Once all of the mortises were chopped, it was time to start final fitting of the joints. The first step is to decide which rails and stiles will go together to make a subassembly. As I had selected stock for the various pieces, I kept in mind that the back side of the chest would be up against the end of the bed (or later a wall, perhaps), and parts with “issues” could go there. Even though this chest will be painted, it’s a good habit to develop, since some blemishes can still show through. My outfeed table was the perfect place for the selection process, as I could lay out a whole assembly for inspection, while keeping the other parts neatly stacked and organized to one side.
As I’ve said before, staying organized is of paramount importance on a complex project such as this. Since all the joints are hand-cut, the matching components are hand-fitted to each other, making each pair unique. To keep confusion at bay, I clearly number each joint pair, so that they stay oriented to each other all the way to glue-up. Also, note the “X” on the bottom of the rail. This denotes the edge where the haunch will be cut – more insurance.
This is also a good place to point out the answer to a question from a reader regarding how I cut my tenons. The bottom face of the tenon in the above phto has the spacing I strive for – cutting just on the outside of the penciled groove, rather than splitting it. The upper face is actually a bit on the “fat” side, and will require more work to bring it into line. This task is accomplished with my router plane, as explained in a previous article.
With all the rails and stiles fitted, it was time to address the corner joints. As I mentioned previously, I decided on tongue-and-groove joinery to join the side frames to the end ones. On reflection, reversing the joint so that the tongue on the face, and the groove is on the end wound have resulted in a stronger joint. However, orienting the joint as shown will give less chance of a seam showing on the face. Like most things in life, it’s a trade-off.
The first step was to cut the grooves. Why? Because I’m using a plow plane that has a fixed-width blade. This is a good basic principle of hand tool work. Whenever possible, perform the operation that utilizes a fixed tool first, then fit the other part to it. When mortising, chop the mortise, then fit the tenon. When making framed panels, cut the groove, then fit the panel to it. You get the idea.
By the way, make sure you cut the grooves on the inside face of the stile. Just sayin’.
With the grooves cut, I turned my attention to the tongues. Fortunately, they were to be centered on the end of the stile, with a 1/4″ shoulder on each side (1/4″+1/4″+3/8″=7/8″). I set the depth stop on the rabbet plane to leave the tenon just a bit fat, and did the final trim with a shoulder plane. Rabbet and plow plane depth stops tend to slip, and should not be overly trusted. Recheck the settings frequently as you work. The astute among you will notice that I have sloped my tenon slightly from shoulder to edge. I noticed this myself, and quickly corrected, paying more attention as I went forward to avoid a repetition.
Once all of the tongue-and-grooves had been cut, it was time for the first dry-up. This is the time to walk around and take note of the things that need fine tuning, trying to get everything lined up before actual assembly.
Now it’s time to turn our attention to other aspects of the project. The panels have to be made, and I’ve got a couple of jigs to build. But, in the meantime, it’s time to sweep up, and get rid of all the skew plane shavings left behind.