Category Archives: Secret Compartments

Transformers – Furniture in Disguise

I’ve always been fascinated with furniture that expands to become something totally different much like the transformers that appear as cars or trucks then become huge robots. I look at these transformers as I do pieces with secret drawers and compartments – it’s a surprise.

During a recent trip through a couple of auction catalogs, I noted a few examples that I thought I’d share. Interestingly, these auctions were and are in London and are of English antiques, This makes me wonder if woodworkers in the United States back in the day were not as creative as European woodworkers, or just didn’t have the customers for or the time to build these hidden gems. You can, of course, find examples strewn around the country, but the largest number of these pieces seem to come from the Old World.


The first example is not as strong of a transformer than the two pieces coming later. It’s an English Gate-leg table. The leaves flip up and two not-so-hidden swing legs pull out to support the leaves. I like this design because when not in use, the table sits compactly out of the way, yet it is not easily tipped over do to its significant base.

GeorgeIII_Writing-Dressing_TableClosedNext up is a smallish two-drawer stand that when looked at, you know there is something about it. You obviously see the added leg fronts. And the drop-leaves let you know that the tabletop grows in size. The question then becomes: What else is in the cards for this stand. This is where it gets interesting. Would you expect that this stand transforms into a writing and dressing table? Check it out.


My last example is magnificent. It does, however, fall short of  Roentgen furniture pieces, which are the utmost in secret compartments and transformation. Vanity_ClosedI spent quite a while looking at these photos. I’m amazed at what lifts, slides, turns and flips to open this George III Satinwood, Mahogany and Indian Rosewood-Crossbanded Dressing Table. The auction information states that it is circa 1790 and probably by Sheraton. And the entire piece is listed as only 39″ wide. Oh, make sure you notice the feet. (You can click on the photos to make them larger.)


I often get asked if it’s OK to glue up feet and legs. My standard reply, which I might need to rethink, is no because you’ll see the glue lines. If, however, you assemble alternating wood species as shown here, you can make it work – at least Mr. Sheraton did.

If you have examples of furniture that transforms, add a link in the comments section. Let’s see what we can find.

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Filed under Antique Pieces, Design, Secret Compartments

Secretary Secrets

Last week I disclosed compartments in the desk lid lopers (read and/or view those here). As promised, here is a look at secrets compartments in the secretary that I have finally moved into my finish area. Enjoy. And if you have comments or questions, make sure to post them below.

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Filed under Secret Compartments, Shop Tips

When Free to Work, Secrets Evolve

I came into the shop this past week with all intentions to finish construction on the secretary I’ve been working on forever. I have developed numerous secret compartments for this piece – I plan to share these via video next week on this blog. I could not, however, pass on the opportunity to include a couple more secrets as I wrapped up the build.

I have never seen secret compartments built into desk lid supports, or lopers as they are called by some. I challenged myself to make it happen. At first I searched for a small something that I could slip into place, but when I came up empty I became creative and borrowed an idea from Roy Underhill’s grease pot (built and posted by The Village Carpenter. See it here.) My idea was simple and it worked.

First, at the rear of the loper, mark the area that will become your lid as shown in the photo. I used my dovetail layout jig to make a slight angle on the top face, then connected the lines to create the 1/4″ lid. A light scribeline helps start and guide your saw.

I used a Japanese small rip Dozuki from Lee Valley & Veritas because it had the thinnest blade of all the saws I have in the shop and a thin cut is less likely to be noticed.

With my top cut free, I drilled a 3/4″-diameter hole into my 1″ wide supports, but any size hole works. My drill press made sure the hole stayed true without peeking out one side or the other. The key here is to drill deep enough to hold whatever you think might be stored in this compartment – I suspect rolls of cash. You do not, however, want to drill completely through the loper – not much of a compartment if your goods fall out the bottom.

All that is left is to reattach the lid. Mark the lid for your screw and make sure there is enough swing in the lid and that your lid clears the compartment when it’s fully open. (My screws were centered at 3/8″ from the ends while the holes were drilled 1 1/4″ from the ends.) The screws I used are perfect for this job because the threads stop before the screw head. This allows the lid to pivot on the screw shaft without catching any threads.

Hold the lid in place as you drill a pilot hole for your screws. Install your screws and the job is done. Tension holds the lid closed until you unveil the secret.

Below is a short video that shows how you access and use these compartments.

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Filed under Design, Secret Compartments, Shop Tips