The doll cradles are full fledged furniture pieces in miniature. All of the same construction processes and finishing techniques are used as on larger pieces. I like to use them as a test bed for new finishes, joinery, inlay, etc.
During the year, short pieces, scraps and off cuts are saved up. Part of the reason for this is there are often highly figured shorts that are just too small or too wild grained to be used on full sized furniture, but fit perfectly on the ends or rockers of the cradles.
As an example, this piece of curly ash became one of the large end pieces. The curly grain is relatively common in ash near crotches and knots. Unfortunately, the curl does not typically extend more than a foot away. As a result it is not practical for a furniture piece. The grain is also wild and unruly making it unsuitable for a jewelry box top or other piece unless it is resawn thin and then dropped in a frame. The three dimensional effect of the figure is lost a bit in the photo.
Click here for a larger version (327KB).
An additional option is to add some inlay. I have done this on the ends of several pieces. Here is one of the small ends.
This is curly ash with a 1/16" wide holly inlay. Tried and True Varnish oil really pops the figure without discoloring the holly.
The sides and ends can be joined in a variety of ways ranging from simple butt joints to dovetails. So far I have done dovetails (hand cut), finger joints, rabbets and rabbets with pins. Part of the decision of which joint to use also depends on the thickness of the stock you are using. Dovetails and finger joints demand thinner sides in the range of 3/8-1/2 inch in thickness. If they are used with thicker stock (e.g. 3/4-13/16 inch thick), they tend to appear a bit out of proportion.to the rest of the piece.
Overall, my favored technique is to rabbet the sides to meet the ends. This nicely frames the ends, provides a strong joint and is easy to make in a highly accurate and repeatable manner. The top edges of the cradle are rounded over with some hand work required to match and blend the curves at the corners.
The bottom is a piece of 1/4" or 5mm plywood. It is let into a rabbet running around the perimeter of the bottom. The rabbet is cut on the router table AFTER the sides are assembled. This is quick an d easy and the rabbet corners always match up. WIth the angled sides rabetting prior to assembly gets more complicated and gives you another edge to align during assembly.
The rockers and spreader are assembled with screws and glue. The spreaders are made from off-cuts of the rockers. I tend to favor a single spreader that connects and reinforces both rockers. The assembly is then fastened with glue and 18 gauge finish nails to the bottom.
The choice of finish will depend a bit on personal preference and wood chosen. I normally make them the early winter. Since at that time of year, the temperature may be very low (in the range of -20 to +20 F ), getting a good source of fresh air may be difficult. Given that I use a lot of oak and ash, the problem of raising the grain with water based finishes is significant. The curves expose a lot of end grain which will easily raise and feel very rough to the touch. Lacquer is out of the question since as soon as I open the can I seem to get complaints from everyone else in the house.
I have settled on using one or more of the following: Tried and True Varnish Oil, Boiled Linseed oil, Watco Danish Oil, alcohol based dye stain, shellac. These do not stink up the house much (the Danish oil is the worst of the bunch). Additionally, the shellac can be applied over the oil prior to it being completely dried. This allows complete finishing in a single (long) day.
This year's (2003) first batch of cradles. Another four were made after this photo as a second batch.
Copyright 2003 Mark Bronkalla
This page last updated 1/14/04