Bombe Chest on Chest – The Beginning

Several years ago I was commissioned to build a Bombe Chest on Chest, a reproduction of one at the DeWitt Wallace Museum in Williamsburg, VA. In the early days of posting videos, Sherri put together a slide show of the process, it has been viewed over 17K times on youtube.com. I have probably received more questions and comments about this piece than any other I have built. Many have requested a video or DVD on the build but sometimes, video is impossible so we thought we would do the next best thing and blog the build. The Bombe currently being built is being done with a gentleman from New Jersey, so I want to warn you now that this build will be done in segments. This week we have three working days and then we will be on hold until January.


First, we start with a slab of mahogany. The sides of the bottom case finish out at 31 1/4″ tall x 23″ wide and are shaped from 12/4 stock. Here we are using 16/4 because it is what I could get at the time so it’s just a little more stock removal. You will remove more stock than you keep, sort of heart breaking, all that wood and $$ headed to the dumpster, but….it is what it is.

Now, since we will be removing a lot of material, we are going to open up some adverse drying conditions. The inside of these pieces are not as dry as the outside, so moving ariound, trying to cup, all that is possible so we added 3″ to the length of the sides and screwed a caul to each end for two reasons. One, it provides a true guide on each end and second, it prevents it from cupping. Now, a little later I will tell you how to get the profile and the drawer spacing, but fornow, let me show you how we begin.


Shaping the Piece – Cutting the Sliding Dovetails

First, using a dado blade, we cut a level platform for our router to sit on and allow our router bit to be able to reach it’s depth.


Once the platform is cut, we plowed a dado 3/4″ wide for the router guide to run in, then using a 3/4″, 14 degree dovetail bit and a 3/4″ guide, we cut the first sliding dovetail across the piece to a depth of 5/16″ on the case.


The next drawer, because it was not as deep into the case, we simply plowed a groove for the router guide and again, cut a 5/156″ deep dovetail all the way across. The top drawer divider, we will do on the router table as it is almost flush to the case side and there is no room to cut the guide slot.

With our two dovetai slots cut, we focus on “whittling out” the side profile.


A dado works great and as well, angling the dado, you can cut the arch almost perfectly. Just remember to keep the sliding dovetail slots flat, or better put, at 90 degrees to the dovetail slot, that way our cross pieces are a straight fit, no having to cut angled pins to fit the slots.


Now, that’s as far as we got on Day 1, but I want you to note a couple of things.

First, the mahogany blanks have to be square and as flat as possible to keep everything in line. I have a large drum sander and with the 16/4 material I was able to insure flat panels. If you buy 12/4, be careful, it’s right on the line, as the sides are right at 2 7/8″=3″ at the widest point, so 12/4 will do, but it leaves little room if the piece is not pretty straight and flat to start with. A skill saw and a guide, again, having to cut from both sides (16/4) is a good way to cross cut the big slabs. Start long, so you have room to make any corrections if needed.

Note that I have not angled my dado except for one cut on the end of the arch. I just let the little steps created by using the dado blade vertical be a good hand plane clean up. Also note my ‘idiot’ stick, just a piece of wood with the profile drawn to use with my miter slide to set the blade height and the fence.

There are a lot of passes to be made here and this stuff isn’t getting any lighter, lifting, but it will……there are some more photos following for your review. More tomorrow.











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13 Responses to Bombe Chest on Chest – The Beginning

  1. Kevin Jaynes says:

    Stupid question time. Why dado the side profiles instead of a band saw close to the line then cleaning up by hand?

  2. two reasons..unless you have a monster band saw and it is tweaked out quite well, bandsawing 24 inches , is a bit much, you could cut these sides in half and band saw them thenglue them back together, but some how cutting a 24 ” wide piece of material is almost crimnial… besides..then you wouldnt get to work you hind end off with the hand planes…thats actually the part i enjoy the most…I still love that hand cutting and shaping thing…

    • Kevin says:

      I have cut curved chest bases on the bandsaw and I always finish them by hand as well. But my pieces were smaller since the chests I designed I mostly used corner bases that didn’t span the whole length of the chest.

      Come to think of it, on the blanket chests I built for my daughter and niece in the mid 90’s that did incorporate full length skirt bases, I jig-sawed the beginning of the arcs and ran the straight lines on the shaper for the very reason you cited.

      I still have 4 chests that survived my divorce years ago and they all need to be refinished since they got beat up in storage over the years and neglected. One of them is here in the shop and I just looked at it for the first time in years. Hey, I ain’t too shabby a woodworker! It does a couple of design issues though that I didn’t know better for back then, I need to figure out how to modify when I re-finish it.. Maybe I ought to dig it out and post it over at WWT and you could suggest a fix in sort of a how-to, on redeeming badly designed furniture from our youth . . . . . . . . .

  3. bob says:

    So today you go back with the dado angled and clean off some of the ridges you have? Correct?
    Real interesting to see the flat made for the router to run in. Great idea. Makes for dead straight cuts. Excellent blog. bob

  4. Bob, actually i DONT go back and clean the ridges, i just hand plane them down, they go pretty fast , alot faster than having to re cut it again, but you can angle the dado when you do the inital cuts..i just dont bother, because again mahogany is relatively soft, so a quick hand plane and they are down

  5. DavidH says:

    i think 1000 of those 17,000 were me hehe!!

    very nice right up, im going to enjoy following this build, any chance of combining all the blog posts into a pdf when its all said and done?

    you deserve a FWW magazine title for this one! 🙂

  6. Mike says:

    Vivaldi Four seasons- a true masterpiece
    Charles in the shop- dito

  7. I offered to one for the Magizines…it was too “involved”, geez… so we will just get involved ourselves and do it…yea baby , what say YOU….as to the Pdf…as i go thru this build im making patterns ..of everything ..so we shall see what developes…

  8. Denis Rezendes says:

    very very nice. ive seen the trick with dadoing out the sides and used it a few times on small projects and the like. but i really like the idea with the router… very cool.

  9. Wow Charles The very first thing I saw of yours was your you tube on the Bombe chest I then watched all the rest of your you tube videos of course learning all the way but still looking for more than music about the bombe .I’m glad that day has come in your blog. Great so far I’m waiting in anxious anticipation for more. As I said in an earlier e mail I have some 12qtr walnut lined up at about $100 aboard 16″X 16′ for the 12qtr but now I see you using 24″ material , hard to come by in the sticks plus the $400 for the local walnut at a super bargain is a still a stretch. .
    Could I get away with book matching the sides and still have a piece of value?

  10. jim , absolutely …would be beautiful.. in my opinion

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