A Little Cabinetree #2: The Box and the Branches

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Blog entry by shipwright posted 11-22-2010 04:26 AM 3198 reads 8 times favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: The Concept, the Goals and the Challenges. Part 2 of A Little Cabinetree series Part 3: Scroll Saw Marquetry. »

OK so we’re going to make a tree and set a box in it. Sounds pretty simple, just a different support system for just another box. How hard can it be? The challenge here is to reach the threshold of belief where the viewer’s eyes, which already want to see a tree, do see it and say “yup that’s a tree”. Anyone who has freehand turned legs for a piece of furniture will understand this. They don’t have to be identical. They just have to be close enough to allow the very forgiving eye of the viewer to concede that they are. Here the tree didn’t really have to look exactly like a tree, it just had to reach the threshold to be seen as a tree. Falling short of the threshold it would be seen as something like “I guess that’s supposed to be a tree”. It’s actually pretty easy to sketch a tree that looks enough like a tree that people recognize it as one so how hard can it be to sculpt one?

So lets get started. We’re going to need a trunk so we’ll glue up a cylinder and go from there. It should be thick walled because we’ll want to shape some kinks and curves in it to help with that threshold and we’ll want it to be off center like the sketch.

There are a couple of design parameters that loom when you come to turning the sketch into a cabinet support system. For one it has to support over the whole area of the weight bearing surface. For another it has to be robust enough to withstand the use and abuse it may have to endure over what you hope will be a long lifetime. These considerations will explain the long sturdy roots and thicker than sketched trunk. In this photo the bird’s mouth cylinder has been rough turned on the lathe, shaped on the bandsaw and faired out with a foam covered sanding drum in the old ShopSmith 10ER. Now I’m mortising for the roots.

Here the roots have been roughed out and fitted. Symmetry has been avoided to give it a “real” organic feel and the longest root has been left to the back side of the cabinet. So far so good but this is the easy part.

Looking at the last photo it is clear that the roots just don’t work fitting square into the trunk. Here I’ve chosen to try to present the illusion of the roots fairing into the trunk without going to the trouble of adding and sculpting a lot more parts in what is going to be an unnoticed part of the piece. Unnoticed that is as long as it “looks” right. I’m also starting to experiment with prospective trunk colors. This is burnt sienna aniline dye. It is probably worth saying here that I’m not going to try for the real color of a maple trunk, grey, because I don’t know if I could and I think it needs to be dark.

This is a bit of a jump. This part was definitely the hard bit. These are the second set of branches I made. The first set although very labor intensive weren’t “right”. They were too light and looked somehow alkward. I like these much better. Here I have established the cut off line for the branches and located the base of the box. It is perfectly level although you wouldn’t know from this photo.

And now on to the box. Why a mitered box instead of another type of corner joint? Because the whole box will be veneered inside and out and the veneers have to be applied before the box is assembled. The top to side. top to back and top to front veneer joints will all be continuous grain like a waterfall. One nice thing about a mitered box is that it is easy to dry assemble with a bit of packing tape as is done here. (at this piont the top is not yet mitered in and is just sitting in position)

And then there are the hinges. This is another new one for me. On Oops! I designed what I thought were “high degree of difficulty” hinges, but I really enjoyed the novelty of them and wanted to continue the theme of “different” hinges. I thought these would be easier than the Oops! hinges. Wrong! The problem occurs because of the number of individual blocks involved. I think they would be a piece of cake if you only had a few pieces but here there are two sets of twenty pieces in each hinge. The challenge is to get them to align. If you are a quarter of a degree off on each one, that will add up to five degrees difference in plane from one end to the other. It’s a much longer story than I want to get into here but suffice to say they were a good challenge and they worked out quite well in the end. They are pinned with 1/8” brass rod that can be removed for maintenance, cleaning, refinishing or whatever.

I think that’s it for tonight. Next time I begin to discover scroll saw marquetry.

Thanks for following and please, comment, critique or question. It’s how we all learn.

Thanks again


-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

16 comments so far

View dakremer's profile


2672 posts in 3118 days

#1 posted 11-22-2010 04:41 AM

thats really awesome, Shipwright! love it so far – can’t wait to see the finished product!

-- Hey you dang woodchucks, quit chucking my wood!!!!

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3335 days

#2 posted 11-22-2010 06:07 AM

Looking really good so far. I like the shaping you did on the tree base. Nice…

View PurpLev's profile


8536 posts in 3675 days

#3 posted 11-22-2010 06:09 AM

this is super! I love that idea. thanks for the share.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Napaman's profile


5526 posts in 4103 days

#4 posted 11-22-2010 06:26 AM

I really like the trunk…and the branches turned out really nice…

-- Matt--Proud LJ since 2007

View lanwater's profile


3111 posts in 2960 days

#5 posted 11-22-2010 06:41 AM

You work is really different. It’s looking good.

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View TJ65's profile


1378 posts in 3076 days

#6 posted 11-22-2010 07:51 AM

Thats such a cool design.

-- Theresa,

View tdv's profile


1188 posts in 3096 days

#7 posted 11-22-2010 10:24 AM


-- God created wood that we may create. Trevor East Yorkshire UK

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

10540 posts in 3455 days

#8 posted 11-22-2010 11:23 AM

I thought we’d see some spill over from OOPS to your next project but, you’ve really begun to branch out with this one.
Very nice, Paul.
Can’t wait for the marquetry. This is going to be very cool!

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View Eagle1's profile


2066 posts in 3091 days

#9 posted 11-22-2010 12:58 PM


-- Tim, Missouri ....Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the heck happened

View Maveric777's profile


2693 posts in 3103 days

#10 posted 11-22-2010 02:49 PM

This is flat out cool! I have two pages full of scribbling in my “Top Secret Crappy Sketches Of Ideas Journal” with an idea similar to this one (except not this big). Ohhhh…. What a treat to see this blog posted!

Thanks for sharing Paul and look forward to seeing more blogs!

-- Dan ~ Texarkana, Tx.

View shipwright's profile


7992 posts in 2824 days

#11 posted 11-22-2010 05:04 PM

Thank you to all for your comments. You make it much easier to push on to the finish.
Gene, I’m trying to make a marqued improvement with this one but there is some trickle down from Oops!

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 3901 days

#12 posted 11-22-2010 07:42 PM


-- Happy woodworking!

View terrilynne's profile


836 posts in 2920 days

#13 posted 11-22-2010 07:52 PM

I can’t wait to see the finished piece. I see all the fall leaves laying in wait. This is going to be another masterpiece.

-- Terri, Rocky Mountain High Colorado!

View gurnie's profile


342 posts in 3062 days

#14 posted 06-27-2011 07:14 PM

i love this project, and as you know i am making a cake plate for my wedding with a very simialr design. I understand you used the lathe to rough out the shape, but how did you get that lovely twist / bend in the trunk’s shape? did you use a bandsaw? did you do that after you turned on the lathe?

-- Please visit my Etsy site, or You can also follow me on my artfire blog:

View shipwright's profile


7992 posts in 2824 days

#15 posted 06-27-2011 07:52 PM

The lathe was just used to get a rough cylinder and could probably have been skipped altogether. The main shaping was with the bandsaw and the foam covered drum sander.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

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