Classic Chimney Cupboard

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This article is from Issue 32 of Woodcraft Magazine.

A favorite design of Scott Phillips

Designer: Scott Phillips
Builder: Chuck Hedlund

Overall dimensions: 23 11/16" w x 14 1/8" d x 78 1/2" h

The narrow, tall lines of this cupboard so resembled a chimney that old-timers affectionately referred to it as a chimney cupboard. Originally found in kitchens, the small footprint provided storage in an area of the house where space was limited. However, because of its versatility, this country classic soon found its way out of the kitchen and into other areas of the house. For instance, you might find it useful as a pantry, toiletry cabinet, or linen closet.

Inspired by the chimney cupboard designed by Scott Phillips and seen on his popular PBS woodworking series The American Woodshop, this pleasing project proves easy to build. Simple rabbets and dadoes make up the case construction, while dowel joints hold the face frame together. To save you money, we chose economical ¾" pine (be sure to check your stock thickness). It comes in a variety of molding profiles to crown your finished project. When selecting your pine, go with flat, straight stock to ensure smooth construction. If you are unable to find stock wide enough for case sides or shelves, edge-glue narrower boards to achieve the proper widths. (For more on this wood, see “Spotlight on White Pine,” page 76.)

Note: See the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide for a list of materials used to build this project.

A jig made from scrap makes quick work of routing dadoes in the cabinet sides. Use scrap to prevent tear-out where the bit exits the workpiece.

Begin with the case sides

1 Referring to the Cut List, cut the case sides (A) to size. (If possible, use 1×12s to eliminate ripping.) Mark one side “left” and the other “right” for layout purposes and to create mirroring parts. Now, with the sides back edge to back edge and flush at the ends on a flat surface, lay out the dadoes and rabbet on the inside faces where shown in Figure 1.

2 Construct the right-angle dado routing jig as shown in Figure 2. Next, clamp the jig to a piece of scrap and chuck a ¾"-diameter straight bit in a handheld router, adjusting the bit depth to 3/8". Now guide the baseplate of the router along the fence to form a ¾" dado cut in the crossarm where shown. You’ll use this dado in the crossarm to align the jig with the dado layout marks when cutting the dadoes in the case sides.

3 Using the dado routing jig and the same setup, make incremental passes to cut the dadoes and top end rabbets in the sides (A) as shown in Photo A.
Also see the Tip Alert.

Drill the shelf-pin holes in the sides with a jig. We used a ¼" bit when relocating  the jig.

4 Attach your router’s edge guide to the tool for cutting the rabbet along the inside back edge of sides (A). Using the same router bit depth setting as in Step 2, cut the ¾" rabbet 3/8" deep, again, in incremental-depth passes.

5 Locate and drill the ¼" shelf-pin holes on the inside faces of sides (A) where shown in Figure 1. For evenly-spaced holes, consider using a shelf-pin boring jig similar to the one shown in Photo B. A length of perforated hardboard can also serve as a boring guide.

6 Lay out the notches to

create the legs for each side

(A) where shown in Figure 1.

Now, cut the notches with a jigsaw and sand smooth.

7 Cut the top, fixed shelf, and bottom (B) to the size in the Cut List.

8 Dry-fit the top, fixed shelf, and bottom (B) into the case sides (A). Once satisfied with the fit, glue and clamp the parts together. Check the case for square.

Add the face frame and door stops

1 Cut the stiles (C) and rails (D) to the sizes in the Cut List.

2 Lay out the tapered leg ends at the bottom of each stile (C). Now jigsaw the tapers where shown in Figure 3. As with the case sides, there will be a left and right stile, so mark accordingly.

3 Lay out the dowel locations where shown in the Face Frame Dowel Detail in Figure 3. Using a doweling jig and a ¼" brad-point bit, drill the ¼" holes ¾" deep as shown in Photo C.

4 Assemble the face frame with glue, ¼" dowels 1½" long, and clamps. Ensure a flush, flat fit at all the joints. Check for square.

5 With the cupboard case on its back, glue and clamp the face frame onto the case, flushing the frame’s edges with the case sides. If short of clamps, clamp and then nail the face frame with 4d finish nails, repositioning the clamps as you secure the frame to the case as shown in Photo D.

6 After the glue has set, remove the clamps and sand the face frame flush to the sides. If you used nails to secure the face frame to the case, set the nails, fill the holes, and sand smooth.

7 Cut the door stops (E) to size and then glue and clamp them against the back of the installed face frame. You’ll want to keep the (front) exposed faces of the stops at 3/8", the same as the exposed edges of the center fixed shelf and bottom (B).

A doweling jig and drill ensure perfectly bored holes.

Clamp the face frame into position. Use 4d finish nails to secure to case.

Cut and install the back

1 Cut four ¾"-thick, 6"-wide tongue-and-groove pine boards to length. (You can purchase these at a home center.) Once assembled, they’ll form the back (F). Our final back assembly measured 18¾" × 70¾".

2 Now, mark the center of the back opening at the top and bottom. Drill pilot holes and nail the center two boards in place, one on each side of the center marks. Insert 1/32" shims between the pieces to create relief for expansion and contraction. Trim equal amounts from the outside edges of the remaining two mating boards to fit in the opening and similarly install them using shims. Angle the 4d nails to penetrate the sides.

Using a zero-clearance insert and sacrificial fence, shave off the door panel’s waste for a good fit.

Make the upper and lower doors

1 Check the door openings for the exact measurements of the doors. Cut the upper door stiles (G), door rails (H), and lower door stiles (I) to size, aiming for a perfect fit.

2 Set the blade height on your table saw to 3/8". Cut ¼"-wide grooves, centered on the inside edges of upper door stiles (G), door rails (H), and lower door stiles (I) where shown in Figure 4.

3 Reset your table saw blade height to ¼" and cut 3/8"-long stub tenons on the ends of the door rails (H) as shown in the Rail Tenon Detail in Figure 4. Prior to cutting the tenons, test your setup on scrap to verify a tight fit.

4 To cut the raised panels, lower the blade and outfit your table saw with a zero-clearance insert. Now, tilt the saw blade to 5°. Locate the fence so the blade tilts toward it. Attach a minimum 12"-high sacrificial fence and move it just over the edge of the insert. Start the saw and raise the blade 13/8" through the insert. Stop the saw. Now move the sacrificial fence so it just contacts the blade.

5 Using a test panel, cut one face, and then turn the piece end for end and make a second cut. (You cut the ends of the panels first and then the sides to reduce tear-out.) Now, repeat the process to make the same bevel cuts on the opposite face as shown in Photo E.

See if the tapered edge bottoms out in the groove. If the tapered tenon is too thick, adjust the fence slightly into the blade and repeat the cuts. Achieve the final fit by sanding smooth the sawn surfaces.

6 With the setup fine-tuned, create the raised upper door panel (J) and raised lower door panel (K).

7 Assemble the door frames and panels with glue on the frames only. Clamp and check the door assemblies for square.

Use a quarter or spare hinge to establish a consistent reveal between the doors and openings.

Hang the doors

1 Test-fit the doors in the openings and trim as needed to ensure an even reveal around the door as shown in Photo F.

2 Attach the non-mortise hinges 2½" from the end of each door. We added an extra hinge in the center of the larger upper door.

3 Attach magnetic catches on the door stops and the mating catch plates on the doors where shown in Figure 3.

4 Drill the holes for the pulls for the top and bottom door where shown in Figures 3 and 4.

Cut and apply the crown molding

1 Using a 35/8"-wide crown molding profile of your choice, follow the four-step sequence in “Cutting the Crown Molding” to cut the front and side parts (N, O).

2 Cut and attach the nailer (M) to the top edge of back (F). (See Figure 3.)

3 Position each side molding (O) tight to the front molding (N), ensuring that the 5/8" overlap matches. Use glue and a brad nail gun to secure the side moldings into position.

4 Custom-fit the support (L) between each side molding at the rear of the cupboard, and then glue and nail the support into position with 4d nails. Finish-nail the side molding (O) to the support. Fill all nail holes and sand smooth.

Finishing touches

1 Cut the adjustable shelves (P) to the size in the Cut List.

2 Remove all hardware and shelves. Final-sand and clean all surfaces.

3 Choose your own finish. (We used General Finishes Brick Red Milk Paint to match Scott’s original. The inside was finished with General Finishes Water-based Satin Polyurethane.) Apply the finish with a brush and roller. Let dry, and reinstall the hardware, including the pulls, and insert the shelves.  

Cutting The Crown Molding

Step 1: Adjust the blade left to 45° and place the molding length for the front piece (N) against the fence and table in your mitersaw, bottom edge up. Miter-cut the end of the molding for right-hand side of the case.

Step 2: Hold the molding to the case and mark the left-hand end. Adjust the blade right to 45°, place the molding on the mitersaw, bottom edge up, and cut, sneaking up on the mark and test-fitting. Position the front molding so that it overlaps the case by ⅝"; then apply glue and shoot brad nails to secure it.

Step 3: With the same saw setting, miter-cut the mating side crown molding (O) long for the case’s left side, bottom edge up. Adjust the blade left to 45° and similarly cut the side crown molding (O) for the case’s right side.

Step 4: Tightly hold each side crown molding (O) to the front molding and mark on them the location of the back edge of the case. Crosscut each side molding to final length.


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