There was a lot of high-pitched squealing on Christmas Day morning when the Welsh dresser was finally unveiled (but eventually they managed to quiet me down).
I must admit that I wasn’t prepared for the multitude of messages that arrived in response to my earlier column — Squirming in Excitement Awaiting the Great Unveiling — regarding the recreation of an 1820 Welsh dresser that I built as a Christmas present for my wife (Gina the Gorgeous).
The picture of the original Welsh dresser that Gina had found on the website of an antique dealer in Wales (what are the odds?) showed the planks behind the shelves in the upper part of the cabinet in green. This was the first time I’d seen anything quite like this because — in my experience — dressers of this ilk have either been plain wood or painted the same color all over. However, my woodworking guru friend Carpenter Bob told me that he’s seen them like this with the backs in all sorts of colors, including black, yellow, maroon, robin’s egg blue, and green.
The next task was to track down an appropriate shade of green. Once again, Carpenter Bob came to the rescue, telling me that I needed lacquer rather than regular paint and pointing me at a local purveyor of paints and pigments. It turned out that this emporium boasted a catalog of “Restoration Colors” showing shades prevalent in the 19th century. One of these was called “Dawkin’s Green,” which was almost identical to the “Hunter’s Green” I’d originally been thinking of using.
As I noted in my previous column, Carpenter Bob advised me to leave the staining and finishing to the professionals at Woodpride, and I’m so glad I listened to him because I had no idea what was involved.
I ambled down to Woodpride while they were working on the dresser and talked to Philip who was making the magic happen. In the case of the base and the sides and the shelves, any small gaps and blemishes were addressed, after which there was an initial sanding that was much finer than the one I had performed. Next, the stain was applied and tweaked, followed by four coats of sealer, with sanding occurring between each layer. This was followed by two coats of clear lacquer and sanding, which were themselves followed by a final coat of something or other (I’m afraid I can’t read my notes).
It is, I feel, worth noting that Philip stained and finished everything, not just the outer front and sides. For example, in addition to the insides and the back of the main cabinet, he also did the insides, sides, backs, and bottoms of the drawers. Furthermore, although I didn’t think to look, Carpenter Bob later told me that Philip had even turned the whole thing upside down and stained and finished the underside of the main cabinet!
With regard to the planks at the back of the shelves. These were removed from the cabinet and processed individually. In this case, the initial sanding was followed by several coats of sealer with a sanding between each coat. Next came several coats of the green lacquer with sanding between coats. This was followed by a coat of non-shiny glaze, which was left overnight and hand-rubbed the next day, followed by a non-shiny clear topcoat.
Good grief — that’s a lot of work — I’m glad I wasn’t the one doing it. The point is that all of this toil was well worth the effort. When I finally unveiled the dresser on Christmas Day morning, Gina was blown away. When she first asked me to build this for her deep in the mists of time (a.k.a. summer 2020), I don’t think she expected it would come out so good (I know I didn’t LOL).
I’m reasonably sure that Gina is the only lady on our street who owns a Welsh dresser that was custom-built to fit her platters and plates (there’s a 1/4-inch clearance on the largest platter on the upper shelf). Actually, this reminds me that the plates displayed on the original image were significantly smaller than the ones our dresser is required to accommodate. As a result, we were obliged to increase the height of the piece from just over seven feet to a tad under eight feet, but we also increased the width by a couple of inches and I think the result remains in proportion (if you are interested, you can click here to see a higher-resolution image of the finished piece).
I must admit that this has taken a huge amount of time and effort, but I’m confident that the result was worth it. This is something that will become an heirloom piece in our family — something to be handed down from generation to generation. It’s been designed and constructed to last hundreds of years, including those tricks of the trade that will facilitate any repairs that may become necessary as the years pass by.
Unfortunately, I fear I may have caught the woodworking bug. Carpenter Bob warned me this might happen. I’m taking a short break to remind myself what a leisurely weekend looks like, but my mind is already buzzing with ideas as to what I might be tempted to build next. In the meantime, as always, I’d love to hear any thoughts you might care to share.