David’s Workshop . . . The Serpentine Chest

I came home one evening and my wife said she had an idea that would be fun, interesting and maybe help with another stream of income after I retire as Director of the Student Union from our state university.

The local Craigslist bacchanalia began. Ann Marie spent hours studying wooden furniture posted under Furniture and Antiques. She’d show me her daily finds, but it’s hard to judge age and quality from a dark and often blurry photo.

Eventually we came across the 1940s mahogany serpentine 6-drawer chest pictured below. Upon inspection the piece had a few cosmetic problems but nothing I couldn’t repair. I was sure we’d easily find matching hardware for the top two drawers and then the whole thing would be ready to paint. That was in July.

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As of late December I am close, very close, to having my wife finish it up. I’ve learned what problems to look for since then.

We got the piece home and I inspected it for repairs. That’s when the flaws jumped out at me. Every drawer needed to be glued and clamped together. Meanwhile, the dovetail joints had lost adhesion over their lifetime. Worse still, the dings and scrapes on the exterior veneer multiplied with every new inspection.

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Even the top finish needed to be stripped off as it was too damaged to leave. Annie Sloan Chalk Paint has a thick skin but it will magnify really uneven surfaces.

Once the drawers came out of the cabinet, I noticed water damage on the top surface of the interior of the lower lower cabinet. The veneer was buckled and cracked across the entire surface, and I soon discovered the damage extended into the first drawer of the  lower cabinet as well.

Nothing to do but separate the upper chest cabinet from the lower cabinet. I can do that. Easy. If getting a half dozen slotted head wood screws removed from 50+ year old cabinet grade lumber in awkward positions can be described as easy.

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I decided that regluing and clamping the original veneer wasn’t possible so I began using a utility knife along the interior edge of the cabinet structure to cut away the top veneer layer. I discovered that the center of the veneer coverings was hollow. The manufacturer had only used a thin 1/8-inch veneer panel on both surfaces, leaving a hollow 3/4-inch cavity between the two surfaces. I was shocked. This short cut was going to cost me some extra sweat equity.

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The rails of the cabinet were grooved on three sides. Why hadn’t the manufacturer shellacked the surfaces of the veneer? Better yet, why hadn’t they put a solid piece inside the opening? Dado cutting and rabbit edging a solid piece could add structural strength as well as being the solid divider used between the drawers.

Dave’s Fine Furniture, my imaginary company, could have done it exactly that way. Iris Abbey, our new company, would do it this way. I purchased a laminated Aspen panel at Lowe’s. The Dado cuts came later, much later.

To be continued…

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2 thoughts on “David’s Workshop . . . The Serpentine Chest

  1. Pingback: David’s Workshop . . . The Serpentine Chest, Part 2 | irisabbey

  2. Pingback: Sophisticated Whimsey | irisabbey

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