Accent Cabinet

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This article is from Issue 100 of Woodcraft Magazine.

A simple approach to an elegant cabinet

This contemporary cabinet will grace any room with a touch of elegance. Its plywood case construction combines with solid wood doors to make a worthy challenge for any ambitious  woodworker. Biscuit joinery connects the case parts except for the applied side rails, which are simply glued in place. The door frames are built with loose tenon joints and are dressed up with a quirk & bead detail. But because mitering an integral profile on an otherwise squared joint is fussy work, I opted to create beaded strips separately, mitering them to fit inside the frame. And rather than constructing multiple-pane doors, I cut the muntin gridwork to overlay a single glass pane in each door.

To aid you in the build, check out our website, where you’ll find a series of free articles that delve deeper into certain aspects of the project. They include tips for making and attaching great table tops, laminating legs from thin stock, creating loose tenon joinery, and hanging inset doors. You’ll also find a plywood cutting guide and a parts list for this cabinet. Plus, our Buyer’s Guide (p. 62) has the pricing and product information for the tools I used in the build.

A simple case with skill-building doors

The core case consists of cherry plywood panels that connect via a combination of biscuit joints and pocket screws. Solid cherry rails and a strip of solid cherry edging hide the exposed plywood edges. The cherry side rails are simply glued to the plywood sides.

The door frame is constructed using loose tenon joinery. The separate decorative bead is mitered to fit and then glued to the frame parts. Notches in the bead strips accept the rabbeted ends of the muntins, which are half-lapped where they intersect to create the grid pattern. Rabbets in the door frames house the glass and its retaining strips.

Order of Work

  • Make legs and top
  • Assemble case
  • Make and hang doors
  • Attach top
  • Apply finish
  • Insert glass and install hardware

Take the plunge. Mark the location of the bottom’s upper face on each edge of the back panel. Clamp the bottom and back together face-to-face with the bottom’s rear edge aligned to the marks. Then mark your biscuit locations on the edge of the bottom panel. With the biscuit joiner held horizontally, plunge the slots in the rear edge of the bottom. Then position the joiner vertically to cut the mating slots in the back panel, using the edge of the bottom as a fence.

Make the case

Start by cutting the legs and front rails to size. Also edge-glue boards to make an oversized top (see onlineEXTRAS on facing page), which you’ll cut to fit later. Then cut the plywood case parts to size and slot them for all the biscuits where shown in the drawing on page 33.

The flat surface of your table saw makes a great reference for your biscuit jointer, and its fence serves as a handy backstop. Drill pocket holes in the cleats. Slot the rails for biscuits, offsetting the cuts to prevent potential misalignment (see p. 20). Mill the edging, making it a bit oversized in width. Then glue the edging to the shelf, the top front rail to the front cleat, and the lower front rail to the bottom piece. Trim the pieces flush after gluing. Glue the legs to the side panels to form side assemblies. Then attach the bottom, the shelf, and rear cleat to the back panel before gluing that assembly to the side assemblies.

Trim flush. After gluing the rails to the top cleat and bottom panel, trim them flush. I used a low angle block plane to do most of the work, and then followed up with a sharp card scraper. Trim the edging flush with the shelf surfaces in the same way.

Side assemblies. Apply glue to the edges of the sides and to the leg-to-side biscuit slots. (I used a specialty applicator.) Insert the biscuits, then join the parts, aligning the tops as needed with a few gentle mallet taps. Then clamp the legs in place. 
Bottoms up. Start with the back resting inside-face-upward atop a couple of I-beam risers. Spread glue on the back edge of the rear cleat and in all its mating biscuit slots. Clamp the cleat squarely in place and aligned laterally. Repeat the process with the bottom and the shelf.

Case assembly. Spread glue along the ends of the bottom, shelf, back, and in all the biscuit slots. Then insert the biscuits and assemble the case, squeezing the joints tight with clamps. Run cauls along the center of each side to apply pressure to the center of the shelf.

Rout the mortises. Hold each door rail vertically in your bench vise and clamp the mortising jig to it with the jig’s center line aligned with the mortise’s center line. Plunge to full depth at both ends of the mortise, and then clean out the waste with successively deeper cuts. To rout the mortises in the stiles, cantilever the workpieces to the side of the vise as shown. See onlineEXTRAS for details on how to build this jig.

Make the doors

Cut the door frame parts to size and mark the center lines for their mortises where shown in the drawing (p. 33). Rout them and then make the tenons to fit. (See the box on facing page.) For the bead strips, mill a length of stock 7/8" thick × 4" wide × 28" long. This will yield six lengths of bead stock—four for the stiles and two (to be crosscut in half) for the rails. To create the bead & quirk (the space between the bead and its frame part), chuck a 5/16" beading bit into your router table. Feed the stock on edge, then flip it end for end and rout the opposite edge too. Set your table saw fence for a 5/16" cut, and then rip the beaded section from each edge. Repeat until you have the necessary six pieces.

With the door frames dry-clamped, miter the beaded strips to fit inside the openings. Mark the locations of the notches that will accept the muntins. Saw the notches in the beads, then glue them to the door frames as shown. Disassemble the door frames and saw the rabbets for the glass before gluing up the frames. Mill the muntins to 3/8" × 3/4" × the inside frame dimensions plus 5/8". Cut their notches and half laps so they fit into the door frames. Now that your doors are together, measure carefully and order your glass.

Making Loose Tenons

Make loose tenons from the same stock as your door parts. First mill a strip that’s slightly narrower than the mortise length and long enough to yield all your tenons. I got the thickness close with my planer and then fine-tuned it using my #4 bench plane to create a snug fit that didn’t require force. Then round over all four edges using a 3⁄16" roundover bit at the router table. Crosscut the tenons to length at the table saw using a miter gauge, with a stop block set against the fence forward of the blade to prevent kickback.

Notch the beads. Using a dado blade and miter gauge at the table saw, cut 3⁄4"-wide × 9⁄16"-deep notches in the mitered-to-fit bead strips. This way, the notches will end up 3⁄16"-deep after the rabbets are sawn in the beads later.
Attach the profile. Glue and clamp the fit-and-notched bead strips around the inside of the dry-fit door frames. Spread glue judiciously to prevent gluing the stiles and rails together.
Rabbet the frame pieces. Disassemble the frames, and rabbet the backs of the applied bead on all the door frame parts. Use a dado blade partially buried in a sacrificial fence to saw rabbets 3⁄8" deep by 1⁄4" wide, which allows for 1⁄8"-thick glass and 1⁄4 × 1⁄4" retainers.
Muntin joinery. After rabbeting the ends of the muntins to fit into the bead notches, cut 3⁄4"-long × 3⁄16"-deep lap joints where the parts intersect.

Rout the hinge mortises. Rout the mortises for the hinges with the help of a simple jig (inset). Make the cuts with a trim router equipped with a 3⁄8" guide bushing and a 1⁄4" straight bit. Set the depth of cut to match the thickness of the hinge’s leaf. Square the corners with a chisel.

Hang the doors

With the case on its side, mark the hinge locations on the legs where shown in the drawing (p. 33). Build a simple mortising jig like the one shown. Rout the hinge mortises in the legs, and then attach the front cleat/rail assembly with the help of a spacer. Saw the rabbet in the center stile of each door, and then shim the doors in place and mark them for the hinge locations. Rout the hinge mortises on the doors, using the mortising jig as before. Hang the doors with one screw in each hinge leaf and mark for any necessary trimming. The goal is to create a consistent gap between the doors and case. Once the doors fit well, sand the muntins, and then glue them in place.

Rail spacer. Make up a simple spacer to position the front cleat/rail assembly parallel to the bottom, insetting the rail 15⁄16" from the front of the leg. Drive the pocket screws in the first end, then position the spacer against the opposite leg to fasten that end.

Shim and transfer. Shim the doors in place with playing cards. Transfer the hinge locations from the case to the doors by resting a knife edge flat on the top of the hinge, and gently but firmly pressing the blade into the door to make a small mark. Note: Use good quality extruded hinges for this cabinet. If you use cheap hardware store hinges, you’ll be sorry.

Mind the gap. After routing the mortises in the doors, hang them temporarily. Trim the left-hand door’s center stile as needed to produce a consistent gap between both doors.

Drilling guide. A simple two-sided guide like this ensures that your knobs will be positioned in the same spot on each of the center stiles.

Finishing up

Finish-sand the sides, then make the side rails and glue them in place. Drill the knob holes. Make and attach the side cleats and drill all cleat holes where shown in the drawing (p. 33). Note that the holes in the side and front cleats are elongated to about 1/4" to allow seasonal movement. To make these slots, drill a series of adjacent holes, then file out the waste between them. Trim the top to its final size and round over both faces of its ends and front using a 3/16" roundover bit. Then drill the pilot holes to attach it to the case. Cut the retainers to size and set them aside. Slightly chamfer the bottoms of the legs with a block plane to prevent damage if the case is dragged. Sand everything through 220 grit and apply a protective finish. I used a coat of Seal-A-Cell, followed by three coats of Arm-R-Seal from General Finishes. Place the glass in the doors, followed by the retaining strips. Predrill and install the strips with small nails. Attach the catch and latch where shown in the drawing. Rehang the doors, and install the knobs. Nicely done!

Pilot holes in the top. Before installing the doors, flip the case upside down onto the inverted top. Drill pilot holes through the cleat holes and slots, and attach the top with panhead screws after finishing.
Nail the retainers. Protect the glass with note pad cardboard as you drill 1⁄16" diameter clearance holes for the nails. Make the holes about 1⁄2" deep to leave a little solid wood for the 3⁄4" nails to bite into without bending. Then tap the nails in, again using the cardboard shield. Seat them using a nail set.


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