Friday, 3 January 2014

Chinese jewellery cabinet

I was asked to convert an old Chinese box into a jewellery cabinet by making a partitioned tray to create individual storage areas housed in the upper part of the cabinet.

The inside was traditional black lacquer and the client had originally asked for the inset tray to be black also. I felt it would look more attractive if left in a natural oiled finish to contrast with the black.

I had some offcuts of American Cherry and thought this would be suitable when oil finished so prepared stock in the usual way for a 50mm deep tray with 30 and 40mm high dividers and a central lifting handle.

I began with the handle and modified an existing jig to shape the curves using a router spindle in the moulder. This was also the first outing for the Bessey automatic hold down clamps which accommodate any thickness of timber without adjustment - very clever.

This is a very quick and accurate way of making multiple parts but, in this case, was fine for a one off.

The shaped handle, ready for chamfer details.

Next job was to trim the sides to length and mitre the ends using a home made mitre shooting board which works well. I use a low angle, bevel up, Jack plane to trim the ends and this produces a fine finish on the end grain and is easy to push.

I could have routed the housings for the dividers but didn't have a 4mm router bit to hand and so sawed the edges at an angle and cleaned out with a variety of chisels. This also avoided the terrible row routers make leading to a more peaceful process.

Similarly I worked the rebates with a skew rebate plane (an excellent and effective tool), paired with a left handed skew block plane, where the grain ran contrary. I find this pairing of planes covers all eventualities in grain direction, plus rebating or block planing as required. I ran a chamfer along the top edges to thin down the appearance from above.

The skew block plane and rebate and chamfer details.

The glue up was simple with just plain mitres and I used corner blocks to apply even pressure to the joints, held in place with an aerolastic (not rocket science).

Once dry I strengthened the corner joints with skewed splines. Again I had an existing jig for use on the table saw or spindle and I used this on the table saw to cut opposing slots at an 8 degree angle. I cut the far slot first then flipped the frame and cut the second slot this ensuing that the spacing was even.


The slots cut ready for the inserts. They look a bit like dovetails to the casual observer so add interest to the piece. The splines will be 45 degree grain so will generally end up as a darker contrast when finished, a nice detail.

Glued up and cleaned off

For the base I had some 6mm veneered ply but this was a little too thick for the size of the tray so I put it through the thicknesser down to 3mm. I was lucky the intermediate plies were fairly good and continuous which is not always the case with modern plywood. One common problem with plywood is that it is not flat and I ended up sitting the assembled tray on blocks and clamping with holdfasts from above while the glue went off. 

I left the tray unfinished, pending inspection by the client but hope they will accept an oiled finish which always looks good on cherry.

As usual I learned a lot during the construction and, on reflection, I think the central handle looks a bit heavy, I could have pierced it or run a mould down each side but I am pleased with the outcome and hope the client is too.

The one that got away. A nasty gap in one of the dividers!! You wonder how this can happen.

Apart from the "gap" I am pleased with the finished job which I exposed to daylight for a week to darken the cherry to compliment the red outside.

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