Building a Walnut Changing Table (Part 1)

July 7, 2015

In this couple of videos I’m going to show you how I made this small walnut dresser that we are going to be using as a changing table in our nursery.  The whole project was an experiment in book matching and incorporation sapwood into the overall design. In this first part, we’ll work on the stock selection and prep, join the top to the sides with half blind dovetails, join the shelf and bottom to the sides with dados, and install the front and rear dovetailed drawer dividers.

Video Script:

For this project I had 2 pairs of sequential boards that I could use to make up the changing table case. These ones will become the case sides and these will become the top and drawer fronts. Probably my favorite part is laying out the parts. Here I just have a listing of the part sizes that I’m going for and I try to find the best parts of the boards to make up those project parts. Here’s the sides and here is the top. I’ll make all my rough cuts and bring the boards in to be processed. All the boards get a few passes over the jointer flatten them and get them mostly cleaned up. I milled this boards down to final thickness over two sessions allowing them a few days between to rest. These boards were quite stable – they didn’t move much after their first milling. Here I’m trying to read the grain direction on the board to decide the best direction to feed it through the planer. I need to pay attention to grain direction with my planer since it has straight knives.

I glued up all my bookmatched panels and now I’ll finalize their width and length. This panel is the top and you can see I had quite a bit of extra width. The excess that I am cutting off will become the drawer divider and the rear lower rail. And here I’m cutting them to length. I’ll stack the sides so they are cut to the same length.

Now I can start working on the joint that will connect the top to the sides. Here I am going to use half blind dovetails. I’m starting by marking the length of the tails onto the top with a marking gauge. I’m using the bandsaw to cut the tails using a wedge against the fence to cut them at my desired angle. I’ll flip the board over to make a symmetrical cut on the other half and then turn the board around to make the same cuts on the other end. This is about as big of a piece that I would feel comfortable doing this with any bigger and it would become too awkward to handle. To save time at the bench, I’ll cut off the waste on the ends. Back at the bench I chiseled the waste from between the tails and I clean up this area of crotch figure with a card scraper just because I couldn’t help myself. Next I’ll transfer the tails of the top to the sides. I use my mallet to get everything aligned and then mark the locations with my marking knife.

Now I’m ready to start removing the waste on the pin board. On larger project parts, I like to use a router to remove as much of the waste as I can. Here I’m clamping an offcut to the side so there is more are for my router to sit on. And then I’m just marking inside the knife lines with a pen so I can see where to start and stop better.  I make a pass to establish the area I am going to remove. I need to be down low to see those pen lines. Once I’ve made those cuts to mark out the waste, I can stand up and continue routing. I’m removing this waste in two passes. On the last pass I set the router depth to leave just a little bit of material that I can chop away later. I remove some material from in front of the line before setting my chisel right into the knife line and chopping down. And while the side is flat on the bench, I’ll start cleaning up into the corners a bit. Now with the side standing upright, I can start paring back to the scribe lines.   I’ll work along the sides and then move to the back of the pin socket. The grain here is pretty straight so I am able to chop down from the endgrain without any issues. And then I’ll do the final cleanup into the corner. And now a little test fit.

Next I’ll work on the shelf and bottom. The shelf is going to have one face and one edge visible and the bottom will just have one edge visible. The panel I’m gluing up here is going to be the shelf. Next I’ll cut the stopped dados with my router and a half inch spiral bit. I cut a spacer for my router to ride against which is the right offset from the underside of the top to put my dado where I want it. For the shelf I cut another spacer and this time I’m referencing off of the shelf’s dado. and I just planed a board to fit into that dado. Next I cut the shelf and bottom to length. Now I’ll rabbet both sides of the board to remove enough material so it will fit into the dado. I had to set this up twice because I left the shelf thicker than the bottom. I’ll also run the rabbet for the back boards while I have the dado stack installed. This is going to be a stopped rabbet. If I was smarter. I would have cut an half tail on the back of the top instead of a half pin so the rabbet would be covered. When I cut the rabbets, I made them so they were just a little too big, that way I could sneak up on the perfect fit with my shoulder plane. That’s fitting nicely so now I can notch the front of the bottom board so it fits over the side. Here I’m just checking for any high spots with the side of the chisel.

The next thing I am going to work on is the webframe that divides the drawers. Both the front and back dividers will be dovetailed into the case. This will lock the two sides together and mechanically keep them from pulling apart. The first thing I’m doing here is removing some of the material because I only need the dovetail to go about an inch or so into the side. back at the bench, I’ll draw some guide lines so I can start sawing the dovetail onto the divider. It’s a little difficult to get the saw started when working this close to the edge but once I get the saw going I’m focusing on following the line across the end grain. The angle that this tail get cut to doesn’t matter nearly as much. Then I’ll just saw away the waste and clean up to the line with a chisel. Now I can transfer the tail to the case. I cut a scrap to act as a spacer that way I could make sure that the divider will be parallel to the bottom. Next I need to cut away the case side to create the socket for the dovetail. I start by sawing close to the lines and then come back with a chisel to knock most of the waste out of the way. Once I have a lot of the waste removed, I’ll come in with a router to remove a lot more of the waste.  Removing a bunch of waste before using the router makes the router easier to control. And then some final cleanup work with a chisel.


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