Arts & Crafts Gentleman's Chest

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Project by CaptainSkully posted 09-01-2008 09:08 PM 12984 views 35 times favorited 24 comments Add to Favorites Watch

For a long time now, I’ve been living out of one of those damned Rubbermaid dressers from Wal-Mart. It’s made me feel a little white trash, so I took a couple of weeks off from working on Cathi’s house and bought some quartersawn white oak for some plans that I’ve had for years. Six hundred dollars later, my truck now popping a wheelie up 680, I unload a couple of hundred pounds of QSWO, poplar and plywood into the garage. The dresser is called a gentleman’s chest, and is a standard Arts & Crafts piece of bedroom furniture. I really liked the asymmetrical look and the flexibility of the cabinet opposite the smaller drawers.

I started cutting out the parts of the case (which gives the frame rigidity and reduces seasonal wood movement, which would cause the drawers to bind) being extremely careful to cut them as perfecty square as possible. Taking the time to make these parts perfect will yield serious dividends later on. I cut the dadoes in the case for the intersecting parts, making sure they all aligned perfectly. Any error would be noticeable and interfere with drawer movement. Once all of the parts for the case were made, I glued it up in stages, according to the directions and went to work on the oak. Carefully selecting the wood for optimal aesthetics. The medullary ray flake/fleck is one of the most striking aspects of quartersawn white oak. Ironically, Gustav Stickley used ammonia fuming on his furniture to subdue the ray flake to give his pieces a more homogenous look. Most woodworkers today take great pains in formulating their finishes to celebrate this effect, which in certain light and at certain angles is actually reflective.

I cut out the dozens of pieces of QSWO to the dimensions in the plans, labeled each with a part number and the “show” side, then starded applying the parts to the case. I had to cut wide slabs of QSWO into thin panels using a technique called resawing, which means holding the board on edge and running it across the band saw (the $200 band saw I got off of CraigsList in Austin for $80 because the guy didn’t want to have to put it together). That was first for me and required me to make a special jig for the bandsaw to align the board properly. Luckily, I was able to plane the panels down to the proper thickness, which means I didn’t get off center too much. The panels were prestained so no unstained edges might show. The sides went together first, then when cured, they were applied to the case. This formed the inside dimensions I needed to apply all of the oak to the plywood edge, thus hiding the plywood and making the entire dresser appear to be of solid oak.

The top got glued up and all of the trim pieces were applied. It was starting to look like a piece of furniture. Camping and sailing got in the way, but when we got back, I dove back in, finishing the case. It was now time to make the drawers.

Following the directions, I planed $100 worth of 3/4”+ poplar down to the 1/2” in the plans. Since the large drawers were taller than the poplar was wide, I had to glue them up. The next day, when picking up the cured 1/2” panels, they snapped off on the glue lines. Quite bummed out, I went and bought more 3/4” poplar and started building the drawers without planing it down. I reasoned that it would be much beefier than the flimsy 1/2” stuff. Unfortunately, this caused a whole slew of modifications in the drawer dimensions. When it came time to cut the drawers’ lock joint, I setup the table saw for the original 1/2” thickness and proceeded to make the first set of cuts on all of the applicable boards. When I realized I had made a mistake, I then had to figure out how to salvage the drawer stock. I settled on a symmetrical “T” shaped joint, which was necessarily thinner than the sturdier “L” joint I should have had, but there was nothing I could do at this point.

I also have to mention that I originally had planned on making my dresser with dovetail joints, but after messing with the $200 dovetail jig I bought for the occasion, having the spindle come out of my new router (which is an all day repair job), and finding out that Stickley pieces have a lock joint, I settled on what I thought was going to be the lesser of two evils.

When glueing up the drawers, I realized I had made another mistake. The back of the drawer should be shorter than the sides, so the drawer bottom overlaps the back for nailing purposes. I had made the back of the drawer the same height, cut the groove for the drawer bottom in the back, and had cut the drawer bottom short enought to fit into the back groove. The drawer bottoms should’ve been 1/2” deeper. Because drawer bottoms are loosely fit to allow for seasonal wood expansion, they aren’t glued in. As a result, my drawer bottoms are completely loose, captured in the groove on all four sides, instead of nailed/screwed in the back, so they have a nice, loose sound. I hope that when I pile my tidy whities into the drawers, the weight and muffling will compensate.

When fitting the drawers, each drawer had to be numbered and paired with each opening in the case, based on a best fit trial and error process. There were slight differences in the opening dimensions and drawer sizes that seem to me almost unavoidable, considering the care I took. Each drawer was custom sanded to fit into it’s respective slot.

When I was happy with the fit, it was time to make the QSWO faces for each drawer. Once again, the required height was taller than my board width, so I broke out the glue once again. This time, everything went well, and I had some nice looking boards with glue lines that were mostly inconspicuous. The medullary ray flake was spectacular on the board I saved for these parts, and the front of the dresser is a writhing exploding celebration of QSWO. Each face was custom fit into its respective drawer, then double stick taped to the drawers with shims underneath to center them in the opening. Gingerly removed, making sure to keep the tape from slipping, the drawers were screwed to the faces from the inside. These screw holes indexed the faces to the drawers, so I was able to remove them and put several coats of hand-rubbed polyurethane on them, which really brings out the luster of the finish (which is TransTint Reddish Brown #6003, thanks to Kim’s dad Joe). I still have to disassemble everything and put several coats of poly on the case, but otherwise, it’s a done deal. It weighs about 200 pounds, so getting it into the house is going to be interesting. It exactly matches the headboard I made before we left Austin, so I’m on my way to a complete bedroom set. I looked online, and comparable dressers are going for $2,000-$2,500, so I think it was a good investment. I’m looking forward to it being in place, loading it up, and moving the Rubbermaid dresser out into the shop for tool storage.

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

24 comments so far

View Tim Pursell's profile

Tim Pursell

499 posts in 4264 days

#1 posted 09-01-2008 09:27 PM

Nice looking chest. Don’t feel alone with the trials and tribulations of changing the thickness of one part then having to deal with all the subtle changes in other ways. I’ve done it & made the same “duh” mistakes you did. Lots of work, but you did a fine job, one that you can be proud of.


View WhattheChuck's profile


367 posts in 4043 days

#2 posted 09-01-2008 09:34 PM

Nice! Did you buy the plans?

-- Chuck, Pullman, WA

View Callum Kendall's profile

Callum Kendall

1918 posts in 4185 days

#3 posted 09-01-2008 09:45 PM

Great job!

Thanks for the post


-- For wood working podcasts with a twist check out

View CaptainSkully's profile


1610 posts in 4041 days

#4 posted 09-01-2008 09:55 PM

Yeah, I bought these years ago. I actually have the entire set. I’ve just been waiting for the cash flow and skills to tackle these projects.

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

View gusthehonky's profile


130 posts in 4224 days

#5 posted 09-01-2008 10:00 PM

A fine investment indeed! This is one for the favorite list. Excellent Work!

-- Ciao, gth.

View Bigbuck's profile


1347 posts in 4146 days

#6 posted 09-01-2008 10:35 PM

Very nice, Great job.

-- Glenn, New Mexico

View daveintexas's profile


365 posts in 4358 days

#7 posted 09-02-2008 08:01 PM

As a A&C furniture lover, you got my attention. The gentlemans chest looks great, I think you did a wonderful job on it. I do have to admire your patience. I am not one who can build furniture based on somebody elses plans. Give me a picture, and let me start cutting wood :)

Thanks for posting

View Bud's profile


191 posts in 4420 days

#8 posted 09-03-2008 04:38 AM

Very nice.

-- Bud -

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4050 posts in 4546 days

#9 posted 09-03-2008 06:05 AM

That’s a beaut! Correction on the fly is the brain food of woodworking, and you certainly came out looking great.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over two decades.

View kevinw's profile


199 posts in 4222 days

#10 posted 09-05-2008 09:23 PM

working on building a piece right now that is pretty much the same look. Maybe even the same plans. You are ahead of me though. Been working off and on for a year. I am pretty slow : )

-- Kevin, Blue Springs, MO

View James Early's profile

James Early

48 posts in 4130 days

#11 posted 09-06-2008 12:10 AM

Awesome job. I think it’s great to share these stories of how challenges are overcome. You’ve now got an heirloom piece! Nice finish, too!

-- -- Jim E., Oswego, NY. Create, have fun, and work safely!

View JLYoung's profile


32 posts in 4263 days

#12 posted 09-10-2008 03:55 AM

wow, The chest looks great. I’ve so far made the bed and nightstands that match your set from plans. I had to modify the bed plans to make them king sized and I modified the plans for the nightstand considerably to have three drawers instead of the single drawer. My next piece is going to be the gentlemen’s chest and I’m looking forward to starting it. A couple of questions abou the finish you used:

Is the Transtint dye you used a non-grain raising dye with a denatured alcohol solvent? If so, did it work well by mixing it directly with the poly? (I’m assuming you used a wipe-on poly since you said “hand-rubbed”)

The door looks lighter than the drawers in the picture. Is this just due to glare from the flash photo?

View CaptainSkully's profile


1610 posts in 4041 days

#13 posted 09-10-2008 06:53 AM

Cool! My girlfriend suggested I make the matching night stands next (before I tackle MY bow-arm Morris chair). Yes, I mixed the TransTint Reddish Brown #6003 with 91% isopropyl from Costco. The mix was half the bottle of tint to the entire quart of alcohol (minus a dab to make room for the tint). The ratio isn’t that critical, but if you want a lighter finish, err on the side of less tint. You can always add another coat to get a darker finish if you want. This finish is cumulative, meaning that if you touch up a light spot (like from sanding a bit of glue squeeze-out), it will stain the fully stained parts around it even darker. This can cause some interesting issues, especially if you’re pre-staining the panels so no seasonal movement shows, as the directions suggest. I rationalized the stain differentials as to give the piece an antique look. Nothing 100 years old still has the perfect “Restoration Hardware” finish, but then who would want that? Also, different grain densities absorb the stain at different rates (especially when you glue up the large drawer faces), so if you want a flat finish, paint it (just kidding). The alcohol has almost no noticeable affect on the grain, and you can apply several coats with little prep work between coats. I’ve had luck with 000 steel wool, but it’s not that critical. I’ve touched many Stickley pieces, and they now feel like rough hewn wood. The hand-rubbed poly is after the stain has reached its desired depth. I use at least three coats on the entire piece, and a couple more on the work surfaces.

One word of caution: I was emminently careful about the dadoes in the case, and they still came out +/- 1/16th, which could’ve caused major problems. I eventually tailor fit each drawer to each slot, making fabricating the drawers considerably more complex than need be. If I were to do it over again, I would lay the case parts side by side and index them off each other and use that when making the dadoes instead of just setting the fence to the required distances. I’m rapidly learning that Klausz’s method of joinery that is based on existing dimensions, not on measurements is considerably more accurate. I even use a sliding caliper, and it still gets off!

As you guessed, the lighter portion of the dresser is the flash reflection. The entire dresser is a very dark, rich, reddish brown, which is the best I could come up with on my $70 purchase of various test finishes. After visiting the Arts & Crafts Expo in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I can tell you that it is very close in tone to a Stickley finish, its just a bit richer, deeper, and brings out the flake better, which to me is a plus. The headboard I made months ago looks better and better every day, and when the morning sun catches it just right, it actually sparkles.

Congrats on the bed. I was lucky enough to need a queen, so no mods were needed.

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

View Mark D.'s profile

Mark D.

155 posts in 4250 days

#14 posted 10-25-2008 05:37 PM

Outstanding work! I really like this piece. It’s going on the “to build” list for my son’s room(albeit I won’t be using $600.00 worth of QSWO, lol) The finish looks a little more reddish than I generally see on Stickley and other A&C style furniture(at least from the picture,) but still looks good on this piece. Your narrative project description was top notch. I’m sure some might find it wordy compared to other postings, however I quite enjoyed it. You would do well writing articles for one of the wood working magazines. :-) Keep up the great work. -Mark

-- Looking for free wood working plans? Visit us at

View CaptainSkully's profile


1610 posts in 4041 days

#15 posted 10-25-2008 06:30 PM

Thanks for all the kind words Mark. Yes, the finish reflected the camera flash very red. The TransTint #6003 Reddish Brown finish is really a dark brown with a subtle red undertone. It gives the bedroom set a very warm tone and complements the mica lamp shades on the night stand lamps. I’ve got some #6002 Golden Brown to try on the living room or dining room furniture (thanks to another LJ), and I’m going to get the Mission Brown to just try that. I’ve also ammonia fumed some pieces af red oak (not recommended), so I’ll probably try that on quartersawn white oak (widely recommended).

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

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