Quick Design Tip & Tombstone Doors

The two book-matched slabs pictured above are panels selected for my secretary tombstone doors. Take a look at the different arrangements. Which pairing looks best to your eye, right or left? Your response, for furniture construction, should be the pair on the right. Know why?

When you look at furniture, you should try to direct eyes inward toward the middle of the piece, then upward. As you look at the left pairing, your eye is drawn toward the middle of the panels due to the grain. However, as you follow that grain up the panels your eye is pushed away from the center as the grain flows outward.

The right pairing clearly has the opposite effect. As you travel up the panels your eye is continually directed toward the middle. This is correct for period design.

Make a Tombstone Panel

In order to highlight the panel’s grain features and to find the best look, I position my completed frames on the slabs, then slide the frames around the panels. Because I was working with a pair of doors, I lined the two up side by side and worked to match the grain as best I could. When I had things set, I drew around the inside of the frames to mark each panel. The final step to layout was to offset each line, including the arched top, by 5/16″. Panels were then cut to that size.

To raise the panels, I turn to a router setup. This where using power tools makes the most sense, but there is also hand work that needs to be done before tombstone panels are complete. A router bit leaves rounded inside corners. It cannot create sharp turns. To finish up the panels, use a straight edge to pencil in the square shoulders, and a compass to set the round portion.

Using a sharp chisel, set the lines just drawn to a depth that matches the reveal found on the balance of the panel. Pare away waste until the reveal is set. Next, after a line is struck down the slope and set in with a chisel, work the square portion back to your line by continuing the profile into the corner as shown in the left photo.

To complete the rounded portion is a bit more tricky in that the profile is continued into the corner, but the area has to be on a continuous radius. Again, sharp chisels are a must, and you need to watch grain direction, too. (I also found that having a couple carving gouges – almost flat carving gouges – are great to set the rounded reveal lines, and to work nasty grain if necessary.) I’ll get the area as flat and clean as possible, then I’ll finish up with sandpaper.

Below you can see how the doors and panels look with construction complete, but without finish. (You can also see the completed fretwork discussed a couple weeks back.)

One additional note on my panels. Some tombstone panels achieve more than 180 degree bend, which looks unnatural. Others achieve the 180 degree half circle, then extend straight down a bit more in order to connect with the shoulders. I find both these examples distracting. To work out details prior to any shop work, I turned to SketchUp. I designed the panels to have a full half-circle radius at the inside edge of the raised portion, then work outward to arrive at a layout for the top rails. Sometimes a little planning goes a long way.

Build Something Great!



Filed under Design, Hand Tools, Power Tools, Shop Tips

10 responses to “Quick Design Tip & Tombstone Doors

  1. I can hardly wait to see this finished. Beautiful work. Love the fretwork.

  2. Looks GREAT, Glen…

    Just awesome… and the grain isn’t even popped yet! LOL

    Beautiful doors…

    Thank you for the writeup!

  3. Julie O

    wow…beautiful!! I wonder who the lucky recipient of that piece is…..

  4. Joseph Coniglio

    Glen, the Secretary is coming along well and looks awesome. A couple of questions for you
    The center foot, was that on the original piece or something that you designed?
    How do you like that accuscribe shown in one of the photos?
    You say you turned to Sketch up for working out some design issues. Do you find this program more useful than sitting down and doing a full size drawing?
    What are you looking at for finish?

    On a side note I have had one of your mallets for several days now and absolutely love it. I am trying very hard to find something wrong (to break your stones about) with it, and have yet to come up with something. Strong work lad.

    Joseph Coniglio

    • Joe,
      The center foot is something that I added to the design. This will rest in South Carolina, so a touch of the south is appropriate – I first seen a center foot on a desk from below the M-D line.

      The Accuscribe is a tool that I have not used all that often, but when I turn to it, it does the job. In this case I didn’t have the right compass.

      I became an avid SketchUp user while at the magazine. It’s easy to use and I can develop full-size plans from it if need be. All my projects are first drawn with the program. I seldom use full-size drawings except for patterns. I believe that once you have the carcass of a piece built, the balance of the parts are sized to that carcass.

      Glad your mallet is holding it’s ground. I’m sure if you found a problem, you wouldn’t hesitate to bust me about it. Bring it on.


  5. John R

    WOW! It is true that “A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words.” Thanks for posting it so we could get a peek. Thanks also for the tips, insights and reminders of furniture construction fundamentals.
    John R

  6. Glen, I am curious about the two half spindles. Do you glue up the two halves with paper in between and turn it, then split it and glue them in place? Or do you use a different method. Also… is this going to have any secret compartments?

    Jeremy P

    • The half columns are produced just as you describe, Jeremy. While on staff at Popular Woodworking Magazine, I posted a short video that walks through this process. I believe that video is available to watch.

      There are scads of secret compartments in this secretary – some 12 in the gallery, alone. Others are planned throughout the piece. Sometime in the future, I’ll show a few of them in a video.


  7. Conrad Bennett

    So glad you are back with this website!!

    I have every book you have written and I am always looking for more! I love your style of furniture and all the techniques you share with us.

    keep up the awesome work!!

    Look forward to more DVDs and books.


  8. Bob Wheeler

    The secretary is an absolutely spectacular piece! Thank you for sharing it with us. Any chance we’ll see this as an article, or better yet as an instructional DVD?

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