My first step is to design the piece I’m gonna build, but I NEVER start from scratch. This step can take me a very long time. Like, years. I see that as a GOOD thing. I’m only going to be able to do one major piece a year, so it’s important to choose carefully. With limited time and money, I want to “make it count”.
The decision to make the American Corner Cupboard was a fairly typical example of how such things occur, for me. I’ve always liked the idea of a corner cupboard, and our dining room has just such an unused space. Having a cupboard in that corner would “fill a void”, add significantly to the character of the room, and provide much-needed storage. It’s even an opportunity to showcase some of the nicer crockery. Every example I’ve seen looked pretty good to me, even the many painted ones (and I’m not keen on painted furniture). My feelings about such a piece were non-specific, but I was kinda thinking maybe something rustic.
Then I saw Roy Underhill’s example on a few episodes of The Woodwright’s Shop. As soon as I saw it, I liked it, a lot. I had to learn more about it. I went to the PBS site and watched all the related episodes, which left me a tad intimidated. But I really liked that piece. I’ve thought about it, and here’s what appeals to me about Roy’s piece.
- It’s a Corner Cupboard. In fact, to me, it is almost exactly what I envision in my head when I think “corner cupboard”. Except, its fancy and I’d been thinking rustic. I believe fancy is good. If I’m gonna spend all this time and effort and money, I think I’ll be happier with something as presentable as I can achieve.
- It’s wood! Roy’s piece is shown unfinished on the show. I believe it’s pine and poplar and I believe he intended it to be painted, but what appeals to me is the wood. Not surprising for a woodworker; I like wood.
- Less rectilinear than I usually attempt. First of all, the corners of the piece are not all at 90 degrees. But there are also arched door panels, both top and bottom. That’s new work, for me. And there’s a nice cutout at the base that also adds a bit of curve.
- Moldings. Applied moldings add substantial detail to the piece. Yet they are built up of relatively simple shapes. Fluted pilasters (much like the door and window casing I added to my house), a few beaded moldings, and some simply built up profiles at base, waist and crown (which I’ve done before).
- Size. It’s a good size piece. A major undertaking (for me). The shape is proportionally pleasing (mostly). Substantial. Something I’ll be proud of.
So, I just HAVE to build this thing!
I started to research the piece based on a comment Roy made in one episode that the piece was drawn by Lester Margon and depicted in many books. Of course, I went to Google, searching for “corner cupboard plan”. As usual, I looked first at postings in woodworking forums, which lead me to the August, 1998 issue of American Woodworker (#67; a pdf is available for purchase at the American Woodworker website). This has an article by Lonnie Bird on how to construct such a corner cupboard. There’s a photo of a finished project – in walnut – and some great drawings. The text of the article is sort of an outline of how to construct such a piece, but helpful. The article also references a book, which I have NOT (yet) reviewed.
I read that magazine article, and I thought it was almost the same piece, but not quite. So, back to Google, this time searching for “Lester Margon corner cupboard”). That got a direct hit. Construction of American Furniture Treasures, by Lester Margon. I went to ABE Books and found a hardcover (The Home Craftsman Publishing Corporation, New York, 1949) and a paperback (Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1975). One of my other hobbies is book collecting, so I know that most books more that 50 years old are faded and hard to read. So I purchased both editions. These appear to be the original source that Roy mentioned, with very detailed (and hard to follow) drawings, plus a good description of how to build the piece.
On that second Google search, I also found a woodworking forum reference to a book where Lonnie Bird provides more detail about his version. This is Handcrafted Furniture, edited by Robert A. Yoder (Reader’s Digest, Pleasantville, NY, 1999). Went back to ABE Books and ordered this one, too. There is a LOT more detail to this one; 25 pages long, with plenty of drawings, step-by-step instructions, even a Materials List.
The search and reading the magazine and book articles confirmed my feelings after watching The Woodwright’s Shop episodes. A tad intimidated, but undaunted.
The next step for me is to try to wrap my head around how I would actually go about building this thing. For me, reading about it doesn’t give me enough of a sense of the process to seriously consider such things as materials, machines, tooling and techniques. But I know what does give me that sense . . .
Next month: Drawing.
-- Jim Maher, Illinois