First furniture: hand-cut dovetails and hidden compartments

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Project by Cornelius posted 10-31-2017 10:01 PM 2220 views 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

My very first furniture project became obvious when my wife was fed up with our seven years old stacking his dress-up costumes in every corner of the house.

Being raised in a classic French house full of antique furniture, I was always surrounded by dovetails, so a dress-up dovetailed chest it will be!

With a full time job and still setting up the workshop/basic tool set at the same time, it was really a lengthy project. I was quite confident on the technical part but I still thought it would be wise to choose a cheap wood for a first project.

I bought my first lot of poplar and milled part of it at a nearby school. For a small fee, I could have access to their top-notch machines and benefit from advices from the teacher. Back in my tiny workshop I could take my time and have fun cutting my dovetails…nothing scary as I trained a tad before, bought appropriate tools and learned to sharpen them.

I worked without plans, with some rough ideas in mind but in the last minute I changed my mind on the lid structure, and decided to go from a simple tongue and groove all the way to a tongue and groove with breadboard ends. Ho my! Fitting square pegs into round holes was definitely the peak of stress from the project. As I did not read too much about it, I tried to do a mix of common sense and experiments and I managed not to break anything, but that was a truly frightening moment.

As a keen black and white photographer for 25 years I have a lot of material transferred on external hard drives, and I am always a bit scared of the inexpensive but so valuable hard drives stolen during a break in. I then took the opportunity to accommodate two secret compartments on the sides of the drawer.

I come from the Alps and I thought it was a good opportunity to experiment traditional chip carving on two off centred drawers stops. These can be turned to slide out the drawer fully in order to access the hidden compartments. I can now store four 3.5” HDD in there.

The finish is golden oak stain and a semi-gloss varnish, both water based. I found out how much of a pain can be staining the wood, and I will from now on, avoid this at all cost.

It would be underrated to say that I learnt a lot in the process, but as I played and experimented with the tools on small projects before, this first furniture came smooth. It’s been more than a year I finished it and nothing moved so far.

My biggest failure, probably common for a newbie, was to concentrate on the technics to joint the wood, while I was lacking on the wood knowledge itself. I kept the best wood to make the box, and I ended up with the ugliest wood left for the lid, which is the most visible part.

…maybe it was a wise thing to choose cheap wood after all !

Many thanks for reading my broken English, and thanks again for the inspiration!

The build:

5 comments so far

View Woodknack's profile


13471 posts in 3228 days

#1 posted 10-31-2017 11:32 PM

Very nice, impressive.

-- Rick M,

View swirt's profile


5458 posts in 3820 days

#2 posted 11-01-2017 01:29 AM

This is a very nice looking chest. Well done. I am not sure I understand where or how you made the secret access, but it looks great.

-- Galootish log blog,

View BenjaminNY's profile


136 posts in 2250 days

#3 posted 11-01-2017 05:43 PM

Great job, looks superb.

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3715 days

#4 posted 11-01-2017 06:05 PM

This is a very nice piece and it shows a lot of wonderful workmanship.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Cornelius's profile


34 posts in 1949 days

#5 posted 11-01-2017 10:20 PM

Thanks everybody for your nice comments, this kind of support is valued when one begins in the hobby!

For Swirt, I apologize, my explanations were not clear.
The side of the drawer runners are not the full height of the drawer, only a bit more than half of it. That way I can access the space between the drawer and the side of the chest, which would be dead/empty space otherwise. I added a floor to this space.
Turning the drawer stop allows to completely pull the drawer away and access these two compartments. I hope this helps.

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