The basic box—or carcase—featured in this chapter has long been the starting point of many types of furniture. The earliest examples were simple coffers, nailed or pegged together, that served double-duty as chests or benches. Today, there are seemingly limitless variations on that same basic design. The smallest examples of carcase construction feature delicate pieces of highly figured, exotic woods, such as bird’s-eye maple, rosewood or Hawaiian koa, that are assembled with precise joints and delicate hinges to form jewelry boxes and silver chests. Larger but still compact boxes provide the framework for drawers.
Once assembled, the type of carcase examined in the pages that follow can be the basis for anything from a small dresser or tool chest to a floor-to-ceiling cabinet or a home-entertainment center. The later chapters in this book look at the subsequent steps—adding drawers, doors or legs—so as to turn the basic carcase into a finished piece of furniture.
Although carcases and drawers are designed to withstand different types and levels of stress in use, there are certain construction techniques that are applicable to both. Where appropriate, a cross-reference to the Drawers chapter will be included to direct you to a drawer-building technique that could prove useful for constructing carcases.
All carcases consist of four panels joined together to form a box. A key requirement is that the wood grain of all the
panels run in the same direction. Since wood expands and contracts, especially across the grain, the panels will expand and contract together at the same rate, preserving the structural integrity of the box. Assembling a carcase with the grain of adjacent panels at right angles to each other virtually ensures that one of the panels will eventually split; when wood is ready to move, it is almost impossible to stop.
Much of the character and individuality of a particular carcase design derives from the method of assembling the panels. There are a great many types of corner joints you can use; some of the most common include dovetails, lock miters, rabbets, miter-and-spline joints, biscuit joints, and box and finger joints. Because dovetail joints are highly regarded for their strength and beauty in solid wood, one variety—the hand-cut through dovetail—is featured in this chapter (page 27). It can also be cut more quickly with a jig as shown in the Drawers chapter (page 80). In the eyes of many woodworkers, a well-made hand-cut dovetail joint is visible proof of the cabinetmaker’s competence.
For plywood carcases, rabbet (page 34) or biscuit joints—also known as plate joints—(page 36) are better choices. Both offer pretty much the same strength as dovetail joints and, although less esthetically pleasing, they are quick and easy methods of assembly. The convenience factor becomes a major consideration if you are faced with producing a large number of carcases.
Using biscuit joints to assemble panels offers two very appealing benefits: strength and ease of assembly. A biscuit joiner cuts semicircular grooves into mating panels. The slots are filled with glue and biscuits of compressed beech, then the panels are butted together to form a perfect joint.