Getting to the bottom of things

Once the grooves were cut into the carcases of the oak trays, I needed bottoms for them.  Now, I could have used oak plywood and it would have worked just fine (as long as the plywood was the same width as the iron in my plow plane: check first!).  But in this case, I wanted a solid wood bottom.  I also wanted a different species for this application.  Red oak is all well and good, but I thought the unrelieved strong grain might be a bit too much for something this small.  So, I decided on mahogany, because while the colour was close, the grain pattern was completely different.  This way it would complement and contrast at the same time.  The interesting part about this is that I had this mahogany squirreled away in what might seem like an unlikely spot.


Yup, that’s the footboard of a bed.  This is an old piece of furniture that was slated for the landfill.  It is made of mahogany panels that have been overlaid with a thick walnut veneer.  The veneer was so thick that it might have been repairable as it was, except that it had been damaged enough for chunks were torn out, instead of merely scratched and scuffed.  But it worked out for me, because I had some mahogany panels already glued up!  How did I know there was mahogany under the veneer?  Well, once upon a time, I needed a tray for a pipe threader I own.  I used a little piece of that bed as exploratory surgery, and after peeling the veneer found out it was mahogany under there.  Score!


But why?  It’s not like mahogany is cheap.  Why put it together just to veneer it?  The best answer that I can come up with is that these panels are put together of pieces that have big knots in them or big torn out chunks of reverse grain.  One part included a piece with so much wane in it that the veneer had a big soft spot in the middle of the footboard.  My guess is that the furniture factory, knowing that the veneer would hide all those accumulated flaws, used up the bits and bobs from a shipment of mahogany so that they could get a few more pieces finished for their dollar.  Just a guess, but it’s what makes sense to me.  But even though there were a lot of rough spots in there, I only needed some small sections, so I was able to finagle both bottoms out of that footboard (once I cleaned off the entire thing to check for hidden flaws), and they turned out pretty nice!


This is one reason why I’m always watching the curbs for old furniture that people don’t want anymore.  The new stuff, made of solidified termite waste, is useless.  Refuse refuse*!  Old furniture, on the other hand, is usually made of salvageable timber.  So pick it up when you see it, and you may be surprised at what you can glean from the waste stream.  The worst that can happen is that you have to set it out on the curb again.

So with the bottoms being prepared, I could glue everything up.  I MADE SURE that everything would go together properly with a dry fit, then assembled.  After planing the dovetails flush and a quick sanding, an oil finish completed the trays.


*Yes, that’s two different words: English is such a funny language sometimes…