Tool Chest #5: Frame and Panel Lid

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Blog entry by CartersWhittling posted 06-11-2012 05:03 PM 13181 reads 5 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Dovetailing the Shell Part 5 of Tool Chest series Part 6: Skirts »


Since my last entry I have made the tongue and groove joints for the bottom, but since I have yet to get the nails to attach the bottom, I will post about the bottom later. I have made the lid for the chest though. A friend had let me borrow his mortise chisels so I could make the mortises for the lid joinery. So once I planed the rails and stiles to size I began laying out for the joinery.

The lid for the chest is a special kind of frame and panel where the panel itself has a groove in it as well as the frame.

I made this little diagram when I was working on the lid so that I wouldn’t mess up the dimensions. You can see the rails and stiles of the frame have a 5/16” groove with the “upper tongue” above the groove being a 1/4” thick. The panel has a groove a 1/4” wide to slide over the “upper tongue” of the frame, and therefore the “lower tongue” on the panel is 5/16” to fit in the frame groove.

To make sure I got the dimensions laid out properly I used plow plane irons to set my marking gauges. Since I don’t have a mortise gauge to mark out the groove in the frame I set the marking gauge twice for either side of the groove. (Note that you do not need to lay out the groove, since the plow plane is guided by the fence. Although you do have to layout for the mortise and tenons of course. But it doesn’t hurt to lay out for the groove, because if you happen to be planing against the grain then the knife lines will keep the groove from tearing out.)

First I set the gauge to a 1/4” for the first side of the mortise.

Make sure to register the fence of the marking gauge on the reference face of the parts and scribe for the groove on the reference edge. The reference face will become the top of the lid.

Then I set the gauge with both the 1/4” and 5/16” blades to mark the other side of the groove. Using plow plane blades or chisels to set the gauge is a lot more accurate than using a ruler.

If I had a mortise gauge I could have made both these lines with one setting.

I will mention now that while I had each gauge set I marked every part of the frame that required those settings. So before I marked the rails that will have the tenons I cut them to length (leaving about an 1/8” to trim later) so that I could mark on the end grain for the tenons. I had also marked the length of the rails and stiles with a marking knife and marked the width of the mortises on each edge receiving a mortise so that I could use the marking gauge to mark both ends of the mortise.

Here you can see the rails with the marking gauge lines down the end grain for the tenon.

Here is the rails with the shoulders of the tenons marked 4” from the ends.

On the stiles you can see the location of the mortise (hopefully). The pencil line is the length of the stiles, and 5/16” from the end is the one side of the mortise and and 3 5/8” for the end is the other side of the mortise.

This is the opposite edge of the stiles with the location of the mortise marked. These are through tenons, so you will need to mark for the mortise on both edges.

Hopefully that all made sense.

So after the frame parts were all laid out I began to chop out the mortises. I mount the piece on the bench so that I am looking down the length of the stile. This way I can judge whether or not the chisel is plumb. To chop through mortises I start on one side and chop at least half way through, then flip the piece over and finish the mortise from the other side.

The pencil line on the end of the stile is the final length of the stile. Whenever you cut mortise by hand (or with machines for that matter) it is wise to leave extra length on the part so that as you chop the mortise the piece doesn’t split at the end. This extra length is usually referred to as the “horns”.

After I chopped the mortises I cut the tenons on the rails.

Work diagonally from both corners so that you can see the layout lines on both the end and edge of the tenon.

I also cut the tenon to width, making sure to leave a 3/8” haunch to fill in the groove which will be plowed through the stiles. If you are not familiar with what a haunch is I will explain it later.

Now the rails and stiles are ready to plow the groove, 5/16” wide and 3/8” deep.

When making frame and panels with hand tools you need to consider carefully the order of the process. If I had plowed the groove before chopping the mortises then I would remove the lay out lines and it might be more difficult to cut the mortise to it’s proper size. Also with the rails, if I had made the groove first then it would become very difficult to properly cut out the tenon because the saw would want to track inside the groove. Though you cannot cut the shoulders of the tenons, thereby removing the cheeks entirely from piece. Without the cheeks of the tenons still on the rails, there would be no place for the fence of the plow plane to register against at both ends.

Now that the groove is plowed in the rails I can cut the shoulders of the tenons and remove the cheeks.

There will probably be a little bit of wood that the plow plane missed so you will need to use a knife or chisel and clean it up.

To clean up the shoulder I use a chisel and pare down with the edge of the blade directly in my scribe line.

Then I plowed the groove in the stiles. With the mortises so wide in this frame you need to hold the plane carefully so that it doesn’t dip into them.

With all the joints cut I put the frame together and planed any surfaces that were perfectly flush to one another. I also numbered each joint while I was fitting them.

With the frame done I went to work on the panel. I had already flattened and thickness my panel so at this point all I had to do was cut it to length and width. I thought I would post a picture of how I cross cut the panel, only because I just realized a new way I can use my bench to do this.

With the gap in the middle of my bench I can easily cross cut a part and have both sides of the cut supported. The only downside is I have to get on top of my bench so that I can get over the cut. But it works great.

When it comes to plowing on all 4 edges of a board you always plow the end grain first so that when you plow the long grain you remove any spelching that will occur on the far corner. It is also a good idea to use a saw and define both sides of the groove on the far corner and chisel it out to prevent tear out.

Remember when plowing this groove to have the fence against the reference face, which will become the inside of the chest. For the groove I have a 1/4” blade and set the fence 5/16” from the blade.

It may help when plowing the groove to define each side with a marking gauge incase you are plowing against the grain. This will keep the edge of the groove nice and crisp. The same reason I marked the groove on the frame parts as well.

With the groove plowed you can check the fit in the frame…

...and realize you burnt an inch with the measuring tape when you cut the panel to length.

So at this point I went inside for the night and the next day I glued up a new panel and made it to the proper length.

While I was waiting for the glue to dry on the new panel I drilled for the draw boring in the mortise and tenons. In the book, The Anarchist Tool Chest, Chris Schwarz did not draw bore his joints, which I find kind of surprising because he has been a big user/supporter of draw boring. He never even mentioned it. But I like draw boring and didn’t see any reason why not to.

I began by drilling through the mortise pieces with a 3/8” auger bit. I clamped a piece of scrap to the underside to prevent tear out. I didn’t bother putting a false tenon in the mortise to prevent tear out in the mortise, the auger bit cuts pretty clean anyways.

Then I put each tenon in its corresponding mortise and used the same auger bit to mark the center of the hole.

Next I marked about a 1/16” from the centre point towards the shoulder of the tenon. If you are not familiar with draw boring, this is what makes this joint superior to just simply doweling the joint. By drilling the hole through the tenon closer to the shoulder, when you hammer the peg through the joint it pulls the joint tighter than normal.

Then I used my dowel plate and used some very dry/straight oak to make eight pegs.

Now I got everything complete to put the chest lid together.

I sanded the top of the panel because it will be painted, and I chamfered the top edge. The panel width is a 1/2” wider then the shoulder to shoulder distance of the frame, leaving a 1/8” of room to expand on either side. The panel is 5/8” longer, leaving 1/16” on either end.

I also sanded the top faces of the frame and used a black marker to draw along the edge of the frame. This is just incase the panel shrinks in the dry months and exposes wood that isn’t painted. At least now you won’t see bare wood but the black marker instead.

With lots of hammering and squeezing I got the frame and panel together nicely. With the piece dry I cut the pegs flush and cut the horns and protruding tenons off.

Here you can see the haunch. What the haunch does is fill the gap created at the end of the stile due to the groove that was plowed.

With the lid complete I will start work on the skirts and put the bottom in place (once I get my nails).

-- And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord... Colossians 3:23

12 comments so far

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10265 posts in 4194 days

#1 posted 06-11-2012 05:23 PM

Nice work!

Thank you.

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:"

View bfergie's profile


83 posts in 2458 days

#2 posted 06-11-2012 06:01 PM

Very informative. Thanks!

-- Fergie in CO

View Scott R. Turner's profile

Scott R. Turner

267 posts in 3330 days

#3 posted 06-11-2012 08:22 PM

I don’t have anything constructive to say, but I found this writeup very informative and interesting!

View theoldfart's profile


10025 posts in 2593 days

#4 posted 06-11-2012 09:21 PM

I don’t recognize your plow plane; what brand is it. I used a Record 405 with a 1/4” blade. I wish i had draw bored the tenons. The work looks first rate and the resulting chest will be in your family for generations. Look forward to seeing the rest

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View Nate Meadows's profile

Nate Meadows

1132 posts in 2348 days

#5 posted 06-11-2012 11:36 PM

Awesome work! Thanks for sharing!


-- "With a little bit of faith, and some imagination, you can build anything!" Nate

View Oldtool's profile


2723 posts in 2332 days

#6 posted 06-12-2012 12:01 AM

I’m impressed. Very tight fit on mortise & tenon in the next to last picture. That’s not easy to do, and yours looks like It was machine made. Great work. Thanks for showing.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

View Roger's profile


20948 posts in 2946 days

#7 posted 06-12-2012 02:21 AM

Very awesome picture story. Beautiful work

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View nobuckle's profile


1120 posts in 2903 days

#8 posted 06-12-2012 12:45 PM

Nice work Carter. I appreciate the detalied blog and high resolution pictures.

-- Doug - Make an effort to live by the slogan "We try harder"

View ~Julie~'s profile


610 posts in 3176 days

#9 posted 06-12-2012 02:11 PM

Great work and documentation.

-- ~Julie~

View sb194's profile


197 posts in 3160 days

#10 posted 06-12-2012 02:21 PM

Nice work. Looking forward to the finished product.

View CartersWhittling's profile


453 posts in 2816 days

#11 posted 06-12-2012 04:24 PM

The plow plane isn’t mine actually, it is a friend’s. I didn’t see any number on the plane, but it is a Record.

-- And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord... Colossians 3:23

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 2796 days

#12 posted 08-08-2012 07:04 PM

I flipped though this before, but I did not catch the “Burn an Inch” part the first time. Having done this sort of thing myself I can sympathise. Great work on your chest. I apreciated the way you dealt with the spelching on the groovve for the lid, I will be doing the same thing.

Your bench makes me want to build a second bench every time i see it in use. Keep it up.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

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