Traditional Cherry Wardrobe

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This article is from Issue 57 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Bedroom storage never looked better.

For centuries, wardrobes stood out as symbols of affluence. Kings and queens used them to store their showy garments, as did the wealthy. Today, they provide additional closet space in the bedroom for hanging and folded clothing. This accommodating cherry and poplar piece, with its understated traditional design, features fixed and adjustable shelves, closet space for hanging clothes, and four drawers.

When building it, you’ll learn how to glue up large panels, assemble casework in stages using biscuits, machine and install a tongue-and-groove paneled back, build and hang raised-panel doors, and make and install simple but sturdy drawers. You’ll also discover my tricks for dealing with wood movement. Keep your clamps handy for this project, as you’ll find yourself using them several times during the construction. Now, let’s make an heirloom.

To glue up flat panels, use bar or pipe clamps for edge-to-edge bonding and smaller F-clamps at the joint ends to make them even.

Prepare the case parts

1 Referring to the Cut List and Figure 1, prepare the cherry and poplar from 4/4 stock for the solid-wood sides (A), bottom (B), divider (C), fixed shelves (D), adjustable shelf (E), subtop (F), lower drawer supports (G), medium drawer support (H), upper drawer support (I), top (J), face-frame stiles (K), bottom rail (L), and top rail (M). After planing to just over the thickness in the Cut List (13⁄16"), crosscut the pieces, making up the solid wood panels and face frame to 2" longer than the finished length of each piece. That makes them easier to handle and joint. Now, joint and rip the pieces to make the initial panels about 1⁄2" over final width. By contrast, rip and joint the face-frame stiles and rails to final width at this time.

2 Lay out the boards for creating attractive side panels while paying attention to color and grain. When you find the best match, mark them for reference when gluing the pieces together. (Note: For more on gluing up flat panels, see “Perfect Flat-Panel Glue-ups” on page 50.)

3 Glue up stock to make oversized panels for the sides (A), bottom (B), divider (C), fixed shelves (D), adjustable shelf (E), subtop (F), large drawer supports (G), medium drawer support (H), small drawer support (I), and top (J), as shown in Photo A. (To make the drawer supports, I glued up a long panel first to rough width, and later cut the parts from it.)

Scrape, plane, and sand the panel surfaces until they’re flat. Work the plane diagonally across the boards.

4 After the glue dries, scrape away the squeeze-out, then plane the boards flat to 3⁄4" thick, and sand (Photo B). Check across the panels for flatness, using a straightedge. (A wide-belt or large drum sander would save time while prepping the panels, if you have access.)

5 Rip the sides (A) to final width and mark them “left” and “right.” Using a handheld router, cut 3⁄4" rabbets, 3⁄8" deep on the inside faces of the panels along the back edges, where shown in Figure 2.

6 Measure from the front edge of a side (A) to the rabbet. Use this dimension to determine the width of the bottom (B), divider (C), fixed shelves (D), adjustable shelf (E), subtop (F), large drawer supports (G), medium drawer support (H), and small drawer support (I), Now, rip these panels to final width.

Use a crosscut sled to cut the panels to length. A roller stand with multiple rollers supports the far end of long panels, keeping them from tipping in mid-cut.

7 Crosscut the sides (A) to length at the tablesaw using a panel or crosscut sled, as shown in Photo C. Similarly, crosscut the bottom (B), divider (C), fixed shelves (D), adjustable shelf (E), subtop (F), large drawer supports (G), medium drawer support (H), and small drawer support (I) to length.

Note: If you don’t already own a crosscut sled, consider making one using the Dead-Accurate Crosscut Sled plan (Woodcraft #150983D) available as a download at

8 Lay out the part and the #20 biscuits locations in the sides (A), bottom (B), divider (C), fixed shelves (D), and subtop (F), where shown in Figure 2. I start at one top end of the sides and mark down the thickness of the subtop and strike a line. I then clamp the mating part, in this case the subtop, to the lower edge of the line. Next, I use a story stick to establish the locations for five biscuits evenly spaced from front edge to back edge in the parts, as shown in Photo D.

Note: After establishing the lines to locate the mating parts, be sure to indicate which side of the line the part is clamped to by noting the biscuit locations.

Use a story stick to mark the biscuit locations on mating pieces and to establish consistent biscuit spacing from part to part.
With the biscuit cutter aligned with the marks, cut slots on the mating parts.

With the partial case assembly on the floor on its side, biscuit-glue the left side shelves in place, and then add the left side.

9 With the biscuit joiner, plunge-cut biscuit slots for #20 biscuits in the faces of the sides (A) and in the ends of the subtop (F), as shown in Photo E.

10 On a large flat surface, dry-fit the subtop in place using #20 biscuits and clamps. Cut a 10 × 21" spacer from scrap plywood and place the long edge against the bottom face of the subtop (F). Draw a line at this location on the sides and on both faces on the top end of the divider (C). Now disassemble the sides and subtop, clamp the mating shelf to the top edge of the line, use the story stick to mark the biscuit locations from front edge to back edge, and cut the slots in both parts.

11 Referencing Figure 2 and following the procedures described in the previous steps, work from the bottom ends of the sides (A) and divider (C) to cut the biscuit slots for the bottom (B) and lower fixed shelves (D). Use a fixed shelf to establish the line for locating the divider at the center of the bottom and subtop (F).

12 Install a 3⁄8" dado set in your tablesaw, and cut 3⁄16"-deep dadoes in the bottom (B) and fixed shelves (D) for the lower, middle, and upper drawer supports (G, H, I), where shown in Figure 1.

13 Attach a sacrificial fence to the tablesaw fence, move it alongside the dado set, and cut the 3⁄16" rabbets, 3⁄8" deep in the large, medium, and small drawer supports (G, H, I), where shown in Figure 1. See also the Drawer Support Detail.

14 Sand the case parts to 220 grit. Because it is easier to apply finish to some parts now than after assembly, finish the cherry parts that will be exposed on the cabinet’s inside. (While you can use Watco Oil Finish, Natural, I wiped on a clear wax to prevent having an unpleasant finish odor in the case.) Avoid getting finish on the surfaces receiving glue.

Assemble the case

Note: Due to the project’s size and complexity of the glue-ups, I assembled the case in three stages, soliciting a helper. Using glue with an extended working time is helpful here. Also, because the biscuit slots for the fixed shelves (D) that are on each side of the divider (C) at the same location intersect one another, you’ll need to narrow the width of the biscuits to fit. I do this by sanding a concave edge along one edge at the drum sander and the checking the fit against the mating biscuit.

1 For stage one of the case assembly, test-fit the bottom (B), divider (C), and subtop (F) on a large flat surface. Apply glue to the biscuit slots, insert the biscuits, and assemble the parts. Check that the front edges remain flush. Drill screw pilot holes through the bottom and subtop and into the divider. Now, screw the assembly to pull the joints together. Square the bottom and subtop to the divider. After any excess glue skins over, peel it off with a sharp chisel. Let the assembly dry.

2 For stage two, test-fit the fixed shelves (D) for the right half of the case, along with the right side (A), ensuring the parts are all flush along the front edges. With your helper, apply glue to the biscuit slots, insert the biscuits, and clamp up the assembly making up the cabinet’s right half. Tap the pieces to coax them into place, and use clamping cauls along the joints to ensure a complete bond. Remove any squeeze-out, and let the assembly dry.

3 For stage three, use your helper to set the partial case assembly on the floor and on its right side (A) to better manage the glue-up. Test-fit the remaining case parts, including the left side (A) and two fixed shelves (D). Now, apply glue and biscuits, and add the parts to the partial case assembly, as shown in Photo F. Tap the parts together, and then carefully place the entire assembly onto the assembly table once more. Set it on 2× blocks to provide clearance for clamp access underneath. Now, clamp the case assembly parts together by using clamping cauls along the joints, as shown in Photo G. Check the assembly for square, clean up any squeeze-out, and let the case dry.

4 Measure the distances between side (A) and divider (C) and the width of the divider. Cut the adjustable shelf (E) to those measurements minus 1⁄8" in both length and width. Test its fit in the case. Then sand it and set it aside.

5 Using a hole drilling template and 1⁄4" drill bit and stop, drill four sets of 10 shelf-pin holes 1⁄2" deep, where shown in Figure 2.

Use cambered cauls with the clamps to apply pressure over the lengths of the biscuit joints.
Adjust the fence for a centered mortise and plunge the bit into each end of the layout. Remove the waste between the cuts.

Using the spacer, clamp the workpiece in the tenoning jig, and cut the second tenon cheek in the rail ends. 

Add the face frame

1 Retrieve the face-frame stiles (K), bottom rail (L), and top rail (M). Temporarily clamp the stiles to the case front, flushing the top ends with the case. Extend the outside edges of the stiles 1⁄8" beyond the sides (A). Mark the stile bottom ends where they intersect the ends of the sides to establish their length. Also, measure the distance between the inside edges of the stiles, and add 2" to the measurement (for the 1"-long tenons) to establish the lengths of the rails. Using stops at the mitersaw, crosscut the stiles and rails to their final lengths.

2 Lay out the mortises and tenons for the face frame parts referencing Figure 1. Now, using a mortising machine and a 5⁄16" mortising bit, bore centered the mortises 11⁄8" deep, in the stiles (K), as shown in Photo H. Clean up the mortises with a chisel if needed.

3 At the tablesaw, set up a tenoning jig to cut centered 5⁄16"-thick × 1" tenons on the face-frame rails, as shown in Photo I.

(Note that the bottom rail [L] tenon will later be trimmed to 1" wide, and the top rail [M] tenon will be trimmed to 2" wide.) For dead-on 5⁄16" tenons, I cut a spacer and painstakingly planed it to 5⁄16" plus the blade’s kerf width. Note that this is a trial and error  procedure. (My spacer measured 7⁄16".) I then set up my tenoning jig so that the right-hand side of the blade aligned with the left-hand cheek of the tenon and made the first cheek cut. I added the spacer for the right-hand cheek cut, resulting in a 5⁄16"–thick tenon.

With the stop set, cut through the rail ends to establish the edges of the tenons.
Using a raised stop on your tablesaw sled, trim off the tenon waste from the rails.

Work to position the face frame on the case front, adjusting the clamps as needed. Once satisfied, add multiple clamps around the glue-up for a complete bond.

4 Fit a sled onto the tablesaw. Place the workpiece vertically against the fence, and adjust the blade height to match the kerf depth. Align the blade with the layout line, clamp a stop in place, and then make the cuts along the edge of the cheeks on both ends of the face frame rails (L, M), as shown in Photo J and where shown in Figure 1.

5 Adjust the blade height to remove the cheek waste. Reset the stop to create a 1"-long tenon. With a rail lying on one face, crosscut the tenon waste from the end. Flip the piece to the opposite face, and again remove the waste (Photo K). Repeat the process for the remaining rail ends. Adjust the blade height, and remove the cheek waste from the edges. Do all four rail ends.

6 Lay out the scallop cuts on the inside bottom ends of the stiles (K) by enlarging and applying the pattern in Figure 3. 

Now, bandsaw or jigsaw the stile ends to shape. Clean up the sawn edges with an oscillating spindle sander.

7 Working on a flat surface, glue up the face frame, ensuring that it is flat and square.

8 Check that the edges of the shelves do not extend beyond the case edges. (Plane them off if they do.) Now, attach the face frame (K, L, M) to the case with glue and multiple clamps, as shown in Photo L, achieving a 1⁄8" overhang along each side. Ensure that the frame is flush with the case top and bottom end of side (A). Note in Figure 1 that the bottom rail extends above and below the edge of the bottom (B).

9 Plane the face frame’s edges flush with the case.

Mill and screw on the back panels

1 Mill enough stock for the six tongue-and-groove back panels (N, O, P), referencing the Cut List and the Back Detail in Figure 1. 

When ripping the panels to width, take into account the 1⁄4" tongues on parts P and O. Also, make the right and left back panels (N and P) slightly wider at first. Note in the figure that the panels fit between the rabbets in the back edges of the sides (A).

2 Measure from the bottom face of the bottom (B) to the top face of the subtop (F) and add 1". Use this dimension to crosscut the panels (N, O, P) to final length. The lower ends of the panels extend beyond the bottom.

Install the tongue-and-groove panels by starting at one end and fitting them together, making sure to leave a 1⁄16" gap.
Rout the door panel ends first and then the edges in 1⁄8" increments. With each set of passes, flip the panels and cut the profile on the opposite faces.

3 Install a tongue-and-groove bit in your router table, and rout centered 1⁄4 × 1⁄4" tongues on one edge of the four middle panels (O) and left panel (P). With the groove cutter, cut the 1⁄4" grooves, 1⁄4" deep, in the mating edges of the middle panels (O) and the right back panel (N).

4 Dry-fit the panels (N, O, P) together on the back of the case. (Check to make sure that the center seam does not align with the divider [C].) Allow a 1⁄16" gap between panels and between the outside panels (N, P) and the sides (A) for wood movement. Now, mark and rip one outside panel to final width. Starting 1⁄16" from the rabbet’s wall, install one panel at a time. Mark and drill countersunk screw holes centered on the width of the outside panel (N) and centered on the edges of the bottom (B), center divider (C), fixed shelves (D), and subtop (F). Drill countersunk holes 1" in from the left-hand edges (viewed from the back) of the middle panels and over the mating edges. Add end panel (P), drilling centered countersunk holes over the mating edges. Secure the panels with #6 × 11⁄4" flathead screws, as shown in Photo M.

5 Make the cutouts on the bottom ends of sides (A), referencing Figure 2. To do this, find the centers between the front face of the face frame and back edges of the sides, and mark them along the side’s, bottom edges. Place the point of a compass at the marks, and scribe 41⁄4"-radius arcs.

Now, jigsaw the cutouts, keeping the blade just inside the scribed lines. Use a spokeshave and curved sanding block to clean up and smooth the side openings.

Build the doors

1 Mill enough stock for the three narrow door stiles (Q), wide door stile (R), top rails (S), middle rails (T), and bottom rails (U). Now, rip the pieces to the final widths in the Cut List.

2 Before crosscutting the stiles (Q, R) and rails (S, T, U) to length, place the stiles on the face frame opening and mark them to establish their final length. You want to start with a snug fit at first. Next, mark the center of the top face frame rail. Place the door stiles for the right-hand door together along the inside edge of the right face frame stile. Measure the distance from the face frame center mark on the rail to the edge of the door stiles. Add 2" to this measurement to get the length of the rails of both doors, while allowing for the 1" tenons. (Note that the left-hand inside door stile is 3⁄8" wider to accommodate the overlap. See Figure 1.) Cut the door stiles and rails to length.

3 Referring to Figure 4, lay out and cut the mortises and tenons in the door frame parts (Q, R, S, T, U) using the same procedures as for the face frame. Note that the top and bottom rails have haunched tenons and will need to be trimmed where shown.

4 Cut 1⁄4" grooves, 3⁄8" deep along the inside edges of the door-frame parts (Q, R, S, T, U) for the panels. Dry-assemble the door frames to check the fit, making any needed adjustments. Use a rabbet plane or sanding block to touch up the tenons.

5 With the doors still dry-assembled, measure to see if the openings between the rails are the same. Measure one of the openings, and add 1⁄2" to the width and length to arrive at the size for the raised-door panels (V). (As shown in Figure 4, the extra 1⁄8" in the mating grooves allows for seasonal wood expansion.) Now, make up the door panels for each door from two-board glue-ups that measure at least 52" long for the best grain match from top to bottom. Once dry, plane the panels to 5⁄8" thick, and cut the door panels to size.

Glue and assemble the doors as shown, inserting space balls in the grooves. Apply the clamps.

6 Install a raised-panel bit in your router table (see the buying guide), and form the profile on the door panel edges on both sides, as shown in Photo N and the Panel Detail in Figure 4.

7 Sand the door parts (Q, R, S, T, V, U) through 220 grit. Finish the panels.

8 Glue and clamp the doors (Q, R, S, T, V, U) using space balls, as shown in Photo O, to prevent the door panels from rattling in their frames while allowing for wood movement. Check for square and let the door assemblies dry.

9 Using a dado set in your tablesaw, cut mating (overlapping) 3⁄8 × 3⁄8" rabbets along the inside edges of the doors, where shown in the Center Door Joint Figure 1.

10 Carefully lay out the three hinge locations on the doors, where shown in Figure 4. Cut the mortises using a trim router, cleaning up the corners with a chisel. Mount the hinges using steel screws at first. Center the doors in the opening, and mark the hinge locations on the face frame. As mentioned, you want to maintain a reveal around the doors equal to the thickness of a dime. Cut these mortises, and install the doors on the case to test their fit. Mark where you need to trim the doors, and then, as needed, shave the ends at the tablesaw using the sled and joint the inside edges. Retest the fit of the doors in the opening. If okay, replace the steel screws with the brass screws that came with the hinges.

Make the drawers

1 Mill the needed poplar and cherry drawer box stock for the drawers, working from the dimensions in the Cut List and the drawer box openings in the case. Note that the drawer box widths should be 1" less than the side-to-side measurement of the openings to allow room for the drawer slide hardware. Now, cut the small and large drawer sides (W, X) to size. Cut the small and large drawer backs (Y, Z) to length, but not width.

2 To properly size the small and large drawer fronts (AA, BB), measure the drawer openings, allowing for a dime’s clearance around all four edges. Now, cut the fronts to size.

3 Lay out the pull openings on the top edges of the drawer fronts as dimensioned in Figure 5. Bandsaw or jigsaw the openings to size, and sand or rout a slight round-over along the edges of the just cut-out areas.

4 Using a dado set, cut the 1⁄4" grooves 1⁄4" deep in the drawer sides (W, X) and the drawer fronts (AA, BB), where shown in Figure 5. The drawer backs (Y, Z) sit on the drawer bottom (CC). Elevate the dado set and cut the backs to the exact needed width at this time.

5 Referring to the Front and Rear Joint Details in Figure 5, use a dado set to cut the corner joints in the drawer sides (W, X), backs (Y, Z), and fronts (AA, BB). Test-fit the pieces. Measure the side-to-side distance in the drawer, and add 1⁄2" for the width of the drawer bottom (CC). For the drawer bottom length, measure the length of the drawer box opening and add 1". Cut four drawer bottoms to size.

6 Now, rabbet the front and side edges of the plywood drawer bottoms (CC). Dry-fit the drawer boxes together. Make any needed adjustments, and then glue and clamp up the four drawers. Do not glue in the bottoms. Instead, tap in centered 1" nails through the bottoms and into the drawer backs (Y, Z) to hold them in place.

7 Install the drawer boxes in the wardrobe case, where shown in Figure 1, using the slide hardware listed in the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide.

Add the top, finish, and remaining hardware

1 Cut the case top (J) to finished size and rout a bull-nose profile on the ends and front edge, where shown in the Top Detail in Figure 1. Sand the top to 220-grit.

2 Center the top (J) from end to end on the case, and flush its back edge with the case back.  Clamp it in place, and then secure it to the case by driving #8 × 11⁄4" screws in countersunk holes through the subtop (F) and into the top. Remove the clamps.

3 Rip a 4 × 48" piece of 3⁄4" cherry for the cove molding (DD). Install a 3⁄4" cove bit in your table-mounted router, and rout the profile shown in the Top Detail in Figure 1 along both edges of the board. Next, rip 7⁄8" molding strips from the workpiece. Miter-cut the ends of the front piece, and glue and clamp it in place. Miter-cut the mating ends of the side pieces, and cut the other ends flush with the case back. Glue the miters and pin-nail the parts in place.

4 Finish-sand the unfinished portions of the case, doors, and drawers to 220-grit.

5 Drill the 3⁄8" holes just over 1⁄2" deep for the door pulls, where shown in Figure 1. Now, glue the pulls in place.

6 Lay out two closet bar supports (EE) on a piece of 3⁄4" cherry, referring to Figure 3. Drill 13⁄8" holes where indicated, and then cut the supports to shape. Cut the top end off one of the supports where shown. Sand smooth and screw them inside the case, where shown in Figure 2. Cut a 11⁄4"-diameter closet bar to fit inside the case in the supports.

7 Drill the shallow recesses for the rare-earth magnets, where shown in Figure 1, to serve as door catches. Adhere them in place with two-part epoxy. (I bore a slightly deeper recess for the door magnet and hid it with a piece of cherry veneer.)

8 Finally, remove the doors, drawers, and hardware, and finish the cabinet. (I wiped on Briwax, Clear, furniture wax, on the cherry and poplar parts, coating the wood while adding a pleasant odor. I wiped up any excess wax and let the project sit for 24 hours. This finish choice should not contaminate clothing stored inside.) Add the doors, drawers, and hardware.

About Our Designer/Builder

Jim Probst is an award-winning designer and builder who has crafted fine furniture for over 32 years at his shop in Hamlin, West Virginia. It’s here where he produces several furniture lines that sell through galleries nationwide. For more, go to


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