Arts & Crafts Entertainment Center

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This article is from Issue 67 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Hand-crafted cabinetry is the perfect companion for high-tech electronics

As a woodworker and furniture designer, I have a lot of fun playing with furniture styles and adapting them to the needs of 21st Century living while trying to remain true to the “rules” of the genre. This cherry TV cabinet is a good example of challenges one comes across. Its design echos the work of the brothers Charles and Henry Greene, two architects who worked in Pasadena, California in the very early part of the 20th century. They are known for designing Craftsman-style houses and all of the furnishings therein. Along with furniture by Gustav Stickley, their work has become synonymous with the Arts and Crafts style. But as the flat screen TV didn’t come about until long after Greene and Greene departed this world, they didn’t leave us any examples of what an Arts and Crafts entertainment center should look like.

To create this piece, I started by picking up on one of the Greene’s key design elements–the cloud lift–and incorporated it into a cabinet with dimensions appropriate for good TV watching. This simple detail, along with small corbel brackets under the top, and the frame-and-panel construction combine to  make a piece of furniture with its roots in the 20th century but its functionality firmly based in the 21st.

A case on a base. The case consists of a 3⁄4" cherry plywood bottom, back, dividers, and shelves, flanked by solid cherry frame-and-panel sides. The assembly sits in a rabbet in the base, and is capped with a solid wood top. All solid wood parts are 1" thick unless otherwise noted. All mortises (except the corbels’) are 3⁄8" wide, and inset 1⁄2" from the end of their stiles.

Order of Work

  • Make the panels.
  • Make the case frame parts.
  • Cut the cloud lifts.
  • Glue up side panels & face frame.
  • Assemble the case.
  • Make & install the doors.
  • Install shelves & base.
  • Install corbels & top.

Cut the panels from your best-looking boards

Select your nicest pieces for the top, the door panels, and the side panels. Edge glue the boards for the top, and then set them aside to thoroughly dry while you start work on the case. The doors and case sides are assembled with frame-and-panel construction–a time honored method of making strong, stable components. I resawed the material for the panels from 5/4 stock, and bookmatched the pieces as shown below. For boards up to about 61⁄2" wide, I resaw on the table saw as I find it faster than using the bandsaw.

Safe sawing in steps. When I resaw on the table saw, I do the job in several passes. Start with the blade about 11⁄2" high. Cut from both sides, then raise the blade and cut again. For all passes, keep the same face against the fence. If the blade can’t quite cut all the way through, finish the job with a handsaw.


Beauty in balance. For the bookmatched door panels, I chose boards that had  similar cathedral grain patterns. This way the two doors would appear matched as well as the panels themselves being bookmatched.

Cut mortises and tenons in case frame members

After making the panels, turn your attention to making the frames that hold the side panels. (You'll make the door frames later.) Start by cutting the stiles and rails to size. Then cut the grooves on the tablesaw using a dado head set up for a 3⁄8"-wide cut. Note that the rail grooves are 3⁄4" deep, while those in the stiles are only 3⁄8" deep. Next, cut the mortises in the stiles. I use a shop-made mortising jig that works hand-in-hand with a plunge router, and is designed for cutting both edge and end mortises. (See p. 56 to learn how to make and use this jig.)

JIgged precision. Wooden edge guides bolted to a custom router sub-base maintain the lateral position of the mortise while the jig’s stops control its length. Set the depth stop on the router to limit the mortise depth. Resting the stile on a spacer locates it at the right height as you clamp it in the jig. 
Shoulders, then cheeks. After cutting the tenon shoulders with the rails fed “on the flat” using the miter gauge, saw the tenon cheeks by feeding the rails on end. Here, a simple, two-piece plywood tenoning jig carries the workpiece.

Getting a haunch. Sawing with a dado head, and using the rip fence as a stop, cut the haunch on the outer edge of each tenon. Precisely match the haunch length to the depth of the groove in order to fill in the groove at the end of the stile.

Use a template to rout the cloud lifts

Before assembling the frames, shape the cloud lift details on the rails. These are cut with the help of a plywood template jig and a pattern bit in a table-mounted router. Note that the template is one-ended. To use it, load the workpiece in and shape one end. Then flip the piece, reclamp it, and cut the other end.

Going straight. To make the jig, table-rout the 3⁄8" offset section of the template base using a 3⁄4"-dia. straight bit. Start at the cloud “heel”, and stop before the piece falls into the opening. Then saw that section off.

Cloud cuts. After using the template to trace the cloud lift shape onto a rail, bandsaw away most of the waste. Then clamp the rail to the jig, and press it against the bit’s bearing while feeding right to left.

Glue up the side panels and face frame

Cut the face frame pieces to size. Then lay out and rout the mortises, and saw their mating tenons.

Sand the panels and any frame edges that will be difficult to work after assembly, and then dry clamp everything to make sure it all goes together as intended.

Unless you have a mini-router that will allow access after case assembly (which I do), you may want to rout the hinge mortises in the face frame before gluing it up.

Side panel glue-up. Sand and prefinish the side panels before installing them in their frames. Check the glued-up frames for square by measuring their diagonals under clamp pressure.

Face frame glue-up. A pair of notched 2×4 clamp supports facilitates large glue-ups by holding long clamps in position and providing clearance for the crosswise clamps. 

Make the partitions and bottom, then assemble the case

Saw the 3⁄4" cherry plywood bottom and partitions to size. Cut dadoes across the bottom to locate the partitions, and dadoes in the end frames to accept the bottom. Rather than fussing the width of my dado head to match the thickness of the plywood, I set it so it’s about 1⁄8" narrower. After making the first pass of each similarly offset dado, I bump the rip fence over a touch to widen each dado for a perfect fit on the second pass.

Fit the top rails. WIth the top rails cut to size, saw a wide dovetail on each end. Locate each dovetail in place atop its side assembly, and scribe around it to lay out its socket. Saw and chisel away the waste to create the mating sockets. Dado the rails and notch the partitions where they join.

Clamping rehearsal. Dry-fit the case to practice your assembly sequence, check your fits, and pre-set your clamps. Screw the case bottom and the top rails to the partitions, clamping everything else. Rest the case on your 2×4 clamp supports to provide clearance for the clamp heads.

Make and hang the doors

Measure the door openings and then cut the door rails and stiles to suit. Aim to make the doors an exact fit in their openings. (You’ll trim them for opening clearance after they are glued up.) Then join, shape, and assemble the door frame parts the same way you made the side frames. Note that the door rails have a cloud lift on one end only, and the mortises are deeper than those on the side frames.

You may be wondering why I don’t advise you to make the door frames at the same time as the side frames. It’s simply because, in this imperfect world, it’s usually best to make doors fit the actual opening  you end up with instead of the ideal opening you had planned for.

Fit and hang the doors. Mortise the face frame for the hinges (if you haven’t already), and trim the doors to allow about 1⁄16" of clearance on all sides of their openings—the thickness of a nickel. Use a knife to transfer the hinge mortise location from the face frame to the door. Then mortise the door and install it.

Add the shelves and install the base

Drill the partitions and the side frames for shelf support pins. Cut the front and side base pieces to size, then make the jig at right, and use it to cut the cloud lifts, using the router table as you did previously. Rabbet the rear top edge of the base pieces, miter their front corners, and glue the pieces to the case, reinforcing the miters with glue blocks.

Make way for wires. Notch the rear edges of the center shelves in much the same way you trimmed the cloud lift template (page 40). Clamp stops to the fence to control the length of the notches, which provide clearance for electronic component wiring. Complete the shelves by applying edging as shown in the drawing on page 37. 

Cap it off with the corbels and top

Bandsaw the corbels to shape. When sanding them afterward, pay particular attention to keeping the corner at the intersection of the rabbets flat. Rout the mortises in the corbels and their mating mortises in the case, and glue the corbels in place using shop-made “loose tenons.”

Shape the edges of the top as shown below, and then screw it to the top rails. Be sure to slot the holes in the front rail to allow the piece to expand and contract.

Cut the case back to size and screw it in place. Finally, cut the rear base piece to size. Attach it to the underside of the case and reinforce the corners with glue blocks.

Corbel mortises. You can mortise the corbels for their loose tenons using the mortising jig. Rout the mating mortises in the case using an edge guide and stop blocks to control the cuts.

Profiling the edge. Rout a 3⁄16 × 1" rabbet across the front and side edges of the top, and shape the outer edges with a 3⁄16" round-over bit. Radius the uppermost edge with a shoulder plane, as shown. Clean up using a sanding block with sandpaper taped only to the face, leaving “safe” edges without abrasive.

Finishing Advice

My cabinet is finished with three coats of wiping varnish. This darkens cherry slightly to begin with, and doesn’t interfere with the wood's natural aging process that causes it to deepen in color over time. I’d much rather be a little patient and let this happen rather than trying to accelerate the process with a stain, especially since cherry tends to blotch when stained. 


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