A Little Masterpiece
Block-front document cabinet will challenge your skills
Synopsis: With three carved fans and 271 hand-cut dovetails, this 1750s mahogany and pine document cabinet is for those who want to take their woodworking skills to a new level. Period furniture maker Randall O’Donnell takes you through the step-by-step process of building this little masterpiece. By the time you are finished, you will not only know the techniques for crafting a Newport block-front case piece, you’ll also have created an exquisite piece of furniture.
As much as any known specimen, this 1750s document cabinet displays the creativity of the Rhode Island block-front style. Exquisitely crafted, this small piece possesses the features of the very best furniture made by the very best craftsmen. Most of the techniques are similar to those required to build any Newport block-front case piece. However, while you will save on materials, don’t expect to save on time: The details and construction on such a small scale are very challenging (besides carving three fans, there are 271 hand-cut dovetails). This project will push your woodworking skills to a new level, but you will be rewarded with an exquisite piece of furniture.
Start with the carcase and its dividers
The 15 half-blind dovetails that join each corner of the carcase typify the no-expense-spared tone of the design. The half-pins at the front allow for the mitered corners, and those at the back accommodate the rabbet. The miter is not at 45º, because it starts 1⁄4 in. from the outside edge of the sides.
Once the carcase has been dry-fitted, rout the grooves for the main vertical dividers and the drawer dividers, stopping short of the front edge. The V-shaped terminus for the drawer divider grooves is made with a chisel and a mitered scrap block. Work a fillet and quarter-round on the inside edges of the carcase and on…