Hand Tool Driven Lowboy Build

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Blog entry by OrangeElk posted 04-28-2016 01:15 PM 1276 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch

The following is intended to document my process for building a lowboy. The build is primarily done with hand tools but I did end up using power tools as the project got going. This build was for a independent study so I had access to the university lab’s machines. The lowboy I chose looks like a transition piece between William and Mary to Queen Anne. This low boy was featured in PWM by Glen Huey, but I never ended up reading the issue, I made the plans from pictures.

Starting the project was getting the lumber from a local sawmill. I lucked out here and ended up unintentionally getting mostly curly cherry which ending up leading to a trip back to the sawmill to get some more curly cherry for the drawers. I layed out the boards and rough cut them to length with a handsaw. Then I jointed the faces of the boards that were wider than 8” ( the size of the jointer i had access to). Started this project I had accepted that i would use machines to surface and dimension most of the boards, mainly due to the time constraint. This is only my second project using hand tools and it takes me a good deal of time to get boards flat and parallel.

After getting everything dimensioned I started work on the legs, laid out the mortises and started chopping. I used a marking gauge to outline all the mortises. this took a little planning since I only have one gauge, I ended up making two more about half way through the project (once I was done using gauges?). The mortises were cut with a pig sticker chisel I picked up from an antique store. The first couple took some time but once I was used to it they didn’t take to long. I was pretty surprised by the end I could chop about a quarter inch down at a time.

Then as luck would have it the handle split with about half the mortises done. I’ve never heard of one of this splitting before. Figured a last ditch effort before making a new handle was to super glue it back together and its still together today. I also switched from a maple mallet to a cherry one, not sure if this made much of a difference but it couldn’t hurt.

Once I had all the mortises done I moved on to the tennons. I laid out all the tennons with a guage or a knife and then sawed the tennon and cheek. when sawing the shoulder i purposely stayed away from the gauge line and then chiseled the shoulder in. For the Cheeks i tried two methods, sawing and then cleaning up with a router plane and chiseling the waste out and then cleaning up with a router plane. Ultimately I preferred sawing the cheek, the chisel method was okay but if the grain wasn’t perfect it ended up taking more time than sawing.

While the joinery was somewhat difficult since it was my first time cutting mortise and tennons by hand, the cabriole legs were my first real challenge. I was determined to make these with out machines and I did twice on practice legs made from 2×4s but for the final legs I used a bandsaw. I justified this in my mind by asking, would the period joiners have used a bandsaw if they had the technology, I think the answer was yes they were business men and had a schedule as did I. I tried a couple things to shape the legs by hand and they worked but man were they slow. The first attempt was use a bow saw with a 10ppi blade. This worked but I didn’t have the patience for it. Take two use a bowsaw for the knee and ankle and use a ripsaw for the main portion, faster but still wasn’t liking how the bowsaw was cutting if struggled in a softwood I couldn’t imagine using it on cherry. Take three rip the main shaft with a hand saw and knock out the ankle and knee with a gouge, this was the fastest method but by know I realized I was burning up too much on this took a trip to the bandsaw. After the rough form was established the rest was done with a drawknife, spokeshave, rasp and scraper following the methods of a Phillip Lowe article.

Right about this time the first of three side projects showed up. Ended up making two of these guys.

At this point I had the main carcass complete and started to work on the all the internals. I seemed to have lost some of the photos from this part of the build. I switched phones during the middle of this and seem to be missing a few photos. I’ll add them in later if I can find them. All of the internals on the original piece were nailed in, this was to easy so I made it more complicated and joined it all with either dovetails or mortise and tennons.

With everything structural done it was time to make it look good. The frills on the aprons were cut with either the bowsaw or coping saw. I switched back and forth but think I preferred using the coping saw. I then cleaned up the edges with a scraper.

Its just about time to make this permanent and glue up. I decided to drawbore and this was new to me. I followed Latta’s article for this and for the most part it worked out for me. I glued up using Elmer’s White glue to give the wide aprons a chance to move a little. Everything started out alright, wish I could say it ended that way. Let’s just say it was a good thing I had some clamps laying around. One of the tennons must have blown out while driving the peg and no longer pulled the joint together, not a problem I had a clamp. Then one of the joints was pulling together on an angle so I started to try pushing and tapping it straight again. All the sudden snap, I’m holding half a leg in my hand and cursing up a storm. After a few minutes of rage I was able to glue the leg back together. The break was rather clean and is probably stronger now then when it started, I switched to TB III to glue the leg back together.

Now with that mess over with I made the drawers. Dovetailed the sides and then plowed a groove in for the bottoms. The bottoms were cut like a raised panel, the whole thing was done with a rabbet plane, I believe i followed Chris Schwarz’s method for this. The bottoms were slotted and screwed in. This was the first time I had done many operations. This was a first for making a groove by hand, making a raised panel by hand, and cutting half blind dovetails. This was also the first time i used a solid a solid wood bottom for a drawer so the grain running side to side threw me off at first but it makes sense for expansion and contraction.

With the drawers done I made the trim to surround the drawers. I ripped and planed the strips to thickness. Then the double bead was scratched in with a Stanley 66. This was taking a while so I plowed the groove in and then followed that up with the 66. I then cut all the miters and used a shooting board to fine tune them. the trim was then glued on and nailed with some wire brads.

With the end in sight somehow the second side project made its way in

And then a third making a handle for an old wrench I cleaned up

Now back to the main project. Time to bend all the cocks beading around the bottom. This went almost as i expected. Most pieces bent pretty well but the little ones with s curve, not so much. For those I ended up making a cual getting them as hot as i could and then clamping them in place. This worked but wasn’t ideal. The cocks betting was then glued and nailed in place.

I kind of skipped over making the top but this was just cutting a shallow rabbet along the four edges and then rounding it with my smoother. I started with a chamfer and then turned it into a roundover. I tried using a hollow plane but found it easier to just eye it up with the smooth plane

The project was then finish sanded to 220 and applied finish. The finish I used is 2 parts BLO and one part poly and applied like an oil would be. this picture is with about three coats on since I am still in the process but I’m not sure the extra coats would show up in a picture but I may still update with pictures of the final finish.

4 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile


117909 posts in 4186 days

#1 posted 04-28-2016 01:56 PM

Most impressive work,congrats on a great accomplishment and beautiful lowboy.


View JoeinGa's profile


7741 posts in 2616 days

#2 posted 04-28-2016 04:13 PM

Wow, no doubt this will become a family heirloom! It already looks like it was made a hundred years ago. Beautiful!

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View BurlyBob's profile


6918 posts in 2874 days

#3 posted 04-28-2016 04:31 PM

First let me welcome you to Lumberjocks. Second, what a fantastic piece and first rate pictorial show of your constructing it. I’m pretty certain that will be a cherished piece in your home for years. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your work.

View SAWarner's profile


1 post in 1359 days

#4 posted 05-07-2016 02:19 PM

OrangeElk is one of my undergraduate students. He built this lowboy as an independent study. He has lots of contemporary woodworking experience but he wanted to try making a traditional style piece of furniture using mostly hand tools. This would be a new experience for him. For this study he was to record everything as a type of picture book of the processes he used. I also insisted that even the problems he encountered, such as the broken leg, be included in this record. Like all of us who have achieved some level of success in woodworking, OrangeElk has learned from his mistakes and will be better equipped to avoid or correct them with his next project. He is rightly proud of what he has learned through this independent study. He will get a good grade. :)

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