordeal. I'm using Titebond III PVA glue for the solid timber and in hot weather you have to move fast before it begins to cure. Realistically you've only got about 30 minutes to adjust the cramps to make sure every joint is square.



 

Cherry cabinets - runners and kickersNow I cut runners, kickers and guides and screw them into the sides. The runners (on which the drawers will slide) and the kickers above (which stop the drawers tipping up) are tenoned into grooves in the front rails. The guides stop the drawers wobbling from side to side.



 

Cherry cabinets - assembled carcasesThe carcases look pretty simple, but there are altogether 46 separate parts that make up each cabinet. And at this stage there's still quite a bit of work to do: assembling the drawers and doors, chamfering and attaching the tops, and fitting the hinges and pulls.



 

Cherry cabinets - through drawer dovetailsThe drawers are hand-cut from the same solid cherry as the rest of the piece and feature through dovetails, where the end-grain of the broad 'tail' can be seen from the front. Between the tails, the 'pins' are cut very narrow - typical of traditional English cabinetmaking.



 

Cherry cabinets - grooving drawer slipsI'd normally groove the sides and front to house the drawer bottom, but with through dovetails a groove would show from the front. Instead, the bottom fits into 'slips' screwed to the inside. These are so narrow I have to screw them to a bigger block to work on them.



 

Cherry cabinets - moulding drawer slipsOnce they're grooved with a plough plane I shape the tops of the drawer slips with an antique wooden moulding plane. The plane blade (or 'iron') matches the profile of the wooden base (or 'sole') and has to be sharpened with small slipstones to maintain the edge.



 

Cherry cabinets - slips inserted into drawerThe slips are mitred at each corner and fixed to the front and sides of the drawer. The bottom - made of solid cedar of Lebanon - slides into the slips but is left free to expand or contract at the back. The cedar smells sweet and repels moths too - at least until the scent fades.



 

Cherry cabinets - lining up door panel marginsThe doors have a solid cherry frame around a hand-veneered MDF panel. The panel has to be carefully located in the grooved stiles and rails to make sure the 0.5mm 'shadow line' - the gap around the edges - is consistent. I use thin laminated paper cards as spacers.



 

Cherry cabinets - making pegs with dowel plateOnce the doors are made up I insert a cherry peg into each corner. This helps keep the mortice and tenon joints tight and adds a subtle decorative effect. I make my own pegs by roughly shaping them with a spokeshave then hammering them through a dowel plate.



 

Cherry cabinets - fitting peg in door frameThe finished pegs are pushed into 10mm holes drilled into the door frames then sawn and planed until they're flush with the surface. Pegging is a traditional technique for reinforcing tenons that was revived by Arts and Crafts furniture makers in the Cotswolds.



 

Cherry cabinets - slot for door hingeHingeing the doors is another delicate job. In the best cabinet work the recess for the 'leaf' (the flat part of the hinge) is cut at an angle so that the 'knuckle' (the circular part ) fits entirely within the door stile. This gives an unbroken line between the door and the carcase.



 

Cherry cabinets - chamfering topFinally, the solid cherry tops have to be chamfered on the underside. It's important to make the angle consistent, so I build a jig slanted at 36.6 degrees from the vertical and run my wooden skew mitre plan along it. This cuts easily through both end grain and long grain.



 

Cherry cabinets - completed structureHere's the completed piece. I've still got to oil it, attach the brass hardware and insert rare earth magnets to pull the doors shut. I'm also ordering toughened glass to put on top. These cabinets are going to be well used and they'll need to be able to resist damage.