The most striking visual aspects of this chest are the arched stiles and panels. The most complicated joinery on the project is fitting those two components to each other. If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you probably already know that pattern routing is going to be the key to solving this conundrum.
Begin this process by cutting the curved stile blanks to size (pieces 8). I selected stock that had a similar grain pattern for all these parts, and I recommend that you do the same. Next use the gridded pattern to form a template for the curved edge on the stile from 1/4″ hardboard or MDF. Take care to keep this curve fair and true, because you will be routing that shape onto all the curved stiles. Before you start cutting the shape onto them, you will need to glue the curved stile blanks into their common straight stiles (it is a simple butt joint). Once those subassemblies are done, trace the curved line onto the curved stiles using the template you made earlier. When you’ve got all the parts properly marked, go back to your band saw and rough out the shape. Stay just outside of the pencil line as you make your cut. The less material you need to trim while pattern routing, the easier that task will be.
I used a pattern routing bit (bearing at the end of the bit) in my router table to machine the curved stiles to their final shape. Attach the template to the workpieces with double sided carpet tape. In cases like this, where you are removing just a small amount of material and where any tearout will be a disaster, I use a climb cut to do the deed. It can be a little bit hairy, but in this case it is the way to go. Take your time and machine all the curved stile subassemblies, then set them aside for now.
In order to make the book-matched flat panels (pieces 9 – 11) at the center of each of the frame sections, you will need to resaw 3/4″ stock and machine it down to a final thickness of 1/4″. I resaw wide panels in a two-step process that I think adds some control. First, I cut kerfs into the edges of the board on my table saw. Then I step to the band saw and complete the cut. The saw kerfs make it much easier to keep the band saw blade perfectly on track. It works really slick. When the pieces are all resawn, I mark them so that I don’t mismatch them later on, and then take them to the planer to remove the saw marks, surfacing them to just a bit thicker than their finished dimension. With great care, edge glue these pieces together with their mates.
While the glue cures, grab some 1/4″ MDF or hardboard. Lay out and make full-size templates of all three flat panels. Once again, the curves must be fair and true. That curve is the reciprocal shape that you made on the curved stile template. Use that template to make the lines on your panel templates. Go ahead and cut the template to the rough shape and then use a combination of a sander and a file to get the shape just right. (You could just make one template and use it to make all the curved pattern cuts, but I found it easier to have one for each of the panels.)
Take the glued-up panels out of their clamps and clean up the glue line. Surface the panels to their final thickness — I used a hand plane for this task. When all the panels are ready, mark the curved lines onto them using your templates as a guide. Now, step back to the band saw and do some careful cutting as you rough out the shapes on the panels. This is exacting work — cut close to the line, but not into it. With that task behind you, take your pile of pieces over to the router table and pattern rout the final edges onto the panels. Once again, I used carpet tape to adhere the templates to the workpieces, and used a climb cut to avoid tearout. When you are done shaping the panels, go ahead and give them a final sanding — I went up to 180-grit.
Now that the panels are basically done, you can cut grooves into the edges of the curved stiles. I used a bearing-guided slot-cutting bit on my router table to plow those grooves. I needed to make two cuts per groove, so I was able to control the fit just as I wanted it.