Looking Good at Eye Level

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This article is from Issue 6 of Woodcraft Magazine.

The good looks and sculpted lines of this hanging corner cabinet stand out on their own, but joining them with figured maple makes for an electrifying combination.

I sometimes design work from a specific historical period, like the Queen Anne table I designed for the first issue of Woodcraft Magazine. The table’s cabriole legs, spoon feet and scalloped top are all characteristic of the Queen Anne period, although the form – a tall display table – didn’t exist in the 18th century, at least to my knowledge.

The design antecedents of this little corner cupboard are more difficult to identify. The corner cabinet has a long history in the genre of American country furniture, and details like the bandsawn profile at the bottom of the cabinet suggest early precedents. However, the moldings were cut with late 19th-century planes, and the scallops below the doors were borrowed from a different 19th-century source, so although it is clearly a piece that has historical roots, I’m not sure what period I’d assign to it: Victorian maybe?     

But you know, it doesn’t matter – I like the way it looks.

Getting started

After choosing the stock from which you’ll cut the project’s pieces, flatten one side of each piece on your jointer, then run the stock through your thickness planer with the flattened side down so the planer can true the unjointed surface parallel to the flattened surface. 

At this point, don’t bring the doorframe stock all the way down to its finished thickness. After initial flattening and thicknessing, minor twists and warping can occur as material restabilizes. While this isn’t a big problem on stock that is held in place by the other cabinet parts, the door stock isn’t held in place by anything. It is self-supporting, so it must be as close to perfect as possible. Since the doorframe stock will have a finished thickness of  9/16", dress it down to about 11/16" and then sticker it in your shop while you work on the rest of the cabinet.

Glue up the panels from which you’ll cut the cabinet’s two back sections, checking to see that they remain flat under clamping pressure as in Fig. 1.

Even when gluing up panels from carefully flattened stock, there can be slight imperfections in the alignment of the boards in the panels. I like to remove these with a smoother like the infill smoothing plane in Fig. 2, a plane which leaves behind a glowing, silken surface.

After planing your panels flat, cut out the two back panels and the two very narrow side panels. A table saw sled or cutoff box like the one I’m using in Fig. 3 will help you make accurate crosscuts in wide panels. This cutoff box appears in my book “Quick and Easy Jigs and Fixtures” (Popular Woodworking Books, 2005). Transfer the scroll pattern from the drawing on page 18 to the bottom of each back panel, and cut the scrolls with a jigsaw or on the bandsaw.

Joinery and assembly

With the panels completed, cut the dadoes for the cabinet top and bottom. You can cut these on a table saw with a dado cutter, or with a router equipped with a straight bit. They can also be cut by hand with a dado plane as in Fig. 4. If you use a dado plane, clamp a batten adjacent to the planned dado, then run the plane along the batten until the plane’s depth stop bottoms out. 

To align the cabinet’s back panels so they can be screwed together, tighten one panel edge-up in a vise to create a support for the second, which overlaps the top edge of the panel held in the vise. (I used a footstool and a couple of pieces of scrap material.) Drill a line of through holes and countersinks in the top panel, spacing them 4"-5" apart, and corresponding smaller holes in the edge panel. Screw in some 2" #8 drywall screws to fasten the two panels together (Fig. 5).

To make the process of fastening the narrow cabinet sides to the back panels a little easier, I first created a kind of cradle for them by clamping a batten on the back of the cabinet back. The narrow cabinet side then slipped into the 45-degree slot. I then tapped a few finish nails into some pilot holes in the cabinet sides (Fig. 6). The finish nails aren’t intended to hold the cabinet sides permanently in place, but only to hold them until they can be screwed to the cabinet top and bottom, and until the two front pieces can be glued in place. This is a bit tricky, so take your time tapping these nails into place. The set-and-filled nail holes are against the wall and can’t be seen.

Because of the cabinet’s unusual geometry, it’s a good idea to cut a 1/4" plywood pattern of the cabinet’s top and bottom before cutting the actual parts from curly maple (Fig. 7). Using your pattern as a guide, cut the top and bottom, and screw them into position inside their dadoes. Later, you can cut the pattern down to correct size for the three glass shelves and just drop it off at the glass shop at your leisure so the shelves are ready to go when you finish the cabinet. 

Install the crown molding

The front of the cabinet is flush with the doors, so add a filler strip of curly maple the same thickness as the doors at the top of the cabinet under the crown molding, as well as the scroll below the doors. It’s important to use curly maple for this filler strip because the bottom edge shows beneath the crown molding. Cut the pieces to size, then cut the scrollwork for the bottom piece on the bandsaw or, obviously, the scroll saw. Apply glue to the back of each piece and clamp into place.

My preference is for hand tools in almost every other shop situation, but I like to cut my moldings on a table saw rather than with a backsaw and a miter box because I get better results. The miter gauge allows me to achieve a high level of accuracy when using a hollow-ground planer blade – a saw blade on which the teeth are cut without set and on which the rim is ground to a thickness of usually 3/32". This blade produces extremely smooth cut surfaces, making it perfect for cutting joinery on a table saw (Fig. 8).

I rarely use nails or screws to fasten moldings in place, because they sometimes force molding into a position that opens up the miters. Instead, I use glue. In the case of this particular cabinet, clamps will hold the large front section of the crown molding in place while the glue dries. The two little “ears” of molding on either side can be held in place by hand for about 30 seconds until the glue sets (Fig. 9).

This is a good time to drill holes for the shelf supports. Each shelf is supported by six shelf pins with 1/4" shanks. For each shelf, drill a pair of 1/4" holes on the cabinet’s two back panels, and a single hole in each of the cabinet’s narrow side panels (Fig. 10). If you think you might like to adjust the shelves up and down later to accommodate the cabinet’s contents, consider drilling a series of hole sets for each shelf. 

Making the doors

After the stock for the doorframes has been stickered for a while (ideally, a few weeks) mill it to final thickness and width, then shape the doorframe stock. 

On the front of each piece, cut a bead with a 1/4" side-bead plane. This is a smaller version of the 3/8" side bead used on the top element of the crown molding. There’s more on this process in the sidebar “Molding options,” as well as a router alternative to a side-bead plane. On the back side of the doorframe stock, cut a rabbet using a plane called a moving filletster (Fig. 11). Of course, the rabbets can also be formed using a dado cutter on your table saw, or using a straight bit in your router.

Notice the material-holding technique I’m using in Fig. 11. When working long, thin stock, I clamp a length of wood across my bench, then clamp the stock to that length of wood using a pair of hold-downs, each of which has a notch a little shallower than the thickness of the board I’m holding. This puts pressure on the stock with clamps that aren’t long enough to reach across the width of the piece of wood.

Cut the doorframe miters on the table saw and fit them together, using a square and rule to check alignment. 

The doors are held together with splines fitted to slots made on the saw blade. Mine were 3/32", but mark and size your splines to fit the slots created by your blade (Fig.12). Grain alignment is important here – the grain in the spline must run perpendicular to the miter joint it crosses. If the grain runs parallel to the miter, it won’t have any strength.

As an alternative to splines, a biscuit joiner works well in this application.

Before assembling the doors, you might want to make a clamping table to ensure that pressure is applied evenly to all four sides of the doors while the glued splines cure. 

My clamping table is just a plywood surface to which I’ve screwed blocks a bit outside the limits of the doorframe, with a pair of wedges inside each blocks. Tapping the paired wedges together applies pressure to all sides of the door while holding it in the correct alignment (Fig. 13).

Mark and cut each of the door mortises (Fig. 14).

Many years ago, I discovered the center punch, and in an instant my hinge installation improved dramatically. With this tool, you don’t have to guess at the center of every screw hole on a hinge. The center punch is tapered and automatically locates the center of the hole, making a shallow depression you can use to register the tip of your drill bit (Fig. 15).

After installing the hinges on the doors, hold each door in place while you mark the locations of the hinge mortises on the cabinet sides (Fig. 16). Remove the hinges and hold them in position on the cabinet side for marking, then cut the mortises and install the hinges just as you did on the doorframes.

Finally, I decided to add a little bead between the doors, recessing it just a bit. This detail found in many period originals adds an appealing visual accent to the doors. Form the bead on a bit of curly maple scrap using a side-bead plane, then rip off enough width to fill an 1/8" wide section of the bead. You could achieve the same effect by forming a bead with a bead-cutting router bit, then slicing off the required width.

Final details

Thoroughly sand all surfaces, working your way up through 150-, 220-, and 320-grit sandpaper. 

Almost any topcoat works well for cabinetry, but I like Waterlox. Apply a first coat on the raw wood and allow to dry overnight. The next day, sand off any raised grain with 320-grit paper, followed by 400-grit, and apply a second coat of Waterlox. When dry, rub it out lightly with 400-grit paper, followed by 1000-grit. Top the whole thing off with a coat of carnauba wax.

The glass door panels can be mounted with glass clips, or with a thin bead of clear silicone in the rabbets on the back of the door. Install the doors and the door hardware. Insert the shelf-support pins into the holes drilled earlier, and put each of the shelves in place.

At this point, your cabinet is done and ready for hanging. However, since this is a display cabinet you might want to add a small, top-mounted interior light. Any kind of light designed for cabinet interiors will do, but whatever you choose will leave you with an electric cord to hide.

Drill a hole in the cabinet top as close to the light mounting as possible and another hole in the cabinet back. Plough a groove on the back side of the cabinet back that intersects the drilled hole (Fig. 17). I cut this groove with a plow plane, but you can use a router and a straight bit. After the cabinet is finished, mount the light, cut the plug from the light cord, feed the cord up through the hole in the cabinet top, across the top of the cabinet and through the hole in the back. Lay the cord in the plowed groove, which allows the cord to exit the cabinet at the very bottom, and put a new plug on the cord. Depending on the type of light you buy, the cord may come with the plug detached to allow the cord to be sized, making plug attachment a simple matter.

Since this is a heavy cabinet, be sure to hang it securely wherever you decide to locate it. I used a pair of 5/8" x 5" lag bolts that pass through holes in the tops of the two cabinet backs (these holes are hidden by the crown molding) and penetrate a pair of wall studs.


{Editor's Note:  For another slant on making your own moldings, see Practical Shop on page 64.}

I’ve used hand planes for perhaps 20-25 percent of my shaping and smoothing – things like fine-tuning a tenon, dressing a panel too wide for my planer, or smoothing a patch on a partially completed piece of casework. But as I become more health conscious I’ve eliminated a lot of airborne dust in my shop by increasing hand-plane use to probably 85-90 percent. 

Although the switch was prompted by health concerns, going from machine tools to hand tools has been beneficial in ways wholly unconnected to my health, introducing me to new and – in many instances – better ways to work.

The experience isn’t without difficult moments. Sticking moldings in hard, figured maple with hand planes is hard work. (On the days I stuck moldings, I passed on my afternoon walk.) But smoothing panels with a well-tuned infill plane is woodworking at its very best: rhythmic, soothing, satisfying. 

And quiet. 

It’s possible to think when working with a plane, and one of the things I thought about was how much fun I was having with these planes on this material.

Nevertheless, moldings can be formed just as easily with a router as they can with molding planes. That is, in fact, the way I did it for many years. 

Plan your crown molding

If you choose the router approach, let me make a few suggestions. 

Think of crown moldings in three parts, each of which is formed from a separate piece of stock. The bottom element of the crown molding should transition down toward the cabinet. I used a Grecian ogee plane for this, and I think any of several ogee router bits could produce a similar effect. The middle element can be thought of as the molding’s “waist,” and a cove of some kind here can create an appealing transition between the bottom and top elements of the molding. For this particular crown molding, I used a #7 round – a plane with a convex radius across its sole that cuts a concave shape in the work – to cut the cove at the waist, and there are many cove-cutting router bits that will make similar cuts. For the top element in my molding, I used a 3/8" side-bead. Here, too, it’s possible to create a similar effect using a 3/8" bead-cutting router bit.

The secret, I think, to creating an attractive crown molding is experimentation. Run a few inches of moldings using each of your router bits. Then assemble them in different configurations until you get one that looks right. And remember you can get very different effects by cutting the molding on the side of your stock than you do when cutting it on the edge. Here, too, experimentation is important.

I did a bit of searching and found three Whiteside bits that might be substituted for my three molding planes: a 1/4" radius Roman ogee for my Grecian ogee, a 1/2" radius cove for my round, and a 5/16" bead-depth for my 3/8" side-bead. 

Making a crown molding with molding planes

If you choose to create the crown molding, here are some suggestions:

The first thing you must do is create a smooth edge perpendicular to the face of the board you’re molding. This can be done on a jointer with conventional material, but when working with figured material, sometimes even a well-tuned jointer can produce torn-out areas. This is work for which a good smoothing plane is well suited.

In Fig. 18, you can see the three elements of my crown molding, as well as the three tools that created those elements. 

Most complex molders that produce a shape with more than one component are referred to as “sprung.” That is, they’re designed to be worked at an angle. The angle at which the plane is canted is indicated by a pair of crossed lines incised on the nose of the plane with one line representing vertical and the other representing horizontal (Fig. 19).

Rounds like the one used for my cove don’t have fences on their soles, and must be used against a batten like the dado plane shown back in Fig. 4. In Fig. 20, I’m using a #7 round against a batten to create my cove.

The side-bead is probably the easiest molding plane to master. It will quickly and efficiently cut a bead like the one I’m forming in Fig. 21.

Kerry Pierce

Kerry Pierce is the author of a dozen woodworking books and more than 60 articles for woodworking magazines. His most recent book, “Authentic Shaker Furniture,” was the main selection of the Woodworker’s Book Club. Pierce was a featured instructor this past summer at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking in Indiana.

Tools used in this project 

Jointer, thickness planer, bandsaw, glue, clamps, table saw, dado plane, bench vise, drill, hammer, screwdriver, miter gauge, hollow-ground planer blade saw blade, 1/4" side-bead plane, 3/8" side-bead plane, moving filletster plane, square, rule, mortising chisel, center punch, sandpaper (150-, 220-, and 320-grit ), plow plane, wrench, Grecian ogee plane, #7 round plane, jointer, thickness planer, clamps, infill smoothing plane, table saw, router. Optional tools: dado head for table saw, router, biscuit joiner, 1/4" radius Roman ogee bit, 1/2" radius cove bit, 5/16" bead-depth bead bit. 


Drywall screws (12), #8 x 2"
Drywall screws (20), #8 x 1-5/8 
Glass shelves (3), 1/4," x 11-5/16" x 19-1/2"

Specialty hardware/supplies:
Brass decorator hinges (4), #16R47, $16.99 (pair)
Brass knob (2), #130159, $5.99 ea.
Brass bracket-style shelf supports (bag of 25), #27I14, $4.99 
Curio cabinet light, #09J81, $10.99

Woodcraft Supply
(800) 225-1153


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