A few months ago I purchased an old hardware cabinet at an antique store a few miles north of Wilmington, NC. It is not really a very large cabinet considering it contains 55 drawers – 37″ tall x 31-1/2″ wide x 8″ deep.
The story that the antique shop owner told was that it had once been in a hardware store in Warsaw, NC. The cabinet was behind the cash register for easy access by the store owner for some of the smaller items the store carried. I have been to the town of Warsaw a couple of times since and tried to trace the cabinet’s trail but have hit dead ends on every lead. So, its origin is a mystery.
The construction of the cabinet is pretty simple, other than the shear quantity of joints involved. The case and drawers are all held together with nails, not a dovetail to be found (sorry Mr. Firley).
There are several interesting things about it though, joinery aside. Most of the cabinet and the drawers came from recycled crating and cigar boxes. There is something interesting to see every time you pull out a drawer: old labels of all kinds, tax stamps and writing.
Of course, there are also the hand-painted labels on each drawer front. This to me is the coolest part of the cabinet. Whoever painted them obviously was skilled, but there are subtle differences in style of the numbers and letters between drawers and sometimes on the same drawer.
As far as when it was made, my guess is around 1900 from the cigar box labels and tax stamps that I have been able to date.
I just recently finished up a three-part article at WK Fine Tools building a copy of this cabinet (yes, I am still mostly sane after 113 dados). It is available here.
You can view hi resolution images here.
— Will Myers
9 thoughts on “Hardware Cabinet – 55 Drawers & 1 Mystery”
Great looking cabinet.
The pulls on your new cabinet looks almost exactly like the ones on the old. That is amazing. finding new pulls that match old ones always seem to be difficult to me.
This is really great, Will! I’m reading the article now. When you make the dadoes for the case, do you take any precautions to prevent tear out? Or does the dado plane take care of that?
Yes, If I am cutting a single dado I plane into what will be the face edge and exit off the rear. That way if there is any blow out it is on the back edge and does not matter. More often than not I am cutting two at once as with this cabinet. In that case I clamp the two pieces with the face edges against one another. This insures alignment between the dados on the two sides and no chipping on the front edges. If the plane is sharp and set up well helps minimize problems too.
As I scrolled down I looked at the pictures before reading the text and for a second I thought you painted it and clenched my fists in horror before picking the text back up and realizing it was a reproduction.
I’ve kept my eye out for something like this when I go antiquing, they look pretty cool but I don’t have the time or free materials to cobble one together versus buying another hideous plastic bin when I run out of space.
Awesome! Really neat cabinet, I’ll definitely be working my way through the article.
Also, I appreciate that you pointed out the hand-painted lettering. Would be really interesting to know the story behind all of that. It almost seems like someone was practicing different forms, else the owner of the cabinet told the letterer, “Paint them however you like!” Allow me a moment to geek out… A few things that caught my eye: fourth row down, “Screws” appears drastically different in the 1, 2 and 4 drawers. Also, the flourish on the “E” in the bottom right “STORE BOX” drawer. One more: the ampersand appears to be practically the same style everywhere it appears. Any place to see a higher resolution, maybe straight on view of the lettering?
Thanks for sharing!
I have added a link above to a few higher resolution photos.
Thanks very much, Will!
Great post Will, love the hardware cabinet.
I remember having round paper discs with a metal edge around the circumference. I think they were used to label and hang keys. Perhaps somethings like this could be attached with a small screw to label the contents of the drawers. Mark
Comments are closed.