Walnut COD – In time for Christmas?

This whole project started as an experiment in cutting ogee bracket feet on the band saw using a support block (2013) as opposed to the usual method of stock removal done by means of “kerfing” and planing.


I assembled a base then proceeded to trip over it every time I turned around for the next year.  My wife suggested that we needed another book case (the result of our mutual bibliophilia).  I decided to build something with existing stock and to do the work using only hand tools.  It quickly became obvious that the case was much too deep for use as book case.


After some pondering, I realized that the carcase could be modified to fit the dimensional envelope commonly associated with a small chest of drawers.  (Bear in mind there are no plans being used here, just what’s going on in my head.)


The case was cut down to an appropriate height.  Top rails were dovetailed in place.  Sliding dovetails were “let in” to carry the drawer rails.


Mortise and tenon joints are used for the drawer bearers.  These are left “loose” to accommodate movement.


Drawer fronts were rabbeted to accept both cross banding (quarter sawn white oak) and cock beading. Then half blind dovetails were let in.  Through dovetails are used on the rear of the drawer assembly.



Drawer bottoms were planed to thickness.  Only the “show side” is planed smooth.  The bottom surface was left with the telltale marks created by a highly crowned fore plane.  Rebates were cut to fit the slots and the bottom was beveled.  This is “good practice” as it reduces the “plane of weakness” at the edges.


The next step was to fit the brasses.


The cherry cock beading was treated with an iron acetate solution made with 15% vinegar (available at traditional butcher shops where it used for marinating; the label very clearly states that this product is not to be consumed undiluted).  Normally, if I was attempting to ebonize cherry I would pre-treat the wood with a tannic acid solution.  This method turns cherry “dead” black.  But this time I was looking for a very dark brown so I used only the iron acetate solution.  After the precipitate was buffed away, the surface was a mottled, deep brown that allowed the “flecking” common to cherry to show through. When oiled, the beading has an almost “leather like” look.  A happy accident.


The drawer fronts were “washed” with shellac to prevent any “bleeding”.  The cock beading was then fitted and glued in place using liquid hide glue (modern version).  Painters masking tape provides sufficient clamping pressure.  The tape was removed after forty-five minutes to prevent residue that would hinder final finish application


Back boards (ceilings) were planed, fitted, painted with a wash of barn red milk paint (real lime and casein version) then attached with cut nails.  (As the ceilings are not “show wood” the fore planed surface was sufficient.)


The base and case had previously been dyed with a mixture of household ammonia and walnut husks. This covered a small amount of sapwood that was present and “evened” out the color differential between the base and case.  (The variety of color in walnut, even in boards cut from the same tree, can be startling.)


The entire unit was then given three coats of Minwax Antique Oil (in reality a synthetic wiping varnish), as it dries more quickly than boiled linseed oil, especially as seasonal humidity increases.  Now, all I’ve got to do is nail up the base molding, make and attach the top.  I might actually get it done by Christmas!

I’m hoping my friend, Mr. Plane, will weigh in on where the project might fall on the “period style” scale. I’m guessing “sorta-kinda” Georgian.


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6 Comments on “Walnut COD – In time for Christmas?”

  1. Good stuff. I have been trying to figure out a good method to make dark or even black cock beading. I think it can be a nice accent on period pieces. So your description was timely and interesting.
    Could you give some more detail on how you made the “iron acetate” solution and also the recipe for ebonising cherry? Would any other woods work as well as cherry to make a black cockbead?
    I considered just colouring with india ink, as I have used to ebonize maple William & Mary legs.
    Lastly, how did you make the oak cross banding? And why Oak vs. say Satinwood?


    –Wm. Brown
    Forest, VA


    • D.B. Laney Says:

      The iron acetate is made by simply placing a clean steel wool pad (or any iron scrap you have) in a pint jar, fill it to the top with vinegar (any vinegar will do but the stronger the concentration the faster the reaction), let it sit for 3-5 days then do a little testing. SAFETY NOTE: Don’t close the jar too tightly. The process do produce some gases and, theoretically could break the jar. As the iron acetate reacts with tannin present in the wood, any species that has tannin present will darken significantly. When ebonizing cherry (dead black) I’ll wet it first with a tannic acid solution. You can buy a product called Barko tan (powder) which is used in leather tanning. Other options for tannin are a strong brew of black tea or a tea brewed from Oak bark, leaves or oak galls (injuries caused to the tree by burrowing wasps – very high in tannin). Here’s a link that will show how even ash can be blackened with the process.

      I’m a little cautious about using India Ink. I’m always concerned about re-solubulizing the ink and the potential for “bleed.” On small pieces, I’ve used Feibings leather dye (oil base preferred). It’s very permanent. Many luthiers will use it to blacken fingerboards.

      The answer about the Q/S white oak is simple – I had some laying in the shop. Simply cross cut to width then ran it through the bandsaw against a guide. It’s a good idea to plane after each pass through the saw.

      BTW, enjoyed your playing. I hack away at an old D12-20. First thing I purchased upon being discharged in 1969. It’s voice continues to improve with each passing year.

      If you do a search for ebonizing on the blog, you’ll probably find several other entries. Thanks for your interest.

  2. Chest is done and I’m impressed with it. When is the bookcase coming?

  3. Thanks so much for the info. You have one of the better blogs out there (with real meat)- I always learn something.
    BTW, that sounds like a nice Martin!
    I play a Collings DH2G dreadnaught. It’s got wonderful tone. Seems guitar and woodworking go together.


  4. Jack Plane Says:

    It’s good to see this job has been resurrected. The workmanship speaks for itself.

    OK, here goes: With its thick drawer dividers, cockbeading and bracket feet, the overall feel of the chest is ‘George III’, though the drawer dovetail configuration is more George I or II.

    The carcase’s two top rails and base/feet construction are alien to me (though they could well be period accurate for North America, I just don’t know). If British, I would expect to see either a solid, moulded top attached with sliding dovetails, or a solid/veneered top conventionally dovetailed-on, with applied top moulding.

    The internal drawer support framework didn’t appear in Britain until the nineteenth-century. Thin, full-width dustboards with thicker drawer dividers glued to their front edges were the norm in Britain during the entire Georgian period.

    Again, the method of constructing the base that I am more familiar with would be packers attached to the underside of the carcase with the moulding attached to the outside of them, hiding the carcase dovetails in the process. Splined/dovetailed brackets must be another North American trait.

    Drawer sides this thick are also unheard of in Britain; they were routinely 3/8″ to 5/16″ thick from quite early in the century. I also suspect the cockbeading is somewhat thicker than the 1/8″ stuff I’m familiar with.

    The bail handles are certainly of a type seen in Britain during the second half of the eighteenth-century. The top drawer knobs however, are more reminiscent of Victorian shutter knobs.

    All in all, it’s a fabulous looking chest and would look good in any situation. I’m highly envious of your presumably readily available Black Walnut. When I can get it here, there are usually only a few boards per pack that are truly furniture grade.

    Regards, Jack.

    • D.B. Laney Says:

      Thanks Jack.

      You’re absolutely right, the casework is a bit of a hybrid. I did take some “liberties” (I was working under such a tight deadline). The round knobs are a result of making the top drawers a little too shallow, then being unable to find bails small enough in the same pattern. The brasses are inexpensive. But, they are British, I’m pleased to say.

      Northwest Ohio is quite “swampy”, which makes it ideal for Black Walnut trees. Even “yard” trees produce perfectly acceptable lumber. It’s not uncommon to find 16-20″ x 8′ boards that are perfectly clear. Prices are quite reasonable, $3.50 – $4.50/bdft, at the mill.

      Good to hear from you,

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