Asian Themed Apothecary
This project grew out of a gift idea for my wife's birthday, an apothecary style cabinet to store perfumes and other items. After searching for antique apothecary cabinets on-line, I stumbled across this 19th century apothecary set and started my planning to reverse engineer the dimensions. The core dimension I decided on was a small perfume bottle, approximately 1 inch in diameter, and 1.75 inches tall. Using that as a guide, I calculated the smaller drawer sizes to allow for 8 bottles. From there, I calculated the remaining dimensions based on plywood and board sizes I wanted to construct the cabinet from. I would estimate about 6 hours of planning and stock layout, 118 individual pieces.

The drawers and container space is constructed from 3/8 inch oak plywood, the outer cabinet is 1/2 inch aspen, the fretwork from 1/8 in birch plywood, and the drawer pulls and feet from turned purpleheart.

Drawer construction posed the biggest difficulty, I acquired a 1/8 inch dado bit for my router, but after a few dry run attempts, ultimately decided to use the table saw to cut the dado groves, using the kerf of the blade for the width. The second problem came with inconsistent stock width in the 3/8 in plywood. I quickly realized that my tolerances for the drawers was a bit tight, so the belt sander was employed to reduce the width. In retrospect, I should have built the drawer carcass first, then taken closer measurements for the drawers, rather then presuming the stock sizes would be exact. While an unexpected annoyance, the sanding did not take a significant amount of time.

Lacking a planer, I wanted to make the cabinet exterior out of the thinnest stock I could acquire to keep the weight down. This was a 1/2 in aspen, which had a minor cup to the grain. While minor, it certainly created in issue in proper alignment when closed. I spent a significant amount of time hand planning the cup down on the front face to get the doors to close properly. In retrospect, a planer/joiner should really be used for a project of this nature, the larger woodworking projects I've built are a bit more forgiving for alignment and tolerances, but smaller/finer woodworking becomes more of a bear to hide the defects in the wood.

The fretwork on the exterior of the box was inspired by a project I saw in issue #27 of ScrollSaw magazine. I had to make some minor adjustments to the patterning to account for the cabinet dimensions, but the overall effect is similar to Ken Campbell's original design, a worthwhile project I may yet go back and build. The actual cuts on the fretwork took a bit longer then expected, the setup and cutting took about 15 minutes per section, accounting for sanding and blade breaks. Carrying the asian style into the interior, I found chinese symbols for energy, beauty, peace, and eternity (although it was google, so it could be ham, duct tape, fish, and soup for all I know).

Finishing on the Aspen is Minwax PolyShade Natural Cherry Gloss, and the fretwork and drawers is General Finishes Rosewood Gel Stain. The Minwax worked as expected, and only a single light sanding using steel wool between coats provided a very nice smooth finish. The Gel stain on the birch and oak plywood provided a dark finish on the very first coat. Getting into all of the nooks in the fretwork proved a bit more challenging with the Gel stain as it feels like painting with chocolate. The finish is a bit more matte then I wanted, so I applied a light coat of satin polyurethane after assembly.

I decided to go with brass plating on the hinges and latches, and the final touch was some ground glass stopper regent bottles acquired from Amazon to give it a feeling of an antique apothecary set.

Total planning and build time: approximately 30 hours.