This is the first in a two part post of the Byrdcliffe Wall Cabinet from the plans posted on Popular Woodworking's project site, this project originally appeared in the March 1998 issue #101 of the magazine. It also has appeared in Popular Woodworking's Arts and Crafts Furniture Projects: 25 Projects for Every Room in Your Home on the bonus CD, and in Authentic Arts and Crafts Furniture Projects. The original cabinet was designed by a Byrdcliffe artist Zulma Steele, I posted an article on the Byrdcliffe arts and crafts colony earlier this month here. As I stated in the previous post the original cabinet's door panel was a low relief carving and the Popular Woodworking version uses a scroll cut glued on method. I have made one of these cabinets before using the Popular Woodworking designs and methods. This time I'm going to try my hand at carving, this will be my first carved project.
Late last year I purchased a Proxxon Carver as I was planning on making this project and I know from using chisels that it plays hell with my carpal tunnel syndrome and I wanted to try something besides carving chisels. I want to tell you that carving through the poplar with the Proxxon was like cutting through butter. It offers a great deal of control and with interchangable blades gives you a variety of carving shapes.
I started with selecting a piece of poplar with an interesting purple streak in it, poplar is mostly creamy white when cut it can have streaks of purple, green, and black, the wood will age to a nice olive color while exposed to light and air. Poplar is also a tight grained hardwood that machines and cuts nicely. I had printed out the pattern for the Iris design and I transferred it onto the poplar using carbon paper. Using my dado blade on the tablesaw I trimmed the panel to 1/4 inch thick 1/2 inch wide around the perimeter as per the plans. Using the proxxon, my dremel tool and a few carving gouges and a carving knife, I shaped out the design leaving the flower and leaves and cutting away the background. After the carving I hand sanded the panel, inside the carved areas and across the background.
Once the carving was complete and sanded I used a technique taken from Robert Lang's article on the Byrdcliffe Linen Press in the April 2006 issue. His method of coloring the panels started with a sealer coat of shellac, then using watercolor pencils color in the areas you desire then blend them with a wet brush. I sprayed on a coat of clear shellac that conveniently comes in spray can form, then using purple and blue watercolor pencils I colored the flower. I dipped an artist brush in water and used this to blend the colors to the level I wanted. One of the nicest things about this method is that you can remove colors and tone them down using more water, you can add more color with the pencil or take it away with the wet brush. I then used green, light green, and yellow to color in the leaves. I blended the color the same way. Once done I left it to dry while I cut the wood for the cabinet itself. It is a very straight forward project, simple joinery, just dado's, as stated in the article it is very much a tablesaw project and within the skill level of a beginner. This is something that you can make from off the shelf poplar from Lowes or Home Depot, only straight cuts and dado's you could even do it without a dado blade if you wanted.
Now comes the dilema, you can plainly see from the original that they used a plain, flat, horizontally oriented poplar back, this was also the way it was shown in the original Popular Woodworking article. However in the books that followed and on the online plan they call for a shiplapped, beaded in one, flat in the other, vertically oriented back. So, which do I go with? I'd like your comments and thoughts on this as it will be a week or so before I can get back into the shop. Please leave your comments here and I'll read them and do what the most of you think.
The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today.