Wooden Jewelry Boxes, Jewelry Chests and Handmade Furniture by West Creek Studio

About the Work
Techniques and Materials | Finishes | Caring for the Wood | Varieties of Wood

Techniques and Materials

Solid hardwood is my basic material and the one with which I am most familiar. It is versatile, strong, and of course beautiful. And like people, it gets better with age. Many cabinetmakers use veneer, dyes, and various composites as a matter of course. This has its place; it's just not what I do. I prefer solid wood, exposed construction, hand rubbed finishes, and little or no decoration. When I am successful, the piece acquires character through it's proportions, materials, and joinery. Form should follow function.

Mitered Chest 3
Mitered Chest 3

Finger Joint Chest 1
Finger Joint Chest 1

Typically I work with native hardwoods, mostly cherry, red maple, and sugar maple. Figured wood is preferred when available. The lumber is cut to rough length, face jointed, and planed with standard machine tools. I cut the various joints using a combination of hand and machine tools, and then assemble the piece. Joinery includes dovetails, mortise and tenon, box joints, and various hybrids.

Some specific details:

~Drawers are always dovetailed. In my humble opinion, it is the only joint that will last in a drawer.
~All case and drawer parts are solid wood except drawer bottoms and case backs, which are Baltic birch, a premium cabinet grade plywood imported from Europe.
~Black cotton velvet is attached to the bottom before assembly for a clean and seamless drawer lining.
~Drawer dividers are solid maple and are adjustable. (link)
~Interior surfaces are finished with shellac.

Mitered Chest 1
Mitered Chest 1


Normally, I do not use dyes or stains. Everything you see on this site is the natural color of the wood. I particularly think it is unnecessary to stain or dye cherry. Give it five years with a linseed oil finish, and cherry will attain a depth and character not possible with dyes or stains.

I minimize the use of synthetic materials as much as possible. Both linseed oil and shellac are pure and non-toxic, and there are no disagreeable odors associated with these finishes. Let me know if you have a special request in this area.

Detail of Finger Joint Chest 5
Detail of Finger Joint Chest 1

Mitered Chest 4
Mitered Chest 5
in Quilted Maple

The finish on a piece of woodwork makes an enormous difference in the final appearance. Unfortunately, it is exactly this aspect which doesn't come across so well in photographs, so you'll have to take my word for it: this work has a great finish. An enormous amount of time goes into it (about 25% of the total, to be exact). All exterior surfaces are sanded down to 320 grit, then polished with #0000 steel wool. First a surface sealer is applied, and two coats of a linseed oil/resin mixture are then applied by hand and buffed dry. This results in a nice semigloss finish which is quite durable and very easy to maintain. All finishing products are natural products and non-toxic when dry. For more on this, see caring for wood (below).

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Caring for the Wood

Well-made furniture will last many generations if properly cared for. Following are some common sense suggestions to insure that your jewel chest or other piece will weather well.

Usually when wooden objects fall apart, it is because of joint failure, and that is due as often to excessive moisture cycling as it is to poor construction. This is particularly a problem in colder climates where it is very humid in the summer, and extremely dry in the winter. Wood swells and shrinks correspondingly, and while a good furniture design is one that allows for this, excessive extremes of humidity will eventually take their toll regardless of design.

The single best thing that can be done for long term furniture health is to avoid the extremes, and as much as possible maintain a humidity level somewhere in the middle. Many people mistakenly assume that it's the dry winter air that does the damage, but in fact, cracks often appear in winter due to unrelieved pressure built up in the summer. Dehumidifying or air conditioning in the worst of summer and humidifying the air in the winter will go a long ways towards relieving these stresses. It should also go without saying that furniture should never be stored in a dry attic or a damp basement, or exposed to direct sunlight for long periods of time.

Detail of Finger Joint Chest 5

Lamps Coming Soon!

A properly cared for surface will help to buffer moisture cycling as well as protect the surface from abrasions and scratches. The surface of an oil finished piece may be cleaned and refreshed with #0000 steel wool and linseed oil. Rub the surface in the direction of the grain with the steel wool until it feels smooth, and then rub a little oil onto the surface with a cotton rag. Let it sit for an hour or so, then buff it dry to the desired luster. I recommend a pure oil, such as Robson's Tried and True (available from myself or Woodcraft Supply, see below). Avoid the typical "boiled" linseed oils found at your hardware store; they are contaminated with other oils as well as heavy metals.

Lacquered pieces require little maintenance and may be cleaned with a damp sponge and polished with lemon oil. Lacquer is widely used and it is fairly painless to find a qualified refinisher if it is ever necessary to repair a badly damaged piece. Lacquer repairs quite well.

Sluggish drawer action may be improved with household paraffin. Rub a generous amount on the contacting surfaces, and buff it out with #0000 steel wool. This does wonders.

I finish my drawer and cabinet interiors with shellac. If you want to clean up a drawer that your son used to store his rock collection, you can use a good quality prepared shellac. I recommend Zinnser's Bullseye clear shellac. Follow the instructions on the can; shellac is non toxic when dry.

Steel wool and shellac are available at most hardware stores and home centers.
Robson's Tried and True Varnish may be ordered from Woodcraft Supply, (800) 225-1153 or from myself.

Varieties of Wood Used

Following is a brief description of the species of trees that I normally use. For more information on botanical details, consult the National Audubon Society's excellent Field Guide to North American Trees, Eastern Region, published by Knopf. For more on the technical characteristics of hardwood lumber, consult R. Bruce Hoadley's comprehensive text, Understanding Wood, published by Taunton Press.

Sugar Maple
Sugar Maple

Sugar maple (acer sacchurum), also known as rock maple or hard maple, is a common and familiar member of the Maple family. It occurs primarily in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, and under ideal conditions will reach a height of 120' and diameter of three to four feet. A long lived, hardy, and handsome tree, it is famous for maple syrup and the most magnificent autumnal foliage of any tree in the world. It is among the strongest and most durable timbers, and is widely used in the furniture and flooring industries. Occasionally, sugar maple trees develop unusual figure or grain patterns which are exceptionally beautiful and striking, such as birdseye, curly, and fiddleback maple. A large portion of these trees, particularly birdseye maple, are sawn into veneer. Thus the solid wood is difficult to find and in great demand among cabinetmakers and instrument builders, often commanding prices four to five times that of typical sugar maple. I usually use highly figured sugar maple for drawer fronts, door panels, tabletops and pulls. Typical sugar maple is straight grained and cream colored, and I frequently use it for drawer parts and interior work in cabinets.

Red Maple
Red Maple

Red maple (acer rubrum) is another common member of the Maple family, and occurs over the entire eastern US from Maine to the Gulf Coast. It is very tolerant and is widely planted as a shade tree. Commonly known as soft maple, it also produces beautiful figure variations, mainly curly and tiger stripe maple. These variations are frequently intense, so much so that the wood appears to glow with it's own light. Typical red maple is unassuming and straight grained, somewhat darker than sugar maple. It too is used commercially, though not as widely as sugar maple. I use figured red maple much in the same way as figured sugar maple, for drawer fronts and door panels.

Black Cherry
Black Cherry

Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), or common cherry, belongs to the very large Rose family, which also includes the numerous hawthorns and well as common fruit trees such as apple, plum, peach and pear.
It occurs east of the Mississippi River from Nova Scotia to the Gulf Coast. Under ideal conditions, cherries will grow up to 120' high and five feet across. The importance of cherry as a cabinet wood was recognized early on, and it has probably been costly since colonial days. This is due to the fact that it is almost perfect as a cabinet wood. It is straight grained and free of knots, and it is easy to work. It takes a finish well, ages beautifully, and is very stable. That is, it tends not to warp, and shrinks and swells but little. Pennsylvania produces the finest cherry in the world, frequently with a wavy, rolling figure. Cherry is frequently stained or dyed a darker tone; this was originally done to make it look like mahogany. Left to its own devices, it ages from a medium pinkish red to a deep crimson, a process that continues for years. With cherry, the aging process is caused by light as well as oxidation, and if you leave objects on a new cherry table, you will get "tan lines." To avoid this, it's a good idea to let the piece get a head start of a year or two. Besides cabinetry, cherry is also used for flooring, toys, and scientific and measuring instruments. I use cherry for casework, drawers, door frames and panels.

Figured Black Cherry
Figured Black Cherry

Black Walnut
Black Walnut

Black Walnut (juglans nigra) is a part of the Walnut family, which includes hickories and walnuts. It is found throughout the mid-Atlantic states, from Texas to the Dakotas eastward. Walnut prefers rich, fertile bottomland, and is famously slow growing. In the original forest, it reached 150 feet high and six feet across. Black walnut is among the rarest and most sought after cabinet woods, now virtually extinct in the wild. Most of what is cut today is from yard trees or abandoned farm fields, and a good deal of that ends up as veneer. Like cherry, it's importance as a cabinet wood was recognized early on, and it possesses the same fine qualities of workability and stability. It is dark and heavy, with the figure varying from relatively straight grained to somewhat wavy. No other native tree comes close to the rich and complex tones of walnut, which may run from purple and brown to near black, with hints of reds and greens. Walnuts make wonderful shade trees, though some vegetables, notably tomatoes, will not thrive near a mature walnut.

Northern Red Oak
Red Oak

Northern Red Oak (quercus rubra) is member of the large and extensive Beech family, which includes chestnuts, beeches, and oaks. It is found from Nova Scotia to Wisconsin and south to Alabama, and is among the fastest growing oaks. Red oak began to be heavily used when white oak became scarce. It is widely used in the furniture and flooring industry, and is commercially the most important red oak species. Usually red oak is plain sawn, and this produces the familiar cathedral like figure common to all oaks. Quartersawn red oak, on the other hand, is practically a different wood. It machines and finishes differently, but the biggest difference is in its stability. Plainsawn red oak tends to be very reactive and unstable, while quartersawn red oak is among the most stable timbers, more so than even cherry or walnut. I use quartersawn red oak for all types of casework, as well as drawers and doors.

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