Fold-down bedside cabinet

Fold-down bedside cabinet

Fold down bedside cabinetMost of my work starts with something I’ve seen: a plan, a boat, a piece of furniture, a lump of wood with something hiding inside it. This project started with an empty space.

The space was eight inches deep, two feet wide and eight feet high. Somewhere in it I needed to put a cabinet that would hold a couple of books, a phone, a glass of water etc. All the things  someone wants by their bed. But eight inches makes for a very odd cabinet.

I had no starting point. I’ve never seen anything like the thing I needed to build. Somewhere in a corner of my brain this was lurking:

foldingsinksm I had seen a folding sink at a boat jumble. It was in horrible condition but an interesting relic of a bygone age. This drawing is from Shipmate who are planning to start producing them again. Things are looking up.

I love metamorphic furniture. Kenwood House is a healthy walk from my house and has a few pieces including library stairs and a folding desk you can stand on to get books from high shelves.

Ideas were colliding. A plan wasn’t exactly starting to take shape so much as coalesce.

The design wasn’t based on beautiful proportions or the rules of classical architecture. It was based on how tall a glass is, how thick a substantial novel is likely to get, what height is convenient when lying in bed and how thick flush-fitting hardware is.

I had to consider proportions, of course, but I tried to keep the piece as small as possible and as large as necessary. When all the requirements were laid out on paper it started to design itself. My biggest decisions were how thick to make the frames and how to lay out the grain on the shelf and panels.

Once the design was finished it presented some very diverting joinery: lapped and through dovetails in the drawer, mitred dovetails in the shelf, tongue and groove joints to hold the carcass together and mortise and tenons in the frames. The panels are rubbed joints in very thin stock. Lots of fun.

Overall I’m happy with it. There are half a dozen things I’d change if I were starting again but the client is happy and therefore, so am I.

There’s the rub…

imageI don’t use rubbed joints very often though that may now change. I’ve always been a bit suspicious of their strength. Or otherwise. Last night, when I was finishing a number of glued panels, I ran out of workspace. The carving bench, which I use as an assembly table when I’m not carving, was covered with clamps and panels and the workbench was similarly festooned. I had one small panel left but no space to lay it flat. The plan was to glue it over night and then saw it into two, creating two 1/4″ pieces from one 3/4″ glue-up. But I didn’t have space.

I sometimes use rubbed joints for this kind of work – grain matching and an invisible glue line are important. Strength isn’t. The panel will float in a frame and receive very little force.

However it had to be strong enough to deal with the sawing and planing involving in ripping it in two. With the edges jointed I applied the rapidly cooling glue and rubbed the joint; it stuck in moments. I left it in the vice for the night and tidied up.

This morning, bleary-headed, I carried some boards out to the workshop, forgetting the panel in the vice. Whilst maneuvering them I gave the panel such a clump that the bench moved. Fearing the worst I gave it a wiggle and realised it was still in tact. Wondering how much the glue joint would take I lifted I up by the top board and manage to raise the front legs of the bench from the floor. I’ve no idea how much force it will take but I’m confident that it’s strong enough for any normal application.

Suddlenly  my panel clamps are shuffling their feet and trying not to catch my eye for fear of an early retirement.


Arched lid mock up

Arched lid mock up

The technique seems to work. I glued up pairs, then fours and finally the seam down the middle. This photo shows a bit of flattening at the top. I had to replane the edges for the last joint; clamping had given them a bit of edge set and I needed to true them up. In doing so I lessened the bevel flattening the curve.

A useful lesson learned. I’m glad I did this on scrap.

Another lesson I seem to need to relearn is to pay attention to grain direction better. While planing the planks to give a smoother curve I was reminded of the need to match the grain direction in adjoining pieces by big chunks of tear out. That said, these oak planks found their way to the bottom of the wood rack because they had such convoluted grain. None of the pieces here have consistent grain along their length.

The Douglas Fir arrives in seven days. I hope it’s more consistent. I didn’t get to pick the planks myself.