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I have had a request for a kist (blanket chest) for our family room to double as storage and a place to rest a coffee cup.

A number of people asked me about the term “kist”, where it comes from. "Kist" is quite international. It is the term I grew up with as a child in South Africa. Likely it reflects the influence of both the Dutch and German. One source states it is of Norse extraction (“kista”). It is still used in the UK – in Scotland it refers to a coffin - and I'm sure has derivations in other countries. It is "Kiste" in Germany, “kisten” in Holland. I could just say "blanket chest", but that sounds so boring 

I had three rough sawn boards about 14" x 10' by 1 1/4" thick in Curly (or Fiddleback) Marri. This is hard - not quite as hard as Jarrah overall (although sections were very hard indeed), but I can only describe it as "chewy". That is, it is extremely interlocked and it resisted attempts to drive a chisel through it. Where Jarrah is very hard, it is also brittle and breaks away. This Curly Marri just did not let go. Firewood. Beautiful firewood.

The boards all had significant cup and twist, and to retain the maximum thickness the boards were sawn into shorter and narrower lengths, jointed on one side, and then resawn and thicknessed to 3/4" (what is saved from this process runs from 1/4" - 1/2" and will be used for the lower shelf and, possibly, drawers).

This all sounds quite standard and, indeed, this preliminary work was done on machinery, however it was not straight forward. Curly Marri is very hard and the grain is extensively interlocked. My 8" jointer struggled, and stalled at times. The lunchbox thicknesser left noticeable tearout. And I began to ask myself whether I should just burn the boards instead of building with them.

“Ordinary” Marri is not as hard as Jarrah, and it is not as abrasive. However the colour can vary quite a bit, and there are pockets of resin that dry and fall out leaving voids. These voids are not attractive, and it is usual to fill them with black-tinted resin. This is “Curly” Marri. It is harder to match boards. Not only does one need to match for colour, but for figure and for curl direction. It is like working in 3-D rather than 2-D.

The sawing and jointing took one weekend. This past weekend I glued up panels on Saturday, and then began planing then to final thickness on Sunday. Here are a few photos ...

Traversing ..

Checking for twist ...

My secret weapon - flattening with a 36" heavy Jarrah jointer with a 3" wide Berg blade ...

Smoothing ... aaahhh, as the curl becomes clear we see what all the fuss was about ...

The grain switches back-and-forth. Some tearout is inevitable.

Here's an example of the tearout that occurs with little warning. The only possible (?) tell is that the grain changes direction in this area - but it changes direction like that elsewhere without similar results ...

Here is closer look at some of the curl. Some of it, like this, is quite raised. And it makes it difficult to traverse across the grain as it can still tearout (picture taken after the above tearout was smoothed with a cabinet scraper) ...

Out come the cabinet scrapers ..

A finished board with a little alcohol to show the grain ..

This will become the rear panel. My concern is that the curl shows up as disjointed sections. There will be a raised base in Jarrah, and this should cause the lighter Marri to become a little less foreground.

This is to be the face of the chest ...

The boards are 20" across. There are 13 tails 3/4" at the baseline (the ratio is 1:6 for those curious), and 14 pins with 1" at the back and 1 1/4" at the front.

One of the issues that I faced when building from Curly Marri was that it is far from being clear wood. It is filled with veins where resin has dried and fallen out. These need to be filled with black-tinted epoxy. However, too many of these would make the wood look like a Dalmatian. 

Here is an example of a void. This goes all the way through the 3/4" board ...

I had started with 10" wide boards. By the time I had cut around these, some were only 4" wide. It was going to be necessary to join boards to reach the 20" panel width I required.

Joining boards is complex enough when there is figure to match, but here this was further complicated by the fiddleback in the boards - having this run in any direction but with each other would made the combination untidy and accentuate the fact that several boards were used. I think most of us try to make joined boards look like a single, wide board.

The subsequent matching of grain, figure, curl and colour is what made this such a difficult journey.

I really only had just enough for four sides and the lid, and spent quite a bit of time moving around boards to create an integrated, interesting combination. For three panels - the front and the two sides - I managed to use three boards each. The rear panel, which will go against a wall, has four boards. I think it epitomizes what I wanted to avoid (but just could not with the limited stock available - and, yes, I did try and obtain more).

To obtain the best match, the grain of each board does not all flow in the same direction. This should make planing a little more complex, however the grain switches direction all the time, so who is to say in which direction the grain actually lay.  There was a lot more scraping done than just planing.

Yesterday I glued the panels together along with the base, which floats in a dado.

Today I planed down the sides.

I do love it when the first plane strokes uncover the details that lie below ...

All sides were given a final scraping.

Then came a couple of coats of Danish Oil - the fiddleback will respond best to oil.

First, the worst - the rear panel - fortunately it will be hidden! ...

Here is the front panel ...

From one side ...


.. and the other ...

That gets me about one third of the way through this project. The remainder promises to be more fun.

Designing the Base

When we left off last time, the lid had been largely completed. The breadboard here is unfinished. It is not yet attached and will be made narrower and shaped with a cove on the underside.

I had a little time over the weekend to begin the base. This is the interesting part of the build as it will contain a drawer built into the base, itself. Building it this way was to conceal the drawer, so as to create an uncluttered face.

Some of you will have a problem with the way I design and build. I rarely draw up any plans, and basically wing it with just a idea and a mental image. I do try and visualise it through before work is begun, attempting to plan in as much as I can. The plans remain in my head, rather than on paper. Here, however, I only had a rudimentary idea of the way in which I would build the drawer, and I had reached this point where it was time to make it work.

I was not sure whether I would build one large single drawer or split this into two drawers. The advantage of a single drawer was that there would be fewer breaks at the front, and it would be easier to make the drawer "disappear". The downside is that one wide drawer is likely to rack and the drawer bottom would have to be thick to avoid flexing, even with a munton.

I would like some input here. The drawer opening is 30" wide. The depth available is 20" (It is not planned to use the full depth since that would make it difficult to reach the rear of the drawer). Anyone build a 30" wide drawer that does not rack?

The other feature of the drawer that complicates is that it will be very shallow as it must fit within the base (the drawer is to house a few magazines or a remote control, or something else that is slim - why build it when it is this shallow? I liked the challenge). There is a total depth of about 2" available. To maximise the internal drawer height the drawer bottom may be attached to the underside of the drawer sides (screwed/nailed in a rebate) and not in a side groove.

The drawer will not run along a runner, as the runner takes up depth. Instead it will have to hang from, and run along, side rails.

What I love about hand tools is that they allow one to change horses in mid gallop - when a base is dovetailed together, it is still possible to chop grooves/mortices for a runner.

Here is the Jarrah dovetailed base. The box will sit on top. The opening at the front is for the drawer. Actually, that is likely to be drawers as I am leaning towards building two smaller ones rather than one large one.

With the box upside down, the base is attached ...

If you look carefully at the rear corners you may make out the mortices I chopped for the rails. Below is a picture of one rail. Note that this is a dry fit as the rail will be narrower than it is here.

And here was a photo of the kist plus base. In this guise it could take a single drawer hanging from the rails. Alternately, I could add a centre rail and hang two drawers. (The picture also includes the mouldings I made. These have not been attached).

A drawer for the kist

I decided to go ahead with one drawer.

The plan was to use these stretchers as a guide for the drawer ...

I have since sawn them to about half that width and added a rebate to create a 1/4" tongue along the inside length at each side. The idea is to groove the side of the drawer and run the drawer along the tongues.

What I would like to get opinion on is whether there is a better way, such as a mechanical (extension) slide. Again, the concern is to minimise any potential racking in a wide drawer.

I have completed the drawer, done today. The design of the drawer takes it out of the traditional as I have used plywood for the base. The reason for this is was the need to maximise the internal space in this shallow drawer (about 2" high) by screwing the base into a lower rebate rather than floating a panel in a groove (which would have to be situated higher). My reasoning was that ply would be stable and not need to deal with the expansion issue of solid wood.

Here is the drawer resting on the side stretchers. The drawer has not yet been grooved to slide on the tongues. I can change the design if there is a convincing argument for something else.

This is the tongue (that the drawer is resting upon).

Two features here: the first is the drawer features through dovetails at the front and a cross piece that is attached with sliding dovetails. A section from the base will be attached to the front of the drawer (and blend in with the remainder of the base). The drawer does not extend to the rear, although the sides do (to support it when extended).

This is the ply base screwed into a rebate that runs fully around the drawer. The 1/4" ply is very stiff and there was no need for a munton. No glue. I considered expansion slots, but believe that there is no need.

The wide breadboard ends on the top have been cut down (by more than half). Inside there is a 3/4" tenon. The underside has been given a small cove (to pick up the theme of the base). This is a dry fit.

That's it for now. I am away (visiting parents in Cape Town) for 10 days. No building in this time.

Here is the final chapter..

Returning from Cape Town, with my wife staying on for an extra week with her folks, I had the whole weekend to myself in the shop.  This was doubly helpful as the kist was to be a birthday present, and she is due home tomorrow, Tuesday (today being Monday).

I needed to ..

1. Fit the drawer 
2. Fit the mouldings (already made with rounds and scrapers)
3. Round all edges
4. Oil and de-nib
5. Install the hinges in the carcase and lid
6. Complete the lid (fine tune the breadboard ends, trim to size, glue and peg the breadboard sections - I chose not to drawbore these as I did not want the pegs to extend through the lid and show at the outside)
7. Oil and de-nib again
8. Install the lid stays (I'd never used these before, and I already had a headache trying to work out how to with a template or manual)
9. Oil and de-nib
10. Wax
11. Lug the thing into the family room, stand back and - hopefully - admire my hand work. Hopefully.

Before I left on holiday I needed to work out a method of hanging the drawer. I had considered running it along a groove with the idea that it would aid in preventing it tipping as it was extended. In expectation I had planed a rebate for the tongue. Here is the drawer resting on the tongue ...

Bill made me see sense and, consequently, I removed the tongue, planed a rebate, and glued and screwed a filet to the runner. The drawer would run in the filet. The reason for planing the rebate was to raise the height of the filet (and drawer) ...

To ensure that the drawer would move square to the carcase, the drawer was aligned with the front of the carcase, then one runner was glued in place ...

The drawer was then removed, the other runner slid into its mortices, the drawer returned, and the second runner butted against its side. Easy-peasy alignment ...

The applied drawer front could now be attached ...

The moulding were installed with the use of a MF Langdon mitre box and saw and shooting board. I decided that the mitre box is totally overkill for small mouldings - the 28" saw is cumbersome and the 11 ppi teeth too coarse, although freshly sharp. My next project will be to build my own mitre box for use with a smaller saw. Later ... Of coarse I totally forgot to take pictures of the mouldings at this stage.

I imagine that a butt mortice plane is used in a similar manner for hinges ...

Anyway, it was all done, and I'll spare you pictures of the mundane. Instead we can skip to the end result. I will apologise in advance for these photos. It was late in the day, the sun was down, and the light came instead from two side lamps in the family room as well as a somewhat pathetic flash.

Dimensions: 3'0" (900mm) long x 1'8" (500mm) wide x 2'0" (600mm) high)

This project continues my interest in hidden drawers ...

The drawer has 1 1/4" (30mm) of internal depth. This should be plenty for a thick book or several magazines.

The moulding is attached to the drawer and acts as a stop.

Here is an earlier picture of the drawer with applied front to attach ..

The front was standard through dovetails (here you can also see the applied front and moulding in cross section) ...

The rear was a sliding dovetail (to allow longer sides to stabilise the drawer as it reached full extension ...

Context - for use as storage and a place to rest a mug or glass ...

This was not a particularly complicated or difficult build. It was, however, one of the most frustrating I have experienced owing to the extreme difficulty in working with Curly Marri. Near the start I came close to just burning the wood. Several times I asked myself why did I choose to continue. I purchased the wood because I thought it was striking. I think I was right. The real beauty of this timber can only be appreciated in reality, not in photos. It has chatoyance and amazing figure. It is Devil Wood nevertheless and should not be worked with hand tools, or by anyone sane.

Thanks for persevering.

Regards from Perth


July 2013