Bow-Front Commode

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Project by Eli posted 05-26-2010 01:52 AM 3533 views 6 times favorited 26 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Yeah, yeah, I know… Commode.

This was my final piece that I started at school. It was really fun to work on, because it was the first piece that I really got involved in the engineering of. Generally, the instructors know how to build things, and it’s just a matter of choosing between generally similar approaches. It’s more about learning techniques. This time, though, the instructors clearly did not know how to make it.

That’s not to say they didn’t have ideas. They are all very smart. But they had to work through this build and I got to work through it with them. I learned that figuring out how to build a piece is my favorite part. It took three drawings, lots of research, and a bit of staring to finally come up with a solid plan. Overall the build went smoothly without any major problems. I did find lots of things I’d do differently next time, but that’s part of the fun. If you want a pretty detailed play-by-play, go here.

I graduated before I finished building it so it got pushed to the back by paying jobs. At some point, I had the idea to upholster drawers. It’s all explained at the other site, but basically, I realized veneer is just color and pattern, so why not use fabric and add a bit of texture? I had a half finished piece and half of an idea, so I stuck them together.

The fabric is actually tacked around the edges of the drawers and the cock-beading covers the tacks. There is a thin layer of cotton batting underneath to give it a little softness and play up the fabric idea.

The finish is a solvent based grain filler tinted with transtint, then waterlox. Additionally, I padded shellac on the top and then used dark wax on the whole thing. This was my first experience with grain filler and it went quite well. I’ll definitely use it again.

Overall, I’m happy with the result. It was kind of strange making a piece where the quality and function weren’t the point. There were certainly some technical difficulties that I’d need to fix, but nothing major. It was all about the idea and the look. It isn’t ideal, because the commode wasn’t designed for the fabric, but it works well enough not to seem like an afterthought. I’m excited about this direction and plan on pursuing it for a little while at least.

I also made a necktie to match.

What do you think? Critiques are encouraged. I think the legs are either too thin at the bottom or too thick on the case (I lean toward the latter). They are disproportionately heavy next to the thin dividers and lower parts. The knobs are all wrong, but I got them for free and didn’t have time to shop for new ones. I would have liked something slightly smaller in an antiqued brass. The center section of drawers is a little too thin when viewed from the front (you might not be able to tell from these photos). This looks out of place given the breadth of the cabinet. This might have been negligible, but it’s amplified by pushing the knobs, which are already too big, a bit too close together. I really struggled with how to space the legs and it ended up being fairly arbitrary. You get what you pay for, I suppose.


26 comments so far

View Tony Strupulis's profile

Tony Strupulis

260 posts in 4175 days

#1 posted 05-26-2010 02:10 AM

I haven’t considered upholstering a case piece like that. I think I like it. Was it based on an antique?

The knobs really seem to project from the front. Perhaps it’s exacerbated by the bow fronts. I like the diameter of the knob, but yeah, they do seem big. What about escutcheon plates roughly the same diameter as the existing knob and use a smaller knob? That would give them the same scale, but less projection.

-- Tony -

View Jordan's profile


1400 posts in 4177 days

#2 posted 05-26-2010 02:18 AM

I don’t think it looks like a commode. It’s very beautiful and the upholstery is something I’ve never seen before and was very impressed with.


View KnifeL's profile


86 posts in 4004 days

#3 posted 05-26-2010 02:25 AM

Great work. Were you to re-turn the legs I would suggest similar dimensioning but move the ball down a bit more. I suppose you could cut the feet slightly, but honestly it is a very nice turning and not worth messing with. I like the strength of the button knobs but I agree there is something off about them. I don’t suggest handled pulls. Nice necktie.

-- Will in Boulder, CO

View a1Jim's profile


118161 posts in 4629 days

#4 posted 05-26-2010 02:38 AM

Eli your work is always unique and first class, so well done.


View thatwoodworkingguy's profile


375 posts in 3982 days

#5 posted 05-26-2010 02:52 AM

Outstanding piece of furniture!

-- ~Eagle America~ ~Woodcraft~

View Eli's profile


142 posts in 4058 days

#6 posted 05-26-2010 03:27 AM

Thanks for the comments.

I haven’t seen any precedent for this, although I’m sure it’s out there somewhere. A friend found an article from the 70’s about using fabric as a banding. I pulled the idea from some pieces with pleated fabric behind glass doors, particularly a large Empire bookcase/pier table with pleated sunbursts (attributed to “possibly Joseph Meeks and Sons), and my lolling chair, and some encouragement by fellow Lumberjock Neil Lamens, Furnitologist.


View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


20618 posts in 4728 days

#7 posted 05-26-2010 04:02 AM

Defnitely wild! i like it.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 4820 days

#8 posted 05-26-2010 04:19 AM

Nice :)

View levan's profile


472 posts in 4031 days

#9 posted 05-26-2010 04:51 AM

what a cool and unique design Good job

-- "If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right". Henry Ford

View Dark_Lightning's profile


4514 posts in 4161 days

#10 posted 05-26-2010 04:58 AM

That’s pretty sweet!

A “commode” is more things than a place to boil water and crack the porcelain.

Since you asked, the legs appear to be too puny all the way down from the carcass, to me. Maybe nicking part of an inch or so off the “pencils” at the bottom of the legs would help?

I think the overhead light exaggerates the protrusion of the knobs. I don’t think they look that bad.

My dad used to make upholstered trunks for vintage Fords (Model “A”, and “T” for you young bucks). So, fabric isn’t a foreigner to me, though I don’t use it, beyond flocking the bottom of a turning or the inside of a box. This looks good that way.

...that tack hammer brings back many fond memories of my dad upholstering fine furniture…and car trunks.

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

View Dave T's profile

Dave T

196 posts in 4672 days

#11 posted 05-26-2010 04:59 AM

Very unique with the upholstery. I agree about the knobs, I think the dimension is right but maybe sit a little too far out from the case itself. Not sure I would change anything about the legs, I think they look pretty good and very well turned.

View Kerux's profile


812 posts in 4936 days

#12 posted 05-26-2010 05:34 AM

That’s cool. I’d like to see something like that done is a Tartan look.


View dakremer's profile


2767 posts in 4143 days

#13 posted 05-26-2010 05:52 AM

Eli, I might be able to build a sofa – but I CAN’T make my woodworking THAT NICE!! This is really awesome! All of your projects are awesome, I really like them a lot. You tell me your secrets…I’ll tell you mine :) :)

-- Hey you dang woodchucks, quit chucking my wood!!!!

View John Fleming's profile

John Fleming

29 posts in 4183 days

#14 posted 05-26-2010 08:38 AM

Thi is some very fine work. How many hours or do you not want to count?

-- Woodworker in Progress, Oceanside CA

View blockhead's profile


1475 posts in 4360 days

#15 posted 05-26-2010 02:13 PM

This looks great Eli! The fabric really adds an elegant touch. I agree with KnifeL on the legs. All in all, I think it’s a gorgeous piece, thanks for posting.

-- Brad, Oregon- The things that come to those who wait, may be the things left by those who got there first.

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