Sugar 'n Spice Cabinet

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This article is from Issue 51 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Everything nice in a home accent

Overall dimensions: 11"w × 7"d × 203⁄8"h

Spice cabinets have served a variety of needs over the centuries, storing everything from spices to herbs to medicines. Because of the value of the quantities stored, the drawers remained small. Over time, however, the cabinets transitioned into quaint home accents, holding keys, pencils, stamps, and other miscellany in their drawers.

Typically made of hardwoods such as oak and poplar, spice cabinets–antiques or ones you buy or make–bring a charm that recalls their original purpose. This design features deeper sides and drawers (for better storage). You can stand it on a table or hang it. Serving as a good beginner weekend project, the cabinet requires precision joinery in cutting identically spaced dadoes for accepting the shelves and divider that must snugly fit into them. One time-saving design element is that all parts but the drawer bottoms are of 1⁄2"-thick stock. Now let’s make sawdust!

Note: Watch Scott build the spice cabinet on video in episode #2005 starting in 2013 on WBGU TV’s The American Woodshop.

Using a miter gauge extension fence to avoid tear-out, dado both ends of the top and bottom.
Beginning at one edge, cut just outside the transferred pattern line on the back.

Use an oscillating spindle sander to sand off waste, moving the workpiece against the counterclockwise motion of an appropriately sized drum.

Start with the case

1 Mill enough 7"-wide red oak stock precisely to 1⁄2" thick (I started with 11 linear feet). Now cut the top and bottom (A), sides (B), divider (C), and large shelf (D) to the sizes in the Cut List. Cut an extra side and top for spot-on setups.

2 Referring to Figure 1, precisely lay out the dado locations on the top and bottom (A), sides (B), divider (C), and large shelf (D), as well as on the setup pieces. To avoid mistakes when cutting, mark the faces receiving dadoes on the case top and bottom and large shelf; also mark the dado faces on the sides and divider. You will cut dadoes on both faces of the divider.

Note: Make test dado cuts in the scrap setup parts to establish the desired depths and fence locations and to test-fit the thickness of the mating stock.

3 Install a 1⁄2" dado set in your tablesaw, and raise it for a 1⁄4"-deep cut. Adjust the fence to align the dado set with the end dado marks in the top and bottom (A). Make the cuts, as shown in Photo A. For consistency, dado one end of the case top and bottom, and then flip the pieces end for end to cut the opposite dadoes. Adjust the fence as needed, and cut the centered dado in the top’s bottom face.

4 Lower the dado set for a 1⁄8"-deep cut. Adjust the fence to align the dado set with the top layout lines on the sides (B) and divider (C). Test the cut on a setup piece. Now, cut the dadoes. Flip the sides end for end and cut the bottom dadoes in the sides only. Next, adjust the fence and cut the center dadoes in the sides and divider. Do the same for the centered dado in the large shelf (D).

5 On a flat surface, test-fit the assembly of the case parts, and measure for the length of the small shelves (E). Cut these parts to size and test-fit them.

6 Cut the edge strips (F) slightly long for the top and bottom (A), and glue them in place, aligning the ends and edges. Wipe off any squeeze-out. Later, trim flush and sand.

Make the case back

1 Edge-joint, rip, and crosscut two 1⁄2 × 51⁄2 × 21" pieces. Now, edge-glue and clamp the pieces together for the back (G). After the glue dries, trim the part to 20 3⁄8".

2 Make a copy of the Half-sized Pattern on page 37, and cut it out. Trace or spray-adhere the pattern onto the top end of the back (G). (I taped the pattern down, traced it, and then peeled it off.)Now, using a 1⁄4" blade in your bandsaw, cut the back’s top end to shape, as shown in Photo B.

3 Sand to the pattern line on the back (G) to remove saw marks, and smooth the edges, as shown in Photo C. Go with the largest drum possible to prevent gouging.

4 Install a 11⁄4" Forstner bit in your drill press, and drill a centered hanging hole, where shown in Figure 1.

5 Using a 1⁄8" round-over bit, rout the exposed outside edges of the case, where shown in Figure 1. Also round over the outside face of the hanging hole.

6 Dry-fit the parts for the case assembly to rehearse your glue-up, and check the overall fit. Now, using glue with a long open time (I used Titebond’s Extend glue), apply glue in the dadoes and assemble the case, adding clamps over joint locations. Check for square. Allow the assembly time to dry, and then locate and drill countersunk holes in the back (G). Clamp the back to the case, and drill pilot holes, guiding off the screw holes. Screw on the back.

Press the workpiece against the sacrificial fence using a pushpad, and then rabbet the drawer front and sides.
Glue and clamp the drawer parts together, locating the clamp jaws over the joint locations at the sides, with one clamp holding in front and back.

Make the drawers

1 Cut the small drawer fronts (H), large drawer front (I), small drawer backs (J), large drawer back (K), and drawer sides (L) to the sizes in the Cut List. (I checked the opening sizes in the case first to confirm or adjust the measurements for the drawer parts. I tried for a 1⁄32" clearance between the drawer and case opening all around.) Also, when cutting the drawer fronts, cut neighboring parts in consecutive order from the same board, and label them to achieve the best grain match.

2 Install a 1⁄2" dado set and raise it for a 1⁄4"-deep cut. Attach a sacrificial fence to your saw fence, and slide it to the dado set. Using a miter gauge with an extension fence, cut the rabbets in the ends of the drawer fronts (H, I) and drawer sides (L), where shown in Figure 1 and as shown in Photo D.

3 Install a 1⁄4" dado set, and cut the grooves for the drawer bottoms (M, N), where shown in Figure 1 in the small drawer fronts (H), large drawer front (I), small drawer backs (J), large drawer back (K), and drawer sides (L).

4 Dry-fit the drawers and measure for the drawer bottoms (M, N). Cut these to size from 1⁄4"-thick birch plywood.

5 Locate the drawer pulls on the drawer fronts and drill the holes.

6 Assemble the drawers with glue and clamps, as shown in Photo E. Remember to run consecutively cut pieces side by side for the best look.

7 Unscrew the back, pull out the drawers, and sand the spice cabinet parts up through 220 grit. Now apply your choice of finish (I added a TransTint honey amber to a General Finishes Enduro-Var satin, water-based urethane and sprayed the mix. You also could go with a wipe-on stain of your choice and a spray-can polyurethane and achieve equally good results.) Reassemble, add the pulls, and put your cabinet on display.  

How To Age Brass Pulls

Here’s a neat trick that I used for aging overly bright brass pulls. Touch them with the flame of a blow torch for about 45 seconds. Line up the pulls side by side so you can torch them evenly for a vintage well-worn look.

About Our Author

Scott Phillips is the co-host with his wife Suzy of The American Woodshop television show, now in its 19th season on PBS. Learn more at


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