Project Challenges

Searching for a Twin

We occasionally encounter a project that has a special appeal for a cabinetmaker. Over twenty years ago, a couple asked me to design a suite of bedroom furniture using black cherry lumber harvested from their property. The challenge was to come up with an appealing traditional design with the limited amount of available material. An effective solution was reached, and we were able to complete the project within the budget.

A number of years later, the customer contacted me again and asked me to replicate one of the pieces of furniture. Although they originally didn’t have room for a second nightstand, they moved to a new home and decided they would like a matching nightstand.

The client granted permission to re-print the letter included below, which brought to mind a telephone call from a cabinetmaker who inquired about the cutters used to make the profiles on the furniture. I explained that the unique profiles on the top and base could be achieved by stacking cutters (making separate passes with different cutters to arrive at a more elegant, custom shape). The delicate eighth-inch bead around the case was made using a hand-made shaper cutter, since the tiny detail could not be found in a commercially available router bit. Shelves were attached to the sides using traditional tapered dove-tail joinery. Apparently, the other craftsman could not take on the project. And I couldn’t pass up this challenge to create a replica of the original, matching the dimensions, wood grain patterns, and the original finish.

The customer agreed to temporarily part with the cherished nightstand to enable us to take measurements and match details. I located the original documents, as well as patterns made so many years ago. Matching the wood grain patterns went well; however, matching the patina of twenty year old cherry needed special attention. Some wood, such as walnut, will lighten with age and exposure to sunlight. Other wood, like cherry, will deepen with age – its one of the features that make cherry so desirable. Our solution was to assemble the components, apply boiled linseed oil, then let sunlight do its magic. The assembled piece was placed in an area of the shop where it could rest in filtered sunlight. After several weeks, we applied very light dyes and pigmented stains to achieve the desired tone, yet we held back a little to enable time to finish the final match.

We’re proud to include a side-by-side photo of the “twins” and believe that we faithfully achieved the goal of matching the original. Although commercial work fills a portion of our schedule, projects such as this often are the most rewarding.

Charlene & Elkins Dahle III
Easton, MD 21601-4714
January 17, 2003

Mr. Donald Bayne, Cabinetmaker
Bayne’s Quality Custom Furniture
100 McPhail Street
Baltimore, MD 21223

Dear Mr. Bayne,

This letter could reasonably be titled “Searching for Twin”. In July 1984, you made a nightstand from cherry wood harvested from our orchard after Hurricane Agnes. Yes, almost twenty years later and we are absolutely sure the price is more than $450. Please refer to the photos included to refresh your memory. We have recently retired to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to an active adult community. Previously the floor plan of our home’s master bedroom did not allow room for a second nightstand. However, our current home does and we would like to have a matching nightstand for the other side of our bed. We attempted last winter to locate a reputable cabinetmaker in our geographic area. A cabinetmaker was highly recommended by a local wood supplier for cabinetmakers. After ten months of repeated promises about completion, multiple phone calls, frustration, anger, stress, and fear, we literally had to stake out his home on Christmas Day and demand the return of our nightstand and deposit. Would you possibly consider making a duplicate nightstand? We are aware you no longer dabble in such small items and prefer corporate work. However, we are at a loss as to whom we can trust that could duplicate such a high quality product. We are not in a rush – obviously, so you could work on it on your off hours or during slow periods. We would like to discuss this with you by phone. Our phone numbers are located in the upper right hand corner. We look forward to hearing from you with hopes of resolving “Searching for Twins”!

Charlene & Elkins Dahle III