I love the look of this box project. It is amazing how much you can learn by doing a period reproduction piece. I’ve watched the DVD by Peter Follansbee many times on building oak boxes and also utilized his article in February 2018 issue of Popular Woodworking. I’ve benefitted too from the blogs that Follansbee regularly post. Even with great help like that there is still much more to know which only comes from your experience of doing it yourself.
I haven’t put the finish on it, but all the drawers are done and the nails installed. The top is made from flat sawn oak, because I wanted to conserve my riven oak for the carved sides. Because the top is flat sawn stock, I made sure to leave a gap at the hinge line. I learned how the installation of dovetail hinges and the cleats using nails can be trickier than you might expect. I installed the hinges with a gap and a clearance for the cleats so they would not rub on the carved sides. I even used a hand reamer this time to prepare the pilot holes for the nails. What I learned though was how easily some shifting can occur while pounding in the nails. Fortunately, the clearances ended up being sufficient so the top closes without rubbing the carved sides. I’m close on one front corner, but not enough to bother with. I learned that once you start using nails on the hinges they don’t give you much latitude for adjusting. Because the nails are tapered and bite the wood, they are not really removable. I had a couple nails bend on me so they couldn’t be removed no matter what I did. The softness of the nails though is a virtue when clinching them later. Bottom line, I noticed that I couldn’t be very fussy here.
I am considering a couple ways of finishing the oak desk box. When I typically finish a carving, I seal the wood first and then use gel stain to highlight or accentuate the carved areas. The sealing prevents blotching, especially relevant in pine and basswood, and provides good contrast with the darker staining in the carved areas. When Follansbee finishes oak boxes he uses linseed oil cut with turpentine and then he sometimes tints it with various dry pigments like iron oxide and others. I also like the idea of using gel stain to even out the color between the pine bottom and the different grain patterns in the oak. Since I have a good investment of time in this project, I am going to test the different finishes on some scrap oak.