Dovetailed Chest

If any of you have the Adventures Of Bob and Charles DVD, you may recognize the boxes we are making here. They are my keeping chest, except these are being made out of some really special wood. This is poplar, got some crotch, spalting, all sorts of colors, it’s from a huge poplar that had to be taken down at Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. In TJ’s writtings he says he planted a tulip poplar just outside his bedroom window, this would be that tree. The old poplar had to be taken down because it was hollow and a threat to the house. Sometime back in a newsletter I showed you a photo of me standing in the stump, it was 12′ across and it measured 22′ around, BIG tree. The wood we have here came from two limb sections. Even though it’s poplar it has a lot of interesting  grain and color. We will finish it with Waterlox. I like the finish as well as the preservation quality of an oil, it also has a nice amber/brown tint to it that will help the browning of the poplar. The green in poplar turns brown as it ages. This wood will live on for many generations. Just think of the sights and sounds as well as the history this wood has seen and what it yet will experence.

On a woodworking note, tell me what you think of my dovetails, sizing and shape I mean…

Today I need to finish up the tops and get the feet made …check back tomorrow and see how they are doing. Also notice they are all different sizes, we had to do what the wood would yield , all one board.

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13 Responses to Dovetailed Chest

  1. Ken Weinert says:

    I’m just curious about the “history” of dovetails.

    Is the size/spacing of the pins and tails related to a particular style or period?

    I only ask as I’m more used to seeing somewhat more regular spacing and the “neck” being wider.

    I know in recent years I’ve seen more variability, but I always took that as a craftsman’s prerogative to just be different.

  2. ken , the spacing and size and shape of the dovetail was far more a craftsman mark than a period or design mark, you can space as you want , the wider necks and perfect spacing are a pretty good pointer that they were machine made , the desired look is a more delicate dovetail, thinner neck, this is the mark of the carftsmans ability , in these chest i prefer a symetrical ( evenly spaced) , dovetail ,as was trypical in early period pieces, the irregular spaced ones we see today are more so an individual taste leading to a more contemporary design, I personally like symmetry , it gives balance, but thats just me , and on these chest , had John Hemmings , the black jointer of Monticello , made them he would have kept it all in balance as well

  3. Ben says:

    I’m a fan of the small pin/wide tail look like this, where the dovetails are more like an accent than the focus. They’re also more in keeping with the period, aren’t they? Looks great.

  4. Wayne Raley says:

    Charles, are these machine made or handcut dovetails? In any case, they look great.

  5. teenagewoodworker says:

    that is some crazy poplar. I’ve seen poplar with figure in it as well as poplar with the purple streaks but nothing like that. You should have Bermuda cut those dovetails. Bermuda cut dovetails are VERY cool!!!

  6. bob says:

    The dovetails look great! Never saw any dovetail machine or router bit bit cut something with that small of a space. The smallest I have found is 1/4″. Those look smaller by half. Great job on the dovetails. If you used a bit, where do I find it? And I thought we were friends? MMM

  7. Bryan says:

    They look great. Ive seen the small pins alot on drawers but not to often on case construction. I really like the history behind the wood too. Do you have any concerns about the integrity of the spalted wood around the d/t? I think once they are glued together it will be strong. I usually ended up fitting my d/t a little loose around spalting. Hand cut d/t are always the 1st thing I look for on evrything I look at. Im soooo glad I learned to do them by hand. Super work Mr Neil!

  8. teenagewoodworker says:

    hmm…. it looks like no one looked at the bottom pictures of Mr neil hand cutting those dovetails…. hahaha 😀

  9. John says:

    Dovetails look great!! Gives the piece a lot of character as does the figure in the wood. But i need to know are you showing off wearing that new shirt or was that one of Christmas presents. Has to be new there is no glue on it yet. HeHe
    P.S. I need your and Sherri shirt size . I can’t tell from the videos

  10. Rob says:

    would love to see your shortcut on how you make those tiny dovetails. Great looking dovetails the size and shape gives the boxes a perfect look great accent nicely done. have you used that size before on other projects

    • Rob, These are the size i use when i hand cut or close anyway , The short cut is something i been working on for a while , but it will be several months befor I can show it , lest it be taken as someone elses design, but anyway , be sure to watch tonights show , we have a fun way of hand cutting dovetails , a whole lot of cheating going on , you may like

  11. James McDonald says:


    It was my privilege to purchase one of these chests @ Monticello this spring. Overnight it became a singular family trreasure.

    Thank you so much for the fine craftsmanship and the obvious respect with which you treated wood from the great man’s great tree.

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